Touring the Road to Hana Independently vs. Guided Tour

Puohokamoa Falls

If you’re planning a trip to Maui, you probably have touring the scenic road to Hana high on your list of the top things to do on your Maui vacation. The next question you may be debating is how to tour this incredibly curvaceous drive – independently or on a guided tour?

I’ll be honest, I used to feel very strongly that Maui visitors should drive the road to Hana independently. After experiencing a bit of a hostile situation (described here) on my last time driving the road to Hana, I’ve had a change of heart. I still think I’d prefer driving it independently, but now I can appreciate the merits of an organized tour.

One-lane bridge on Road to Hana

My friend, Kris Nelson, has experienced the road to Hana both independently and on guided tours. (Kris writes about his experience with Discover Hawaii Tours in this blog post about his return to Hana.) I asked Kris if he had to pick between touring independently versus a guided tour, which one he’d select. Here’s his advice,

If I had to choose one flat out over the other one, I’d probably still recommend doing a guided tour if someone only has a single day to visit Hana and potentially won’t be visiting Maui again in the future.  But if someone is planning to stay in Hana and can make it a two day affair, that’s probably the best way to do it.

To help you decide what to do, I think it would be useful to list some of the advantages of each method.


Touring the Road to Hana INDEPENDENTLY

– It’s less expensive. If you’ve rented a car, the only added expense is the cost of the gas for the day. A family of four could save around $400 on a self guided tour.
– You have the freedom to stop where you want.
– You are sharing your experience with your traveling partner(s) only.
– You have a greater sense of adventure.

– Finding landmarks on an extremely curvy road in a rainforest is a challenge. It’s very easy to miss stops, waterfalls and short hikes that you were hoping to find.
– Driving this road is challenging. There’s hundreds of curves plus dozens of one-lane bridges. It takes quite a bit of concentration for the driver and can be stressful. The driver doesn’t get to enjoy the scenery since he/she is focused on driving.
– Your rental vehicle could become a target of either theft or hostile behavior. (See my advice that you should NEVER leave valuables in your rental car.)
– You need to be careful about how you use your time in order to avoid driving home in the dark.
– If you are driving in a car, your view may be limited at times because of the height of hedges.
– Rental car agencies don’t contractually permit you to drive the full loop around the “back side” of the road to Hana.

Touring the Road to Hana on a GUIDED TOUR

– Guided tours take all the stress out of driving this road.
– Everyone in your party gets to take in the scenery.
– Tour guides share many interesting history, stories, and legends about the sights along the road.
– Tour guides know the road very well. They won’t miss sharing the highlights with you.
– Your tour guide will most likely keep watch of any valuables you leave on the tour van.
– You’re less likely to be hassled by hostile local behavior.
– You don’t have to worry about how you are budgeting your time in order to avoid driving back in the dark.
– Some of the guided tours will take you around the “back side” of the road to Hana. (That road is not approved by the major rental car companies.)
– The view out of the van windows is a bit elevated, which allows you to see views over hedges.

– Guided tours are much more expensive than driving independently. Budget at least $100 or more per person for a guided tour.
– You share your experience with a group of strangers – typically around 10 – 12 folks.
– You can’t stop whenever you want.


I think next time, I’ll take an organized tour just for comparison. How about you? What’s your preference? What additional advantages or disadvantages do you have?


2011 Update: I did indeed take a guided tour of the Road to Hana with No Ka Oi Adventures. It was an excellent tour geared towards the person who likes hiking, secluded waterfalls and no crowds!

Ohana Beach Rentals

About Sheila Beal

Sheila Beal is the founder and editor of Go Visit Hawaii. You can connect with Sheila Beal on Twitter, Go Visit Hawaii on Facebook, or Sheila Beal on Google+.


  1. Sheila, I’ve only been on the Hana Road once, and one thing I’d definately recommend is going during or just after the rainy season. We went in late May and so many of the waterfalls were dried up. The waterfalls , I am told, are a direct result of rainfall on the mountains. No rivers to feed them as in most places, so as a result I saw very few falls. Even O’heo Gulch was just a trickle from the postcards I bought. Even with missing so many falls going to Hana, we took our time at other places and managed to wind up drivivg “home” in the dark. Going back didn’t have as many people on the road, but the turns were trickier in the dark. When you got someone behind you their headlights would be in your rearview mirror– not too pleasant when you’re trying to concentrate on the road ahead. Still I enjoyed the outing. If I get the chance to do the Hana Road again I would like to try the 2 day bit so I could see more of the sights I missed the first time.

  2. Good advice, Sheila. I agree it can be a drag for the person driving to try to enjoy a scenic drive like this when they have to concentrate on the road the whole time. I’m also a bit shocked by the hostile behavior you describe. That can be very stressful as well when you’re not in your own home territory. Best not to have to deal with that.

  3. we are planning a trip in late October/early November. Tell me about this “hostile behavior” reference as my imagination could run to all sorts of areas…and also, given the latitude/longitude what time is “sundown” on late October/early November. All other advice appreciated, thanks.

  4. can you recommend a guided tour site to reserve a space? I am going in September. Thanks!

    • Hi Judy — Great question. I’m working on that very question for myself at the moment. I’m planning on trying the guided-tour option in late August. I’ll come back and comment to let you know who I’ve selected. Then after the experience, I’ll add a comment with my opinion.

  5. Hi Sheila: we found an app for our smart phone that gives a guided tour throughout the Road To Hana. You need to download the app in advance for the data(on wifi to not use your data on plan). It uses a GPS signal throughout to track where you are and give you the information. No cell service signal is needed for this; it only uses the location! We connected the phone with an auxiliary cord so it played through the car speakers. The guide was fantastic! Lots of information as well as suggestions on where to stop along the way. The guide also gives you advance notice on upcoming sharp turns, where to park for sights, etc. They have set it up so it gives different information(focus on Hawaiian history) on the return trip. It is important to bring a charge cord as using GPS does use the battery quickly. The cost was $5. We used the one called GyPSy guide but I see there are a few options. We felt it was well worth the $5.

  6. Hi Sheila – I have a quick question for you. We will be in Maui in a month for only 2.5 days (will arrive at 11am on Sept 3 and leave Sept 6th early morning). I wont have a car to rent as i don’t have a US driving permit. Hence, i am booking some tours now.
    Given the paucity of time, i need to chose any 2 of the 3 things on my Maui list – sunrise at Haleakala, Road to Hana, Snorkeling at Molokini. Now i struggling to figure out which 2 I should do… any advice from you?

    • Vipul – that’s a challenging question. Here’s what I’d do if I were in your shoes — take an afternoon snorkel tour to Molokini the day you arrive. We normally recommend morning snorkel trips to Molokini because the water is smoother in the morning. Since your time is short and you want to try to do it all, consider an afternoon trip as an option. They’re usually cheaper than morning sails. On your full day on Maui, I’d recommend touring the road to Hana. It’s really a special drive with many scenic spots to enjoy.

      • Thanks Sheila. My wife is a big snorkelling fan (we are planning to Snuba – Like you suggested, I looked up their site and there doesn’t seem to be an afternoon option.

        Although i do not want to miss Road to Hana, i think i will have to give latter a pass for this trip and hopefully come back here some time in the future (sad face!)… unless i find another solution.

        • Vipul – another option would be to skip Molokini snorkeling the day of arrival and opt for one of the afternoon snorkel tours by Teralani instead. Here’s a youtube video we produced based on our snorkel tour with them They don’t go to Molokini, but they take you to great West Maui snorkeling spots based on the conditions.

          We’ve not snorkeled with Ali’i Nui, but we’ve heard great things about them. I think they offer afternoon snorkel tours, too.

          • Thanks Sheila. This was very helpful… i will surely have a look at it. It is so hard to do everything in so little time. Guess, i have to make some tough choices. Hehehe… thanks anyway.

          • By the way, i have to admit, looks like you dont want me to miss the Road to Hana even if that means compromising on the Snorkle/Snuba.

          • Maybe it’s just personal preference, but I think the Road to Hana is not to be missed.

            By the way Molokini snorkeling is a neat experience, but I believe it’s pretty rare to snorkel with a turtle in Molokini. Lots of people want to snorkel with turtles when they visit Hawaii, so that’s something to consider as you are weighing your choices.

          • Yea. Have read so much about Road to Hana that its hard to miss it and then the turtles bit is extremely exciting too :)
            So many options, so little time and just one life! :)
            Thanks for your help and ideas.

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