Our in-depth travel guide includes tips on what to do, where to stay, what to pack, and the best time to visit the Big Island of Hawaii.
Smaller islands like Oahu and Maui often take the spotlight when it comes to popular Hawaiian vacation spots, but let’s not forget the Big Island! It’s large size makes for varying landscapes, numerous activities, and limitless opportunities to indulge in the local Hawaiian lifestyle.
Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide & Packing Tips
The Best Time to Visit The Big Island
Tourism season dips between September and November as families are leaving from summer vacations, so this is great time to enjoy reasonable hotel prices and lots of sunshine.
Surfers will likely catch the best waves from December to March, but it’s also pricey time to visit in late winter as many people come to escape harsh winter conditions in other areas of the country. Visiting during April or May can lead to cheaper hotel prices as well, but temperatures won’t be as warm as in the fall.
You can expect to spend a large portion of your trip’s budget on your flight to Hawaii, so try to save money here any way you can. Travel on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday for the lowest airfare prices; depending on where you fly out from, just being flexible on the day you fly out will save you on average between $100-$300.
It might be easier to just click the “round-trip” button when searching for flights, but booking flights separately can pay off in a really big way. Booking a domestic flight from your nearest city to the west coast (think Los Angeles or San Diego) through a budget airline like Southwest, and then booking your flight from there to the Big Island can save you $100+ total per person.
If you want to explore both sides of the island, consider booking one-way flights, arriving in Kona and departing from Hilo — or vice versa.
Lastly, book as early as possible. This is not one of those vacations you’ll want to “wait and see” if you’ll find any last-minute deals, because you almost never will. I would recommend booking at least 5 months in advance, but plan your trip even sooner if you can.
Read more: 5 Secrets to Finding the Best Flight Deals
Consistently temperate weather on the island with temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s make Hawaii a warm, tropical paradise all year long. Daily showers are common in any month or time of year, however there are usually more storms and rainfall in winter months between October and March. With this in mind, pack light layers!
Where to Stay on The Big Island, Hawaii
A short 30 minute drive north of the Kona Airport is Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel — just a two-minute walk from the widely popular Hapuna Beach. All rooms boast amazing ocean views, and the hotel itself has every vacation amenity you could need. Families or groups might consider renting a condo for more space and cheaper prices, like the beach-side condo resort Royal Sea Cliff Kona that has a central location and rates as low as $115/night in the off season.
Read more: 10 Places for a Tropical NYE
How to Get Around
Without a doubt, rent a car. A drive around the entire island (without stops) can be done in as little as 6-7 hours, so splurge a little on a 4 wheel drive and spend a few days exploring! There are too many must-see spots scattered around — both along the coast and hidden in lush reserves — to stay in one spot the entire duration of your stay.
Hawaiian Airlines does offer flights from one side of the island to the other, and taxis are available in urban areas near hotels and airports, but both are pricey; I would recommend against both. Renting a car is the best bang for your buck, given the freedom it allows you and the time it saves.
Top Things to Do on the Big Island, Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
With one of the world’s most active volcanoes, this beautiful national park might be one of the most unique parks in the country! Lava flow straight from the volcano into the sea at Kamokuna is a sight not to be missed, and take a drive around the Crater Rim for a spectacular view.
I’d also recommend making one of your stops the Thurston Lava Tube — an awesome lava tube discovered over 100 years ago with lush forest surroundings and interesting formations created by rushing red lava.
The Waipi’o Valley is a stunning valley on the northern coast of the island, and is most easily experienced with a guide rather than navigated alone (private property makes accidental trespassing all too easy!). Take in the towering Hi’ilawe Falls — Hawaii’s tallest waterfall! — from afar at the Hi’ilawe Falls Lookout, or hike through the valley floor to reach the foot of the falls and experience it firsthand.
Fair Wind Snorkel Cruise
A half-day morning cruise with snorkeling, BBQ, and water slides is the perfect way to spend a day on the water in Kona! Should you choose a shorter trip in the evening, you can even have an up-close-and-personal experience with the gentle manta rays known to inhabit an area just five minutes from the coast. We love that this activity is great for couples, friends, and families alike!
Just west of Hilo lies the 80-foot Waianuene waterfall, nicknamed Rainbow Falls for its abundant rainbows. This postcard-worthy beauty is easily accessible (for viewing) in the Wailuku River State Park, but if you’re set on swimming you can do so at the nearby PeePee Falls and adjoining boiling pots at your own risk. This is a great place to see a spectacular waterfall without having to venture too far off the beaten path.
Read more: 10 Places You Can’t Miss in Hawaii
Hawaii Packing Essentials
Comfortable sandals that will stay secure on your feet are essential; at some point during your stay, you’re almost guaranteed to come across beaches or rough terrain that will require adequate footwear.
A floppy sun hat (or at least a standard ball cap) should be easy to pack and will keep you protected from the sun’s UV rays — even when it’s cloudy or overcast! You’re just as likely to get a sunburn when clouds are out or when rain showers sweep through.
Oxybenzone — a common ingredient in many sunscreens — can bleach and even kill coral, so be considerate of the environment and double check that you pack a sunscreen that doesn’t contain ingredients that harm the natural habitat!
Long-Sleeved Rash Guard
Water temperatures are usually warm given the climate, but a little extra sun protection from a long-sleeved rash guard is always advised. I’d also recommend packing at least two swimsuits, so you’re never stuck re-wearing a wet suit and always have a dry one available!