Just Back: Maui

National Geographic’s Andy Coleman (on Instagram @awc007) and his wife have a tradition of traveling to Maui once a year. “It’s the one vacation destination where we don’t have anything planned, except for a place to stay,” he says. “We wake up each morning in a tropical paradise and let the day play out.”

Here are some of the high points of Andy’s trip, in his own words:

Authentic souvenir: Adobo Loco hot sauce is the perfect way to bring a taste of the islands home with you. The ingredients are locally grown and all natural.

Standout culinary experience: Head to Coconut’s Fish Cafe in Kihei for the ultimate fish taco featuring a heaping portion of wahoo (known on the islands as ono, Hawaiian for “delicious”) and mahimahi with spices, coconut milk, mango salsa, and a whole lot more. The lines can get a bit long during lunch hours, but they move quickly. Their coconut shrimp is also excellent.

Must-do: See the sunrise at the top of the Haleakalā volcano. You need to get up terribly early to make it to the top in time to catch the action, but the view of the island bathed in the day’s first rays makes it all worth it. Make sure to dress warmly; it’s cold and often windy at the top. Tip: If you’ll be adjusting from an earlier time zone to a later one when you arrive, prioritize this experience for the beginning of your trip.

Outdoor adventure: Maui offers great near-shore snorkeling opportunities, especially off its southern and western coasts. My favorite spot, on the island’s south shore and located within the Ahihi-Kina’u Natural Area Reserve, is Moanakala, known locally as “Dumps” (owing to the fact that a trash dump once occupied the area). The quantity and diversity of marine life found among the reefs there is tremendous—look for colorful coral fish, eels, octopuses, and even the occasional sea turtle. The water can get a bit rough as the day wears on, so morning sessions are recommended, especially for novices.

Doable day trip: No trip to Maui is complete without experiencing the Hana Highway, a ribbon of road that snakes along the island’s northeastern edge. The drive itself is stunning, with waterfalls, black-sand beaches, and botanical gardens visible along the way. Stop at Paia in the morning to get a picnic lunch that you can enjoy at one of the many worthy stopovers or when you arrive in the pristine hamlet of Hāna itself.

Catching a ferry to Lānaʻi from hip Lahaina is a great way to get out on the water, particularly during whale-watching season. Once you get there, you can snorkel or explore the island—Hawaii’s sixth largest—which was once a pineapple plantation.

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Practical tip: Once you know your travel dates, don’t lose time when it comes to reserving a rental car. There are a finite number of rentals on Maui, and demand can exceed supply during peak travel times—especially during holidays and winter whale-watching season. You can check back to see if rates change (I always rebook at least once), but it’s good to have some form of transportation locked in.

Should have brought: Sunscreen. You can get it on the island, but everything is more expensive there. Didn’t need: Dressy clothes. Even the high-end restaurants skew casual.

What’s your favorite thing about Maui? Share your recommendations by leaving a comment below.

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