Whale watching is one of the most popular experiences and a bucket list thing to do in Maui!
On my family trip to Maui, we took a whale-watching tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation, and it was one of our best experiences in Maui! We saw so many whales!!
Each year, from December to April, the waters around Maui become home to humpback whales that migrate from their colder feeding grounds in Alaska to the warmer waters of Maui to mate, give birth, and nurse their young.
Maui’s western coast makes an excellent spot for whale watching. The protected bays and channels provide calm waters that are ideal for whale-watching boats.
Additionally, the deep waters around Maui offer humpback whales the perfect environment to carry out their mating and birthing activities.
During the whale-watching season, you can expect to see humpback whales breaching, tail slapping, and spouting water from their blowholes. Did you know that whales can grow up to 50 feet in length and weigh up to 40 tons!!
Taking a whale-watching tour is the best and probably the only way to experience these majestic creatures and observe their habits in their natural environment. Whales are typically several miles away from the shore, and you might not have much luck trying to just watch them from the shore.
Note: We took the whale-watching tour in January 2023 from the Lahaina Harbor, before the devastating fires occurred in Lahaina in August 2023. The Lahaina Harbor is closed until further notice, and for the 2024 whale-watching season in Maui, limited whale-watching tours are operational from Maalaea Harbor and some from Kaanapali Beach and Kihei.
I have updated this post to highlight the best whale-watching tour offerings for the upcoming 2024 whale season in Maui.
My Top 3 Picks: Best Maui Whale Watching Tours
5 Best Whale Watching Tours in Maui
All whale-watching tours from Maui go to the same ocean pod where the whales are, and the chances of whale sightings are mostly the same from any tour.
What makes a tour different is the size and type of the boat, group size (smaller groups are best), and the experience and reputation of the tour company in following responsible and safe practices for the whales and passengers.
After looking at all the whale-watching tours in Maui and what they offer, we picked the top five tours that are the best for their group size and boat type.
⭐ Rating: 4.5/5 | ⚓ Boat: Catamaran Boat | Group max: 70 people
⏳ Tour Length: 2 hours | Departs From: Maalaea Harbor
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This Whalewatch tour is the one we went on (but from Lahaina Harbor instead of Maalaea Harbor), and it was the highlight of our Maui trip! I highly recommend this tour.
This whale watch tour is run by the Pacific Whale Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Maui that is dedicated to the conservation of whales and their ocean environment. We were happy to play a small part in the whale protection program by booking this tour.
This is the only tour company that has a boat crew of certified marine naturalists and marine biologists who will provide excellent insights into the social behavior of humpback whales. Our boat crew naturalists were very knowledgeable and super friendly. They even took our pictures!
The captain steered the boat expertly, chasing the whales, and maintained a 100-yard distance from the whales as required by law. The whales themselves can come closer to the boat, although we were not that lucky!
The captain was very good at turning the boat so that all sides got a good view when there was a whale spotting.
This whale-watching tour only allows a maximum of 70 passengers, but there were only around 40 or so in our boat. We had so much space on the boat to move around and see whales from different sides of the boat.
My kids loved sitting on the nets of the Catamaran cruise boat, and it was fun to watch them hoping to catch some fish and turtles on the nets. The marine biologist brought underwater hydrophones to listen to whale songs, which were amazing sounds!
We saw so many whales spouting, tail slapping, a breach, and a mama and baby whale swimming together under the water. At one point on the horizon, we saw several whales spouting.
Water was provided to keep us hydrated and there were snacks and drinks available to purchase.
This tour guarantees whale sightings, or you can go again for free! I highly recommend booking a whale-watching trip at the beginning of your trip so that you can go again later in case you do not see any whales the first time.
Personally, I feel this 2-hour whale-watching tour is worth it even without the whales! Sailing on the Maui waters with breathtaking views of Maui and Lanai in the distance is a great way to spend your day. Seeing plenty of humpback whales is a given, too, during peak whale season!
We saw numerous whales. The crew members were wonderful! It was a wonderful experience! The best part was when the microphone was lowered into the ocean and we could actually hear the whales singing. We went on the early morning so we were watched a beautiful sunrise. The staff were friendly and very knowledgeable and answered all the questions. It was a great learning experience. It was an experience I will never forget. If I ever come back to Maui I will go on this whale watch again. It was the highlight of our trip to Maui. Worth every penny!– Sharon (See More Reviews)
➡ Check rates and availability for this highly rated
Whale Watching Tour from Ma’alaea Harbor
⭐ Rating: 5/5 | ⚓ Boat: Zodiac / raft | Group max: 26 people
⏳ Tour Length: 2 hours | Departs From: West Maui
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This Ultimate whale watching tour on a small inflatable raft in the ocean is perfect if you are looking for a little adventure and want to be at eye level with the humpback whales. Next time on Maui, we are definitely taking this tour for some adventure!
These inflatable boats are much smaller and go faster, and thus can chase and get close to the whales quicker than the larger boats. They still cannot go within 100 yards of whales as per the law. But the whales can come closer to the raft.
These smaller boats can cause sea sickness as the ride can be a little rough if the waters are choppy, so it might not be a good idea for those who are prone to motion sickness. There is also a chance that you might get wet, so keep a dry bag for your wallet and phone.
Small group size ensures everyone gets a good view. They also have a hydrophone on board to listen to whale songs.
Like all the other tours above, this tour also provides a guaranteed whale sighting, or you can book another tour for free. Children under 3 years of age are not permitted in this tour.
Fantastic trip. We saw whales breach and take slap. The guide explained thier behavior and pointed out a momma and a baby. The tour was small enough to see the whales closer and our boat was smooth even in rougher waters. We loved it!– Mark (See More Reviews)
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Ultimate Small Group Whale Watch Tour on a raft
⭐ Rating: 4.5/5 | ⚓ Boat: Double deck Catamaran | Group max: 111 people
⏳ Tour Length: 2 hours | Departs From: Maalaea Harbor
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This Double Decker catamaran whale-watching tour from Maalaea is the most discounted type of whale-watching tour as the tour is on large boats that can accommodate around 100 or more people.
You get to experience whale watching in the same ocean pods as the smaller catamaran boats.
The downside is that these large boats can get crowded during peak whale watching season, and it might be harder to walk to navigate through the crowds to different parts of the boat to spot whales.
Also, you might not get prime time space at the boat railings for photos if the boat tour is at capacity. The upside is that large group tours are more affordable as they allow more people per tour.
Large boats move slowly, so there is less seasickness than smaller raft-type boats.
This is a great option for anyone looking for a more affordable whale-watching experience. If you decide to book this tour, look for an early morning time to beat some of the crowds!
We really enjoyed the captain’s explanations of the whale’s behavior. We loved hearing the whales sing. The ship was not crowded and we were treated like friends by the crew.-Benjamin (See more reviews)
➡ Check rates and availability for this Double Decker catamaran whale-watching tour from Maalaea
⭐ Rating: 4.5/5 | ⚓ Boat: Zodiac / raft | Group max: 26 people
⏳ Tour Length: 4 hours | Departs From: West Maui
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If you are looking to combine snorkeling with your whale-watching experience, this Ultimate Whale Watch & Snorkel is a highly-rated combo tour from Lahaina harbor that takes you to snorkeling spots near the island of Lanai!
This 4-hour tour allows no more than 22 to 26 passengers and is on a super fast inflatable raft. On the way to Lanai, you will get to see whales and learn about whale behaviors from your guide.
The tour stops at a couple of snorkeling spots near Lanai Island where you might see turtles, tropical fish, dolphins, and even manta rays!
Breakfast, snacks, and non-alcoholic drinks are included. They even provide reef-safe sunscreen!
The tour was amazing. We saw so many whales and they even swam under our boat when the motor was off. Because the boat is so close to the water, you could see them close up and I was able to put my gopro into the water and get some underwater shots. We saw mothers with calves and many males. We even saw some males fighting. It was an amazing experience. The snorkelling spot was great too. We saw a lot of fish and coral. The team on the boat was so knowledgable and nice and you could really tell that they loved and respected the whales. It is definitely worth it and I would recommend the tour to anyone.-AnnaKatharina (See More Reviews)
➡ Check rates and availability for this Ultimate 4-Hour Whale Watch & Snorkel tour from Lahaina
⭐ Rating: 5/5 | ⚓ Boat: Catamaran boat | Group max: 42 people
⏳ Tour Length: 2 hours | Departs From: Kaanapali Beach
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Embark on an extraordinary two-hour journey with this whale-watching tour departing from Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach. If you are staying in West Maui this is a great whale watching tour for you to take as it departs from a West Maui location.
This tour sets sail directly from Ka’anapali Beach, offering unparalleled convenience. Accompanied by an expert naturalist guide, you’ll gain fascinating insights into the world of humpback whales.
Aboard the spacious catamaran, you’ll have a variety of seating options, from comfortable seats to open nets with bean bags, all designed to bring you as close as possible to these majestic marine giants.
What sets this whale watching tour apart is their open bar, providing you with unlimited alcoholic drinks and snacks throughout the cruise. Savor your favorite beverages as you soak in the awe-inspiring sights and sounds of the ocean.
The minimum age for alcoholic drinks is 21 years. This is a family-friendly tour, and younger guests can still enjoy it with non-alcoholic drinks.
Beyond whale spotting, this tour is an educational adventure. Your naturalist guide will share captivating stories about humpback whales, including their migratory patterns and behavior, enriching your experience. You will also be able to listen to the whales sing with the underwater hydrophones.
Entire crew was knowledgeable, friendly and attentive. Definitely our favorite excursion in Maui. Seeing whales up close was amazing! Crew was always available to answer any questions and always ready with endless drinks. Very family friendly! Would definitely come back again and recommend to everyone. Thanks so much, what a memorable day!– Donald (See more reviews)
Anu’s Pro-Tip: The tour company will validate 4 hours of parking at Whaler’s Village on Ka’anapali Beach. Bring your parking ticket with you at tour check-in time.
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Whale Watching Cruise with Open Bar from Ka’anapali Beach
Types of whale watching boat tours in Maui
There are several options for whale watching in Maui. It is important to understand the various types of whale-watching tours offered so that you can decide what’s best for your group.
The difference between the various whale-watching boat tours is mainly the type of boat, the group size, and the departure location.
Visitors can book whale-watching tours on smaller boats or vessels, such as catamarans or zodiacs, which offer a more intimate and personalized experience.
There are also tours on large boats that can take 100 to 150 passengers which are a more affordable option than the smaller boat tours.
Regardless of the type of boat, please make sure to choose a reputable and experienced whale-watching company that follows responsible whale-watching practices to ensure the safety of both the whales and the passengers.
Each boat has its own unique advantages and can provide a different experience for passengers. Here are some of the most popular types of boats used for whale watching in Maui:
Catamarans are smaller and more maneuverable than large boats. They offer a more intimate and personalized experience with fewer passengers onboard.
Catamarans also offer a smoother ride on the water, causing less sea sickness. They have a restroom on board.
We took a Catamaran boat tour, and it was the smoothest ride ever. Our boat had a small group of around 24 people in the peak season of Christmas break week.
There was enough space for everyone to spread out and move around to spot whales! Also, no one got seasick, considering the fact that my family can get really nauseous on a boat!
These boats are typically large and comfortable vessels that can accommodate around 100-150 passengers. Larger boats move slowly and can cause less sea sickness in general.
These boats often have open-air decks and indoor seating areas, as well as restrooms and other amenities.
The only downside is that the boat can get crowded in peak season and you might have to sometimes see whales behind rows of spectators.
Zodiacs are small, inflatable boats that can navigate the shallow waters around Maui pretty fast.
They provide a more adventurous and up-close experience, as passengers are closer to the water and the whales. They still cannot get closer than 100 yards to whales as required by law.
However, they may not be as comfortable as larger boats and are not recommended for those who are prone to seasickness. You can also get wet as these boats are low and at the water level.
Whale watching tour departure locations in Maui
In West Maui, whale watching tours used to depart from Lahaina Harbor before the August 2023 fires. Apart from the Lahaina Harbor, there are a few other places in the west and south Maui that have whale watching excursions.
Whale watching in Lahaina
Lahaina harbor is in West Maui and is the ideal closest location for those staying in Lahaina and Kaanapali towns. Lahaina Harbor also had the most tour options for whale watching. After the August 2023 fires, the Lahaina Harbor will be closed until further notice, and instead, the Mala boat ramp in Lahaina will be used for the 2024 whale season.
Whale watching in Kaanapali Beach
Kaanapali Beach is the most happening beach in West Maui lined with resorts, restaurants, and shopping malls like Whaler’s Village. There are boat tours for whale watching that board right from Kaanapali Beach, providing convenience to the guests staying in the resorts on the beach.
Whale Watching Cruise with Open Bar from Kaanapali Beach – This 2-hour Whale Watching tour departs right from the Kaanapali beach and includes an open bar, but it is still family-friendly. You will learn a lot about whales from the naturalist guide onboard.
Whale watching in Maalaea Harbor
With the Lahaina Harbor closed, the Maalea Harbor in West Maui is the place to go for whale watching tours. I highly recommend the below tour which is similar to the one we took.
2 hour Whale Watching tour from Maalaea Harbor – This 2 hour whale watching tour is run by Pacific Whale Foundation, and I highly recommend it; this tour is similar to the one we took from Lahaina, and it is excellent.
Whale watching in Kihei / Wailea
Kihei in South Maui is preferred by many due to its central location compared to West Maui. There are not many whale watching tours from Kihei, but the one below is a highly-rated choice for whale watching on a raft.
Maui Whale-Watching Tour by Raft from Kihei – This small group whale watching tour on a raft departs from Kihei Boat Ramp. The tour is 1.5 hours long and is highly rated.
Tips for Maui whale watching
The below tips will make your Maui whale watching experience more successful and comfortable!
Tip #1: Plan your trip around the Maui whale watching season
If whale watching is at the top of your Maui itinerary, then you should plan your trip around the Maui whale watching season which is typically between December and April.
Tip #2: The best way to whale watching in Maui is on a boat tour
You might see occasional spouting from the shores, but it will still be too far away for any real experience. Boats can get as close to 100 yards to whales, but when the boat is standing still, there is a high chance the whales might come closer to your boat!
Tip #3: Pick the right type of boat for your group
If someone is prone to motion sickness or if you have very young kids a larger boat or a smooth sailing catamaran might be a better choice as it moves slowly. If you have teens or all adults in your group, a rafting adventure might be more exciting!
Tip #4: Book your whale watching tour at the beginning of your trip
Most reputable whale watching companies guarantee that you will see a whale or allow you to rebook for free. Going at the beginning of your trip allows you to have days for rebooking if you don’t see any whales the first time.
Tip #5: Use reef-safe sunscreen
Always use reef-safe sunscreen on Maui to protect the marine environment.
Tip #6: Packing list for whale watching
FAQs about whale watching in Maui
Below are some frequently asked questions about whale watching in Maui:
When is whale watching season in Maui?
The typical Maui whale watching season is during the winter months of December to April, when the whales migrate from the colder waters of Alaska to warmer Maui waters for breeding. November and May are shoulder months when there can still be whale sightings. Whale-watching is a great reason to visit Hawaii in winter.
What is the best month for whale watching in Maui?
January to March are the best months for whale watching in Maui, and you will see a lot of whales during this time.
Is it better to go whale watching in the morning or afternoon in Maui?
As per research, whales do not have a schedule, and the chances of whale sightings are the same at any time of the day. However, morning tours are recommended because the water is generally calmer in the morning, and the sun is more bearable. Early morning tours are the least crowded as well.
Is Maui the best Hawaiian Island for whale watching?
Although whales can be seen from all Hawaiian islands during the whale season of November to May, Maui is considered one of the best Hawaiian Islands for whale watching because the whales love the warm and shallow waters of the Auau Channel between Maui, Molokai, and Lanai for breeding.
Is whale watching worth it in Maui?
Maui is one of the top Hawaiian islands and has a large variety of whale-watching tours to pick from. During the whale season, humpback whales migrate from the colder regions of Alaska to the warmer waters of Maui to breed, and you are guaranteed to see whales by taking a reputed whale-watching tour. Seeing these majestic creatures and learning about their migration and social behaviors is a bucket list experience, and whale watching is definitely worth it in Maui.
How close can boats get to whales in Maui?
Boats cannot go more than 100 yards near a whale in the US waters, and it is illegal to do so by boat, kayak, or swimming. 100 yards is the minimum distance that boats need to maintain from whales. The whales, however, can come closer to the boats and rafts.
Which are the various whale-watching boats in Maui?
Whale-watching boats range from large boats that can take 150 passengers to smaller inflatable kayaks that are close to the water and can take 26 passengers. Catamaran boats are the most comfortable and smooth sailing boats for a small group whale-watching experience.
Can you swim with whales in Maui?
No, It is illegal to approach or swim within 100 yards of a whale in Maui and US waters.
Do people get seasick on whale-watching tours?
If the waters are choppy, and you are on a smaller boat like a rafting vessel, there is a chance that you might get seasick. Smooth sailing boats like catamaran boats and larger boats move slower and are better options for people who are prone to sea sickness.
How should I dress for whale watching in Maui?
It is ideal to dress in layers as it can get hot on a 2-hour boat ride in the sun. Carrying a sun hat with a chinstrap and a light jacket is a good idea. If you are going on an inflatable raft, you will most likely get wet, so carrying a dry bag for your wallet and phone is a good idea.
More things to do in Maui
Now that you have found the perfect Maui whale-watching tour from the list above make sure to check out some of the other unique activities in Maui and add them to your Maui itinerary:
Where to stay in Maui
Staying in the towns of Kaanapali in West Maui is ideal for whale watching and for any other excursions and activities in Maui.
Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa is an excellent resort at a great location right on Kaanapali beach at the historic Black Rock.
Aston Kaanapali Shores is a great beachfront resort for families with full kitchen condos on Kaanapali Beach.
Final takeaways: Best Maui whale watching tours
Whale watching is the most popular excursion in Maui during the whale watching season from December to April and is a must-do activity.
I recommend booking this Whale Watching Tour from Ma’alaea Harbor with Pacific Whale Foundation and support the conservation of whales and the ocean environment.
Even though the Lahaina Harbor is closed after the devastating fires, there are other locations on the island, like Maalea Harbor, Kaanapali, and Kihei, from where you can board whale-watching tours.
Did you know that you can also sometimes spot whales in the ocean by taking a Maui helicopter tour? Experience incredible views of the Road to Hana and Haleakala crater from the sky!
Check out my other posts about our trip to Maui!