Staying Safe on Maui
IS MAUI SAFE?
Maui is generally a safe place, both for visitors and those of us who live here. Our island welcomes nearly 3 million visitors each year, and the vast majority of those people experience nothing more distressing than a sunburn. However, I would be misleading you if I said nothing bad ever happens here. Crime does exist on Maui. And the natural environment poses its own set of dangers: Maui’s mild climate and peaceful, beautiful scenery tend to lull visitors into a false sense of security, sometimes with disastrous results. There is nothing more heartbreaking for me than to hear a news report about a visitor who was badly injured, drowned, or a victim of crime while on Maui.
Here are some tips to help you be aware and wise so you can enjoy a safe Maui vacation. This information is not meant to frighten you. Maui is a magical place and you will most likely have a fabulous time here and leave with nothing but wonderful memories. But being informed and aware is NEVER a bad thing when traveling.
MAUI OCEAN SAFETY
The greatest danger on Maui — and the one affecting most visitors — is the ocean environment itself. Below, I am sharing some of the ocean safety information from my Maui Beach Tips blog. It bears repeating. Too many visitors are injured (or worse, drown) during what starts out as an idyllic day at the beach.
Sometimes the ocean here looks like a lake, with tiny waves gently lapping the shore. Other times, massive waves come crashing in with frightening intensity. Always exercise good judgment when approaching the sea. The ocean is as powerful as it is magnificent, and currents and conditions can change unexpectedly. Heed all posted warning signs, and listen to the warnings from locals when visiting Maui’s beaches. If locals aren’t going near the water, you shouldn’t either!
North Shore and East Maui beaches are more exposed to changing weather, strong ocean currents, and dangerous shorebreaks, so be extra careful there. West Maui and South Maui tend to have calmer ocean and beach conditions, although dangerous conditions can occur there, as well. The West Maui beaches beyond Kapalua, like Mokuleia and Honolua, can be very dangerous, particularly with high winter surf. And Makena Beach (aka Big Beach) in South Maui is one of Maui’s most scenic beaches, but notorious for rogue waves that knock people down, causing serious injuries.
Some additional Maui ocean safety tips:
“Never turn your back to the sea” is a common warning here. Don’t be caught off-guard. An unexpected wave can knock you down and pull you out to sea while you’re still trying to get your flippers on! So keep your eyes on the surf.
Pay attention to the signs and flag warnings that are posted on some of the more populated beaches. They are there to advise you of unsafe conditions.
Use the buddy system. Never swim, snorkel, or surf alone in the ocean. Make sure someone knows you are there and is looking out for you.
When exploring tidepools or reefs, wear protective footwear (like reef shoes) to prevent cuts–and keep an eye on the ocean, too. Don’t walk on coral, and when swimming near coral be cautious. Coral is sharp and the resulting cuts can be painful and get easily infected.
After heavy rains, stay out of the ocean until the water clears. Don’t swim in the mouths of rivers or streams or in any murky areas. Murky waters attract predators (think “shark”), and you don’t want to be mistaken for a fish or turtle when they are looking for a snack.
You’ll find more Maui ocean safety tips here!
Of course, thousands of people safely enjoy Maui’s beaches every day, so it’s most likely that you will have an incredible and uneventful beach experience. But a little caution goes a long way.
MAUI’S NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
As with the ocean, be cautious and heed signs when you are exploring Maui’s natural environment—particularly remote areas, waterfalls, and hiking trails. Even if there is NO sign indicating danger, be careful anyway. We can’t put warning signs on every slippery rock, or fence off every natural attraction that poses a danger. . .the entire island would be fenced. Maui’s natural environment is beautiful but powerful. Be cautious and respectful, and explore Maui with the understanding that the raw, natural environment can also pose dangers. Don’t stand at the very edge of a cliff or peer into an oceanside blowhole. Don’t dive head-first into waterfall pools—there could be hidden rocks. When hiking, dress properly, stay hydrated, and keep an eye on weather conditions. Some hiking trails can be prone to flash floods during storms, and visitors have drowned in the sudden powerful surge of floodwaters. Use common sense and explore Maui’s beauty cautiously.
GETTING LOST ON A TRAIL
Every couple of weeks, the Maui News reports another Maui visitor who has gotten lost on a hiking trail. You don’t want to be that visitor. A search and rescue team is called in, and often you have to be airlifted out once you’re finally found. This is almost always a result of hikers veering off the trail, attempting to find their own way or discover something new. Not only is there the danger of getting lost, but it is also disrespectful to the land and the plant life getting trampled.
Follow the signs along the hike and STAY ON THE TRAIL. Bring a flashlight (or fully charged phone), and plenty of food and water in case, God forbid, you have trouble finding your way back. Study the hiking trail you’re about to embark on and bring a printed map, or take screenshots on your phone of the trail directions. Better yet, let an expert lead you along the hiking trail! Guides have extensive knowledge of the area, fascinating information about the history and plant life, and often have access to areas that are otherwise off limits.
In Hawaii, we are closer to the equator and the sun is more intense. This causes unexpected sunburns, but also severe dehydration. We all know that time flies when you’re having fun, and while you’re taking in all of the beauty surrounding you, playing in the ocean waves, and throwing back those mai tais (that suck the hydration out of you), you may forget to drink water. I’ve seen many visitors collapse and pass out, just by lack of hydration, leading to further complications. It is a very serious concern, so I caution you and your loved ones to keep up the water intake!
BEWARE OF MAUI GUIDEBOOKS
Yes, I am actually warning you against some guidebooks! There are some excellent guidebooks out there to help you explore Maui. But don’t trust everything you read in a guidebook. I’m sorry to say that some are irresponsible in their recommendations, and those publications are universally abhorred by those of us who live here and know better. I will not name names, but if any guidebook is intent on revealing a “secret” local place (like a hidden waterfall) on the island that requires you to climb over fences, go through locked gates, trespass on private land, or do anything that feels wrong or unsafe, just say no. If it doesn’t look legal or safe, it’s probably not. There are plenty of other beautiful places to experience on Maui without having to trespass or endanger yourself.
CRIME ON MAUI
Maui is not crime-ridden, and our island does not experience many of the crimes that plague large cities. But, just like pretty much everywhere else, there are troubled people here: drug users; angry drivers; people who just have a chip on their shoulder and would love to blame YOU for that because you are. . .a tourist, a local, light skinned, dark skinned, have blue eyes, have brown eyes, or you don’t use cream in your coffee. In other words, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you did to draw their attention – there are despicable people in this world and I’m sorry to say we have a few of them on Maui, too. If you happen to cross paths with one, just move on as quickly as possible.
Most crime on Maui is non-violent, like vehicle break-ins and thefts. Don’t leave valuables in your rental car (including the trunk), particularly at parking areas for beaches, hiking trails, or other places where it’s obvious that you will be gone for a while. Lock the doors and windows of your hotel room or condo when you’re out and while sleeping. Don’t leave valuables unattended at the beach or hotel pool. Don’t spend time in isolated areas where no one else is around. In unfamiliar territory there IS safety in numbers. Don’t go out for a moonlight stroll on a remote beach. Don’t plunk yourself down on an uncrowded beach where your only “neighbors” are homeless people illegally living in tents or cars. Don’t decide to picnic at a park where the only other people there are a rowdy group of local guys with 27 empty beer cans stacked up. Hullo!!!! Common sense, my friends.
IF YOU DO NEED HELP
- In an emergency, dial 911 to reach Police, the Fire Department, or an Ambulance
THE BOTTOM LINE
To sum it all up, use common sense when you’re on Maui, just as you would at home. Don’t take chances with your personal safety that you wouldn’t do anywhere else, just because this is “paradise.” Listen to your senses. If it doesn’t feel safe, don’t do it. Common sense rules!
Now get out there and have an awesome time on Maui! (But please don’t hang out under any coconut trees!)
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