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11 Useful Things to Know BEFORE Planning a Hawaii Big Island Vacation

Are you planning your first trip to Hawaii and want some helpful Hawaii travel tips? Keep scrolling to find out the Big Island travel tips that no one tells you before planning a Hawaii Big Island Vacation!
This post about Hawaii Big Island vacation tips was written by Hawaii travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

I’m constantly asked by friends, family, and strangers how to plan a trip to Hawaii. That’s because I’ve visited Hawaii more than 35 times, and I usually know where to find the best Hawaii vacation deals.

If you want to plan a vacation to Hawaii, the hardest thing can be choosing the best Hawaiian island for your family.

Out of all the Hawaiian islands combined, vacationing on the Big Island is certainly quite incredible.

Whether you are planning a Hawaiian vacation for the first time or it’s just your first trip to the Big Island, you need to read this first!

Keep scrolling for my top travel tips for the Big Island that will help you plan a Hawaii vacation that rocks!

Don’t have time to read many Hawaii blog posts and reviews? Here are some of our top picks for visiting the Big Island.

Popular Big Island Tours/Activities

Favorite Big Island Resorts/Hotels

Want to Rent a Car in Hawaii?
One of the best places to rent a car in Hawaii is Discount Hawaii Car Rental because they get the best rates from top national companies like Alamo, Dollar, Thrifty, Avis, Enterprise, Budget, and Payless.

Want to skip all the planning and just access my detailed Big Island Itinerary, complete with daily schedules, kid-friendly activities, and travel hacks? Click the button below.

Things to Know for Your Hawaii Big Island Vacation!

Before creating an itinerary for the Big Island and booking your travel dates, here are a few things you’ll want to know to visit this beautiful island!

1. Look for Direct Flights

If you are flying to Hawaii from the Mainland, there are tons of direct flights to Kona from the West Coast.

Plan on booking a direct flight to Kona instead of dealing with island hopping in Hawaii. Image of an airplane at the airport.

Usually, people fly to Honolulu and then take an inter-island flight to Kona. This flight is usually about 45 minutes long and can cost around $120.

So, your best bet is to fly directly into Kona to save both time and money on your Big Island Hawaii vacation with these direct airline tickets.

While there are no direct flights from the mainland to the Hilo international airport, there are plenty of direct flights from the Kona international airport!

2. You WILL Need a Rental Car

No matter where you stay on the Big Island (or any island), you’re going to want to rent a car in Hawaii.

Image of the Kona Airport Budget rental car lot.
Here’s the Budget rental car lot at Kona Airport. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

That’s because some of the best things to do in Kona require driving, and the Big Island doesn’t have great public transportation.

And you won’t find as many tour companies that will pick you up at your resort (unlike Waikiki.)

As far as Big Island car rentals, the cheapest place I’ve found is Discount Hawaii Car Rental. They get the best rates from top national companies like Alamo, Dollar, Thrifty, Avis, Enterprise, Budget, and Payless. Check out the latest prices and more details.

One of my biggest Hawaii Big Island car rental tips for families is to bring your own car seat rather than renting one from the car rental company.

That way, you know it’s the right fit for your child and your child is already comfortable in it.

Driving a Hawaii rental car will also save you a lot of time as you can choose how long you’d like to spend anywhere, and you won’t have to plan ahead so much.

For Hawaii Island, I really recommend downloading the Big Island Shaka Guide. It’s a GPS-oriented driving app that tells you all about the places you are driving by. See latest reviews here.

If you don’t have a driver’s license, your best bet is to stay at a resort where you can walk to restaurants and attractions or one that has a shuttle. And book tours on the Big Island that pick you up.

3. Check to See if Volcanoes are Active

Whenever people are disappointed about their Big Island trip, it’s usually because they didn’t see any lava.

The Ultimate Guide to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park featured by top Hawaii blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids: Hawaii lava tourist. Tourists taking photo of flowing lava from Kilauea volcano around Hawaii volcanoes national park, USA.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.

And it’s not for lack of trying. They always go to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where there are 2 active volcanoes.

However, they don’t take the time to check to see if the volcanoes are active before they go.

It’s really important to set realistic expectations for these natural wonders before you explore Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a Full Day Trip

Whether or not the volcanoes are active, there are still plenty of things to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

And I’m serious when I say it will take all day.

Image of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park sign on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Entrance Sign in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

If you’re staying in Kona, it’s going to take about 2.5 hours to drive to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You’ll also want to factor in the same time to get back to your Big Island hotel.

Once you’re there, head to the Visitor’s Center and see what kinds of events and ranger programs are happening.

Then, you might want to go hiking to see the major volcanoes, explore lava tubes, check out the crater, or do a scenic drive through the state park. There are also tons of cool Big Island volcano tours worth looking into.

Read my ultimate guide to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

5. Most Big Island Resorts are in Kona

When visiting the Big Island, you might be wondering if you should stay in Hilo or Kona.

Most of the Big Island hotels are located in Kailua-Kona. And that’s where you’ll find some of the fancier luxury resorts, as well.

Hilo is more laid back, and you’ll probably need to stay in a VRBO or Hawaii vacation rental home.

Kona is definitely the more touristy side of the island, so there are lots of luaus, restaurants, and activities.

6. Split Your Stay Between Kona and Hilo

If you really want to explore the Big Island, it makes the most sense to do a split stay.

The Best Things to Do in Kona, Hawaii featured by top Hawaii blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids.
Azure Hawaiian Snorkeling Beach in Kona

That’s because Hilo and Kona are about 3 hours away from each other. And that’s a lot of driving if you want to explore the South Point, East, or North Coast of the Big Island.

Plus, the Kona day trips definitely will add up and lead to a lot of exhaustion, so it is best to split your trip and plan a trip to Kona and Hilo!

Kona is where you’ll take advantage of Big Island activities and attractions. Plus, enjoy the resort experience. The Kailua Kona Town is definitely worth exploring, especially the beautiful beaches on the Kona coast.

Then, you can head to Hilo on the Eastern Coast, where you can do Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, explore Big Island waterfallsgo hiking, go scuba diving, explore downtown Hilo with the historical sites, and more. Be sure to enjoy the beauty of the Hamakua Coast as you drive to Hilo!

Book a Family Photo Shoot

Whenever we travel to Hawaii, we almost always book a family photo shoot with Flytographer. They are super easy, affordable, AND it guarantees that I’ll be in some photos. You can get $25 off if you book through this link.

7. Avoid Merrie Monarch Week

One of the biggest events in Hawaii is the Merrie Monarch Festival. It happens every year in April on the Big Island.

Photo credit: Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Lehua Waipa AhNee

The festival brings in large hula dance troupes from all over the world and attracts lots of festival attendees.

Because of this, flights and hotel rooms are hard to find (and are quite expensive.) Plus, the Big Island gets very crowded.

So, unless you are planning on attending the festival, avoid visiting the Big Island that week. If that’s the only week available for you, try one of the other islands!

Read my full guide to the Merrie Monarch Festival.

8. Visit a Kona Coffee Plantation

One of the things Hawaii is known for is coffee, and the most famous one is Kona Coffee. It’s also one of the priciest.

Kona Coffee Farm on the Big Island of Hawaii

If you’re wondering why it’s so expensive, you should head to a coffee farm in Kona to find out exactly what makes up the tasty coffee of Kona.

Most coffee farms tours offer education about the coffee industry, its culture, history, and processes that play an integral role in creating your favorite cup of java.

Plus, you will get to pick up quite a number of Kona coffee beans from the farms on your tour. Check out the latest prices and more details.

9. Go Night Diving with Manta Rays

One of the top things to do on the Big Island is snorkel or dive with Manta Rays at night.

Manta Ray in Hawaii

These majestic creatures are huge, and their wingspan is close to 29 feet! You won’t want to miss your opportunity to see them up close.

The best way to do this is by joining a Manta Ray boat tour from Kona. You’ll hop on at dusk, and as soon as it’s dark, they will turn on floodlights that will attract plankton, which will attract the Manta Rays.

Then, you’ll hop into the water and hang onto large rafts and wait for the beautiful Manta Rays to make their appearance. Find the best prices here.

10. There are Lots of Big Island Luaus

A lot of times, I hear people say that you only need to do a luau once because it’s all the same.

Get all your top Hawaii luau questions answered by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids.Image of Three Strong Men Juggling Fire in Hawaii - Fire Dancers.

As a professional hula dancer, I can emphatically say that most Big Island luaus are special in their own way.

One of the most popular Big Island luaus is the Island Breeze Luau. The show is held on the grounds of Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, right next to Ahu’ena Heiau, King Kamehameha’s former estate.

There’s also Haleo Luau, which celebrates the history of Keauhou and those who came from the area. Plus, they share the story of King Kamehameha’s birth.

And there are also Hawaii luaus that incorporate storytelling, theatrics, and lots of fire.

Many vacation packages have luaus included since they are such a fun experience, so try to do as many as you can while you are there!

11. Bring Bug Spray

There are plenty of mosquitoes on Hawai’i island, so you will want to bring some bug repellent with you. There are some awesome bug band bracelets, bug spray, or bug repellent lotion that all work well; it is just your preference.

To avoid mosquitoes, don’t go out an hour or so before or after sunrise and sunset without some bug repellent, as that is when they come out the most!

Where to Stay on the Big Island

There are plenty of great places to stay on the Big Island, so I wanted to go over a few of our favorite options.

Waikoloa Beach Resort is an oceanside resort that you will absolutely love and is located on the West Side of the island on the Kohala coast. You’ll love waking up to the beach with this full-service hotel! Be sure to enjoy the spa, hot tub, and pools as well.

If you want a luxury resort in Kailua-Kona, try the Outrigger Kona Resort. Here you will find pools with waterslides and an incredibly relaxing spa with oceanfront rooms, with a good beach within walking distance. The Outrigger Kona Resort is a great one the entire family will love.

If you do not want to stay in a resort or hotel, there are plenty of Big Island vacation rentals to choose from.

If you want an oceanfront property, these Kona vacation rentals will be the perfect place to stay, with some great villas in Hawaii for large family gatherings too! Be sure to check out other Hilo vacation rentals as well if you decide to split up your trip to see all the major attractions.

What To Do on The Big Island

There are plenty of great things to do all over the Big Island, so I wanted to share a few more of my favorite things to do during your Big Island Vacation.

Explore Rainbow Falls

Located in Hilo, Rainbow Falls is amazing to see and should definitely be added to your itinerary. This 80-foot waterfall falls over a lava cave and is one of the natural wonders right in the historic town of Hilo.

Rainbow Falls on Big Island

What is great about Rainbow Falls is that it is so accessible! You can even see it directly from the parking lot, or it only takes a few minutes to walk to the top.

Snorkel at Kealakekua Bay

One of the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island is at Kealakekua Bay which is another one of the best things to do near Kona, Hawaii. You might even see some sea turtles!

There are some great Kealakekua Bay snorkeling tours that are definitely worth going on that take you to the bay as well as other great snorkeling areas on the island.

Visit the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

If you are wondering what to see in Kona Hawaii, you will love to visit the botanical gardens in Kon and Hilo! Here you will find tons of stunning tropical rainforests filled with beautiful plants and flowers.

The Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden is absolutely free and such a beautiful one to visit during your stay in Hilo.

Sadie Seymour Botanical Gardens is another one of the things to do in Kona, Hawaii, for free!

Read more: Top 10 Cheap and Free Things to Do on Big Island ($10 or Less!)

Relax at Punaluʻu Beach

Punalu’u Beach is also known as the Black Sand Beach and is the most famous beach for having the most amazing black sand. You will definitely want to add this to your Kona itinerary to see this beach and enjoy your time here. Be sure to get a picture too!

Punaluʻu Beach on Big Island

Best Big Island Hawaii Itinerary

Here is a great 7-day Big Island Hawaii itinerary for you to enjoy! Use this as your Hawaii vacation guide and enjoy all this island has to offer.

You will get to explore some of the best beaches along the Pacific Ocean, along with visiting Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea too!

This itinerary will show you some of the top things to do in Kona and Hilo, from visiting the tropical rain forests to the black sand beaches. You won’t have to plan anything; it is all done for you!

How to Plan a Hawaii Big Island Vacation FAQs

What’s the best time of year to visit the Big Island of Hawaii?

The most affordable time to visit the Big Island is during the fall shoulder season, which runs from September to mid-December. That’s why airfare and hotel room rates are the lowest. Plus, it’s less crowded than in the summer months, and you’ll save money! It’s a win-win!

Which side of the Big Island is best to stay on?

Since the Big Island is HUGE, we recommend doing a split stay between Hilo and Kona. This will save you a lot of time driving around the island, and you’ll be able to do tons of Big Island activities and attractions.

How many days do you need in the Big Island of Hawaii?

IIf you’ll be spending your entire trip to Hawaii on the Big Island, the ideal length is 7-10 days (at a minimum.) However, if you are island-hopping, you’ll want at least 5 days on the Big Island to fully explore.

How many days in Big Island all depends on what you want to see and explore, so be sure to create a Hawaii Big Island itinerary before you visit to see exactly how many days you will need.

Do people vacation on the Big Island?

Yes! Hawaii’s Big Island is quite beautiful and the largest island that is quite amazing to visit. It has some of the best beaches in all of Hawaii, along with the world’s tallest mountain (with sea level taken into account).

Is Big Island worth seeing?

You will definitely want to travel to Big Island Hawaii to explore all this incredible has to offer, from its stunning hiking trails, beautiful beaches, tropical rainforests, an active volcano, and so much more!

Do I need to learn the Hawaiian language to visit the Big Island?

No you do not need to learn Hawaiian to visit the island. There are a few words you will want to know in the Hawaiian language, including Keiki (kid), Aloha (hi), Mahalo (thank you), and Ohana (family).

Hawaii Big Island Vacation Wrap Up

Hopefully, these tips have helped you know how to better plan your Big Island vacation!

And there you have it! My top Big Island tips for newcomers who want to plan a trip to the Big Island like a pro!

Looking for more Hawaii trip planning tips? Find out how to rent a car in Hawaii, the best kid-friendly Big Island beaches, the best Hawaii travel apps, if you need Hawaii travel insurance, 50 places to visit in Hawaii, and 105 ways to save money in Hawaii!