Maui is a true tropical paradise packed with incredible beaches, warm clear seas, lush green plants, Fantastic bars and restaurants and a myriad of things to do and sights to see. But before you can plan all that you need to work out where the best place to stay on Maui, Hawaii is for YOU.
Our Guide on Where to stay on Maui, Hawaii is designed to give you the information you need to best decide what area of Maui would suit you best, both in terms of Experience and Budget. Nowhere is Maui is going to be “cheap” but some places are cheaper and more affordable than other. Some hotels are frivolously expensive but also offer a whole lot in terms of luxury.
West Maui or South Maui
The island has two large tourist centres West Maui and South Maui. Most tourists will opt for one of those. And for a first Visit, we definitely recommend these areas. Even Seasoned travellers normally spend most of their time in either west or south Maui. We have included a section further down for some of the more Niche or different areas of Maui. Should you really not want to stay in the tourist areas. However, we would more recommend just a night or two in these areas rather than a full stay. A night in Hana is especially rewarding.
Both West and South Maui have a similarly broad range accommodation and amenities. From high-end luxury to “budget” Condo complexes and a plethora or bars restaurants and excursion operators. They both have their pro’s and cons but really both are excellent bases, the take-home message has to be where ever you choose you will have a fantastic trip, but there will still be a perfect location for you. So let’s try and find what that place is?
Map Showing the Different Areas you could stay on Maui.
First, we will look at the pros and con before taking a look at the different towns and resorts in each area.
- More Scenic – Feels more remote with more dramatic mountain backdrops
- Incredible Beaches and Ocean Quality – The water Quality is superb and beaches pristine.
- All Amenities within small area – No need to leave the area other than for certain activities
- Wide choice of accommodation – Style and Prices
- Further from Airport and some island attraction – Although marginally
- More Susceptible to Rain – Especially further north
- Kihei offers the cheapest accommodation – But has a budget feel
- Wailea very high-end luxury – Location of choice for the Celebrity Elites!
- Best Weather – Almost always sunny
- Closest to Airport and some Island Attractions – Marginally
- Wailea can be very expensive – Although there are affordable options
- Ocean Quality can be poor – especially in North Kihei, Full explanation below.
Now let’s take a look at the resort areas in a little more detail
West Maui Resort Areas
Resorts Begin at Lahaina and continue northward in the following order:
Time from Airport 30-35 Mins
Best for Visiting
Lahaina is the main town of West Maui and serves as the HUB for most of the other resort areas. It’s a busy and Vibrant town, possibly too busy at times. We don’t normally recommend staying in Lahaina itself it’s more a place to come to enjoy an evening out or do some shopping. Its busy Habour is the location for most of West Maui’s Ocean based Excursions and activities.
Lahania has a large number of restaurants and bars including a few chain brands. It also has two large supermarkets perfect for stocking up for evenings on the Lanai. If your Hotel or Condos offer BBQ’s Here where to get your Steaks!
Time from Airport 35-40 Mins
Best for Luxury Resorts
Kaanapali see’s the introduction of high rise luxury resort complexes. Situated along Black Rock Beach and Airport Beach are a number of large luxurious hotel and condo resort complexes. These offer a good range of price points with something to suit most people.
The large centre focal point of Black rock Splits the two beach areas and offers fantastic snorkeling with a large array of fish, turtles and sea life. Watch out (or Join) the cliff jumpers though. And watch out for the evening Cliff diving ceremony at sunset, provided (free) by the Sheraton Hotel.
The beach walk also offers many restaurants and bars for people to enjoy. While often part of different hotels they are open for all. They are often at the high-end price wise but look out for happy hours and soak up the incredible setting.
While Kaanapali’s resort offers a luxurious feel and the beach and water quality are off the scale, the area does have a built-up feel to it. The high rise building, while not on the Waikiki scale, do detract from the tropical paradise feeling.
Napili – Honokawai / Kahana
Time from Airport 40-50 Mins
Best for Budget Resorts
As we continue up the coast we reach Napili-Honokawai, however, most people can’t or won’t say that so the area has become known as Kahana. Similar to Kaanapali only with a more budget feel and slightly more wallet-friendly prices the area still offers a lot. The hotels give way to Condo complex’s and many are privately owned. Giving this area a more homely feel.
The Bars and restaurants also have a more budget feel about them and prices are better.
Time from Airport 50-55 Mins
Best for Escaping
From Napili Bay onwards the local building regulations outlaw any buildings over two stories high. This gives Napili bay and it’d neighbour Kapalua Bay and much less built-up feel. You start to really feel you are in paradise. The beach made up of deep soft coral sand, lapped by the warm clear sea filled with fish, Turtles and octopus really help melt away the real world.
The Downside to this is the Condo Complexes that line the bay are a long way from hotels. You are far more left to fend for yourselves. Some people prefer this as it feels more like a home away from home. But those looking for a fully catered do nothing vacation may not find the thought of cooking for yourself very appealing.
There are fewer restaurants and amenities here and it’s getting to the point where we would say a cat is essential. The Small beautiful bay is also very popular and so does get crowded. And rain is more frequent this far around the Island as we move out the rain shadow. Still, rain is infrequent and short-lived.
The famous Gazebo restaurant sits on the headland and serves stonking breakfasts (order to go!) to enjoy while taking in the incredible views and even Whales during the season. You can then take a swim with the Sea turtles who live in the bay next door (short walk) but come round to Napili to feed.
Time from Airport 55-60 Mins
Best for Relaxing
Kapalua Bay sits next door to Napili and most of what can be said about Napili applies to Kapalua. Kapalua has a slightly more upmarket feel with more private homes and some 5-star hotels.
Merrimans Restaraunt sits proudly on the headland between the two Bays offering a fantastic setting for a sunset meal.
The Golf course at the North end of Kapalua marks the end of the built-up areas of West Maui. From here on Rugged nature takes over. There is still plenty to see and do beyond however in terms of accommodation we are done.
Sitting in the rain shadow of Haleakala South Maui enjoys very little rain and warm sunny days year round. Showers become more frequent the further south you go but the resort areas occupy the drier parts and get most of their water from irrigation, not rainfall.
South Maui position on the Island puts in the Rain Shadow of Haleakala, Meaning it gets very little rain The weather most days of the year is warm and sunny. As you head south rain showers increase slightly but they remain infrequent. Only large rain systems moving in over the islands cause any significant rain in this part of Hawaii.
The Resort area begins on the outskirts of Kihei and continues almost unbroken following the coast until Makena. shortly after there the road passes the (extinct) Lava field then La Perouse Bay before the road ends. The road continues as a trail only.
Time from Airport 15-20 Mins
Best for Budget Resorts and Condo’s
Kihei Represents Maui’s budget offering. We mentioned earlier that cheap in Maui is not necessarily cheap. Just cheaper. There is not much in Maui that is truly cheap. Kehei offers a good shot at being reasonably affordable for most. The area has a large number of hotels and Condo complexes for most budgets.
at the south end of Kihei, the water quality is less than you would expect on Hawaii. Allegedly some farming runoff causes the water to be less than perfect. The beaches and coastal views are largely unaffected but snorkelling in this area is far below the standard elsewhere on the island. If snorkelling from your Hotel/Condo is of utmost importance then this is not the place for you. Excellent snorkelling beaches are available further south in Kihei, Wailea or Makena, but you will need to travel. the Further south you go in Kihei the better the issue gets and as you reach Kamaole I Beach it has cleared up together.
For many people, the less than perfect water will not be a big issue and Kihei has many satisfied visitors year after year. Kihei act’s as a hub for the district with shops, restaurants and many amenities available here. Almost anything you could want can be found here.
Time from Airport 20-25 Mins
Best for Celebrities
As you begin to leave Kihei the area takes a turn for the upmarket. Things become lusher and more manicured, you get the feeling or arriving in a privileged gated community. It’s all very pleasant indeed.
Wailea is the home of the high-cost luxury resorts of Maui. large seafront hotel complexes command envious positions along the coast, and staying in one of these is the definition of Hawaiian luxury. Expect well-appointed rooms, Lush manicured gardens with spectacular pools with stunning sea views. It doesn’t come cheap though. You will also find many high-end restaurants and bars amongst the Hotels. A fabulous beach path traverses the seafront connecting the multitude of beaches all offering beautiful waters and fabulous snorkelling.
Wailea doesn’t have to be super expensive. There are several options for lover budgets. Hotels set back from the seafront are often cheaper but still excellent. And the boundary between Wailea and Kihei are pretty blurred. Some hotels on the border are classed a Kihei and priced as Kihei but are practically Wailea. You are not going to get the full experience but you still get the same incredible coastline, beaches and restaurants as the celebrity elite.
After all, Wailea is the Hawaiian playground of the rich and famous. Most of those fantastic Hawaii Selfies you see on Instagram are taken here. It’s also the holiday home to many of Hollywood’s elite such as Oprah and Clint Eastwood.
Time from Airport 30 Mins
Best for Visiting
Makena starts to become far more residential than tourist as you continue up the coast. There are still options, especially private rentals but far less than Wailea and Kihei. It is still a beautiful area and has some of the best beaches and snorkelling on the island. But there are far fewer provisions for tourists. Not far after you reach the Lava Flow, Maui most recent, and then the road ends at La Perouse Bay, after here it’s a long lonely trail with nothing but rugged raw Nature.
As said the majority of visitors would stay in the above two area’s and certainly for a first visit we would recommend staying in either west or South Maui. But there are other options however they are a little niche.
Time from Airport 15 Mins
Best for forgetting the real world
This odd little town on the North coast of Maui is a bit of an acquired taste. It is not really geared for tourists. There are a few options but you will need to hunt them out. Really unless you have been to Paia before and KNOW you want to stay there it’s probably best saving it for another time and just visit first. Which is highly recommended.
Paia is a very laid back hippy style of town and is loved by many. The coast is very different and is exposed to the full force of the Pacific. Lots of Dining options including the Famous Mama’s fish house ($$$).
Time from Airport 2-4 Hours
Best for utter peace
Hana is best described as being in the middle of nowhere. But this is exactly its charm. This quiet little village is practically cut off from rest of the island. So not only is Hawaii the most remote island chain in the world but Hana is even cut off within that. Two roads lead to Hana one is long, winding and in many stretches single lane (really a single lane, not one lane each way one lane for BOTH ways) that winds its way through dense remote rain forest. And that is the GOOD road. The other is little more than an offroad track that winds through a barren volcanic desert.
Despite this Hana is very busy, during the day as throngs of day tripper descend on it. Driving the “Road to Hana” is one of the Number one things to do on Maui. However, after the Day trippers begin their arduous trek back the town transforms. The Stars come out thanks to Hana’s envious Dark Skies the jungle song begins and utter peace descends on the town.
There isn’t a heap to do but that’s the point. Utter relaxation. Once all the day trippers have left you are free to explore the quiet relaxed town. Accommodation is fairly sparse and books up quick. It’s not what you would think of as luxury either far more homely. But the remote tropical isolation os it’s own kind of luxury.
For most we don’t really recommend spending your whole trip in Hana, it’s isolation is a little much for some. However, a night or two in the town is a unique experience. It also really changes a “road to Hana” trip. It’s a LONG hard day trying to cram in everything to see along the way. Staying in the town allows you to relax on the way in and get up early to explore before all the day trippers arrive.
It’s worth mentioning Hana is in a rainforest area and as such you will probably experience rain…its called rain forest for a reason.
Upcountry – Kula
Time from Airport 25 Mins
Best for an alternative Experience
The Grassy Farmland climate feels a million miles away from what you would expect on Maui. Up here with the fields, deciduous trees, cattle and horses you feel like you are in rural mainland America. Note a remote tropical island. The elevation makes the air cooler and really the only clue you are out on a rock in the middle of the ocean is when you catch the view of the rest of the island off to the west.
Due to this, we don’t normally recommend Kula for a first visit. Most people heading to a tropical island want the tropical island experience. However, we certainly advise a visit to the town as the experience is like nowhere else on Maui.
Time from Airport 5 Mins
Best for Essentials
There are hotels and places to Stay in Kahului, but we really don’t advise it. As the Islands main hub, this is definitely a visit only type of place, and even then only really for necessities shopping etc… It is a Vital part of Island life but it’s just not where we want to spend our Vacation.
So where should you Stay?
The first thing to say is simply there isn’t a bad place to stay in Maui, apart from maybe Kahului, So where ever is taking your fancy is probably the right place. While we all would love to stay in one of Wailea and Kaanapilis big budget hotel resorts, they can be beyond most peoples budgets.
The good news is the more budget options are still a great offering. Even cheaper condo complex’s offer manicured gardens spacious accommodation pools and often Outdoor grills that are free to use. It offers a fantastic Outdoor living experience that is hard to find elsewhere. Eating outdoors on your Lanai overlooking the ocean at sunset is the sort of experience that will make you DREAD your return flight!
So once you have decided between west or south Maui simply then look for accommodation that fits your budget.
Hotel or Condo?
The difference between the two is fairly limited. Condos are fantastic for those who wish to save a little money by cooking the odd meal yourself. Whereas those wanting to definitely eat out every meal will enjoy the everything provided nature of the hotel resorts. You find the sort of ultra all inclusive resort that you would in the Carribean, but resorts still have everything you need in one place. Not that you shouldn’t venture out. The hotel’s restaurant choice will be fairly limited.
Of course, having a full kitchen doesn’t mean you have to cook and the extra space and homely feel would suit most people. The only issue is the condo complexes tend to be a little more down market. They are still beautiful tropical paradises.
Many US Residents own there own Condo on the Island (Lucky *****) and when not using them themselves they rent them out to others using sites such as VBRO.com or HomeAway.com. This method involves A bit more faffing about, but gives you the chance to book a Condo for a bit less than through the Condo Complex themselves. It also allows you to get the EXACT condo you want. Booking through the complex means you book a type of condo but the particular one can be hit or miss. By using a site like VBRO.com or HomeAway you choose the EXACT condo. The pictures you be will be the condo you get not a show condo.
You will lose a little of the peace of mind you get booking with a complex but with a little Due diligence (too good to be true probably is) the risks of falling for a scam are minimal. Follow the Sites guidelines and it’s normally guaranteed. We think it’s it’s well worth it but if the hassle turns you off most condo complexes advertise on hotel aggregators such as booking.com or Expedia.com
Let us know what your favourite place to Stay in Hawaii is? Have you stayed at any of the locations recommended? What did you think? Let us know if you have any questions or would like and recommendations. We are always happy to help.