As you might guess, COVID has impacted traveling to Maui. Read about what to expect if you travel to Maui during the pandemic.
Maui is one of the most popular Hawaiian islands for tourists, alongside O’ahu, the Big Island, and Kauai. The second largest Hawaiian island, Maui has luxurious resorts, breath-taking volcanic landscapes, truly unique culture, beautiful beaches, world-class surfing, and of course sea turtles, or honu.
Maui was formed from two nearby volcanoes that connected overtime after their lava flows overlapped. Today, the eastern volcano is Mt Haleakala, and the western volcano is the West Maui Mountains. This geology creates a striking landscape — apparent as you first land in the Kahului airport and as you drive around the island. You can easily understand the layout of the island by understanding its geology.
Some of the most popular resort areas for tourists to stay in are either Wailea in south Maui, or Kaanapali in West Maui. Both areas have plenty of amenities for tourists — from shops to restaurants to excursion offices.
Have you wondered how a Maui vacation itinerary has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? In this post, I am going to show you how you can build a Maui vacation itinerary based around socially-distanced activities.
Depending on what type of activities you enjoy and what expectations (and level of flexibility!) you have going into the trip, it may still be best to wait until the pandemic is a thing of the past. But if you are excited about the activities outlined below, you could still consider Maui travel at this time.
This post is not intended as travel advice, but rather to give anyone interested a clearer picture of what it’s like to be a tourist in Maui amid COVID precautions. Anyone who makes the personal decision to travel should consult Hawaii & Maui government websites and stay informed of the changing situation.
7 Socially-Distanced Activities in Maui
1. Snorkel and swim with sea turtles
This is undeniably a socially-distant activity. Just make sure you bring your own snorkeling gear! Some resorts that may typically provide snorkeling masks are not doing so during COVID, due to sanitation.
If you spend some time near the ocean, you will be hard-pressed to visit Maui without finding some sea turtles. Just be sure to respect their space, and absolutely do not touch them, since you can be fined up to $10,000 for doing so.
Some of the best snorkeling spots on Maui are:
If you would like to try a spot that is a bit harder to access, I highly recommend Mala Pier. It is a turtle cleaning station — meaning tons of turtles gather here to rest while fish pick off the tiny parasites on the turtles’ shells, thereby “cleaning” the turtles.
I went scuba diving here and must have seen about 50 turtles, not to mention about 10 reef sharks!
I recommend you go with a tour group because it can be dangerous to access due to waves & large rocks while wading out. Then once you are out swimming, there are many boats in the area to watch out for.
If you are a certified diver, check out this deal where you can dive at Mala Pier.
Another extremely popular place to snorkel and dive is Molokini Crater, a crescent-shaped volcanic atoll off Maui’s west coast. To do this, you will need to join a tour group since it requires a boat ride to get out there. You can find some great snorkeling options here.
2. Drive the Road to Hana
If you’ve rented your own car, this is a great socially-distanced Maui activity. The Road to Hana, or Hana Highway, is a long, winding road that starts near Twin Falls and hugs the coast heading eastward through Hana. Many people end their drive at the Seven Sacred Pools, then turn around and head back the way they came. It is a full day activity, and a staple Maui experience!
Some people may opt for a tour like this one, to avoid driving, but during COVID but keep in mind that you will need to wear a mask when you are in the car with your driver.
You will likely experience much less traffic due to low tourist volumes, but you should still allot a full day for the Road to Hana. Unfortunately, many of the fresh fruit stands will likely be closed. But be sure to support any that you do see.
Some incredible stops along the Road to Hana are:
Some drivers choose to finish the clockwise loop around the “back side” of the Road to Hana. Some parts of this road are unpaved and sketchy, with blind turns and pot holes. Your car rental contract may or may not allow you to drive this road. So although the sweeping views of Haleakala and the Pacific are stunning, be sure you know what you’re getting into!
3. Watch surfers
This is a great way to start or finish your journey on the Road to Hana.
In the hippie town of Paia, you can stop at Ho’okipa Beach or Ho’okipa Lookout. From there you will be able to see gigantic waves and phenomenal surfers catching them. Plus among the rocks on the beach, check for sea turtles!
4. Road trip around the western side of the island
Similar to the “back side” of the Road to Hana, this drive can be quite challenging! The scenic route spans between Kahului and Kapalua.
There are a number of blind curves on one-lane sections, particularly toward the eastern length, near Kahakuloa. If you would like to avoid the tricky sections, you could start in Kapalua, then drive east until the road narrows to one-lane, at which point you could just turn around.
Some of the most scenic stops (from east to west) are:
5. Visit Haleakala National Park
Mt Haleakala is the only active volcano on Maui. It last erupted between 400-600 years ago. It is now part of Haleakala National Park, managed by the US National Park Service. And no trip to Maui is complete without seeing it up close!
Driving up to the observatory at the top of the volcano is a tricky drive with hairpin turns (a common theme on this Hawaiian island!). Fill up on gas before you leave, and drive slow. Watch out for native wildlife like the Nene geese.
When you reach the National Park entrance, you will need to pay the $30 entrance fee per private vehicle. Your entry fee is good for 3 consecutive days, and includes the Kipahulu section of the part at the end of the Road to Hana. Annual park passes are sold and accepted.
Maybe the most popular activity at Mt Haleakala is to visit for sunrise. However entrance for sunrise between 3-7 am is ticketed and must be planned ahead of time. You can make reservations here. As of writing this, reservations are available 60 days in advance, and book up extremely quickly. A small number of tickets are made available 2 days in advance as well. There are no first-come-first-serve tickets available.
If you don’t score a sunrise reservation, you can always visit during the day, and even stay for sunset. There are tons of hiking trails near the summit, of all lengths and levels.
You could also join a group sunrise tour like this one, which includes breakfast & transportation. Some other popular options are this downhill biking tour, or even splurging on a helicopter ride.
6. Try some other incredible hikes
Maui’s nature is so stunning, and hiking is a perfect way to really take it in. There are lots of hikes along the Road to Hana and in Haleakala National Park. If you are wondering about some of the best hikes in Maui, here are a few that are a bit lesser known, but worth experiencing if you have the time.
In south Maui, if you drive past Makena Beach, you will reach the lava fields along La Perouse Bay. You can park your car and follow a relatively flat & easy trail through lava rocks, forests, and beaches. It stretches along the coast for miles, mostly in exposed sun, and you can turnaround when you please. Surprisingly, you are likely to see many herds of wild goats!
Along the northern portion of the road looping around west Maui (as mentioned in #4!), there is a turnoff to reach this trail. The trailhead has limited parking, so it is best to go early in the day. The trail is steep & challenging, but takes you past beautiful views of mountains, gorges, and forest. This is the rainiest part of the island, so your views may be blocked by clouds… this happened to me! I was sad to miss the sweeping views from the ridge line, but still enjoyed the trail.
7. Spend time at the beach
This could definitely go without saying, but there are just so many beautiful beaches in Maui. They are characterized by clear warm water, black lava rocks, various colors of sand, fun waves, and palm trees.
Some offer long stretches of sand, like Wailea Beach or Kahekili Beach Park; some are smaller coves with lava rock — especially great for snorkeling and spotting sea turtles — like Maluaka Beach or Napili Bay. These are some of the top beaches in Maui.
Some Changes to Maui Travel, due to COVID...
There are a number of COVID travel restrictions in Maui. Tourism has changed and will continue to change throughout the pandemic.
The island first reopened to visitors in October 2020. A strict set of rules were laid out: tourists must have a negative COVID test result from within 72 hours prior to their transpacific flight, from approved suppliers only. Even travelers that are fully vaccinated must get the test. Many visitors who did not exactly follow the guidelines were forced to immediately fly home, quarantine, or face large fines.
Prior to travel, you also need to create a Safe Travels account and follow all necessary steps, in order to get a QR code to scan upon arrival.
As of May 2021, there are additional requirements in place for post-arrival testing. These vary depending on inter-island travel, vaccination status, and residency. Be sure to read all travel requirements for yourself.
Those who successfully navigate the reopening protocols are temporarily rewarded with reduced crowds (although tourist numbers have been continually rising back to pre-pandemic levels). They are also greeted by a host of other changes to their Maui vacation.
Here are some changes to expect for travel to Maui during COVID:
Because of strict pre-travel COVID testing requirements, all passengers must line up for screening upon arrival at OGG.
As of writing this, masks are still required throughout Maui, except in private hotel rooms or vehicles, or while in the water. Check government websites for updates before you travel.
Front St. is the main business district in Lahaina of west Maui. The hub has tons of shops, restaurants, and activities. However many businesses were forced to close their doors due to COVID, and returning tourists may find the area to be much less lively than they remembered.
Many Maui restaurants have yet to reopen. Those that are open may require reservations. Many resorts may not have all on-property bars or restaurants open. Check online and make phone calls beforehand, to avoid disappointment.
In an effort to ramp up sanitation, many resorts may have limited amenities to offer guests. These could include closed spas, bars, restaurants, hot tubs, water sports, shuttles, and lounges. Check resort websites for updates.
Although lei greetings were temporarily on pause in many Hawaiian airports, the tourist favorite has resumed. You can book a lei greeting here.
Although luaus are still taking place for Maui tourists, there are some changes due to COVID. Buffets are modified to table service, tables are spaced and only seat parties who are traveling together, and masks are necessary when not actively eating or drinking. Here is a luau you can pre-book online.
In addition to recommendations for what to do in Maui for your socially-distanced itinerary, I want to cover some travel basics:
Booking a Maui Vacation during COVID
Book flights into the main airport on Maui, Kahului Airport (OGG). There are some great prices out there right now, and I have recently packaged some great flight & hotel deals for clients.
Rent a car
Maui is the kind of destination where you can either relax beach-side at your resort with a few group excursions booked, or you can rent a car and drive to different parts of the island to explore on your own.
However due to COVID, you may want to rent a car — no matter what type of vacation you’re looking for.
If you rent a car, you won’t have to take a shared transfer from the airport, and you won’t pack into a tour bus on the drive up Mt Haleakala. Even if you book some local excursions that offer hotel pick-up & drop-off, you could still opt to drive yourself to limit exposure to others.
Maui rental cars can be expensive! The easiest way to get great value for your money would be to consult me as your Travel Agent (to do the work for you!). Otherwise if you’d prefer to do the work yourself, you can browse affordable rentals here.
Be sure to book cars far in advance, as pricing have been soaring with recent limited availability.
Book a hotel or resort
Hotels all over the world have come out with strict sanitization protocols. This keep clients safe and provides peace of mind.
Wondering where to stay in Maui? I recommend either Wailea in south Maui, or Kaanapali in west Maui near Lahaina Town. These areas have beautiful beaches!
For a budget trip, I recommend the Royal Lahaina Resort (no resort fees!). This property is on a gorgeous stretch of beach right near the Black Rock Beach, where you can snorkel & watch sunset ceremonies. Not all properties in the area have wide, beautiful beaches like this property does.
For a bigger splurge, I recommend the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. This large property has more of a resort feel, due to the large manicured grounds and gorgeous pools. One of the pools is even located inside of a man-made cave with a swim-up bar.
From either of these properties, you can take a hotel shuttle or walk along the beach walk to the Whalers Village. There you will find lots of shops & restaurants.
Again, working with a Travel Agent will save you tons of time, and likely money as well. For my clients, I create personalized itineraries, customized to their interests. Then I package together hotels, flights, and cars or access consolidator prices to give them savings. I am often able to get them additional resort perks as well (think free breakfast, resort credits, lei greetings)!