Big Island Travel Tips: What Should You Know Before You Go?

The Big Island (also called Hawaii island) just might be the most unique of the Hawaiian Islands, but it’s also the one that gives visitors the most headaches when trying to plan a vacation. I mean…it’s BIG. Some people stay in more than one place when they visit and others feel like they spend a lot of their trip in the car. But it’s incredible. It requires a lot of research though. I’ve got a dozen plus posts on the Big Island on this site (not including the other islands or general Hawaii planning posts)…that’s a lot of stuff you need to know! To save you the chaos of trying to track them all down, this page is going to serve as home base for all of my Big Island travel tips. 

First things first…if there’s one post on my blog you’ve got to read it’s this one: Hawaii Travel Tips. It’s not island specific, but it covers things like which airports to fly into on each island, the scoop on illegal vacation rentals, rules about not touching wild animals that are federally protected in Hawaii, the unspoken rules for driving on the island, how to get along with locals, what to expect and MORE. It’s a whopper of a post (7000+ words) and it’s definitely one you don’t want to miss. Check it out here

Where to Stay on the Big Island

This is where it all starts when you’re planning your trip. You’ll likely stay on the Kona side of the island where all of the beaches and sunny weather are, but it’s still a HUGE area. There are places in Kona town, north and south of Kona along the beaches, farther north up around Waikoloa, and all the way up the Kohala Coast. And then you’ve got the Hilo and Volcano side. It’s where so many of the Big Island’s best sites are located, but it’s way less touristy so it can be harder to find a place to stay. One of the most helpful posts on my site is this breakdown of where to stay on the Big Island. It’s got pros and cons of each area, specific recommendations on hotels and resorts plus my picks for family friendly places, honeymoon resorts, and budget options. Read that post  here.

More where to stay posts:

Enjoy the finer things in life? You’re going to want to read about the best Luxury Resorts in Hawaii

Like things a little smaller and more personal? Check out my favorite Boutique Hotels in Hawaii

Need more detailed info? Read detailed reviews about my stays at the Fairmont Orchid and Hilton Waikoloa Village

Big Island Condos: Are you really trying to watch the budget? Or just want more space to spread out with friends and family? You’re definitely going to want a condo or vacation rental. There are a ton of condos on the Big Island so it’s a little overwhelming. This post breaks down 40 different condo complexes on the Big Island by location so you can find what’s important to you. Beachfront? Amazing pool? Resort like amenities? A price performer? Besides great info, I’ve rounded up a lot of options under $100/night

3-8 Day Big Island Itineraries

The Best Big Island Itineraries: I’ve noticed that people either seem to book their airfare and hotel first and then figure the rest out, or they want to lay out an itinerary and then decide how to book their flights (how long to stay) and where to stay. Either way, having a solid itinerary (even if it’s just a lot of built in relaxation time peppered with some activities) can make your vacation sooooo much better. You’re going to want to pay close attention to this post to learn the ins and outs of putting together a good itinerary. How many days do you need on the Big Island? What are the true “don’t miss” things? I’ve got that covered plus EIGHT detailed days laid out for you that you can mix and match to create your perfect vacation. Read that post here

The Island by Area

If you’d like to see things broken up by area on the island, check out these area specific guides that include places to stay, places to eat, and things to do: 

Guide to Kona (most visited area where you’ll find the beaches, sunny weather, and majority of the places to stay)

Guide to Hilo (beautiful side of the island where you’ll find the volcano and rainforests) 

Rentals Cars on the Big Island

You absolutely will need a rental car. Hawaii is not an all-inclusive destination where you’ll arrive by shuttle and never leave your resort (I mean you could do that…but it’s pretty expensive just to get to Hawaii so most people want to actually see Hawaii. If you want a cheaper resort only vacation, just go to Mexico). 

Also, the Big Island is incredibly BIG. That seems kind of obvious given its name, but people still underestimate its size. If you’re staying on the Kona side of the island, it’s a solid two hour drive to get to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. So you aren’t going to Uber there and public transportation is pretty dismal. Even if you’re not crossing the island, just going from one resort to the next closest one can be a solid 10 minute drive. 

So you’ll most definitely want a rental car for your stay even if you’re staying in a resort area. I always book through Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.

And you can read more about the rental car situation in Hawaii here

Restaurant Recommendations

If you’re anything like me, your vacation probably revolves a bit around where you’re going to eat. The Big Island has the full spectrum as far as places to eat (fine dining to food trucks). Here are some spots to get you started: 

Best Food on the Big Island: 20 Restaurants to Try

Big Island Activities

One of the top questions I get asked is when the best time to book activities/tours/excursions is. Honestly, if there’s something you know you want to do for sure…you should book it as soon as you can. There’s no advantage to waiting until the last minute. You won’t find better deals and more than likely you’ll end up missing out because things sell out. In the post COVID landscape, so many activities and tours in Hawaii (luaus, snorkeling tours, ziplining, atv rides, even RESTAURANTS) are fully booked 2-4 months in advance. 

Mauna Kea Stargazing: Going up to the summit of Mauna Kea for sunset and stargazing is one of the coolest (and most unexpected) things I’ve ever done in Hawaii. I don’t recommend doing this on your own (unless you’re just going to the visitor’s center). Read my full post on all the details of the tour I did. 

Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay: Kealakekua Bay is probably the most popular spot to snorkel on the Big Island, but it’s not the most accessible place. You’ll either need to do a pretty rigorous hike, or go by boat. Skip the big party boats and take a kayak tour that has permits to actually land on the shore. Read all about the tour I recommend (plus a rundown of other good snorkeling spots on the island) here

Things to Do on the Big Island

Need even more things to do on the Big Island? I’ve got a few posts that will give you some more ideas. 

15 Things to Do on the Big Island: Some of the most popular and must do activities on the Big Island.

5 Day Trips on the Big Island: The Big Island is so big that if you’re staying on the Kona side, there are some adventures that will take you all day.  

Miscellaneous Hawaii Planning Posts

Want more Hawaii planning info? Here are some of my best posts:

Which Hawaiian Island to Visit: Maybe you’re settled on the Big Island, or maybe you’re still trying to decide. This post will breakdown each island and help you figure out which one is right for YOU. 

The Best Time to Visit Hawaii: Cheapest time of year to go? Best weather? When are the whales in town? I’ve got all that info here

How Much Does the Average Trip to Hawaii Cost? Another top question I get asked. 

Hawaii Trip Planning Timeline: How far in advance should you start planning? Do you book for airfare or room first?

How to Find Cheap Flights to Hawaii: But also, which are the BEST flights to Hawaii regardless of price. 

Luxury on a Budget: Some of my best tips for finding NICE places to stay at cheaper prices

How to Survive the Long Flight to Hawaii: Just exactly how long is the flight to Hawaii? Plus tips on what to bring and how to fight jet lag. 

The Ultimate Hawaii Packing List: 26 things you don’t want to forget at home!

What to Wear in Hawaii: Casual is the name of the game in Hawaii, but here are some specifics of the kinds of clothes you’ll probably want to pack.