Travel Tour Reviews

The 5 Best Whale Watching Tours In Maui – 2019

Between December and May every year, between 10 and 12 thousand whales migrate to the warm waters surrounding Maui to calve and procreate.

This provides you with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whales up close in their natural habitat. If you want to go whale watching in Hawaii, think Maui.

The 5 Maui whale watching tours featured here are the highest rated whale-watching tours from Maui.

On these feature-packed tours, not only will you have a chance to see these magnificent animals in the wild, but you might also see green turtles, exotic fish, underwater volcanic formations, and reefs.

You will regret it if you don’t take full advantage of the whale season in Maui.

Best Whale Watching Tours In Maui

  Maui: Deluxe Whale Watching Sail With LunchMaui Eco-Friendly Whale Watching Tour From Ma’alaea HarborMaui: Whale Watch, Kayaking, & Snorkel Tour In Kihei
editors choice

Departure PointPacific Whale Ocean Store, LahainaPacific Whale Ocean Store, Ma’alaeaMakena Landing Park, Kihei
Departure Time12:30 PM9:00 AM / 11:30 AM7:15 AM / 10:30 AM
Duration3 hours2 hours3 hours
IncludesCertified Marine Naturalist guide, boat cruise, buffet lunch, cocktails, guaranteed whale sightings or you get another tour for free, underwater hydrophones, onboard Junior Naturalist Program for kids, complimentary Reef Safe Sunscreen, soda, juice, filtered water, colorful sea life posterCertified Marine Naturalist guides, boat cruise, guaranteed whale sightings or you get another tour for free, underwater hydrophones, onboard Junior Naturalist Program for kids, Reef Safe Sunscreen, filtered water, colorful sea life posterExpert guide, kayak, snorkeling equipment, snacks, water, and juice

Quick Answer: The 5 Best-Rated Whale Watching Tours In Maui – 2019

  1. Maui: Deluxe Whale Watching Sail With Lunch
  2. Maui Eco-Friendly Whale Watching Tour From Ma’alaea Harbor
  3. Maui: Whale Watch, Kayaking, & Snorkel Tour In Kihei
  4. Maui: 2-Hour Whale Watching Excursion From Lahaina Harbor
  5. Maui Whale Watching Tours

Whale Watching Tours In Maui Reviewed

#1- Maui: Deluxe Whale Watching Sail With Lunch

Tour Highlights at a Glance:

  • Departure Point: Pacific Whale Ocean Store, Lahaina
  • Departure Time: 12:30 PM
  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Includes: Certified Marine Naturalist guide, boat cruise, buffet lunch, cocktails, guaranteed whale sightings or you get another tour for free, underwater hydrophones, onboard Junior Naturalist Program for kids, complimentary Reef Safe Sunscreen, soda, juice, filtered water, colorful sea life poster

There are many Maui boat tours, but this one stands out from the crowd during the Maui whale watching season. As you sail from Lahaina Harbor, enjoy the beautiful scenery on this Maui whale watch cruise and keep your eyes on the waves for any sign of a fin.

Guided by your Certified Marine Naturalist, you will most likely soon find a pod. While you watch whales breach the waves and communicate using pec slaps, the Naturalist will explain the behavior you are witnessing.

Using the underwater hydrophones, you will have an opportunity to listen to whale songs live. Any children aboard will adore the Junior Naturalist Program.

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During your leisurely cruise, you will be served an onboard hot lunch.

Enjoy Kiawe-smoked pork and chicken sliders, zesty bean salad, roasted garlic hummus and crostini, tomato and basil bruschetta, chips and salsa, fresh island fruit, and brownies.

Help yourself to 3 complimentary alcoholic beverages. There is also unlimited filtered water, juice, and soda.

This cruise is operated by The Pacific Whale Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization. The funds generated when you go whale watching in Maui from Lahaina will be used to finance education, ocean research, and conservation programs.

Cancellations up to 24 hours in advance are free. You are guaranteed to see whales on the tour, or the organizers will take you out a second time for free.

For tour prices, transportation and availability:



#2- Maui Eco-Friendly Whale Watching Tour From Ma’alaea Harbor

Tour Highlights at a Glance:

  • Departure Point: Pacific Whale Ocean Store, Ma’alaea
  • Departure Time: 9:00 AM / 11:30 AM
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Includes: Certified Marine Naturalist guides, boat cruise, guaranteed whale sightings or you get another tour for free, underwater hydrophones, onboard Junior Naturalist Program for kids, Reef Safe Sunscreen, filtered water, colorful sea life poster

After meeting at Ma’alaea Harbor, apply the complementary Reef Safe Sunscreen. Enjoy the scenery as you sail into the Pacific Ocean in search of whales and dolphins.

Once you find a pod of whales, the Certified Marine Naturalist will provide an expert commentary while you watch the whales breach the water.

You will have the opportunity to listen to whale songs live using the onboard underwater hydrophones. If you bring kids, they will love the Junior Naturalist Program.

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This is an excellent opportunity to go whale watching in Maui and support a great cause at the same time. This tour is organized by the same nonprofit organization as the previous tour from Lahaina, The Pacific Whale Foundation.

All proceeds are used to support conservation programs, education, and ocean research. If you cannot make the tour, you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance.

The organizers are so confident you will see whales on their tour, if you don’t you get another for free!

For tour prices, transportation and availability:



#3- Maui: Whale Watch, Kayaking, & Snorkel Tour In Kihei

Tour Highlights at a Glance:

  • Departure Point: Makena Landing Park, Kihei
  • Departure Time: 7:15 AM / 10:30 AM
  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Includes: Expert guide, kayak, snorkeling equipment, snacks, water, and juice

This is one of the best Maui whale watching tours. You get to do 3 things at once! You will enjoy kayaking over to the whales, dive under the waves to snorkel alongside green turtles, and take the most ecologically friendly tour on the island.

An expert guide will help you launch your kayak and instruct you how to maintain control. They will also show you how to get in and out to go snorkeling through the reef. Once you are underway, you will be treated to a unique perspective.

Eye-level with the ocean, you will come closer to the whales and turtles than passengers on one of the large group tours aboard yachts or catamarans.

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While you search for whales, your guide will entertain you with folklore and Maui island tales. Once you have located your quarry, your guide can explain their behavior and talk about the life cycle of whales.

On the way back to the island, you will stop off at the reef so you can snorkel with the green turtles and fish.

If you decide you don’t want to go on this tour, you can cancel for free up to 24 hours before the tour begins. However, you shouldn’t cancel it because this tour will be one of the most memorable events in your life.

With nothing between you and the whales except water, this tour provides the best whale watching in Maui.

For tour prices, transportation and availability:



#4- Maui: 2-Hour Whale Watching Excursion From Lahaina Harbor

Tour Highlights at a Glance:

  • Departure Point: Lahaina Harbor, main loading dock
  • Departure Time: 7:30 AM / 9:45 AM / 12:00 PM / 2:15 PM
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Includes: Cruise on a catamaran or yacht, expert commentary

It’s ironic the harbor originally built to help whalers kill whales in Maui will now enable you to sail into the Pacific Ocean to take beautiful photographs and admire these magnificent creatures in their natural setting.

After meeting at Lahaina Harbor, look behind you for fabulous views of the most historical settlement in Maui.

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As the crew search for whales, listen to expert commentary and learn about the art of whale watching from the experienced crew. If it rains, don’t worry. The observation deck is covered to keep you dry while you enjoy your cruise.

This is an affordable cruise that provides excellent value for money. But if something comes up to prevent you going, you can cancel this tour for free up to 24 hours before it begins.

This is the best tour you can take if you want to go whale watching in Lahaina.

For tour prices, transportation and availability:



#5- Maui Whale Watching Tours

Tour Highlights at a Glance:

  • Departure Point: Leilani’s Restaurant, Whalers’ Village, Kā’anapali
  • Departure Time: Early bird, 10 AM, or Midday
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Includes: Cruise aboard a power catamaran, underwater hydrophones, snacks, drinks, and expert naturalist guide

After boarding the luxury catamaran at Kā’anapali, enjoy views of the western coastline and mountains until the crew spot the first whale.

A marine naturalist guide will speak to you about the life cycle of whales and explain the phenomena you are witnessing as they occur. Ask the expert any questions you like about humpback whales.

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If you are lucky, you’ll see whales breach the water and communicate with one another using pec slaps.

Once the catamaran sails close to a pod, the underwater hydrophones will enable you to hear their distinctive songs.

Those who board the early morning cruise will be offered fresh Kona coffee, hot chocolate, tropical juice, and breakfast snacks. On the 10 AM cruise, Teralani, “POG”mosas, and “Bloody Maui’s” are provided.

Midday passengers are served sodas, tropical juice, wine, 2 cold beers, and assorted dry snacks.

If you have young children, you’ll be delighted to hear that infants under 2 go for free. In the unfortunate event that you cannot go, free cancellations are offered up to 24 hours before the cruise begins.

For tour prices, transportation and availability:



Maui Travel Guide

When Polynesian adventurers found and settled the previously uninhabited island of Maui, they thought they had found Paradise.

You will too! There is so much to see and do on this compact island that you are spoiled for choice. You can go whale watching, climb a volcano, hike through tropical rainforest, and learn how to hula dance from professionals.

maui whale watching tours guide

Before you go, it is in your interest to fully research the accommodations, transport arrangements, local foods, and attractions to ensure you get the most out of your visit. This guide is designed to help you on your way.

Airports & Entry

Most visitors to Maui arrive on an airplane or a cruise liner. Using either method, you’ll most likely arrive in Kahului.

Kahului is the main settlement on Maui, hosting its commercial shopping centers, light industrial areas, a deep-draft harbor for cruise liners, and Kahului Airport.

Although Maui only boasts a population of 155 thousand, over 5 million passengers pass through Kahului Airport every year. Many flights from the mainland involve a layover in Honolulu, but there are direct flights.

When booking, try to get a direct flight to save time. There is only one terminal building at Kahului, but you can find all the usual amenities on the second floor.

The Visitor Information Office in the central building is open from 7:45am to 9:45pm, and there are information desks throughout the airport. ATMs and internet stations are found throughout the second floor.

The airport shops—a DFS, gift store, jewelers, and newsstand—open at times varying from 6am for the newsstand to 8:45am.

All the shops close around 9pm. While the earliest of the 9 food outlets—Starbucks—opens at 5:30am, they are all closed by 10:30pm.

There are 8 car rental companies operating from the airport, but it’s a good idea to book in advance to save time at the airport and ensure that there’s a vehicle available.

A convenient and affordable shuttle service connects the airport to the main tourist accommodation locations on the island, including Wailea, Napili, Makena, Lahaina, Kihei, Kahana, Ka’anapali, Honokawai, and, of course, Kahului’s commercial center.

The Maui Airport Shuttle Service desk can be found in the Baggage Claim area, and no reservations are required. The desk opens at 5:30am and closes after the last flight arrival of the day.

If you are traveling light, the local public transportation system is an affordable option. Cash fares on the Maui Bus service are $2 per person for a single ride or $4 for a day pass.

Route 35 (Haiku) and Route 40 (Upcountry) operate every 90 minutes from 5:30am and 6:00am to 9:40pm and 10:11pm respectively.

However, the public bus has a strict luggage policy, so only one suitcase or carry-on bag is allowed and must fit on the passenger’s lap or under their seat. So, Maui Bus is only an option if you are a “hand luggage only” kind of flyer.

Taxis pick up from the front of the baggage claim area, but they are expensive. The metered rate is $3:00 per mile. That means it would cost you approximately $65 to Makena, $78 to Lahaina, and $105 to Kapalua.

Cruise ships moor at Pier 1 in Kahului Deep Draft Harbor. Maui Bus operates a service that stops at the harbor, and taxis are an option. It is a 25-minute walk from Pier 1 to the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, Kahului’s main commercial center and transport hub.

Planning Tips

It’s always best to be prepared. Here are 5 tips to help you make the most of your stay on Maui.

Tip #1: If you want to see whales, go in winter

During the summer, humpback whales feed and congregate around Alaska. In winter, they migrate south to mate and calve. From mid-December to mid-April, there are an abundance of whale sightings in Maui.

Between 10 and 12 thousand whales congregate in these tropical waters. Whales are often visible at a distance from the beaches and will circle any small boats that approach their pods. Winter is the best time to whale watch in Maui.

Tip #2: Take your time to appreciate all that Maui has to offer

Perhaps you only want to see the whales or surf in the sunshine, but there’s a lot more to see and do in Maui.

Don’t miss the opportunity to climb a volcano, explore inside a lava tube, experience a traditional luau, and visit the historical royal town of Lahaina. See the information on Nightlife and Attractions below.

Tip #3: Book Maui tours in advance, especially during winter

Maui is a popular destination for tourists, so tours quickly sell out. Book in advance to avoid disappointment. You wouldn’t be able to forgive yourself if you went all that way only to miss your opportunity to whale watch because the tours were full.

Since many tours offer free refunds up to 24 hours before the activity begins, you’re not taking a risk if you book before you go. Just check the refund policy of each tour before you book.

Tip #4: Take summer clothes and raincoats

Because Maui is tropical, you need to pack summer clothes. However, don’t forget it also rains a lot on the island. Light raincoats are an excellent idea.

If you intend to see the sunrise or sunset from the top of Haleakalā, you will definitely need a jacket. And if you plan to visit a plush Martini lounge or attend a luau, you should bring something a bit smarter for those special occasions.

Tip #5: Buy traditional local craft souvenirs

If you want to take home something unique, check out the Maui Crafts Guild in Paia, a small settlement a little east of Kahului just off the Hāna Highway.

This store is a member owned and operated cooperative where you will find the actual artists inside the store eager to speak to you about their arts and crafts.

Restaurants & Eating Out

Maui not only has a unique ecosystem with plants not found in the other 49 States, but it also boasts an uninterrupted cultural history.

That means during your stay you have the unique opportunity to taste genuine Polynesian food untainted by European colonial influences.

Because Maui is an island surrounded by abundant marine life, it’s no surprise many restaurants feature seafood on their menus.

A popular dish is Opakapaka, which is crimson snapper either steamed, baked or grilled. Monchong is a deep-water fish marinaded and grilled.

Raw tuna is a favorite with the locals and is found in traditional foods like Poke. Poke is like Japanese Sashimi but with the raw fish served in hearty chunks rather than thin slices.

Something unique to the Hawaiian Islands is luau food cooked in an earth oven called an imu. A tasty example of luau food is Laulau, made with pork, chicken, or fish.

The selected meat is wrapped in taro leaves and then cooked inside the imu for hours until it grows soft with a smoky taste. Delicious!

While many North Americans might consider either bread or potato to be their staple food during meals, on Maui taro is the staple root crop.

Taro is most often consumed as Poi, a thick paste that is either baked or steamed. Poi is slightly sour due to fermentation during its preparation.

And for dessert, why not try some Banana-Apple Fruit, Breadfruit, or Kulolo. Banana-Apple is a common fruit eaten cold or hot.

Breadfruit is melon-sized and is served boiled, deep-fried, baked, or steamed. Kulolo is steamed taro pudding. Yes! Taro is a versatile root.

Nightlife & Entertainment

Despite Maui’s small size, you will find a good selection of venues to let your hair down.

The island offers something for everybody’s taste, from a plush Martini lounge to a rowdy beach watering hole where locals play pool and watch the big game live. But something truly special only experienced in the Hawaiian Islands is a luau.

If you want to dress up and drink in style, you could head to the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua and visit the Alaloa Lounge.

They offer outdoor or indoor seating and live entertainment Thursday through Monday. The Kapalua Martini is a local specialty you should try.

At the other end of the scale is Life’s A Beach in Kihei, a beach lounge frequented by locals.

As well as the football and pool tables you’d expect from a popular watering hole, they also have regular evening entertainment. They offer everything from open mic nights to live reggae bands.

But for a fun-packed evening of traditional songs, stories, food, and drink, you won’t do better than an organized traditional luau.

For around $130, you can experience Lei Greetings, observe the Imu Ceremony (cooking a pig in an earth oven), Hula Dance, and play Hawaiian games.

The highlight is a performance by locals telling the story of how their ancestors first discovered and populated Maui, aided by the gods.

Getting Around

If you want to explore the Hāna Highway with the flexibility to stop wherever and whenever you choose, your best option is to rent a car.

However, if you don’t want to do this, you can get around by public transportation, shuttle bus, on a tour, or by taxi. Maui Bus, the public bus service, is an extremely efficient and cheap way of getting around the island.

But Maui Bus’ focus is on getting the locals where they need to go, which might not be what you want to see.

A tour bus will take you exactly where you need to go, but on their schedule, not yours. Taxis are an option for nearby attractions, but at $3 per mile, they are expensive for long journeys.

Accommodations

Most visitors to Maui stay near one of the larger settlements along the coast, but not Kahului, which is relatively industrial and less touristy than other towns.

Popular locations include Kā’anapali, Kapalua, Kihei, Lahaina, Mākena, and Kapalua. There are also hotels and resorts in the Up Country area around Kula.

When deciding where you want to stay, think about what you most want to see and do while you’re on the island.

Bear in mind that towns like Kā’anapali, Kapalua, and Lahaina on the leeward, west coast will be a lot drier and a little warmer than towns like Hāna on the windward, east coast.

Also remember that although the island is small and settlements close to one another, the roads meander, and there are mountains in the way. If you decide to stay in Hāna but intend to visit Lahaina, allow 3 hours each way for the drive.

When you’ve chosen your target location, you will find lots of resorts, hotels, hostels, and B&Bs to choose from. Tourism is big business in Maui, so there are rooms available to suit any budget.

Weather

Although Maui is a small island, you will experience several distinctly different climates while traveling around. This is a product of the island’s unique geography.

There are two important variables: elevation above sea level and position in relation to the two mountainous regions.

If you are on one of the whale tours in Maui, your boat will be at an elevation of 0 feet, but if you are admiring the view from atop Haleakalā, your elevation is 10,000 feet.

The higher you climb, the cooler the air temperature will be. As a rough guide, every 1,000 feet you rise above sea level, the temperature will drop 3.20F.

This means that when the beach is 700F, the summit is 380F! Although Maui’s climate is tropical, snow sometimes appears at the summit. If you decide to climb Haleakalā, make sure you take warm clothing in your backpack.

You may begin your ascent in the tropics, but you’ll arrive to weather more like the Arctic. Up Country Maui is wetter and cooler than neighboring South Maui because it sits at a higher elevation.

The low-lying central valley, where the airport is situated along with Kahului and Maalaea, is windy but dry and usually sunnier than other areas.

The trade winds hit the windward, eastern shores of the island, bringing moist air. As that air climbs the mountains, it releases the moisture as rain.

This leads to a lot of rain on the east side of the island, hence the rainforests.

The leeward, western shores, because they are sheltered from the wind by the mountains, only get a remnant of the rain. This makes the western shores relatively dry, especially where sheltered by Haleakalā.

The average temperatures on Maui don’t change too much from the winter to the summer. Because the island is in the tropics, it’s almost always warm.

In the coolest winter months, the average high is 800F and the low 650F, but around 10F cooler along the Hāna Highway.

If you want to snorkel, the ocean temperature is a pleasant 750F. Winter is the season that sees the most rainfall. In the warmest summer months, the average high is 840F and the low 700F but 830F-690F around Hāna. The ocean temperature rises to around 800F in summer.

Attractions

Maui is an island steeped in natural beauty and cultural history. There are many interesting places to visit and activities to enjoy. You can hike through the rainforest, snorkel in the crystal-clear water offshore, watch whales in the Pacific, or attend an authentic luau.

Maui is volcanic in origin, created by lava flows from two volcanoes. Haleakalā is the larger of the two volcanoes, responsible for over 75% of Maui’s landmass. You can find Haleakalā at the heart of Haleakalā National Park, which is a popular destination for tourists.

If you enjoy photography, you’ll love the sunset over the Pacific Ocean viewed from the summit of Haleakalā. And once the sun has gone down, Haleakalā is also a fantastic place to stargaze, when it is not cloudy.

At 10,000 feet elevation and with no light pollution, you get an uninterrupted view of the cosmos. The main feature of the park is the volcano’s crater. It is 7 miles long, 2 wide, and approximately 2,600 feet deep.

Another popular attraction inside the park is Hosmer’s Grove. This is an unusual collection of invasive trees from all around the world, including eucalyptus from Australia and pine from North America.

Visitors love to explore the Hāna Highway—Hawaii Routes 36 and 360. The highway winds along the North Shore between Kahului in Central Maui and Hāna in East Maui. Built by King Pi’ilani in the 16th century, this ancient road has a longer history than the Union.

It is only 64½ miles long but features 59 bridges, most only one lane wide, and many sharp bends. Driving along the highway, you will frequently stop to photograph the lush tropical rainforest.

You can also visit waterfalls, walk along stunning black-sand beaches, and view scenic mountains. However, if you decide to travel this route, expect delays. Even without stopping, the drive between the two towns takes 2½ hours.

Over in West Maui, the most popular destination for hikers is Iao Valley State Park. This is a stream-cut valley within the tropical rainforest, which features a distinctive natural landmark. Rising 1,200 feet from its base, the Iao Needle is a stunning basalt formation.

Not far away, on the north coast, you can find Nakalele Point. This scenic area of cliffs is famous for its blowhole, which spouts jets of seawater 100 feet into the air like a geyser.

Tourists fascinated by the cultural history of Maui flock to Lahaina, the largest settlement in West Maui. Once the residence of the royal family, Lahaina was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845.

Here is where you’ll find the oldest buildings and learn about local history. Lahaina still projects the ambiance of a 19th-century whaler’s seaport. The settlement’s historic district boasts 9 important historical buildings built between 1823 and 1901.

The 1859 Court House was constructed over the site of the royal palace, and the United States Marine Hospital dates to 1842. Banyan Tree Park occupies the site of the 1831 Lahaina Fort and features the largest banyan tree in Hawaii planted in 1873.

We chose the Maui: Deluxe Whale Watching Sail With Lunch as our Editor's Choice for the Best Whale Watching Tour In Maui.

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