So you’re ready to go to Hawaii, and you’ve managed to decide on an island, even- Maui. It’s nicknamed “The Valley Island”, and it has everything you need for a tropical getaway. You just have to know where to find it all.
Now that I’ve been able to explore Maui three times, I can tell you what an outsider has learned about this slice of paradise. Budgets of any kind can afford an amazing Hawaiian adventure on this gorgeous island. I’ve been there 3 times, and I’ve loved every minute I’ve been able to spend there.
WHEN TO GO:
It really is pretty much perfect weather most of the time in Hawaii, although that’s never guaranteed. The rainy season occurs during winter, although I’ve gone any time between January and late March, and have only experienced a few rainy days where you couldn’t go outside because it was pouring. The last time I went it was in March and it was really hot every day, usually over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I’d never experienced that before, and it made swimming more enjoyable (the water felt good) but hiking was a sweaty mess (totally worth it, though).
WHERE TO STAY:
Fancy resorts, vacation rental cottages, and hotel options abound in Maui. I like to be centrally located on any of the Hawaiian islands, so I aim for Kihei in Maui. It’s a growing community with access to grocery stores, gas stations, an amazing breakfast spot (see below), and a flea market for souvenirs.
Kahului is the “main” town, which is where you’ll fly into and where you’ll find the only Walmart on the island, but most of the hotels that I can afford in this town are pretty worn out. Also, there’s a lot of traffic and people, and no beach- just a harbor.
On the other side of the West Maui Mountains, where a lot of people stay in Ka’anapali resorts, the beach access is hard to beat. The swimming is easy and there are plenty of restaurants and shops nearby. The parking for those who are not resort guests is a little frustrating, so that’s another perk of staying here.
My main reason for not choosing this area is that it can take up a lot of your time, because you’ll be driving across the island to get to the volcano or the jungle areas. The traffic is unpredictable and can be a time-waster, since everyone is on island time. For Type A people like myself (unfortunately) it gets annoying- I’d rather be sitting on the beach than stuck in traffic, even in Hawaii.
I use VRBO to find rentals in Kihei. If you go to Hana, there’s an amazing cottage owned by a guy named Tom who is awesome.
WHAT TO EAT:
My philosophy is simple- I made it to Hawaii, which is a 10 hour journey on an expensive plane ride, so I am willing to spend some money on food. I unfortunately do have a limited budget. What to do?
First, some food tricks before I tell which restaurants are worth the big bucks for fresh fish. Also, pineapple and coconut are classic and delicious, but search for lilikoi (passionfruit), taro or poi bread (like a purple sweet potato, it takes great), and guava nectar on menus. They know how to make these tropical flavors shine on the islands!
1. Breakfast: Splurge at least twice at Kihei Caffe because it’s amazing. You can get 2 or 3 entrees for 4 people to save some money. Just make sure you bring cash or use their ATM.
To save money on your week-long (or longer) stay, try to stay at a place where you have at least a mini-fridge, get some milk, cereal, and fresh Hawaiian fruit and eat that every morning. We stayed at a condo that had a coffee maker, so I bought a bag of coffee and saved some money by not buying a cup each day. Plus, I could make it STRONG!
2. Lunch: There are some outstanding food trucks in random places. There’s usually a few great ones near Makena beach, and last time we found one in Hana. I’ve also seem some random ones in Kihei. They’re cheaper than restaurants and pile on the food so you can share if you’re not that hungry.
Stopping in an ABC store or grocery store and buying a few items from the deli section is also much cheaper than going to a sit-down restaurant.
3. Dinner/Supper: This is where I prefer to splurge, although if you need to save some money then I recommend pizza in Lahaina or elsewhere, since you can split that between several people.
I recommend Duke’s for the fresh fish selection (macadamia nut crusted is so good) and Hula Grill for the fresh fruit and desserts, both in Ka’anapali. They have a plenty of surfing style and traditional Hawaiian ingredients.Three’s Bar and Grill in Kihei has excellent drinks and healthy entrees with a California-vibe in their open air dining room.
The Hana Ranch Restaurant in Hana is one of the few places to eat in the small town, and luckily the food is great. You can eat inside or outside, with full entree options that are always welcome after a long day of winding into Hana.
WHAT TO SEE:
This is the hardest part to write, because there seems to be an endless amount of things to do! I’ll just have to dive in.
Ocean life: If you stay in Kihei like I did, there’s a Snorkel Bob’s in town (there are also locations in Wailea and Lahaina) where you can rent snorkeling gear and boogie boards for the week at low prices. When you’re done, just drop off the gear at any time of the day at any location.
While you’re there, they do have deals on whale-watching boat rides. I’ve done the Redline Rafting whale watching and it was really affordable ($45/person at the time) and fun! Good snorkel spots I’ve tried were at mile marker 14 on Hwy 30 near Olowalu and by the black rock in Ka’anapali. Fair warning, there are sea urchins in these waters and if you step on them, it hurts a lot (speaking from experience in Oahu years ago). I did learn to dissolve the needles with acid, so I soaked my foot in vinegar for a few days!
Also, I’m relatively fit and snorkeling was hard for me. I didn’t always wear my flippers and I should have. Don’t let it happen to you! The way you breathe with the mask and tube also felt weird to me, like hyperventilating. Once I relaxed, it was amazing.
Volcano: One of the coolest areas in Maui (literally, it gets cold up there), the drive up Haleakala is amazing. It’s also long and winds around and around, so take your time and avoid getting carsick. You can stop in Upcountry on the way up, and visit my favorite spot- Ali’i Kula Lavender farm.
It’s free to wander the landscaped gardens and their gift shop has fabulous tea, coffee, and scones. This stop will also help acclimate you to the higher elevation. Once you’re done, drive up to the top and if you get a clear day, you’ll see the Big Island and Molokai, Lanai, and Kaho’olawe. Just standing 10,000 feet above sea level and staring at a Mars-like landscape is a truly unique experience.
Hana: The road to Hana actually terrifies me. I stressed out a lot about driving it, and my worst fear happened when a truck came barreling through and scraped our rental car (he was not a local driver; the damage was minimal and covered by my credit card; and no one got hurt, although he didn’t even stop). It also poured torrential rain and made it very difficult to see for the second half of the journey.
All that said, Hana is worth the drive. It’s a gorgeous drive too, it’s just the very narrow and windy road that makes is challenging. There are bamboo forests and waterfalls, red and black sand beaches, and quiet starry nights waiting though, so don’t pass it up!We had a disposable cooler and ice with plenty of water, and then picked up a picnic lunch in Paia town.
I like to stop and hike to Twin Falls. There’s a stand where you can buy fresh fruit and banana bread, and the hike isn’t very difficult. You won’t get far if you let a gate stop you (just close it behind you), and then there’s only one straight path to the falls. Sometimes they’re not that impressive if there hasn’t been much rain, but I went swimming in the icy water one time and it felt fantastic. The walk through the jungle is fun, too. I always get worried because there are a lot of signs warning about car break-ins, but there are usually enough people around to make me feel safer.The black sand beach is called Waianapanapa and it’s beautiful. There’s a steep driveway to your left that leads to a small parking lot by the beach, but last time I just parked off to the right of the road and we walked down to the beach- way easier on my poor rental car (see truck scraping it, above). The beach is pretty rocky so I’ve never been swimming here.
Once in Hana, there is a small general store and a restaurant, and that’s about it. If you’re staying in the cottage I recommended, above, you’ll be right across the road from Waioka Pond. I really wanted to go and see it, but I only had time to go and visit the red sand beach (Kaihalulu). It’s a little hidden, although people seem to know how to get there now. We parked near the end of Uakea Road and hiked along a cliff (there’s a path). It dead-ends at the beach, so you’ll want to bring some water and enjoy the view!
We also went on the next day to see Waimoku Falls. If you bought a visitor’s pass to see the volcano, it works here too since it’s part of the same park. If you don’t want to walk through 8 miles of jungle to see a 400 foot waterfall, then just walk an easy 1/2 mile to view the Oheo Gulch and Seven Sacred Pools. They’re gorgeous. They may or may not be accessible to swim in depending on the amount of rainfall. They do get closed if there’s a risk of flash floods.
That’s all I have for now! Maybe I can add more during my next journey. For now, here’s a list of suggestions for your Maui bucket list:
- Eat fresh, really golden pineapple
- Get a coconut from a roadside stand, drink the water and bring it back so they’ll get the flesh out for you
- Watch sunsets in Kihei, when you’ll see it set right into the sea without another island getting in the way
- Get up early and listen to all the birds chirping
- Enjoy the rain when it happens (not if!), and look for the rainbow
- Stand on the beach with your feet in the sand and marvel at this paradise
- Swim under a waterfall
- Snorkel just to see the fish surround you
- Hike in the bamboo forests