Big Island Travel Tips: START HERE If You’re Planning a Trip to the Big Island
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 Kona vs Hilo. It’s got pros and cons of each area plus specific recommendations on hotels. Read that post here.
If you’ve narrowed the search down to a beach resort on the Kona side, I’ve got the scoop on how they all stack up here: the Big Island’s Best Beach Resorts Ranked.
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.
7 Day Big Island Itineraries
The Best Big Island Itineraries: 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. I’ve put together my ideal itinerary for the Big Island here.
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.
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:
Where to Eat on the Big Island: My Favorite Places & 30 Spots for Every Occasion
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.
28 Things to Do on the Big Island: Unique things that you can ONLY do on the Big Island.
16 Things to Do in Hilo: Plus ideas for Volcano and the Hamakua Coast.
One Day in Hilo: The perfect itinerary for a day trip from Kona to Hilo.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park One Day Itinerary: How to see the best of the National Park, whether there’s lava or not.
National Parks on the Big Island: All four National Parks and National Historical Parks on the Big Island.
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.
P.S. Thanks for sticking around and reading this whole post! If you have ANY questions about planning your trip to Hawaii, you can join my free Facebook group here. I’m there answering questions every day and there are 7500+ other friends who have a ton of Hawaii information to share!
Also, if you want to follow along on my travel adventures in real time, you can follow me on Instagram (@caitylincoln). My post captions are full of travel tips and I have a ton of story highlights and videos with great info. And please share my account with your friends that are headed to Hawaii! Your support really helps me keep this blog running!