Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide
Dreaming of the perfect tropical destination for your next vacation? With towering waterfalls, stunning sunrises and sunsets, and black sand beaches, the Big Island of Hawaiii is a must visit destination. There is so much to do and see on the island so I have compiled the best things in this Travel Guide to help you plan your trip.
GETTING TO THE BIG ISLAND
Kona International Airport (KOA) and Hilo International Airport (ITO) are the two airports for flying into the Big Island. Kona and Hilo are the two main areas so you will want to book your flight to arrive in the area you plan on staying. The Kona side is a bigger city providing more direct flight options to the mainland. You may also have to do a connecting flight from one of the other islands like O’ahu.
The inter island flights from O’ahu is about 25 minutes in the air and a very easy way to get to the Big Island. These routes are most likely operated by Hawaiian Airlines or Southwest Airlines.
Inter Island travel is great and highly recommended if you aren’t going to be visiting Hawaii that often. If you plan in advance, you can book a very cheap flight from Southwest Airlines for $39 one way.
TRAVELING ON THE BIG ISLAND
You are absolutely going to need to rent a car on the Big Island as it is double the size of all the neighboring islands combined. The island itself is very spread out with minimal public transportation. Taxis and rideshare companies like Uber or Lyft are very far and few. Plan to book a rental car at the airport or look at Turo for other options.
ABOUT THE ISLAND
The Big Island is absolutely worth visiting as it is so different from the others. Even if you are fortunate to have been to O’ahu, Maui, or Kauai, booking a trip to the Island of Hawai’ is a must.
You will quickly notice the difference on this island as you will see the abundance of lava rock everywhere. This is the newest formed island and you can quickly see the remnants of all the volcanic activity whether you are on the beaches or driving through the lush landscapes.
The western side of Kona is the dry side whereas the eastern side of Hilo is much more of a rainforest terrain. Both areas are important to visit as they are very unique. The drive between these two areas is a 2.5 hour scenic ride up and over the volcanic mountains.
The Big Island can be broken up into 6 large areas each worth a visit. Plan on spending at least 5 days on the Big Island to truly enjoy and see all of the different areas.
KONA (West Side)
The most popular side of the island hardly feels crowded. Despite having the most luxury resorts and hotels on the island, you will still enjoy a very slow paced and quiet time in Kona. The bright blue water here beautifully contrasts the black lava rocks and green palm trees.
The Waikoloa Village is a beautiful area home to some of the island’s best hotels. This area is only about a 20 minute drive from Kona.
PLACES TO SEE
Mauna Kea & Hapuna Beach - two of the bigger and white sandy beaches on the island. These beaches are close to some of the nicer hotels but they are also public beaches to enjoy.
Kiholo Bay - Is a Black Rock / Black Sand beach with beautiful palm trees. Watch out (keep an eye out) for the Goats & Sheep who live in the rough lava flow areas.
Kua Bay - A small sandy public beach perfect to enjoy the beautiful blue waters.
Makalawena Beach - A small and secluded beach cove with lava pools
Captain Cook - Home to the first westerner to set foot on the Hawaiian Islands, this area shows the beauty of the Kona coastline
Two Step / Honaunau Bay - One of the best snorkel spots. Come in the morning to catch a sight of the dolphin pods
THINGS TO DO
Night Dive / Snorkel - Manta Ray Wash
Kona Coffee - indulge in the 100% pure hawaiian Kona Coffee for renowned flavor and quality
Kona Brewery - Check out the Kona Brewing Co which is home to the best Hawaiian coffee
Snorkel - Be sure to pack your snorkel and head out to the countless beautiful beaches to enjoy the amazing sea life
PLACES TO STAY
Hilton Waikoloa Village (Hilton Honors)
This mega resort is one of the biggest resorts in the world. Home to both Hilton Hotels and Hilton Grand Vacation condos, this complex is a destination in its own. With beautiful beaches and a huge saltwater lagoon, there is so much to see and do at this resort.
Fairmont Orchid (Accor ALL) - Check out Full Blog Here
This beautiful resort features a beautiful sandy beach carved out from the surrounding black rocks. This resort is large but still feels quiet. This luxurious Fairmont property is one to see.
Mauna Kea (Marriott Bonvoy) - a luxurious stay that can be booked with Bonvoy Points!
The Westin Hapuna (Marriott Bonvoy) - a beautiful hotel which is a little cheaper that Mauna Kea and can also be booked with Bonvoy Points!
Four Seasons Hualalai - you can always expect luxury and high class at any Four Seasons Property. This is no exception.
Ka’u & Puna (South Side)
Take a drive south from Kona and find a beautiful and quiet coastline home to the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park! This is one of two National Parks on the Hawaiian Islands with the other being Haleakala National Park on Maui. Volcanoes National Park features an active volcano and you may be able to see lava flow during your visit.
PLACES TO SEE
Kala’e - The Souther Most point of the Hawaiian Island AND the entire United States!
Punalu'u Black Sand Beach - another grand Black Sand Beach, one of many you can find on this island
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - head into Halemaumau Crater and through old Thurston
Lava Tubes as you explore this unique national park & active volcano!
Kalapana - see the destruction and beauty from the lava flow that once tore through this beautiful beach area
Lava Tree State Park - home to unique lava tree structures
PLACES TO STAY
There aren’t many hotel accommodations so you will most likely find an Airbnb or day tripping from one of the more populated areas in Kona.
Hilo (East Side)
The second major city on the island is Kona. This city is a striking contrast from Kona as the wetter climate brings lush green forests and waterfalls. Be sure to bring a raincoat for this side of the island.
PLACE TO SEE
Rainbow Falls - a beautiful waterfall just off the side of the road in Wailuku River State Park
Akaka Falls State Park - one of the tallest waterfalls on the island can be seen from this beautiful looped paved trail bringing you through the lush gardens to to the beautiful waterfall
Kaumana Caves - dive into the deep lava tube caves surrounded by the lush green jungle
PLACES TO STAY
Grand Naniloa Hotel - a large Hilton property with some of the better accommodations on this side of the island
Hilo Hawaiian Hotel - one of the larger beach front properties on the East Side
Hamakua Coast & Kahalua (North Side)
The North Side of the island is quiet but filled with beautiful hiking trails, waterfalls, golf courses, and a scenic coastline.
PLACES TO SEE
Waipi’o Valley Lookout - a must visit stop for one of the most scenic views
Waipi’o Black Sand Beach - another must visit black sand beach
Pololu Valley Lookout - stop and look south to enjoy the beautiful stretch of beaches
Mauna Kea (Central)
This dormant volcano is the tallest peak on all of the Hawaiian Islands. It is also the 2nd tallest peak of any island in the world. This area is home to some of the best star gazing. With very limited light pollution due to the small population, this area is very dark and you can see all the stars and galaxies overhead. Plan a trip here during a new moon to truly enjoy this surreal night scene.