Photos of Kauai’s lush greens and crystal blue waters would make anyone assume that a trip to this Hawaiian island is going to be expensive. True enough, there is a wide range of outdoor activities to enjoy on the island, and its shores are lined up with high-end hotels and restaurants.
However, Kauai, also known as Garden Island, is home to probably the most laid back islanders who go around the island barefoot and live in simple houses. It’s not impossible to enjoy the breathtaking sceneries Kauai has to offer without burning thousands of dollars, but it does take some planning and watching your spending. In this article, we share 5 tips to consider when planning your trip to Kauai, if you want to explore the best of the island without breaking the bank.
1. Stay in a hostel or villa
In 2018 alone, Kauai drew a record breaking 9.3 million tourists. Tourism has highly boomed in Kauai, which paved way for newer modes of accommodation, including hostels.
If you’re planning to come alone and stay for a week or two, we recommend booking a hostel that can provide the basics, such as toiletries, a safe storage for your belongings, and preferably with a small kitchen available whenever you’d like to prepare your own food and drinks. For a group of 4 to 7, getting a villa would be a sensible choice. You’ll be out in the sun a lot, so it makes sense to get a no-frills and fairly cheap place to stay.
We recommend backpackers to check out the Kauai Beach House Hostel, which is located on the edge of the Blue Lagoon and offers everything you may need plus rooms with ocean views. Camp Sloggett and Kauai International Hostel are also popular options among solo and couple travelers for providing great value for money and a sociable atmosphere.
2. Pack your own gear
Kauai boasts rich marine life underneath its luminous blue waters. It attracts ocean frolickers from all over the world who want to discover the incredible new world hidden in the island’s deep sea. If you enjoy underwater activities such as freediving or snorkeling, definitely save costs by packing your own gear. Fins, masks, and other snorkeling gear rentals can cost at $6-$8 a day, with bargains if you choose to rent them out for a week. Heat is strong in Kauai, so also remember to pack sun protection, such as sunscreen, hats, or umbrellas. Lastly, don’t forget to keep a small first aid kit handy for taking care of yourself in case of small accidents. Hiking and some water activities in Kauai can be dangerous, and being careful can keep you away from spending for unfortunate emergencies.
3. Rent a car
The beautiful island of Kauai is teeming with vibrant places to explore, and whenever you’re on the island time is of the essence. Using public transportation to go from one place to another would be very limiting, so most travelers opt for a car rental service instead. Car rentals are usually priced at around $58 per day depending on the type of car you will rent. Renting a car is a much more convenient and fairly affordable way to get around the island. The standard cars usually seat 5 adults and fit 2-3 bags inside the trunk, it’s best to travel light and bring only the essentials when you’re planning on driving around the island. Stick to a certain plan when you’re renting out a car. You may have the advantage of being able to travel to different places but always consider how much time you’re willing to spend at a certain destination and how much stuff you should bring. Being in a different place, you also have to consider their laws and try not to violate any of them. One has to be above the age of 21 to be able to rent a car and they present a government issued driver’s license.
4. Make your own meals
With the abundance of fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables in Kauai, we highly recommend skipping the restaurants and getting your meals at fish markets where food is just as satisfying but a lot cheaper. Alternatively, you can book a place with a small kitchen, so you can make your own dishes from fresh catch and produce you can get from nearby markets.
While you’re in Kauai, take advantage of having access to fresh seafood anytime and learn how to prepare Hawaiian dishes. An easy go-to would be the Hawaiian version of the ceviche called poke, but you can also try to get the hang of boiling or grilling certain seafood. If you don’t think you’ll have time to prepare your own meals, we recommend dropping by the community markets such as the Kauai Culinary Market for a variety of tasty Hawaiian dishes priced at $4-$10. Food trucks are also popular on the island, which sell quick bites usually inspired by Thai and Mexican cuisine and are very affordable at $8-$13.
5. Visit free spots
There is so much to experience in Kauai, but if you think that you’re going to have to shell out a lot of cash to do so, then that’s where you’re wrong. The best things in life are free, and so are these amazing destinations in Kauai!
Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, is ten miles long and up to 3,600 feet deep. Rivers and floods from the summit of Mount Waialeale forged this canyon into what it is today.
The canyon is also home to the Waimea River. Waimea means reddish water in Hawaii and hidden stream in Maori which explains the reddish coloration of the Waimea River.
The canyon has waterfalls bursting out against its colorful backdrop whose colors change from red to brown to green in different instances. You can take a drive going to two lookout points that will offer you breathtaking views. Marvel at the beauty of Waimea Canyon during your stay at Kauai, it’s totally free and well worth the drive.
Na Pali Coast
Kauai’s other main attraction is Na Pali Coast, however it is quite inaccessible due to the rugged coastline.
Fortunately, the Kalalau Trail provides access to the land parts of the Na Pali Coast and it’s absolutely free to hike there. You can hike from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai, which is two miles each way. This route is the most popular because it gives you amazing views of the coast and leads you to a beautiful beach. Swimming or wading at Hanakapi’ai Beach is extremely dangerous, so do not enter the water.
For travelers that are looking for a more challenging hike, you may opt to hike from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Beach then continue to Hapaki’ai Falls. The trail from the beach to the waterfall is two miles each way and is not maintained, making it an 8-mile round trip hike.
Travelers that want to hike the full 11-mile one way trail Kalalau Beach will need a permit and camping gear. Take note that this trail is extremely dangerous and should only be attempted by the most experienced hikers.
Wailua River State Park
Entrance to Wailua River State Park is free, and there are so many things to do and see in the park itself.
Two beautiful waterfalls are found here, Opaeka’a and Wailua Falls. There is also a sacred place called the Wailua Complex of Heiau with remains from several important places in Kauai. Namely: heiau (places of worship), pu’uhonua (places of refuge), and royal sites.
Wailua River State Park is also very accessible to differently abled individuals. It has a concession stand, picnic tables, a restroom, and water fountains. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy this park absolutely free!
As its name implies, the Spouting Horn is a marine geyser located near Poipu. It is one of Kauai’s most photographed spots. Spouting Horn was created by a lava tube, when the lava tube gets flooded spouts of water come up through the tubes for all the people to witness.
Legend has it a giant lizard named Kaikapu once guarded the area. He would eat anyone who came into his territory. One day, a young boy decided to outwit the lizard by shoving a sharp stick into its mouth. The boy then escaped through a lava tube and Kaikapu got stuck in the lava tube trying to find the boy. The sound the geyser makes is said to be the sound of Kaikapu’s roar.
Although the amount of water that comes out of the geyser depends on the weather conditions, this is still a great free spot to check out.
Poipu Shopping Village
Poipu Shopping Village offers free entertainment, including Hula performances alongside live Hawaiian music. Entertainment is always free and takes place in the central courtyard. It takes place every Monday and Thursday at 5:00 pm.
If you’re feeling hungry, Poipu Shopping Village is also a good place to shop and eat, of course this part of the trip won’t be free anymore, but rest assured that the entertainment always will be.
There you have it – a couple of things to help you plan an inexpensive trip to paradise. Kauai has a lot to offer in terms of scenery and adventure, with some requiring a bit of splurging. We say go for it and then see where you can cut back on to meet your budget. We hope these tips encourage you to finally pack your bags and set out to soak up the sun! Your dream destination awaits.