Should you stay in Ka’anapali or Wailea during whale season on Maui?

Whale season on Maui runs from December 15th-May 15th every year. During this time, Maui has the largest concentration of humpback whales on the planet, which makes this already incredible destination a can’t-miss.

Last week, I went to Maui for the second time during whale season. Although Kauai is currently my favorite Hawaiian island, Maui offers a better chance to see the whales (who are in town to give birth and mate before journeying back up to Alaska).

There are two main resort/hotel areas on Maui — Ka’anapali on the northwest coast, and Wailea on the southwest coast. On my last trip to Maui, I stayed exclusively in Ka’anapali. This trip, I split my time between Ka’anapli and Wailea, and wanted to review the pro’s and con’s of staying in both.

Ka’anapli

Ka’anapali is home to a number of resorts, including Marriott, Hyatt, Westin, and Sheraton. The Westin actually has 3 resorts in Maui and, thanks to a friend redeeming points, I spent the first 3 nights at The Westin Maui Resort & Spa Ka’anapali.

The property is gorgeous, the staff is warm, and there is a pool with a (really fun!) water slide.

But my absolutely favorite part of staying here was that you can see whales breaching pretty much any time you look out at the ocean. Seriously. I’m emphasizing that last part because words can’t express how amazing it is.

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Sunset from outside my hotel in Ka’anapli. If you look closely at the horizon (towards the right), you can see a whale breaching.

From Ka’anapali, you can see the islands of Moloka’i and Lanai, and there were a lot more breaches looking towards Lanai (this is apparently because the water is more shallow, which attracts more whales).

Despite being able to see whales from the beach, I decided to go on a whale watching tour, which left from Lahaina. Lahaina (which is where a lot of the whale tours leave from) is located 10-15 minutes away from Ka’anapli, and about 30-45 minutes away from Wailea.

Ka’anapali is also a super cute area, with shops, and outdoor mall, and beautiful beaches. The biggest con here is that, during whale season, the waves are very strong and it’s difficult to actually swim in the ocean water by Ka’anapli.

Wailea

After 3 nights in Ka’anaplai, we switched hotels and headed down to the Grand Wailea, a massive Waldorf Astoria property located on the beach between the Four Season and Marriott. I used a free Hilton weekend night from my Hilton American Express card to book the first night, and was able to get 25% off my second night using Hilton’s price match guarantee.

Wailea is home to the fanciest hotels on the island, including Grand Wailea itself, the Ritz Carlton, Fairmont, Andaz, and Four Seasons. Staying in both Ka’anapli and Wailea, which are only about 45-minute apart, actually felt like completely separate vacations. In Wailea, you have a different view, looking out to the south side of Lanai and to and island called Kaho’olawe.

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View from my room at the Grand Wailea.

Although Wailea was beautiful, in my 3 days there, I didn’t see a single whale breach from the hotel (even with an ocean-view room). I think I saw one while eating lunch on the way to the airport, but I’m not 100% sure. If I had stayed in Wailea the entire time and didn’t take a whale boat tour, I wouldn’t have even known it was whale season.

Verdict: Even though I had an amazing time in Wailea, I would recommend staying in Ka’anapli during whale season. The opportunity to see dozens of whales breach each hour is too great to pass up, and the proximity to the whale watching tours makes this spot super convenient.