If you look up the word “paradise” in the dictionary, you’ll see a photo of Maui. Thanks to its stunning views, rugged drives, hidden waterfalls, sandy, white beaches, and cool, blue waters, Maui is a vacation destination that’s worth the trip.
But like most tropical hot spots that attract loads of tourists, it’s also a vacation that can easily break the bank.
That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide for the best places to sleep, eat, and sight see in Maui – without blowing your budget.
Where to Stay in Maui
Who needs a 5-star resort, when you can literally sleep under the stars and listen to the calming lap of waves on the shore? If you love nature and the outdoors, there’s no better (and cheaper) way to stay on the island than camping. Here are three great spots to pop your tent.
- Kanaha Beach Park. Near the Maui Kahului Airport, this park’s amenities include drinking water, picnic tables, BBQ pits, chemical toilets, and outdoor showers. The park also includes a beach, lifeguards, phones, and volleyball courts. The facilities are for 15-20 campers and a maximum three-day stay rule is enforced.
- Haleakala National Park Camping. Hosmer Grove Campground is found just below the summit of Haleakala at 7,000 feet. Its location in the cloud belt means night time temperatures will be in the 30s while day time temperatures will reach 50-65 degrees. You should plan for rain during your stay. No permit is needed and water is available here, as well as toilets, BBQs, and some picnic tables. Because this campground is located at a higher altitude, be sure to drink lots of water and walk slowly as you adjust. In my experience, the altitude can leave you feeling quite odd.
- Kapahulu Campground. This site offers stunning cliff top views of the coast, which make up for the lack of amenities found here. The campground only offers toilets, BBQ grills, and tables at some camp sites. A permit is required. Insect repellent is a necessity and you must bring your own water in. The nearest store is a ten mile drive. Visitors are allowed to stay at each camp ground for three nights per month.
Insider Tip: Be certain to check before arriving on Maui if a permit is required for your camp ground. Some require permits and others don’t. Some permits must be approved before arrival.
Forget pricey hotels. Condominiums generally offer more space, a full kitchen, high-speed Internet, and many times even an ocean view – all for less than half the price of a hotel. And with the kitchen, you can cook some of your own meals, saving even more money.
- Lokilani Oceanfront Condominiums. Located in West Maui between Kaanapali and Kapalua, these condos are within 50 feet of the ocean and have beautiful ocean views. They offer a variety of condominium choices with multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, and lanais facing gorgeous sunset ocean views. Prices start at $129 a night and this includes a full kitchen and high-speed Internet. They’re located at 3833 Lower Honoapiilani Rd. For reservations, call 1-866-303-MAUI.
- Makai Inn. Offering oceanfront condos with kitchens in Lahaina, these are a good deal at $100 a night. Lahaina is a bit more touristy than other parts of Maui, so keep that in mind as you search.
- Sugar Beach Apartments. In South Maui, these are new units that offer a one bedroom (sleeps two people) with a lanai five minutes to the beach for just $95 a night in May and October. Regular price is $110 a night from May through Dec with a 7-night minimum. The unit is 500 sq. ft. and offers a kitchen, washer/dryer, and high-speed Internet. As a bonus, you’re provided snorkel gear, boogie boards, beach chairs, and a BBQ, as well as off-street parking. For information and reservations for Sugar Beach Apartments contact 4star-mauirentals.com. You will see videos on their website.
Cheap Restaurants to Eat at
This is one of the biggest challenges visitors face on Maui. Food is very expensive, especially at the tourist hot spots. For those on a budget, ethnic and local food will be your best bargain while on Maui.
- Pho Saigon 808 is a favorite of mine. They offer Vietnamese food and can be found on Front St. in Lahaina in a shopping plaza on the main strip. This is a family owned establishment and provides excellent food and service. Open daily, 11-9 pm.
- CJ’s Deli and Diner offers lunch starting at $7.75 and up, which is a steal on Maui. CJ’s offers burgers, ribs, salads, sandwiches, and local treats such as coconut prawns and fish. They also offer locally made desserts such as Hana Sundaes. They’re located at 2580 Kekaa Drive off Honoapiilani Rd.
- Sunrise Café is a small outdoor bistro in Lahaina that offers sandwiches, bagels, and smoothies. They only accept cash, however. They are located at 693 N Front Street.
- Fish Market Maui offers fresh caught fish. Meal choices include sandwiches, fish, or Kailua pork tacos, salads, and chowders. Meals start at $9.99 to $12.99. They also offer a lobster, Mahi, or Ahi salad for $12.99, while a 16 oz. lobster or shrimp chowder goes for $6.99. Fish Market Maui is located at 3600 Lower Honopiilani Rd. in Kaanapali. Open daily, 11-7 pm.
Things to Do in Maui
The more you can focus on free and cheap in Maui, the better it’s going to be for your budget. Plan your trip activities around the natural beauty of the island. Consider island hikes, beach days, and a visit to Haleakala National Park. Make a date to go snorkeling or kayaking. Start with these great day trips and drives.
Day Trips and Drives
1. Drive over the Top of West Maui
Most visitors make the Road to Hana drive, which is extremely well-known. But for my time and money, I’d opt for the drive over the top end of the island with less traffic, gorgeous scenery, and excellent beaches. Keep in mind that this drive is not for the faint of heart. The drive offers cliff top views and hairpin turns, and thus requires living in the moment. The road has blind curves, and is often very narrow. At one point, the road narrows to one lane with pull outs for other cars to pass. One of those is going into and out of Kahakuloa (a tiny village with a charming church overlooking the sea) so you need to drive extremely carefully. It’s recommended to make the drive from west to east, in a clockwise direction – the sights are said to be more beautiful from this direction.
On this drive, don’t miss the following stops:
- Mokule’ia Bay. This beach is also called Slaughter House Beach. Despite its unappealing name, it’s a worthy stop. Mokule’ia Bay received its unflattering name when a slaughterhouse was operated on the cliff overlooking the beach in the 1960s. Today, all that remains is a beautiful beach that is accessible from concrete steps down to the beach walkway. On my visit, there were few tourists, and I experienced the wild waves that Hawaiian beaches are well-known for. This is not a swimming beach, as only an experienced surfer could handle the waves and undertow that I watched. The wild beauty and rocky cliff make this a great stop off on your Maui vacation.
- Nakalele Blowhole. Here you’ll see some of Maui’s rocky lava alongside a breathtaking view. The water that you see shooting from the blowhole varies. Guide books mention it can shoot as high as seventy feet in the air.
- Panini Pua Kea Fruit Stand. This little fruit and snack stand found outside Kahakuloa feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere. You will see it as you’re passing a large pull off and you can easily drive right into the large parking lot. It’s a great break from the intense driving, but more importantly, the stand offers exceptional homemade cookies and banana bread, as well as the best cranberry oatmeal cookies I’ve ever tasted. And of course, there’s a wonderful view of the ocean.
- View down to Kahakuloa. This is one of the most beautiful views on Maui. The tiny village of Kahakuloa is in the midst of a lush green valley and surrounded by cliffs. The view of the valley and tiny church from above is one that I will never forget.
2. The Road to Hana
This well-known drive is 52 miles long and offers 600 curves. The road can be crowded at times with visitors, but there is a great GPS style virtual tour guide that visitors can rent and listen to as they drive. This offers highlights on all the sites of the Road to Hana.
On this drive, don’t miss the following stops:
- Haipua’ ena Falls. At mile marker 11, this waterfall is tucked into a cliff with lush vegetation surrounding it. It can’t be seen from the road, so you have to hike a short 100 yards to view it.
- Upper Waikani Falls (The Three Bears Falls). This series of three waterfalls (depending on water flow) is found on the Hana Highway right after mile marker 19. If the water flow is strong enough, the falls will appear as one large fall. It’s worth a stop for photos. A turnout area is available for parking.
- Wailua Falls. This 80-foot cascading waterfall is found at mile marker 45 on the Hana Highway. You can see the waterfall from the road, so no hiking is required. If you do choose to hike to it, there is a pool at the bottom of the waterfall.
3. Haleakala National Park Day Trip
Haleakala National Park is home to one of the largest dormant volcanoes in the world. With its hiking trails, beautiful views, and camping, this park is a great place to hike and explore. Entrance to the park is $10 per vehicle and the pass is good for three days of admission. Seniors can get an Interagency Lifetime Pass which makes entrance to the park $10 and allows three companions free admission. Handicapped individuals can get an Interagency Access Pass which gives them admission to the park for $3 and admits three other passengers.
Hiking Spots around Maui
Another great (and free) way to spend the day is on the various hiking trails throughout Maui. Strap on your boots (don’t forget the bug spray!) and check out these two great spots.
- Redwood Trail is a moderate 1.7 mile hiking trail for walking and biking. The trail goes through mountain and forest areas. Bring mosquito repellent and drinking water. The trail starts at Polipoli Springs State Recreation Area, and the end of this trail is also the start of two other hikes: the Plum Trail and the Boundary Trail.
- Iao Valley State Park offers paved trails and exceptional views. You can visit the Iao Needle by walking an easy 0.6 mile paved walkway. This lush emerald peak is a sacred Hawaiian site. Admission is $5 per car and the park is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Maui’s Best Beaches
Let your worries wash away with the sound of the waves, as you relax on a sandy expanse of beach or take a dip in the refreshing waters. And did I mention, it’s free? Here are four great beaches – three for beach bums, and one for serious surfers.
- Kaanapali Beach (West Maui). This gorgeous and popular beach is easily accessible. It’s located within walking distance of the Kaanapali hotels and offers restrooms. Black Rock, found on the northern portion of Kaanapali beach, is a great snorkeling area. Historically, this was a sacred spot to native Hawaiians. They believed this area was the jumping off point for souls going into spirit.
- Makena Beach State Park or Big Beach (South Maui). This aptly named beach is one of Maui’s best. The long half-moon shape and white sand make it a relaxing destination, while the great waves make it perfect for boogie boarding. It’s a family friendly beach offering restrooms and shady areas, but no drinking water. Open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., admission is $5 per car or $1 per person.
- Hamoa Beach (East Maui). This long crescent-shaped beach surrounded by cliffs offers excellent swimming, body surfing and snorkeling. It also has restrooms, showers, and picnic tables, but no lifeguards. It was named one of America’s best beaches in 2006 and author James Michener called Hamoa Beach the most beautiful beach in the Pacific.
Catching a Wave on Maui
- Hookipa Beach Park (East Maui). The wind on this cliff-lined beach provides exceptional windsurfing and surfing conditions. The beach also offers safe viewing and great photo opportunities of professional wind surfers on the water. Professional competitions take place on this beach annually. There are picnic tables and restrooms.
Free or Cheap Attractions
Take the whole family on these eight cool tours and destinations, for just a few bucks (or no money at all). They can also be educational, but don’t tell the kids that!
- Ke’anae Arboretum. This six acre arboretum contains over 150 varieties of tropical plants, trees, and flowers. Admission is free and visitors should bring insect repellent. Hours of operation are dawn to dusk.
- Lahaina Historical Trail. This self-guided free tour takes you to sites related to the Maui Whaling industry of the 1800s and highlights 62 historical landmarks in Maui’s whaling history.
- Ali’i Lavender Farm. This lavender farm is located on the slopes of Haleakala and produces more than 45 kinds of lavender. The farm is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and admission is free. Walking tours are available for a fee. The farm offers an onsite gift shop where lavender products are for sale. Visitors can also try lavender tea and scones during their visit.
- Dragon’s Teeth. Found at Makalua-puna Point in Kapalua on the northwest shore of Maui, this unique site was formed by lava that hardened, creating a shape resembling giant dragon’s teeth (hence the name).
- The Banyan Tree. This ancient tree takes up an entire block of Lahaina. It’s beautiful and is a must visit spot for family photos.
- Bailey House Museum. This Hawaiian museum located in Wailuku is home to paintings, artifacts, and cultural history of 19th century Hawaii. Adult admission is $7 and children ages 7 to 12 are $2. Children 6 and under are free.
- Kulu Botanical Garden. This botanical garden offers visitors a beautiful view of the west Maui Mountains. Within the garden are waterfalls, rock formations, an aviary, and a Koi pond. The grounds also offer a picnic area. Kulu Botanical Garden is located in the town of Kula. Adult admission is $10, children ages 6 to 12 are $3, and children under 6 are free.
- Surfing Goat Dairy. This Goat Farm and Dairy offers a chance to hand milk goats as well as feed them. Visitors will learn how goat cheese is made and children will receive a commemorative ribbon for participation in the daily tour. Tours are offered Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday at 9 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. The tour costs $15 for adults and $12 for children. Surfing Goat Dairy has won numerous awards for its cheeses. They can be purchased on site.
Maui Travel Deals
Airfare can be expensive, but you can usually find a good deal into Maui. For example, as of this writing, CheapOair is offering flight deals starting at $440 on Continental and United out of San Diego, and $861 on US Air from Chicago. Hawaiian Airlines is offering flights out of Seattle for as low as $548. As for car rentals, Hotwire.com deals come in at $130.75 for a one week Maui rental through Enterprise for a Chevrolet Aveo.
Maui is a dream destination for many travelers. Research Maui before you depart and decide what you most want to see. Taking the time to plan ahead, while determining what your Maui priorities are will help keep your vacation affordable. A little legwork combined with these insider tips and deals can make your Maui vacation fun, relaxing, and most importantly, budget-friendly.
Have you ever been to Maui? What were some of your favorite activities and what did you do to keep costs down?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)