If you’re planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, you’re in for a great time. It’s not the island that most first time visitors to Hawaii choose to visit (most favor Oahu or Maui) and it’s usually because they’re intimidated by its size (you really can’t see the entire island from one central location). Actually, all of the other Hawaiian Islands could fit inside the Big Island TWO TIMES. This is of course why they call it the Big Island. So yes, it can be overwhelming but the Big Island is home to some of the most spectacular sites in the world (the world-not just Hawaii) so it’s a shame to skip it just because the logistics are tougher to figure out. So here’s what you need to know to figure out where to stay in Hawaii:
- The island is divided into two sides: Kona side and Hilo side.
- The vast majority of visitors stay on the Kona side even though the island’s best attractions are on the Hilo side.
- It’s a Big Island so it’s not really possible to stay on one side and drive back and forth to the other, which means if you want to see the whole island, you’ll need to stay in at least two places.
Here’s an overview of the island broken down by area:
Kona side refers to roughly the entire West side of the island, including the town of Kailua-Kona (often referred to just as “Kona.” This is the dryer side of the island (no lush jungles or rainforests here) and it’s mostly barren lava fields as far as the eye can see. But no rain also means the best beaches (the vast majority on the Big Island are found on the Kona side) and therefore all of the resorts and condos. This side of the island is mostly made up of:
Kailua-Kona: This is where the main airport is and it’s a good home base for exploring this side of the island. There aren’t many beaches in Kona but you will find a lot of budget accommodation options. You can easily drive to beaches located north and south of town and you’ll be close to most of the island’s cultural and historic sites. You can also easily daytrip to the Pololu and Waipo valleys from here. One of the downsides of staying in Kona is how touristy it is. This is where the cruise ships dock so you can imagine what that entails but on the upside there are a lot of shopping and dining options.