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If you’re planning a trip to Maui and wondering where to stay, this post is for you! If you’ve never been before, you might be overwhelmed…which part of the island should you stay on? Are some beaches better than others? Are those fancy resorts really worth the money? Will a condo save you big bucks? I’m going to let you in on everything you need to know!
Lay of the Land, Maui Style
Maui is kind of a big island (we’re talking 10-12 hours of solid driving to go all the way around, which is just a point of reference because NOBODY drives around the entire island in a day) so don’t underestimate its size when you’re planning your trip. It’s divided into four main regions (West Maui, South Maui, East Maui, and the North Shore/Upcountry area) but only has two resort areas (on the west and south shores).
You’ll fly into Kahului Airport (OGG), which is located on the north shore in the valley between the two mountains (Haleakala to the east and the West Maui Mountains to the west). This is where Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, and Whole Foods are located, but you likely won’t spend much time in Kahului once you pick up your rental car and groceries.
West Maui: West Maui was originally developed in the 1960s and remains the most popular place to stay and play on Maui. The old whaling village of Lahaina anchors this area and the Ka’anapali resort area is home to the majority of dining and accommodation options on this side of the island. Drive time from the Kahului airport (OGG) to the Lahaina area is about 45 minutes.
Most people stay in West Maui, if for no other reason than it’s where the majority of the resorts and condos are. West Maui is home to Maui’s original resort areas, and it’s still where most of the tourists flock today. West Maui is usually sunny and dry, making it perfect beach weather. Also, there’s a wide range of accommodation options so whether you’re looking to splurge on a beachfront resort or save on a condo, you can find it in West Maui.
There’s also a lot development, so if you’re the type that likes to be in the middle of the action, West Maui is where it’s going on. Lahaina (an old whaling village turned tourist hot spot) is where many choose to spend their evenings. Front Street is packed with shops and restaurants (many offering ocean views) and has a nice vibe that makes it a “hang out” spot for people in the evenings. The docks in Lahaina are also where a lot of the water excursions leave from (whale watching, glass bottomed boats, submarines, and ferries to Lanai) so if you’re planning to do much of that, it’s nice to be staying nearby.
Maui’s famous Ka’anapali Beach is also in West Maui (just north of Lahaina) and although it comes nowhere near it in terms of crowds, I would call it the Waikiki of Maui. Fronting it are the Sheraton, Westin, Marriot, and Hyatt to name a few. There’s also an outdoor mall with plenty of shopping and dining right on the beach. The three-mile beachfront promenade makes it easy to get around and it seems like there’s always something to do. Catamarans pull right up to the beach to take passengers out on snorkeling excursions and there’s good snorkeling at the far north end at Black Rock.
If you’re looking for something quieter, Napili Bay and Kapalua Bay to the north might float your boat. Napili Bay (a great beach) is surrounded by older condos and small inns or resorts that although they’re showing their age are still pretty charming (and you can’t beat the location)! For more of a luxury resort feel, try Kapalua (the name of a beach, but also a resort area). It’s centered around golfing, but the Montage and the Ritz Carlton are some of the swankiest places around and although you’re not far from Lahaina and Ka’anapali, you’ll feel a world away. There are also a bunch of fancy-schmancy condos in Kapalua.
West Maui is actually one of the prettiest parts of Maui, with the West Maui Mountains rising up in the background offering some amazing hiking trails, it has some of the best beaches on the island (if you don’t mind the crowds) and you’re close to the famous Honolua Bay and all that’s going on in Lahaina and Ka’anapali.