Whale Watching Maui Where, When, How?
A favorite activity in Maui during the winter is watching the whales. You can do your whale watching Maui adventures from shore, but you get a closer look if you go out for a couple hours on a whale watching boat.
If you are staying in west Maui (Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kapalua), take a boat that departs from Lahaina Harbor (or from Kaanapali Beach). If your hotel or condo is in south Maui (Wailea, Kihei), your boat departure should be from Maalaea Harbor.
About 12,000 humpback whales come to the waters around Maui at various times between late November and early April. But they are most numerous from January through March, with about 5000 present at any one time in the peak month of February, so those are your best whale watching Maui months. The whales come to Hawaii to breed and give birth. Unlike you and me, they don’t eat while they are in Hawaii. In the summer they live around Alaska, where they eat krill (similar to shrimp).
Humpback whales come to Maui every winter, and so should we!
See below for a comparison of some of the companies offering whale watching Maui boat excursions every winter, as well as photos and a whale watching video. Or click for more things to do on Maui.
Whale Watch Boats – Details and differences to help you decide
Pacific Whale Foundation
This is the largest and best-known whale watch company on Maui. Pacific Whale Foundation supports research and education about the humpback whales, and they call their boat tours “Eco Adventures.” Most of their boats are two-level, double-hull, very modern, and larger than boats from other companies. These boats can carry up to 140 passengers. Prices here are usually lower than on smaller boats with fewer passengers such as those from Trilogy and Gemini.
This company uses 35-foot high-speed boats that take a maximum of 24 passengers. So they are less crowded than the above boats, while sitting you close to the water like on the other small boats. This boat is more maneuverable and you get a more personal experience than you can get on a big catamaran. The boats depart from Kihei, so if you are staying in Kihei or Wailea, then this boat is more convenient to get to than the others.
This is the oldest sailing company on Maui and was voted #1 in a Maui News readers poll. My friend who is a whale watching Maui expert says Trilogy is the most respected company for whale watches, and is a leader in Maui in marine conservation and being green. They won an award for top ocean recreation business. Trilogy is a first-class company. Their boats are modern 50-foot catamarans that can hold up to 49, but they usually limit them to 40 passengers or less. Rates are seldom discounted, but are still usually less expensive than other catamaran boats. Take Trilogy from Kaanapali if you are staying on the west side (Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kahana, Kapalua). Take Trilogy from Maalaea if you are staying on the south side (Kihei, Wailea).
The Kai Kanani is a 65 foot luxury sailing catamaran with room for 80 guests. They’re the only boat allowed to moor in Makena, and they conveniently have beach-entry from in front of the Makena Beach & Golf Resort. This location is prime because they can get to Molokini Crater faster than anyone else. The Kai Kanani has tours to Molokini for snorkeling, to turtle town, sunset cocktail cruises, whale watching and private events. If you are staying at a hotel in Wailea, this is the most convenient boat to take.
This is a smaller company than the above two, so has less boats per day. Their 64-foot catamaran is slightly larger than Trilogy’s, plus they give you food. Maximum 49 passengers. You can often find a discounted price by shopping from various activity sellers. They have an 8 AM whale watch that is when the ocean is often less choppy than in the afternoon.
Hawaii Ocean Project
This company has several boats of different styles and sizes, so the number of people on the whale watch depends on which boat they decide to use the day you go. Their boats are Kaulana (70-foot catamaran), Molokai Princess (104-foot yacht), Island Princess (65-foot yacht), and Maui Princess (120-foot yacht). All of their boats depart from Lahaina harbor. On most trips they can use an underwater video camera to show you a different view of any nearby whales.
Another small company like Gemini, but with a more luxurious boat. Their 65-foot catamaran holds up to 49 passengers. They offer ala cart made-to-order full-service food in an air-conditioned dining room on their dinner-time whale watch. Some online and local discounts. This company’s former boat was Kapalua Kai.
Maui Adventure Cruises
These are large rafts, 37 to 49 feet long. They limit the number of passengers to between 34 and 38. They are faster than the above larger boats, and you sit closer to the water. So if you want a more adventurous whale watching Maui experience, this may be the right choice for you.
Ultimate Whale Watch
This company uses smaller boats, 30-foot inflated rafts that (like Maui Adventure) go faster than the larger boats of the other above companies. You sit much lower, close to water level. They only take 18 passengers.
You can rent a small boat and drive it yourself (holds up to six people).
See the page of Things To Do In Maui for luaus, whale watching, snorkeling, tours, helicopters, horseback riding, ATV, dinner cruises, parasailing, fishing, zipline, biking, golf, hiking, sightseeing, aquarium, road to Hana, volcano, Lahaina, lavender farm, beaches, kids and family fun, and more.
Maui Whale Watching Tours are a MUST during whale season (Dec 15th-May 15th). February is the best month, but you’ll see whales during any whale watch in that period of time.