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If you’re planning a trip to Hawai’i, Maui is one of those places that is constantly being mentioned to you as a “must visit”. When I was planning on visiting Maui, I had no idea how long to spend there or what to do while I was there. I swore that once I visited, I would create an itinerary to help my fellow travelers.
So here it is, my 3 day Maui itinerary!
Day 1: Road to Hana & beyond
The Road to Hana probably one of the busiest tourist destinations in Maui. This is a windy, narrow, 2-way road that leads to – you guessed it – Hana!
You’d be mistaken for thinking that Hana was the best place ever to visit, but what makes the Road to Hana famous is not Hana, it’s the road on the way there.
Along the way to Hana there are many places to stop and relax, to see waterfalls and eat at food trucks.
But do not assume that the journey is relaxing! The Road to Hana is super busy, packed with tourists and often has traffic jams during peak periods.
Note: This was not the highlight of our Maui visit. While we loved some of the stops, we found it to be a crowded and painful drive. I share an alternative that we loved further below.
If you’re set on visiting the Road to Hana, here are a couple of tips for you:
- Start early: the drive can take a lot longer, especially with stops. We’d recommend starting as early as possible (we started around 8 am) and still found it really busy. You do not want to be driving this road when nightfall has hit.
- Keep in mind that the road is unpaved in sections, and I would actually think of booking a tour if you aren’t a confident driver
- Do not pull over illegally on the road (only pull over in parking spots!)
- Do not stand in the middle of the road to take photos
- Give way: the road is narrow and is 2-way so make sure you give way to cars traveling in the opposite direction
- Bring cash: many of the food stalls are cash only!
Some places I’d recommend to stop on the way:
- Huelo Lookout: to have a break and sip on organic smoothies
- Kaumahina State Wayside: for coastal views of Maui and a toilet break
- Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread: this was closed when we visited, but is supposed to be delicious! This is also a great stop if you want to snack on food and get great coastal views (which we made use of, even though it was raining!)
- Nahiku Marketplace: great place to stop for lunch and choose from the many food trucks. There’s also a portable toilet available.
- Honokalani Beach: this is a black sand beach, it’s small and gets very busy but is a great place to stop and stretch your legs
- Koki Beach Park: this is a red sand beach, but the sand looks more brown than red (could have been the lighting!)
- The Pools at ‘Ohe’o: a series of 7 pools you can walk and swim in (make sure you check with the park rangers whether they are open). It can get very busy here, but is worth a visit. This is part of the Haleakala National Park so an entry fee does apply (you can use the same pass from day 2 below)
Psst: not sure if you want to drive the road to Hana? The road beyond Hana was incredible, and much quieter.
Past the Pools at ‘Ohe’o, the road gets rocky and unpaved, but eventually becomes paved again – just in time for incredible coastal views and rolling hills.
This was our favorite part of our road trip, especially since the traffic is virtually non-existant!
Day 2: Sunrise at Haleakala Crater
This was a highlight of our trip, but I’d only recommend it if you can stomach a sunrise wake-up!
Watching the sunrise at Haleakala Crater is a special kind of magical (the lighting at this time of day is beautiful) but is not for the faint hearted.
You need to wake up super early (we’re talking 3 am early) to stand in the dark with crowds of other tourists trying to not freeze to death with the freezing winds.
Psst: you need to book a ticket in advance to do this! You can’t show up on the day without a booking, as the park rangers will turn you away at the entrance.
Tickets cost $1 per car and can be booked 60 days or 48 hours in advance. The tickets go very quickly, so before you even attempt to book, you will need to create an account on the website. Do this in advance of trying to book, otherwise you will miss out on tickets.
If you’re unorganized (like us!) and attempt to book tickets 48 hrs in advance of your visit, the tickets will go very quickly.
We’re talking in like 2 minutes, they’re all gone. If this happens to you – do not give up.
At approximately 7:15 am (15-minutes after ticket sales open) the tickets which have been unpaid for will become available. So if you miss out at 7 am, wait until 15-minutes later and keep on refreshing that page!
Tips before you go:
- Book your parking in advance: you cannot show up on the day without a booking (they will check)
- You will need to pay for entry too, as this is a national park: entry is $25, gives you entry for 3 days (you can use this for The Pools at ‘Ohe’o from Day 1 above) or use your National Parks Pass!
- Wear warm clothes: you *will* get cold. We looked up the weather before, but the weather doesn’t show you the wind chill!
- Make sure you get enough sleep the night before: the drive is windy and in the dark – you want to be awake for this!
- If you’re not a confident driver, take your time, but make sure to pull over in dedicated pull-over spots to allow the cars behind you to overtake you
- Be wary of altitute sickness – Haleakala sits at 10,023 feet or 3,055 m
- Know it will be crowded: tour groups and buses visit. There will be crowds of tourists. We watched the sunrise from lookout which was a short walk from the carpark and it was a lot quieter and less crowded.
And if you’re not too exhausted after the early morning wake, make plans to stick around after sunrise.
You just drove hours in the dark to be here, make the most of it!
The visitor’s center just below the summit is open soon after sunrise, and can give you tips for what to do. This is the most magical, quiet time of day at the national park. Once sunrise is finished, everyone rushes off.
I’d recommend at a minimum visiting the summit (if you missed out on a parking spot at sunrise, you just need to drive up) and on your drive back down, checking out some of the lookouts or doing a short hike.
Day 3: Snorkelling at Molokini Crater
Other than watching the sunrise at Haleakala Crater, snorkeling was the highlight of our Maui trip. You can either rent or bring your own snorkeling gear and snorkel from beaches, or go on a tour where you will be taken out on a boat.
We don’t have snorkeling gear, and didn’t want to deal with looking for snorkeling spots, so opted to go for a tour.
I’d recommend Redline Rafting (this is an unsponsored recommendation – we paid for our tour in full and had an incredible time which is why I recommend them!)
Our snorkeling tour included visiting Molokini Crater, which is only accessible via boat.
And unlike many of the other snorkeling tours, the tour group had much smaller numbers. Our boat was much smaller too, which meant we could snorkel on the back wall of Molokini Crater (which can only done by smaller boats)
Before you go:
- Book your tours in advance: these book out, especially in peak travel periods
- Only bring reef safe sunscreen: these are labelled, or read the ingredients to make sure they don’t include oxybenzone or your tour operator will often supply reef safe sunscreen
- You will be snorkeling out in the sun for a long time so make sure you re-apply where possible
- I’d suggest purchasing a rash guard or rash vest: basically a quick dry, t-shirt that protects you against UV light. You can buy them for cheap, I got one from Walmart for $20 and they work far better than any sunscreen.
- Listen to instructions from your tour operators re: reducing damage to the reef and keeping your distance from turtles. These guys are protected in Hawaii and you can face fines if you get too close or touch them!
Snorkeling was the other highlight of our Maui trip, and the memory of seeing turtles in Hawaii is one that we will remember for years to come. If you’re short on time during Maui, I would say that this is an absolute must when here!
So there you have it – my 3 day Maui itinerary!
Are you planning a trip to Maui? I’d love to know what you’re including or not including in your Maui trip!
Leave me a comment and let me know
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