With 440-plus islands on Earth, vacationers have a surplus of sandy shores from which to choose—from the glamorous, white-washed cliffs of Santorini to the romantic, glassy-watered coves of Saint Martin.
And yet, global travelers consistently choose to spend their hard-earned vacation days, honeymoons, and holidays on Maui, which, as the second largest island in Hawaii, sees more than 2.2 million visitors per year.
It’s no wonder. Frequently rated the #1 island in the world, the Valley Isle has it all—sugary beaches, radiant waters, rugged coastlines, stunning flora, and beguiling fauna. And from ziplining through lush valleys to diving off shimmery waterfalls to eating five-star cuisine (often with an ocean view), Maui also offers countless things to do—so much so planning an 11-day trip to the island can leave even the most decisive among us dizzied.
While part of the appeal of vacations is going with the flow—particularly in Hawaii—having a general outline of where and how to spend your days will give you the freedom to enjoy each experience to the fullest.
Here, then, is the ultimate 11-day Maui itinerary—which will hammer home why the island is a premier vacation destination.
Day 1: Chill
Maui is tops when it comes to beaches: 120 miles of the island’s 727 square miles are coastline, making it the leading Hawaiian island in terms of the highest number of accessible swimming holes, sunbathing spots, and snorkeling venues.
Dive into it all by spending your first day on Maui luxuriating in its sunny splendor, and go big in doing so—literally—by heading to Big Beach. Traditionally called “Oneloa,” its Hawaiian name, “long sand,” couldn’t be more accurate—this ravishing shore stretches 3,300 feet long and over 100 feet wide. Arrive early with coffee, pastries, and cold drinks in hand, spread out your towel, and “ahhhh” your way towards an 808 perspective.
After a refreshing lunch at The Market (try a seared ahi melt with garlic aioli), deepen that sense of peace by hitting up the ‘Awili Spa & Salon at the Andaz (a hip, airy hotel on Wailea’s Mokapu Beach). Apothecary Consultants will hand-craft an elixir to meet your body’s needs (think: papaya and passion fruit oils from locally-grown fruit), feed you lemon-infused water and dried mango, and then ease your muscles (to accentuate your Hawaiian experience, try their lomi lomi treatment). Named one of the best transformational wellness destinations in the world by Town + Country magazine, this 14,000-squre foot spa will put you in total harmony.
Spend your evening gazing out at the moonlit water from a perch at Humble Market Kitchin in the Marriott next door. Here, Roy Yamaguchi—a preeminent Hawaiian chef whose plantation roots make their way onto the plate—serves up dishes grounded in Hawaii’s multi-ethnic history. Go authentic kama’aina with Yamaguchi Style Ramen (which arrives with dumplings, sous egg, and pork belly) or get Pacific with the Misoyaki Butterfish with choi sum and tri-pepper soy. After a scoop of Sandy Beach gelato at Island Gourmet Market, cruise down to Wailea Beach to dip your toes in the still-warm water.
Day 2: Splash
Kiteboarding hit the Hawaiian scene in a major way in the late 1990s, when the world’s first kiteboarding contest was held on Maui’s wind-whipped North Shore. Since then (and, we should note, earlier), vibrant-colored kites have dotted the island’s waters, giving beachgoers much to marvel over—and riders the thrills of their lives.
Experience it for yourself with a morning lesson with the Kiteboarding School of Maui; the company has brilliant instructors and some of the best insights to waves on the island.
Still your sea-legs when you’re pau by heading into Paia for some browsing, chowing, and souvenir shopping. Accomplish the first at Mahina, a sweet boutique that sells some of the most economical but cutest fashions on the island. For lunch, stroll into Flatbread Company, where you can design a delicious pizza pie with locally-sourced ingredients (like Maui pineapple and upcountry goat cheese). As for souvenir shopping? One of your best bets is Alice in Hulaland, where you can grab quirky t-shirts and clever hats.
Then head west before the sun sets: Your evening will be spent watching Darren Lee pay tribute to Elvis Presley at Maui Theatre’s Burn’n Love. Voted the island’s #1 show by TripAdvisor, this super-entertaining performance proves that Maui’s got talent.
Day 3: Soar
Thus far, Maui may seem to be all glittery-sanded beaches, posh resorts, and sparkling water. And while this may be true (and true in spades), Maui also features vertiginous cliffs riven by waterfalls, the world’s largest dormant volcano, and gorges that seem to—and do—go on for miles.
Revel in its hidden beauties aboard a chopper with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Their remarkably-quiet, Eco-Star aircrafts (and friendly, knowledgeable staff) has earned them the reputation as the best air tour company in Hawaii. Jump on for an instructive, spine-tingling excursion—the vistas you’ll see will stay with you for a lifetime. Call 1-800-745-2583.
Your head may be swimming from all that beauty, but there’s more to be seen—this time on the island’s upper slopes. After a lunch of pasta and vino at Makawao’s Casanova’s—an iconic Italian eatery that’s been on the island for three-plus decades—make your way to The Secret Garden. Created by Executive Director of the Divine Nature Alliance Eve Eschner Hogan, this beautiful and beguiling, 11-circuit labyrinth will take you closer to Maui’s healing magic.
Afterward, spend what’s left of your Maui day exploring the shops of Makawao, where you’ll find funky galleries next to upmarket boutiques. (Be sure to stroll into The Mercantile for organic body products and lavish linens.) Then cozy up to a seat at the bar at Makawao Steak House, a rustic, moody spot that pays homage to Hawaiian’s paniolo past and serves up some of the choicest cuts on the island. Splurge on dessert, no matter if you’ll be wearing a swimsuit tomorrow: Their Café O’Lei Crunch is downright sumptuous.
Day 4: Explore
Start your fourth Maui day with a morning hike along the paths of Iao Valley, a stunning, verdant dell located in the center of the island. Rich in soul and history—Iao is the site of the Battle of Kepaniwai, in which King Kamehameha vanquished the Hawaiian Islands—this popular attraction’s paved walkways lead to spectacular views of the island. Bring your suit if you dare: its stream is ice-cold but uber-refreshing.
With your appetite climbing, head down to the county seat of Wailuku, where you’ll be pulling up a chair at Sam Sato’s. Widely renowned for its dry mein with char siu pork and bean sprouts, this industrial haven bowls out some of the best—and most popular—noodles in Hawaii (to the tune of 350 pounds of pasta per day).
Post-lunch, score an in-depth look at Maui’s ocean wonders at the Maui Ocean Center. Located in Maalaea—a lovely, windswept town globally known for possessing one of the world’s fastest waves—this enormous aquarium provides entertainment for hours. Between its 750,000-gallon Open Ocean Exhibit (complete with a 54-foot walk-through tunnel that provides up-close-and-personal looks at Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles) and its Shark Dive—wherein certified divers can leap in to observe six species of sharks—it’s no surprise Maui Ocean Center has been dubbed the aquarium of Hawaii.
Day 5: Bathe
In the sunshine, that is: Lahaina—the former capital of Hawaii—translates to “merciless sun” in Hawaiian for good cause: Temps here rocket higher than anywhere else on the island (the town of Kihei being its closest competition). And while such heat may be sweltering for some, it makes swimming and snorkeling in the Pacific all the more seductive.
Experience the best of the west side’s clear waters at Olowalu—an aquamarine enclave between Maalaea and downtown Lahaina. Here, you’ll be presented with some of the best snorkeling on the island, thanks in part to the lack of trades and the clarity of the water. With a reef extending 3,000 feet beyond the shore, you’re likely to observe manta rays, rare coral (Oluwalu Reef possesses twenty-four species, with some as old as five centuries), and Black Tip reef sharks (which, by the way, are harmless).
Then, shower off the sand and put on your vintage aloha attire: Your evening will be spent at the Feast at Lele, an extravagant, five-course dinner prepared by celebrated chef James McDonald and set to dances and chants from myriad Polynesian islands. Intimate and romantic, this flawless fete has earned praise from Travel + Leisure as featuring “the most fabulous cooking on Maui.”
Day 6: Climb
Haleakala has inspired reverence since Hawaii was first discovered by Polynesian settlers in 500 A.D. Since then, the mountain has become one of the most sacred places in the Hawaiian Islands (to note: ancient Hawaiians looked to the mauka—or mountains—for wisdom and answers) and one of the most visited volcanoes on the planet.
A mere glance at its numbers explains why. The entirety of Haleakala National Park encompasses close to 30,000 acres, while its colossal crater—filled as it is with lava tubes, cinder cones, and caverns—is 7.5 miles long, 2.5 miles wide, 21 miles in circumference, and 3,000 feet deep.
Reach its top while the sky is still dark and you’ll be blessed to watch the sunrise of your life—a surreal experience that’s made all the more majestic by the alpine air, heart-stopping views, and moonscape-y look (vegetation here is scarce). What vegetation that does exist, however, ought to be savored after you’ve finished witnessing dawn’s performance: The Haleakala Silversword—a strange, spindly plant that seemingly belongs on another planet—is found nowhere else on the planet.
Brunch is best enjoyed amid the fragrant scent of lavender (with panoramic views to boot), both of which you can find on the grounds of Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm. 45 different types of lavender perfume the air while bonsai-style avocado trees and flamboyant protea vie for attention. Take a seat at their café after picking up some lavender-scented bath goodies; fresh scones and lavender-infused lattes have never tasted so luscious.
When you’re ready to descend—at least a few hundred feet—head to Ocean Organic Vodka Farm and Distillery, where spirited guides will show you how their star spirit is manufactured from homegrown sugarcane and distilled water. Their tour includes a visit to their 6,000 square foot solar-powered warehouse and a stop at their Martini Garden; here, swills are crafted from Maui’s bounty—including the lavender you just wowed over.
Day 7: Glide
Being completely surrounded by lucid, shimmering water certainly has its benefits; chief among them is the chance to take to the Pacific aboard a fast, exhilarating vessel.
Hawaii Ocean Rafting offers the ultimate in aquatic experiences by ferrying small parties of guests to Maui County’s reefs, where tropical marine life is found in abundance—including moray eels and honu. Out in the vast ocean, you may also spot schools of Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins—inarguably one of the smartest and most dynamic animals on the planet—and, from May to November, pods of Humpback whales. With tours that max out at 16 passengers, journeys with Hawaii Ocean Rafting are peaceful, thrilling, and private. Call (808) 661-7238.
Back on land, make the most of your West Maui day by voyaging to Whalers Village in Ka’anapali. Set on one of the most magnificent stretches of sand on the island, this outdoor plaza is a shopper’s mini-Shangri La (think: Lululemon, Sephora, and Kate Spade). Stop in at their whaling museum—where you can view 19th scrimshaw—before splurging on dinner at Japengo: Tucked into the Hyatt, this award-winning Asian eatery dishes out some of the freshest and most delectable sushi on the Valley Isle.
Day 8: Ride
In 1786, a French explorer known as “the Comte de La Perouse” sailed into Maui’s southern seas and anchored down, thus earning his place in history as the first European to land in Hawaii. Today, La Perouse Bay—the result of Haleakala’s last eruption four years after the Comte’s arrival—remains desolate, rendering it one of the most unspoiled regions on the island.
And what a region it is: miles of serrated lava rocks give way to untouched coves brimming with tide pools and exotic marine life, while remnants of Hawaii’s storied past—including temples and villages—dramatize the eerie and astonishing landscape.
Absorb it all astride a horse by booking a trip with Makena Stables. Morning rides take visitors along the rock-strewn shoreline, where you’ll be supplied extraordinary views of Molokini and Kaho’olawe.
After your ride, pick up lunch at Island Gourmet Market—the store has everything from chicken katsu to chilled papayas—and head to the southern end of Kamaole Beach Park III. A favorite among kama’aina, this is a delightful place to take in the sight of kites in the sky—and enjoy a splash in the water.
Gear up for an evening to remember at Hotel Wailea, Relais & Chateaux, a boutique, adults-only spot in the shadow of Haleakala, where you’ll be trying out an aerial silks yoga class. Accessible to students of all levels, this gentle but invigorating class utilizes a silk hammock to realign your posture (and will leave you feeling wonderfully boneless).
Then skip into the resort’s sultry restaurant, where its starlit ambiance and inspired dishes (such as shrimp carbonara and kampachi crudo) will demonstrate why it was named one of the world’s 100 most romantic restaurants by Open Table.
Day 9: Savor
Maui’s natural beauty can be relished around every bend, whether it’s a knockout sunset or a hibiscus in bright, striking bloom.
Hana, however, is a moment-by-moment experience in exquisiteness—a place where trees grow in rainbow hues and waterfalls plummet from the heavens.
Getting there is half the fun: Fifty-plus miles that traverse more than 600 hairpin turns, 60 stone bridges, and too many awesome sights to count. While many visitors to Maui elect to go with a tour—Valley Isle Excursions does a bang-up job of providing a comfy ride, excellent stops, and fascinating information—just as many choose to do the Road to Hana on their own. And for good reason: You’re free to stop where you please—and get lost in the wilderness if you so choose. (This is, after all, a vacation.)
If you go with the latter, start your Hana day with breakfast at Café de Amis in Paia (indulge in a sweet Nutella crepe for all-day energy) before heading to Peahi, where, depending on the swells, you’ll see waves so jaw-dropping you’ll understand why this surf spot was nicknamed Jaws. Next up? Waianapanapa State Park, where a trek down to the sea will bring you into contact with a black sand beach surrounded by ultra-lush greenery (as well as lava tubes, blowholes, underwater caves, and a seabird colony). Grab lunch in Hana town—one of the last bastions of Old Hawaii—before taking your eats to Koki Beach, a picturesque cove tucked onto the rugged coastline. Then conclude it all on the Pipiwai Trail in Kipahulu, where you’ll traipse through a copse of bamboo to reach two showstoppers of waterfalls. (“Heavenly” Hana, indeed.)
Day 10: Swing
Discover the opposite of Hana’s raw beauty on the manicured slopes of Wailea’s Emerald Course, one of three tony ranges designed by two of the most famous golf course designers (Arthur Jack Snyder and Robert Trent Jones, Jr.). Here, soul-stirring views of the outlying islands compete with breathtaking vistas of Haleakala, while the warm air and chattering birds will remind you that you’re smack dab in paradise.
Following your win—however you may define it—head to Po’olenalena Beach in Makena. This expansive stretch of golden sand (its meaning is “yellow head”) offers terrific swimming opps—and ample space to sprawl out in the sun.
After a cup of French-pressed 100% Kona joe at Honolulu Coffee—a breezy, pleasing venue in The Shops at Wailea—head towards Maalaea. Kealia Coastal Boardwalk, to be exact, a divinely quiet beachside promenade that’s part of a 700-acre refuge for Hawaiian seabirds.
Then pop into Seascape Restaurant in Maalaea for an ice-cold drink (try a Cucumber Watermelon margarita for the epitome in refreshing) before strolling down the harbor to the Ali’i Nui. Once aboard this sleek, 65-foot catamaran, you’ll be treated to a glass of bubbly as you chase the falling sun, ultimately watching it slink beyond the horizon from a perch at the Nui’s teakwood bar. With delicious pupus and luminous views, the Ali’i Nui puts the royal in treatment.
Day 11: Sail
In a different kind of way entirely: Spend your last day on Maui (this time around) at Honolua Bay, where you’ll be joining forces with Hawaiian Paddle Sports for an epic and insightful canoe tour.
Beginning at DT Fleming Beach Park in Ka’anapali, this adventure will take you to Mokule’ia (christened Slaughterhouse Beach, due to its proximity to the former Honolua Ranch slaughterhouse), where you’ll be offered a cultural lesson on how Hawaiians survived and thrived prior to Western contact. Certified naturalists will then take you into the oh-so-glorious Honolua Bay for an interpretive snorkel tour and marine life instruction.
Back on land, head back to the heart of Lahaina, where, sandwiched between one of the world’s largest banyan trees and Lahaina Harbor, you’ll find the Old Lahaina Courthouse; here, brief videos and bygone displays will transport you to the mid-1800s, when its jail brimmed with smuggling sailors and whaling ships stormed its port. Now a repository of artifacts and art, this museum is a fine reminder of Hawaii’s rough-and-tumble history.
Let it be a theme that extends into evening as you take in the grandeur of Drums of the Pacific. Located at the Hyatt in Ka’anapali, this mesmerizing luau features a traditional imu ceremony, Polynesian cuisine (like makamaka with medallions of Molokai sweet potato and haupia with toasted coconut), and authentic dances from Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, and, of course, Old Hawaii. With one of the most dazzling fire dance finales in Polynesia, this gorgeous performance underscores precisely why Maui is No Ka Oi.
While part of the appeal of vacations is going with the flow, having a Maui itinerary will give you the freedom to enjoy each experience to the fullest.