Note: Some tour providers on this list may have limited operations due to COVID-19. Check with your tour operator about availability before you book.
With humpback whales making their annual migration from Alaska back to Hawaii at the beginning of each year, it’s the perfect time to plan a trip to Maui to witness the beauty of these gigantic sea creatures. Whether you opt for a large boat, a small raft or something in between, you’ll see some incredible scenery as well as wildlife from a safe and respectful distance. U.S. News consulted both expert input and traveler opinion to select the following whale watching excursions.
Ultimate Whalewatch & Snorkel – Maui Whale Watching
This two-hour small-group tour with 16 people or less guarantees you will see a whale (or you get to go again for free) and includes talks by the onboard marine naturalist. You’ll travel on a rafting vessel, which has a hydrophone so you can listen to the whales. This type of vessel also offers better views since it sits closer to the water. Tour-takers say this is one of the best whale watching tours they’ve taken and describe it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience filled with many whale sightings. Tours are available at multiple times daily from December through April, and tickets start at $67 for adults and $45 for children ages 3 to 12. Children younger than 3 are not permitted. Ultimate Whalewatch & Snorkel also offers snorkeling tours and private charters.
PacWhale Eco-Adventures – Whalewatch Sail
Set sail on a catamaran to spot humpback whales off the coast of Maui. The vessel holds up to 49 passengers and is equipped with a hydrophone to hear the whales underwater. Marine naturalists lead the tours and impart knowledge about the whales. If you don’t see a whale during your voyage, you can take another tour for free within one year. Participants recommend the tour, praising the knowledge of the crew, and say you’ll spot many whales. They advise getting a seat on the bow for better views. The two-hour tour departs at 7:30 and 10 a.m. daily from December to mid-April. Tickets cost approximately $60 for adults and $30 for children ages 7 to 12; kids 6 and younger sail for free. The company also has snorkeling, dolphin watching and sunset dinner cruises, among other options.
Trilogy – Kaanapali Whale Watch
Leaving from Kaanapali Beach, this two-hour tour aboard a luxury catamaran features a whale naturalist who shares information about humpback whales, as well as an in-water hydrophone to listen to the whale songs. Participants are also treated to a light meal with a cold drink. Reviewers say that you’ll see lots of wildlife and whales, and have plenty to eat; many also praise the informative and helpful crew. Tickets are approximately $75 for adults, $60 for teenagers ages 13 to 17 and $45 for children ages 3 to 12; the excursion is free for kids younger than 3. Tours run from mid-December to mid-April on most days and depart at 8 and 10:30 a.m. as well as 1 p.m. The company offers a variety of other tours, including snorkeling outings, dinner sails and snuba cruises, among others.
Blue Water Rafting – Guaranteed Whale Watch
This seasonal 1 1/2-hour tour, available from mid-December to mid-March, departs from Kihei. The tour uses an inflatable boat that carries up to 24 passengers and brings you close to the whales – sometimes within 100 yards. Additionally, if you tour from January to mid-March, the company guarantees you’ll see whales or you can take another tour for free. Each voyage also includes a light meal. Travelers love the intimate experience of this smaller boat, which makes it easier to see the whales, and say that the captain and crew are friendly and educated. The tour is available daily at 8 and 10 a.m. and noon. Tickets start at $49 for adults and $39 for children ages 4 to 12. Children younger than 4 are not permitted. Blue Water Rafting also offers snorkeling tours of Molokini and the Kanaio Coast.
During a whale watching excursion, you could have the chance to see whales dive with their flukes up, as seen here.(Getty Images)
Hawaii Ocean Project – Whale Watching Epic Adventure
On this two-hour tour, which leaves from Lahaina Harbor, you can choose to look for humpback whales from the open-air upper deck or the enclosed main cabin. Naturalists share whale facts as you ride. Travelers say the crew is fantastic and that whale sightings are common. They recommend sitting on the top deck for the best views. Tickets cost approximately $40 for adults and about $20 for children ages 4 to 12. Prices do not include taxes, fees and fuel surcharges. Tours depart daily at 7:30 and 9:45 a.m. as well as noon from November through April. Hawaii Ocean Project also offers snorkeling and dolphin watching tours, as well as sunset dinner cruises.
Hawaii Ocean Rafting – Up-Close Whale Watching from Maui
While aboard Hawaii Ocean Rafting’s 30-foot vessel, tourgoers enjoy close-up views of whales and can listen to their songs via an underwater hydrophone. Tours last around two hours, and the rafts carry no more than 12 passengers. Reviewers describe the crew as hospitable and always respectful of the whales. Tours depart from Lahaina multiple times daily from mid-December to mid-May. Tickets cost approximately $40 for adults and less than $33 for children ages 5 to 12. Hawaii Ocean Rafting also offers private whale watching excursions and shipwreck tours, among other options.
Makai Adventures – Whale Watching
Look for whales from the comfort of a small boat that gives you a front-row seat to the action and a smooth ride on this two-hour tour with Makai Adventures. Limited to groups of 20, this excursion gives you the chance to ask any questions you want of the onboard naturalist and get a guaranteed whale sighting. Travelers highly praise the captain and guide on this tour, citing their knowledge and friendliness. Additionally, several tour-takers recommend this small-group experience over one on a larger boat. Tours leave at several times every morning and afternoon from December to mid-April. Tickets cost approximately $70 for adults and about $50 for children 12 and younger. All ages are welcome. The company also offers snorkeling tours and fishing charters.
Sail Maui – ‘Alihilani Whale Watch
Sail your way around Maui on this two-hour excursion to find majestic whales swimming in the ocean. When there is enough wind, the trip is sailing only, meaning there are no motor sounds to disrupt the whales. Each cruise, which welcomes up to 35 tourgoers, also includes local beer and wine in its fee. Reviewers highly recommend this cruise, noting that you’ll see lots of whales and enjoy the food, drinks and service. Tours depart at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from mid-December through March. Tickets cost $75 for adults and approximately $40 for children ages 3 to 12; kids 2 and younger sail for free. Sail Maui also offers snorkeling and catamaran tours, as well as daytrips.