For many travelers to Maui, choosing an accommodation is simply about finding a place to sleep at night. They assume they will spend most of their vacation outdoors, exploring beaches and volcanoes, and that where they stay won’t make much of a difference. They book with whoever has the lowest price, and move on to planning other parts of the trip.
While we agree that most of your holiday in Maui will be spent outdoors, we urge you to think twice about where you stay. In fact, we consider it one of the most important things, because most people overlook the amount of time they’ll spend at their accommodation. Price and convenience are important, but you shouldn’t underestimate how much the location and atmosphere can impact a trip – not to mention how a beautiful, beachside resort or a spacious, local vacation rental can set the tone for your holiday.
Table of Contents
- What is the best region to stay on Maui?
- How to pick the right type of Accommodation (Hotels, Resorts, Vacation Rentals, or Campsites)
- Our suggestions for… families, beach bums, backpackers, etc.
Being smart about where you stay will help you get the most of out your experience, and choosing the right type of lodging with the appropriate amenities will help you do everything you want to do.
Below, we go through the different regions of Maui to give you an idea of their individual pros and cons and the different types of accommodations available – hotel rooms, vacation rentals, campsites, etc. – to help you decide which is the best fit for you.
Where should you stay on Maui?
From a tourism perspective, Maui breaks down into distinct regions, each offering something a little different to visitors. Some, like Upcountry Maui, are quite surprising and present a unique side of Hawai‘i. Below, we run through all the regions to help you decide where you should stay.
Pāʻia, traditionally a hippie hangout, has evolved over the years into a legit town, with an array of local restaurants, bars, and shops. It carries a laid-back, surfer, small town vibe along Maui’s north shore.
Why should you stay in Pāʻia?
Pāʻia is a perfect home base for traveler’s looking to lay low.
- Location on north shore. Pāʻia is a good hub for those looking to explore the Hana Highway and Maui’s northeast coast.
- Residential feel. Pāʻia’s downtown has been redone and revitalized, with many people stopping on their way to the Road to Hana. However, its beaches and parks have maintained their local, residential feel.
- Simple life. With no flashy resorts or tourism attractions, life in Pāʻia is simple and based around the beach.
Why shouldn’t you say in Pāʻia?
As a small town on the north shore, Pāʻia has its drawbacks:
- Lack of lodging options. If you’re looking to stay at a big resort or want a large selection of hotels, you won’t find any in Pāʻia.
- Lack of tours. If you’re planning to fill your schedule with snorkeling and boat tours, it will be at least a 45-minute drive to the west coast, where these activities are found in abundance.
- Lack of dining and nightlife options. While there are bars and restaurants worthy of a visit in Pāʻia, there isn’t a big selection compared to other hubs on Maui.
Accommodations in Pāʻia are good for:
Beach Bums and backpackers. If you plan to spend your time bumming around the beach and aren’t interested in a lot of activity (tours, active harbors, resorts, etc), Pāʻia is a good place to set up shop. Lodging options in Pāʻia are simple, mostly vacation rentals and comfortable-but-basic hotels, like the 3-star Pāʻia Inn. For backpackers, there’s the Aloha Surf Hostel.
Located on the north shore, Pāʻia offers easy access to the beginning of the Hana Highway (Road to Hana), as well as proximity to several beautiful beaches, like Baldwin and Ho‘okipa (the latter is popular with surfers). Pāʻia Fish Co. is a local institution, and Mama’s Fishhouse is one of the most revered restaurants on the island.
Kahului is the capital of Maui, home to the airport and the University of Hawai‘i Maui College. It is the main commercial district for residents, with a myriad of big-box retailers and a large working port. Wailuku is located just northwest of Kahului and is most known as being the gateway to ‘Iao Valley.
Why should you stay in Kahului/Wailuku?
Kahului is not overly attractive to visitors, but Wailuku has been growing in appeal.
- Budget friendly. Compared to other hubs on the island, the hotel rates in Kahului/Wailuku are very reasonable.
- Latest and greatest. Wailuku has changed a lot in recent years, with coffee shops and other local establishments popping up.
- Access to northwest Maui. A lot of people overlook the mostly undeveloped northwest coast of Maui. A stay in Wailuku puts you in prime position to explore.
Why shouldn’t you say in Kahului/Wailuku?
- Commercial vibe. Kahului is very commercial, with many strip malls and a working port. It’s a useful place for locals, but not so attractive for tourists.
- Lack of beaches. Kahului and Wailuku are not well positioned in terms of beach access.
Accommodations in Kahului are good for:
Budget travelers and backpackers. Kahului has a couple two star hotels, like the Maui Beach Hotel, that overlook the bay. Wailuku has many hostels and small inns that often cost less than a hundred dollars a night.
Wailuku is the gateway to the sacred ‘Iao Valley State Park. Nearby trailheads, like the Waihe‘e Ridge Trail, offer the chance to explore Maui’s northwest coast.
Kīhei is centrally located at the intersection of the south and west coast, with many beaches, restaurants, and residential neighborhoods.
Why should you stay in Kīhei?
There’s a lot to like about Kīhei:
- Location. Kīhei’s central location makes it easy and efficient to travel and explore Maui.
- Local feel. Kīhei is mainly residential.
- Beaches. Kīhei sits right on the coast and has a large selection of beaches right there.
- Choice of hotels. Kīhei has a large selection of 3-star hotels.
Why shouldn’t you stay in Kīhei?
- Lack of resorts. Kīhei’s feel is mainly residential and it lacks big, sprawling resort properties.
Accommodations in Kīhei are good for:
- Value seekers. The large selection of middle-of-the-road hotels and condos, like the Kīhei Beach Hotel or the Luana Kai, means you can find a reasonable deal on a hotel.
- Beach bums and backpackers. Those staying in Kīhei will be just steps away from the beach all along South Kīhei Road.
- Adventure travelers. Because of its location, Kīhei is a great hub for adventures looking to get out and about each day.
- Families. Kīhei’s residential feel, including many beach parks, is perfect for families, offering convenience and nearby outdoor activities.
Kīhei is located right on the coast, and brings with it a beautiful string of beaches, including Keaka, Kalepolepo, and Waipuilani. Many boat tours leave from nearby Maalaea Harbor.
As the former capital of Hawai‘i and then the capital of the whaling industry, Lāhainā carries a lot of historical appeal to go along with its modern-day hustle and bustle.
Why should you stay in Lāhainā?
- Access to activities. Lāhainā’s harbor is where many tour boats operate, including whale watching and snorkel tours.
- Waterfront dining. Many of Lāhainā’s restaurants offer views of the water.
- Nightlife. Lāhainā is a bustling hub on Maui’s west coast, packed full of restaurants, bars, and shops.
Why shouldn’t you stay in Lāhainā?
- Crowds. Lāhainā is busy, so if you’re looking for peace and quiet, look elsewhere.
- Location. If you plan to explore the island and go on many day trips, Lāhainā’s location on the southwest coast might be a bit out of the way and add a lot of extra time to your drives.
- Lack of walk-to beaches. Lāhianā’s downtown is a harbor, and while there are slices of sand and nearby beaches, there are less options than Kīhei, and not the same direct access as Ka‘anapali.
Accommodations in Lāhainā are good for:
Backpackers and budget travelers. There’s a lot going on in Lāhainā, especially on the water during the day and at night in the many bars and restaurants. Guest houses and hostels pave the way for budget-conscience travelers.
Those staying in Lāhainā will enjoy easy access to boat tours and water activities thanks to its harbor. The town itself is a big attraction, especially its infamous Lāhainā Banyan Court. There are several historical sites in the Lāhainā Historic District, including former royal residences. South of town is Olowalu, a marine conservation district that has excellent snorkeling.
Located just north of Lāhainā, Ka‘anapali is a resort and hotel district located along a long, white-sand beach. It offers a serene escape with a quiet atmosphere, filled with full-service beachfront properties, shopping areas, upscale dining, and golf courses .
Why should you stay in Ka‘anapali?
- Best of both worlds. Because it’s very close to Lāhainā and serviced by a shuttle, it allows guests to enjoy Lāhainā’s restaurants, shops, and harbor without staying in the heart of it.
- Golf. Ka‘anapali is set around two golf courses, and there are others just north in Kapalua.
- Beach. It doesn’t get much better than the beautiful Ka‘anapali Beach, with usually calm waters and views of Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i.
Why shouldn’t you say in Ka‘anapali?
- Lack of local feel. As with most resort areas, there is a lack of local feel.
- Price. Resorts in this area can be pricey.
Accommodations in Ka‘anapali are good for:
- Resort lovers. There are endless choices of hotels and resorts in Kaanapali, with rooms ranging from $200/$300 a night and up.
- Families. Between the amenities of the hotels, the easy access of the beach, and the security of the area, Ka‘anapali is great for families with small children.
High-end shopping is found in abundance in Ka‘anapali at Whaler’s Village. The walking path along Ka‘anapali Beach is perfect for morning and evening strolls by the water. As mentioned, Lāhainā is just a short shuttle ride away.
If you’re looking for a luxurious resort and a blissful, peaceful atmosphere, Wailea is where you want to find yourself.
Why should you stay in Wailea?
- Luxury. If you’re looking for an impeccable luxurious resort, Wailea is where you want to find yourself.
- Serenity. Tucked away in the southeast corner of the island, Wailea is away from the hustle of other hubs, and is more or less completely dedicated to a refined, relaxing experience.
- Natural beauty. There are multiple beaches and natural areas to visit in and around Wailea.
- Golf. There are several golf courses in Wailea.
Why shouldn’t you say in Wailea?
- Cost. Wailea isn’t very friendly on the wallet, so if you’re on a budget, this is not your place.
- Location. Though the location can be a positive for serenity, it does make traveling the island less efficient and exploring will require more driving time.
- Lack of local feel. Because it’s a luxury resort area, there’s less local life on display.
Accommodations in Wailea are good for:
- Luxury seekers. Wailea is composed mostly of high-end resorts, like the Grand Wailea and Ritz Carlton, as well as upscale condos and vacation rentals.
- Families. As with Ka‘anapali, Wailea provides easy access to beaches, complete convenience, and a secure, safe experience.
In terms of natural beauty, there’s a lot to love about Wailea’s corner of the island. La Perouse Bay’s lava fields are great for coastal walking, and Five Graves, Palauea Beach, One‘uli Beach (black sand), and Ulua Beach are great snorkeling spots. The area is blessed with many beautiful beaches, including Po‘olenalena, Chang’s, and Makena, among others.
Located on the hillsides of Haleakalā, Upcountry Maui offers a different experience of Hawai‘i, one not normally associated with the images we see in postcards.
Why should you stay in Upcountry Maui?
- A unique experience. If you’ve already experienced beach-side life in Hawai‘i, Upcountry Maui has something completely different to offer, with a focus on “volcano life” as opposed to “beach life.”
- Small towns. The volcanic slopes are home to small, quaint towns and farmland, including Kula and Makawao.
- Views/Natural beauty. Because you’re on a hillside at elevation, the views of the island, ocean, and sunset are absolutely spectacular.
Why shouldn’t you say in Upcountry Maui?
- No beaches. Upcountry Maui is at least a half hour’s drive from the closest beach.
- Climate. The Upcountry experiences cooler temperatures, especially at night, due to its elevation.
- Lack of lodging options. There are options for lodging in the upcountry, but the list is not extensive.
- Lack of services. You won’t find nearly the selection of restaurants and shopping as you will down at sea level. Generally, things close early.
Accommodations in Upcountry Maui are good for:
Adventurous Couples. Most accommodations in Upcountry Maui are small inns, lodges, bed and breakfasts, and vacation rentals, such as the Kula Lodge (Kula) and the Banyan Bed and Breakfast (Makawao). Camping is available at Hosmer’s Grove and Polipoli, although the cold climate and high-elevations make them impractical for a stay longer than a night or two.
Upcountry Maui provides easy access to the summit of Haleakalā. There are several small farms (wine, coffee, etc.) that one can visit in and around Kula, and the small town of Makawao reflects Hawaii’s paniolo, or cowboy, history. You’re also about as close as you can get to wilderness areas like the Kula Forest Reserve, Polipoli Spring State Recreation Center, and Hosmer’s Grove.
Driving the Road to Hana is one of the most popular tourist activities in all of Hawai‘i, but most people come and go from Hana itself without taking the time to properly explore it. It’s time to change that. After all, Hana is not just a collection of stops along the way; it’s a very real town with very real residents who enjoy its seclusion and traditional ways of life.
Why should you stay in Hana?
- Location. Spending the night in Hana not only gives you the jump on day trippers, but it allows to you fully experience life in one of Hawaii’s most-remote towns.
- Natural beauty. Hana is as remote as it gets, surrounded by rainforest and pristine coastline.
- Something different. Very few people stay overnight in Hana.
Why shouldn’t you say in Hana?
- Location. Once again, the location is a double-edged sword. Hana is extremely remote, about an hour and a half from the next town.
- Weather. Hana is located on Maui’s windwardside, which receives its fair share of rain.
- Sleepiness. If you’re looking to do something after dark, you’re in the wrong part of Maui.
Accommodations in Hana are good for:
- Adventurers: Hana has a mix of small inns and bed and breakfasts, and other unique lodging choices, like the culturally-oriented Ala Kukui retreat center. Camping is also available nearby at Waiʻānapanapa State Park.
- Luxury seekers: The four-star Hana-Maui Resort offers stand-alone bungalows and beautiful ocean views.
- Beach bums: Hana has a wonderful mix of beaches in the area, and you could easily spend a few days in Hana exploring them all.
There are so many points of interest in and around Hana that it would take you multiple days to enjoy them all. In Hana, you’re close to many of the Road to Hana’s famous attractions, like the Kīpahulu District of Haleakalā National Park. There are several local beaches to check out, like the red-sand Koki Beach Park, the black-sand Waiʻānapanapa State Park, and the white-sand Hāmoa Beach.
Different Types of Accommodation
There are different accommodation choices and each has its own pros and cons. Here are your main options on Maui:
Hotels on Maui
Hotels come in all shapes and sizes. Some offer restaurants and concierge services; others do not.
Why should you stay at a hotel?
- Affordability. Generally, hotels are cheaper than resorts.
- Options. From budget-friendly, no-frills rooms to beautiful ocean-view suites, there’s a large variety of hotel rooms to choose from.
- Daily housekeeping and services. Hotels offer these conveniences, but vacation rentals and many condos do not.
Why shouldn’t you stay at a hotel?
- Livability. Hotel rooms can be small and they usually lack kitchens and large living spaces.
- Privacy. With hundreds of rooms and small common areas, many hotels don’t provide a lot of privacy around the property.
The difference between a hotel and a resort is mostly in the services they offer. Resorts usually include additional on-site activities and amenities, such as adventure centers, spas, in-house restaurants, and room service, while many hotels do not offer these services at all. Resorts tend to have larger grounds and common areas, often with secluded relaxation areas. Examples on Maui include the Grand Wailea, the Royal Lāhainā, the Ritz Carlton, etc.
Why should you stay at a resort?
- Convenience. Resorts have everything you need on site, meaning you don’t have to leave the property if you don’t want to.
- Serenity. Resorts cultivate relaxing atmospheres and provide beautiful landscaping.
Why shouldn’t you stay at a resort?
- Cost. Resorts on Maui are at the high end of the price spectrum. Rates of $300 a night or more are common.
- Lack of local feel. Even if a resort employs a cultural ambassador (the Grand Wailea does, for example), resorts often cut its visitors off from the real world, one way or another.
Vacation rentals are another way to experience Hawai‘i, and Maui has a ton of them. By renting out a local’s home, apartment, condo, or bungalow, you are infused into the local neighborhood, with all the conveniences of a real home, like a living area and kitchen.
Why should you stay at a vacation rental?
- Vacation rental homes are the most local-feeling accommodation option, and they can lead you to some truly unique lodging opportunities. Imagine staying in a fully-furnished house with a kitchen and a lanai overlooking the ocean or the mountains.
Why shouldn’t you stay at a vacation rental?
- Ethics. Some experts say that vacation rentals do more harm than good to local neighborhoods (although other people argue the opposite).
- No services. You’re on your own at a vacation rental, without housekeeping and the on-site services that you’ll find at hotels and resorts.
Camping on Maui
Camping on Maui is a great option as a recreational activity, but overall, there are not enough full-service campgrounds to make it a practical, long-term option for most travelers. Many of the sites in and around Haleakalā are hike-in backcountry sites, for example, and others that are more accessible, like Hosmer’s Grove, are located at altitude in cold weather. You can find beach parks around the island that allow camping, such as Pāpalua, but they’re not set up for long-term stays.
There are exceptions, however, like the campgrounds at Wai‘anapanapa State Park and Kīpahulu – you could certainly spend a couple nights in these locations (although keep in mind they are located way out on Maui’s isolated east coast). Another option is Camp Olowalu, a private campground south of Lahainā that offers tent sites and “tentalows.”
Why should you stay at a campground?
- Natural beauty. You can’t beat camping just steps away from the ocean.
- Affordability. Compared to hotels, campsites are cheap, typically less than $40 per night, depending on the site.
- Peace and freedom. The spirit of camping puts you in touch with the island’s natural areas.
Why shouldn’t you stay at a campground?
- Permits & regulations. Many campsites have limits on the length of stay and/or close certain days of the week.
- Availability. Campgrounds can fill up quickly and it may be difficult to plan.
- Lack of services. Most campgrounds lack an on-site convenience store, electricity, etc.
- Weather. It might rain on your parade.
- Luggage. You will need to lug along a tent and other camping equipment.
The best places to stay for…
These are the places we recommend to stay for families, beach bums, luxury seekers, backpackers, surfers, and active adventurers:
Both Wailea and Ka‘anapali will make luxury seekers very happy.
Please get in touch with us if you have another question you’d like us to answer.