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Maui Travel Tips: What to Know Before Traveling to Maui?

Hello, my name is Cate and I love Maui! Seriously, there’s over 30 posts on this blog just about Maui (not including the other islands or general Hawaii planning posts)…that’s a lot of info! To save you the hassle of trying to track them all down, I’m going to use this page as a home base for all of my Maui Travel Tips.

First things first…if there’s one post on my blog you’ve got to read it’s this one: Hawaii Travel Tips. It’s not island specific, but it covers things like which airports to fly into on each island, the scoop on illegal vacation rentals, rules about not touching wild animals that are federally protected in Hawaii, the unspoken rules for driving on the island, how to get along with locals, what to expect and MORE. It’s a whopper of a post (7000+ words) and it’s definitely one you don’t want to miss. Check it out here

Where to Stay on Maui

This is where it all starts when you’re planning your trip. You’ll likely either stay in south or west Maui where the two main resort areas are (Wailea and Kihei in the south and Lahaina, Ka’anapali, and Kapalua on the west side) because that’s where the majority of resorts, hotels, and condos are. The west side seems to be more popular and has some of the best beaches on the island, but I prefer the south side because it’s quieter, a little more upscale (Wailea, not Kihei), and more centrally located. But you won’t go wrong with either. One of the best posts on my site is this breakdown of where to stay on Maui. It’s seriously exhaustive with pros and cons of each area, specific recommendations on hotels and resorts plus my picks for family friendly places, honeymoon resorts, and budget options. Read that post  here.

More where to stay posts:

Enjoy the finer things in life? You’re going to want to read about the best Luxury Resorts in Hawaii

Like things a little smaller and more personal? Check out my favorite Boutique Hotels in Hawaii

Need more detailed info? Read detailed reviews about my stays at the Fairmont Kea Lani and Four Seasons Maui

Maui Condos: are you really trying to watch the budget? Or just want more space to spread out with friends and family? You’re definitely going to want a condo or vacation rentals. There are soooo many on Maui that it’s a little overwhelming. This post breaks down 50+ different condo complexes on Maui by location so you can find what’s important to you. Beachfront? Amazing pool? Resort like amenities? A price performer? Besides great info, I’ve rounded up a lot of options under $100/night

3-10 Day Maui Itineraries

The Best Maui Itineraries: I’ve noticed that people either seem to book their airfare and hotel first and then figure the rest out, or they want to lay out an itinerary and then decide how to book their flights (how long to stay) and where to stay. Either way, having a solid itinerary (even if it’s just a lot of built in relaxation time peppered with some activities) can make your vacation sooooo much better. You’re going to want to pay close attention to this post to learn the ins and outs of putting together a good itinerary. How many days do you need on Maui? What are the true “don’t miss” things? I’ve got that covered plus TEN detailed days laid out for you. Read that post here

The Island by Area

If you’d like to see things broken up by area on the island, check out these area specific guides that include places to stay, places to eat, and things to do: 

Guide to Wailea (upscale resort area in the south of Maui)

Guide to Ka’anapali (most popular resort area on the west side)

Guide to the Upcountry (the “real Maui”. Stops are Grandma’s for breakfast, the Ali’i Lavender Farm, and Maui Wine are must dos for me)

Guide to the North Shore (surf towns, pineapple fields, a turtle hangout spots)

Guide to Kihei (a town on the south side that caters to tourists looking for beachfront bargains)

Rentals Cars on Maui

You absolutely will need a rental car. Hawaii is not an all-inclusive destination where you’ll arrive by shuttle and never leave your resort (I mean you could do that…but it’s pretty expensive just to get to Hawaii so most people want to actually see Hawaii. If you want a cheaper resort only vacation, just go to Mexico). 

It’s a pretty large island, and it can take a while to get around. Driving from Wailea to Lahaina can take around 40 minutes. Kahului to Lahaina can take around 30-40 minutes, and Kahului to Wailea can take around 30 minutes. And that’s not to mention destinations on the north shore, upcountry, or towards Hana. So taking Ubers and Lyfts if you’re going from place to place isn’t really feasible (you’re probably talking $100 one way). Maui also does not have a very good bus system.

So you’ll most definitely want a rental car for your stay even if you’re staying in a resort area. I always book through Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.

And you can read more about the rental car situation in Hawaii here

Restaurant Recommendations on Maui

If you’re anything like me, your vacation probably revolves a bit around where you’re going to eat. Maui has the full spectrum as far as places to eat (fine dining to food trucks). Here are some spots to get you started: 

16 Best Maui Breakfast Spots: Because of the time change traveling from the mainland, I always love starting my day with breakfast when I’m on Maui. 

11 Best Fine Dining Restaurants on Maui: Maui has some truly great restaurants. Spectacular food, amazing views…how about both!

23 Favorite Restaurants on Maui: Mostly local style restaurants, these are spots to hit if you want something casual but unique to Hawaii. 

Mama’s Fish House: Is It Worth It?: This is where my proverbial “last meal” will take place. It’s that good. It really is the best restaurant on Maui (in Hawaii probably) and something that I think everyone should experience. It’s not cheap (usually in the $125/person ballpark) so I get a ton of questions about if it’s “worth it.” In a word…yes, I think so. I wrote a full post about it here. Skip the luau if you have to but make it out to Mama’s! Try the lobster and crab stuffed mahi-mahi.

Maui Activities

One of the top questions I get asked is when the best time to book activities/tours/excursions is. Honestly, if there’s something you know you want to do for sure…you should book it as soon as you can. There’s no advantage to waiting until the last minute. You won’t find better deals and more than likely you’ll end up missing out because things sell out. In the post COVID landscape, so many activities and tours in Hawaii (luaus, snorkeling tours, ziplining, atv rides, even RESTAURANTS) are fully booked 2-4 months in advance. 

Driving the Road to Hana. Driving the road to Hana (from Paia to Hana on the east side of Maui) is easily the #1 must do thing on Maui. Block out an entire day and drive the 50 or so miles along the winding road to Hana. Spend the day hiking through bamboo forests, waterfall spotting, and gazing at black and red sand beaches. I’ve got a monster of a post all about driving the Road to Hana here including the best stops, which ones to skip, when you should start out on the road, if it’s safe to drive the whole road around, driving etiquette and more. 

But here are a couple of things worth mentioning twice. Since March 2021, you now NEED RESERVATIONS TO STOP AT THE BLACK SAND BEACH. That’s Waianapanapa State Park, and you can make reservations 14 days in advance here

Also, while driving along this BEAUTIFUL road is considered one of Maui’s top attractions, it’s still an actual road and there are people that live in these remote communities that use it everyday. They’re driving to work, taking their kids to school, going to doctor appointments, etc. They’re not on vacation. And while they’re very welcoming, they’re getting increasingly frustrated at the huge numbers of visitors coming to Maui (and the current infrastructure’s inability to handle them). So a few simple rules: Don’t trespass on private property. Even if you’ve read about a waterfall that you think you should be able to access or heard about a pond to swim in. If there’s a sign and you have to climb around a gate, don’t do it. Don’t park illegally on the road. There are now MANY signs making it clear where you can’t park. Don’t stop in the middle of the road to take a picture of a waterfall, a rainbow eucalyptus tree, a gorge, an ocean view, a mongoose, a rainbow, or anything else. If you’re driving slowly and there’s a local behind you, pull over and let them pass. They have somewhere to be. 

Read more about driving the road to Hana here.

Haleakala National Park (for Sunrise or Sunset): Watching the sunrise (or sunset) from the summit of Haleakala (Maui’s dormant volcano that sits at 10,000 ft.) is truly a once in a lifetime experience. But you need to be prepared. It is COLD! Think 20-30 degrees with a strong wind. Bring winter clothes and take blankets. Also, drink plenty of water and have snacks as the quick 23-mile drive from sea level to summit has been known to give some people (ahem, me) altitude sickness. You’ll also need to make reservations to enter the national park for sunrise (3AM-7AM) 60 days in advance here. I’ve got a whole post about everything you need to know about going up to Haleakala Crater here

Maui is the prime spot in Hawaii for whale watching. While you can see the humpback whale’s yearly migration from all of the islands, they’re thickest around Maui in the channels between Maui and Lanai and Molokai. Whale season is officially December 15 to May 15, but these whales rarely carry a calendar with them. February is HIGH SEASON though so if you’re a super whale fan, that’s when you want to go. You’ll be able to see them from many of the beaches. There are also a lot of different excursions you can do for a close look. Read my full post about whale watching on Maui here

Snorkeling Molokini Crater. Maui’s most popular snorkeling spot is a partially submerged volcanic crater that’s home to not only amazing species of fish but also some of the best visibility in Hawaii. Read all about my favorite way to snorkel Molokini here

And while you’re at it, I’ve got a huge roundup of ALL the best snorkeling spots on Maui plus where you can go to see turtles resting on the beach. 

The Best Beaches on Maui: You come to Maui for the beautiful beaches, right? Here are 21 of my favorites from all parts of the island. 

My Favorite Maui Luau: There’s quite a few luaus on Maui, but the Old Lahaina Luau is hands down my favorite. I think it’s actually the best luau in Hawaii (not just Maui). Read my full review here. I’ve also recently been to the luau at the Grand Wailea and really enjoyed it too. 

Maui Pineapple Tour: I really can’t say just how much I loved the Maui Pineapple Tour. I don’t think it’s talked about nearly enough, but I would say it’s a “don’t miss.” Skip that tourist trap at the Dole Plantation on Oahu and come here instead. Also make reservations for lunch afterwards at the Haliimaile General Store across the street. Read more about it here

Bike the Maui Volcano: If you love adventure, this has got to be one of the coolest (and most unique!) adventures on Maui. Ride down Haleakala (Maui’s dormant volcano) all the way to the ocean without even peddling. This is one of my favorite ways to see Maui’s upcountry. Read all about it here

Things to Do on Maui

Need even more things to do on Maui? I’ve got a few posts that will give you some more ideas. 

15 Things to Do on Maui: Some of the most popular and must do activities on Maui.

15 Things to Do on a Maui Honeymoon: Like things a little more laid back? You’ll definitely want to check these out.

Top 20 Adventure Activities on Maui: Like things the opposite of laid back? Here’s a whole handful of adventures to get your blood pumping.

5 Day Trips from Maui: If you’ve got more than a full week on Maui, you might consider doing one of these day trips. Pearl Harbor? An active volcano? Kauai’s famed Napali Coast? Kalaupapa National Park? You can see them all from Maui. 

Miscellaneous Hawaii Planning Posts

Want more Hawaii planning info? Here are some of my best posts:

Which Hawaiian Island to Visit: Maybe you’re settled on Maui, or maybe you’re still trying to decide. This post will breakdown each island and help you figure out which one is right for YOU. Also, if you’ve narrowed it down to Maui vs Kauai, you’re not going to want to miss this post

The Best Time to Visit Hawaii: Cheapest time of year to go? Best weather? When are the whales in town? I’ve got all that info here

How Much Does the Average Trip to Hawaii Cost? Another top question I get asked. 

Hawaii Trip Planning Timeline: How far in advance should you start planning? Do you book for airfare or room first?

How to Find Cheap Flights to Hawaii: But also, which are the BEST flights to Hawaii regardless of price. 

Hawaii on a Budget: Some of my best money saving tips. 

How to Survive the Long Flight to Hawaii: Just exactly how long is the flight to Hawaii? Plus tips on what to bring and how to fight jet lag. 

The Ultimate Hawaii Packing List: 26 things you don’t want to forget at home!

What to Wear in Hawaii: Casual is the name of the game in Hawaii, but here are some specifics of the kinds of clothes you’ll probably want to pack. 

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