It’s no surprise that time spent in paradise often comes with a price. And in such breathtaking, magic-tinged destinations as Hawaii, it only makes sense that expenses can run high for locals and visitors alike.
Yet, we gently toss the naysayers aside and confidently declare that, with enough determination, foresight and preparation, budget travel in must-visit gems like Kauai can indeed be done.
Follow these money-saving tips to enjoy a vacation that’s low in cost but rich in reward. After all, life’s too short to not invest in a Hawaiian experience that will soothe the senses and stir the soul.
Believe it or not, not all views come with a hefty price tag in Kauai — Photo courtesy of Aqua Kauai Beach Resort
When booking flights to Hawaii, find lower fares during off-peak months (spring and fall) and less-trafficked days (typically midweek). Many airlines now offer non-stop service to Lihue Airport on the southeastern edge of the island, though connecting through Honolulu International Airport on Oahu might be more economical.
Alaska Airlines patrons will want to look into signing up for the Visa credit card, which extends a famously great perk: companion fares as low as $99 (plus fees).
Although it's possible to visit Kauai without renting a car, we recommend arranging some wheels to properly experience the destination. Due to the island's mountainous interior, the main road travels along the perimeter; buses run infrequently, and distances can be vast.
To give a sense of the layout, the drive between Lihue Airport and Kalalau Lookout can take an hour and 40 minutes, while Lihue to Waimea Canyon can take an hour and 15.
For better deals, try a local car rental company, book an economy ride that gets good gas mileage and only assign one driver to avoid upcharges.
With a nickname like “The Garden Isle,” it’s evident that this verdant land – Hawaii’s fourth largest – offers a bounty of natural beauty. That’s great news for deal hunters: Mother Nature's attractions typically come with no price tag. Diversity here ranges from tropical rainforests and forking rivers to cascading waterfalls and crescent-shaped beaches.
Highlights include the 3,567-foot deep Waimea Canyon, which stretches 14 miles across the western end of the island, and the 3,000-foot high cliffs that rise from the ocean floor to the magnificent Napali Coast.
For a nominal entry fee, bird-lovers can enjoy the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, and, in scenic Wailua, cascades-seekers can easily access Opaeka‘a Falls.
Active visitors thrive in this wonderland. Since so much of the island is inaccessible by road, hiking and camping prove great ways to explore.
On the island's west side, Koke'e State Park features more than 40 miles of footpaths and scenic lookouts; then there's the most challenging, with the biggest pay-off: the 11-mile Kalalau Trail along the exquisite Napali Coast.
Other notable routes include Kuialau, Moalepe and Powerline Trailhead. Kauai also features more than 50 miles of beaches, more beach per coastline than the other Hawaiian islands.
Princeville Ranch offers guided hikes, horseback riding, ziplining and off-roading, with some tours starting at $99 per person.
Water-themed lessons around the island abound, but simply renting your own gear (like snorkel equipment, boards, kayaks, etc.) can be a great alternative. Poipu Beach on the South Shore offers some of the island's best snorkeling.
Up north, affordable ways to get out into the waves include taking lessons from Hanalei-based companies like Titus Kinimaka’s Hawaiian Surf School or renting surf and paddle boards from outfits like Hawaiian Surfing Adventures. (Renting their equipment also gives 20 percent off surf and stand up paddle lessons.)
Thanks to the Kauai-based filming awhile back of the popular reality TV show The Amazing Race, six zipline companies – and counting – now operate on the island, offering adrenaline rush options like flying by moonlight and soaring in Superman-esque formation.
Princeville Ranch Adventures allows participants to sail high above the lush canopy via the “King Kong” – two side-by-side ziplines – or to combine the high-flying adventure with horseback rides and swimming hole dips.
For no-cost entertainment on the island's west side every Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., head to Art Night in Hanapepe, a charming spot that's coined itself “Kauai’s Biggest Little Town.” The vibrant Friday scene here features music from buskers, crafts from local talents and tempting fare from a line-up of vendors. (Be sure to try shaved ice at least once during your stay!)
To soak in local culture, also check out the island's variety of festivals and events that range from ukulele concerts to sand castle contests. Many hotels offer free hula performances, torch lighting ceremonies and lei-making courses, too, and Coconut Marketplace in Kapa'a and Harbor Mall in Lihu'e present free hula shows every Wednesday.
If buying a ticket to a full-on luau sounds like too much, look up live music schedules at hotel bars like Stevenson's Library in the Grand Hyatt. Here, a sprawling patio overlooks the exquisite grounds below, which are perfectly manicured and lined with enchanting tiki torches.
Eat and Drink
If your accommodations come with a kitchen, all the better; upon arrival, stock up on groceries to minimize eating-out costs. Take advantage of budget shopping at Costco near the Lihue Airport or spots like Safeway, Foodland and ABC Store. (Bonus: Even treasures like local rum can be found at bargain prices at the Costco.)
Some visitors even pack their own cooler of food (like cereal, salsa, snack foods, olive oil, canned tomatoes, etc.) to tote to the island. After all, the fee to check these goods will likely be worth the savings.
Also, stock up on tasty local goods at smaller, family-run markets and prevalent farmers markets, found across the island most days of the week. Staying healthy isn't a challenge here, thanks to Kauai's abundance of fresh regional produce and forward-thinking purveyors who prioritize pure ingredients.
The Hanalei Farmers Market brightens the North Shore of the island — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
The Hanalei Farmers Market enlivens the north part of the island Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Surrounded by towering mountain ranges and lush vegetation, this friendly bazaar features live music and local vendors selling organic produce.
Shoppers can find gems (at fairly reasonable prices) like apple bananas, seedless limes, papayas, beets, avocados and eggplants, plus cheese, fish and meat from local vendors, too.
The food truck craze has hit the island, and delicious, wallet-friendly meals can now be found at omnipresent wagons selling dishes from Kalua pulled pork to fresh ahi poke.
Hanalei Taro & Juice draws loyal fans with its farm-to-table menu of popular items like taro mochi cake, zesty taro hummus, Hanalei taro veggie burgers and taro smoothies, made using fresh fruits, fruit juices and a special kalo base.
They also serve up authentic Hawaiian food like laulau, poi, lomi salmon and kulolo, plus roast pork with gravy and kalua tacos.
Tip: For a truly local experience with great value, look for Hawaiian plate lunches at food trucks!
If you’ve made room for only one or two culinary indulgences during your stay, drinking in the sunset (and a tasty cocktail) at St. Regis Princeville Resort’s seems a worthy splurge. Enjoy an innovative cocktail and tasty appetizer like mini ginger crab cakes or coconut shrimp at the St. Regis Bar. You'll thank us, as otherworldly rays slice across the cliffs, illuminating the surfer-dotted water below.
To complement the loveliest sunsets you'll perhaps ever witness, savor events like champagne nights and live jazz every other Saturday of the month.
Finding a vacation rental or condo comes along with money-saving perks, since many guests can share one property and meals can be cooked at home. The stretch between Wailua and Kapa'a to the east tends to be an ideal zone in which to find affordable lodging.
Condo-style properties like Outrigger Kiahuna Plantation, Waimea Plantation Cottages and Whalers Cove Resort can be great options for families and money-conscious travelers.
Alternatively, Honu'ea International Hostel Kauai can be found in the heart of Kapa'a Town, across the street from Kapa'a Beach Park. This hostel offers private rooms and dorms plus draws like a game room, Internet access, a kitchen and even bike rentals.
Nearby, a vibrant food truck pod bustles with options spanning from smoothies and kombucha (on tap) to Thai and BBQ.
With sufficient research and planning, you can also get good deals at higher-end properties marked by alluring amenities. For example, guests at Aqua Kauai Beach Resort enjoy a front-row seat to paradise at this 25-acre oceanfront retreat.
Found on Kauai's longest beach near Lihue Airport, this option dazzles, with access to a sandy beach and turquoise waters, four swimming pools with exotic waterfalls, four on-site dining options, live music nightly in the Shutters lounge and an outside firepit at which to sip cocktails under the stars.
Packages that sweeten the deal include Five Nights of Family Fun, giving guests every fifth night free, plus complimentary breakfast for kids 12 and under.
Families go ga-ga for activities like hula lessons; candy lei making; Hawaiian morning oli, or chants; two lagoon pools with waterfalls; a 75-foot waterslide; and complimentary shuttle service to the airport and nearby shopping.
Guests booking a room at Aqua Kauai Beach Resort can also score a free compact car (promo code ‘FREECAR,’ for stays through Dec. 20, 2015) and a $25 activity credit to tour the island's hottest attractions.
The hotel's central location places it just two miles from Lihue Airport and other popular spots like Kalapaki Beach, Puakea Golf Course and Kilohana Plantation.
If you're seeking something even more upscale for at least part of your visit, then treat yourself to some pampering at The Westin Princeville, a 19.5-acre slice of heaven with perks like a to-die-for infinity pool perched high on the cliffs and a 24/7 fitness center.
In-villa options include kitchenettes, grills and washer-dryers that help cut down on costs. Yet life still feels VIP, with luxurious poolside food and beverage service, daily cultural programming and housekeeping services.
The on-site Princeville Market stocks flavorful goods from breakfast burritos and grillable meats to Kauai Juice Company kombucha, Starbucks coffee and even wine and beer.
A complimentary resort shuttle transports guests to the St.Regis Princeville beach every hour, as well as to designated stops in the Princeville area, including Princeville Ranch, Makai Golf Club and Princeville Shopping Center. The Kauai Free Car Package here includes a compact rental car from Dollar Rent A Car
With these tips and more, a stay on dreamy Kauai can easily be made low in cost but high in enjoyment. Believe us when we say you may just want to call this island your new home.