Nothing propels me into action faster than getting an email on December 1, telling me, “Your Companion Fare Coupon will expire December 31.” I quickly informed my husband I had selected him as my traveling companion and we were off to Maui for a week.But with little advanced planning, we needed to figure out how to do Maui on a budget.
Why Maui? A quick internet search gave me a great off-season fare, so I had no choice but to pack my shorts and take off with my favorite companion in search of a vacation on Maui on a budget.
I’m happy to report it is possible to visit Hawaii without spending a fortune. A few minutes on Priceline got us a rental car for $18 a day. Upon arriving at the airport, we stopped at the nearby Costco for a couple of steaks and some marinated salmon to cook at our condo. And a fresh pineapple of course!
Where to Stay on Maui on a Budget
Our two bedroom condo at the El Dorado Outrigger had everything we needed, from the comfy bed to the sharp knife to cut our pineapple. We loved having a three mile boardwalk right in front of the condo for early morning walks. Even though we don’t play golf, we felt very upscale as our condo overlooked the golf course and the beach.
Usually we are the type of travelers who race to see everything in our surrounding area, but the condo lured us to stay and relax. We used the internet to send lame text messages to friends, such as, “Here today, gone to Maui” and listened to complaints from our daughters about why we didn’t take them along. With three swimming pools and oceanfront cabanas, we decided to stay put for a day.
Free or Cheap Things to Do in Maui
Here are some of the free or very low cost activities we enjoyed on Maui:
Snorkeling. Any of the free guidebooks offer coupons for snorkeling gear. With our handy coupon, we got two complete sets of fins and masks for $9 for the week. Since the beach by the El Dorado Outrigger offered great reefs, we simply took a short walk to a snorkeling area known as the home of a giant turtle named Volkswagen. Volkswagen provided free entertainment as he swam within five feet of us.
Lahaina. A short drive to Lahaina gave us an entire evening of fun. Every Friday there is a citywide art walk and we were fortunate to be there for the extra-special “Second Friday” event. Stores in Lahaina stay open late, artists meet with customers in their studios while locals and tourists stroll along. Instead of going to an organized (and sometimes pricey) luau, we watched dancers and singers perform for free. Several groups had traditional Hawaiian meals, which sold at a fraction of the cost of a luau organized for tourists. The city has a “funky” feel which adds to the enjoyment of meandering.
Lahaina is known for its giant Banyan tree, which spans about 200 feet in length and shades nearly 2/3 of an acre. We saw the tree covered in Christmas lights, but it is worth a visit any time of year. On weekends, local craftspeople sell their wares underneath the tree.
Hana Highway. Feeling adventurous, we packed a picnic lunch and headed to the infamous Hana Highway, known for its 60 bridges and 300 hairpin turns. If you get queasy on road trips, you might want to forgo this drive. Our free map gave directions on where to park for attractions along the way. Stopping to hike through bamboo forests or seeing waterfalls gave us a break from the beautiful and windy road.
Torch lighting on the beach. The Sheraton Maui Resort was next to our condo so we wandered over several evenings to watch the Hawaiian tradition of a sunset torch lighting ceremony with cliff divers of Black Rock. Cost? Free!
Wainapanapo State Park. This was our favorite stop on the Hana Highway. (Aren’t you glad “Wainapanapo” isn’t one of your kid’s spelling words?) The beach hike on a trail covered with jet black volcanic obsidian sand, along with waves crashing into blowholes was the highlight of our Maui visit. Free entrance to the park!
Heritage Gardens in the ‘Iao Valley. The gardens offer statues, buildings, bridges and streams in various cultural sections, honoring immigrants coming to Maui. It’s a beautiful and educational place to stretch your legs before your next stop.
‘Iao Valley State Monument. A few miles up the road, you’ll need to pay a $5 parking fee at the entrance to the monument. I gasped when I saw “The Needle,” thinking we would have to climb the “phallic” monument. (The guidebook’s term, not mine!) Don’t worry, the actual green mantled outcropping (another guidebook term!) doesn’t require any strenuous hikes. Picture a giant 1,200 foot hot dog bun covered in leaves, ivy and vines. It’s great to look at with no worries about a strenuous hike.
Maui Tropical Plantation. This working plantation offers a chance to walk through landscaped gardens. Sure, you can pay to take a narrated tram ride through the fields, but we meandered the gardens on our own. One family with three young children had a great time letting the kids follow the trails and feed ducks in the pond. For big-spenders, a zip line and restaurant are also available. Allan and I enjoyed our sack lunch!
Stopping for a few basic supplies at a local Safeway and checking for events in free tourist guides, helped us truly enjoy Hawaii on a budget. OK, we didn’t have romantic seven course dinners at a fancy restaurant, but we had a great picnic lunch with salads from Whole Foods while sitting on a deserted beach. We checked out free Hula demonstrations at a shopping mall, listened to traditional singers while walking the boardwalk and just missed a free Hawaiian Moonlight concert in Wailuku. And we continued to let our daughters know what a great time we were having!
Silvana Clark is a regular guest author for TravelingMom.com. She is Silvana has published numerous travel related articles in magazines and books. Her book, “301 Bright Ideas For Busy Kids” includes an extensive chapter on family travel. She wrote this story and took the photos.