Are you thinking about going to the Big Island? The Big Island is so big and there is so much to do there that the options can be overwhelming!
Many visitors to the Big Island end up staying in a couple of different places. They make it into a road trip, staying in a couple different cities for a few nights each. Usually, these people choose to one of the major airports in either Kona or Hilo and depart from the other. Since they are on opposite sides of the island, it works out great.
But you might prefer to just stay in one city. If you have a short period of time, you might perfect to hunker down in one place. Or maybe you just want to see the volcano, so you stay in the national park.
Whether you do a road trip or stay in one place, there is no way you can see everything on the big island in just one trip. So, I’ve broken down the different cities on the Big Island so that you can decide where you want to go.
And, of course, if you still need help deciding, give our travel agents a call today. That’s what they’re here for!
The two major airports on the Big Island are in Kona and Hilo, so chances are you will either begin or end your trip here. If you end up in Kona, even if just for a day, there are lots of awesome things to do.
Things to do
Take a tour of the Kona Brewing Company, where you can learn about how they brew their beer try samples of their beer, and have a bite to eat.
Since Kona is the only place in the world where Kona coffee is grown,definitly visit a Kona coffee farm. At some coffee farms, like family-owned Greenwell Farms, you can see where they grow their coffee, how they process their coffee, and try as many free samples of their different kinds of coffee as you like. The tour at Greenwell Farms is free, too.
Another popular thing to do in Kona is go snorkeling or diving with Manta Rays. This is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience because you can go diving at night to see manta rays. Many tour companies will take certified scuba divers as well as snorkelers. Kona also has many snorkeling tours, dolphin watch tours, and luaus to choose from. There are resorts for all budgets, and Kona has the best nightlife of the island.
Because Kona caters to tourists, many tours also offer pickups in Kona for tours to Mauna Kea, one of the Big Island’s most popular attractions.
If you don’t mind a drive, you can also set out to explore the southwestern part of the island, home to the Captain Cook monument and Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park, which is known to have some of the best snorkeling on the island. Big Island Bees is nearby. Try their honey samples and tour their farm.
Perhaps the most interesting place near Kona is Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. Before 1819, a pu’uhonua was a place of refuge in Hawaii. If you were sentenced to death for breaking the law, you could live if you found your way to a pu’uhonua and received forgiveness from a priest. This is a sacred place in Hawaii and it’s a great place to visit to learn more about Hawaiian history and culture.
Pros of Kona
Kona is geared towards visitors, making it an easy place to visit. There are plenty of resorts to choose from, and is the only place to go to a Kona Coffee farm, visit Kona Brewing Company, and to go diving with manta rays. If you want to do any of those things, you’ll want to stay in Kona.
Cons of Kona
Kona has the most people on the Big Island and because it caters so well to tourists, it can feel crowded and touristy. If you are looking for a more secluded getaway, I would tell you to stay in Waikoloa. Plus, Kona is also about two hours from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, another main attraction on the Big Island. If you stay in Kona and you want to visit the park, you will either have a long day ahead of you or you will want to stay a night or two in the park.
Although only 45 minutes from Kona, Waikoloa is a world apart.
Things to do
Quiet and secluded, Waikoloa is filled mainly with resorts, shopping, and restaurants. Think luxurious spas, quiet afternoons at the pool with a drink in hand, and romantic restaurants. Some resorts even offer private beachside dining for couples. If you want to pamper yourself and have a few days to relax, Waikoloa is the place to do it.
If you want to explore the north shore of the Big Island, Waikoloa is a good base.
Because there are so many resorts, many tours also offer pickups in Waikoloa, so you don’t have to miss out on a trip to Mauna Kea.
Pros of Waikoloa
If you want to do a longer trip to the Big Island that includes some adventuring in the national park and/or Kona, you might want to end your trip with a few nights relaxing in Waikoloa.
Cons of Waikoloa
It’s a quieter, so there isn’t much nightlife here. It’s also far from other parts of the island, so it’s hard to do much exploring.
Hilo is very different from Kona. While visitors are welcomed and there are hotels and plenty of things to do here, it is just not as built up for tourists as Kona. However, Hilo is a great town that has a lot to offer.
Things to do
Even if you only have one day in Hilo, there are lots of great things to do.
Hilo is famous for its Farmers Market, which runs every day. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the market’s busiest days, over 200 local farmers and crafters sell produce, crafts, gifts, flowers, and more.
Hilo may be small, but there is a lot of history here. Visit the Lyman Museum, the Mokupāpapa Discovery Center, the Tsunami Museum, and/or the Imiloa Astronomy Center.
The Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo And Gardens isa free family-friendly attraction. Even though it’s small, it has a beautiful botanical garden and over 80 animal species. It’s the only tropical zoo in the United States and worth a visit.
Visit one of Hilo’s black sand beaches and look for a rainbow at Rainbow Falls.
Hilo is a great home base for exploring, hiking, and adventuring. Akaka Falls is a .4 mile Akaka Falls Loop Trail that ends at a 422-foot waterfall. It is located 30 minutes outside of Hilo.
One of my favorite things to do on the island is going to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, only 20 minutes from Hilo.
Hilo is also close to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as well as Mauna Kea. Many tours offer pickups in Hilo.
If the lava is flowing, Hilo is a great place to be. If you plan to hike out to the lava, the hike starts about an hour away from Hilo. Read more about the different ways to see the lava flow here.
Many Helicopter tours take off from Hilo airport. These tours will take you over the volcanoes and some of the Big Island’s most gorgeous places.
The south side of the island, with the famous black sand Punalu‘u Beach is over an hour’s drive from Hilo.
Pros of Hilo: It is a great location to explore from. There is so much to do in Hilo and nearby. Also, you are close to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, so you could take a day trip there.
Cons of Hilo: It does not cater to tourists like Waikoloa and Kona. It’s a residential area. This could be a pro, depending on how you look at it.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
In my opinion, I saved the best for last! My favorite part of the Big Island is Hawaii Volcanoes, National Park. If you are active and want to hike in the park, I’d recommend staying a few nights in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. However, since the park is small, you could be fine just spending the day here.
Since its only about 40 minutes from Hilo, this would be an accessible day trip.
Things to do
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has no shortage of things to do. Luckily, many of them are accessible, close to each other, and quick to do. You can drive right up to the Jagger Museum, Sulphur Banks, Steam Vents, Thurston Lava Tube, Holei Sea Arch, and the park’s biggest attraction, Halema’uma’u Crater. At night, you can see red lava glow coming out from the crater.
There’s not much nearby. The closest big town is Hilo.
Pros of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
You can stay at Volcano House, located in a great spot with views of Halema’uma’u Crater. If you are a military family, you can stay at the Kilauea Military Camp. You can’t beat the prices of the cabins there.
If you’re staying the night, you can go late at night to Halema’uma’u Crater and see the lava glow. The darker it is outside
Cons of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
You are far from a lot of other attractions. If you come here, expect to stay mainly in the park and in nearby Volcano Village. There are not a lot of food options. Most national parks have restaurants and stores where you can get food and supplies, but the only place to eat is at the hotel Volcano House. There are some restaurants outside of the park.