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If you’re heading to Maui in the winter, you’re in luck. That’s the prime time to witness an estimated 10,000 whales that migrate from Alaska to Hawaii each year. And Maui is truly the best Hawaiian island for whale watching.
While you can see whales from the shore, if you want an up-close look at these gentle giants, a whale watching tour is your best bet. And while there are so many tours to choose from on Maui, not all of them are worth your time (or money).
But don’t worry, we have you covered with our 7 favorite whale watching tours on Maui. These are the tours that we enjoy doing every single year. Because we still love to go whale watching every chance we get — it really doesn’t get old.
We have discounts available for many of these tours! See below and then see our full list of Hawaii Vacation Guide Coupon Codes.
Maui Whale Watching FAQs
When is the Maui whale watching season?
Whale watching season on Maui runs from mid-December to mid-April. But those dates are pretty fluid. Most tour operators don’t start running whale watching tours until mid to late December though whales can sometimes be spotted in the area as early as late October. And some tour operators will stop offering tours at the beginning of April while others will continue offering tours for a bit longer as long as there are plenty of whales to see.
Our full whale watching guide will tell you everything you need to know about whale watching on Maui.
What time of day is the best for whale watching?
The whales can be active any time of day, so if you’re trying to base your tour time on whale activity, you don’t need to worry. You can go out any time of day and see them!
We personally enjoy going out on the sunrise or first morning tour. The light is great for photos and the boats are usually less crowded. But most importantly, it’s much cooler out in the morning. I’ve taken an afternoon trip and while it was still wonderful, it was hot and we were in the direct sun for two hours. The morning trips are so much more pleasant in my opinion.
What month is best for whale watching on Maui?
If you want the best chance of seeing the most whales, January through March are usually the best months. When we plan our boat trips, we like to head out as much as we can in late January through February, to try and see the most whales out on the water.
The whales don’t migrate all at once — some come early and leave early while others arrive late and tend to stay around longer. We’ve even seen a whale breaching off the coast of Maui in early May!
I’ve seen articles stating that the best month for whale watching in Maui is November and I’m just going to guess those people have never actually been whale watching on Maui. Because if you come to Maui in November and hope to get on a whale watching tour, you’ll be disappointed. I don’t know of any tours that operate in November and whale watching from the shore in November isn’t great.
If you’re not sure if visiting Maui in the winter is a good idea, don’t worry! The winter is a great time to visit Maui and this article will help you prepare for your winter escape.
What is the best place to see whales on Maui?
The best place to see whales is the Maui Nui Basin. That’s the protected area between Maui, Lanai, and Kaho’olawe. They prefer relatively shallow waters of less than 600 feet, which is what they find and enjoy in the Maui Nui Basin. Most whale watching tours will leave from Lahaina, Ma’alaea, or Wailea.
Is whale watching worth it on Maui?
I’ve been whale watching a number of times in different places and I have to say that hands-down, I think the whale watching experience on Maui is worth it. Every time a whale surfaces near the boat, does a pec slap, or mugs the boat, my heart races. It is so incredible to see these beautiful animals up close. And if you’re lucky enough to catch a breaching whale, that’s an amazing memory to take home with you.
And almost all tour operators on Maui offer guaranteed sightings. So if your boat is unlucky enough to not find any whales (I’ve never heard of this happening), they’ll take you out again, free of charge.
If you’re headed to Maui, make sure you read our full Maui travel guide to get prepared for your trip. It has nearly everything you need to know to plan a fantastic vacation.
Snorkeling tours vs whale watching tours
We always get asked if it’s a better idea to just do a snorkeling tour during whale season rather than a dedicated whale watching tour. I get it — doing a snorkeling tour during whale season feels like it would be a two-for-one deal. But that’s not the case. Snorkeling tours don’t go whale watching, unless they advertise it as a combination tour. They will not try to find the most optimal place to spot whales. You might get lucky and see whales during your trip, but a snorkeling tour is primarily focused on getting you in the water for the best snorkeling possible, not getting you the best whale sightings possible.
So if you want to do both, we recommend booking a snorkeling tour and a whale watching tour separately. The only exception to this is the kayaking tours we list below and Ultimate Whale Watch has a good snorkel and whale watching tour as that is their expertise!
If you want to snorkel, check out this list of the best snorkeling tours on Maui. We’ve done a lot and included only our absolute favorites on the list.
The 7 Best Maui Whale Watching Tours
Because we love whale watching, we’ve probably been on over 50 tours at this point. While all have been good, a few have stood out as excellent. Here’s what we recommend from our experience:
Best whale watching tours in Lahaina
Ultimate Whale Watch & Snorkel
To say we are fans of Ultimate Whale Watch & Snorkel is an understatement. When we first went out on their small group raft whale watching trip, we were blown away by their friendly and passionate crew and the experience of sitting in a raft so close to the water (and the whales).
Check out this video from one of our many trips out with Ultimate:
Ultimate offers tours that range from 1.5 hours to 4 hours long. Each tour is on a power raft, which gives you a small group experience. Depending on the tour you choose, your boat will have between 12 and 26 people on board, so you truly get a front-row experience. We’ve had the pleasure of seeing humpback whales, false killer whales, and dolphins on their tours (and yes, we’ve done their tours multiple times).
When booking your tour with Ultimate Whale Watch & Snorkel, use code HVG for 10% off your tour booking.
If a raft isn’t your thing and you’d prefer to have a relaxing experience aboard a sailboat, check out Sail Maui. They have tours that leave from both Lahaina and Ma’alaea on a daily, morning tour. You’ll be treated to a morning coffee as you take a relaxing sail out of the harbor. During the two hour tour, the crew will motor to find you the best whale sightings. And if it’s windy enough, they’ll put up the sails for a little sailing time.
This is our favorite trip to do when we bring our kids. The Sail Maui catamaran is a fun experience for them and our son loves hanging out on the nets and watching for whales underneath the boat (he still hasn’t seen any down there). We’ve had some amazing close encounters out with Sail Maui.
Check out a video of our experience with them:
When booking your tour with Sail Maui, use code HVG10 for 10% off your whale watching adventure.
Kayaking with Maui Adventure Tours
If you want a more active way to get out on the water and search for whales, check out Maui Adventure Tours. We did a kayaking whale watching experience with them and it was unique and memorable. While you don’t get as close to the whales on a kayak and you can’t cover as much ground to see multiple whales, you do get the serene enjoyment of being out on the water and you get a chance to snorkel (though you won’t be snorkeling with whales).
Check out Jordan’s recent trip with them:
Best whale watching tours in Kihei and Wailea
Kai Kanani is one of our favorite companies on Maui. Locally owned, they offer an incredible experience on all of their tours (their Molokini sunrise snorkel is outstanding). And their whale watching tours are no different.
What’s unique about Kai Kanani is that they do beach loading from beautiful Maluaka Beach in Wailea/Makena. That’s a huge time saver if you’re staying in the Wailea area, to not have to drive to Ma’alaea harbor for your tour. Their two-hour tour is offered once per day on their spacious and comfortable sailboat.
We’ve done a number of different tours with Kai Kanani and are never disappointed!
Looking for a rafting experience in South Maui? Redline Rafting is the best pick. Their 1.5 hour whale watching tour runs from mid-January to the end of March and they offer 3 morning tours each day. Their raft holds 24 people, so you don’t have to fight over the best seat on the boat.
Just like with the rafting experience with Ultimate Whale Watch & Snorkel, you’ll be able to move quickly around to different spots to experience the best whale sightings, thanks to the power raft.
And if you’re staying in Kihei, their location couldn’t be more convenient. They leave from the Kihei small boat harbor.
South Pacific Kayaks
If you’re eager to do a kayaking snorkeling and whale watch experience but you don’t want to drive up to do Maui Adventure Kayak in Olowalu, South Pacific Kayaks has you covered. They conveniently leave from Makena landing, which is in south Maui and a quick drive from resorts and vacation rentals in Wailea and Kihei.
During whale season, their turtle reef discovery snorkeling tour turns into a whale watching tour. During the 2.5 hour kayaking tour, you will get to do both whale watching and snorkeling. The focus of the tour is whale watching, but you do get to sneak in a quick snorkeling session as well. This is one of the best snorkeling spots on Maui. So you’ll get to see whales and enjoy snorkeling.
Check out our full list of the best snorkeling spots on Maui.
Maui Custom Charters
When we booked a private whale watching and snorkeling tour, I didn’t expect to love it quite so much. While we’ve done more group tours than I can count, I wasn’t sure how different a private tour would be.
Wow, I was wrong. Our family went out with Captain Anna on a 4+ hour tour and we were immediately greeted by two whales upon leaving the harbor. This was the closest I’ve ever come to a humpback whale and while this experience isn’t guaranteed, we did have a number of other great sightings on our way to the snorkeling spot.
You can splurge with Maui Custom Charters but you can also save. Mention code HVG5 to get 5% off your booking when you call Captain Anna to book!
The private boat can hold up to 6 passengers in your party and the tour is completely customizable to your liking. We were able to move around the boat freely and it quickly became one of my favorite and most memorable experiences on the water. Maui Custom Charters takes care of a light breakfast and lunch, the snorkeling equipment (if needed), and the route. You get to show up and have an incredible time. It is more expensive than a group tour, but I dare say it’s worth it.
Check out this clip we got when a whale swam right next to our boat (yes, my heart was pounding so hard!)
When you call Captain Anna to book, mention code HVG5 to get 5% off your booking.
You can read more about Maui Custom Charters and their private whale watching and other boating experiences here.
Best small group whale watching on Maui
If you’re looking for a small group experience that you’ll love, Ultimate Whale Watch & Snorkel has a 12 person VIP experience. While their tours aren’t large to begin with, this puts you out on the water with just a handful of other people so you can all get a front row seat to the action.
And remember that using code HVG when booking will get you 10% off any of your tours with Ultimate Whale Watch & Snorkel.
Best private whale watching on Maui
If you want to book a private whale watching charter, look no further than Maui Custom Charter. Captain Anna and team take care of all of the details to make sure your experience is incredible. It’s one of the most memorable trips we’ve taken on Maui.
The entire trip is customizable to your preferences, so we did a whale watching and snorkeling combination trip. It was incredible! After seeing some whales up close, we then went on to enjoy pristine snorkeling. After our time in the water, we sailed back home while enjoying lunch onboard.
Call Captain Anna and use code HVG5 when booking for 5% off any of your custom boating experiences.
We have a video of our experience so you can see what it’s like before you book!
Tips for Whale Watching on Maui
Whale watching on Maui is an exciting activity that pretty much anyone can enjoy. But there are some tips that will help you make the most of your experience:
- Go whale watching at the beginning of your trip: Most tour operators on Maui offer guaranteed whale sightings. That means that if you don’t see a whale on your trip, they’ll book you on another excursion. Unfortunately, if you wait until the last day to go on your tour, you won’t be able to take advantage of the guaranteed sightings.
- Enjoy a morning trip: We highly recommend a morning trip for a few reasons. First, the tours are usually less crowded, especially if you book a sunrise tour. Second, you’ll stay out of the hot sun! Third, the trade winds can pick up in the afternoon and make your ride a little bumpier. Heading out in the morning is your best bet for smooth waters.
- Know your vessel: There is a big difference between heading out on one of the large boats with 50+ people and hopping aboard a smaller raft. Before you pick a tour, understand what the boat is like so you can get a better idea of what your experience will be like. When we go without kids, we love whale watching on a power raft. When we take our preschooler out, we love to head out on a sailboat. And when our infant is in tow, a larger boat gives us more room to move around and find shade.
If you want to experience more than whale watching on your trip to Maui, be sure to check out our full Tours & Activities section. We spent 18 months curating a list of our favorite tours and experiences and we share them all with you here.