(Updated September 2012)
Regarded as one of the most attractive islands to visit in the Pacific Hawaii is no budget friendly destination, for obvious reasons: everything has to be imported and they are, after all, the most isolated islands in the world. You’ve probably heard stories about the price of milk, how much hotels cost or how expensive it is to rent a car. But how much of this is true?
Budget Friendly Accommodation in Honolulu
I finally made it to the archipelago in September 2011 (which by the way meant that I had won the bet that I did with my brother ten years ago, earning 50 euros. You see, he stated that despite being a surfer I wouldn’t visit Hawaii within the next 10 years; turned out he was wrong- but barely!) and right off the bat I realized that the first hurdle to overcome would be to find affordable accommodation. From what I researched online the best bet would be to purchase a flight plus hotel deal with Expedia or Travelocity which would save me a couple hundred dollars during our ten day stay. Flights from LA, San Diego or Phoenix are actually quite affordable, at 350-450 USD for a return ticket, but finding anywhere to sleep in for under 85 USD per night was proving to be a challenge. The flight+hotel deals would mean we’d be paying around 75 USD/ night for the cheapest hotels I could find online, and 25 USD per bed in a dorm room at a hostel was out of the question. So just as I was about to succumb to this I read an ad in Tripadvisor that stated something like ” Save money on your trip with short term home rentals”. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
I quickly discovered that fully furnished apartments were at the same rates as hotels or less, with the bonuses of having more space and being able to cook every now and then to save a bit more money too. After some further research and bargaining I was able to rent a recently renovated apartment 2 blocks from Waikiki Beach for 65 USD/night. Fully furnished, with kitchen, bathroom, living room, 1 bedroom, AC, washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, 2 TVs and free internet, it was perfect for Liza and I yet big enough to fit a third person (just remember that dorm beds in a hostel run at 25 USD!). Once there the place did not disappoint: superbly located we couldn’t think of a better place to stay as it was 1 minute away from the International Market Place on Kuhio Boulevard, 5 minutes away from Waikiki beach, with plenty of shops and places to eat right by (this is the place). I highly recommend this option as you can save a good chunk of money and are more independent; check sites like www.tripadvisor.com, www.homeaway.com or www.vrbo.com , and don’t forget about the advantages of couchsurfing!
Where to find cheap food in Waikiki
Sure. you can find very expensive restaurants in Honolulu, but the myth of not being able to eat a full meal for less than 20 USD/ person is baloney. In fact I was surprised to find that restaurants cost about the same as they do anywhere in the US, sometimes even cheaper! You’ve got McDonald’s and Burger King on Kalakaua Avenue overlooking the ocean with combos at 6 USd, buffets starting at 20 USD, plenty of nice restaurants of all kinds where plates run at 15 USD, the list goes on. But of all the places we found there are two we kept going back to that I highly recommend: the food court at the International Market Place and Duke’s, right on Waikiki Beach.
The International Market Place is the -uh- place where you’ll find all the souvenirs you’ll want to take back home and more. Located between Kuhio Boulevard and Kalakaua Avenue it has plenty of stalls and shops where you’ll find everything from aloha shirts to ukeleles… including t-shirts made of dirt (i’m not kiding, they sell t-shirts painted with red dirt, and even have a signature line for for Discovery Channel’s hit show “Dirty Jobs”!). And then there is the food court at the center, open 6 pm to 10 pm where you’ll find all sorts of exquisite food including Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino plus pizzas, burgers and the rest with most dishes at around 8-9 USD. Fantastic flavors at very fair prices…and portions are generous too!
If you want to kick it up a notch and enjoy a great atmosphere plus good food without paying over your head then make your way to Duke’s. This very successful restaurant is right on Waikiki beach and is reached though a passage from Kalakaua Avenue. It is actually quite big yet we always found it full or almost full, without feeling overcrowded. I owe it’s success to the location itself, live music, friendly prices, good food…and even better cocktails! The open air tables are illuminated by torches ( I highly recommend you come here for dinner) and with the small surf crushing just a stone’s throw away I guarantee you’ll have a good time. Definitely one of the top Oahu restaurants in my list!
Is there cheap transportation in Oahu?
Different sources told me that Oahu has the best public bus system in the USA, and I think I agree. There is a very efficient network that can take you pretty much anywhere in the island; with tickets running at 2.5 USD/ person this should be your choice of transportation when visiting Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay and Pearl Harbor (the latter can take quite a while because of traffic though). If heading to the North Shore or elsewhere along the east or west coast time can become an issue as it can take a good 2 hours to get there because of traffic and the multiple stops. This is particularly inconvenient if you want to join a shark encounter cage swim or some other tour that starts early in the morning.
So what if you want to rent a car? Car rentals are usually expensive, and in Hawaii a bit more. We rented with another couple one for a day at Hertz and it cost us 56 usd (after shopping around) with insurance. 3 days later however we walked from Waikiki to the top of Diamond Head (a 5 hour stroll) but the sun was too strong to walk back so as we were making our way to the bus stop at the bottom of the hill a taxi driver offered to take us back to Waikiki. We bargained a bit and hopped in, and on the way back he told us about what he said is the cheapest car rental company in Honolulu (or Oahu). I conspicuosly joted the name an number and called the following day. The result? Look no further, this is the real deal. Avis, Budget, Hertz…all these rent cars for no less than 50 USD/ day (without insurance) but at Cheap Rent a Car you can rent a car for 21 USD, ready to drive!!! This is by far the cheapest car rental company in Oahu (Honolulu). The cars might not be new but are in very good condition- don’t be picky now if you’re going to save 30-40 usd/day! Call them at (808) 596 8828 or visit their website www.crchawaii.com .
If You’re In Hawaii, You Have to Surf
Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing, otherwise known as the sport of kings. Captain James Cook first spotted people riding waves here in the 17 hundreds, and three centuries later it has become one of the fastest growing sports as well as a multi million dollar business. Hawaii’s North Shore is the meca for surfers, with Pipeline, Sunset Beach, Backdoor and Waimea being some of the most famous big-wave spots in the world. Beginners should stay away from these places though and instead take their first steps in Waikiki, where the outer reefs make the surf smaller, gentler, slower and less dangerous. The waves can also be fun for intermediate and advanced surfers without the risks involved in the North Shore.
But which is the best place where to rent a surfboard? As a surfer myself I obviously shopped around. Some hotels charge ridiculous amounts like 80 USD/day, and most places on the beach charge around 20 usd per hour. But notice I said most. Max ( a Chilean who’s been calling Oahu home for the last 25 years) rents boards at 10 bucks per hour (longboards), droping the price the longer you rent it for. There is no phone number or website for his place, but walking along Kalakaua Avenue towards Waikiki beach it is the first stall you’ll see on your right once you reach the beach, with well over 100 boards. Easy going and friendly, he’ll have you up and running in no time and can organize lessons with his staff or have pictures taken of you with a telephoto lens. Not a bad souvenir!
If you’re a bit pickier and know what you want to ride, another option is that you book a board before getting there with www.rentasurfboard.com. You can choose from many shapes and sizes available and pick it up on arrival or on the arranged date. I rented a fun 7 footer through them and took it to the North Shore…but didn’t get to try it because it was flat! I thus had to switch it for a longboard and surfed Waikiki again instead.
Go Oahu Cards
If planning on visiting many parks and museum, joining tours and overall participating in paid-for activities you might want to consider buying a Go Oahu Card. These cards include the entrances to 37 parks, tours and museums in the island (including the Grand Circle Island Tour I did) and will certainly save you a good chunk of money if these are the things you like to do. The price of the card varies depending on the number of days you want to validate it for or you can also customize it for the specific activities you want to do. Do your math and check how long the activities are to make sure it’s really worth it- for example, the Grand Circle Island tour lasts almost a full day and at 60 USD it costs the same as the card, thus it wouldn’t make sense to buy a 1 day card for the tour. I prefer the second option, where you decide what you want to do, find out the regular prices and then how much it would cost you with the card. To learn more or buy click here –>Go Oahu Card (by using this link to buy the card I could make a little bit of money, but it won’t cost you anything and you’ll help me keep sharing great tips via this travel blog- it’s a lot of work!)
Hawaii might be expensive, but less than Vanuatu or French Polynesia and certainly not as bad as you might think. These tips will save you a good chunk of money, and the rest is up to you and what you do when there. Aloha Hawaii, mahalo for everything and I’ll be back!
Have you visited Oahu? How expensive did you find it?Do you have any tips you can share that will save other travelers some money? And please, don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy a meal at any of these two places? Share your tips below, and this post too if you liked it!