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20 Reasons Maui Is the Best Hawaiian Island

Magical Maui offers a lifetime's worth of unique experiences, unparalleled scenery, and moments that make it the must-visit Hawaiian island.

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Sunrise on the summit of Haleakala on the Hawaiian Island of Maui
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Watch the sunrise above clouds

Reaching 10,000 feet into the stratosphere, the dormant Haleakala Volcano is the center of the national park that bears its name and is the ultimate place to watch the sun rise up through a halo of clouds (Haleakala means “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian). Pack a jacket—it’s cold up here! Here are the 11 things you need to know before booking a Hawaiian vacation.

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biking down haleakala highway
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Bike down a volcano

Sign up for a bike ride for an adrenaline-filled addition to your Maui vacation. You’ll cruise 37 miles down Haleakala’s steep slopes and take in all the volcanic rock formations and deep green vegetation in the crisp cool air.

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Coral reef red pencil sea urchin surrounded by brain corals in the molokini crater

Snorkel in a volcanic cone

Can’t get enough of volcanoes? Maui is the home of one of just three volcanic atolls in the world, Molokini Crater. A snorkel trip to this watery wonderland will reveal a rainbow of coral and bountiful schools of tropical fish all within the crystal clear crater’s waters.

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Wailea Beach Pathway, Maui Hawaii
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Relax on jaw-dropping beaches

It’s not all volcanoes on Maui; some of the best beaches in the world are located here, too. In fact, Wailea Beach on the south coast is one of the top beaches in the United States. Conde Nast Traveler’s number one choice in their 20 Best Beaches in the World last year was Maui’s black volcanic sand Honokalani Beach at Wai’anapanapa State Park, a must-stop option on the Road to Hana.

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Drone Aerial Panorama - Hulupoe Bay - Island of Lana'i, Hawaii
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Enjoy three amazing islands

Here’s another highlight that makes Maui unique: It’s actually comprised of three islands, not one. Romantic Lanai and uncrowded Molokai are also part of Maui, which is officially known as Maui Nui. From Maui island, you can sail to Lanai on a scenic 45-minute Expeditions ferry or hop a 25-minute view-filled flight to Molokai.

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Drone Aerial Panorama - Island of Maui, Hawaii
Joe West/Shutterstock

Stay on the world’s largest private island

Although part of Maui Nui, Lanai is also the largest private island in the world since it’s 98 percent owned by Oracle’s Larry Ellison. However, unlike other private islands, you’re free to visit at any time. Spend the night at the spectacular Four Seasons Lanai to truly feel like you’ve escaped to a plush private island getaway. On and off the islands, these popular Hawaiian secrets hold the secret to Zen.

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Petroglyphs on the Big Island of Hawaii
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See ancient petroglyphs

As you explore the secluded island, you’ll find evidence of thousands of years of visitors, including Ki’i pohaku (petroglyphs). These will take a little hiking to reach, but the effort is well worth it: The images depict a wide range of forms, including those which were only known to Hawaiians prior to western contact. You can see the petroglyphs near Kaiolohia (Shipwreck Beach), along the Polihua Trail, and at Kaunolu.

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Kalaupapa Lookout, Molokai, Hawaii-3

Gaze over the edge of the world’s tallest sea cliffs

Rugged Molokai is known for its great horseback riding, lack of crowds, and amazing topography, including the towering sea cliffs in remote Kalaupapa National Historical Park on the north side of the island. If beaches are more your speed, check out the 25 best beaches in America to hit this summer.

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Bridge on the Hana Highway across the Wailua Nui Stream near the Upper Waikuni Falls on Maui Island in Hawaii.
Chris Curtis/Shutterstock

Drive the iconic road to Hana

One of the top Maui attractions is the 50 miles of twisting, turning, one-lane highway known as the Road to Hana. You’ll navigate through dense forest, trickling streams, and gorgeous waterfalls that make the drive one of the most stunning in the world. Leave yourself plenty of time to hike along nature trails, take in the panoramic views, stop at tropical snack stands (especially Coconut Glen’s ice cream), and take a dip in natural pools.

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Breaching Hump Back Whale off the coast of Honolulu. Hawaii.
Sue Leonard Photography/Shutterstock

Watch whales

National Geographic recommends Maui as the best place to catch a glimpse of the 10,000 humpback whales that migrate from Alaska every year to the warm Pacific waters to mate, give birth, and nurse their young. You can often catch a glimpse of the massive whales right from the shore during peak whale season, December through April. But to get a close-up look, plus in-depth knowledge, head out to sea on a viewing expedition with the experts at the Pacific Whale Foundation.

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paia hawaii

Chill out in Paia

A funky beach town at the start of the road to Hana, Paia is where surfers, beachgoers, and windsurfers from nearby Hoʻokipa Beach go to relax after hitting the waves. The former sugarcane enclave is now the coolest town in Hawaii, where you’ll find colorful independent boutiques, laid-back coffee shops, and plenty of ono (tasty) spots to enjoy a relaxed bite to eat. While you’re planning, be sure to avoid the 10 little travel mistakes that make your vacation unnecessarily stressful.

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Banyan tree in Waikiki beach Hawaii

Cool off under an ancient banyan tree

There’s always shade under one of the largest banyan trees in the United States. Imported from India and planted in front of the Lahaina Courthouse in 1873, it was only eight feet when it was planted. Now, this massive tree on Front Street is the size of an entire city block and stands more than 60 feet high.

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Hawaiian dancers

Enjoy a real luau

If you’ve ever been curious about Hawaiian culture, the Old Lahaina Luau is one of the best places in all of Hawaii to discover the beauty of the hula, the ancient art of traditional dance, and the abundance of tastes on a luau buffet, including kalua pork cooked in a banana leaf-lined pit. This is a traditional Hawaiian night, and you’ll want to arrive early to see how crafts, such as carved wood, are created. Plus, you’ll also have time to sip a Mai Tai while watching the sunset over the Pacific before the show begins. Ready to book your vacation to Hawaii? These are the 11 things you need to know.

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maui ocean center
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Check in with sharks at Maui Ocean Center

Maui Ocean Center, the largest aquarium in Hawaii, is home to all the aquatic wonders of the Pacific and beyond. You’ll be able to see anything you may have missed on your snorkeling adventures, including colorful corals, tropical fish, and sea turtles. Even better, you can get up close to a sea creature you wouldn’t want to encounter in the open ocean: Sharks. Walk right under the 750,000-gallon tank to view tiger, gray, and white-tip sharks. Feel the need to get closer? Certified SCUBA divers can sign up for a shark dive into the tank!

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Beautiful Gardens Alii Kula Lavender Farm Maui Hawaii
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Stop and smell the lavender

On the slopes of Haleakala is Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm, a garden oasis filled with acres of fragrant lavender, flowers, fruit trees, and serene spots. Even better, from this vantage point—4,000 feet up the side of the mountain—you’ll get wonderful views. Don’t miss out on the lavender-flavored scones, tea, and honey, all served on a scenic patio.

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MAKAWAO hawaii

Hawaiian cowboys

Explore Makawao Town located in Upcountry Maui to experience a totally different aspect of Maui: Ranches and horses and Hawaiian cowboys known as paniolo. Since the late 19th century, horseback-riding paniolo have wrangled cattle in Maui’s wide-open upland fields; the cool air and great artist outposts here make it a great day trip from the beaches.

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Drone Aerial Panorama - Lahaina Town - Island of Maui, Hawaii
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Top Chef

Sheldon Simeon, a Top Chef competitor (season 10) and fan favorite, is the talent behind some of the most innovative and popular restaurants on the island, not to mention affordable and accessible. He opened Star Noodles in Lahaina, a can’t-miss Asian noodle palace, as well as Migrant in Wailea. Simeon is the owner of the perennially popular Tinroof in Kahului, which offers a modern spin on traditional Hawaiian home cooking. Plan to eat early, or you’ll spend time waiting in line with the rest of Simeon’s loyal fans. These are the 10 epic road trips every foodie has to take.

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Palms in tropical garden with flowers and palm trees overlooking the ocean with blue sky. Garden Of Eden, Maui Hawaii

The Garden of Eden

Who says you can’t visit the Garden of Eden? In Maui, it marks the beginning of the road to Hana (at Mile Marker 10). More than 750 species of plants surround you at this idyllic oasis; must-sees include a century-old mango tree and a grove of rainbow eucalyptus with a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of neon-colored bark. Check out the views of Upper Puohokamoa Waterfalls and Keopuka Rock (made famous by its Jurassic Park cameo) while you’re here, too.

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Home made coconut ice cream along the Road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii.
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Surfing goats

OK, maybe the goats at Surfing Goat Dairy don’t actually surf—after all, they’re perched on the slopes of Haleakala. But they’ve certainly got a surfer spirit, thanks to their laid-back attitude and their home created out of recycled boards. On a visit, you’ll have the chance to mingle and even milk the goats; you can also sample some of the outstanding cheese and ice cream.

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Kaanapali Beach (Aerial Pano) - Island of Maui, Hawaii
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Space to spread out

Maui offers a range of spacious accommodations, such as the new Westin Nanea in northern Kaanapali Beach. Even the smallest rooms are suites, and you can book multi-bedroom units that feel like chic apartments. Put the fully-outfitted kitchen to use and chop up Maui Gold pineapples and your other fresh buys from the local farmstands around the island. Next, check out the 11 amazing beaches to add to your bucket list ASAP.

Melissa Klurman
Melissa Klurman is an intrepid explorer and award-winning travel journalist with more than 25 years of experience. She covers topics ranging from family travel and Disney to honeymoons and romantic beaches and everything in between.