This is my most favorite section of sharing my thoughts and experience to help travelers with their travel plans. Big Island is a beautiful and much bigger island when compared to other islands in Hawaii and has different attractions available to suit everyone’s needs. There are beautiful beaches, lush green rain-forests, waterfalls and stunning volcanoes available in this beautiful island. So how many days do you really need to visit Big Island ?. My recommendation is to spend at-least 3 minimum days to get soaked and enjoy the nature at this place. The suggestions below can be used as a reference for your travel tips and totally encourage you to make modifications depending on your interests to explore this beautiful island.
Where to Stay ? (Kona or Hilo )
If you have never visited the island, one of the biggest question that comes to mind when booking your vacation is the place to stay. We did not have much clarity about the places to stay until we visited the island and took some of the tips and suggestions from travel forums and friends. The island is totally accessible by car and comes down to the attractions that matter to you the most when deciding lodging options.
- Kona – Kona island has excellent beaches with several beautiful and luxurious resorts. The island itself looks fresh and new with some of the newly available resorts with easy access to beaches. If you are a water person and love to spend more time on the beach, Kona island would be the place to consider for your accommodation needs. There are specialty beaches in Kona especially the Green and Black sand beach which I would recommend highly during your stay in Kona.
- Hilo – Hilo island is known for its unique style and is very green when compared to Kona. This island has more rainfall unlike others giving a more beautiful and picturesque look of the rain-forest and waterfalls in Hilo. If you enjoy hiking beautiful trails, get immersed in the waterfalls surrounded by lush forest and experience the volcanoes, Hilo is the right place for you.
Both these islands are easily accessible and is only 2 hour drive by car. If you love to do both nature and the beaches, you can even split your stay between Hilo and Kona. We stayed in Kona and did a drive to Hilo on alternate days. The scenic route between Kona to Hilo is very beautiful and we did not mind the extra 2 hour drive and was totally worth it.
5 Day Itinerary
If you have enough time, this would be my suggested and recommended itinerary.
- Day 1 – Kona
- Get Familiarized with Kona city – Kona Farmers market, Kailua pier and marketplace. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, lots of good food to try out in this stretch and a good place to view sunset.
- Beaches – Hapuna beach state park is a good one to start the day, they have good amenities inside the park with sit out places/benches and small restaurant available.
- Lua Show – We missed this show in Mauii and wanted to always know the Hawaiian culture. The Lua shows are normally expensive but is done at very high quality level and worth the show to experience it atleast once if you have never watched it.
- Day 2 – Hilo
- Green Sand Beach (To know more, read this section here)
- Black Sand Beach (To know more, read this section here)
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Spend your entire afternoon in the park to watch the sunset before you head back to Kona) – Watching the volcano after sunset is worth the wait and highly recommend to do it.
- Day 3 – Road trip to the Valley (This is on the way to Hilo and you could either combine your Day 4 here but we just did half day trip and headed back to Kona to take some rest. If you do not have much time, you can combine Akaka falls)
- Waipio Valley – You can hike down the valley and the road was closed due to dengue outbreak at the time of our travel. There were very good reviews about the hike and the scenic views are spectacular if you get a chance to hike down. There is a valley lookout which would still give you stunning views if you do not get a chance to hike down the valley
- Pololu Valley – This is another lookout point that is closer to King Kamehameha statue
- King Kamehameha Statue – This is further north point of the island in North Kohala, also very close to the Pololu Valley
- Day 4 – Hilo
- Akaka Falls State Park (2 to 3 hours)
- Hawaii Botanical gardens (on the way to Hilo, beautiful scenic drive)
- Rainbow Falls (1 hour)
- Drive to Hilo downtown (stroll past the beaches, coconut grove)
- Day 5 – Kona
- Reserve this as a light day if you have the whole day available
- Hawaii National Historic park (Pu’uhonua o Honaunau) – Loved this place which had the self-explanatory walking tour
- Macademia Nut Factory
3 Day Itinerary
If you are going on a short-trip and got limited time, here are my suggestions:
- Day 1 – Kona
- Visit Kealakekua bay for snorkeling activities
- Hawaii National Historic park (Pu’uhonua o Honaunau)
- Kona Village – Drive down Highway 11 to explore the village and other beaches
- Day 2 – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- On the way see the black sand beach before heading to Volcanoes
- Day 3 – Hilo Road Trip
- Akaka Falls
- Waipio Valley overlook
- Rainbow Falls
Here are some of our favorite restaurants that we loved during our stay in Big Island:-
- Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai – Hawaiian Style food
- Seafood is awesome at this place and restaurant is located at slightly higher elevation giving some beautiful views.
- Located in Kona and slightly expensive – Food is high quality here and loved their macademia crusted fish.
- Hana Hou Restaurant – Hawaiian Food
- Highlight is this restaurant is located exactly at the South Point of the United States.
- This restaurant is on your way to Hawaii Volcanoes national Park
- Splashers Grill – We visited this place multiple times during our stay and the quality of food was awesome. You get different variety here from Pasta to burger, Thai Wraps and soups.
Lua Show Attraction
There are many local companies that offer Lua Show in Hawaii and is a very popular attraction. We stayed in Sheraton Kona resort that arranged for Lua show inside the resort. It was a lovely evening to spend the time learning about Hawaii culture, and the rich history in a beautiful background facing the beach.