Traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

Traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

If you go to Hawaii, one of the things you “must do” according to most travel guides is traveling the Road to Hana in Maui,

I have traveled the Road to Hana twice. The guides are right but there are some things to consider. To travel the Road to Hana, you should be aware of the following:

  • Time – it is at least an all day time commitment. I explain more about this below.
  • There are a lot of curves and stops. If you are prone to car sickness, take medication before you go.
  • It can be a harrowing drive. If that isn’t your thing, consider doing the Road to Hana as part of an organized tour.

I traveled the road once via organized tour and once we drove it on our own. I enjoyed it both ways. With the tour, our driver took care of the harrowing roads. He also told us where all of the best views were. When we went by ourselves, we used an app on my phone to find the sites while going at our own leisurely pace.

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RoadtoHana
The Three Bears Waterfall along the Road to Hana.

Traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

Background Information

The Road to Hana, or the Hana Highway, is a stretch of highway that spans over 64 miles and connects Kahului to the town of Hana on the east side of Maui. It then continues on to Kipahulu as Highway Route 31.

If you drive the highway uninterrupted, I’ve read that it should take about two and a half hours to complete. It is highly unlikely that you will ever travel it uninterrupted as a tourist because the highway is very winding and narrow. There is also so much to see along the way that will keeping you stopping and starting throughout the trip.

The Road to Hana passes over 59 bridges, many of which are concrete and steel dating back to 1910. Most are only one lane wide. There are also approximately 620 curves along Route 360 from east of Kahului to Hana. Most of these curves are through lush, tropical rain forest. Because of the curves, it’s a good idea to consider motion sickness meds before traveling on the Road to Hana if you’re prone to that ailment.

So if the highway is so winding and stressful, why do people travel along it?

Because it is the route required to see many amazing ocean views, pretty waterfalls, lava tubes and a black sand beach. All of these make it worth the drive or ride.

Regardless of whether you drive the Road to Hana yourself or go as part of a tour, it is a full day trip from the west side of the island, where I stayed both times. We left in the early morning and returned after sunset. If you prefer, you could also break the trip into two days and book a room in the town of Hana for one night. This is a good option if you want to take more time to explore and do the driving over two days.

Don’t Forget the App if you Travel the Road to Hana in Maui on Your Own

The key to traveling the road on our own was to download an app with a narrated audio guide of the road so we did not miss any of the hidden gems. Gypsy Guide or Shaka Guides are both good options and they are available for a nominal cost on the Apple and Google platforms. The audio can be stopped and started as needed and is also available offline so you can download the information and play it without having to worry about having cell service. Make sure to bring your phone charger with you though so you have plenty of battery for the guided audio tour and for taking lots of pictures!

There are so many opportunities to take beautiful photos along the way. The audio guide will alert you when a landmark possibly worth stopping at is approaching and it’s up to you to decide whether to listen. I recommend at least stopping briefly to check most of the landmarks out. You’re on vacation after all so why not?

Below are some of my favorite stops from my travels along the highway.

Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden

The Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden is located at mile market 10.5 on the Road to Hana,. It includes 26 acres and more than 700 species of plants. It has the most varied collection of plants in Hawaii. The garden features a platform where visitors can see Keopuka Rock, also known as the Jurassic Rock because it appeared in the opening sequence of Jurassic Park.

Visitors can also get close up views of the Rainbow Gum trees in the Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden. These trees look may look like they’ve been painted on the the colors are all natural. The trees shed their bark each year, showing a bright green bark underneath. Over time, the bright green bark darkens to orange, maroon, blue and purple tones.

Garden of Eden in Maui Jurassic Rock in Maui Rainbow Gum Tree Road to Hana Maui Rainbow Gum Tree in Maui

The chicken below was the first living thing to greet us when we got off the bus to get a closer look at the Rainbow Gum trees on our tour. Although he looked ready to chase me back onto the bus, he quickly lost interest and we peacefully went our separate ways.

Traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

Upper Waikani Falls (aka The Three Bears)

These falls are very popular because they’re easy to see from the road.

They are located at mile marker 19.6. Most people snap a photo and drive off because there are few places to stop and park. There is parking 1/10 mile past the falls. You will have to walk back along the narrow road with no shoulder. When these falls are at a safe flow rate (like in the photos) you can take a short hike down from the road and swim.

Wai’anapanapa State Park

Wai’anapanapa State Park at mile marker 32 is best known for its black sand beach named Pa’iloa. The beach is actually more rocky than it is sandy and is small with a ocean cave on the east side that can be traveled through to the ocean. There’s also a naturally made lava arch in the water.

Wai'anapanapa State Park in Maui Black Sand Beach in Maui

Palapala Ho’omau Church

This church was built in 1857 and still stands along Maui’s lush coastline. It is the burial ground of prominent aviator, inventor, explorer, author and activist Charles Lindbergh.

Palapala Ho'omau Church in Maui

When I visited the church, there was a herd of horses that lived in the field next to the church. I wasn’t all that interested in the grave and while I hung out waiting for the rest of our tour to come back from the grave, the bus driver and I passed our time by playing with the horses. We would give them a mint for a smile. These horses undoubtedly have the best smelling breath on the island. The photo below is one of my favorite from my trip traveling the Road the Hana in Maui in 2013.

Mints for a Smile in Maui

I have so many photos from the Road to Hana. It is impossible to pinpoint which mile market they were all taken at. I am going to share a few more of my favorites below. No mile marker info available. This is really the key to traveling the Road to Hana in Maui. Take your time, enjoy the views and soak in the experience.

You won’t regret it!

Views while traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

An arch over the ocean traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

Interested in reading more about my favorite place in the world? You can check out some of my other Hawaiian adventures here and here.

Why I Won’t Go Back to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

I try to stay positive on this blog. Most of my posts are about travel and travel is my happy place. So let’s face it, it isn’t hard to be positive. But, I feel it is necessary to state my true feelings about Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. Don’t get me wrong, it is one of the most beautiful parks I have been to.

There are sixteen beautiful lakes and waterfalls everywhere you look.

There is also a definite downside.

Let me explain…

Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia Background

Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Croatia. It was founded in 1949 and added to the UNESCO World Heritage register in 1979. The park is located in the karst area of central Croatia, at the border to Bosnia and Herzegovina. It extends over 73,000 acres and takes between three and four hours to hike through. Each year, more than one million visitors visit the park. It is located in a remote and poor part of Croatia that is still recovering from the war. Due to its remoteness, it is best to stay in the area for one night when visiting.

On Easter Sunday in 1991, the first shots of Croatia’s war with Yugoslavia were fired in the park. The first casualty of the war was a park policeman. Until 1995, the Serbs controlled the park. Virtually no tourists were allowed to visit which allowed the ecosystem to recover from the impact of so many visitors prior to 1991.

Arriving at the Park

We arrived to Plitvice Lakes National Park in the early afternoon after riding in the coach for a couple of hours. By the time we arrived, the lines at the entrance were already long and the park was really crowded.

We had to choose between two options when visiting the park.

  • We could skip the lower part of the park and walk along the rim with our tour director and look down at the views. This was the less strenuous option and would take a couple of hours to complete.
  • We could do a longer 3.5 hours hike with a park guide. This option would take us down by the waterfalls and lakes. It was much more strenuous.

I chose the second option.

The First Half of the Hike

To be honest, the hiking part wasn’t too bad until the end, when it was straight up a hill for a bit to get to our hotel. Were were warned that was the worst part.

The guides were wrong. That was not the worst part.

We got down to the bottom of the valley on our way to the big waterfalls and the path was a wooden platform two people wide. There were no railings and tons of people going both ways, with some visitors trying to push their way in front of other people. This part of the hike was terrifying for me and it lasted for about an hour and a half.

I could not pay attention to or enjoy the views around me because I wouldn’t let my eyes leave the platform. I am a klutz so I was afraid I would trip and fall if I looked up. If that wasn’t enough, I was always braced, ready to protect myself in case I was pushed, determined that I was not going into the water and if I was going in, I wasn’t going in alone. And in case you’re wondering, yes, people get pushed in. It happens a lot and happened to our guide a few weeks before we were there.

I had my DSLR camera and my phone with me. Right away, I wished I had left my good camera with my luggage on the bus (and would recommend you do it if you visit Plitvice Lakes National Park). I’m a good swimmer so I wasn’t worried about drowning if I fell into the lakes themselves because they were calm with no marine animals that would want to eat me. However, parts of the walk were directly over gushing waterfalls. There is no way I could survive a fall down those rushing waterfalls unscathed. My anxiety was off the charts.

We did make it down to the water falls without. We also made it back out. No one from our group fell in, hallelujah! A lot of patience was required along the way but we did it. The waterfalls were beautiful. The color of the lakes along the way was also amazing,. The color reminded me a lot of the color of the water in the Bahamas – a beautiful bright aqua blue.

The Second Half of the Hike

After an hour and a half or so of hiking and waterfall admiring, we reached the end of the wooden platform path. From there on, we were on real ground. Even though the path was still the same width, it made a huge difference to be on real ground. There were no lakes or waterfalls beneath us, only beside us. The path was gravel but smooth so I wasn’t so worried about tripping. The crowd was still thick but since there was only water on one side and rocks and walls on the other, we could all move over a bit.

I could relax and enjoy the experience a bit. It was much appreciated. The beautiful views continued. We saw some fish in the water along the way. There are a few ferries on one of the upper lakes but they are electric so they don’t pollute the water. As a result, the water was very clear, making it pretty easy to see fish.

The Hotel

I wish I could tell you we stayed in a plush hotel that I loved.

But I can’t.

The biggest problem? I was in a room at the end of the top floor with a sloped roof above me. I knew there might be a problem when I went to change my shirt before dinner and hit my hands on the ceiling when I lifted my arms up.

And then it was time to take a shower. The shower head was way too short for me since the tub bottom added several inches to the floor. So, I took a shower on my knees. I could handle that but then on top of it, there was no shower curtain. No matter how hard I tried to keep the water in the tub, it refused to obey and water went everywhere. At one point, I just stopped and started laughing. The whole situation was so ridiculous. It still makes me laugh today.

Luckily, we only stayed one night in this hotel. My mantra is that I can handle almost anything for one night. I did the best I could to get clean, got dressed and then dried up the bathroom as best I could before heading to bed.

I considered it a funny travel story that makes that hotel unforgettable.

My Conclusion about Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Looking back, I guess I am glad the park was part of our tour and that I was able to visit it. But I wish I had done tour option 1 – the hike around the top. According to those who did it, it was much less stressful.

I can say with certainty that I will not visit the valley area of Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia again unless they add railings and crowd control measures. We were there in September, which is a shoulder season for tourism in Croatia so it wasn’t as crowded as it is in July and August. I cannot imagine being there when it was more crowded and really hot on top of that. Where do all of the people go? There is no way anyone enjoys it.

My advice to you if you are going to visit the park is to go first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon after the crowds have dissipated a bit. And definitely try to go in April/ May or September/October when it “isn’t as crowded.” It is beautiful. I cannot dispute that. However, the crowds make it worth consider skipping.

Are you interested in reading more about my trip to Croatia and Slovenia? Check out two of my previous posts here and here.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Big Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia
If you look to the middle left of this photo, you can see people walking on the boardwalk along the cliff. It is two people wide with no railings and they’re about to walk over the rushing waterfalls. So scary!
Big Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park
The big waterfalls from the very bottom of the valley shown in the previous photo
Plitvice Lakes National Park waterfalls
Me…delirious from the walk to the bottom of the valley and a lack of sleep.
Plitvice Lakes
Scary but so beautiful. This is under the boardwalk. If I trip and fall or am pushed, I am going to end up at the bottom in that pool of water.
Beautiful colored water at Plitvice Lakes National Park
The water was so clear and bright blue.
Pretty water flowing in Plitvice Lakes National Park
So pretty
Pretty colored water and water falls. The perfect combination.
Pretty views and lots of people reflected in my sunglasses
I look like a giant in this shower!

Tips for Women Traveling Solo

Last Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to go to an event featuring a panel of solo travel experts. The event was held at the Away store in the Gold Coast Neighborhood here in Chicago. The purpose was for the panelists to share their tips for women traveling solo.

The panel included the following women, all of whom have traveled solo extensively and have lots of fun stories and recommendations to share.

  • Lori Rackl, a travel editor for the Chicago Tribune who moderated the discussion
  • Leanna Lee and Sofia Martin from Wanderful
  • Natalya Grabavoy, a Copywriter and Digital Strategist
  • Kehinde Smith, a Travel and Lifestyle Influencer.

Panel for tips for women traveling solo

I didn’t really know what to expect but the discussion was interesting and I learned a few things along the way. There were three items from the discussion that really resonated with me as a solo traveler. I thought I would share them with you here.

Three Tips for Women Traveling Solo

  • Travel with a door stop so you can stop doors from the inside. I do not stay in AirBnBs or VRBOs often when I travel solo because I always wonder who else has keys to the unit I am staying in. Staying in hotels with room doors that do not have a chain or deadbolt on the door also makes me nervous. I had never considered bringing a door stop so I could easily block the door from the inside until it was mentioned at this event. It would solve the problems for all of the above so I think this is a brilliant idea! A small rubber doorstop like this are easy to throw into a suitcase. They are cheap too! I know there are things to consider with this – like what if there is a fire and I need to escape quickly? But I think the risk of that is small compared to the risk of someone unwelcome entering the unit. I plan to use this the next time I travel because I think it will be a great way to ease my mind.
  • When staying at a hotel, make friends with hotel staff. Do the same with wait staff at restaurants. This is something else I hadn’t considered. I usually try to stay anonymous and incognito when I travel (and in Chicago too, likely the result of growing up in a small Iowa town where everyone knew me). But after listening to the conversation about this, I realize I have it all wrong. Making myself known to the hotel staff means they are more likely to look out for me. This could be especially helpful in places I may not be as comfortable in. They are likely to remember me going in and out. They also applied this getting to know people idea to the wait staff at restaurants. If you are approached by strangers (particularly creepy men), they can step in and help shoo them away if needed.
  • Experiencing moments of loneliness when traveling solo is normal. This happens to me from time to time for sure, especially when I am traveling on my own for more than three or four days. The key to getting past it is understanding that it is a temporary state that can probably be easily resolved. Things that I do to resolve it include:
    • Going for a walk outside, preferable along the beach if I am in a location with a beach nearby
    • Finding a bar or a restaurant with a bar in it and having a drink or some food. Food is a social event and sitting at a bar can be an easy way to find folks to talk to
    • Calling/FaceTiming my mom and dad or sister
    • Watching a show or listening to music that has fond memories associated with it

The moderator finished the panel part of the evening by asking the panelists what benefits they get out of traveling solo. I discussed the benefits from my perspective in a previous post but I liked some of their answers so I thought I would share some of them as well.

Benefits of Traveling Solo

  • Traveling solo highlights your strengths and it can also strengthen your weaknesses. Often when we travel in groups, we fall into roles – the navigator, the planner, the driver, the foodie who picks where everyone eats. When traveling solo, you have to assume all of those roles, even if you are not very good at them. It is a great way to practice and improve those skills.
  • Solo travel increases your confidence and you gain a sense of empowerment. This is one I also mentioned in my previous post about the benefits of traveling solo but I think it the most important benefit so I am mentioning it here too. I love knowing that I can analyze and think my way out of unplanned or difficult situations. I know I can make good decisions alone, even when under pressure.
  • Anxiety is common before leaving for a trip (this is a big issue for me) but once you get to your location, it all seems to fall away. There are sights to be seen, food to be eaten and people to meet. There is no time for anxiety to hold you back!
  • There are no apologies necessary. You have no one else to please or think about. You can choose to get a local experience or you can do all of the touristy stuff. Both are good options and you don’t have to worry about what anyone else wants or thinks.

As you can see, I learned several good tips for women traveling solo at this event. It was worth my time and I hope to attend more like it soon! Maybe someday, I can even be a panelist at one! If you travel solo (for work or leisure), what would be one tip you would give for women traveling solo? Tell me in the comments below!

Note 1: If you don’t know about Away bags, they are a great brand of suitcases. The suitcases come in lots of fun colors (see the photo below). I have the bigger carry on with the removable battery in violet and I love it! I know there is some confusion about these batteries on planes. I have to remove the battery from the suitcase before boarding. I put it in my backpack that goes under the seat in front of me and have not had any issues.

Away bags for tips for women traveling solo event

Note 2: I was recently featured in a post about female solo travelers on the blog A Not So Young Woman Abroad. You can find the post here! The article features other solo female travelers that you should check out as well!

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