Not all tropical islands are created equal. In fact, according to TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Islands awards, one island puts all others to shame. This year, that island is Maui — and we can’t say we’re surprised. Since the 1960’s, Hawaii has been America’s ultimate getaway, and it’s no wonder we’re obsessed. With spots like Oahu’s North Shore and the Na Pali Coast, you’d be hard-pressed to find fault with the state’s natural beauty.

But Maui is the archipelago’s crown jewel. The island’s beaches, hikes and endless activities are a wanderlust dream made real.

Below, 12 reasons Maui is a must. (As if you need that many.)

Magic Molokini

This crescent moon-shaped islet is one of Hawaii’s most recognizable snorkel spots — and one of the most magical. Sea creatures congregate in the calm waters within the crater, and the rocky sides protect from unpredictable wave action. With thriving corals, colorful schools of fish, sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals and even sharks, a day spent here will leave you in starry-eyed awe.


 The Road to Hana

The ridiculously picturesque Hana Highway winds all the way down the Northeast coast of Maui. The day-long road trip is all about the journey, with waterfalls around every turn and endless views of ocean and rainforest on either side.


 Haleakala Sunrises

So you think you’ve seen a sunrise? Sorry to burst your bubble, but Haleakala is here to prove you wrong. The shield volcano, whose name means “House of the Sun,” provides a summit sunrise view like no other. Haleakala National Park is home to a number of threatened species, and the site holds a special significance for native Hawaiians. It’s one of Maui’s most popular destinations.


Technicolor Sand

When you picture a beach in Hawaii, white sand always comes to mind. But on Maui, you can sink your toes into black and red sand as well. The black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park (pictured above) is a beautiful detour off the Hana Highway.


 Stunning Waterfalls

Wailua Falls is nature’s equivalent of a drive-in theater. It’s located just off the Hana highway, so getting there is as simple as parking your car and walking a few yards. And the view is well worth the minimal effort.


 Wildlife Galore

We’re convinced that these are the luckiest paddle boarders ever, but run-ins with wildlife are fairly common in Hawaiian waters. The channel that runs between Maui and Molokai is a popular spot for humpback whales during the winter months. Take a whale-watching tour to get a close glimpse of the majestic creatures. Seeing them in real life is an experience you won’t soon forget.


 Remarkable Ruins

As photographer Daniel Sullivan knows from hiking the coast for days on end, Maui’s shoreline is ever-changing and always beautiful. The island’s coast is still home to historic ruins left by the ancient Hawaiians, known as “The King’s Highway.” The abandoned trade route once circumnavigated the island.


Forces of Nature

Jaws, a powerful big-wave surf spot on the North Shore of Maui, brings out the most courageous surfers from all corners of the globe. Sometimes they make riding the waves look easy. Other times, the ocean gets the best of them. But watching safely from shore is enough to get your adrenaline pumping.


 Bamboo Bliss

The Pipiwai Trail at the end of the Hana Highway is hands down one of Maui’s best hikes. The well-kept trail will take you over rocky streams, through dense bamboo forest and ultimately to strikingly beautiful Waimoku Falls. Do yourself a favor and GO.


 Not-So-Secret Beaches

Maui’s Pa’ako Cove (pictured above) and Paʻia Beach, have both been dubbed “Secret,” but the cat’s definitely out of the bag. These popular beaches are filled with towering palm trees and super soft white sand.


 Kula Lavender

Visitors to Maui are often surprised to find fields of purple lavender on a tropical island. Kula County’s lavender farms are perched on the slopes of Mount Haleakala, and though lavender is not native to the island, it has adapted well to the unique climate of upcountry Maui.


 The Aloha Spirit

Maui may be a world-renowned travel destination, but it still feels a lot like a small town. “It’s a slower pace of life here…You don’t encounter things like road rage or people always in a rush. Here you’ll find what’s called the ‘Aloha Spirit,’” wrote HuffPost blogger Kimanzi Constable about moving to Maui. Aloha is a greeting, an expression of love and a connection to nature. It’s a way of life found only in Hawaii.

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