A trip to Maui is typically pricey, given the costs for flights, lodging, meals and rental cars.

But having budgeted for those expenses, travelers can visit the island’s most popular attraction – the beaches – and other, lesser-known sites, all without further breaking the bank. In fact, many of them don’t cost a penny. Here’s a sample of what awaits.

Beaches aplenty

With more than 80 accessible beaches, Maui is a sun-worshipper’s dream – and for many visitors, they’re the top attraction. Thanks to Hawaii state law, all beaches are free and open to the public, even those that sit in front of a superstar’s mansion or a ritzy resort. That said, tourists should use public access trails to avoid trespassing on private property.

Everyone, from locals to repeat visitors, seems to have a personal favorite. We suggest checking out Makena Beach (also known as Big Beach) and the adjacent Little Beach. They’re located four to five miles south of the Wailea resorts. One of Maui’s longest strands, the golden sands of Makena Beach stretch for 3000ft. Head north (right while facing the ocean) and scamper over a ridge to reach laid-back Little Beach, well-known for being clothing optional. Be forewarned: the water conditions can be treacherous when there’s a strong surf.

Witness windsurfing

a man on a windsurfing board skips over a wave
Windsurfing in Maui can be a thrilling – and free – spectator sport ©EpicStockMedia/Shutterstock

Sure, windsurfing is a sport, but for most of the folks at Hookipa Beach Park, it’s a spectator sport. In winter, the waves along Maui’s North Shore can reach 30ft, meaning wading into the water is advisable only for the super-skilled. From the beach, visitors can see not only the windsurfers but also the green sea turtles that come ashore around sunset. (Note: Hookipa Beach Park closes at 7 pm)

Whale watching

Plenty of tour operators take visitors out onto the water to view the humpback whales that winter off Maui. Boats are, however, prohibited from getting within 100 yards of the giant mammals so whale watching from land, for free, is another good option. Grab a towel and a pair of binoculars and head for the sand, particularly in West and South Maui, where the water of a shallow ocean channel is particularly warm and welcoming to whales from November to May.


Volunteering on vacation shouldn’t sound strange, since it is often culturally enriching. On Maui, it can also earn guests free hotel nights through the state’s Malama Hawaii program. (In the Hawaiian language, malama means “give back.”) Opportunities abound and are incredibly varied. At Kipuka Olowalu south of Lahaina, visitors help clear taro fields of invasive plants while learning how taro has been a staple of Native Hawaiians’ diets for centuries. Head “upcountry” (up the slope of Kilaulea Volcano) to Leilani Farm Sanctuary. Located near Haiku, the sanctuary is home to critters ranging from donkeys and goats to rabbits and roosters. On Mondays and Wednesdays, volunteers can interact with the animals while helping out with chores such as animal grooming, fence repair and gardening.

The Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott is just one of the Maui hotels with special promotions for guests who donate their time. The hotel offers a fifth night free to people who stitch squares for Hawaiian-style quilts. When completed, the quilts are given to deserving local residents.

A hike with history

A banyan tree decorated in colourful Christmas lights
Maui's Lahaina Historic Trail has (sometimes festive) banyan trees as well as fascinating history © Don White/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Tourists can get in their steps while getting a history lesson during the free walking tour of the Lahaina Historic Trail. More than 60 significant sites share 500 years of life in Lahaina, once a bustling whaling village. Allow an hour or two to visit the various locations, which range from Baldwin Home, where missionaries lived as they preached to Native Hawaiians, to the Old Lahaina Prison, where many a drunken sailor ended up in shackles. Download the Trail’s app or print out a map from the Lahaina Restoration Foundation’s website.

Play the ukulele

Learn a chord or two on what locals call an “uke” (pronounced “ook”) during free lessons in Lahaina. Rueben Pali provides the basics of Hawaii’s favorite instrument on Tuesdays from 11:30 am-12:15 pm at Maui Music Mission in Lahaina Center, 900 Front St. While there’s no charge, reservations are required; call (808) 205-3757.

Art appreciation

Stroll beneath giant monkeypod trees while viewing the works of Maui artists each weekend on the lawn outside Lahaina Cannery Mall. The Fine Arts Fairs, which run from 9 am-4 pm. Saturdays and Sundays, help support and nurture local artists.

A salute to sunset

As the sun sets, most likely with a spectacular palette of colors, bid farewell to the day while viewing the ceremonial dive off Black Rock into the sea at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. During the resort’s signature celebration, which began in 1963, an experienced diver leaps into the Pacific Ocean from atop a 30ft cliff. There’s no charge to watch the nightly plunge, which replicates one that, according to legend, was made by Kahekili, the last of Maui’s ancient chiefs. The site, once believed to be a portal to the afterlife, remains sacred to Native Hawaiians.

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