As you can probably tell from the spate of recent Maui beach posts, we just got back from a week there. I thought I’d write a few comments about the area in general, rather than one specific beach.
We’ve been lucky enough to go to Maui, and Wailea specifically, a few times. Wailea is one of the two major resort areas on Maui (the other being Ka’anapali, about an hour’s drive northwest). It’s a bit more low-key than Ka’anapali, and considerably more low-key than some other famous North American beach destinations (Cancun, Cabo, or Waikiki, for example). There isn’t any nightlife, there aren’t any tourist “attractions” to speak of, and travelers in need of pre-planned activities will be disappointed.
The main reason to go to Wailea is the beaches. They’re literally the best, most user-friendly beaches I’ve found to date. They’re protected from big waves by the neighboring islands of Lana’i and Kaho’olawe, and by the relatively shallow channel that separates them from Maui. This protection makes the beaches safe for all sorts of water fun. Wailea also sits in the rain shadow of Haleakal??, the huge 10,000′ volcano that makes up 3/4 of Maui, so it’s a naturally dry place. That means sun and, just as important, a lack of runoff to cloud near-shore waters. An abundance of tropical fish and marine life are easy to find if you’re a swimmer or snorkeler. If you want to swim with Hawaii’s graceful and intriguing sea turtles, Wailea is a good bet.
In fact, the beach and water are such an integral part of the Wailea experience that if you don’t like the water or you can’t swim, I’d recommend staying somewhere else. I’ve written more about some of the area’s beaches in other posts. Several, like Keawakapu and Mokapu & Ulua, are connected via a beachfront walking path; others like Big Beach are a short drive away from the developed area. My favorite is Po’olenalena.
Places with beaches that great usually come with a downside, though, and in Wailea it’s the price. It’s expensive, there’s no other way to say it. The handful of large-ish resorts have brand names like Four Seasons, Fairmont, and Waldorf-Astoria. Whoever designed the area spread the resorts out enough, and exercised enough restraint when it comes to adding height, that they don’t feel crowded or overwhelming. Of course, I’ve never actually stayed at any of them, and it’s unlikely I will in the future.
The reason we can afford to go to Wailea is that we’ve found some ways to save significant cash. First, we go in the off season: May, or Late September through Thanksgiving. People don’t plan Hawaiian vacations during those times, so flights and lodging are cheaper. Second, we always rent a condo instead of staying at a resort. With a little research you can rent a spacious condo for a fraction of the price of a hotel. They aren’t your typical urban condo, either: they’re usually a collection of small two-story buildings surrounded by lush, if irrigated, greenery. And staying in a condo means you can save money by eating some meals in. When we do go out, we typically skip the resort restaurants and head uphill to smaller, locally-run restaurants. The views are spectacular, and a few of them, like Pita Paradise and Monkeypod Kitchen, are places I’d actually go to if they were in Seattle…which is more than I can say about the overpriced resort restaurants.
I’d strongly recommend Wailea to folks who want a certain type of trip: a calm, relaxing beach vacation where most of your “activities” will be in the water. You’ll leave feeling refreshed and in awe of Maui’s beauty.
At the same time, I’d strongly not recommend Wailea for other types of travel. If you want long days jam-packed with action, you’ll probably get bored there. If you want culture, shopping, or nightlife, there really isn’t any. And if you’re a checklist tourist with a list of sights to be seen, Wailea, well, probably wouldn’t make your list in the first place. Those are all perfectly fine ways to travel, and I’ve used each of them in certain situations. But for any of them I suspect you’ll be happier in Honolulu or, frankly, places other than Hawaii.
Go to Maui, and Wailea, to see it for what it is: an unlikely, mostly-submerged volcano thousands of miles from any continent where relentless waves and accummulations of parrotfish poop have created great beaches, friendly water, and beautiful scenery. Relax and enjoy it.