Maui is famed for its incredible beaches and incredible scenery the perfect Island to kick back and relax, But it’s not all Sun Sand and Cocktails. Maui’s Diverse Topography and Climate along with its calm waters allow a multitude of different activities to enjoy. Our guide to the 10 best things to do in Maui, Hawaii will guide you through the Islands best attractions and activities so you can get the best out of your trip to this fabulous Island.
1: Sunrise on top of a Volcano – Haleakala
***You now need to book your slot for sunrise on the National Park Services Website***
A visit to the top of Haleakala is Maui’s number one attraction. Rising over 10,000ft above the Ocean the Volcano is one of the tallest on earth when measured from the sea floor. The view from the summit is truly incredible. From the summit, the whole island is visible along with Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe and the towering peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kei over on the Big Island. Fortunately, someone has been kind enough to build a road all the way to the summit so you can witness this mountainous spectacle without the normal bother of mountaineering.
To witness this view at sunrise is an almost spiritual event for some people and truly spectacular for anyone. Arriving in the early hours before the sun begins to creep the stars are like nothing you have ever seen. The super clear air and lack of light pollution mean as many stars are visible here as any place on earth. As the Sun begins it’s rise the colours are wonderfully Vivid. If you catch on a morning with low cloud around the island it’s a visual feast like no other. Overlooking the Haleakala crater gives another worldly view like you are watching the sunrise on Mars due to its barren appearance.
Finally, as the colors of the day begin to form remember to look behind you to see the shadow on the volcano fall across the Island behind you. You do need to get up really early for this. For anyone traveling from the west (The USA, Canada, etc) you will be handily jet lagged so schedule this early in your trip so the 4:00 am start isn’t too bothersome.
Downsides are the fact at this altitude at this time of day it is going to be COLD possibly freezing in winter. For people having packed for tropical beaches, this can be an issue! And don’t bank on being alone, this is VERY popular. Many hundreds will make the pilgrimage daily
Don’t want to get up early?
For some even jet-lagged getting up at 4:00 am or earlier is just a no-no. Especially on vacation. We have had many arguments about making the trip. But just because you can,t/won’t get up before some have gone to bed. doesn’t mean you can’ enjoy Haleakala’s splendor.
Sunset – Sunset is by no means as impressive as a sunrise. It falls over West Maui whereas the rise is over the crater which is more surreal. It also runs a higher risk of being ruined by cloud. It is still an impressive sight and means you can be home in time for Mai Tai’s. And it’s less crowded.
Star Gazing – Another option is Stargazing tours. As stated the Nights sky is breathtaking from the summit as the presence of several observatories indicates. Taking a Stargazing tour is a great way to appreciate this. Or just hang on after sunset and gaze up on your own.
Hiking – There are many fantastic hiking trails from the summit from short walks to severe day hikes into the crater.
Cycling – Some people (idiots?) Cycle up the mountain, some people take part in tours that allow them to just ride down, Part way since tours allowing the full decent were outlawed. And some rent Mountain bikes to ride the spine, offroad back all the way down. Cycle hire shops will offer more detail and guidance.
Tour – The road up is narrow and steep and takes you quite near the edge of some nasty drops. Not everyone wants to drive this. So tour operators will happily bus you up on any number of different options.
Anytime you drive into the Haleakala national park you will be required to pay a fee, Currently $25. For Sunrise you now need to book in advance on the NPS website due to the popularity.
2: Snorkelling / Diving
Snorkeling is probably the number one participation “sport” for visitors to Maui. And with good reason. The seas around the island are teeming with life. Couple this with warm water and beaches that seem custom made for the activity and you can see the attraction.
Almost every beach around the tourist areas boasts excellent snorkeling. The nature of the coastal areas lends perfectly to snorkeling. Sandy beaches with outcrops of Lava rocks makes for easy entry with very short swims to the good snorkel grounds. While ocean conditions can affect the quality and availability of the snorkelling there is normally somewhere on the island with great conditions.
Marine life is incredibly abundant around Maui and you will not need to go very far to find incredible sights underwater. You will see abundant reef fish of all sizes from tiny wrasse and angelfish to the larger Tangs, Triggers, Unicorn and Parrotfish. Many species of Coral grow abundantly on the Island, although the species are quite limited due to the islands remoteness and heavy surf condition (fragile corals don’t take winter swells to well) The amount of coral is abundant if damaged in some heavy tourist spots. More interesting species such as Eagle rays, Moray Eels, Octopus, can also be readily found although far less guaranteed. You even have a chance of spotting some more unique life such as Trevally, Reef Sharks or Dolphins in certain places. Pencil urchins are abundant on the seabed and give a real exotic nature to the snorkeling.
Sea turtles, once on the brink of extinction have made an incredible comeback in Hawaii. Sharing the ocean with these noble creatures could not be easier than on Maui. Most popular Snorkelling locations have resident populations of Green sea turtles (Honu). Noone should leave Maui without swimming with turtles at least once.
There are numerous companies offering snorkeling trips to the Volcanic Islet of Molokini that lies just off the Wailea Coast. These trips offer a chance to get out onto the ocean waves, with potential whale and Dolphins sightings followed by some fantastic snorkeling on abundant healthy coral reefs in the Craters inner sanctum. A trip normally includes lunch or breakfast and some drinks. Some also stop off at other sites giving you chance to see sea turtles.
With such incredible snorkeling, you would think the diving in Maui is equally fantastic. The reality is it’s a bit …OK. For beginners it’s fine. It lacks any real wow though. The reefs and sea life while spectacular are not really much greater than what you can experience snorkeling. We are not saying the diving is bad, just a little disappointing, less great than we expected.
Fortunately, there is a solution to this. Most dive operators don’t take you diving around Maui itself. instead, they whisk you off to one of the surrounding islands or islets where the diving is superb in places and out of this world in others.
Diving the Crater is a similar experience to Snorkelling, Rich Vibrant reef system packed with Coral, Fish and critters. The impossibly clear water means diving here is a real treat.
However, the best diving is found outside the crater while traversing the back wall. The vertical wall falls away into the deep blue nothing leaving you feeling very exposed as you explore the vast rock wall face that is plastered in life. Giant Moray’s Octopus Nudibranchs along with numerous fish occupy the nooks and cranny between the ragged rock face and coral. Looking out to sea can reveal sightings of large pelagic species cruising past. We have seen Reef sharks, Trevally and Tuna sailing by but at times Mata Rays, Bigger sharks, Dolphins and even Whales have been sighted close to the wall. A dive not to be missed, but only for experienced divers as it is quite technical.
Lanai’s dive site doesn’t really offer much above the sites found on Maui only everything is better and more pristine. More fish more Coral Healthier coral and clearer water. The crossing is short and interesting offering great views of Maui and possible sightings of dolphins and Whales along with flying fish.
Diving is easy and varied with lots of different sites available, The famous cathedrals offer a taste of cave diving without the risks (they are swim-ins, not real caves). Life is abundant and healthy. Diving on Lanai is everything you would expect from Hawaii Diving.
We only know one operator that heads to Molokai, Lahaina Divers, but their trips are seriously breathtaking. The reefs around the Moku Ho’oniki Rock where their dives take place are absolutely pristine and untouched. Life is even more abundant than elsewhere with all the normal reef fish and critters found elsewhere with a few small critters only found here. Currents are strong and divers often end up with the sensation of flying over the reef riding the current and quite incredible speeds.
If that were not enough, the main reason to head over to the Island is not it’s phenomenal reefs but the chance to Dive with Hammerhead sharks. Large numbers congregate around the rock and often move into divers hovering in the Blue for an inquisitive look. Diving here is easily the highlight of my diving career to date. Of course, shark encounters are not guaranteed Lahaina divers do have a good success rate.
This is a very advanced dive and Lahaina Divers has a strict acceptance policy.
Dive operators on Maui tend to be the Expensive Valet Diving type. Everything is provided and done for you. Even after dive cookies and free reef safe suncream. This type of operation is not cheap but excellent value.
We have written Specific guides on Dive sites and Dive Operators on Maui:
Best Maui Dive Operators
3: Road To Hana
Hana is a small town/village on the back side of the island almost cut off from the rest of civilisation. However, Hana as a destination is not the point of this journey. The Journey itself is the attraction.
The road to Hana is a 65-mile narrow road that winds its way along the coast through dense tropical rainforest, past waterfalls, over bridges with views of the rugged coastline and tree covered mountain valleys along the way. The trip has multiple stops some more “must see” than others but many well worth your time.
The drive is a bit hairy for the timid driver but we find its reputation is far worse than the reality. However, don’t be fooled by the 2hour google guestimate the journey can take upwards of 4 hours with stops along the way to just get to Hana. It is well worth the effort though. The drive is one of our favorite in the whole of the USA.
We are currently writing a full guide to the Road to Hana as a snippet in this article doesn’t come close to doing it justice.
However, if the thought of the road gives you nightmares but you still want to experience it you can take one of many van tours that will guide you to all the best sights along the way. It’s a long day out but will be the highlight of your trip.
4: Whale Watching
During whale season Hundreds maybe thousands of Humpback whales Visit Hawaii’s water for their annual winter getaway. The whales visit Hawaii as a way of escaping the harsh winters in the Arctic waters where they feed in summer, and also as a safe haven for calving females, so by spring there are plenty of baby wales too, ahhh.
The whale season begins November with the males arriving first but activity is sluggish as they are tired from the journey. As winter rolls on more whales arrive. Late winter to spring seas the whales begin to leave by April the numbers begin to dwindle and by the end of the month all but a few stragglers have left.
While whale can be spotted all along the coast west Maui is prime for shoreline viewing. There are many options for getting out on the water as part of a whale watching trip or even just a side attraction to other boating activities. Most snorkel trips in whale season will also have an element of whale watching. This is due to the abundance of Whales during the peak of the season as they really don’t need to go much out of their way to view whales.
The Whales are big business for Maui and the rest of Hawaii and would be higher than 4 on the list if they were year round, still, if you are lucky enough to be there in season it’s a very exciting spectacle. Remember to listen out for their songs whenever you are snorkeling, hearing whales sing is an unforgettable experience.
Visiting a Luau is one of the Most Cliched things you could do when visiting Hawaii. However, things become Cliched for a reason and we feel everyone should experience this at least once if only to see what the fuss is about.
Maui is home to some of the best Luaus on the islands and some less than fantastic ones too. Old Lahaina Luau is an excellently authentic Luau that forgoes some of the more touristy attractions that don’t really reflect the true history of Hawaii. The good news about Maui’s Luaus is most offer an open bar. No drink tokens or expensive second drinks just a hefty entrance fee and you can enjoy all the food and drink you like.
Every luau features some kind of authentic activities before a buffet style Luau Feast featuring Traditional Luau foods such as Kalua pork, Poi and Lomi Lomi Salmon (read our food guide here) followed by a Hula dance based show. It is not a cheap night out but most of Maui’s offerings are reasonable value for money when you consider you are getting dinner a show and open bar all in for the price.
We still attend a Luau most visits as really evening entertainment in Maui is quite sparse.
The waters of Maui are fairly calm most of the year and this leads to perfect conditions for sailing/cruising. During the day Cruises are centred around Snorkelling and Whale watching as previously mentioned but come the evening attention turns to romantic sunset dinner and cocktail cruises.
Maui is known as the Honeymoon capital of America. As such a bit of romance often goes down very well with visitors. The chance to enjoy a dinner while watching the incredible colours as the sun dips below the ocean can be the perfect romantic activity for any newlyweds, or any couple seeking that special evening.
That said some boats are a bit more Cattle class and cram people onto the decks with little regard for personal space. So take care in which cruise you choose and steer well clear of any that offer “shared” tables. Dining with perfect strangers can be fun and enlightening but it’s hardly the essence of romance and sharing that special moment.
One problem with Maui and the surrounding islands is large parts of the islands are almost inaccessible. The deep mountain valleys of West Maui, the vast swathes of rainforest on Haleakala, along with its craters and the Huge sea cliff of the North coast of Molokai amongst others. These areas are either completely off-limits or simply inaccessible to all but the hardiest explorer.
There is one way to makes these wonders accessible to all and that is by helicopter. Well accessible to those with a good chunk of disposable income that is. There are many helicopter tours available on Maui ranging from short jaunts into the west Maui mountains, too much longer island tours with stop offs.
View Maui from the air is an unforgettable experience, While not cheap, for a honeymoon or special occasion it can be considered reasonable value. The sights of lush green valleys with hidden waterfalls and rugged coastline are unforgettable.
The Sea cliffs on Molokai’s north coast are the tallest in the world and one of the only ways to see them is via helicopter, as such we recommend this tour as one of the best, the tour will take you deep into the West Maui Mountains before crossing the Molokai Channel and heading out over the dramatic sea cliffs that plunge 3000ft + into the Pacific ocean, you then pass the leper colony along with remote settlements before crossing back over pristine reefs and back to West Maui.
Maui’s remote mountainous valleys and rugged coastline are perfect for Hiking. Varied routes are available to suit all experience and fitness levels from gentle coastal paths to extreme hike through volcanic craters or deep into jungles to find remote Jurassic looking waterfalls.
Many trails are well marked and perfect for people just looking to enjoy the journey not concentrate on complex trail finding. While others really do take you far off the beaten path where few people have been before.
If lacing up your boots and hitting the trails is your thing Maui is sure to offer up unique and varied scenery that you will struggle to find elsewhere.
Maui is Jam-packed with little treasures you can hunt for and find. Most of which are not worthy of being included in a top 10 list but still well worth your time.
There are Hidden Waterfalls, relaxing pools, dramatic coasts, blow holes and fantastic photo opportunities. The Island has near endless opportunities to get off the beaten track and experience something truly unique to the island.
See out Hidden Gems of Maui guide for more information.
10: Surfing / Paddleboarding
You probably won’t be doing this
While Maui has some great surf breaks, it’s not the best Island for learning to surf. As very inexperienced surfers we can’t really honestly talk too much about the more advanced surfing the island has to offer, but any surfers should have no issue tracking down all they need to know. And if you are at the level to ride Jaws we doubt you will be reading this anyway.
There are several Surf companies operating in the tourist areas that can provide lessons and advise along with rental equipment for any new or wannabe Surfers out there.
The Calm waters around Maui lend themselves perfectly to Stand Up Paddleboarding or SUP. This more sedate version of surfing if perfect for cruising around Maui’s incredible coastline. Rentals are available form any surf shop on the Island and you can pick up the basics REALLY easily. A few hours practicing and you will be off cruising around the shoreline. Riding waves on the boards may take a lot more practice, however, but it’s incredible to watch the masters of this ancient form of sport.
BONUS: Absolutely Nothing
With so much to see and do it can be tempting to spend your entire trip tearing around to the myriad of places and attractions on you “must see” list cramming everything in, But Maui is such a beautiful laid back island you need to take time to just kick back and soak it in.
Whether that’s chilling on one or Maui’s incredible beaches, or by the hotel pool with a Mai Tai in hand or just morning (Kona) Coffee on your Lanai. There is quite simply NOTHING better to do on Maui than absolutely nothing at all.
The sights, sounds and smells you can absorb from your stationary vantage point can relax you right to your core and leave you more relaxed and refreshed than you have ever been, The only thing you need worry about is the fateful day when you have to board your flight home!
Have Your Say
Have you been to Maui? What did you do? What were your favorite things you did? Where any a disappointment? Or were they beyond your expectations? Let us know the highlight of your trip. Or if you have any suggestions to things we missed? As always any question just drop us a comment below. We would love to hear from you.