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When you’re headed to the big island, your first major task is figuring out where to stay. Before you jump to booking a hotel, take the time to understand the differences between the regions on the island. Home to 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones, you’re going to get a different experience based on where you stay. The majority of visitors to the Big Island choose to stay in Kona or on the Kohala Coast. But that might not be the right spot for you.
Read on to explore different spots on the Big Island and our favorite hotel and vacation rental choices in all of them.
Areas of the Big Island
Getting to know the geography of the Big Island before you book a place to stay is important. And the Big Island is BIG. It’s 63% of the total Hawaiian island land mass and is bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
There are six main regions on the Big Island, but when you’re looking at places to stay, the majority of your accommodation options will fall into four areas: Kona, Kohala Coast, Hilo, and Volcano/Fern Forest (Puna district).
Want to see these locations in action? Check out our “Where to Stay on the Big Island” video that gives you a view of what it’s like to stay in each of these areas:
Where to Stay on the Big Island FAQs
Which side of the Big Island is the best to stay?
Most people stay on the leeward side of the island, in either Kona or on the Kohala Coast. Here you’ll get plenty of sunshine, warmer temperatures, and have great beaches and snorkeling at your fingertips. Plus, if you’re hoping to swim with Manta Rays, all three Manta Ray locations are located on the leeward side of the island.
How many days do you need on the Big Island?
There is enough to do on the Big Island to keep you busy for months. But if you can’t stay for months (and not many people can), plan to stay for at least one week. This will give you enough time to check out some of the must-see spots and still have a few relaxing beach days.
You can read more about why spending at least a week on the Big Island is the best idea. Plus, start planning out your days with our full list of 21 things to do on the Big Island and the 5 can’t miss experiences.
Where to stay on the Big Island for beaches and snorkeling?
If you’re coming to the Big Island for the best beaches and snorkeling, stay on the Kohala Coast. You’ll find the best beaches on the island located here and some of the top snorkeling spots. If you’re booking for a trip during the winter, it’s important to know that while the beaches are still beautiful, the Kohala Coast can get hit with big swells, making it extremely unsafe to enter the water. For a better bet snorkeling in the winter, head to south Kona, and to our favorite snorkeling spot.
Where to Stay in Kona
Kona is one of the most popular spots for visitors to stay. Located on the leeward side of the island, the Kona district has a lot to offer. Most visitors to the island fly into Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport. Encompassing two-thirds of the leeward side of the island, staying in Kona you’ll have a good chance of getting sunshine and blue skies.
Kona has plenty to do for visitors. You can explore historic downtown Kailua-Kona, sample fresh coffee in Kona coffee country, snorkel at Kealakekua Bay, and visit Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. In Kona you’ll also find two of the best spots to go night snorkeling or diving with Manta Rays.
In Kona, you’ll find a number of different options for your stay. You can plan to stay in one of the hotels in walkable historic Kailua-Kona, head up to the hills to stay at a vacation rental in coffee country, or enjoy a beach resort.
And if you’re staying in Kona, be sure to make note of the best sandy beaches in Kona!
There are a lot of hotels to choose from in Kona, but here are a few of our favorites:
- Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa: Located on Keauhou Bay, is located just south of Kailua-Kona. This hotel (a former Sheraton property) offers good-sized rooms, excellent sunsets, and a great pool and waterslide. Plus, it’s just steps away from a great Manta Ray night snorkeling tour.
- Royal Kona Resort: The Royal Kona is located on the south end of Kailua-Kona and is an easy walk to Ali’i Drive, so you have plenty of restaurant and activity options at your fingertips.
Where to Stay on the Kohala Coast
If a sprawling beach resort is calling your name, the Kohala Coast is the spot for you. Sometimes called the Gold Coast thanks to the number of luxury resorts, you’ll find a range of hotels to choose from.
The Kohala Coast isn’t just known for it’s beautiful resorts — here you’ll find great weather, very little rain, and some of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Just note that during the winter, the beaches can be hit with large swells and powerful currents which makes entering the water dangerous.
On the Kohala Coast you’re approximately 15-20 minutes north of the Kona airport, making this a very accessible location. You’re also a reasonable drive away from Kailua-Kona as well as some of the other sights in the Kohala region, like Pololu Valley lookout (approximately a 1 hour drive from the resorts).
If you’re looking for at least some relation at a resort, Kohala offers some of our favorite options.
Related read: How do resorts on the Big Island compare to Maui?
Kona and the Kohala Coast is our recommended place to stay if you plan to do a lot of snorkeling. We share why in our 5 Best Big Island Snorkeling Spots.
Kohala Coast hotels
- Fairmont Orchid: Located on the north side of the Kohala Coast, the Fairmont Orchid is located on a scenic lagoon that is perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
- Four Seasons Hualalai: Arguably the most luxurious resort on the island, the Four Seasons Hualalai offers spectacular grounds, a marine biologist on staff, and it’s signature level of customer service.
- Mauna Lani: A laid-back, fun, and luxurious resort that has been newly renovated.
- Mauna Kea: This hotel is located on the north end of the Kohala Coast, so it’s a further drive from the airport and activities in Kona, but it’s on a beautiful beach and has a Manta Ray viewing area (and you can even swim with them from the shore here).
- Westin Hapuna: Located on the best beach on the island, Westin Hapuna Beach gives you direct access to the sprawling white sand beach.
Where to Stay in Hilo
The largest town on the windward side of the island is Hilo. With a charming downtown and easy access to some of the sights and attractions up and down the beautiful coastline, Hilo is a draw for people who are looking for a bit of an adventure and slightly less expensive accommodations. You can also fly directly to Hilo airport if you’re traveling inter-island or from a few west coast cities.
Most people don’t spend their entire vacation in Hilo. While it is close to the Hamakua Coast, Akaka Falls, and Volcanoes National Park, there are drawbacks to consider. You’ll generally find slightly cooler temperatures and a lot more rain on that side of the island. Beaches are less protected, which means that snorkeling and swimming can be challenging.
We usually choose to spend the majority of our time in Kona or on the Kohala Coast and make a trip to Hilo or Puna for a night or two.
Want to dive into more details about whether Hilo is the spot for you? Here we break down all of the pros and cons of staying in Hilo vs. Kona.
- The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls: Just a few miles outside of Hilo, this inn offers a lush landscape overlooking the private Kulaniapia Falls. It’s 100% off grid and offers different accommodations, with guest houses, cottages, and suites.
- The Grand Naniloa (by Hilton): The oceanside location is a draw for this hotel (near Coconut Island). Here you’re walking distance to all that downtown Hilo offers.
Where to stay near Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park (Puna)
If you are coming to see volcanoes and lava, you’ll want to head to the Puna region. Here you’ll find a number of different accommodation options in Volcano, Fern Forest, and within Volcano National Park itself.
You won’t find luxury resorts here, and you won’t be close to the beaches. But there are plenty of inns and vacation rentals that are located in tranquil settings. Some of our favorite memories have been waking up in a room overlooking the Halema’uma’u Crater and going to sleep in a vacation home in the middle of the serene Fern Forest.
Volcanoes National Park gets cold. Read our article for tips on What to Pack for Hawaii.
Volcano and Fern Forest accommodations
- Volcano House: You can’t get any closer to Volcano National Park than this. This hotel is located on Halema’uma’u Crater, making it the perfect launching point for exploring the park.
- Volcano Inn: Located just outside the park, this older inn offers easy access to the park and complimentary breakfast.
- Fern Forest Vacation Rentals: This small neighborhood outside of Volcano National Park has cabins, tiny homes, and traditional homes available for rent.
Planning a Trip to the Big Island
If you’re in the midst of planning a trip to the Big Island, you’ll want to head to our Big Island Guide. Here you’ll find resources to help you plan where to stay, when to go, and what to do. Plus, we give you a full overview of the geography and how to get around.
Or, if you’re ready to just pack your bags and go, we’ve done all of the legwork for you with our Big Island Itinerary. Let us guide you on excursion days around the island so you can make the most of your vacation.
Get The Big Island Itinerary
The step-by-step itinerary takes you to all the best beaches, snorkeling spots, restaurants, and sights. You’ll get six carefully planned excursion days to help you see the can’t miss stops no matter how limited your time is.
Get all the details on our itinerary and download it for a memorable and easily planned trip to Hawai’i (Big Island).