In early August 2023 devastating wildfires swept through the historic town of Lahaina in West Maui.
Here’s what you need to know: 1) Lahaina is almost completely gone and the area is 100% off limits to visitors. 2) The resort areas of West Maui north of Lahaina (Ka’anapali, Napili & Kapalua) are undamaged from the fires but are still slow to reopen to tourism. Reopening is happening in phases (already underway) and likely to still take several months. 3) The rest (majority) of the island is unaffected and open to visitors. 4) Locals on the island (both those personally affected and not) are grieving this tragedy and likely will be for a long time to come. Even though the return of tourism for the economy is largely necessary, your compassion and kindness during your interactions go a long way.
I’ll keep this updated as the situation progresses. Right now, all of the information on this site either remains unaffected or has been updated.
They say “Maui No Ka Oi” (Hawaiian for “Maui is the best”), and honestly…they’d be right ; )
Don’t tell the other islands, but Maui is my favorite. It was the first Hawaiian Island I ever visited, I spent some time living there, and it’s still my favorite place to travel.
It’s a BIG island with a lot going on…natural wonders, luxury resorts, local towns, and I’ve written quite a bit about it.
Seriously, I’ve got over 20 posts on this blog just about Maui, but this is the best place to start.
Maui Travel Tips
Here’s a quick “table of contents” for what’s in this post:
- When to Go to Maui
- How Many Days to Spend on Maui
- Flying to Maui (Which Airport)
- Lay of the Is(land)
- Where to Stay on Maui
- Things You Can ONLY Do on Maui
- Maui Itineraries
- Do You Need a Rental Car?
- When to Book Activities
- What to Pack
When to Go to Maui
Good news…there’s never a bad time to go to Maui! The weather is pretty much consistent within a few degrees (air and water temperature) all year round.
The seasons follow the seasons in the northern hemisphere (mainland US) and “winter” means more rain and slightly cooler temperatures. Summer means less rain and slightly warmer temperatures. August/September is when it’s the muggiest/most humid but this is Hawaii and humidity is pretty much nonexistent compared to places like Florida.
Locals are very attuned to subtle shifts in weather/temperatures but whether it’s winter or summer, most resort areas are built on parts of the island that are sunny and dry 90% of the time.
Whale season is December through April with peak season being February.
Any time kids are out of school is high season. The winter holidays (mid December through New Years) are obscenely expensive and book out FAR in advance. Summer is the high season.
January through mid March is technically less crowded and not “high high” season, but it’s still the optimal time to leave cold weather on the mainland to head for warmer weather so it’s not inexpensive.
Generally speaking, I’ve found April/May and September/October to be the best months to find deals.
September/October is my personal favorite time to visit because it’s when I find the best deals on resorts and there are fewer kids/people in general on island since the kids have just gone back to school. They call it “couples season” for a reason.
August through October is also technically hurricane season, but they’re pretty rare. Again, it’s not like Florida.
How Many Days to Spend on Maui
Well, you’ve only got however many days you’ve got, but if you’re wanting the best overall vacation, I wouldn’t suggest less than one week (probably 6 full days, but you could do a lot in 5 full days too).
If you’re short on time (doing a quick long weekend getaway from the west coast), you can still have a great trip just as long as your expectations are more about resting and relaxing. And if you’ve got weeks to spend, you’ll find plenty on Maui to keep you busy.
But in general, if you’re wanting to explore the island and still feel like you’ve had a relaxing vacation, you’ll want at least 6 full days. I also don’t recommend splitting up a one week vacation between two different islands. Just stick to one and really experience it.
Flying to Maui
Maui’s main airport is the Kahului Airport (OGG). This is where you’ll fly in coming from the mainland and on 99% of interisland flights.
From Kahului, it’s about a 25 minute drive to the Kihei/Wailea area (South Maui) and about a 40 minute drive to the Kaanapali/Kapalua are (West Maui).
There is a small airport in Kapalua on the west side and an even tinier airport in Hana on the east side but they are for very very tiny planes.
Lay of the (Is)land
Maui is a BIG island.
Most people either stay on the west side (Lahaina, Ka’anapali, Kapalua, Napili) or the south side (Wailea, Kihei, Ma’alaea). Central Maui (Kahului) is where you’ll fly into and do your grocery shopping. The north shore (Paia, Haiku) has a local, surfer town vibe. Upcountry (Makawao, Pukalani, Kula) is where the farm/ranch land and Haleakala National Park are. And East Maui (Hana) is basically the jungle. It’s where all the waterfalls are, the black and red sand beaches, etc. Most people visit as a day trip driving the “Road to Hana.”
Where to Stay on Maui
For me, this is where it all starts whenever I’m planning a trip.
Like I said before, you’ll likely either stay in south or west Maui where the two main resort areas are (Wailea and Kihei in the south and 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 a full breakdown of Wailea vs Kaanapali.
The other post you need to read is Where to Stay on Maui. It’s got specific recommendations for resorts, hotels, and condos in all price ranges on all different parts of the island so you can find exactly what works best for you.
And then I’ve got EVEN MORE DETAILS FOR YOU…
If you’ve narrowed down your search to the Wailea area, good news. I’ve stayed at all the big beach resorts in Wailea and I’ve ranked them in this post >>The Best Resorts in Wailea
Plus I’ve got these detailed resort reviews:
And a few comparison posts too:
Things You can ONLY Do on Maui
If you’re in the early planning stages (even trying to figure out if Maui is the island for you), I think the best way to figure it out is by looking into the things that you can ONLY do on Maui.
So many things (beaches, snorkeling, golf, zipline, surfing, luaus, etc) you can do on every island. I mean seriously, whatever your “dream version” of a Hawaii trip is…you can get it on any of the main Hawaiian islands.
So to break it down, here are the things you can ONLY do on Maui (plus a few that I think are must dos even if there’s something similar on another island):
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 several posts specifically about driving the Road to Hana 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.
Road to Hana posts:
Haleakala National Park
Visiting Haleakala National Park is without a doubt the most unique experience you’ll have on Maui. It’s completely unexpected. When you’re up at the summit/crater, you’ll feel more like you’re on Mars than Maui.
Sunrise is by far the most popular time to visit the park and seeing the sun rise through the clouds at the summit of Haleakala is a moving experience for many people.
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.
Read more about sunrise and sunset at Haleakala here.
Whales can be seen throughout all of the Hawaiian Islands in season, but they’re most prevalent in the shallow waters between Maui and Lanai and Molokai. Whale season is officially December 15 through 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.
All islands have some form of whale watching tours you can go on, but it seems like for every one whale you’ll see on another island, you’ll see 5-10 on Maui. So if you’re visiting multiple islands, definitely go whale watching on Maui.
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.
The slopes of Haleakala are home to an area called the “upcountry.” It’s by far the largest area of Maui, it’s a predominantly local area, and if you couldn’t look out and see the ocean you’d probably think you where in the Texas Hill Country or Colorado high meadows instead of Hawaii. The lava rock has created super fertile soil and that combined with the moderate climate make for spectacular agricultural conditions. You’ll find every type of farm tour you can think of here.
On my “don’t miss” list is the Ali’i Lavender Farm, Maui Wine, and Maui Pineapple Tour.
Read all about my favorite things to do upcountry here. 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.
Old Lahaina Luau
Not only my favorite luau on Maui, but my favorite luau in HAWAII. While I don’t think a luau is necessarily a don’t miss item (you know whether or not it is for you), IF you’re going to do one, this is the one to do. And if you’re going to multiple islands and trying to decide which island to do the luau on, make it the Old Lahaina Luau.
Dinner at Mama’s Fish House
As funny as it sounds, this is pretty much the only thing I do EVERY TIME I’m on Maui ; ) By far the most popular restaurant in Hawaii, if you tell 10 people you’re going to Maui that have been there before I bet the first thing 9 of them will tell you to do is make reservations at Mama’s Fish House. It’s not cheap, but it never disappoints. Read my full review here.
Okay, that’s the quick rundown…read my full post about things you can ONLY do on Maui with way more details here >> Things You Can ONLY Do on Maui
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.
I’m working on a whole suite of Maui itinerary options for different lengths and interests, but for now check out this one:
Do You Need a Rental Car 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.
When to Book 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.
What to Pack
You’ll want the usual beach vacation clothes, but a trip to Maui also means a lot of exploring and there are some odd/specialty things you won’t want to forget (do you really need a fleece jacket? Yes ; )
Read my full Hawaii packing list plus tips on what to wear here.
More Posts about Maui
Besides everything above, I’ve got even MORE info on Maui. Check out these posts:
P.S. Thanks for sticking around and reading this whole post! If you have ANY questions about planning your trip to Hawaii, you can join my free Facebook group here. I’m there answering questions every day and there are 7500+ other friends who have a ton of Hawaii information to share!
Also, if you want to follow along on my travel adventures in real time, you can follow me on Instagram (@caitylincoln). My post captions are full of travel tips and I have a ton of story highlights and videos with great info. And please share my account with your friends that are headed to Hawaii! Your support really helps me keep this blog running!