The Big Island of Hawaii has so much to offer! On just one island, you have erupting volcanoes, lush botanical gardens, amazing snorkeling, coffee plantations, and so much more!
To make the most of your trip, read on for tips on where to stay and what to do during your trip to the Big Island of Hawaii.
Where to Stay
While the Big Island of Hawaii isn’t huge, it does take 1-2 hours to drive across the island. To avoid spending a lot of time driving, I recommend staying in three different areas during your stay: Waikoloa Village, Kailua-Kona, and Hilo.
While it can seem like a hassle to pack up your things and move to another location, you’ll be cutting a lot of driving time out of your trip. That’s time you can spend exploring the Big Island!
I recommend starting your trip at one of the resorts in the Waikoloa Village area.
Fly into the Kona International Airport at Keahole and pick up a rental car once you arrive.
TIP: If you’re going to Mauna Kea’s summit, you’ll need a four-wheel drive car.
After you get your rental car, time to head off to your resort! While staying in the Waikoloa Village area, you can:
1. Kick back & relax
Take advantage of the great beaches and pools at the resorts in this area. Get in the vacation mindset and recover from jet-lag. The Big Island isn’t known for its beaches, so take time to enjoy the beaches here.
2. Try paddle boarding, yoga, or hula dancing
The resorts usually offer fun activities for you to try. Ask at your resort’s front desk for a list of activities offered during your stay, like paddle boarding, yoga, or hula dancing!
3. Visit Mauna Kea
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano with an amazing, free star gazing program. It’s located about halfway between Waikoloa Village and Hilo, so you can also visit Mauna Kea while staying in either area.
Read more about visiting Mauna Kea at Mauna Kea: Essential Guide for Your Visit.
For the next part of your trip, pack up your bags and head to Kailua-Kona! Once in Kailua-Kona, you can:
4. Snorkel in Kealakekua Bay by the Captain Cook Monument
Kealakekua Bay by the Captain Cook Monument is known for its amazing snorkeling – coral reefs, colorful fish, and the occasional eel and turtle! Captain Cook met his end here after trying to hold a Hawaiian chief for ransom.
TIP: I recommend going on a tour to snorkel in Kealakekua Bay. The only other way to get there is to hike three miles downhill with your snorkel equipment and then hike three miles back uphill after you’re done. There are inexpensive tours available on Trip Advisor.
We used Sea Quest for our snorkeling adventures and we were really happy with them. They gave us tips on where to find the best snorkeling spots and went out of their way so that we could see dolphins!
5. Night snorkel with manta rays
I have to admit – the idea of going snorkeling at night with manta rays freaked me out. But after multiple people told me that this was their favorite experience on the Big Island, I had to try it out. And I’m glad I did!
Several tour groups offer night snorkeling tours with manta rays on the Big Island. You’ll want to go on a tour that’s in the Kailua-Kona area by the Sheraton for the best experience.
You’ll float in the ocean while holding on to a board that has lots of lights attached to it. The lights attract plankton. And the plankton attract the manta rays. To get the plankton, the manta rays do flips underneath your board over and over again. It’s an amazing thing to see!!
6. Visit a coffee plantation
The weather, altitude, and soil make the Kailua-Kona area ideal for coffee-growing. We visited the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation while on the Big Island. They offer daily tours of their coffee-making process and are located within a cloud forest!
7. Visit the Kona Brewery
We loved the Kona Brewery. They had great pizza and craft brews for any beer drinkers in your group. You can go on a tour of the brewery at 10:30AM or 3PM any day of the week.
8. Eat shaved ice with ice cream
Shaved ice is similar to a snow cone, but with smaller shards of ice and lots more delicious juice. For the ultimate treat, get ice cream in the middle of your shaved ice. I’m serious. It’s delicious. You have to try it! Ask for it at Scandinavian Shave Ice.
9. Find white pineapple at a farmers’ market
We heard about white pineapple from several locals on the Big Island. They told us it was sweeter than regular pineapple and less acidic. And so our hunt for white pineapple began…
We found white pineapple at the Kona Farmers’ Market. The pineapple was definitely white inside! It still tasted like pineapple, but how pineapple tastes when it’s perfectly ripe (which is hard to find!). It was still acidic, but not quite as acidic as regular pineapple.
TIP: Our white pineapple was really expensive. We didn’t try to haggle the price down, but I recommend you give it a try.
10. Go diving
Some members of our group went diving on the Big Island and had a great experience with Jack’s Diving Locker. If you’re on the fence, they offer an introductory diving class in a pool so you can try it out before deciding whether to dive in the ocean.
TIP: You’ll risk decompression sickness if you fly or drive to high altitudes right after diving, so be careful to avoid high altitude areas (like the coffee plantations and Mauna Kea) after diving.
11. Attend a luau
Next stop on your trip is Hilo for volcanoes and more outdoor adventures! In Hilo, you can:
12. See volcanoes!
On the Hilo side of the island, you can visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and see an active lava lake, lava tubes, and steam vents. You can even take a boat or helicopter tour to see the lava up close!
Find out everything you need to know about visiting volcanoes on the Big Island here.
13. Walk through the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden has an amazing variety of plant life and beautiful views of the ocean.
A few things to know:
- Admission is $18 for adults, $5 for ages 6 to 16, and free for ages 5 and below.
- There is a very long, steep ramp at the entrance to the garden. It’s a long, steep journey down to enter the garden and a long, steep journey up to exit the garden.
- Many of the plants aren’t native to Hawaii. The plants are still amazing to see; however, don’t be surprised that many of the plants are from other areas of the world.
14. Visit Akaka Falls
Akaka Falls is a spectacular waterfall. The waterfall is very close to a paved parking lot, so very little walking is involved to see this view!
The entrance fee is $5 per car or $1 per person for pedestrians. The parking lot can be a little crowded, but you won’t have to wait long for someone to leave and open up a spot.
15. Visit Rainbow Falls in Wailuku River State Park
Rainbow Falls is well-named – you can often see a rainbow in the waterfall’s spray around 10AM in the morning on sunny days. When we went, it was cloudy, so we unfortunately didn’t get to see a rainbow. But the waterfall was still beautiful without the rainbow!
Like Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls is close to a paved parking lot, so very little walking is required. And there’s no entrance fee!
I hope these tips help you to make the most of your trip to the Big Island of Hawaii! Before you set off to Hawaii, check out Big Island of Hawaii: What You Need to Know Before You Go.
Enjoy your trip!