The Ultimate Big Island Travel Guide
If you’re looking to get away from the tourist experience the Big Island is an excellent option for visiting Hawaii. The island does receive about 1.7 million tourists yearly, in addition to its 186,000 residents, but the Big Island is much larger than the other Hawaiian Islands (go figure) so it’s much less crowded.
The Big Island is also one of the few places in the US that you can see an active volcano and lava flow. Sometimes, the lava even flows right into the ocean for some amazing guided experiences!
If you’re looking for a unique adventure without the crowds, the Big Island of Hawaii is the perfect vacation destination. Even better, it’s the most affordable of the Hawaiian Islands!
Big Island is broken down into six distinct regions:
- South (Kau)
- Hamakua Coast
We’re going to break them down into North, West, South and East, learn more below:
- In the North, you’ll find the Hamakua Coast and Kohala.
- To the West is Kona, and the popular resort area of Waikoloa.
- The south is known as Kau and features the southernmost point in the United States.
- And, to the east are Puna and Hilo — areas that have been transformed by volcanic landscapes.
We’ve included information on where to stay, beaches and hikes in each area of the island.
This guide also has:
Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Kirk Lee Aeder
Welcome to the southernmost region of the United States. This remote part of the island has some pretty cool things to do! Check them out below.
WHERE TO STAY
If you’re looking to stay along the southern coast of Big Island, your options will be limited. Your best bet is looking for an airbnb.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach
Papakolea Green Sand Beach
This beach, like many others on the Island of Hawaii, is one of a kind! The green sand and jagged cliffs give this cove a truly surreal feel that will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The only downside? The wind. Unless you really plan around wind speeds, be prepared to take some sand to the face. You can get a pretty good idea if it’s a good day for Papakolea on this Windfinder site. If you’re going to Papakolea, you might also make a point to stop by South Point. If you’re the thrill-seeking type check out our cliff jumping section for more info!
The most famous jump on the island is South Point. Depending on the conditions it might be anywhere from a 20-foot to 75-foot jump straight into the ocean from the Southern Tip of the Island.
Green Sand Beach Hike
We mention the Green Sand Beach above, but getting there requires a 5-mile, round trip hike. Although the hike doesn’t have much elevation gain, it can still be grueling due to the lack of shade and extreme heat. It will be worth it when you make it to the beach, but remember to pack lots of water and wear sunscreen.
Pro Tip! Don’t feel like hiking to the beach? There are locals that will drive you for $20/person!
WANT TO VISIT THIS UNIQUE CORNER OF THE ISLAND? CHECK OUT OUR SOUTH ISLAND EPIC COASTAL JOURNEY.
The Kohala Coast is filled with Hawaiian history, from the legends and legacy of King Kamehameha to an ancient Hawaiian fishing village. While the Hamakua Coast features lush rainforests with jungle hikes and epic valleys with amazing views.
WHERE TO STAY
This is another region that’s pretty remote meaning accommodations will be limited. Aside from vacation rentals, your best bet is camping. We detail more below.
Camping in the North
Waimanu Valley; tsiggs902 / Flickr; Public Domain
If you’re looking for an adventure, backing packing into the Waimanu Valley is one you will never forget. You’ll need to be prepared for a trek, but it’ll be worth it when you arrive at one of the most beautifully remote areas in all of Hawaii.
There are nine campsites available in the Waimanu Valley campground. All of them are absolutely surreal oceanfront locations with plenty of shade from coconut trees. What's more, being so remote, you feel like you’re on your own private island. Depending on the time of year, you might have the entire black sand beach to yourself!
If you continue past your campsite, you’ll come across a mango forest (enjoy at your own risk) and a huge waterfall.
There is no running water in the valley unless you count the river, so you’ll need to carry in either all the water you might need, a filtration system, or iodine tablets. There is one vault style (no flush) outhouse between the nine sites.
Pololu Valley Beach
As long as you aren’t looking for perfect swimming conditions, Pololu Valley has an awesome black sand beach to spend a day at. Most people choose the valley beach for its beauty and adjacent hikes since this area's ocean life and rough waters make it a dangerous place to swim.
Waipi’o Valley Hike
Waipio Bay and Valley; Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
For generations, the Waipi’o Valley was the capital city and personal residence of many ancient Ali’i (Hawaiian nobility and chieftains). Not to drop names, but Kamehameha the Great spent much of his childhood in the valley. So, yeah, it’s pretty fancy.
Nowadays, you can get down to the beach on a gorgeous 3.7-mile hike. This hike is quite steep and also gets pretty narrow as you descend the valley wall. Further, and the hike back up certainly isn’t any less steep. But, it’s definitely worth the trek!
RELATED: Must-See Scenic Spots on Big Island
Pololu Valley Hike
Meandering through Pololu Valley; Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)
The Pololu Valley hike is devastatingly gorgeous. Pololu is one of several valleys along the Big Island’s northern coast. When you arrive, you’ll take a short 20-minute hike into the valley and beach below.
You’ll trek across the beach briefly before ascending a pretty steep collection of switchbacks up the valley wall. Once you make it to the top, you’ll find yourself at a lovely seating area with spectacular views of the valley and ocean.
Stay tuned for more great hikes in the next sections.
Backpack into Paradise
If you’re really looking for an adventure, the Waimanu Valley trip will take you to the most remote campsite on the island. It’s an intense nine miles in, but the hike itself is an absolute treasure. And the reward at the end is worth the arduous switchbacks and inclines you’ll conquer along the way.
The initial ascent is definitely the hardest part of the hike, so don’t get too discouraged if you’re feeling worn out after the first mile or so. After a quick break, the rest of the hike will be a breeze!
WHERE TO STAY
Resort Areas along the West Coast
Kailua-Kona coast; Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman
Kona-side is probably your best bet if you’re looking exclusively for a resort-style experience,
but the whole island has great options for hotels and hotel-resort hybrids.
Kona Islander Inn & Hotel is an excellently priced hotel. If you’re looking for something more upscale, the Holualoa Inn is impeccable.
The Kailua-Kona area is the most touristy part of the Big Island, but it’s still considerably less-so than most parts of, say, Oahu. If you’re looking to shop and beach-it, Kona has lovely boutiques and beautiful white sand beaches.
Hilton Waikoloa Village; Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Dustin Lefevre
More expensive, traditional resort-style accommodations can be found in the Waikoloa area. You’ll find a variety of accommodations here, but Kings' Land by Hilton Grand Vacations and Fairmount Orchard are quite nice. Ocean Tower at Hilton Waikoloa Village is a bit less pricey but certainly still high-end.
The Hilton Waikoloa Village is a popular, traditional resort with loads of activities right at the hotel.
There are too many hotels in this region to name them all, but we’re sure whichever you pick you’ll have an amazing stay.
Pro Tip! There are FOUR Shaka Guide driving tours that start in Waikoloa! Take our South Island Epic Coastal Journey, Kona Big Kahuna Tour, Kohala Coast Backcountry Tour, and North Island Jungle Adventure Loop, just steps from where you’re staying.
Airbnb Areas Along the West Coast
On the Kona side of the island, you’ll also have a ton of great options for Airbnb hosts, most of which are excellent deals for the location. Airbnbs in this area generally cost less than $100 a night.
If you are looking for something a bit more pricey in the area, the town of Kukio just north of Kona has several lavish Airbnb rentals.
The island’s best beaches for swimming and snorkeling are located along the western coast of the island.
Your options for white-sand beaches on Hawaii might seem limited at first, but if you know where to look you can find some outstanding ones! North of Kona, for instance, Makalawena is gorgeous and never too crowded.
There’s a short hike, so you’ll have to carry any beach-bum equipment you’re bringing with you, but it’s well worth the effort! The lava rock against the white sand gives the beach a very unique style. Be on the lookout for sea turtles!
Hapuna Beach; Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
Hapuna Beach is one of the longest white sand beaches on the island. The clear water and consistently clear skies make this a popular beach with visitors. The waters are usually excellent for swimming or to try out bodyboarding.
Kiholo Bay; Kristina D.C. Hoeppner / Flickr; CC-BY-SA-2.0
Kiholo Bay is a remote beach on Big Island’s west coast. A small hike to the beach offers big rewards — turquoise waters surrounded by lava rock.
Kua Bay Beach
Visit the white sands of Kua Bay in Kona | Photo by dronepicr
This white sand beach along the Kona Coast is perfect for the whole family. You’ll notice the island’s unique geology in front of your eyes as you see dark lava rocks on the beach. This beach tends to get crowded so weekdays and mornings are the best time to visit.
Aerial view of Kealakekua Bay
Kealakekua bay is a marine life conservation district. Typically, the water is calm making it a great snorkel spot.
Makalawena Beach Hike
Makalawena Beach; Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Kirk Aeder
We mention this beach in the above section, but there’s a little hike to get there! Don’t worry, it’s worth it. This hike is a total of 2.7 miles and has a five-star rating on AllTrails!
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
Historic site at Kaloko-Honokohau; Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Emily Dickey
At this park, you can take a 45 minute walk to the beach while experiencing Hawaiian culture along the way! Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park features an ancient Hawaiian fishpond, a traditional thatched building, petroglyphs, and a heiau or temple.
Pro Tip! This region of the island has the best snorkel spots, check out the snorkeling section below for our top picks.
WANT TO EXPLORE THE BEAUTIFUL KONA COAST? CHECK OUT OUR KONA BIG KAHUNA TOUR.
WHERE TO STAY
Resort Areas on the East Side
Hilo, Hawaii; Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / AJ Feducia
Hilo is one of the most residential cities in all of Hawaii, so if you don’t want to feel like a tourist this is a great place to stay. There’s also plenty to do around Hilo (See: What to Do on Big Island) and the prices will be comparably affordable to other areas of Hawaii.
Grand Naniloa Hotel is an excellent resort-style hotel on the water. Reed’s Bay Resort Hotel is very affordable. Hilo Seaside Hotel and Hilo Hawaiian Hotel are both great, affordable options as well.
The town of Volcano has a ton of hotels, as well. This is a great place to stay if you are looking to lava view or spend time in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The hotels in this area run a little more pricey than Hilo, but the Volcano Bed & Breakfast is an awesome option for budgets. The Volcano House has many different styles of accommodations available, tool.
On the more affordable end of the spectrum, you can find accommodations in the Puna area for a little as $20 a night! Puna is also great for escaping any sense of being a tourist. If you stay here, you’ll find yourself right in the middle of several amazing markets (see more in What to Do on Big Island) and a vibrant hippy culture.
Airbnb Areas on the East Side
You’ll also find plenty of nice and affordable Airbnb hosts a little further north in the Hilo area. There’s also tons of great shopping, water sports, adventure, and relaxation around Hilo so you’ll be able to find whatever you’re looking for.
Airbnb prices in the Hilo area run between about $50 to $150 a night.
Camping on the East Side
Namakanipaio cabins; @ericfrankephoto; https://www.instagram.com/p/B-KgRdLjvS3/
Namakanipaio isn’t operated by the state or local government, but the locations are very well kept and have some services and options available you might not be used to at typical sites.
The campsites cost $15 and are first come, first serve so you’ll want to get there early. If there aren’t any spots, this site also has overflow camping, but the rates are subject to change with demand so they might get expensive.
If you don’t want to risk it, there are also mini-cabins available for rental and reservation. You can reserve them online, but it can be hard to find an opening, so give the number at the top of this page a call if you’re interested.
Namakanipaio is located just outside of Volcano National Park.
If you’re looking to camp inside of Volcanoes National Park, Kulanaokuaiki Campground is a gorgeous option. You can’t reserve a spot, but the sites rarely fill up completely. Still, you might want to arrive early and have a backup plan just in case.
The campsites are walk-in and located just off of Hilina-Pali Road on the Maunaiki Trail.
Punaluu Beach Park Campground
Punaluu Beach Park; Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Kirk Lee Aede
On the southern segment of the island, you can camp at Punaluu Beach Park. The park doesn’t have designated campsites, but you’ll still need to book a permit.
If you chose to stay here, you’ll be camping right on the beach. You might even see some green or hawksbill sea turtles lounging on the black sand!
Travis.Thurston / Wikimedia Commons; CC-BY-SA-3.0
Shipman Beach is an awesome beach-hike combination in the Keaau area that never disappoints. The hike through the jungle and along the shore is breathtaking, and the secluded beach is perfect for relaxing after an adventure.
You can usually spot some sea turtles on land and in the ocean. If you’re lucky, you might even see a rare Hawaiian monk seal, but make sure to keep your distance from this protected species.
Or, Visit That Beach
If you’re in the Kalapana area on the southeastern portion of the island, there’s something a little different, you can check out Kehena Beach. The beach itself is quite unique, but the experience is really something else. Why?
It’s a clothing optional beach.
You can find Kehena Beach along Kalapana-Kapoho Road between Isaac Hale Beach Park and Kaimū Beach Park. You’ll notice a line of parked cars along the road as you approach. After parking, make your way to the trail toward the back left side of the viewpoint which leads down to the beach. The trail is extremely short but steep with jagged lava rock, so be careful.
Even if you aren’t into stripping in front of strangers (join the club), you should check out this beach if you’re in the area. The lava rock cove, green foliage, and sapphire water make this an alluring beach to return to again and again.
There’s a big drum circle event on Sundays that you might be interested in checking out. Make sure to watch for spinner dolphins, as well, which frequent this shore!
Isaac Hale State Park - Good for Experienced Surfers
This beach is actually a new black sand beach resulting from the 2019 Kilauea eruption. While the waves on this beach are sometimes tame, there are still some rocks and jagged edges to navigate, so we are only recommending this location to experienced surfers. If you are an experienced surfer, you should definitely check out this popular surf spot if you’re in the Puna area.
Punaluu Beach Park
Turtles basking at Punaluu Beach Park
This black sand beach is an awesome spot to experience the colorful sands of Big Island. Here, you'll see how lava rock has tranformed into sand making this beach a site to behold.
Shipman Beach Hike
The hike that accompanies Shipman Beach is an event in itself. You’ll start from this location in the Hawaiian Paradise Park neighborhood. The hike starts out pretty standard, but soon delves into a dense jungle packed with banyan trees and vines.
The trail then opens up into a gorgeous lava rock cliff that runs along the shore until you reach the beautiful Shipman Beach. The hike is about 2.3 miles each way.
Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is home to dozens of hikes! Some of our favorites are:
There’s no shortage of things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. Whether you’re an adventure junkie or looking to relax, there are plenty of exciting options! Lounge on a beach, go for a hike, shop and dine downtown, cliff jump — the choice is yours. Here’s a list of 14 things to do on the island!
1. Visit Mauna Kea
Similarity, Mauna Kea has several activities to consider, including arguably the best stargazing conditions in the world. Make sure to read up on safety information regarding acclimating to the changing altitude before you head out.
2. Visit Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Fallas
The Island of Hawaii’s western shore is home to an absolutely wild botanical garden. There’s a ton to see here including unique plant and animal life. You’ll also probably be blown away by the number of awesome hikes packed into this Botanical Garden.
Admission is $20 for adults, $5 for children under 16, and free for children under 6. There are over 15 separate trails inside of the Hawaii Botanical Garden. These include national treasures such as the Palm Vista, Palm Jungle, Onomea Falls, Banyan Canyon, Lily Lake and Trail to the Ocean Trails. Each offers something unique and spectacular!
The garden also has a bird exhibit called the Founder’s Birdhouse, which has several different varieties of Macaws, as well as over 40 different species of plants.
Whether you’re looking for something shorter or a hike all the way to the ocean, Hawaii Botanical Gardens is packed full of awesome adventures. Most of the hikes are pretty relaxed, so this is a great place to spend a day hiking around if you’re looking for something low-key.
3. Visit Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Kuni Nakai
We’ve already discussed camping at Volcanoes National Park, but there are plenty of other activities to hit in this area, as well.
You might take one of the many, many trails inside the park. You can also take a trip down Chain of Craters road for one of the most scenic drives in Hawaii. If you’re into anthropology, there are some interesting petroglyphs to check out.
4. Beach Hopping
Like everything else on the island, the beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii are beautifully unique. Between the white, black and green sand beaches, you’re sure to find something you’ve never seen before. We’ve mentioned a bunch in this guide but check out the map before for some of our favorites!
If you’re looking for something a bit more active than beach-bumming, there are tons of amazing hikes on Big Island, too. Whether you’re looking for a quick stroll or a multi-day adventure, Big Island has the hike you’re looking for. Check out the map below for some of our favorites!
Snorkelers in Kealakekua Bay, Kona; Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman
Richardson beach is probably the best spot to snorkel if you’re bound to Hilo Side. There’s not quite as much marine life to see as on the Kona Side, but you’ll likely to see turtles and several species of tropical fish.
Kona Side of the Big Island has some of the worlds best snorkeling so you should definitely take advantage of your awesome location if you are staying on that part of the island.
Kahalu’u Beach Park is extremely popular with good reason. If you chose this location, you’re certain to see all the sea-life you could hope for. Kealakekua Bay nearby is very similar and also quite popular. Honaunau Bay has excellent snorkeling, as well. It’s at a super convenient location for anyone staying in Kona. There’s even a snorkeling access point along Honaunau Beach Road which makes this spot even more convenient.
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Kirk Aeder
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are some amazing surf spots on the Big Island of Hawaii. The pastime was created on these islands, after all! You can check out any of the following beaches for awesome surfing.
Keep in mind that many of the spots on Big Island aren’t great for beginners, but we’ll let you know which ones are!
Honoli’i Beach is one of the best places to learn to surf on the Big Island. Closer to the shore, the waves get pretty small, but are still rideable, which can be a great transition before you head further out.
The real break further out gets a bit bigger, but the waves are often still perfect for learning if you’re just getting your bearings. Plenty of people have caught their first wave at Honoli’i.
If you’re staying in Hilo, this is one of the best places to surf, period.
Pine Trees Surfing Beach
This is a very popular surf beach on the Kona side. If you are an experienced surfer, you’ll probably feel at home riding the waves of this beach. Everyone else should probably steer clear.
This is also a great place to go if there are only some surfers in the group, since the beach also has BBQ sites and tidepools with a few fish to see.
Banyan Surf Spot
This is another great spot to catch some waves on the Kona side. It’s also a bit more of an experienced location, but check the break forecasts to see if it might be a good day for the inexperienced surfer.
There are absolutely amazing markets all over the Big Island. If you’re staying in Hilo or the Puna-Kalapana area, you’re especially well positioned to hit the highlights.
Uncle Roberts Wednesday night market is a particularly fun event with delicious food, drinks, music, and tons of locally made products and crafts. There’s also the Hilo market on Saturdays and Pahoa Market on Sundays.
RELATED: Best Big Island Farmers Markets
9. Cliff Jumping
If you are looking for a thrill, the Big Island has a major cliff jumping opportunity to get your adrenaline going (at your own risk). Head to South Point, also known as Ka Lae, to jump off the southernmost tip of the United States. Depending on the conditions it might be anywhere from a 20-foot to 75-foot jump straight into the ocean below. Please pay attention to ocean conditions.
Big Island camping is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Even if you have other accommodations, we highly recommend taking advantage of one of these totally unique spots for a couple nights if you have the chance.
If you didn’t bring any gear with you, don’t worry, there are local businesses that can get you set up with rental equipment. Kona Sports Center can hook you up with excellent gear rentals. If you reserve a spot through Volcano House, they’ll set-up your entire campsite with a tent, cooler, chairs, lantern and blow-up mattress.
If you’re looking for something different, Huaka’i Campers can rent you a four-wheel drive camping automobile with a rooftop tent.
Don’t forget to book your site.
Also, remember that most campsites on Big Island require a permit/reservation, so book a couple of weeks in advance at a minimum. There’s nothing worse than setting up only to be kicked off when the site’s rightful tenant shows up.
Keep in mind that several of these campsites are privately owned, so you’ll need to book them on commercial websites rather than the government one. We’ll let you know where to reserve your permit for each campground. Some private locations are first come, first serve, as well.
Skydiving is extremely popular on the Hawaiian Islands. You can check out Big Island Gravity LLC.
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman
If you want to stay a little closer to home but still get a rush, ziplining might be the perfect experience for you. There are several great options for companies. You might try Skyline Eco-adventures, Umauma Falls Zipline & Rappel Experience, or Hawaii Zipline.
The first lu’au was in 1819 when the son of Kamehameha the Great brought an end to centuries of social and class divisions. The first luau was a celebration of this newfound openness. So, luaus are both a symbol of Hawaiian values and, coincidentally, a really awesome time.
The luaus on Big Island are decent about adhering to Hawaiian culture. There are several companies that can plan and set-up a lu’au if you’ve got enough friends. These usually run from about $50 to $200 per person.
If you’re interested in seeing a luau but didn’t bring an army with on the place, you’ll probably be better off checking with your hotel or online just before you arrive to see if any are already scheduled.
What’s a good La’au entail?
Ryanhnl / Wikimedia Commons; CC-BY-SA-4.0
In Hawaiian, lu’au means feast, so a good, traditional luau will put a lot of importance on culturally accurate Hawaiian dishes such as poi and kalua pork.
Traditional hula used to be hard to come by, but a resurgence has led to, among other things, some fantastic lu’au entertainment. It’s many times more fascinating than the more common westernized spin, so be sure to ask about it before signing yourself up!
Hearing tales from Hawaiian religion is also common at the best luaus, so keep an ear out for some intriguing storytelling and culture.
Looking for a great luau? Check out this list here.
Perhaps we’re biased, but we at Shaka Guide think that tours are an outstanding way to get to know an area. Shaka Guide offers several tours for the big island, including the Volcano National Park Tour, North Island Jungle Tour, South Island Epic Coastal Journey, Kona Big Kahuna Tour, and Kohala Coast & Backcountry Tour.
You might also be interested in whale watching tours. Or taking a boat tour to watch lava flow into the ocean. Please note, lava boat tours are dependent on whether or not lava is flowing.
The Big Island has some outstanding food options in all of its cities.
Best Place to Eat Kona Side
The Kona side has plenty of great places to eat, too. Huggo’s is very nice, as well, and the adjacent On the Rocks offers a more casual experience for drinks and food. If you are looking for something Hawaiian, Umeke's Poke Bowls And Local Style Lunch Plates has awesome versions of all the Island favorites.
Best Places to Eat Hilo
Sweet Cane Cafe; @sweetcanecafe; https://www.instagram.com/p/BZ9W32ygSA9/
Hilo is the more local city on the Island, so you’ll have an easier time finding good food on a budget here. People have come from all over the world to the Big Island of Hawaii to make their home, so there are options for any cuisine you might be craving.
If you are looking for seafood, the Pond is tasty. Sombat's Fresh Thai Cuisine is wonderful.
The Hilo Burger Joint and Hilo Tavern are local favorites and great places to grab a drink. If you are vegetarian, or just like fruits and vegetables, the Sweet Cane Cafe is phenomenal. Ebisuya Sushi doesn’t look like much, but it sure does taste like much!
Try Poke Market, LLC or Poke N Sides if you're looking to give the islands’ specialty a try.
Poke Market LLC; @poke.market; https://www.instagram.com/p/CCMaQCeFZ2W/
Best Places to Eat Volcano
Like any gateway community to a national park, the town of Volcano has some insanely good food options. ‘Ōhelo Café has elevated versions of favorites like pizza and a rotating daily burger. The Volcano Inn has an island-y restaurant inside that serves up papaya boats and fresh banana bread for breakfast.
The Tuk Tuk food truck has the best Thai food in town, although the fancier Thai Thai Bistro and Bar might win in the spicy curry bracket.
Pro Tip! Looking for more restaurant recommendations? Check out tour highlights in our Big Island app!
April, May, September and October are probably the best months to visit. There are comparably few travelers to the Big Island during these months and, usually, excellent weather. The less demand also means that travel and hotel fairs will be at the lowest points during these months.
If you’re certain that whale watching is an activity you want to try, the best time to visit is January through March.
Hawaii really only has two seasons: a wet winter and a dry summer. The wet months are November through March. The average monthly high sits around the eighties the entire year. Lows drop to the mid-sixties during the winter and stay around 70 during the summer.
However, the weather does vary across the island. Generally, the Kona coast sees a bit more sunshine then the eastern shores (Hilo side) of the island.
Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Anna Pacheco
On most parts of the Big Island, you’ll be limited to rental cars and buses for getting around. Some parts of the two most populated areas also have ride shares available.
In the Hilo airport, you have several options for finding a rental car. Enterprise, Hertz, Alamo, Dollar Rent a Car, Avis and Budget all have stations at the airport. If flying into Kona, you can choose between Enterprise, Alamo, Budget, Thrifty and Payless.
The Bus system on the Big Island can get you to most places, especially any cities or towns. You can’t always count on it to show up on time, but it is a great option if you can be flexible and are trying to save some money.
Uber and Lyft both began operating on the Big Island in 2017, so you’ll have those at your disposal in the more developed areas like Hilo and Kona. They can certainly get you to and from the airport and around the cities, however, you might have a difficult time getting picked up from many beaches, hikes and other adventure.
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Fallas
No one likes to spend more money than they have to, and one of the best ways to make sure that doesn’t happen is to plan a budget. Of course, it’s tough to plan a budget when you’re an ocean away from your destination. So Shaka Guide took care of the hard part for you!
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Blake Bronstad
Food is extremely expensive on the Hawaiian islands. And while the Big Island is one of the more cost-efficient islands, food here can still be pretty expensive. You can expect to pay somewhere between $4-$7 dollars for milk and about $5 for a dozen large eggs.
Restaurants are a little bit more in line with mainland prices on the Big Island than other islands, but you’ll still be better off cooking for yourself if you want to save money. If you eat out, you’ll probably want to set aside about $15 per person for a casual restaurant.
If you are thrifty, you’re going to be shocked how much you can save on the Big Island in lodging. Many very livable Airbnb rooms can run as low as $20 a night. That’s an absolute steal.
Even hotels aren’t quite as expensive as you might expect. Depending on the location, you can usually find a hotel for under $100 a night. Hotels on the Kona side usually run a bit more expensive than those on the Hilo side, but there are still some rooms available for around that price.
If you’re looking to stay at a resort, you can find rooms of varying luxury from about $150 all the way up to almost $900 per night. A standard resort experience will probably run you about $250 a night.
Ticketing and Airfare
As with any destination, your ticket price is going to depend a lot on where you’re traveling from, when you’re going, and how early you get your ticket.
Round-trip from Portland International Airport might cost anywhere between $350 to $750 for an economy seat, for instance. From Dallas, you can expect to spend $600 to $1000 for a similar seat. From New York, prices run from about $600 to $1,500.
Other Transportation Costs
Transportation costs will vary depending on how you plan on getting to your adventures. If you take the bus you can get to and from each adventure for $4 per person or spend $60 per person for a month of unlimited long rides.
If you’d prefer to have your own transportation always available, you can rent a vehicle for about $60 to $70 a day. Keep in mind that you might find yourself in need of 4WD on the Big Island, which will cost about $20 more per day.
Pololu Valley; Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)
One of the best things about Hawaii is that once you arrive, your entertainment expenses can be negligible depending on your plans. Once you’ve arrived there’s no limit to the number of beaches or hikes you can hit, all for free.
Of course, everyone has something special they might be willing to spend a little extra on, as well. The best way to nail down an entertainment budget is to make a list of must-dos, hunt down prices on each item, and then prioritize.
Here are some approximate rates to help get you started:
Money Saving Tips
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman
If you are looking to save everywhere you can, we’ve got a few more tips you might consider. These are great, but you might not be able to make them all work for your situation. Mix and match as you see fit!
Stay in an Airbnb
Honestly, Airbnb is just the way to go on the Big Island. You’ll almost certainly get more for your money no matter what type of accommodation you picture yourself in.
Further, if you really want to save as much as possible, some Airbnbs on the Big Island are far less expensive than even the cheapest hostels.
Plan with a Friend or Group
Most tours guides and agencies can give you big discounts if you sign up in bulk. If you have a group of people that you like to travel with, this can be a great way to save money. Check Groupon for awesome deals on adventures and other rates.
Alternatively, Travel Alone
Traveling alone also has its perks, as well, though. Traveling alone leaves you a lot of flexibility and flexibility can always save you money. If you’re planning on island hopping, for instance, you can fly standby more easily if you are alone.
Military, Senior, Resident, Children Discounts
There are several groups of people that can get big discounts on most adventures or experiences. Military members, seniors, residents and children can usually get anywhere from a few bucks off for the Kamaaina discount to free entry for children.
Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, you now know plenty to begin planning your trip--in fact, you’ve already begun. It is Shaka Guides sincere hope that this guide makes planning your trip to the Big Island a little easier.
But also keep in mind that although it’s great to have a plan, plans don’t always pan out. The weather changes fast in Hawaii, so don’t count yourself out if the day doesn’t start with sunshine. You can also always make your way to the drier Kona side if your desperate for some sun.
Overall, just remember that you’ll soon be in paradise, and any stress from planning, budgeting or traveling should start to melt away.
When you’re in Hawaii, we ask that you act respectfully towards the locals, land and wildlife. Please pick up your trash; never touch any marine life, plants, or other animals; and avoid spots that are unsafe. Hawaii’s natural resources are precious, it’s up to all of us to help preserve these resources.