How To Plan a Maui Vacation

Woman snorkeling
In Maui, they say, "Maui no ka oi," which means "Maui is the best!" Now, of course, in Kauai, they say, "Kauai no ka oi" and in Oahu, they say, "Oahu no ka oi," but in Maui, it's really true. Maui has a little bit of everything for everyone, from beautiful beaches to remote, unspoiled territory to bustling shopping, restaurants and nightlife. Here are some steps to help you plan your Maui vacation:

  • Pick where you want to stay. The bulk of hotels, resorts and condos fall in two general sections: West Maui and South Maui (see map here). West Maui has the most options and was the first resort area to be developed. It starts near old Lahina town with its dozens of restaurants and shops. There are a few lodging options, but they’re all pretty small. Just north of Lahina is Kaanapali, which is full-scale resort-ville. Kaanapali has a nice beach lined with big-name hotels like Hyatt, Westin, Sheraton and Marriott. North of Kaanapali, you’ll find lots of condos available to rent around Kahana, a sleepy, old-school set of hotels at Napili (my personal favorite) and then Kapalua, which has a Ritz-Carlton along with some very high-end condos.

South Maui is the other big resort area. West Maui might have a little more going on, but there are still a fair number of restaurants in South Maui. It starts with Kihei, which has a large number of budget hotels and condos. Wailea is home to the newest and fanciest resorts in Maui, including the Four Seasons, the Grand Wailea and the Fairmont Kea Lani, amongst others. If you have the money to burn, this is the place to be.

If you want a slower pace and white sand beaches aren’t as important to you, consider some options that are off of the beaten path. Hana is on the far side of the island, which gets more rain, but there are a few small places to stay there. Lots of them don’t have phones in the room and the isolation can help you unwind if you want to get away from it all. “Upcountry” Maui, on the slopes of the Haleakala volcano, gives you more of a ranch feel.

  • Book a flight. Unless you plan on stowing away on a container ship, you’ll almost certainly need to fly into Maui. That’s OK, because the Kahuli airport is well served. You can get direct flights from 10 different airlines or connect through the other Hawaiian islands. The airport in Maui quickly sets the tone for your Hawaiian stay. It’s open-air and laid back. You are definitely not at O’Hare anymore. If you’re connecting from other Hawaiian islands, you might be able to fly into the smaller airports in Maui, Kapalua or Hana. These are good options if you’re staying in one of these areas. (Hawaii is a long flight for most travelers, if you're a nervous flyer you should take steps to overcome your fear of flying before you go).
  • Get a car. Or not. Most of the resort areas are anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes away from the airport. If you plan on mostly hanging out on the beach, you might not need a car, especially if you’re staying in an area where you can walk to other places for dinner. But if you’re going to be active, it’s best to get a car. The rental car agencies always seem to have lots of Jeeps and convertible Mustangs for folks that are willing to pay a little extra to feel the wind in their hair on vacation. If this sounds good to you, don’t be afraid to negotiate. Trust me, they have a lot of room to bargain.
  • Plan your activities. Whether you’re staying for three days or three weeks, you could have every day booked with activities. Some of the most popular include:
        • The road to Hana: A twisty, turning drive through the lushest part of the island can take you to hidden swimming holes, red-sand beaches and exotic hikes.
        • Sunrise at Haleakala: The crater of the dormant volcano attracts hundreds of people every morning who wake up at 4 A.M. to shiver in the cold and watch the sun come up. You can do it on your own or there are a number of groups that will drive you up and then let you ride a bike back down the volcano.
        • Snorkeling at Molokini: A very popular spot, this moon-shaped volcanic remnant attracts millions of beautiful fish and more than a few boats.

We haven’t even started to talk about golfing, whale watching, surf lessons or just plain hanging out on the beach.

Maui is one of the prime vacation spots on the planet. At some point, just stop planning and go!


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