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En español | Maui is a magnificent part of Hawaii, with wondrous beaches, posh resorts, lovely hula shows and Instagram-worthy coastlines. All that fun and gorgeousness can be expensive if you're not careful. But, as I've learned over more than 20 visits to Maui, there are many free and affordable ways to enjoy the island.
One thing to keep in mind is the time of year: Summer is pricey, thanks in part to so many families descending for a beach holiday while school's out. Winter is also expensive, with the arrival of flocks of snowbirds fleeing the cold. You're likely to pay less for your accommodations in spring and fall, and will almost certainly pay less for your flights and rental car.
More budget tips:
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Wise visitors to Maui make their first stop the giant Costco that's just a mile or so from the airport in Kahului. If you're renting a place with a kitchen, it's a great place to stock up on fresh produce and other groceries (you'll pay a fortune at small specialty shops in the tourist zones, so it's well worth it). It's also a key money-saving spot for wine, liquor, snorkel gear and Hawaiian shirts or flip-flops.
The splashy hotel luaus are very good, and they usually include tasty food and lovely performances by both men and women dancers, as well as fire juggling or other acts. But they can be expensive; you'll pay $125 per adult for the popular Old Lahaina Luau, for instance. Save a bundle by taking advantage of free shows at major resorts and at one of the island's small shopping centers.
The Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa on Ka'anapali Beach has a nightly cliff dive ceremony at sunset, where a young man in a loincloth dashes about lighting the tiki torches, then proceeds out to a high point of lava rock arching out over the water and dives headfirst into the ocean. Touristy, sure, but lots of fun. And free to watch.
The Ka'anapali Beach Hotel, which bills itself as the “most Hawaiian” hotel on the island, has free nightly music and dance performances at a small outdoor stage. It's especially fun when the little kids perform, and anyone can go, even nonguests. The Lahaina Cannery Mall also has regular, free hula shows, and sometimes free hula lessons.
Up at the Napili Kai Beach Resort on beautiful Napili Beach, multiple-Grammy-winning slack key guitar player George Kahumoku Jr. regales audiences with wild stories and virtuoso guitar performances with different artists, as well as hula dancing. The shows run every Wednesday night, and admission is $37.99.
The aforementioned Ka'anapali Beach Hotel is one of the less expensive options on a three-mile beach that offers stunning sunsets and all kinds of water sports. It offers free ukelele and lei-making lessons, as well as other cultural programs. The owners also run the Plantation Inn in the fun and funky town of Lahaina. It has simple but nice rooms and a small pool, and is just a two-minute walk from great shopping and restaurants. Guests at the inn can use the facilities at the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel for free.
In the Maui capital of Wailuku, the Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono is a fine B&B that's known for tidy rooms and a wonderful Hawaiian-style breakfast. Down in Hana, the Hana Kai Maui resort has condo-style units for reasonable prices, some of them with ocean views.
Wailea hotels tend to be quite expensive, but the Kihei area nearby is more affordable, albeit sometimes windy.
A home rental is always a good option, as are condos or condo-style units where you can make your own breakfast, lunch or dinner. Be sure to look for a place with a grill, as there are few things better in the world than grilling your dinner over an open flame with a Hawaiian cocktail in your hand and the sun setting over the ocean.
In general, avoid the oceanside spots and resorts and stick to the small shopping plazas in Kahana or Kihei, where the locals go. You'll also save if you head to Haiku, Wailuku or the cowboy town of Makawao. Almost any town or village in Hawaii will have a place or two offering what's called a mixed plate: usually beef or chicken with rice (sometimes two scoops), macaroni salad or potato salad, and poi. The carb load is outrageous, but it's usually not expensive (they're $12 to $18 at Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina, for example) and always filling.
In the Wailea area, try Maui Tacos at the Kamaole Beach Center shopping area. There's also 808 Deli, which features what some call the best sandwiches on the island. You'll often find food trucks down the road at beautiful Makena Beach, just south of Wailea. Sam Sato's is a legendary spot for good, filling, simple meals in an industrial area of Wailuku. It'll win no awards for decor but offers great value for folks on a budget.
More good deals: Just south of Lahaina, stop at Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop for tasty meat pies and other treats. In Kaanapali, CJ's Deli & Diner has breakfast servings big enough for an NFL offensive lineman and a huge variety of dishes on the menu. And just north of Hana, try Nahiku Marketplace (a collection of super-casual shops in a jungle setting at the side of the road) for Thai food.
Big courses such as Wailea or Kapalua can cost $150 or even $225. But there are several nice, inexpensive golf courses on Maui, including Pukalani Country Club in upcountry Maui and the Waiehu Municipal Course, which is said to have more holes along the ocean than any other course on the island. Greens fees at Waiehu, which is run by Maui County, are just $63 for nonresidents on weekends and $58 for nonresidents on weekdays. Look for twilight rates, too. If you need to play one of the better-known courses, look for a multiday pass as a way to save.