When you are thinking about going to Maui, choosing the right place to stay is important. When you do your research and look it up it becomes pretty apparent that you have two choices. Either you stay on the South side, or the west side of Maui.
Western Maui, includes Napili, Lahaina, Ka’anapali, and Kapalua, whereas Southern Maui includes Kihei, Makena, and Wailea. There are two areas which a vast majority of Maui visitors will choose to stay at, and these are those.
It can be hard to choose as they are both wonderful locations with so much to do. So, today, we will provide you with all the pros and the cons of each of these areas. Of course, we will also let you know where we like to stay on Maui, in case you are looking for a personal opinion to help you decide where you will go.
Which Is Better: Wailea Or Ka’anapali?
If you were to ask whether Wailea or Ka’anapali was best online, you will get some pretty solid answers, the general consensus is that there is one place better than the other. However, it also depends on what you are looking for.
Out of the general consensus on the matter, sadly there i snot much. A majority of people will only recommend where they went, so there is no real solid comparison, making it hard.
People often say that the place they stayed in is the ‘best on that island’, which is not helpful, as it is highly unlikely that they stayed in every area.
Those that have stayed in Ka’anapali and in Wailea will typically have a preference between each of these places, but they will also be very fast to tell everyone they are both ideal. This is where it comes back to depending on what you are looking for in your trip.
This is where we come in. We have traveled a lot and stayed everywhere, been there and worn ALL the T-shirts. We have seen the good, bad, ugly, and epic, and we are going to share with you what we have to say about these places.
What is our opinion? Well… neither. Neither is better than the other, there is no definite better place, it really depends on what you are looking for, and also your budget (yes, that matters here too).
So, let’s get into the details…
Top Destinations: West Maui (Ka’anapali, Lahaina & Kapalua)
Let’s begin with West Maui. When we say West Maui we are referring to Ka’anapali, Napili, Lahaina, and Kapalua. Some of these may be big resorts, some cities or towns, and some will be communities made up of older condos.
People also often refer to this side of the island as being the Lahaini side, which is a reference to the entire Western side of the island.
This side of the island was first developed in the 60s, and it is still one of the more popular places on Maui for holiday-makers. The old whaling village also anchors in the area, and the Ka’anapali resort has most of the accommodation and the dining options on this part of the island.
If you fly into Kahului airport to the Lahaina area it will only take about 45 minutes too, which is not bad.
A majority of people will go to West Maui, which is often why you will see more people recommend this area. Most of the condos and resorts will be here. It is the home of most of the resorts and therefore, more tourists come here.
This side of the island is usually dry and sunny, so it is perfect for beach time and catching some sun. There are lots of choices for accommodation as well, so you could get a beachfront resort or save some cash and get a condo, it is up to you.
Western Maui is also much more developed, so if you enjoy being in the center of all the action, this is where all the action is. Lahaina used to be an old whaling village, which is now a tourist hot shot, and most people actually spend their evenings here.
Then there is Front Street which is packed to the brim with shopping opportunities and plenty of restaurants, where many will offer an ocean view. It has a really nice hang out spot vibe for evening goers.
The docks are also where you will find a lot of the water-based activities cast off from, you will see whale watching groups, submarines, glass bottom boats and ferries sailing off from here. So, if you are hooked into the ocean action, this is a good place to be.
Maui’s most famous beach, Ka’anapali beach is also found in Western Maui, and even though it is very popular, it lacks copious amounts of crowds. It is kind of like the Waikiki of Maui.
At the front of Ka’anapali beach are the Marriott, the Sheraton, Westin, and the Hyatt. There is also an outdoor mall, so there is so much shopping and dining to be done right on the beach too!
There is also a 3-mile-long promenade at the beachfront which makes it easy for you to get around, and gives you the feeling there is always something to be done.
Catamarans will pull right up to the sandy shores to take passengers out for snorkeling.
If you would rather have a quieter Maui experience you could go to Kapalua or Napili Bays in the Northern West side. Napili Bay is a beautiful beach which is home to many old condos, resorts, and small inns. However, these places are more aged, but the location is worth it.
This area is more centered around golfing than ocean activity, however the Ritz Carlton and the Montage are some of the poshest places, and you still won’t be far away from Lahaina and Ka’anapali.
There are a lot of fancy condos in Kapalua as well. Probably the only thing we have negative to say about the area to the North of Ka’anapali is that it is a bit wetter than the more Southern West sides of the island.
The Western Maui mountains generate their own type of weather and there is a cloud line which can affect Kapalua more than some other places. It is not a big issue of course, but it is a downside for some.
The western part of Maui is one of the most beautiful areas of the island, with the mountains in the backdrop (great for hiking by the way), with some of the best beaches the island has to offer, and you are not all that far from Honolua Bay either.
While Western Maui is amazing, it is not perfect. There are a lot of people, and there will be crowds wherever you go, and this is probably the worst thing about it.
Obviously, you will expect a place like this to be busy, but some of the popular beaches such as Napili, Ka’anapali, and Kapalua can be packed and parking is limited.
Also, with so much to do in this area, it’s heavily built up, which is great when you need stuff to do, but bad in how there are a lot of tacky shops, and typical tourist stores and venues.
Of course, there is also the distance. If you want to do Haleakala, a hike, the Road to Hana, anything on the Northern shore of the country will be a fair drive away. But, it is a beautiful country, so, that may not be an issue
Top Destinations: South Maui (Kihei & Wailea)
When we talk about Southern Maui, we are referring to Kihei, Makena, and Wailea. There is a mixture of tourist town and local vibes, you will see high-end resorts but also localized spots where you can avoid the crowds.
South Maui is not as popular or as well known as the Western side of the island. However, the southern shores are beautiful, and it is even sunnier and drier than the Western side, which is part of the reason why it is starting to become more popular now.
The beaches here are much less busy, and they are also more accessible, with more parking and better signage. In fact, a majority of the beaches in Kihei will actually be visible from the road!
South Maui does have it all, and it even has a short commute time from the Kahului airport to this area at around 20-30 minutes maximum.
If you want to go to Kihei, expect a decent sized beach town with plenty of eateries and activities, including surf lessons as this is the pinnacle location of Maui surfing lessons, and it is pretty cheap too.
Most of the options for accommodation will be condos here, and some will be aged, and most of them are not on the beach, however, the price break can be worth a walk across the road from the beach, it is hardly that far after all!
Then there is Wailea, which is THE place to stay. It is a resort community south of Kihei which has some huge beachfront resorts and some very nice condo complexes too, there is a mall (outside!), gorgeous restaurants, tennis facilities, golfing courses, and pretty much everything you could dream of.
The entire location is beautifully styled and looks like something out of the movies. Some people would go past this area and just say “This is what I believed Maui would look like”. In our point of view, the epitome of luxury is here, staying at the Four Seasons.
These are the best resorts in Maui.
However, South Maui is not without its faults, and just like the West side there are flaws.
Kihei almost has a ‘spring break’ feeling to it. So many less than great eateries, many tacky shops, and the beaches do get crowded.
Then there is Wailea, which is very beautiful and very picturesque, but it is very pricey unless you choose an off-beach condo. And there is not a lot going on around here, everything is more upscale, but there is a lot less of it.
There are a minor few businesses which will offer snorkeling off of Kihei, but if you wanted to go elsewhere you would need to drive up to Ma’alaea.
While Haleakala does look close there is no connecting road that connects with the Road to Hana, even though it looks insanely close on a map, so you do actually still need to drive through Kahului to get to the more Northern places.
It is beautiful, and we absolutely love it, don’t get us wrong, but there are some flaws here, mostly in ease of access to other places and the expensive, vs affordable difference in experience.
What Do We Think?
So, you want our opinion on the matter? Honestly, everyone will have a different opinion, Wailea may be a better choice for some people, they may want the vibe you get in KIhei or the fancy resorts of Wailea.
Others may be more interested in Ka’anapali, there is something for everyone, so there is no clear better place here.
However, you asked for our opinion, so we will share.
From our experience and what we feel from the whole experience in these places, we prefer the Southern side. Many will talk about the South versus West sides of Maui, and which is better, but it is much more nuanced than simply asking this.
We chose the Southern side because we like Wailea. Okay, we have to admit we do love the water sport options and overall variety offered in Ka’anapali’s Western side, but we do prefer the South side because of Wailea.
However, if our budget were tight, and we could not go to Wailea, then Ka’anapali on the West coast would be our second choice. As we said, we prefer the variety here, and love the water sport options, but that is just because that is something that we enjoy.
If we could not go to Wailea or Ka’anapali then we would choose Kihei, it does have that spring break feel to it, but it is quieter and can be affordable if you are willing to stay in a condo, which we do not mind.
Basically, your choice between South and West simply comes down to what you want to do, and what you want your experience to be like versus what you can actually afford.
So, if you want to stay in a resort, then a Western side resort will be cheaper than in the South. However, if you want a Condo, Kihei condos come with a deal that is pretty hard to say no to.
Generally, as a rule, we would rather avoid staying in Kihei unless it is the only reasonable opinion according to a budget, it is just a bit too crowded and not really what we are looking for with a vacation.
However, plenty of people do love Kihei, so do not take our work for it, it is really dependent on what you want.
When we stay in Kihei, the properties on the south side near Keawakapi Beach are hard to beat, it’s a must stay for us.
If you want to stay in Ka’anapali in the resort area, and we’re looking into condos and resorts in this area of the west, remember that there is a difference between the primary Ka’anapali beach and the North Ka’anapali beach.
The main beach is south of Black Rock, but the North beach is the one which stretches all the way from Black Rock to Honokowai Beach park. The Ka’anapali beach is the most popular area running from the Hyatt to the Sheraton.
There will also be a beach walk, high-end mall, restaurants and more which connect the resorts, creating a community vibe.
There are other properties along North Ka’anapali, which are more condo-tels, so there are not as many amenities and not as much for activities.
However, you will find a pleasant beach walk along Northern Ka’anapali beach, and once you get to the Royal Lahaina Resort there will be a path to the Sheraton, and you will be able to take a walk onto the Whalers Village.
That being said, if you are staying quite far North this may be a bit too much of a walk.
Should you want to stay on the West side, but choose to stay in a condo, make sure to manage your expectations, especially around Napili Bay, and Kahana. These places are a bit older and they are not quite as glistening as what you will find elsewhere.
It is not a bad thing that some of these places are worn, but just be aware of it before you book.
Be aware that many of the water facing complexes in this specific area also do not have a beach.
Can You Split Your Trip? Do Both?
What if you wanted to do both? Perhaps you have read this far and though maybe you would like to visit both, perhaps splitting your trip between the two. You could stay on the South side for some of the trip and then stay on the West.
Honestly, as good of an idea as it is in theory, it is not a great idea in practice. This is simply because doing so means you miss out on precious activity time.
You may consider staying on the West and doing things there then moving to the South, so they are closer to Haleakala, and the Northern shore, but it still is not a great idea.
Both of these locations are heavily touristy, so it is best to just pick one and stay there even if it means you do need to drive around a bit. A drive is much less hassle than moving around. If you stay on the south side, it is not that close to the East still, so it does not make a massive difference.
All things considered, there is one situation in which a split stay may be wise. If you want to get to experience the high-end lifestyle of a luxury resort but can only afford this for a week, and not your whole stay, this may be a time to do a split.
Perhaps you want to explore the island, but also want to stay at a luxury resort where you never leave the pool side or the beach.
If you are in a situation like this, you could split your stay in half, staying in the luxury accommodations for half your stay and then in more affordable accommodation.
If you do this you can get the best of both worlds, but it does work better with a longer stay.
There is no real better side of Maui, the South and the West both have their benefits. What is best depends on what you are looking for and what you can afford as well. What we do know is that between the South and West sides of Maui there is something for everyone.
Whether you enjoy exploring or if you just want to relax in a high-end resort, there is something for you in the West or South coasts of Maui.
Where will you go?
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