Hawai’i (Big Island) Travel Guide

Big Island travel Guide Rainbow Falls in Hilo

Volcanoes, stargazing, whale watching, and waterfalls galore will greet you on the Island of Hawai’i

The Island of Hawai’i is larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined and then some. The Big Island has it’s die-hard fans and I am one of them. The Big Island is for coffee connoisseurs, astronomers, whale watchers, volcanologists, manta ray snorkelers, and travelers who crave a white-sand beach. 

Don’t jump to the conclusion that you will go here on your second trip to Hawaii, keep an open mind as this might be the island for you.


Everything you need to know about planning your trip to the Big Island is here:

🍍 Big Island Facts

🍍 Big Island Itineraries

🍍 Where to Stay

🍍 Travel Tips

🍍 When to Travel to Hawai’i

🍍 The Best Things to Do

Island of Hawai’i (Big Island) Facts:

🍍 The Island of Hawai’i has 4 out of the 5 major climate zones in the world and 8 out of 13 sub-zones, following the Köppen climate classification scheme. That means the Big Island has deserts to polar tundra to rainforests and in-between. 

🍍 Two of the five shield volcanoes that formed the island are still active. Kilauea and Mauna Loa are not currently erupting but Volcanoes National Park is worth a visit.

🍍 The next Hawaiian island is forming fifteen miles off the island’s southeast coast. Loʻihi, is erupting 3,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. While it will still be several thousand years before this volcano breaks the sea’s surface, it has already risen more than 10,000 feet from the seafloor and has a crater that measures three miles across.

🍍 Kamehameha the Great, who unified the Hawaiian Islands as one kingdom in 1810, is believed to have been born in the Big Island’s North Kohala area.

🍍 Captain James Cook, who is widely considered to be the first European to set foot on the Hawaiian Islands, was killed at Kona’s Kealakekua Bay in 1779.

🍍 Measured from its seafloor base to its highest peak, Mauna Kea is the world’s tallest mountain, taller than Mount Everest, since the base of Mount Everest is above sea level.

🍍 The island is often referred to as the Island of Hawaiʻi, the Big Island, or Hawaiʻi Island to distinguish it from the state.

Big Island facts City of Refuge
Island of Hawaii travel Guide Facts Akaka Falls in Hilo
Hawaii Cheat Sheet Hawaii Vacation Guide printable

Hold your horses. Check-out our popular and oh-so-free Hawai’i Cheat Sheet to get a lay of the land (it’s printable).

🍍 Hawaii Big Island Cheat Sheet printable

Big Island Itineraries

I, Jordan, would move to Hawai’i if Erica would agree to leave Maui. But for now, we are hopping over there whenever we can to experience all the island has to offer. Check out these itineraries and things to do for your trip to the Big Island

🍍 1 Perfect Day in Hilo, Hawaii: Things to Do Around Hilo

🍍 Our Best Itinerary: Big Island Wayfinder Itinerary

🍍 Fit our favorite Big Island tours and activities into your itinerary!

🍍 17 Big Island Things to Do and Places video below



big island travel guide Punalu’u Beach black sand beach
Big Island Travel Guide Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Big Island travel guide map of Island of Hawaii resort areas
Hawaii Big Island Where to Stay Download

Where to Stay on the Big Island

Kailua-Kona on the west coast and the Kohala Coast on the northwest coast are popular places to stay. Hilo on the east coast and Volcano Village are good to stay for a day or two, but in our opinion, it is best to use the west side as your launching pad. Check out our article below if you are deciding between Hilo or Kona.

Hilo or Kona: Where to Stay on the Big Island

The busiest airport and the one we fly into is just north of Kailua-Kona, Kona International Airport (KOA). Hilo International Airport (ITO) is a good option if you plan to stay in Hilo or only visit Volcanoes National Park but check flights, as it may be more convenient and cheaper to fly to KOA.

From KOA, it is a 15-minute drive to Kailua-Kona or a 30-minute drive to most of the resorts on the Kohala Coast. All the major rental car companies are a 5-minute courtesy shuttle ride away from the arrivals terminal at KOA.

The Big Island has two main resort areas. Kailua-Kona and the Kohala Coast. The Kohala Coast is home to luxury resorts and condo communities. For well-priced accommodations and a bountiful selection of vacation rentals and hotels, look near Kailua-Kona. Staying in Kailua-Kona also puts you in the action of restaurants, breweries, Kona coffee plantations, and other activities.

From the west coast, it is an hour and 30-minute drive to Hilo. The island is large but it isn’t unreasonable to take a day trip to Hilo or a two-hour drive from Kailua-Kona to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

Free Where to Stay on the Big Island Download

Need more details on Where to Stay on the Island of Hawaii? Our favorite hotels, where’s the best weather, Hilo vs. Kailua-Kona? Download our free Where to Stay Guide (one-page cheat sheet) for Hawaii. You will get the Big Island, Maui, O’ahu, and Kaua’i with one email download.

Click here to download!

Island of Hawai’i Travel Tips

From navigating the island to finding the local beaches, check out the articles below to plan your Oahu vacation.

🍍 The roads are safe and well maintained. Try avoiding rush hour periods around Kailua-Kona

🍍 The Kohala Coast and Kona beaches are best for swimming and snorkeling in the summer, check surf reports for winter conditions.

🍍 Hotel vs Airbnb: How to Decide What is Best for Your Hawaii Vacation

🍍 The Big Island is busiest in December as it is a popular Christmas destination.

🍍 Whale watching is a must from late December to the end of March. Click for our favorite Kohala Coast whale watching and Kona Coast whale watching operators.

🍍 Pack for varying weather. It gets cold on the volcanoes so bring jackets. Also, be prepared for hiking at Volcanoes National Park and other amazing trails on the island.

🍍 We strongly recommend getting a rental car to see all the sights, even if you don’t plan to visit Hilo or Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

🍍 Hilo is a rainforest climate so prepare for rain and count yourself lucky if the sun is out. Hilo is my favorite city in the state of Hawai’i so I recommend a visit. 

🍍 How to Get a Cheap Plane Ticket to Hawai’i: 5 Steps

Big Island Travel Guide Time to Visit
Island of Hawaii Where to Stay Near Kailua-Kona for beaches

When to Travel to the Island of Hawai’i

As with all the Hawaiian islands, the lowest prices, best weather, and smallest crowds are during the shoulder seasons of September to mid-November and March to May. 

Our favorite month to visit Hawai’i is October. It checks all the boxes for the cheapest time to go, great weather, and the least crowded month. 

If you can’t get away during the school season, then late May and June is a good time to go during the busy season. 

The Big Island is a favorite for the December holiday period as the prices are good compared to the other islands and it has a lot of local activities. 

While the densest population of humpback whales is on Maui, the Big Island is the second-best place to see the majestic, acrobatic whales. Visit from mid-December to mid-April for whale watching season.

The Big Island’s Best Things to Do

The challenge for going to the Big Island is picking what activities to do. There are no shortages. If you have kids, the Big Island will be their favorite island with volcanoes and stargazing galore.

Each year the Big Island plays host to a number of world-renowned festivals and sports events, such as the following:

🍍 Merrie Monarch Hula Festival in Hilo each April

🍍 Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona every October

🍍 Kona Coffee Cultural Festival in November


Must-Do Activities

🍍 The 5 Best Sandy Beaches in Kona

🍍 17 Things to Do in Hawaii with Social Distancing

🍍 ‘Akaka Falls north of Hilo, one of the tallest waterfalls on the island

🍍 Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (here is our favorite Volcano guide tour from Kailua-Kona)

🍍 Ka Lae, the southernmost point in the United States

🍍 Rainbow Falls just outside of Hilo

🍍 Kayak or Power Rafting snorkel tour at the Captain Cook Monument

🍍 Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

🍍 A Kona coffee plantation tour, roasting, or tasting or both

🍍 Onizuka Center for International Astronomy on Mauna Kea or a guided stargazing tour from Kailua-Kona on the top of Mauna Kea

🍍 Manta Ray Night Snorkeling in Kailua-Kona

🍍 Whale watching is a must from late December to the end of March. Click for our favorite Kohala Coast whale watching and Kona Coast whale watching operators

🍍 Punalu’u Beach, black sand beach on the southern shore

🍍 Take surf lessons from Kailua-Kona!

🍍 Whale watching off the Kohala Coast from December through April

Check out our Hawaii Recommendations for more of our favorite Big Island activities, what to pack, and other helpful information on planning your vacation to Hawai’i!