How to Travel Kauai on a Budget (2023)
The state of Hawaii is known for being one of the most beautiful places in the world, but visiting usually comes at a price. We’re here to give you our best money-managing tips to make a trip to the island of Kauai an affordable option for anyone. Here’s how to travel Kauai on a budget!
Traveling Kauai on a Budget
Where To Eat for Cheap in Kauai
Multiple meals out can end up being a significant part of your travel expenditures in Kauai. Here are a few ways you can stick to a reasonable budget.
If you are traveling with a group or family, I would highly suggest getting groceries upon arriving as many hotels and villas include full kitchens. Foodland’s deli in Princeville and Kapaa offer an awesome place to grab lunch or dinner. Their Ahi Poke is inexpensive and delicious!
If you don’t want to cook or if you are traveling solo, you can find meals for $10 or less at one of the many food trucks scattered along the rim of the island. If you’re like me, you’ll have leftovers for a second meal (or a snack).
For the health conscious travelers, Living Foods market in Poipu or Koloa will be your go-to spot for snacks and to grab a quick bite to eat. Their hot food is just as good, if not better, than any of the other restaurants on the island.
Poipu is a tourist town, so plan on spending MUCH more for food than you would in Lihue or Kapaa. Hanalei is expensive as well, but I didn’t find it to be nearly as expensive as Poipu.
Cheap Eats in Poipu: Da Crack, Makai Sushi (inside Kukuiula Market), Kauai Food Truck (Koloa)
When To Visit Kauai on a Budget
Given Kauai’s always moderate, warm weather, there really is no off-season and airfare and hotel rates remain relatively unchanged year round. However, if you avoid holidays and peak summer months and travel during low-tourism months — April, May, September, and October — you may find more likeliness of getting discounts.
When To Save
If you plan on snorkeling every day, consider bringing your own snorkel gear as long as you have the room in your luggage — just make sure to take into consideration baggage fees. If you don’t have your own travel set of fins and mask, rentals aren’t too expensive in most places (about $5-6/day), and some even offer a deal when you rent for a week.
Although it might not be as exotic as ordering tropical mixed drinks at the resort bar — buying alcohol at a local market will save you large amounts of money in the long run. Stocking up on liquor and beer at the market can save you as much as 5-10 times on alcohol during your whole vacation. If you have the room, pack a few snacks in your luggage as well!
As far as on-ground transportation goes, rent a car. It’s the most affordable and convenient way to explore Kauai. If you’re staying in Poipu, for example, the Na Pali Coast is a 3-4 hour round-trip drive.
If you’re in the USA, most insurance companies will cover you for rental insurance, so check your policy before spending the extra money on insurance.
When To Splurge
Splurging is a little too easy if you aren’t careful, so I would recommend limiting yourself to one or two costly (but worthwhile!) experiences.
A helicopter tour is worth a MUST when visiting Kauai. Book a tour with Blue Hawaiian to get an aerial view of lush scenery and waterfalls you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. If you plan to limit yourself to one “splurge” activity, this should be it.
Affordable Hotels in Kauai
Aston Islander On The Beach, in Kapaa — on the island’s western coast — is a charming oceanfront hotel within walking distance to boutiques, restaurants, and a market for groceries. If you book in the off-season or well in advance, you can reserve a room for as low as $150/night!
On the southern tip of the island, Koloa Landing is a great value in Poipu. It’s close to shopping, beaches, a golf course, and daytime activities – plus each room has a kitchen! These amenities plus a central location will save you time and money.
Read more: Where To Stay In Kauai: A Guide To The Best Areas & Hotels
Packing Essentials for Kauai
Photo Equipment – I highly recommend bringing a GoPro for underwater photos (and a selfie stick) and a nice camera for land activities. See our complete travel camera buying guide here.
Clothing – Sandals or flip flops (I love Rainbow sandals), a couple of swimsuits, sunglasses, and a sun hat are must-haves any time of year. I also highly recommend bringing water shoes.
Rash Guard – I always pack my long-sleeve rash guard on island trips. It protects you from the sun when snorkeling and provides a little warmth in the winter months when the water gets chilly.
Snorkel Equipment – You’ll save some money by bringing your own and you won’t be stuck with old equipment. We brought this mask and these travel size fins.
Reusable Water Bottle – Refilling your water bottle not only saves money, but it’s so much better for the environment! We use this CamelBak water bottle at home, but if you want something more compact, this collapsible water bottle is perfect for travel days and hiking.
Trekking Poles: If you plan to do any hiking along the Na Pali Coast, bring foldable hiking sticks! Many of our fellow hikers wished they had walking sticks to keep them from falling in the mud and assisting with the river crossings.
Rain Gear: Plan for rain on the Na Pali Coast! Bring a poncho or, even better, a light rain coat.
Dramamine: Definitely bring this for any boat rides along the Na Pali Coast. You may even want to take one before your helicopter flight; it can get bumpy. Dramamine has a Non-Drowsy version that we bring on all of our trips.
For more Hawaii packing and budget travel tips, read our Budget Travel Guide for the Island of Maui!
10 Places You Can’t Miss in Hawaii
How to Choose the Best Hawaiian Island for Your Vacation
The Best Way to See Kauai’s Na Pali Coast
5 Things You Should Never Forget Before a Trip
Carry-on Packing Guide for Airplane Travel
You missed the most obvious saving and that is not staying in a hotel at all but renting a condo/apartment etc instead. We found significant savings by doing this. I also don’t agree that a helicopter tour is a must do as you can see the Na Pali coast and Waimea Canyon/waterfalls/north shore more cheaply by boat and car respectively. There is also a cheaper option available for golf (and great views) @ Kukuiolono Park & Golf Course. Personally I would say not to miss the Canal Tubing down the old sugar cane irrigation canals.
We rented a condo on one of our visits and it wasn’t nearly as affordable as the hotels I mentioned. Plus, you don’t get any of the amenities you get with a hotel such as maid service, daily breakfast, and coffee; those things are all factored into the budget. I went on two boat tours of the Na Pali coast and I still recommend the helicopter tour. You see MUCH more than the boat tours, you go into places the boats cannot go — where not even foot traffic can go — and if the seas are rough, you do not want to be on a boat. Trust me. One of our boat tours was a disaster and it’s like that for most of the year on the Na Pali Coast.
So I guess when you write: We’re here to give you the best money-managing tips to make a trip to the island of Kauai an affordable option for anyone! What you really mean is you are here to give tips to ‘anyone’ who thinks exactly like you. I would have thought you would appreciate some other money saving tips, but obviously not if they aren’t exactly the same as what you think.
We stayed in great condos for less than half the price of similar hotels (I did extensive research for two separate trips) and had a whole condo instead of just a hotel room – cheaper for us as a couple and more than likely much cheaper for a group or family of 3 or more. Plus many condos also provide snorkeling equipment, beach chairs, boogie boards, buckets and spades, beach towels, drink coolers, etc for their guests to borrow and use for free during their trip – which I haven’t seen in too many hotels.
On our trip to the Na Pali Coast the sea was smooth, the weather and sunset beautiful, the food great and the snorkeling fun. We also saw dolphins. Just because your trip was ‘a disaster’ doesn’t mean everyone’s is. While I am sure that your helicopter tour was great, most of them are priced too high for ‘budget travelers’ who you claim are your target audience for this article – How to Travel Kauai on a Budget.
I’m writing from the perspective of someone who has visited Kauai multiple times and has friends who live there. You were very lucky to get calm seas and gorgeous weather on the Na Pali coast. If you ask any local, they will tell you that is not common — even during many of the summer months. Personally, I’m not going to recommend a boat tour because there were many people on my boat tour who felt they had wasted their money. The article is not for budget travelers because Kauai is not a budget destination. The article gives tips on how to travel ON a budget, but still enjoy the best of the island. Meaning, you have a set amount of money you want to stick to, rather than splurging the entire visit. We recommend ways to save in one area so you can still enjoy the best parts of the island. If you don’t like the article, don’t use my tips. I’m not against recommending renting condos or apartments. I recommend it in MANY of our articles. You clearly just want to argue since your original comment was very snarky.
Did Sandy misspell “beach” in her name? Thank the author for the ideas and move on.
This is my first time on your blog and I am SO happy I stumbled across it! I am trying to plan a 5 year wedding anniversary to Kauai for my husband and I (we are avid hikers) and have been trying to do it within a strict budget. These tips are great! http://www.chasingbelle.com
So happy to hear it! I hope you guys have a wonderful anniversary in Kauai!