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Things to Do in Maui

Don’t let the high-rise condominiums of Ka’anapali fool you: Maui is no ordinary resort island. With lava rocks to climb, bamboo jungles to zip through, postcard-perfect beaches to loll on, and the entire Pacific Ocean to explore, Hawaii’s Valley Isle beckons travelers to dip, dive, paddle, surf, and soar into aloha. Many visitors begin their vacation in charming but touristy Lahaina Historic District, once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii—and home base for many luaus, sunset dinner cruises, and whale-watching tours. And while there’s nothing like spying a humpback whale in the quiet waters between Maui and Lanai, the 19th-century town has an old cemetery, ancient banyan tree, and a defensive fortress worth seeing. Then, find your calling in the great outdoors: Hike, bike, or helicopter over the iconic Mount Haleakala volcano for sweeping views and unforgettable sunrises; spot sea turtles while snorkeling, scuba diving, or kayaking in Molokini Crater; learn to surf in Maui’s beginner waves; or head on horseback through Ulupalakua Ranch (don’t worry—there’s also a winery). If you’re ready to road trip, cruise the 64-mile (103-kilometer) drive through paradise on the Road to Hana, home to tropical rainforest, hidden waterfalls, the Seven Sacred Pools, hiking trails through parts of Haleakala National Park, and some of the most beautiful scenery on the island. Learn about Hawaiian history and culture at the Bailey House Museum and the Maui Tropical Plantation, then enjoy an evening of Polynesian food and entertainment at the Royal Lahaina Luau or Feast at Lele.
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Molokini Crater
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Creating a perfect crescent shape in the sea, the sunken Molokini Crater is a snorkeling wonderland just offshore from Maui. Dubbed among the world’s top 10 diving locations, Molokini is prized by underwater enthusiasts for its protected reef, crystal-clear visibility and schools of tropical fish. The crater is also a favorite with birdwatchers, who come here to spot seabirds like petrels and shearwaters. Come here by organized tour for a day of swimming and diving, and terrific views across the water back to Maui.

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Haleakala Crater
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The lunar landscape of Haleakala Crater covers an enormous expanse – so big that Manhattan could squeeze inside. The world’s largest dormant volcano, the crater is protected by the Haleakala National Park.

This is the place for stunning views of cinder cones, wild hiking trails, Hawaiian legends and rare endangered species.

Gazing into the huge crater is an awe-inspiring sight, and several hikes lead across the crater floor.

Haleakala last erupted in 1790, and the odds are good that it could blow its top again one day.

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Road to Hana (Hana Highway)
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Hawaii is made for road trips, and one of the best is the Road to Hana, a relatively short drive that should take all day (if you're doing it right).

Technically called the Hana Highway, the Road to Hana is 52 miles of winding two-lane road connecting Kahului with the tiny town of Hana. You could certainly make the trip in a few hours (it's slow going with all the twists and turns, and most of the little bridges narrow to a single lane), but why would you? The scenery along the way is some of Maui's most beautiful, with waterfalls to see, beaches to visit, and short hikes to do en route.

Some of the sights you can visit along the way include the Twin Falls waterfalls, the Ho'okipa Lookout, Honomanu Bay, the two arboretums, the Hana Lava Tube, and Wai'anapanapa State Park. The town of Hana itself is tiny, but lovely and has many nice beaches.

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Puaʻa Kaʻa State Wayside Park
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A pleasant stop on the road to Hana, the Pua’a Ka’a Park offers the chance to take a scenic break from the long drive. Stretch your legs on its dirt path to nearby waterfalls and natural pools. The farther you’re willing to walk, the taller the waterfalls become and many people bring a picnic to enjoy as a part of this diversion.

Totaling five acres the area here is lush with tropical plants which, with the sound of the waterfalls, create a distinct rainforest feel. Picnic tables are set against scenic backdrops, and fish and tadpoles are visible in the shallower pools. Watch for wild birds and mongoose. The walking paths here are not rigorous, but a refreshing dip in one of the pools is a highlight for many on a hot day.

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Pipiwai Trail
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Even in the middle of a sunny day, hikers here will often find they are strolling along in near darkness. The towering bamboo is so thick in places that it nearly blocks out the sun, and it creaks and whistles high in the branches as it blows in the East Maui wind. The dense jungle of bamboo aside, what makes this hike such a Maui favorite is the multiple waterfalls and swimming holes. Reaching the waterfalls can be treacherous, however, as the trail leading down from the highway to the falls is steep, slippery, and dirt. Even the entrance requires skirting a fence that has been cleared for easier entry, and it’s a “proceed at your own risk” type of trail that isn’t officially marked.

For those who choose to visit, however, four different waterfalls splash their way through a forest is laden with bamboo and guava. Each waterfall has a small swimming hole where you can escape the midday heat, and the bottom two falls are the most accessible for hikers.

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Honolua Bay
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Honolua Bay sits peacefully with its vibrant turquoise and deep blue, warm waters off the northwestern coast of Maui. Preserved as a Marine Life Conservation District, fishing is strictly prohibited here, making the diversity and amount of marine life particularly strong. With its rocky volcanic cliffs sheltering from winds, the bay remains calm and the water clear and excellent for snorkeling. Colorful tropical fish such as parrotfish, damselfish, Moorish Idols, snapper, and wrasse, as well as tuna, sea turtles, and eels are commonly sighted. The rock formations and abundant corals make this a scenic place to explore underwater. It is also a popular surfing spot, particularly in the winter months, due to the long waves that crash at its coast. There is a small black sand beach, but most of the coastline is jagged rock. Visibility in the water tends to improve the farther you swim from the coast.

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Maalaea Harbor
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Most Maui visitors will spend some time at Ma’alaea Harbor, the launching point for many of the Island’s best sunset and dinner cruises, fishing charters, snorkeling adventures to the Molokini Crater—a submerged volcanic crater atoll—and more. The 89-slip harbor is the focal point of a quiet bay in the southern nook between the West Maui Mountains and towering Haleakala. Between late November and early April, head to the scenic lookout between mile markers 8 and 9 to the west of the harbor for sweeping vistas of leaping humpback whales, or any time of the year to spot the dolphins that sometimes ride waves alongside harbor-departing cruises. The Pacific Whale Foundation, organizers of the annual World Whale Day celebrations around Valentines Day (Feb. 14) have their headquarters in Ma’alaea Harbor for a reason. Have some time to kill while waiting for your boating adventure? Set back from the sea is the popular Maui Ocean Center, an aquarium highlighting Hawaiian sea life.

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La Perouse Bay
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La Perouse Bay is a stretch of coastline bordering the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve on Maui’s south shore. It was named for the French explorer Jean-François de La Pérouse, the first European to set foot on Maui in the 18th century. The bay is the site of Maui’s most recent volcanic activity, and the landscape is covered in jagged, black lava rock intermixed with pieces of white coral. Though there isn’t much of a beach visitors can hike this area using the King’s Trail, which winds past several small coves.

As its waters are protected from fishing by state law, aquatic life is abundant and excellent snorkeling spots can be found off its rocky coast. Spinner dolphins sightings are frequent in the bay. When waters are calm, it can be a great spot for swimming and kayaking.

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Kaʻanapali Beach
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Ka’anapali Beach is perhaps the most well-known beach in all of Maui. Situated on west the west coast, these three miles of soft, golden sand have been called the best beach in America. It was once the retreat for the royal family of Hawaii, and it is now home to some of the most famous Hawaiian resorts.

There are countless ways to enjoy the beautiful beach, from a stroll on the sand to swimming and snorkeling in the clear, warm sea. There is a paved walkway along the length of the beach, but it’s hard to resist walking on the sand. If you’re in the water, keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles — they’re common visitors to the area. During whale season, humpback whales can be seen breaching from the shore. At the northern end of the beach, Black Rock has some of the beach’s best snorkeling. Every night at sunset cliff divers can be seen performing the Hawaiian ritual here, lighting torches along the cliff before leaping into the ocean.

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Hana Lava Tube (Ka'eleku Caverns)
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Also known as the Hana Lava Tube, these subterranean caverns were created when lava once cooled on the surface here but continued to flow underneath the ground above. Now there are hundreds of unique rock formations throughout the half mile long cavern system, including stalagmites and stalactites. The caverns are the largest accessible lava tubes on Maui. It is estimated that the caves were formed nearly 30,000 years ago, and legend would tell us they are the work of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire.

Water drips from the ceilings of the caves, but bats and insects are noticeably absent from the environment. Much of the caverns look as though they’ve been coated in chocolate. It’s an underground landscape that feels almost otherworldly, waiting to be explored. Above ground, there is a unique red Ti botanical garden maze that is also easy to get lost in.

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More Things to Do in Maui

Lahaina

Lahaina

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The city of Lahaina on the western coast of Maui is, today, sometimes seen as simply a way to get to the beaches of Kaanapali. If you're just passing through, however, you're missing the town's charms completely.

Lahaina was once the royal capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, from 1820-1845, and many of the attractions in the historic district date from that era – including the old cemetery, where you'll find royal graves, and a defensive fortress with reconstructed walls. Later, the city's economy was built on the whaling industry. Visitors today, however, come by the thousands to go whale watching rather than hunting. The Lahaina Historic District is the center of tourism in the town, with several 19th century attractions to check out, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962. In addition to the historic attractions and whale watching, you can also enjoy snorkeling, surfing, sightseeing cruises, and luaus.

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Molokai Island

Molokai Island

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The island of Molokai may not be as popular with tourists as other Hawaiian islands, but it offers stunning scenery and plenty of opportunities to relax. Molokai's landscape includes two volcanoes, a large white sand beach, and a sacred valley – all in an island that's only 38 miles long and ten miles across. You can ride a mule through Kalaupapa National Historical Park (the only way to access the park), go camping at Papohaku Beach, and explore the Halawa Valley – where Polynesians are believed to have settled in the 7th century. Molokai is also said to be the place where hula comes from, where the goddess Laka first danced the hula. Today, there is an annual hula festival on Molokai each May.

During the mid-19th century, Molokai was the setting for a leper colony. The site of the settlement in Kalaupapa is still occupied by some of its former patients, so access is by invitation or organized tour only.

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Ulupalakua Ranch

Ulupalakua Ranch

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In the southern region of Maui near Haleakala lies Ulupalakua Ranch, the second largest cattle ranch on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Ulupalakua Ranch covers 18,000 acres stretching from the ocean up the sloping side of Haleakala Volcano. The ranch reaches an elevation of 6,000 feet at its highest point. Visitors to the ranch will mostly hang out at 2,000 feet, which still boasts incredible views of Maui and the nearby islands of Lanai and Molokai. The views are a big draw of Ulupalakua Ranch, but they aren't the only reason people like to visit it while traveling in Maui.

Ulupalakua Ranch also has many activities visitors can partake in. Horseback riding is available through Makena Stables. Wine enthusiasts will enjoy visiting as Ulupalakua Ranch is home to the only winery on the island. Sporting clay shooting is also available, which lets you shoot at a variety of stands, some with moving parts.

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Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park

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Haleakala National Park protects the world’s largest dormant volcano, Haleakala Crater. Exploring its huge expanses, it’s easy to see why haleakala means ‘house of the sun’.

The park is divided into two sections: the crater and the coastal area around Kipahulu.

Visitors come here to hike the wild lunar landscapes, with overnight treks particularly popular. Sunrise is an amazing sight over Haleakala, and the park is also well worth visiting at night, when the star-filled sky is crystal clear.

On the coast, the landscape is more lush, with fern-shaded pools and tumbling waterfalls to cool off in.

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Waiʻanapanapa State Park

Waiʻanapanapa State Park

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The legendary “Road to Hana” drive seems to indicate that the town of Hana itself is the goal, but you'd be crazy to miss a visit to Wai'anapanapa State Park.

Spending some time in Wai'anapanapa State Park is reason enough to stay overnight in Hana. It's a lush and gorgeous park just outside of Hana, and one of its most well-known features is the small black sand beach of Pa'iloa. It's a beautiful beach, to be sure, lovely for swimming or simply sunbathing, but there's more to this park than just a beach. Wai'anapanapa has two underwater caves you can visit that are filled with a combination of fresh and salt water. You can go swimming in these pools, too. This area also has historical significance, too, as you'll see when you visit the ancient burial sites. There is also a trail that winds three miles along the coast, from the park all the way into Hana Town itself.

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Paia

Paia

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Once a little sugarcane town, tiny Paia was brought to world notice by the windsurfers who discovered its first-class waves. It’s now known as the windsurfing capital of the world. The town’s old plantation-style wooden buildings are now home to funky bars and restaurants, craft shops, surf stores and art galleries. The town’s windsurfing hub is nearby Ho'okipa Beach. Pull up a towel and watch the surfers in action, or head to calmer Baldwin Beach for a paddle.

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Maui Tropical Plantation

Maui Tropical Plantation

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For a look at what Maui's agricultural life once looked like, visit Maui Tropical Plantation – a sort of plantation theme park that's also still a working plantation.

Maui Tropical Plantation covers about 60 acres, and was originally designed to turn the island's rich agricultural history into a tourist attraction. There is a tram ride you can take, which includes a narrated tour of the plantation and historic information. You'll learn about crops for which Maui is famous – sugar cane, pineapple, coffee, bananas, and macadamia nuts, among other things. You can even try your hand at husking a coconut.

In addition to the crops themselves, the plantation also features the Maui Country Store, which is full of products made on the island of Maui. There's an on-site restaurant, too, where you can sample some of the fresh fruits you see growing in the fields all around you.

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Hana

Hana

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Hana is a community on the eastern end of Maui, and it might remain largely isolated if not for the spectacular scenery on the Hana Highway that draws visitors in droves.

Hana Town itself has a small population, although there's a constant influx of travelers. It's hot and humid year-round, but you'll be able to escape the tropical conditions at any one of the many excellent beaches in and around Hana – including a black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park, and Hamoa Beach (sometimes called Hawaii's most beautiful beach).

The Hana Highway – also known as the Road to Hana – meanders more than 50 miles along the northern shore of Maui and leads to the community of Hana. If you've got the time, the best way to travel the Hana Highway is slowly, stopping frequently to check out waterfalls, beaches, and breathtaking views.

Along with the many attractions along the Road to Hana, there are also historic and scenic points of interest in Hana Town itself.

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Hanakao'o Beach Park

Hanakao'o Beach Park

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Oheo Gulch

Oheo Gulch

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The Ohe’o Gulch is a vibrantly green valley that has been naturally created by centuries of rainforest streams. Also called the Kipahulu Area, these lush lands became part of the Haleakala National Park in the 1940s. The main draw for visitors is the many tall waterfalls that feed into groups of large, tiered natural pools, sometimes called the Seven Sacred Pools of Ohe’o. Swimming in the fresh water is popular when water levels are safe.

Two streams, the the Palikea and Pipiwai, are the source of all of the water in this area. Visitors can hike the two-mile Pipiwai Trail (3-5 hours roundtrip) along the streams with view of the pools. Along the trail, there is one tranquil natural pool that can be less crowded than the Seven Sacred Pools area. The path ends at the 400-foot-tall Waimoku Falls, and you can always cool off in the pools after finishing the hike.

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Maui Ocean Center

Maui Ocean Center

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When you can't get enough of sea life in the waters around Maui, then head for the Maui Ocean Center in the town of Wailuku.

Opened in 1998, Maui Ocean Center is an aquarium featuring only sea life that lives around the Hawaiian islands. It's the largest tropical aquarium in the western hemisphere, and features an enormous Open Ocean tank. There's an acrylic tunnel through the tank, giving visitors the feeling of truly being underwater. Among the diverse array of sea life in the 60 exhibits at the aquarium, you'll see octopuses, stingrays, turtles, sea horses, moray eels, jellies, and sharks, and you'll learn about dolphins, whales, and monk seals – not to mention thousands of fish. Maui Ocean Center also has the largest collection of live corals in the country.

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Bailey House Museum

Bailey House Museum

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The Bailey House is a historical house and museum operated by the Maui Historical Society. It houses the largest collection of Hawaiian artifacts on Maui, many dating back to the 19th century when the house was built. The home was constructed as a mission in 1833 on what was then the royal compound of Kahekili, the last ruling chief of Maui, and the second story contains many of the koa wood furniture that belonged to the missionary Edward Bailey, who lived in the house. The first floor contains remnants of native Hawaiian life, from wooden bowls and utensils to spears and shark teeth used in battle. The museum also houses a private collection of Edward Bailey’s paintings of Maui along with the oldest surviving photographs of the island.

Outside you can view dozens of native Hawaiian plants in the house gardens. There is a 100-year-old outrigger canoe and a historic surfboard that belonged to Duke Kahanamoku in an outdoor gallery beside the entrance to the house.

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Wailea

Wailea

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The town of Wailea is located on Maui's southwestern coast, known as a beach resort with spectacular beaches and luxury resort hotels. Wailea itself is relatively small, with a population under 6,000, but it's home to no less than five resort hotels – including two huge luxury properties. There are a number of really excellent beaches, such as Ulua Beach, Polo Beach and Wailea Beach, and there are three golf courses that make Wailea a popular draw for golfing vacations, too.

Even if you're not staying in one of the fancy beachfront hotels, you can still enjoy Wailea's gorgeous scenery. Put on your walking shoes and head for the coastal nature trail that winds along the water. It's paved, so it's easy going, and it'll give you an up-close look at an abundance of unique Hawaiian plants. In the morning, the trail is full of joggers, and in the evening, it's an ideal spot to watch the sunset.

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Makena

Makena

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Makena has the notorious distinction of being the first place where a Western explorer set foot on the island of Maui. When Jean Francois de La Perouse first “discovered” the island of Maui in 1786, he found a thriving population of Native Hawaiians living along this volcanic shoreline. Unlike areas of South Maui such as Kihei and Wailea which are so developed today, Makena was the population center for South Maui’s original inhabitants, and consequently, it’s an area which is heavily steeped in ancient history and culture.

Although much of modern Makena has been developed with resorts and homes, this history is still evident at places such as Keawala’i Church—a Congregational Church established in 1832—where sermons are still held in the Hawaiian language. Similarly, at the end of the paved road in Keone’o’io Bay, the trailhead begins for the ancient King’s Highway, a rocky path commissioned by King Pi’ilani which once wrapped its way around the entire island.

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