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Maui Travel Tips: START HERE If You’re Planning a Trip to Maui

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:

Four Seasons Maui

Fairmont Kea Lani 

Andaz Maui

Wailea Beach Resort

And a few comparison posts too:

Four Seasons vs Andaz Maui

Andaz Maui vs Wailea Beach Resort

***Want to save major $$$ on your trip to Hawaii? I get asked ALL the time how I’m able to travel so often to Hawaii and stay at really nice resorts. Well, my favorite travel hack is cashing in points to score free airfare and free nights at some of Hawaii’s most high end resorts. Read my full guide on the exact system I use to max out credit card rewards here. Seriously, it’s going to save you soooo much money. 

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: 

My Favorite Road to Hana Itinerary

Tips for Driving the Road to Hana

Should You Drive the Backside of the Road to Hana? 

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

Whale Watching

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. 

More info on whale watching 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. 

Where to find turtles on Maui

Upcountry

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 

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. 

I’m working on a whole suite of Maui itinerary options for different lengths and interests, but for now check out this one:

4 Day Maui Itinerary

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

Want to read more posts about Maui? I’ve got plenty!

Things You Can ONLY Do on Maui // 4 Day Maui Itinerary // My Favorite Road to Hana Itinerary // Things to Do Upcountry // Tips for Sunrise at Haleakala National Park // Snorkeling Molokini Crater // Whale Watching

My Favorite Hotels on Maui // Where to Find Condos on Maui // Wailea vs Kaanapali // Every Resort in Wailea Ranked // Four Seasons Maui Review // Andaz Maui Review // Fairmont Kea Lani Review // Wailea Beach Resort Review // Four Seasons vs Andaz Maui // Andaz Maui vs Wailea Beach Resort

Best Restaurants in Wailea // Best Breakfast in Wailea & Kihei // Mama’s Fish House // Best Luaus in Wailea

My Favorite Things to Do in South Maui // Best Beaches in Wailea & Kihei // Road to Hana Tips // Driving the Backside of the Road to Hana // Where to See Turtles on Maui

Maui vs Kauai // Everything You Need to Know BEFORE you go to Maui

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable.

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan.

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too.

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours).

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before.

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset.

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly.

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window).

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot.

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here.

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person.

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle.

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM.

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of.

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here.

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day.

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before.

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online.

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor.

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here.
You’ve got three options here:

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation.

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas.

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer.

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation.

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and dinner reservations usually start filling up about 6 months in advance (they open up bookings 18 months in advance). Make reservations through their website and if the dates you want are already booked, you can join a waitlist. Most people have pretty good success getting in on the waitlist (even if it’s for lunch).

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist.

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance.

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance.

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance.

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance.

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