There are two different ways to go whale watching on Maui: Stand on shore with a pair of binoculars and hope you see a splash, or join in a Maui whale watching tour for one of the best shows on Earth.

There’s really no comparison between the two, which is why a Maui whale watching tour should be atop any visitor’s list when traveling to Maui in winter. You’ll learn the tale of their epic journey from Alaskan to tropical waters and experience their awesome power firsthand when they spy hop, breach and playfully slap their enormous, 15 ft. fins.

That said, there are a lot of different options to choose from for whale watching tours on Maui, and each of them have their different benefits depending on the needs of your group. By looking at the following companies below, you can not only find some of the best options for Maui whale watching tours but also determine which is a fit for the most memorable day of your trip.

Pacific Whale Foundation

As the name implies, this Maui non-profit is firmly dedicated to watching and researching whales. Their diesel catamarans can hold 120 people, and they also have a sailing catamaran that departs from Lahaina and Maʻalaea Harbors. Virtually all of the crew are actively involved in researching Humpback whales, and it’s the membership and merchandise wing of the business that helps to raise funds for education and Humpback conservation. Cruises begin at $39 and each paying adult gets complimentary admission for a child up to age 12.

Trilogy Excursions

With their sparkling fleet of sailing catamarans and departures from multiple harbors, Trilogy Excursions is Maui’s most recognized name in ocean tourism. They’ve been welcoming guests since 1973 and offer Maui whale watching tours from Ma‘alaea Harbor, Lahaina Harbor and Kā‘anapali Beach. Pricing is $59 for adults and $30 for children.

Pride of Maui

Operating out of Ma‘alaea Harbor, Pride of Maui is a diesel catamaran that combines the chance to go snorkeling and whale watching on the same 2-hour tour. You aren’t exclusively focused on whales, but you do get the chance to combine activities if you’re on a budget or time crunch. Adult prices are $48 and $36 for children.

Ultimate Whale Watch and Snorkel

While some of the larger diesel catamarans have the benefit of being very stable, the smaller, zippier inflatable rafts get you closer to the water and allow you to search a larger area for whales. One of those rafts is Ultimate Whale Watch, which operates out of Lahaina Harbor and focuses on personalized, small-group experiences with only around 20 guests. Because these rafts are so bouncy and fast, they aren’t for women who might be pregnant or anyone with back or neck issues, but for everyone else it’s an adventurous trip that puts you within inches of the water.

Redline Rafting

If you find yourself staying in South Maui around Kihei, Makena, or Wailea, Redline Rafting is another option for visitors seeking some high-speed whale watching adventure. The inflatabe raft puts you close to the water, though it’s not recommended for travelers with back problems or children under 8 years old. What’s nice about Redline Rafting is the fact that the raft actually has a bathroom, and that it conveniently departs out of Kihei Boat Ramp within minutes of dozens of South Kihei condos. Adult price: $45.

Kai Kanani Sailing Charters

If you want the convenience of a South Maui boat — but also the stability of a catamaran — Kai Kanani is a luxurious yacht that leaves from Makena’s Maluaka Beach. The whale watches last for over three hours and also feature complimentary shuttles from many Wailea resorts. At $75 the price point is higher than budget and family options, but it’s worth the cost for the added convenience and additional tropical comforts.

Gung Ho

If you’d rather have a private excursion, Gung Ho is a 36 ft. sailboat that can accommodate groups of up to six people and sails out of Lahaina Harbor. You can charter the boat for $250/hour and also learn a bit about sailing while keeping your eyes peeled for whales.

Hawaiian Paddle Sports

Finally, for a unique, early morning Maui excursion and front row view to the whales, consider joining a paddling tour with the team at Hawaiian Paddle Sports. They offer kayak, paddleboard and outrigger canoe tours, and while they still adhere to the mandated limits of keeping a 100-yard distance, the whales will sometimes choose to swim closer — even right under the boat.

Note about Hawaiian Paddle Sports: an eco tour company called travel2change offers lower rate Hawaiian Paddle Sports adventures in exchange for volunteering a portion of your time to making Maui a better place!