This past June I spent 5 days exploring Maui, and it completely defied my expectations. It was my first time visiting any of the Hawaiian islands, and my previous experience with tropical islands was mostly limited to the Caribbean; I found myself completely unprepared for the much more peaceful, spiritual vibe in Maui.
Before I get into my recommendations on how to start exploring Maui, I want to write down some basic guidelines for the island, to help you understand if the island is meant for you, or if you would be better off exploring another Hawaiian destination. If you are a smarter traveler than I and already knew most of the following (…very likely), skip over these bullet points to find out what to do in Maui.
- Visitors to Maui are usually seeking a nice middle ground between the tourist hotspot of Oahu and the ‘quiet island’ of Kauai. Maui offers some city life with less tourists than Oahu, and beautiful natural sights without the remoteness of Kauai.
- Distances on the road will take twice as long as you think they will. Low speed limits and winding, tricky roads mean relatively short distances can take three hours to navigate.
- Expect a focus on an outdoorsy/active/beach lifestyle and daytime activities. Many activities and tours have early bird starting times; if you sleep in, you will miss quite a lot.
- Don’t expect nightlife. Outside the hotel bars, you will not find much outside a few restaurant/bars and dives on Front Street in Lahaina, and the triangle in Kihei.
- Be prepared for the endless ukulele music. I found that while ukulele music is relaxing for the first 30 minutes, it makes me near-homicidal for any longer than that. And you will be hearing it for longer than that.
- And finally, you will never feel that you are still within the United States. The island’s climate, people, and culture feel completely removed from the mainland.
Now that you have a feel for the island, check out what to do in Maui when you get there!
FIVE THINGS YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST DO IN MAUI:
Surf/Windsurf/Kitesurf – Pick one!
Surfers from all over the world come to Maui for the waves; you can’t come here and not, at the very least, take a basic beginner’s lesson. For those starting out, book a lesson with one of the surf shops on the west coast in Lahaina, where the waves are gentler and more suitable for learning. My friend and I went with Goofy Foot Surf School, and had an absolutely amazing experience. Plus we managed to get up and ride the wave on our very first try (Disclaimer: You will have little to no feeling in your arms by the end of the hour)! Surf schools usually arrange their lessons early morning to early afternoon, so you have the rest of the day free to explore the town.
If you’re an experienced surfer, head to the north coast of Maui, close to Kahului, and catch the morning waves at Ho’okipa Beach. If you windsurf, you’ve probably already heard of Ho’okipa as a windsurfing mecca. Wait until the afternoon and hit the water with hundreds of other windsurfers from around the world. Maui also has a world-class spot for kitesurfers, known appropriately as Kite Beach.
Take the Road to Hana
I can’t resist a good road trip (if it wasn’t obvious from the site name). When I read about the Road to Hana, which winds past waterfalls and lava tubes, I knew this was a drive I had to make. The stops range from temples to roadside coconut water stands, and will be covered in detail in my next post. From Paia to Hana, the route is about 2.5-3 hours if driven straight, but will obviously take much longer depending on where you stop and for how long. If you are a fan of road trips, hiking, and somewhat more off-the-beaten path spots, definitely take a day out of your Maui stay to experience this road. Be warned, the road is quite narrow in spots, and is known for it’s nausea-inducing turns, so if you have severe motion sickness or don’t feel comfortable driving on slightly tricky roads, then perhaps you should skip this trip.
Located on Maui’s west coast, Lahaina used to be the capital of the island, and it’s still Maui’s busiest town. For daytime activities, walk down Front Street and you will find plenty of opportunities for shopping, eating, and exploring art galleries. Front Street also has a stretch of bars you can visit, but keep in mind that Maui really isn’t an island meant for nightlife. If you want to grab a great dinner with local Hawaiian dishes, try Lahaina Grill.
Take a Snorkel Tour
Maui’s waters are host to unique marine life, and you would be missing out if you didn’t book a snorkel trip during your stay. Most snorkel tours start at 6 AM from Kihei (trust me, I’m not a morning person either, but this is how Maui operates). Pick a tour that stops at both Molokini Crater and Turtle Town, nicknamed after the giant sea turtles that call it home. I booked a tour on Redline Rafting, which made both those stops including a stop in the deep water behind Molokini. I would definitely recommend Redline, which uses speedboats for its tours, but if you want something slower you can also check out Pride of Maui and Molokini Snorkel Deluxe Cruise.
Devote One Full Day to Doing Nothing on the Beach
You’re in Maui. Even the most active traveler should kick back and relax when in Hawaii. My first day at the Andaz Maui at Wailea, I barely left the pool and beach area, and it was the best thing I could have done. Here is a quick rundown of Maui’s best beaches for those non-active, lying-around-on-the-sand days: Makena Beach/Big Beach, Wailea Beach, Kaanapali Beach, and Kapalua Beach.
IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME:
Hike the Haleakala Crater at Sunrise
This is a beautiful yet strenuous hike that takes you up to the peak of Maui. The sunrise view is breathtaking, but at that time of day and that elevation, the temperature can easily dip to freezing and you will need winter clothing or a blanket to feel comfortable on your climb up. For the more athletic, you can also tour Haleakala with a bike.
Paraglide from Kula
Get a bird’s eye view of the island on your way down from Kula. Check out Proflyght Paragliding to book your adventure.
Check Out a Nudist Drum Circle Sunset Party
Every Sunday afternoon, a drum circle forms on the nudist Little Beach to celebrate the end of another week. It really needs a full post to be properly covered. I promise to have a post and pictures up (if you spot a nudist in the far background, forgive me) by the end of the week.
Stay tuned to see my Road to Hana time lapse video, find out which turn on the Hana highway will cause you to lose your lunch, and read my beginner’s guide to surviving a nudist drum circle!
Have you been to Maui? What was your experience like? Share any finds I missed below!