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.
My friend, Kris Nelson, has experienced the road to Hana both independently and on guided tours. 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.
UPDATE: Since we originally wrote this article, we’ve also taken one of the van tours of the road to Hana with Valley Isle Excursions. It was a fantastic and stress-free experience. We definitely saw the highlights of the road plus we got to see the “forbidden” backside of the road to Hana/Haleakala.
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, you’ll have the added expense of the gas you consume. Additional expenses would be the visitor fees to stop at Wai’anapanapa Park and at the Kipahulu section of Haleakala National Park. A family of four could save hundreds of dollars 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. Some of the curves are only one-lane wide. Seriously. Also, there are 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.
– Some guided tours include lunch.
– Guided tours are much more expensive than driving independently. Budget about $200 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!
2019 Update: We did take a tour in one of the 12-passenger vans. See our review of the road to Hana tour with Valley Isle Excursions.