Where to stay in Maui in 2021: West-Maui vs South-Maui

At the time of booking our 3-week trip Hawaii island hopping trip, we had no idea of the amount of research ahead of us. Which are the best Hawaiian islands for families and how much time should we spend on each island? And which is the best island to recover from our jetlag? (Oh yes, it’s a pretty mean one after a 35-hour journey). Where to find the best resorts and the dreamiest Airbnbs in Hawaii? As a notorious planner and frantic control freak (among other things) I was overwhelmed by the number of things to consider. Several hours and various online articles later, we decided to start our family vacation on Maui. But what would be the best place to stay on Maui: South Maui or West Maui? Finding the pros and cons of each coast actually proved to be quite difficult. So, in order for you to actually keep your cool, I’ll save you the trouble of figuring out where to stay in Maui. Your travel sanity is my priority, after all.

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What's the best place to stay in Maui: the West , with Kaanapali and Kapalua, or the South with Wailea and Kihei? Find out which area is right for you! | Maui | Maui hotels | Maui resorts | Hawaii | Lahaina | Kapalua | Wailea | Kaanapali | Kihei |

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Maui places to stay on the map

Maui is Hawaii second largest island, with a surface of 727.2 mi² (or 1 883 km²). Therefore, you might think that your location is not too important and driving times from any Maui area are pretty reasonable, right? Well, that’s not always the case. Why? Well, the Hawaiian Islands are volcanic islands and Maui is home to three of those, the dormant Haleakala being the largest one. (Check out these interesting facts about Hawaii and its volcanoes.)

Maui where to stay map with the best Maui resorts
Car rental Hawaii family vacation

The volcanoes take up most of the Valley Isle’s surface and most roads lead around them. So, getting to your destination might take you quite a bit longer than you might think. So, yes, where to stay on Maui is a pretty important decision.

Where to stay in Maui by region

The main airport in Maui is located in Kahului (Central Maui). From there, you’ll stay in one of these areas in Maui:

  • In West Maui: Kaanapali or Kapalua.
  • In South Maui: Wailea or Kihei.
  • On the North shore: Paia or Haiku. This is also where to start your Road to Hana adventure. Hana itself is located in East Maui. However, Hana is pretty remote and not the best place to stay in Maui if you’re planning on exploring the other areas of the island. It’s good to spend a night or two.
  • In upcountry Maui: Makawao or Kula.
  • In Central Maui: Kahului or Wailuku.

Let me break down each of these locations by character.

West Maui

Whip out your beach vacation packing list because this area is home to some of the island’s most renowned beaches. In West Maui you can choose to stay in either Kaanapali or Kapalua:


For families with kids, Ka'anapali is the best area to stay in Maui
No matter where you stay in Maui, make sure to capture every moment

What Kaanapli is about:

  • The soft, golden sand of famous Kaanapali beach stretches over three miles. It’s one of the best places in Maui for snorkelling because of its crystal-clear waters. This is especially the case near spiritual Black Rock (Puʻu Kekaʻa), considered by ancient Hawaiians to be the place where spirits would leap from this world to the next.
  • Kaanapali is the most touristy area in West Maui, lined with several Maui resorts all within easy walking distance from one another. The Kaanapali Beachwalk leads visitors along this gorgeous beach and to lively Whalers Village where they’ll find shops, bars, restaurants and entertainment.
  • The old whaling village of Lahaina, home to the most beautiful banyan tree in Hawaii, just south of Kaanapali adds a cultural touch to this Maui area.
  • Visit Lahaina town, cruise to Lanai and meet some dolphinstake a surf lesson on Kaanapali Beach, snorkel at Black Rock or witness the daily torch-lighting ceremony, attend a luauexplore the West-Maui mountains or go shopping at Whalers Village.
  • Check out our article on the best things to do in Kaanapali to learn more.

Where to stay in Kaanapali:

  • The Westin Maui Resort And Spa is Kaanapali’s most popular resort. Families in particular love the pool slides and the flamingo’s that reside in the hotel lagoon.
    Tip: Costco offers some interesting Maui resort packages on a regular basis.
  • Alternatively, you could stay in a villa or condo. Find your Kaanapali home away from home on Airbnb or VRBO.


Little girl on Kapalua beach which is one of the best places to stay in Maui Hawaii

What Kapalua is about:

  • Kapalua is located just a 15-minute drive north from Kaanapali. Kapalua is the Hawaiian word for arms embracing the sea and that’s an accurate description for this sheltered bay. The area close to the rocks is excellent for snorkeling. If you’re more into boogie boarding, you’ll certainly appreciate the swells at D.T. Fleming beach, especially during the winter season.
  • It feels less touristy here, making it the best place on Maui for understated luxury. You’ll find some boutiques and restaurants but not as many as in Kaanapali.

Where to stay in Kapalua:

  • The upscale Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is Kapalua’s main resort. It counts as one of the best hotels in Maui and the place to stay if you’re looking to be pampered. Every room features a private lanaï (balcony) to enjoy the gorgeous views. Prefer a smaller hotel? Then the Montage Kapalua Bay might be just what you’re looking for.
    Tip: Costco offers some interesting Maui resort packages on a regular basis.
  • Families traveling to Maui might prefer staying in a condo or villa. You’ll find some gorgeous options on Airbnb and VRBO.

South Maui


Kihei has a very central location, an important consideration when deciding where to stay in Maui Hawaii

What Kihei is about:

  • Kihei is home to some gorgeous beaches: There’s a soft sandy beach named Sugar beach in the north of Kihei and three popular stretches of beach that form Kama’ole Beach Park in the South of Kihei.
  • Kalepolepo Beach is small but charming and features the Ko’ie’ie, an ancient Hawaiian fishpond which is now a shallow pool ideal for kids. The pond is fed by natural spring water and has a historical, cultural significance since it was once a Hawaiian village.
  • Kihei is the most central resort location in South Maui yet probably the least crowded. That’s because you won’t find many hotels here. Because of that, many tourists don’t even consider Kihei in their search for the best area to stay on Maui.

Where to stay in Kihei:


Rocky beach in Wailea, one of the best places to stay Maui

What Wailea is about:

  • If you’re more into peaceful and posh surroundings, then Wailea might be for you. This area features wonderful Maui beaches such as Big Beach (Makena Beach) and Polo Beach and is close to the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, a renowned Maui snorkeling spot.
  • Plus you’ll get to enjoy the exquisite service of some of the posh resorts in this area. The Wailea Beach Path interconnects the resorts, although these are more spread out than the ones along the Kaanapali Beachwalk. Nearby Shops at Wailea offers entertainment and, well, shops.

Where to stay in Wailea:

North Shore Maui

Beach park in Maui with yellow rescue post under a palm tree

What the North Shore is about:

  • If the glitzy resorts have no effect on you, then you’ll find a more genuine side of Maui in Paia and Haiku.
  • This Maui region offers the best of both worlds: You’ll be close to gorgeous beaches (Baldwin Beach Park near Paia and Ho’okipa Beach near Haiku) yet close to waterfalls and lush rainforest. The Hana highway starts right here, so you’ll have a head start on all the vacationers that are coming from South or West Maui.
  • Explore the art galleries in bohemian Paia town, meet the turtles at Ho’okipa Beach Park, drive the legendary Road to Hana, go hiking at Twin Falls, go on a ziplining adventure, have dinner at the iconic Mama’s Fish House and visit the Sacred Garden of Maliko.

Where to stay on Maui’s North Shore:

  • You won’t find any resorts here. This area is more about unique stays, from tiny houses to some of Hawaii’s most dreamy accommodations. Check out the offer on Airbnb or have a look at our favorites:

Upcountry Maui

Upcountry Maui is one of the Maui best places to stay

What Upcountry Maui is all about:

  • Although the geographical borders are a bit vague, Upcountry Maui is the area just south of Paia and east of Central Maui. It’s Haleakala territory and located inland, away from the coast. You’ll find yourself amidst the local residents, near a cute town called Makawao.
  • This is the countryside, a rural side of the island that most tourists don’t know about. It boasts the best climate on the island, cooler and less humid than near the coastline. The Kula mountains are dotted with farms. It’s the perfect place to stay in Maui if you plan to watch the sunrise at Haleakala National Park, visit the Upcountry Maui farms such as the Ali’i Kula Lavendar Farm or Surfing Goat Dairy, hike the Hoapili trail or explore the Kula Botanical Garden.
  • by the cozy fireplace that’s right outside your well-equipped mountain cottage.

Where to stay in Maui’s rural countryside:

  • Again, this is not a Maui area where you’ll find resorts. What you will find here, are chic mountain retreats, cosy cabins and intimate lodgings. Check out the offer on Airbnb or have a look at our favorites:.

Central Maui

Kaanapali is one of the most popular places to stay in Maui Hawaii and is close to these emerald green West Maui mountains

What Central Maui’s all about:

  • Accessibility, really, since this is the Maui area located around the airport. If you’re looking to see as much as you can on the island within a short amount of time, then staying central is key.
  • Wailuku is a charming little town with a selection of small shops and restaurants
  • It’s also very affordable compared to the other places to stay on Maui which is, in part, due to the fact that you’ll be further away from the coastline.
  • Spending some time at the Maui Tropical Plantation, visit mystic ‘Iao valley State Park, discover the Maui Ocean Center or explore the West-Maui mountains.

Where to stay in Central Maui:

It’s safe to say that both West Maui and South Maui are the most popular areas to stay in Maui but both upcountry Maui and the Paia region are on the rise. Where to stay in Maui depends entirely on what you’re looking to experience on the Valley Isle. Let’s compare these Maui areas by travel type, by interest and by weather.

Best place to stay in Maui by travel type

Two little girls in hamocks at Kaanapali beach, a very family-friendly place to stay in Maui Hawaii
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– Where to stay in Maui with kids

Here's where to stay in Maui Kaanapali is the best place to stay in Maui with kids.

Families traveling to Maui usually spend most of their time in the resort and at the beach. Some sightseeing is included in most family itineraries, say a day or two of exploring Maui with kids, but it’s usually not the key-focus. They look for a family-friendly resort, a beautiful beach with some water sports and a lively environment with a bit of entertainment.
We can personally recommend the Westin Maui Resort & Spa but also this wonderfully located condo with private beach cabana caught our eye.

– Where to stay in Maui on a budget

Here's where to stay in Maui Kihei and Wailuku are the most affordable places to stay in Maui.

If you want a beach vacation that won’t break the bank, head to Kihei. Never mind the fancy resorts with their ridiculously high resort fees, that’s not what you’re looking for. You want to be close to the action and explore the best that Maui has to offer. In that case, it’s best to rent one of the many Maui accommodations nearby the gorgeous Kihei beaches yet close to the main roads.
This amazing Designer Plantation Studio, for example, is very reasonably priced and gets glowing reviews.

If you don’t necessarily need to stay near the beach, then you can make it even more affordable by staying in Wailuku, Central Maui. Check out this private poolside suite in an artist’s villa near Kite Beach.

Sunset from the pool during a Maui honeymoon

– Where to stay in Maui for honeymoon

Here's where to stay in Maui Wailea, Kapalua, Kula and Haiku are the best places to stay in Maui for a honeymoon.

Long walks on the beach, exclusive dinners and some cocooning at the luxury spa. You might go and explore some of Maui’s highlights but that’s secondary. This makes Wailea and Kapalua the best places to stay on Maui on your honeymoon.
The Four Seasons Maui in Wailea and the Montage Kapalua Bay are wonderful options for an unforgettable Maui honeymoon.

Just you, your loved one and a whole lot of pampering in a romantic setting, that’s what your honeymoon should be all about. You don’t feel the need to be in a central location but instead, you want your own slice of paradise far away from anything else. If that’s the kind of honeymoon you envision, then the Upcountry Kula mountains are where you’ll want to be. Check out this romantic mountain retreat.

If you’re looking for that perfect sweet-spot between adventure and romance, then look no further than Haiku. You’ll have a gorgeous beach and a lush rainforest at your fingertips. Pick your own fruit in your private orchard, take a dip in a waterfall when the coastal visitors are back in their resort and watch the whales breach from the comfort of your romantic retreat. This bamboo temple is what newly-wed dreams are made of.

No matter where you stay in Maui, make sure to capture every moment

Best place to stay by Maui activities

– Best place to stay in Maui for sightseeing

Driving in Maui is easy, as long as you stay on the main roads and there are only a few of these on the island. Expect scenic winding roads, really winding at times. After all, getting from point A to point B often involves making a big loop around a part of the island.
To help you make your decision on where to stay on Maui, we’ve researched the driving times from the main tourist resorts to the most popular points of interest.

DRIVING TIMESKapaluaKaanapaliKiheiWaileaPaiaKulaWailuku
Kapalua14 min.48 min.1 h 0 min.47 min.1 h 07 min.52 min.
Kaanapali14 min.35 min.46 min.47 min.55 min.42 min.
Kihei48 min.35 min.12 min.21 min.28 min.20 min.
Wailea1 h 0 min.46 min.12 min.32 min.38 min.30 min.
Paia58 min.47 min.21 min.32 min.21 min.21 min.
Kula1 h 07 min.55 min.28 min.38 min.21 min.26 min.
Wailuku52 min.42 min.20 min.30 min.21 min.26 min.
Kahului airport56 min.45 min.19 min.29 min.17 min.22 min.17 min.
Lahaina town17 min.6 min.34 min.45 min.47 min.52 min.1 h 03 min.
‘Iao Valley State Park54 min.45 min.23 min.35 min.31 min.36 min.12 min.
Tropical Plantation45 min.34 min.12 min.21 min.22 min.27 min.9 min.
Haleakala summit1 h 58 min.1 h 48 min.1 h 21 min.1 h 33 min.50 min.31 min.56 min.
Hana (end of the Road)2 h 51 min.2 h 40 min.2 h 13 min.2 h 24 min.1 h 39 min.1 h 46 min.1 h 55 min.
7 Sacred Pools2 h 38 min.2 h 27 min.1 h 59 min.2 h 09 min.1 h 52 min.1 h 35 min.1 h 58 min.

Some things to do in Maui take up a full day: Driving the legendary Road to Hana on the hunt for waterfalls and the only black sand beach on Maui, for example. Or discovering the many epic things to do in Haleakala, Maui’s volcanic heart.
Others can be easily combined. You could, for example, see the sunrise in Haleakala National Park and spend the afternoon enjoying the Maui vacation vibe in your chosen beach resort. More into hiking? Then these spectacular Maui hikes are exactly what you’re looking for.

Car rental Hawaii family vacation

– Best place to stay in Maui for snorkeling

Here's where to stay in Maui Kaanapali, Kapalua and Wailea are the best places to stay in Maui to go snorkeling.

We’ve snorkeled at Black Rock (Kaanapali Beach) and Kapalua Beach and they’re ideal for less experienced and first time snorkelers, like our kids. Just enter the water where you see some lava rocks and before you know it, you’ll be surrounded by colorful fish. We didn’t encounter turtles but that’s probably because we stayed quite close to the beach. Advanced snorkelers can head to Honolua Bay up north.

We didn’t get to snorkel in the Wailea area, unfortunately, so we can’t share our personal experiences. From what we’ve heard, the Ahihi Kinau Reserve is the best snorkeling spot in South Maui. It’s also a recommended Maui snorkeling site for families with children
Popular off-shore snorkeling sites are the Molokini Crater and Turtle Town. They’re located close to the Wailea shore but charter boats leave from marinas closer to West Maui too. So, for these excursions it doesn’t really matter that much where you choose to be staying. The best time of day to go snorkeling is in the morning, when the winds haven’t picked up yet.

– Best place in Maui for golf

Here's where to stay in Maui Kaanapali, Kapalua, Kihei and Wailea are all great places to stay in Maui for golfers.

Maui, and Hawaii in general, is a golf lovers’ paradise. Kapalua is home to the iconic Plantation Course, where the PGA tour is held every January, and the Bay Course. In Kaanapali you’ll find the Royal Kaanapali and the Kaanapali Kai.

The Wailea Golf Club features the Blue, Emerald Course and Gold Courses as well as the Makena Golf Course while Kihei is home to the Maui Nui Golf Club.

GoPro for your Hawaii vacation

– Best places to stay in Maui for whale-watching

Here's where to stay in Maui Kaanapali, Wailea and Maalaea in between are the places in Maui for whale-watching.

Maui’s whale watching season runs from November to May and peaks in February. It’s the time of year where North Pacific Humpback Whales enjoy the safe and warm ocean waters to breed, birth and raise their calves. The absolute best whale watching site is the McGregor Point Lookout in Maalaea, located right in between West and South Maui.

In West Maui, the most popular viewing point is Kaanapali’s Black Rock.

In South Wailea, you have a good chance of spotting humpbacks from Point Maui’s Wailea Coastal Walk.


– Best places to watch a Maui luau

Check out where to stay Maui for a luau performance

Here's where to stay in Maui Kaanapali is closest to the Maui luau performances.

A luau is a feast with dance performances, often featuring styles from different Polynesian islands, and local food, mostly buffet-style. The most popular Maui luau shows take place in the Kaanapali – Lahaina area.
We attended the Westin Maui luau. Here’s a list of other luau options. Note that advance bookings are recommended.

Where to stay in Maui by climate

Here's where to stay in Maui Wailea is the hottest place to stay in Maui, Kula the coolest and Wailuku, Paia and Hana the wettest.

Little girl during a rainy moment at Kapalua beach

Both the west and south coast offer the sunniest weather on the island because they are located on the island’s leeward side. Still, there’s a bit of difference, especially during the winter months. That’s because the West Maui mountains lift and cool the moist ocean air coming from the northern coast (windward side), making it condense into rain. The more north, the higher your chance of rain while the weather in the south tends to be drier. We even noticed how it was raining in Kapalua when we just arrived from sunny Kaanapali, in the beginning of April. South Maui has the lowest chance of rain, Kapalua the highest.

It you prefer a cooler and drier climate, then you’ll love the Kula mountains. No aircon needed in this part of Maui, just a gentle breeze.

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Our preferred place to stay in Maui

We stayed at the Westin Maui Resort And Spa in Kaanapali. Since this was the most relaxing part of our three-week Hawaii island hopping adventure, we chose this beach resort with the kids in mind. The Westin Maui Resort and Spa has the most spectacular pool, is located right on Kaanapali Beach and hosts one of the most popular Maui luau shows. It turned out to be a great choice for a first trip to Maui.

If it would have been just the two of us, then for sure we’d have opted for one of these dreamy Airbnbs on Maui

Girl sliding down the pool slide in the Westin Maui Resort and Spa, one of the best Maui hotels

There’s something special about Maui (and Hawaii in general), something that keeps us longing for more. For a second visit, though, we’d probably book the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua because we loved the beach and the Kapalua Coastal Trail. Or we might check out the Wailea area, just to have a change of scenery and check out the renowned Ahihi Kinau Reserve snorkeling spot. The Four Seasons at Wailea there does look heavenly, doesn’t it?

Dreaming of planning a new vacation in these uncertain times? The AXA Assistance USA Platinum travel insurance includes a CFAR (Cancel for Any Reason) option which allows you to cancel your trip without any explanation, up to 2 days before departure. Conditions apply. Click here to learn more.

Where will you stay in Maui?

When you’ve come this far in the article, then A: Kudos to you, you’ve earned yourself a treat and B: You’ll probably have a good idea on where to stay on Maui. If so, then we’d love to hear all about it. If not, then let us know what piece of the puzzle is still missing from this article so we can perfect our Maui travel advice. Either way, the comment box is all yours.

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What's the best place to stay in Maui: the West, with Kaanapali and Kapalua, or the South with Wailea and Kihei? Find out which area is right for you! | Maui | Maui hotels | Maui resorts | Hawaii | Lahaina | Kapalua | Wailea | Kaanapali | Kihei |
Wondering where to stay in Maui? Find out which area is right for you: West-Maui or South-Maui. | Maui | Maui hotels | Maui resorts | Hawaii | Lahaina | Kapalua | Wailea | Kaanapali | Kihei |

This article contains affiliate links. Clicking on such a hyperlink and/or making a purchase to the website it refers to, may result in a commission for CosmopoliClan at no additional cost to you. It allows us to dedicate enough personal time and energy to this blog. For more information, visit the Disclaimer page.

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