Big Island of Hawaii Travel Guide
Visitor Info & Top Things to Do on Hawaii's Big Island
The Big Island is not to be missed, so to help make your Hawaiian dreams a reality, we have assembled all the essentials you'll need right here. The Big Island of Hawaii seems determined to break the norm; the stereotype of the average tropical island, that is. Here you'll find the ongoing battle between green forests, black lava fields, the ocean, and the rain almost incomprehensible; the diversity is simply stunning. You may find yourself wondering, "Is this an ancient landscape or a future one?"
On the Big Island, it's always best to expect the unexpected. Even the beaches don't follow the rules here. It's almost easier to find a black sand beach than a white one, and if you're adventurous enough, you can even sink your toes into one of the world's few green sand beaches.
Snorkeling with Manta Rays* in the Kona area and touring the island's volcanoes are just a few of the tops things you should look into while visiting the Big Island of Hawaii. Ultimately, we'll help you discover all that the Big Island of Hawaii has to offer — Plan, book, pack, and go with HawaiiGuide: Big Island.
Everything you need to know about the Big Island of Hawaii is here in one convenient place:
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Summary of Big Island of Hawaii topics covered on this page.
- Current Weather Forecast
- Big Island of Hawaii Map Packet
- Big Island Regions & Destinations Guide
- Top 10 Big Island Attractions to See & Do
- Big Island Trip Itineraries for Planning 1-7 Day Trips
- Top Big Island Sights
- Top Big Island Beaches
- Top Big Island Hiking Trails
- Big Island Popular Tours & Activities
- Big Island Visitor Information & Articles
FREE Hawaii Island Summary Guidesheet
Updated with a new summary map of the Big Island with estimated driving times from popular starting points.
Includes the top must-see & do Big Island attractions, best times to visit, where to stay briefing, Big Island airports detail, a monthly weather summary, and where to find the most noteworthy local ono 'grindz' (best eats) on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Big Island Weather Forecast
Kailua-Kona town and Hilo town Forecasts
Big Island Travel Map Packet
Updated to include Beaches Map
Updated Hawaii Island Travel Map Packet
Updated with a new high-resolution printable map of the Big Island. Includes most major attractions, all major routes, airports, and a chart with estimated driving times.
PDF packet now additionally includes a Beaches Map.
-File is a print-ready PDF document
Hawaii Island Regions
Popular Destinations on the Big Island
The Big Island of Hawaii, of course, is the largest landmass in the Hawaiian island chain- which consists of eight major islands and 124 islets. The archipelago is made up of numerous volcanic islands in the central Pacific Ocean stretching in a 1,500-mile crescent from Kure Island in the northwest to the Big Island of Hawaii in the east, encompassing an area of 6,459 square miles. The eight major islands at the eastern end of the chain are, from west to east, Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and the Big Island of Hawaii.
We say the Big Island is 'big'- and we mean it! It is an island of such proportions that all of the other islands in the main Hawaiian chain could fit inside it nearly twice! Sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the landmass of the Big Island is approximately the same size as the state of Connecticut, about 4,050 square miles, and is still growing regularly thanks to Kilauea Volcano on the eastern coast of the island.
With so many different climate zones and vastly different landscapes to explore, it can be hard to decide which part of the island to visit. Browse the Big Island of Hawaii regions below and learn about the many things to do, what to expect, and the diverse attractions of the island.
Kona (West) Side Big Island Destinations
Kona Coast Region
Kailua-Kona town, Kealakekua, Captain Cook, Honaunau, and more
If you're heading to the Big Island there's certainly one area you cannot miss... the Kona (West) Coast. This warm and sunny leeward area has become the resort hotspot of the island. In total, the Kona Coast stretches some 40 miles along the rugged west coast of the Big Island.
You'll find a vast array of ocean-side restaurants, grocery stores, shops, and activity huts promoting various water activities in the nearby Kailua Bay. Accommodations in Kailua-Kona are generally less expensive than along the Kohala gold coast (Waikoloa), and many resorts/condos are located along Ali'i Drive.
Many historical sites, beautiful beaches (some well-hidden), pristine bays, and lava fields (with prominent petroglyphs) criss-cross and line the coast of this area. North Kona has some of the most gorgeous white sand beaches on the island, like Makalawena Beach and Mahai'ula Beach located at Kekaha Kai / Kona Coast State Park.
Kohala 'Gold Coast' Region
Including Waikoloa, Waimea, and Hawi
On the far northwest tip of the Big Island is Kohala, one of the most diverse areas on the island. This part of the Big Island started forming around 460,000 years ago and today includes the Kohala Mountains and the Kohala Ridge Road which straddles the mountain as it makes its way northwestward. Here you'll also discover the towns of Waimea (Kamuela) and Hawi.
The distinction between the windward (wet) side of the island and the leeward (dry) side couldn't be more clear here. Northeast Kohala is green and lush, while the southwest side of the peninsula is dry and sometimes even barren. At one time this part of the Kohala Coast, fittingly called 'North Kohala,' was a area of flourishing sugar cane plantations. Today it has become dominated by one of North America's largest privately owned ranches - the Parker Ranch.
The Kohala Coast region also includes an area called Waikoloa in 'South Kohala.' Some call this area the gold coast because of the many luxury resorts that have been engraved into ancient lava flows in this area. One of the most beautiful beaches on the island, Hapuna Beach, is also located along this stretch.
North Coast & East Big Island Destinations
North Hamakua Region
Including Waipi'o, Honoka'a, Laupahoehoe, and Honomu
On the North Coast of the Big Island lies the Hamakua coast, one of the most beautiful stretches on the entire island. The North (Hamakua) Coast begins at the entrance to Waipio Valley, at the end of the Kohala region, a once flourishing indigenous Hawaiian community, and ends at the outskirts of the Hilo region on the east side of the island.
Rainwater from the northern flanks of Mauna Kea along with snow from the summit of the great mountain flows down in countless streams along this part of the Big Island. The result is a mecca of stunning waterfalls and valleys. One such amazing falls are Akaka Falls and its surrounding State Park.
The main belt Highway (Highway 19) runs along the coast as the fastest route between Hilo and Kailua-Kona. Highway 19 often flirts with its predecessor, the Old Mamalahoa Highway, on which some amazing places and views can be found. The popular Four Mile Scenic Route is one such route off the main highway.
The most notable location on the northeast side of the Big Island of Hawai'i is undoubtedly Hilo town. Hilo is the island's largest city (second largest in the state - population-wise) and also takes the title for the wettest city in the United States (70+ inches yearly).
Hilo is an especially lush city with several gorgeous orchid gardens, interesting parks (the most prominent being Liliu'okalani Garden), museums, and other various attractions. Hilo borders a beautiful bay and is often cooled by sea breezes and tradewind showers.
Hilo town remains the 'back door' of sorts for access to the central part of the island and its famous Saddle Road. Rainbow Falls State Park and Wailuku River State Park, featuring the Boiling Pots area and Pe'epe'e Falls, are some of the larger natural attractions in town. Both parks are located on the same river just a few miles separate from one another.
Including Kea'au & Pahoa
East and south of Hilo is the Puna district and the funky little town of Pahoa (often called Hawai'i's outlaw town). This region is a diverse area of rain forests, lava fields, and rugged coastline.
One of the major attractions in Puna is the Lava Tree State Park. In 1790 a lava flow passed through a forest of ohia trees, and today the molds of these trees are all that remain; it's a unique attraction to visit. In 2018, several other attractions in this region were destroyed by one of Kilauea's most recent eruptions.
Including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Volcano Village, and Mountain View
If there's one single hot-spot on the island (no pun intended) for visitors then it's definitely the Volcano area. The area, is of course, most famous for Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park (HVNP).
The most commonly asked question is always... "Will I get to see lava?" You might and you might not, it's really just the luck of the draw. Most of the lava traverses from Kilauea into the ocean via underground lava tubes (see Nahuku Thurston Lava tube for a look into an ancient tube). When surface flows do break out, you can usually get pretty close to them, safety permitting.
We honestly believe one of the biggest mistakes visitors make is that they do not devote enough time to the HVNP area. We highly encourage you to allow at least two whole days to this area, preferably starting from Hilo or another nearby town (like Volcano Village) each day.
South Coast Big Island Destinations
South Kau Region
Including Pahala, Punalu'u, South Point, and more
South Hawai'i is one of the quietest areas of the Big Island. Here you'll find no large hotels or resorts, no major golf courses, and no real push for tourism. It's wild country out here. So what makes it worth exploring? How about some unique beaches for starters.
The southern portion of the Big Island is home to two of the most unique beaches in the state, Papakolea (Green Sand) Beach to the northeast of South Point, and Punalu'u (Black Sand) Beach Park off the Hawai'i Belt Road (Highway 11).
Central Big Island Destinations
Saddle Road Region Guide
Including Mauna Kea & Mauna Loa access
A visit from the Hilo region to the Kona region (or Kona to Hilo) of the Big Island is a must on your visit. To do so you must drive the Saddle, a road that connects the east and west sides of the island passing between the island's two largest mountains, Mauna Loa (13,680 feet) and Mauna Kea (13,796 feet). The past few years there have been tremendous improvements to this entire area.
Today Saddle Road provides the only access to the Army Base, residential areas of Waikiki Ranch, Mauna Kea State Recreation Area, portions of Parker Ranch (mostly located in the Kohala Region), Kilohana Girl Scout Camp, Kaumana City, and Kaumana Caves County Park.
Big Island Top Attractions
Top 10 Big Island of Hawaii Things to Do
All of the Big Island of Hawaii is fascinating and worth a visit. However, some Big Island attractions are significantly more popular because they offer an experience that truly captures the magical essence of the state's largest island. Most Inspirational, Must-See, Top Picks, Best of the Big Island... no matter what you label them, you absolutely must witness these attractions for yourself.
Top 10 Attractions on the Big Island
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park including Kilauea Volcano
- Akaka Falls State Park - North Hamakua Coast
- Pololu Valley Overlook - North Kohala
- Pu'uhonua o Honaunau - South Kona
- Makalawena Beach - North Kona
- Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden - North Hamakua Coast
- Hapuna Beach State Park - Kohala
- Manini'owali Beach at Kua Bay - North Kona
- Waipio Valley Overlook - Kohala & North Hamakua Coast
- Kilauea Iki Trail - Volcano area
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
#1 Rated in Sights to See on the Big Island
Originally founded in 1916, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (HVNP) is a living, breathing testament to the awesome power of Mother Nature. HVNP is located 30 miles southwest of Hilo and 96 miles southeast of Kona. It's open year-round, 24 hours a day.
HVNP is home to Kilauea Volcano, the most continuously active volcano in the world, and the park offers the unique experience of walking on land that is younger than you are. In recognition of its outstanding natural values, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park has been honored as an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site.
The park encompasses 333,000 acres of natural wonders and is situated at 4,000 feet above sea level. With its wealth of trails, drives, and activities you will likely need at least two days to fully experience all the park has to offer.
Akaka Falls State Park
North Hamakua Region
#2 Rated in Sights to See on the Big Island
Akaka Falls State Park, along the northeastern Hamakua Coast, is home to two gorgeous waterfalls and an abundance of lush tropical greenery to delight visitors.
The stroll to reach Akaka Falls is almost as beautiful as the falls itself. After taking a short set of stairs, turn left and follow the paved pathway through amazing greenery and small waterfalls flowing into babbling streams.
You will hear the dull roar of the waterfall before you see it. Just as you round a corner, you'll catch a glimpse of Akaka Falls free-falling 442 ft. through a green-lined gorge.
Pololu Valley Overlook
#3 Rated in Sights to See on the Big Island
As you pass the 28-mile marker on Highway 270 past Hawi, the coast will open up and you will suddenly be treated to a breathtaking view of the lovely Pololu Valley.
On a sunny day, you will see the vibrant blue and green ocean crashing into the rugged sea cliffs and the deep green carpet of vegetation lining the sides of the valley.
A short walk to the lookout reveals the many folds and creases of the inner part of the valley which drop into a rich, green floor. Lines of ironwood trees divide the lush valley from the grainy black sand beach that meets the ocean.
Puuhonua o Honaunau Historical Park
#4 Rated in Sights to See on the Big Island
Pu'uhonua o Honaunau (poo-oo-ho-noo-ah o hoe-now-now), formerly known as Place of Refuge at Honaunau, is an incredibly beautiful and educational experience that no trip to the Big Island should be without.
After paying your vehicle entrance fee and walking past the educational displays, you round a corner and are transplanted into the world of the ancient Hawaiians. On this scorched land of sand and lava rock, the ali'i (ruling class) of Hawaii made their home.
Visitors can explore how the Hawaiians worked and played underneath the shade of Honaunau's stately palms. Great snorkeling is available nearby at Two Step at Keone'ele Cove.
#1 Rated Beach on the Big Island
Like anything worthwhile, Makalawena, or Mak, Beach makes you work a little bit to enjoy it. It's about a 20-minute walk across the lava to the beach, but don't worry, the path is well worn through the a'a flow.
This secluded white sand beach is a crescent broken up by rocky lumps of lava. Palms and other trees rim the dunes near the northern end where you are greeted with picnic tables and some wild chickens.
It's not likely that you will run into many people here and thus you'll likely be able to enjoy the most scenic beach on the island in solitude.
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
North Hamakua Region
#5 Rated in Sights to See on the Big Island
This isn't a free attraction, but we still encourage all visitors to make some time and stop at one of the most beautiful botanical gardens you'll find anywhere: the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.
This stunning rainforest preserve is touted as one of the most beautiful locations in Hawaii; a distinction it well deserves. With the aid of the map provided by the garden, you will easily spend several hours ambling through the various sections of this magical lush wonderland. Every twist and turn leads to a new plant or tree.
Hapuna Beach State Park
#2 Rated Beach on the Big Island
This is an extremely popular beach for both locals and visitors. Conde Nast Traveler magazine has often ranked it as one of the top beaches in the US. It is hard to argue with this half-mile stretch of pristine golden sand and crystal blue water.
There are several covered pavilions to enjoy an afternoon picnic and restrooms, albeit rather pitiful ones, are available. There is occasionally a lifeguard on duty...despite the "no lifeguard on duty" sign.
Don't expect a lot of shade on this beach. Consequently, the golden sand heats to an unbearable temperature on a sunny day. During the summer months, the sand reaches 200 feet wide, so unless you want steaming toes wear sandals or water shoes. In the summer, the water is generally calm, but in the winter the surf can be treacherous. Be sure to monitor conditions carefully before entering. For snorkelers, the south end of the beach provides a variety of fish and coral.
Manini'owali Beach at Kua Bay
#3 Rated Beach on the Big Island
Kua Bay, also called Manini'owali Beach, is a lovely little pocket of sand that used to be very difficult to access, but since a multi-million dollar road has been paved right through the lava- it's a snap to enjoy this Big Island gem.
Kua Bay beach has full facilities including restrooms and showers, water, barbecues and picnic tables. It is very popular on the weekends, not to mention parking can be a nightmare, so you might want to aim for the weekdays.
When the water is calm, swimming is great here - some of the best in Kona. However, if the waves are going strong and the surf is up, stay out because it can be extremely dangerous.
Waipio Valley Overlook
Kohala & North Hamakua Region
#6 Rated in Sights to See on the Big Island
Located along the Hamakua Coast on the northeastern coast of the Big Island of Hawai'i, Waipi'o Valley is the largest and southernmost of the seven valleys on the windward side of the Kohala Mountains.
Time and nature's elements have carved an unimaginably massive valley filled with deep green-encrusted cliffs cut by plunging waterfalls. Its floor is carpeted with forests and neatly formed taro patches interspersed with the homes of its few residents.
At the mouth of the valley, the ocean licks the mile-long black sand beach which is sliced in half by the river that is partially fed by the 1,200 ft. free-falling Hi'ilawe Falls which resides deep in the valley.
Kilauea Iki Trail
#1 Rated Hike on the Big Island
As you stand at the Kilauea Iki overlook inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you can see a lightly-etched trail stretching across the crater floor. From your 400 ft high vantage point you might be able to see little specks walking the path: those are people!
Kilauea Iki is an approximately four-mile loop that takes 2-3 hours. It skirts the rim of the crater, dips down and across the floor and back up to the overlook. The portion of Crater Rim Trail that runs along the rim is a dense high-elevation jungle populated with flowering ohia trees and graceful ferns.
Big Island Tours & Activities
Popular Tours & Activities on Hawaii Island
For many visitors, a Big Island of Hawaii tour may be the perfect way to experience parts of the island that you'd never get to see. We've hand-selected these top-4 Big Island tours below due to their popularity and high ratings with visitors like yourself!
Morning Kealakekua Snorkel Tour
Starting at $159/person
The tour begins in Keauhou Bay, where Hawaii’s longest-reigning monarch King Kamehameha III was born, and the tour provider, Fair Wind, will share with you stories of old Hawai’i as they travel towards Kealakekua Bay.
Learn about the last battle stand at the Kuamo’o Battlefield and view the Royal Holua Slide, the best and largest of its kind in the state!
Inside of Kealakekua Bay, the Captain Cook Monument stands tall as a way to commemorate the site in which the celebrated circumnavigator, Captain James Cook, perished in 1779.
Guests are served a light, plant-based tropical breakfast with a fresh island fruit bowl, traditional muesli, homemade banana bread, herbal tea, and 100% Kona Coffee grown on the Fair Wind family farm.
Manta Ray Night Snorkel Tour
Starting at $129/person
Join Fair Wind aboard their Hula Kai vessel, for one of the most exhilarating experiences in Hawaii, Kona’s First-Class Manta Adventure! Mantas are very gentle – no teeth, stingers, or barbs.
They are simply big and beautiful with wingspans that can exceed 15-feet in width! These “Gentle Giants” visit us nightly to feed on the plankton attracted by Hula Kai’s bright lighting.
Enjoy a short and comfortable five-minute boat ride to Manta Village – located near the Sheraton Keauhou. Once at the site, just after sunset, Fair Wind's professional guides will assist you in the water for an experience of a lifetime! You will witness the mantas up close as they grace the waters and feed on plankton.
Big Island Experience Helicopter Tour
Starting at $629.00/person
See Kilauea & More on Our Big Island Helicopter Tour
The full island VIP adventure tour is for those who want it all! All of our Big Island helicopter tours rolled into one, plus an active volcano!
Helicopter Tour Highlights:
- Fly over the most active volcano in the world, Kilauea, which has been continuously flowing for over 30 years and inspires awe every day.
- While on the east side of the island, you are treated to views of Hawai’i Island’s largest city, Hilo.
- Your private journey continues along the Hamakua Coastline with wave-swept shorelines, tropical rainforests, and hundreds of waterfalls.
- Upon reaching the Kohala Coast, several majestic and sacred valleys exist to explore.
- Deep in the back of the valleys, where only helicopters can reach, are over 2000-foot waterfalls that you can hover right next to as you gaze at their power and beauty.
- Crossing over Kohala Mountain, you cruise over the Gold Coast.
Mauna Kea Summit & Stars Adventure
Starting at $255/person
Our journey from sea level to the nearly 14,000-foot summit of Maunakea reveals the wonders and world-class clarity of the Hawaiian night sky.
Maunakea Summit & Stars Highlights:
- Enjoy a warm picnic dinner and learn about Hawaiian star navigation.
- Learn about the historical accounts of early travelers through the mountain regions
- Delight in the awe-inspiring Hawaiian sunset at the top of Maunakea, the highest point in the Pacific
- Descend to a lower elevation after the sun sets and sip hot chocolate during a private star show with our 11” Celestron telescope
Big Island of Hawaii Itinerary Suggestions
Orchid Island Itineraries
The Big Island garnered its name from being the largest island in Hawaii. It has vast and transparent blue waters, spectacular beaches, hidden natural reserves, and an abundance of regions to travel to. If you are seeking trails to explore or sights to see in a day, three days, or however long you anticipate, the Big Island has ample amounts of activities.
Ultimately, we've designed our itineraries around a set number of on-island days: offering one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and in some cases, ten days for exploring the island, soaking in the best sights, and ensuring your precious time on the island is utilized wisely. We've tried to balance our itineraries between those who seek adventure and those who are looking to find a good beach and relax. Overall, we want your experience to be exactly what you've dreamed of when planning your Big Island of Hawaii trip.
For each island we've attempted to split up the itinerary days by sorting attractions according to their geographic proximity; i.e; on Volcanoes National Park day, you'd explore the best of the Big Island's HVNP attractions, and activities. Our itineraries are not meant to necessarily be followed consecutively, which would probably be exhausting, but instead as a grab-and-go resource for 'mapping' your trip - think of us as a Wayfinder's guide to the Big Island of Hawaii.
For nearly 20 years now, we've been visiting the Big Island and making detailed notes about what the island's highlights are and what visitors like yourself simply must-see based on the limited time you've allocated for each Hawaiian Island.
It isn't easy and can even be overwhelming to start planning a trip to Hawaii. One quick look on our website, and you'll soon discover there are hundreds of possibilities; a variety of sights to see, a plethora of beautiful beaches to choose from, and a diverse set of incredible trails that criss-cross each of the islands. Honestly, you could spend months on the island and not see and do it all. Having a reliable guide, that's key. We'd genuinely love to be your guide to the Big Island of Hawaii during your stay, and we hope you find our itineraries resourceful while planning your trip.
Best Beaches on the Big Island
Big Island Beach Guide
The Big Island offers up not only some of the loveliest beaches in the state but also some of the most varied. Though the Big Island may be the newest island in the chain and has the fewest major beaches, the island still has some of the best beaches in the world.
Here you'll find everything from enchanting green sand and black sand beaches, family-friendly beach spots, and rugged and remote beaches for the adventurous types.
In our Big Island Beaches Guide, we'll go over the top 10 beaches on the Big Island, and also include links where you can explore every beach on the island by region.
Best Things to See on the Big Island
Big Island Sights Guide
To say the Big Island is bursting with some of the best and most popular sights and attractions in Hawaii is certainly an understatement.
Tour otherworldly volcanic landscapes; marvel at the beautiful waterfalls, lovely parks, and botanical gardens; or stop by the museums and cultural centers.
You can even commune with the stars on the world's tallest mountain (measuring from the seafloor to summit). In our Big Island Things to See Guide, we'll show you the best landmarks and natural wonders the Big island has to offer, starting with our top 10.
Best Hikes on the Big Island
Big Island Hiking Trails Guide
Green sand beaches, gardens, rainforests, waterfalls, volcanoes, petroglyphs- this and so much more awaits you on the Big Island's incredible trails.
The Big Island has some of the best hiking trails in all of Hawaii; whether you're a hard-core trekker or just want to stroll and admire the scenery.
Included in our Big Island Hiking Guide are a few of our favorite Big Island excursions, sorted by the top hikes and additionally by region, to get you started.
Big Island Visitor Information
Travel Tips for Hawaii's Big Island
The Big Island of Hawaii is the third most popular Hawaiian island among visitors, hosting over 1.5 to 1.7 million travelers annually. Often called the "Big Island" to help distinguish it from the 1,500-mile-long archipelago with which it shares its name, Hawaii, the Big Island has certainly earned its nickname.
Sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the landmass of the Big Island is approximately the same size as the state of Connecticut, about 4,050 sq. miles, and still growing regularly thanks to Kilauea Volcano on the eastern coast of the island.
Composed of five major volcanoes, the island is the youngest in the Hawaiian chain with origins dating back some 800,000 years to the present day.
Popular Big Island Travel Articles
Big Island of Hawaii Vacation Guide
Explore Hawaii's Big Island by Topic
Often called the "Big Island" (or "Big I") to help distinguish it from the 1,500-mile-long archipelago with which it shares its name- Hawaii- the Big Island has undoubtedly earned its moniker.
The Big Island offers visitors an incredible, diverse, and expansive variety of things to both see and do.