When you’re planning a trip to Hawaii for the first time, it can be confusing to understand what the difference is between all of the islands. And yes, they are very different. Each island offers something unique and it can be hard to understand what the best one for you to visit is, especially when it’s your first trip. 

In our opinion, if this is your first time to Hawaii, the best island to visit is Maui. You can get a bit of everything on Maui: adventure, great snorkeling, good hiking, lush jungle experiences, beautiful beaches, excellent food, and great places to stay. Not only that, but it typically has the best weather and has more than enough to keep you busy for your entire vacation.

It’s not just because we love Maui (though we do), we have a long list of reasons why Maui is right for your first trip. 


9 Reasons Why Maui is the Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for Your First Time

There are a number of reasons why we think Maui is the best for first-timers, but the top nine reasons are:

1. Beautiful beaches

I know what you’re thinking: don’t all Hawaiian islands have great beaches? Yes, but Maui has the most easily-accessible beaches, a number of unbelievable coves, and plenty of options for people less comfortable with the ocean to take a dip.

You don’t have to drive far to find a beach that will offer a really pleasant swimming experience as most of the hotels and vacation rentals are right along them.

Since we have a young child, we’re also always looking for easy beaches for us to swim as a family. Maui definitely offers the most kid-friendly beaches, all located in spots that are easy to reach from most vacation accommodations. 

Related read: The 8 Best Beaches for Kids on Maui

best beaches hawaii best island to visit first time


2. Great, accessible snorkeling

One of our favorite activities is snorkeling, and Maui offers the most snorkeling options with some unbelievable fish and sea life. Here you have protected bays, (mostly) calm seas, crystal clear waters, and offers some of the best opportunities to snorkel with sea turtles.

Not only that, but you can also take a boat ride out to snorkel in a volcano crater or take a full day snorkeling trip to the island of Lanai. Plus, if you’re here during whale season, you’ll undoubtedly hear whales singing underwater or see them as you head out on a snorkeling kayak trip. 

Watch our video: Where to Snorkel on Maui

3. The best variety of places to stay

According to data from the visitor statistics from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Maui is the second most visited island (after Oahu). Because Maui gets so many visitors, the options for accommodations are excellent and always growing.

If you want to stay at a luxury hotel, Maui has plenty of them. If you would rather stay at a budget-friendly beach hotel, you can find that here. Want a vacation rental with a private pool? Maui has plenty. Prefer to camp or glamp? Maui has a great option.

We think Maui has the biggest range of accommodations to fit every type of traveler. Whatever you’re looking for, you can likely find it on Maui. 

Related read: Where to Stay on Maui

best hawaiian island for first visit where to stay camping

Glamping (glamorous camping) is a fun, relaxing, and well-priced option on Maui. I’m at Camp Olowalu outside our tentalow here.


4. A volcano

The big island isn’t the only island with a volcano you can visit. On Maui, you can make a day trip up to Haleakala to watch sunrise, sunset, or go hiking. It’s a great way to take in another side of Maui and learn how the island was formed. 

Plus, a visit to Haleakala is a great jumping-off point for exploring Maui’s upcountry — a place you definitely don’t want to miss. 

Watch our video: A day on Haleakala

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5. Lush, quiet East Maui

If you want to escape the busy west and south sides of Maui (where a majority of the hotels and vacation rentals are), you can book a stay in Hana on east Maui. Yes, you’ll do the Road to Hana to get there, which is truly a trip you don’t want to miss. And yes, the road will be busy with other tourists making the trek to Hana. But most don’t stop in Hana for long, and very few stay the night. If you’re looking for a quiet place to spend your vacation, East Maui is the place. 

6. Excellent Food

We don’t want to be biased here, but we think that some of the best food options around are on Maui. You can eat locally caught fresh fish, grab a great meal at one of the many food trucks, or treat yourself to a night of fine dining. The range of options available on Maui is incredible.

And, we’re not the only ones who think Maui has the best food. On the TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice list of best restaurants, Maui has three restaurants in the top 15. No other Hawaii restaurants make the list.

Related read: The Ultimate Maui Food Truck Guide

Maui best hawaiian island for first visit best restaurants Mama's fish house

Restaurants like Lahaina Grill and Mama’s Fish House are the highest ranked Trip Advisor restaurants in the world.


7. Great weather

If you are coming for sun, head to Maui. Yes, all of the islands get their fair share of both sun and rain — and sun is never guaranteed here — but your chances of getting a sunny day are best on Maui.

The main resort areas are located on the leeward side of the island. The leeward side gets less rain and more sun. 

We plotted the rainfall for each of the main resort areas on each island in Hawaii, and on Maui, you get the least amount of rain. Ideal for your beach vacation: 

Best Hawaiian Island to visit for first time

8. A quick trip to Lanai

While we think you’ll have more than enough to keep you busy on Maui, if you want to take a quick trip to another island, you can take a ferry ride to Lanai. It’s worth noting that to island hope between other islands (like Oahu and Kauai), you’ll need to fly. Lanai and Molokai are just a ferry ride away and can be done on an ambitious day trip or for a two to three-day excursion from Maui.

If you want an easier option for visiting Lanai, consider taking a day trip with a snorkeling boat. They’ll take you to the best spots, let you stop on Lanai for lunch and a quick hike, and hopefully, you’ll get a view of dolphins while you’re out there. It’s a full-day adventure, but it’s worth it. 

Related read: Is a Day Trip to Lanai Worth It?

best hawaiian island first timers maui sunsets

The sun setting behind Lanai from the West Maui coast.


9. The best whale watching

If you’re visiting Hawaii from mid-December through mid-April, you’re lucky enough to be here for whale watching season. Each year, as many as 12,000 humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii to give birth. And, Maui is one of the best islands for whale watching. The channel off the west side of Maui is shallow and the waters are warm, which is a perfect spot for whales to have their calf and prepare for the journey back to Alaska. 

If you’re here during whale watching season, you can take a boat tour (highly recommended) or you can easily see them from shore. We often find ourselves pulling over to the side of the road to watch the whales.

Read our ultimate guide to whale watching on Maui (and snag yourself a discount on one of our favorite tours). 


Why Maui Isn’t the Best Island for Your First Time

While overall we think Maui is the best option for first-timers, there are some times when the other islands will be a better option. 

  • Oahu: Head to Oahu if you’re looking for nightlife, museums, plenty of history.
  • Kauai: Visit Kauai if you’re looking for a quieter trip, a lush landscape (with a bit more rain), and amazing hiking.
  • Big Island: Plan a trip to the Big Island if you’re a volcano enthusiast (Volcanoes National Park is amazing), or you want to snorkel or dive with manta rays


Need More Help Deciding?

Planning your first trip is tough. That’s why we created a video with plenty of videos of each island, so you can decide what island is right for your first trip to Hawaii.


Erica Gellerman

Erica Gellerman

I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. I am a planner! I love to plan island-hopping adventures, days out on Maui, and everything in-between. I spend a lot of my time on our SUP and my favorite time of year in Hawai'i is whale season!

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