Bonus Budgeting Tips Included
Looking for the perfect way to use up that full week of vacation time left for this year? Maybe you’ve never been to the Hawaiian Islands, or haven’t explored beyond the shores of Oahu, well read on and take notes as this itinerary lays out the perfect way to spend 5 days in Maui.
This 5-day Maui itinerary will see you visiting the beautiful beaches, swimming with sea turtles, watching the famous sunrise in Haleakala National Park and experiencing all the other best places in between.
Is there really a best time of year to visit Maui, otherwise known as the Valley Isle? To be quite honest, by mainlander standards, the weather is only a little bit short of perfect no matter when you visit the Hawaiian Islands. However, you’re less likely to encounter rain (and large crowds) during summer months; Maui’s rainy season extends from November through to March.
Most major airlines offer direct flights to Maui’s Kahului airport. With a flight time of just over 5 hours from the West Coast of the United States, this 5-day Maui itinerary (plus 2 days of return travel) makes for the best way to use up that last remaining full week of vacation time.
Rental Car While on Maui
You will want to plan for a car rental while visiting Maui. The best way to get around the island is with a set of reliable wheels. While the Valley Isle does have some public transit, it’s a good idea to arrange for a rental car ahead of time, this will ensure that you are able to get around to all the best places. Car rental prices on Maui can vary greatly, the best deals are often found ahead of time, by reserving online.
But enough about weather and transportation, let’s get into the 5 day Maui itinerary:
Day 1 Maui Itinerary: South Maui & Big Beach
Since making my first trip to Maui in 2011, I have returned to the Valley Isle several times. I always enjoy spending my first day doing the scenic drive from Kihei to Big Beach and La Perouse Bay. One of the best things about spending your first day in South Maui is that the best stops are along a 10 mile strip of accessible ocean, allowing for lots of beach time, not to mention minimal driving time after a long day of flying. Quick disclaimer: you’ll want to pack your snorkel gear for this first day of activities! So why start your trip out in South Maui? Although Kihei’s abundant condos, food trucks and golf courses are not exceptional, it serves as a central starting point. There’s a good chance that you’ll be staying close by (or maybe you’re even staying in the Kihei area). Kihei is also a good stop for picking up breakfast, coffee, or snacks to take along for your first day of adventures in South Maui (it’s always a good idea to have extra food and drinks packed, as you never know when you will want to spend extra time at some of Maui’s best beaches, coral reefs, or other popular spots). From Kihei, you will head south to enjoy your first day of Maui adventures:
- Wailea Beach Path: the best way to start your South Maui day trip with an early morning stroll along the Wailea Beach Path. Use the Ulua Beach parking lot at the north end of the path, or start from the south parking lot near Polo Beach and the Fairmont Kea Lani. If you’re lucky, you might get glimpses of distant spouts from humpback whales.
- Makena Landing & Turtle Town: a short drive south along Makena Alanui Road will bring you to Makena Landing and Maluaka Beach. This area is commonly referred to as Turtle Town and is known for its high population of Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. You will want to hop into the water with your snorkel gear at one of Turtle Town’s beautiful beaches, as this is one of the best places on Maui to have a close encounter with sea turtles.
- Big Beach: a little bit further down the Makena Alanui Road is the Big Beach parking lot. It’s a good idea to plan on arriving at Big Beach by lunch, as the parking lot fills up toward late afternoon. Big Beach, as its name implies, is one of Maui’s largest sandy beaches and is a popular place to settle in for an ocean view picnic (sometimes there are food trucks parked along Makena Road, another great picnic option). Nearby Little Beach, Maui’s clothing optional beach, is a quick traverse over some rocks at the north end of Big Beach.
- Swim with tropical fish near La Perouse Bay: just a little bit further down Makena Road is one of Maui’s best stops for snorkelling (if you didn’t break out your snorkel gear already, you will want to pull it out now). Drive past Ahihi Cove to the beginning of the black rock from the Ahihi-Kinau lava flow. Use the Ahihi-Kinau Marine Preserve Parking lot on the ocean side of the road. A short walk down the lava rock path will bring you to a series of rocky beaches. While this destination is unlike all of Maui’s popular sandy beaches, its nearby coral reefs make it one of the best places for snorkelling with tropical fish. Read my post entitled 33 tropical fish and other marine life you will see in the Hawaiian Islands to learn more about the beautiful tropical fish you will see here and around the other Hawaiian Islands.
Day 2 Maui Itinerary: West Maui, Lahaina and Kaanapali Beach
Following on an adventure-filled first day road trip to South Maui, this West Maui day itinerary will bring you to more of the best beaches as well as a scenic drive along narrow roads, which promises not to disappoint.
- Lahaina: This South Maui city is a very popular place, so the best time to arrive is morning (if arriving later, it’s a good idea to leave a little bit of extra time to locate the best parking lot or available street parking). Lahaina is a great place to find ocean view restaurants, and is also a good departure point for whale watching tours. If you decide to extend your time in Lahaina before continuing to Kaanapali Beach, some of the other best things to do include visiting the Hawaiian Islands’ largest banyan tree, or if you prefer leaving the scenic drive around West Maui to a different day, book a late afternoon Old Lahaina Luau, after spending time at Kaanapali Beach and Black Rock (see below). At a typical Luau, you’ll enjoy some traditional foods of the Hawaiian Islands like roasted pig, tropical fruit and poi. Most importantly, you’ll experience hula dancing. For a more authentic Old Lahaina Luau experience, consider booking something in the town of Lahaina, rather than at one of the resorts along Kaanapali Beach.
- Kaanapali Beach and Black Rock: A short drive north will bring you to Kaanapali Parkway, and a strip of beautiful ocean view resorts. Continue toward the north end of the parkway to Whaler’s Village, one of the best stops in Maui for high end shopping. You can also learn about the Whaling history of Maui, and then stroll onward to the public sandy beaches. Next door, you will find the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa as well as Black Rock. This is one of the best beaches in Kaanapali for snorkelling with beautiful tropical fish, and if you’re lucky, maybe even some sea turtles and distant views of humpback whales. As usual, don’t forget your snorkel gear! The parking lot at the Kaanapali beach access point has limited free parking.
- Scenic Drive around West Maui and Iao Valley State Park: From Kaanapali beach area, follow the Honoapiilani Highway northwest toward Kapalua. If time permits, the Kapalua Bay Beach is a great place for a quick snorkel or dip in the water. From Kapalua, this road trip becomes exciting with narrow roads hugging the coastline. One of the best stops is the Nakalele blowhole; this is a great place for sweeping photos with an amazing ocean view. Continue winding along the narrow roads around the point of West Maui, you will eventually end this day itinerary as you come to Waihee-Waiehu and the northern suburbs of Kahului.
Day 3 Maui Itinerary: Haleakala National Park Exploration and Haleakala Sunrise
Experiencing the Haleakala sunrise is definitely a once in a lifetime experience! This said, a trip to the peak of Haleakala National Park is not for the faint of heart. Here are a few considerations:
- To experience the Haleakala sunrise at its fullest, you must drive to the summit, which is at over 10,000 feet above sea level. The air is noticeably thinner; when my wife and I went up in 2011, we were in pretty good shape and felt breathless just from walking around.
- It’s very cold in the morning, at 10,000 feet above sea level. You must bring a warm jacket, pants, etc. It would be tricky to travel with carry-on baggage only while also planning as ascent to the top of Haleakala National Park.
- To make it to the Haleakala crater in time for the sunset, you’ll likely need to get up between 3:00am and 4:00am!
- You’ll need to monitor the weather, if it’s going to be a particularly cloudy day, you might want to consider moving your dormant volcano ascent to a different day. It’s never a good idea to leave this early morning excursion to your last day, in case of bad weather
Would I recommend a visit to Haleakala National Park to see the sunrise with the distant ocean view? Yes, without a doubt. If you have never been to Haleakala crater, it is a must. Would I go again? No, probably not. Having experienced the Haleakala sunrise once was enough (and sans kids, making it that much easier). I would not bother taking the time to go up again, in fact, in my more recent visits to Maui, I have not ventured into Haleakala National Park (and I’m none the sadder for it).
- Beyond the sunrise at Haleakala National Park: This National Park is truly massive, at over 30,000 acres! Activities range from hiking and plant viewing (Haleakala National Park contains more endangered species than any other National Park) to camping, ziplining and mountain biking. You can truly dedicate as much time (or as little time) as you wish to exploring Haleakala National Park.
- Maui Upcountry Exploration: From Haleakala National Park, it’s a scenic drive (and not too far) to the farming region known as upcountry. After descending from the chill of 10,000 feet, the moderate temperatures of this slightly elevated region will feel quite pleasant. Start in the small artisanal town of Makawao where a stroll up and down the small main street is a perfect way to warm up. Visit Hot Island Glass or various other shops and galleries. From here, take in the Pukalani Farmer’s Market, and then end your upcountry with a visit to the Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm in Kula.
- North Shore and Paia: Descend back down to sea level for a visit to the north shore, if the surf is just right, you can watch boogie boarders at Lower Paia Park, or look for a higher vantage point to catch a glimpse of the serious north shore surfers catching larger waves. The main street in lower Paia is full of shops (souvenirs, clothing, ice cream) and is also an excellent place to grab dinner. I always make a point of ordering a mahi burger at the Paia Fish Market when I’m on Maui. You won’t regret it!
Day 4 Maui Itinerary: Driving the Hana Highway
This scenic drive is hands down one of the best things you can do for a day trip on Maui. Make sure to set aside a full day for this excursion as you will have good reason to make many stops along the way.
- Twin Falls and countless lookout points: Mile Marker Zero marks the beginning of this scenic drive. One of the best places to make a first stop Twin Falls. This beautiful waterfall is a great place to go for a fresh water swim, sit under the falls, or just take in the lush beauty. As you continue along this scenic drive, you will find countless beautiful lookouts and viewpoints. There are too many to name!
- Banana bread and Waikani Falls: A quick stop at Aunt Sandy’s Banana Bread in Keanae is the best way to take a midway break on this day trip to Hana. As silly as this sounds, banana bread, made with fresh locally grown bananas (in my opinion) is one of the best things about driving the Hana Highway. Nearby, you will find another beautiful waterfall: Waikana Falls. It’s another popular swimming hole, and definitely worth the stop.
- Hana Lava Tubes: I was skeptical when my wife insisted that we stop at the Hana lava tubes, but I must admit that it was a great place to get out and stretch after the long windy drive. Walking through the cave-like lava tubes is a good idea, if you have enough time, as it is a very unique experience. Nearby homes were also selling tropical fruit from little stands at the end of their driveways, which was a tasty bonus.
- Waianapanapa State Park Black Sand Beach: The striking beauty of the black sand beach set against lush green vegetation is truly the reward at the end of the Hana Highway. Make sure you give yourself lots of time to spend at Waianapanapa State Park, one of Maui’s most beautiful beaches. While the water is often too rough for swimming, this is one of the best beaches for getting great pictures.
Now that you’ve made it to Hana, the question you’ll need to ask yourself is whether you would like to loop back, returning to central Maui via the Hana Highway (it’s interesting to experience this scenic drive in both directions), or continue along the backside of Haleakala crater and South Maui. Sections of the back road along Haleakala crater are not paved (as well as steep and not maintained). Many rental car agreements companies will forbid you from driving this stretch of road. Having driven it myself, I can tell you that it is nerve wracking, but probably the best ocean view Maui has to offer, especially at sunset.
Day 5 Maui Itinerary: Sandy beaches, return to favorite spots, relax
With so much to do on the Valley Isle, it’s always a good idea to leave some flexibility in your itinerary. Maybe you didn’t get to all of the locations mentioned previously, or perhaps you encountered rain along the way and would like to use your last day to experience a specific location in the sunshine. If you’re still looking for more new things to do, before heading back to Kahului airport for your return journey, here are a few more suggestions:
- Snorkelling tour to Molokini crater: This popular activity is the perfect way to see hundreds of tropical fish, sea turtles, coral reefs and other marine life. The crater is actually a volcanic caldera a few miles off South Maui. It’s not possible to get there yourself, you must take a guided snorkelling tour.
- Iao Valley State Park: Return via Kahului to the Iao Valley State Park, which you passed through on the West Maui day trip. Make sure to walk to the scenic viewpoint overlooking the 1,200 foot Iao needle. The park is open daily from 7am to 6pm.
- Return to Paia and the north shore: If you have enough time, consider making a last day visit to the north shore town of Paia. This is your last chance to enjoy some fresh seafood, a visit to Mama’s Fish House, considered one of Maui’s best restaurants, is always a good thing. Paia is also one of the best areas to pick up souvenirs to bring home.
- Maui Ocean Centre: This aquarium is compact, but well organized. It is definitely worth the visit. You’ll be able to see and learn about all of the sea life in the waters surrounding Maui. At the time of writing this blog, significantly discounted tickets were available through Costco (online). Tickets are not physically sold at the aquarium, they must be purchased in advance online.
Bonus: Best way to get the most value for your money while visiting the Hawaiian Islands
My wife and I have travelled quite frequently to the Hawaiian Islands, and so we always look for ways to get the best deals to stretch our travel budget. Here are a few tips:
- While we enjoy going out to some of the island’s best restaurants and food trucks, we don’t eat out all of the time. On our first day, after landing at Kahului Airport, we usually make a stop at Costco, where we load up on groceries for the duration of our trip. We especially focus on easy snacks for all of the different day trip excursions. Besides, it’s kind of interesting to see the different kinds of products that are available Costco in the Hawaiian Islands.
- It’s always a good idea to reserve your rental car online ahead of time. Many rental car websites will let you reserve and then cancel without any financial penalty (it’s a good idea to check and recheck the rates in the weeks leading up to your trip to the Hawaiian Islands, if you find a better price, simply cancel your reservation and make a new one).
- Make sure that your car rental includes unlimited mileage. There’s nothing worse than returning your rental car to Kahului Airport to discover that you owe additional money for mileage.
- Some car rental companies have locations that are within the city of Kahului, and not at the Kahului Airport. Sometimes airport off site rentals can be the best deals, and a simple taxi ride to the off site rental counter can be well worth it.
- Snorkel gear, while available at many resorts and hotels for a daily or weekly fee, can also be rented at various other locations in places like Kahului, Kihei or Lahaina. Additionally, you might consider visiting Costco or Wal-Mart and simply buying some inexpensive flippers and a mask.
- Renting or purchasing your snorkel gear on the Hawaiian Islands means you can pack a little more lightly, and possibly even travel without checking your luggage to avoid unnecessary airline fees.
5 Day Maui Itinerary: Conclusion
I’ve visited Maui over the Christmas holidays, as well as in March and April. Even though this is during the rainy season, the weather has always been very pleasant, with a little bit of rain here and there, but mostly hot sunny days. In order to have the best time possible on Maui, you need to be able to slow down and enjoy yourself.
If that means cancelling something you had previously planned on doing, it’s probably worth changing your plans for. Another option is to switch around the order of activities within this 5 day Maui itinerary, nothing is set in stone and what matters most is that you have the best time possible enjoying beautiful beaches, swimming with sea turtles and tropical fish, and taking in all that Maui has to offer.