Best of the Hawaiian Island of Maui: Highlights and Hidden Gems

iao valley maui hawaii

My latest adventure has to be one of my all-time favorite trips. My boyfriend and I spent 10 days on the breath-taking island of Maui. Hawaii was a destination I had always dreamed of going, but it never felt like a possibility. Luckily, one of our friends moved to Maui a year ago and invited Nick and me to visit. Lo and behold, we got the best locals’ tour of Maui – aka “The Highlight Reel” – thanks, Dano.

There aren’t many words that can describe the pure natural beauty of the Island of Maui. It’s a timeless, otherworldly type of majesty that makes you feel as though you’ve been transported to another planet in another time. It makes you stop and appreciate every second that you are on a giant rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by lush green mountains, dormant volcanoes, stunning beaches, cliffs, waterfalls, and jungle.

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It was one of those trips that reminded me why I love to travel, and what life is all about: to get out of your comfort zone, relish in the beauty of faraway places and cultures, and to never stop adventuring.

 

My Top Tips:

    • Rent a Car or know someone who has a car. Uber is expensive on the island and you won’t be able to get very far without a vehicle. We saw a lot of Jeeps and other off-road type vehicles.
    • Bring Hiking Shoes Maui has tons of outdoor activities such as hiking, rock climbing, and cliff jumping. I can’t tell you how cut up and bruised I was even with my hiking gear! Bonus points if your shoes are waterproof. A good pair of shoes to bring with you are: Merrell Women’s Siren Edge Hiking Shoe, Black/Purple, 8 M US
    • Anticipate Getting Wet no matter where you are. I don’t think there was a day that I didn’t jump in an ocean, cross a river, or bathe under a waterfall. Always dress in layers with your bathing suit underneath (plus a change of clothes if you don’t want to be wet in the car.)

Hikes:

Iao Valley 

Iao Valley Sunset Beautiful

Iao Valley looks like something out of Jurassic Park or another planet. I definitely rank this view among one of the most stunning I’ve ever seen. The hike up to the valley is filled with lush vegetation, bridges, and roaring waterfalls. We made is just in time for sunset which made the scene even more unreal.

 

Bamboo Forest 

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This hike is located on the mountain side of the island and is between mile marker 6 and 7 on the Road to Hana. This was a tough but rewarding hike, so don’t forget to pack your hiking shoes and bathing suit for this one! After making it through a beautiful thick forest of bamboo trees, this hike takes you passed ravishing waterfalls, chilly swimming holes, and rivers. This hike truly highlights the surreal beauty and adventure of Maui.

Chutes and Ladders

I am not going to recommend nor tell you where to find this hike because it is extremely dangerous. Two ropes hanging about 50 feet off the side of a cliff’s ledge. Only experienced free climbers should attempt this climb. The view was a well-deserved reward, a private view of dark cliffs with lush greenery greeting a beautiful blue swirling ocean. The adrenaline rush from this was the perfect way to start our Hawaiian adventure.

Chutes and Ladders Climb Maui

 

Adventures:

Road to Hana

The scenic Road to Hana is a road trip on many Maui “top” lists, and for good reason. It is a road across half of the island with spectacular stops and views along the way. Throughout the road, you will cross over 59 bridges and 620 turns. Some notable stops on the Road to Hana are the Venus Pools, Bamboo Forest, and Black Sand Beach.

road to hana views

Cliff Jump at Venus Pools 

Cliff Jump Venus Pools Maui

This spot was like something out of a dream of mine. One one side, the beautiful rushing ocean blocked off by rocks and on the other was an oasis waterfall decorated with gorgeous vegetation. In between the two were baby blue see-through brackish water and a cliff perfect for jumping from. We took a couple jumps, swam around a bit and explored.

Camp at Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park Camping

I personally love camping, and camping anywhere on the island is a mini adventure within your vacation. We didn’t camp at the actual volcano, but about 2 hours down. It is a fantastic spot to camp because it has shocking views, wildlife, and designated camping spots. Just remember to bring the camping essentials: sleeping bags, bug spray, food, etc.

Sunset (or sunrise) at Haleakala National Park

Sunset Haleakala National Park - Maui

 

One of the most overwhelming sights of our entire trip was the view of the Haleakala Volcano at sunset. The pastel colors of the sun, oceans, and islands in the background looked more like a painting than something our eyes were really looking at. Haleakala is a massive volcano on Maui that is currently in its non-eruptive phase. Haleakala also has a large crater that visitors can view.

 

Dining:

Maui blew me away with all of the mouth-watering food options, every restaurant seemed to be more appetizing than the next. Here are my top picks: 

Hawaiian Village Coffee

Hawaiian Village Coffee Maui

If you are a coffee lover, I highly recommend this place! A little fun fact I learned from my boyfriend on this trip is that Hawaii is the only U.S. state that grows coffee. Our friend took us to this wonderful local’s gem and we couldn’t stop coming back. Try the coconut ice brew, it is the perfect combination of refreshing and delicious!

Front Street

Front Street is a touristy area in Lahaina filled with shops and ocean view restaurants. It’s a fun place to walk around and explore or grab a bite to eat. Check out the Banyan Tree Park to see a marvelous display of weaving branches. 

Koas

Koas Grill Oceanview Maui

Located on the popular Front Street this restaurant has a beautiful rooftop ocean view. My recommendation: get a bottle of wine and an Ahi poke bowl and soak in the fact that you are in Maui!

Sea House Restaurant 

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This is a great happy hour spot and another location with outstanding views. My recommendations: Grab some happy hour apps and drinks –  My favorites:  The Ahi poke bowl, crab cakes, coconut shrimp and their signature frozen drink, the Lava Flow.

Braddah Hutts 

The Road to Hana is perhaps the most beautiful drive I have ever been on. A word to the wise, it is as long as it is beautiful. Thankfully as you arrive in the city of Hana, you are greeted with a wonderful surprise: a food truck filled with unbelievably delicious Hawaiian barbeque. Get there early though, because they stop serving when they are out of food… which is usually around 2 p.m.! My recommendations: Everything here is good, I loved the barbeque chicken plate.

Fruit Stands

Being on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has its perks – and fresh fruits is one of them! All along the road, you can see unmanned fruit stands (running on the honor system) selling fresh fruit for very cheap prices! My favorites were Lilikoi (Passion Fruit), Apple-Bananas, and Coconuts.

Sansei Sushi

We just could not get enough of the Ahi tuna around the island, and although I didn’t try it myself, I’m taking my boyfriend’s word for it that Sansei’s Panko Crusted Ahi Tuna Roll was to die for.

Ritz Carlton’s Banyan Tree

Ritz Carlton Banyan Tree Tako

This was our favorite meal of the whole trip. This upscale eatery at the Ritz Carlton is where the high class meets amazing food. My recommendation would be to pick your favorite appetizers and have the bartender create you a specialty craft cocktail. Our favorites were the Tako (cooked octopus), Ahi poke bowl, and the Scallops & Pork Belly Plate.

Ululani’s Shave Ice

I was told to go here from one of my best friends and it was SO GOOD. The shaved ice is so sweet, soft and refreshing… but it’s also light enough that you don’t feel guilty afterward. I chose tropical fruit flavors such as Passion Fruit, Coconut, and Pineapple. Seriously, if you’re in Maui, try this! 

Maui Brewing Company 

Maui Brewing Company is such an enjoyable spot in Kihei. You can sit outside and get a great view of the mountains, or get a tour inside! The variety of beer is impressive, I enjoyed all of the sour and fruity flavors. The staff is also very pleasant and informative, we had a fantastic time here! 

Beaches:

Slaughterhouse Beach

Quite the name for a beach, but the views here are spectacular. The entrance to this beach is a steep staircase. If you wander past the beach entrance a little you can find a nice nature walk filled with prehistoric-looking trees and wild roosters. Be cautious at this beach when the surf is rough because there are rocks in the water.

Slaughterhouse Beach Maui Hawaii

Big Beach 

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We came here on an unusually windy day, but the views driving here were captivating. The sand on Big Beach is a beautiful glistening gold that is wide and stretching. The beach is lined with tall palm trees and lava rock points, and other islands are in the view. The water is a crystal clear sparkling blue color. This is a local’s favorite. 

D.T. Flemings 

This is the beach right in front of the Ritz-Carlton, and we loved it because it the waves were HUGE (to us at least). We had such a blast boogie boarding, body surfing and just getting tossed around by the waves. The sand is pleasant to lay on and right on the beach there are showers and a Burger Shack that serves burgers, drinks, milkshakes, and adult milkshakes – yum! It’s a bit more touristy and crowded, but after a week of secluded adventures, we welcomed the familiarity of the Ritz.  

Black Sand Beach 

Black Sand Beach Hana Maui

Black Sand Beach is another stop on the Road to Hana in Waianapanapa and is marked by its unique black sand contrasted against the lush green forest and startling blue waters. The black “sand” is actually small pebbles so make sure you are wearing sandals or your feet will hurt like mine did!

 

 

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