A hostel, in Hawaii?
I know, it might seem crazy at first for an island more famous for its five star resorts and luxury condos. But if my four day camping trip around the Hana Highway taught us anything, it should be that sometimes Maui’s most unusual accommodation choices are its most memorable.
I actually first fell in love with hosteling on Maui back in 2012, during my first-ever visit to the island. That trip, I had an incredible experience at the Banana Bungalow in Wailuku, in no small part due to the managers Isaac and Laina, with whom I’ve remained friends throughout the years. When Isaac and Laina announced they were opening a hostel of their own in my favorite town on Maui, I knew without question that I had to get there.
And so, after handing over the keys to our camper, Ian and I found ourselves posted up in Paia for four blissful nights at the Aloha Surf Hostel.
We were immediately smitten with this insanely stylish, island-style hostel. First off, I literally couldn’t dream a better location. Paia is an adorable North Shore town with chic yoga studios, hip cafes, colorful boutiques, natural food stores and stunning and accessible beaches — the town itself is easily walkable, and it’s a perfect location for launching adventures along the road to Hana, throughout Upcountry, and all the way up to Haleakala. And it’s just ten minutes from Kahului Airport!
Plus, this hostel has perks out the wazoo. They offer a free pancake, coffee and tea breakfast every morning though honestly though with such great restaurants and cafes nearby, we barely took advantage of it. We did cook a meal to two to use up the remaining groceries from our camping trip, enough to see that it was a very well-stocked kitchen that was always bustling and a great place to meet other guests.
Adjacent to the kitchen was a cozy living room boasting a big screen TV with Netflix, perfect if its rainy or you need a day off from adventuring, and a computer for arranging onward travel. Downstairs in the lush garden patio, there’s a pool table, a ping pong table, and my personal favorite, a hot tub — ideal for soaking off a tough Maui hike.
The hostel has a mix of female dorms, co-ed dorms, and private rooms for one to three people. The capacity is about forty people, making it a smaller and overall somewhat quieter vibe than the Banana Bungalow. The quiet hours of 10pm to 7am are enforced, which is nice if you’ve got big adventures planned the next day, and a convenient excuse to head into town for a drink if you don’t.
Our room had a calming vibe and was oh so Maui. After our intense road trip, I had a lot of internet-ing to catch up on, and we both were craving some serious chill. Our room and the rest of the Aloha Surf Hostel, and even Paia at large, were the perfect respite.
There are no private bathrooms at the Aloha Surf Hostel and if I had even the most minor complaint about our stay, it was that we had to briefly wait occasionally to shower — but it really wasn’t that big of a deal.
So how much does all this Pinterest-worthy cuteness set you back? Dorms are about $45 per night, while private rooms range from around $105-150 a night. If you read that and thought, dang, that sounds like a lot, well, first of all you’re on Maui. Take a quick peek at hotel prices in Wailea and you’ll have a whole new perspective on pricey.
But second of all, I haven’t even gotten to my favorite part of staying at Aloha Surf Hostel yet!
And that’s the totally free tours.
Yup, you read that right. Instead of the stress of renting a car or the sticker shock of forking over exorbitant cab fares, you can see the best of Maui with the Aloha Surf Hostel’s free daily tours!
Throughout the week, tours leave for driving the Road to Hana, hiking Iao Valley, exploring Lahaina Town, turtle-spotting in South Maui, hiking Waihe’e Ridge (I still need to hike this one!), whale watching (in season!), hopping around West Maui, and hitting the infamous Makena Sunday Beach party.
There aren’t enough spots for every hostel guest to go on every tour every day, but they have a pretty good system for making sure everyone gets a fair shot — sign-up sheets for each tour are posted one day in advance, after that day’s tour has left. That said, we were able to get on both tours we wanted to do with no issue.
Keep in mind that while the tours are free, the guides are working as volunteers, so tip them $10-20 per person per day — and buy them a beer!
Our first tour, which we hopped on spontaneously, was was the West Maui Mountains tour. Actually, in our nine days in Maui, this was our one and only foray onto the West side! While I’ve spent plenty of time in Lahaina on previous Maui trips, I’d never really explored any further.
Our first stop, after a long drive spent mostly hugging coastline, was at the Olivine Pools. I’d never heard of these pools before but our guide watched the waves carefully before giving us the okay to scramble down towards the shore, and warned us to keep a wide berth from the edge. Later I read countless tragic tales of tourists and locals alike who were swept out to sea here with fatal endings — honestly, I’d probably avoid it unless you’re with an experienced guide who can read the conditions like ours did.
On this calm day, the tide pools hummed with life and it was the perfect place to splash around after a long drive.
Back in the van, we made the short drive back towards Nakalele Blowhole. This natural geyser, in which seawater trapped in an underwater lava tube shoots into a column of water reaching up to a hundred feet in the air, is one of Maui’s many free shows graciously provided by Mother Nature.
It’s also a popular attraction for those looking to get off-the-beaten path and brave another natural attraction that comes with some pretty intense warning signs.
Again, this is another site where there have been tragic deaths of those who got a little too curious and close to the blowhole. We stuck to a simple rule — standing on dry rocks only — and felt perfectly awe-struck from this safe distance.
I absolutely loved the sound it made when it went whoosh!
But perhaps my favorite part of the Nakalele Blowhole was what you saw when you turned your back to it — a natural heart, carved by the whims of wind and water into a little slice of Maui.
We unanimously agreed to skip the famous rock formations called Dragon’s Teeth to give ourselves a bit more time at Honolua Bay. This rock-strewn beach was rugged and raw, and while I couldn’t seem to talk myself into getting in the water, I loved sitting on the shoreline, having a quiet beach in Maui entirely to ourselves.
Next up, we were craving some sand, so we stopped briefly at D.T. Flemings Beach Park in Kapalua, where I apparently was so blissed out I forgot I owned a camera (and, er, wrote a blog.)
And finally, we would things down with a drink at Maui Brewing Co…. or at least, everyone who had a valid form of identification with them did (honestly, living in Thailand has ruined me.) The best thing about these tours is there’s no fretting you won’t make friends at the hostel — you start the day as strangers, and you’re practically planning your next trip to Maui together by the end of the day.
The one tour I’d literally planned our trip to Maui around is famous all over the island — the Sunday Beach Party at Little Beach! I’d had so much fun going on my first trip to Maui, there was no way I was letting Ian miss out on the drum circles, fire dancers, and nude bellydancing that closes down the weekend in Makena.
After a stop at a grocery store to stock up on booze and beach snacks, our tour arrived to Makena Beach to find an unusual sight — the ocean completely empty while tourists hovered far back from the beach. We noticed a lifeguard jetski making tense circles and I asked an ashen-faced tourist what was up. She explained that a bloody sea turtle was making a break for the shore when a hungry predator — a bull shark, most likely — dragged it back into the depths, leaving a crimson stain across the sand. We’d missed it by moments.
Maui never lets you forget the power of nature.
We spent a hot sweaty day very decidedly not swimming, even once the lifeguards eventually reopened the water. Around sunset, we clambored over the natural rock wall to the hidden cove of Little Beach to a party that’s been raging for thirty years. I think I wrote the first time I came to this party, if you’re wondering where Burners retire to… this is it!
Since my last blog post about the Little Beach Party involved unintentionally posting a picture of unclothed male anatomy — oops — I left the camera in its case this time once the closed started coming off. (Of other people, anyway — mine stayed firmly in place. You never know when a creep with a camera and a travel blog is lurking.)
Dang, did I love the Aloha Surf Hostel. Four days wasn’t even close to enough — next time, I’m coming back for a week (or just like moving in forever — Isaac? Laina? Thoughts?)
Between the location, the free tours, the hot tub, and the kickass owners, this is arguably one of my favorite hostels in the world. If you’re looking for an affordable way to explore the island, if you’re a solo traveler trying to find new friends, if you’re simply a lover of rainbow-hued fences made from recycled surfboards, look no further. The Aloha Surf Hostel awaits you — but you might have to wrestle me for a room.
Would you have guessed Maui is an incredible hostel destination?
Mahalo to my friends Isaac and Laina for their incredible Hawaiian hospitality. I hope I see you both soon!
Confused on where we are? I’m catching up on the black hole of content from August of 2016 to April of 2017 — when I jumped forward to blog the summer of 2017 as it was happening. Right now, we’re in October of 2016 in Hawaii, and I can’t wait to turn my detailed notes and journals into blog posts from Jamaica, Thailand and Bali next! My apologies for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me.