Big Island Tours: Honest Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour Review

Are you looking for the best things to do on the Big Island with kids (or without)? Keep scrolling to read my honest review of the Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour near Hilo Hawaii.
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Are you looking for a fun way to explore the Waipio Valley on the Big Island?

The Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour is an excellent option if you’re visiting Hawaii with kids. It’s not as strenuous as hiking down into the valley and back up again, but it still gives you a chance to see some of what makes this place so special.

I recently did this tour with my 5-year-old son on our trip to Hawaii in November and we had a blast!

Keep scrolling to read my honest review of our experience.

You can’t take your rental car into the valley (unless it has 4WD) so that limits your options when it comes time to explore. There are several tours available, but I recommend checking out the Waipio Valley Shuttle because it’s affordable, easy, and most importantly – FUN!

We had such an amazing time exploring together that I think everyone should give this one a try at least once during their visit. If you’re like me though, you’ll want to do this on every trip!

Keep scrolling to see how you can book the Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour for your next Big Island vacation.

Big Island Waipio Valley FAQs

What are the age restrictions on the Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour?

There are no age restrictions to do this tour of the Waipio Valley. It’s a van tour.

Can you drive into Waipio Valley?

Only vehicles with 4WD are allowed to drive down into Waipio Valley. That’s because it’s the only road and if a car gets stuck, no one can get in or out. Most rental car companies do not allow their vehicles into the valley.

Why is the Waipio Valley famous?

It’s a sacred place for Hawaiian people and there were a lot of heiau (ancient Hawaiian temples) here. This was also the setting for several Hawaiian myths and legends. It was also featured in the movie Waterworld with Kevin Costner.

Where is the Waipio Valley on the Big Island?

Waipio Valley is located on the gorgeous Hamakua Coast on the Northeast part of Hawaii Island in the town of Honokaa. It takes about an hour to drive to Waipio Valley from Hilo and almost 90 minutes to drive from Kona.

The valley itself is about a mile of coastline, but it’s almost six miles deep. The address is 48-5561A Waipio Valley Rd, Honokaa, HI 96727.

Waipio Valley History

You’ll want to know a bit about the history of Waipio Valley before you visit so you can truly appreciate this historic area. This Hawaiian valley was actually the home of King Kamehameha I when he was growing up.

Nicknamed the “Valley of the Kings”, Waipio Valley became a center for religious and political life in Hawaii.

While it used to be home to thousands of Native Hawaiians, there are less than 100 Waipio Valley residents today. And the people who live there are pretty protective of this special place, so it’s really important to be a respectful traveler.

Waipio Valley Lookout

If you just want to see the valley from above, you can park at the Waipio Valley Lookout and take photos of the area.

Image of green cliffs and a black sand beach as seen from the Waipio Valley Lookout, a top Big Island attraction.
Waipio Valley Lookout on the Big Island.

It’s pretty high up so you’ll see a birds-eye view of the beach, the valley, and the cliffs. This is a great option if you are short on time or the weather isn’t good.

They have a pretty large parking lot.

Waipio Valley Tours

There are actually a few different options if you want to do a Waipio Valley tour. We chose to do the Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour because I wanted a basic overview of the area.

Image of a white van parked along the river with a group of people standing in Waipio Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Small group tour on the Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Plus, we had a few hours before our flight left Hilo and the timing of this Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour worked perfectly for our schedule. Additionally, it’s the most budget-friendly tour of Waipio Valley. And the tour was limited to 8-10 people.

With this Waipio Valley Shuttle, it took us to see waterfalls, taro patches, streams, and more as we explored the sacred Valley of the Kings.

There are also a few other Waipio Valley tour options to consider:

But, you don’t need to take a tour to see Waipio Valley. You can hike down on your own, as long as you are in good shape. It’s about 6.5 miles on a steep incline and I wouldn’t recommend hiking Waipio Valley with young kids. I saw a lot of exhausted-looking tourists resting on the long uphill hike back to the lookout.

What to Know about the Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour Before You Go:

How to Book the Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour

We were able to easily get Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour tickets about a week before the tour. And I was even able to change to a later shuttle just a few days before.

However, if you are going with a larger group or during peak season, I’d definitely book this in advance.

Image of a parked white van with no glass in the windows and the words Waipio Valley Shuttle written on the side in green ink.
This was the van for the Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

This Big Island Waipio Valley tour is limited to small groups. So, if you need to go at a specific time or on a specific date, you should definitely book it in advance. It’s really easy to book online HERE.

Parking at Waipio Valley Artworks

Thankfully, there are quite a few parking spots at Waipio Valley Artworks. This is the meeting spot for the Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour. It’s all free parking, too.

Image of the exterior of the Waipio Valley Artworks Art Gallery and Gift Shoppe
Waipio Valley Artworks Art Gallery and Gift Shoppe. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

When I drove there from Hilo, my GPS took me down a little side road so I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. However, I got on a main road and easily found Waipio Valley Artworks.

Arrival

They will ask you to arrive 15 minutes before your tour time. That’s so you’ll have plenty of time to check in and explore their cute store.

This is a great opportunity to use the restroom before you get on the shuttle (as you won’t be able to stop in the valley).

There are several shaded tables and chairs set up on the wrap around deck, so my son and I just sat and relaxed while we waited for our tour to start.

Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour

While the name implies that it’s just transportation in and out of Waipio Valley, it’s actually a guided sightseeing tour. You only get out a few times to take photos. However, you can stay in the valley and come back on a later shuttle if you arrange it ahead of time.

Image of a van window where you can see the Waipio Valley coastline.
This was the view from the window as we started driving down the hill. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung.

The glass has been removed from all the passenger windows, so you can take some amazing photos as you drive down into Waipio Valley.

Insider tip: Sit on the right side of the van if you want to take photos going down into the valley.

Our tour guide (Kaleo) was born and raised in Waipio Valley and still lives there. It was great to hear his perspective on how people can respectfully visit this sacred area.

He started off by doing a Hawaiian chant asking permission to enter Waipio Valley. And then he shared some of his personal stories about growing up there, what life is like, and why he chose to stay there.

Image of a tall skinny waterfall in the middle of lush cliffs on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Hi’ilawe Falls as seen from Waipio Valley. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Our first stop was to see Hi’ilawe Falls, one of the tallest Big Island waterfalls. It’s featured in several Hawaiian songs, including the famous Hawaiian song Hi’ilawe.

This was my first time seeing Hi’ilawe Falls and it was absolutely breathtaking. It also felt really special to be able to see something so hidden away.

Image of a wild horse poking his head through an open van window at Waipio Valley on the Big Island.
A wild horse popped his head through our window! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

While we were there, a bunch of wild horses came by the shuttle van. The rest of the group was still out taking photos of Hi’ilawe Falls, but my son and I were already sitting in the van. So, it was extra cool when the horses started poking their heads in!

Image of a home with a garden with a tall waterfall in the background.
This home has an epic view of Hi’ilawe Falls! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

We drove a lot through the valley and saw a ton of homes and taro patches. Along the way, residents stopped to say hi to our guide. It was nice to feel like we were with someone that was truly part of the community.

Image of a taro patch in the lush Waipio Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii.
This is a taro patch in Waipio Valley. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

A lot of the other tour guests had questions about the Waipio Valley, so it was nice to hear the answers while looking out at the valley.

Image of a green home tucked away in a lush, green jungle area of Waipio Valley.
Home tucked away in the Waipio Valley. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

It’s truly one of the most beautiful places on the Big Island and this 90-minute tour is the perfect length to give a quick overview of the area.

Food Options

If you’re like my kids, you’ll be hungry as soon as you finish the tour and will want to know where to eat in the Waipio Valley.

I suggest heading to Tex Drive In. It’s about 12 minutes from the Waipio Valley and it’s right on your way to Hilo. They have amazing malasadas (Portuguese donuts), a variety of loco moco, as well as hamburgers and hot dogs. And their prices are very reasonable.

The Highlight of This Big Island Tour and What You Should Look Out For

I was seriously impressed with this tour of the Waipio Valley. We were able to just sit back and take in the gorgeous views without having to trek down and up the long, twisty road. It was a great way to go “off-roading” with someone else driving.

Image of 3 wild horses walking on a dirt road in the Waipio Valley.
Wild horses walking in the Waipio Valley. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

I’m not really an animal person, but I was in awe seeing wild horses so close up. Apparently they live in the area and they are just part of the community now.

The other big highlight was getting to finally see Hi’ilawe Falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in Hawaii.

Image of a woman taking a selfie in the Waipio Valley with Hi'ilawe Falls in the background.
Quick selfie with Hi’ilawe Falls! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

It was really magical to be able to explore such a beautiful part of the Big Island that was full of so much history and culture.

Waipio Valley Tour Tips for Families

What to Wear

Because this is a shuttle tour and you’ll be in the van almost the entire time, you really can wear whatever you like. Be sure to check the Waipio Valley weather before you go so you can dress accordingly.

Since the windows stay open the entire time, you might consider wearing layers if you think you might get chilly.

Keep in mind that you will be getting out a few times on natural terrain. We wore athletic shoes and we were able to easily walk around without worrying about dirt or rocks.

What to Bring

You’ll definitely want to have a camera with you. I just used my iPhone and that worked well. I don’t think I got reception down there but it was perfect for photos and video.

Sunscreen is also a smart idea. It’s really important to make sure your arms, neck, and face are protected from UV rays.

If you’re doing this tour with young children, you can also bring a car seat or booster. Another tip for parents is to make sure your kids know not to throw any toys out the window during the tour. With the windows open, it seems like something that could easily happen.

You’ll also want to make sure to bring cash so you have tipping money.

How Much Does it Cost and Where is it Located?

The Waipio Valley is located in Honokaa and it’s about a 60-minute drive from Hilo, Hawaii. It can be a little longer during thick traffic or road construction, so be sure to check before you go.

Waipio Valley Shuttle tour tickets are $69 for adults (ages 12+) and $38.50 for kids (ages 11 and younger). Kids of all ages can participate.

So, is the Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour Worth It?

Totally! It ended up being one of my favorite things to do on the Big Island! It was a great overview of the valley and perfect for people who have never been there before.

The Waipio Valley is one of the most beautiful places on the Big Island. Just seeing Hi’ilawe Falls was a highlight for me!

Next time, I want to book a horseback riding tour with my kids so we can spend more time in Waipio Valley just enjoying the scenery.

Looking for more things to do on the Big Island? Check out my reviews of the Lavaloha Chocolate Farm, Royal Kona Luau, Akaka Falls, Kona ATV tour, and the painted church.