travel tips for Maui visitors: shaka sign

Practical Do’s & Don’ts for Maui Visitors

Maui is a very easygoing place, and for the most part, people who live here are friendly, helpful, and welcoming to visitors. We love sharing the beauty and joys of our island, particularly with visitors who are polite, respectful of the Hawaiian culture, and accepting of “the local way” of doing things. Life on Maui is not going to be exactly the way things are at home, wherever your home might be. But that’s the fun of travel, isn’t it?

Here are some travel tips for Maui visitors that will make you feel right at home when you’re here. These tips will earn you a nod and a smile from those who live here–and maybe a friendly “shaka” (pictured above), instead of “stink-eye” (the local term for an annoyed look)! If you are a first-timer to Maui, you might also want to read my Maui Basics 101 and 15 Things NOT To Do in Maui.

NOTE: If you’re planning a visit to Maui during the COVID pandemic, take a look at this blog for some specific COVID-era do’s and don’ts: Visiting Maui During COVID: What You Need To Know. 




Travel tips for Maui visitors: "ALOHA" written in the sand



ALOHA AND MAHALO: “Aloha” (ah-LOW-hah) can mean “hello” or “goodbye” depending on the circumstance. And “mahalo” (mah-HAH-low) is “thank you.” You will hear them often here on Maui. You can’t go wrong with those two words! Say “aloha” to people, respond in kind when it is said to you, and thank people with a sincere “mahalo.” DO say “aloha” and “mahalo”! 






shaka sign





SHAKA: If a local gives you the shaka…smile and give it back (or at least wave in acknowledgment). The shaka is a friendly gesture. It’s our way of saying Hello. Thank you. Goodbye. And hang loose. Kind of the local version of “live long and prosper.” President Obama, a local homegrown Hawaii boy, often flashed the shaka sign on television when greeting people from Hawaii. It’s like the secret Hawaii handshake. In case you haven’t seen a shaka, look carefully at this photo.  Most often, the back of the hand is faced towards the recipient (like the photo), but either way is acceptable. And be careful! The shaka sign is just a raised thumb and little finger–no fingers in between. That can convey a whole ’nother meaning! DON’T add any other fingers to the shaka sign!







HAWAIIAN TIME: “Hawaiian time” is not a time zone, but a way of life. You will hear locals refer to things being done on “Hawaiian time” or “Maui time.” It means things tend to move more slowly in the islands, and although a timeframe might be set for an activity, things don’t always run exactly on time. So be patient with this laid-back island approach to time, stop looking at your watch, and just “hang loose” . . . things happen in their own time on Maui. DO relax and go with the easygoing flow of Hawaiian time.




travel tips for Maui visitors: car on a Maui road

DIRECTIONS: When giving directions here on Maui, we don’t refer much to street names or highway numbers, but tend to use landmarks like trees or historic buildings. We also don’t use a lot of north, south, east, or west terminology. Instead, we say “go mauka” (MAOW-kuh) which means towards the mountains, or “go makai” (muh-KIYE) which is towards the ocean. When you live on an island, you can pretty much always see where the mountains or the ocean are! So, if a local tells you “Drive three blocks to the big mango tree and turn mauka,” you go to that mango tree and turn towards the mountains. Easy! DO learn to navigate the local way by going “mauka” or “makai.”






travel tips for Maui visitors: a geckoWHAT’S BUGGING YOU?: We share our island paradise with multitudes of insects and other critters who, like us, thrive in Maui’s warm, tropical climate. Ants, cockroaches, spiders, centipedes (to name a few) . . . they are everywhere. They live here, just as we do, and are simply a fact of life in the tropics. Most homes, offices, restaurants, and accommodations exterminate the premises on a regular basis to keep unwanted insects under control. But don’t tempt fate by leaving any opened food in your car, room/kitchen, or on your lanai. That leftover piece of pineapple pizza or opened bag of taro chips is like a dinner bell to our creepy, crawly neighbors saying, “Come and get it!” Geckos (pictured), those cute little lizards with the chubby toes, are an exception to the rule in Hawaii. Locals co-exist quite happily with them, as geckos won’t harm us and they eat many of the other insects that make us cringe. So geckos are our friends! DON’T leave opened food containers any place you don’t want bugs. And DO be kind to geckos.





travel tips for Maui visitors: plastic bags caught in a treePAPER OR ???: Plastic shopping bags are now prohibited on Maui. They were flying all over the island with the tradewinds, nesting in the trees (pictured), and creating an environmental nightmare. So stores no longer provide them — in fact, they will be fined if they do. Maui shopkeepers will not ask you “paper or plastic?” Instead, they will offer you a paper bag or ask if you brought your own or need any bag at all. “Bring-your-own,”  recyclable shopping bags (like the one pictured) are the norm here and are highly encouraged. So reuse your bags while on Maui. It will be appreciated. DO bring your own reusable shopping bag to stores. (UPDATE: During the COVID pandemic, most stores have temporarily suspended the “bring-your-own-bag” option in order to maintain a cleaner environment.)













YOUR FAVORITE TV SHOW: A heads up. Prime time television, which runs from 8 to 11 pm in most parts of the mainland U.S., runs from 7 to 10 pm in Hawaii. So if you are counting on catching your favorite 8 pm TV show while here, you better plan to be in front of the television at 7. And the 11:00 news is on nightly at 10. To be safe, if there is a particular show you just can’t miss, check a local TV schedule. DO check the local tv schedule to make sure you have adjusted the time of your favorite show correctly for Hawaii.



travel tips for Maui visitors: island girl offering a flower leiLEI ETIQUETTE: The giving and receiving of a lei is one of the most lovely and time-honored traditions of Hawaii. Lei-giving is not a gender-specific custom. A lei is presented to both men and women, and worn by all in Hawaii. A lei is given to honor, welcome, or congratulate someone for a special occasion. If a local gives you a lei (lucky you!), it is customary for them to place it around your neck (not just hand it to you), accompanied by a brief hug or kiss on the cheek. (UPDATE: During the COVID pandemic, this tradition has been temporarily suspended and a lei will most likely be presented to you for you to place around your own neck.) Always respond with a gracious thank you or “mahalo.” Never refuse a lei, and it is considered rude to remove the lei immediately after receiving it. If it is irritating your neck, creating an allergic reaction or whatever, just wait a few minutes, then remove it discreetly. If you wish, it is acceptable for you to then present it to someone else if you cannot wear it yourself. DO accept a lei graciously with a “mahalo.”



GRATUITIES: Hawaii is a U.S. state, so gratuities are expected in accordance with U.S. standards. For instance, 18-20% tips are the norm in restaurants. There are plenty of online sites that will give you the rundown on appropriate U.S. tipping procedures—which services warrant a tip, whom to tip, and how much. Please do tip according to U.S. customs, not according to the country you are from. Not tipping (or vastly undertipping) your waiter or waitress is another sure way to earn you that dreaded stink-eye as you’re heading blissfully out the door!  DO tip according to U.S. standards for gratuities.



travel tips for Maui visitors: basket of mangoes

JUST A LITTLE SOMETHING: If you are fortunate enough to befriend a local and be invited to their home–particularly for a meal, it is considered very good manners to bring a small gift of some kind. A bottle of wine, a light pupu (appetizer) or local treat, some fresh fruit from the farmer’s market, some flowers. It’s the local way — we never go to someone’s home empty-handed. A small gift brought from your home state or country is even more special! Just a little token showing appreciation for the invitation. This is SURE to earn you a smile and a heartfelt “mahalo.”  DO bring a little house gift, if you are invited to a local’s home.




SHOES OFF: It is customary when visiting a local’s home to remove your shoes and leave them just outside the door. The telltale sign of a great party is a big ol’ pile of shoes at the entryway! Some businesses, condos, and vacation homes might also ask you to honor this custom, and it is very polite for you to do so. (It is NOT polite to take someone else’s shoes when you depart, so make sure you know which ones are yours! They aren’t tagged like baggage, unfortunately.) Sometimes it is acceptable to place your shoes just INSIDE the front door instead of outside, lest they be stolen by the neighbor’s dog. It happens.  DO remove your shoes before entering a local home. 

travel tips for Maui visitors: pile of slippers at a front door
Photo © Polinahe Photography





Travel tips for Maui visitors: Environmental sign at Maui beach

RESPECT THE ENVIRONMENT: Our island environment, both on land and in the sea, is precious and fragile. Please respect it. Dispose of your trash properly. Don’t leave cigarette butts–or anything else–in the beach sand (and remember that smoking is prohibited on all County beaches). Be cautious about removing any natural items to take as souvenirs. It is illegal to take sand (since 2013), dead coral, rocks and other “marine deposits” from the beach. (The exceptions are driftwood, shells, beach glass, glass floats, and seaweed.) It is also illegal to take rocks or minerals from Haleakala National Park; and don’t even think about uprooting a Haleakala Silversword plant to take home–they are protected by Federal law.

If you plan on going into the ocean, please be aware that many sunscreens have ingredients that can irreparably harm the coral reefs. On January 1, 2021, a new law took effect in Hawaii prohibiting the sale or distribution of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone or octinoxate, two chemicals that have been proven harmful to the marine ecosystems. Hawaii is the first place in the world to ban sunscreens with these chemicals. If you brought sunscreen with you that contains those chemicals, please do not use it here. Instead, choose mineral sunscreens with titanium oxide or zinc oxide, as they are reef-friendly choices.  

If we all take care, this beautiful environment will thrive and endure for many future generations to enjoy. DO treat our precious island environment with care and respect.





travel tips for Maui visitors: hula dancer at sunsetRESPECT THE CULTURE: Native Hawaiians are very proud of their rich history and culture, and rightly so. Hawaiian culture is unique in all the world. When you visit Maui, you will hear Hawaiian language and music, see hula dancers, possibly hear chants, and probably be exposed to various Hawaiian arts and crafts. You might even see a heiau (ancient place of worship). Locals are delighted when visitors show a genuine interest and respect for the historical and cultural aspects of this island. There are many opportunities to learn about and experience authentic cultural traditions on Maui, and they will enhance your visit and make it all the more memorable.  DO participate in a cultural activity while you’re here and be respectful toward Hawaii’s cultural traditions. Try staying in a real authentic accommodation like a private mountain-side cottage in the heart of Iao Valley surrounded by monkeypod trees, fresh fruit trees, and beautiful flowers and plants.



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Happy Travels!


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