Plan a Trip to Maui: When and Where to Go

Palm trees line a strip of beach as the sun hides behind large clouds over the ocean.

The sun starts to go down over Ka‘anapali Beach. Photo © Bart Everett/123rf.

Where to Go in Maui

West Maui

West Maui pulses with a unique coastal vibe. The historic town of Lahaina was once the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom, and it retains a port town atmosphere. Warm weather and mostly dry conditions make this region a spectacular place for outdoor adventure. Snorkel with sea turtles at Napili Bay, lounge on the beach in Kapalua, ride the zipline above Ka‘anapali, or hike to Nakalele Blowhole.

Central Maui

Central Maui is the island’s population center and the seat of county government. Most visitors blow through town en route to their beachfront resort, but Central Maui has its own set of sights off the regularly worn trail. The twisting road into ‘Iao Valley is the region’s most popular attraction. Kepaniwai Heritage Garden exhibits Maui’s multicultural heritage, and down on the shoreline at Kanaha Beach Park, windsurfers and kitesurfers take to the waves along the stretch of Maui’s north shore.

South Maui

From the celebrity-laden resorts of Wailea to the condo-dwelling snowbirds of Kihei, South Maui is all about worshipping the sun and enjoying the procession of beaches. Makena remains South Maui’s most adventurous venue with snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking trails, kayaking, and some of the island’s most photo-worthy beaches. Just offshore, Molokini Crater offers 100-foot visibility and the chance to snorkel with up to 250 species of fish.

Upcountry

Rural, laid-back, and refreshingly cool, Upcountry is Maui’s most underrated zone. Agriculture and produce dominate Kula, and everything from vegetables to vineyards, coffee, and goat cheese can be found in this rural and relaxing enclave. Polipoli is the island’s little-known adventure zone, where mountain biking, paragliding, and hiking take place in a forest shrouded in mist. Watch the dramatic sunrise from the frosty peak of towering Haleakala, the sacred volcano from which the demigod Maui famously snared the sun.

East Maui: the Road to Hana

The New Age town of Pa‘ia is as trendy as it is jovial. Surfers ride waves along undeveloped beaches, patrons shop in locally owned boutiques, and the town is home to some the island’s best restaurants. Along the famous, twisting Road to Hana, tumbling waterfalls and rugged hiking trails await. The Pools of ‘Ohe‘o spill down cliffs to the sea. The hike through a bamboo forest to the base of Waimoku Falls is considered the island’s best trek.

Lana‘i

Home to 3,300 residents and two large resorts, this island is a playground of outdoor adventure. Whether you are staying here or making a day trip from Maui, everything from hiking to scuba diving, golfing, and surfing can be enjoyed readily without the crowds. Learn about the island’s history at the Lana‘i Culture and Heritage Center, and make the journey down to Kaunolu to see an ancient village settlement essentially frozen in time.

Moloka‘i

Taking time to explore this island offers a chance to experience the roots of native Hawaiian culture. Take a guided tour into historic Halawa Valley, one of the oldest settlements in Hawai‘i, or ride on the back of a friendly mule as you visit the former leper colony of Kalaupapa. Watch the sunset from Papohaku Beach, one of the state’s longest most deserted stretches of sand, or climb your way high into the mists of the Moloka‘i Forest Reserve.


When to Go to Maui

Maui isn’t postcard-perfect every day of the year. It might not have four distinct seasons, but it definitely has two—summer and winter. During the summer (May-October), areas such as Kapalua, Kahului, North Kihei, and Ka‘anapali are prone to trade winds which blow most afternoons. While Hana and Kapalua can see rain during the summer, Lahaina and Kihei can go six straight months without a single drop.

During the winter (November-April), there can be plenty of rain. A winter day on Maui can mean light breezes, sunny skies, and a high of 78°, but it can also mean cloudy skies and rain. Experienced surfers will have the best chance of finding big surf in winter.

The best, most affordable times to travel to Maui are January 15-30, April 15-June 5, and September 15-December 15. Airfare is cheaper, occupancy rates are lower, and many activities are discounted. The two busiest weeks of the year are over Christmas and New Year’s, and the two slowest weeks are the first two in December. Whale season runs December 15-May 15, with peak whale-watching January 15-March 30. Visiting Maui during May and September gives you the benefit of summer weather with lower prices and fewer crowds.


Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Maui.

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