Welcome to the beautiful Big Island of Hawaii, a slice of paradise in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. With its stunning landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and endless outdoor activities, the Big Island offers a truly unforgettable Hawaiian experience. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or a combination of both, this comprehensive itinerary will guide you through the must-see attractions and hidden gems of the island.
The Big Island, also known as Hawaii Island, is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands and is home to diverse ecosystems, ranging from lush rainforests to barren volcanic landscapes. It’s a place where you can witness the power of nature in action, with active volcanoes and dramatic lava flows. But the island is not just about its geological wonders; it also boasts vibrant towns, beautiful beaches, and a rich cultural heritage rooted in ancient Hawaiian traditions.
Before we dive into the details of the itinerary, it’s essential to note that the Big Island is vast, and getting around requires a means of transportation. Renting a car is highly recommended to fully explore the island’s attractions and to make the most of your time here.
Now, get ready to embark on an adventure of a lifetime as we take you through the perfect itinerary for exploring the Big Island of Hawaii. From exploring the bustling town of Kailua-Kona to stargazing on the summit of Mauna Kea, we’ve got you covered.
Day 1: Arrival and Exploring Kailua-Kona
Welcome to the Big Island! After your arrival at Kona International Airport, take a moment to soak in the warm Hawaiian breeze and the smell of plumeria in the air. You’ll instantly feel the relaxed island vibes that make Hawaii so special.
Once you’ve settled in at your accommodation, head out to explore the charming town of Kailua-Kona. Start your day with a visit to the historic Kailua-Kona Pier, where you can watch colorful local fishermen casting their lines and enjoy breathtaking ocean views. Dive into the crystal-clear waters for a refreshing swim or snorkel surrounded by vibrant marine life.
After working up an appetite, stroll along Ali’i Drive, the main street in Kailua-Kona, lined with boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. Indulge in a delicious plate of fresh poke, a local Hawaiian delicacy made with marinated raw fish. Be sure to try some Kona coffee, renowned for its smooth flavor and distinct aroma.
While exploring the town, make time to visit Hulihe’e Palace, a historic residence turned museum that offers a glimpse into the royal past of the Hawaiian monarchy. Nearby, you’ll find Mokuaikaua Church, the oldest Christian church in Hawaii, boasting beautiful architectural elements and a rich history.
In the evening, take a leisurely stroll along the shoreline to witness one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular shows – the Kona sunset. Find a cozy spot on the beach or grab a seat at one of the beachfront bars and restaurants to enjoy the vibrant hues of orange, pink, and purple as the sun dips below the horizon.
As the night falls, Kailua-Kona comes alive with its bustling nightlife. You’ll find plenty of options for entertainment, from live Hawaiian music performances to lively bars where you can sip on a refreshing Mai Tai cocktail. Take the opportunity to mingle with the friendly locals and fellow travelers and soak in the vibrant atmosphere.
After a full day of exploration, retreat to your accommodation and rest up for the exciting adventures that await you on Day 2.
Day 2: Volcanoes National Park
Get ready for a day of awe-inspiring natural wonders as you explore the dramatic landscapes of Volcanoes National Park. Start your day early to make the most of your visit to this incredible UNESCO World Heritage site.
Make your way from Kailua-Kona to the park, which is located on the eastern side of the island. The drive itself offers breathtaking views, as you pass through diverse landscapes with lush rainforests and towering volcanoes in the distance.
Once you arrive at the park, begin your adventure at the Kilauea Visitor Center. Here, you can gather helpful information about the park’s current conditions and pick up trail maps. Don’t forget to catch the informative film that provides an insight into the volcanic activity of the area.
Next, head to the Jaggar Museum, which provides a fascinating display of volcanic artifacts and showcases the scientific research conducted within the park. From the museum, you can also enjoy panoramic views of the Kilauea Caldera and the billowing Halema’uma’u Crater.
As you explore the park, be sure to take the Crater Rim Drive, a 10.5-mile scenic loop that offers numerous stops and viewpoints along the way. Marvel at the steam vents, where you can witness the earth’s energy escaping through various cracks in the ground, creating an otherworldly atmosphere.
One of the highlights of the park is the Thurston Lava Tube. Walk through this underground lava tube, formed by flowing lava, and immerse yourself in the unique geological history of the island.
For those seeking a more challenging hike, venture out on the Kīlauea Iki Trail. This four-mile loop will take you across a crater floor that was once a lake of molten lava, offering a truly extraordinary experience.
As you explore the park, keep an eye out for any active volcanic activity. The Big Island is one of the few places on Earth where you can witness the power of a live volcano. If conditions permit, consider taking a guided tour to see the glowing lava up close (be sure to check the park’s website for the most up-to-date information on volcanic activity and safety precautions).
After a full day of exploration, make your way back to your accommodation, reflecting on the raw beauty and geological marvels you witnessed at Volcanoes National Park.
Day 3: Mauna Kea Summit and Stargazing
Get ready for a celestial adventure as you embark on a journey to the summit of Mauna Kea, one of the world’s premier stargazing locations. Located at an elevation of 13,796 feet (4,205 meters), Mauna Kea offers unparalleled views of the night sky above the Big Island.
Start your day early and make your way to the visitor information station, located at the 9,200-foot (2,800-meter) level. Here, you can acclimate to the high altitude and learn more about the summit’s cultural and scientific significance through informative displays and presentations.
After taking some time to adjust, continue your ascent to the summit. Make sure you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, as the road to the summit is unpaved and can be challenging to navigate. Along the way, you’ll pass through various ecosystems, witnessing the change in vegetation as you climb higher.
Once you reach the summit, prepare to be astonished by the panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. At this elevation, you’ll find yourself above the clouds, with the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean stretching out before you.
As night falls, gaze upwards to witness the wonders of the night sky. The summit of Mauna Kea offers minimal light pollution, providing optimal conditions for stargazing. Marvel at the millions of twinkling stars, constellations, and even the Milky Way stretching across the dark canvas above.
If you have the opportunity, consider joining a guided stargazing tour led by experienced astronomers. They will provide telescopes and offer in-depth explanations of the celestial objects you observe. Learn about the galaxies, nebulas, and distant planets that are visible from this unique vantage point.
Remember to dress warmly, as temperatures at the summit can drop significantly, even in the warmer months. The high altitude and thin air can also have an impact on your body, so take breaks and stay hydrated to minimize the effects of altitude sickness.
After a mesmerizing night of stargazing, make your way back down the mountain and return to your accommodation. Take a moment to reflect on the vastness of the universe and the incredible experience of witnessing it from the summit of Mauna Kea.
Day 4: Road Trip to Hilo
Embark on a scenic road trip from Kailua-Kona to the charming town of Hilo, located on the eastern side of the Big Island. This journey will take you through picturesque landscapes, showcasing the island’s natural beauty and diverse ecosystems.
Start your day early to make the most of the drive and the attractions along the way. As you leave Kailua-Kona, you’ll notice the landscape transition from the dry lava fields to lush rainforests. Take in the breathtaking views of the Hamakua Coast as you wind your way through the scenic Mamalahoa Highway.
Make a stop at Akaka Falls State Park, where a short hike will lead you through a lush jungle to the stunning 442-foot (135-meter) Akaka Falls. Marvel at the cascading waterfall as it plunges into a pool below, surrounded by vibrant tropical vegetation.
Continue your journey along the Hamakua Coast, passing through charming towns and picturesque overlooks. Be sure to stop at the Waipio Valley Lookout for a panoramic view of the lush valley that was once home to Hawaiian royalty. If you’re up for an adventure, consider taking a guided tour or hiking down into the valley.
As you approach Hilo, take a moment to explore some of the town’s iconic attractions. Visit the historic downtown area, filled with charming boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. Don’t miss the Hilo Farmers Market, where you can browse through a wide variety of locally-grown produce, unique crafts, and delicious snacks.
For a cultural experience, pay a visit to the Imiloa Astronomy Center, an interactive museum that explores the intersection of traditional Hawaiian culture and modern astronomy. Discover the connection between the stars and Hawaiian mythology as you delve into the wonders of the universe.
As the day comes to an end, take a leisurely stroll along the coconut-lined shores of Hilo Bay. Be captivated by the serene beauty of the black sand beaches and breathe in the fresh ocean air. Consider dining at one of the local seafood restaurants, where you can savor the flavors of the ocean.
After a day of exploration, find a cozy accommodation in Hilo and rest up for the adventures that await you on Day 5.
Day 5: Akaka Falls State Park and Hamakua Coast
Prepare to be enchanted by the beauty of the Hamakua Coast as you explore Akaka Falls State Park and its surrounding attractions. Day 5 of your Big Island adventure takes you on a journey through lush rainforests, breathtaking waterfalls, and scenic coastal vistas.
Begin your day by visiting Akaka Falls State Park, where you’ll find yourself immersed in a verdant wonderland. Take a leisurely stroll along the paved path that winds through the pristine rainforest, surrounded by towering bamboo groves, tropical ferns, and vibrant flowers.
As you follow the path, the majestic Akaka Falls comes into view. Standing at an impressive 442 feet (135 meters), this powerful waterfall cascades into a pool below, creating a mesmerizing display of nature’s raw energy. Take your time to admire the view and capture some memorable photos.
After exploring Akaka Falls, continue your road trip along the Hamakua Coast. This scenic drive offers stunning views of the rugged coastline and the vast Pacific Ocean. Keep an eye out for scenic overlooks where you can pull over and soak in the breathtaking panoramas.
Stop by the charming town of Honokaa, known for its historic storefronts and plantation-era architecture. Take a stroll through the town and explore the local shops, art galleries, and quaint cafes. Immerse yourself in the rich history and cultural heritage of the area.
As you make your way further along the coast, consider a visit to Waipio Valley. This lush valley, flanked by majestic cliffs, was once a favored retreat for Hawaiian royalty. Take a guided tour or hike down into the valley to experience its tranquil beauty up close. Alternatively, you can enjoy a panoramic view from the Waipio Valley Lookout if you prefer to admire its splendor from above.
As you continue your journey, make time for a stop at the stunning Onomea Bay. This hidden gem is home to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, a paradise filled with exotic plants, colorful flowers, and peaceful walking trails. Take a leisurely stroll through the garden and savor the tranquility of this lush oasis.
As the day comes to a close, make your way back to your accommodation, reflecting on the natural wonders and breathtaking beauty you experienced along the Hamakua Coast. Rest up and get ready for more adventures on the following day.
Day 6: Waipio Valley and Waimea
Get ready to explore the captivating beauty of the Waipio Valley and the charming town of Waimea on Day 6 of your Big Island itinerary. This day is filled with cultural significance, natural wonders, and a glimpse into the rich history and traditions of Hawaii.
Start your day early and make your way to the Waipio Valley, a place steeped in Hawaiian mythology and history. This lush, picturesque valley is often referred to as the “Valley of the Kings” due to its former status as a retreat for Hawaiian royalty.
Embark on a guided tour or hike down into the valley to fully immerse yourself in its beauty. As you descend, you’ll be greeted by breathtaking views of verdant cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and taro fields. Take a moment to appreciate the serenity and power of this sacred place.
Learn about the historical and cultural importance of the valley, including its role in the ancient Hawaiian civilization. Discover the legends, traditions, and practices that have shaped the lives of the Hawaiian people for centuries.
After exploring the Waipio Valley, make your way to the charming town of Waimea, located in the uplands of the Big Island. This picturesque town is known for its cool, misty climate and scenic landscapes.
Immerse yourself in the local culture by visiting the Parker Ranch Museum, which showcases the history of the largest privately-owned cattle ranch in the United States. Explore the exhibits to learn about the ranch’s rich heritage and the Parker family’s contributions to the island’s development.
Take a stroll through downtown Waimea and explore the unique shops, boutiques, and art galleries. Treat yourself to a delicious meal at one of the local restaurants, where you can savor the flavors of farm-to-table cuisine made with locally-sourced ingredients.
If you’re interested in learning more about Hawaiian history and culture, visit the Anna Ranch Heritage Center. Gain insights into the ranching lifestyle, Hawaiian traditions, and the legacy of Anna Lindsay Perry-Fiske, a prominent figure in Waimea’s history.
As the evening approaches, take a moment to witness the stunning sunset over the rolling green hills of Waimea. The breathtaking colors painting the sky provide the perfect backdrop for reflection and contemplation.
After a day of exploration, return to your accommodation and recharge for the adventures that await you on Day 7.
Day 7: Relaxing at the Beaches of Kona
On Day 7 of your Big Island itinerary, it’s time to unwind and recharge as you spend a leisurely day exploring the beautiful beaches of Kona. With its crystal-clear waters, pristine sandy shores, and abundance of marine life, Kona offers the perfect setting for relaxation and tropical bliss.
Start your day by heading to one of the captivating beaches in the area. With so many options to choose from, you’re guaranteed to find the perfect spot to soak up the sun and enjoy the warm Hawaiian waters.
One of the most popular beaches in Kona is Magic Sands Beach. Known for its powdery white sand, this beach offers a great area for swimming, snorkeling, and bodysurfing. Lounge on the beach or take a dip in the turquoise waters to cool off from the tropical heat.
If you prefer a more secluded and tranquil beach experience, make your way to Makalawena Beach. Accessible by a short hike or a four-wheel drive vehicle, this hidden gem offers pristine stretches of white sand and calm waters ideal for swimming and snorkeling.
For a unique beach experience, visit the Pahoehoe Beach Park. This beach is adorned with lava formations and tide pools, creating a fascinating landscape to explore. Spend your time discovering marine life hidden in the tide pools, or simply relax and take in the natural beauty around you.
If you’re feeling adventurous, consider taking a boat tour or renting kayaks to explore the vibrant underwater world just off the coast. Snorkelers and scuba divers will be delighted by the colorful coral reefs, tropical fish, and even the chance to encounter majestic manta rays.
When you need a break from the sun, take a stroll along the beachfront promenade in Kailua-Kona. Discover local shops, art galleries, and delightful restaurants where you can indulge in Hawaiian cuisine or enjoy a refreshing tropical drink.
As the day winds down, find a cozy spot on the beach to marvel at the mesmerizing Hawaiian sunset. The vibrant hues painting the sky provide the perfect backdrop for a romantic evening or a serene moment of gratitude for the natural beauty that surrounds you.
After a day of relaxation and beach bliss, head back to your accommodation, rejuvenated and ready for the adventures that await you on Day 8.
Day 8: Mauna Lani Resort and Cultural Sites
On Day 8 of your Big Island itinerary, delve into the rich cultural heritage of the island as you explore the Mauna Lani Resort and nearby cultural sites. Immerse yourself in ancient Hawaiian traditions, enjoy luxurious amenities, and witness the historical significance of the area.
Begin your day by visiting the Mauna Lani Resort, a world-class destination that perfectly blends luxury with authentic Hawaiian culture. Take a stroll through the beautifully landscaped grounds and indulge in the resort’s amenities, including pristine beaches, stunning pools, and top-notch dining options.
While at the resort, be sure to visit the Kalahuipua’a Historic Park, a sacred site preserving ancient Hawaiian fishponds, petroglyphs, and historical structures. Walk along the trails and learn about the cultural significance of these artifacts, connecting with the island’s rich past.
Next, make your way to the nearby Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve, where you’ll find an extensive collection of petroglyphs carved into lava rock. These ancient rock carvings provide a glimpse into the lives and beliefs of the indigenous people who once inhabited the island. Take your time to explore the preserve and contemplate the stories behind these fascinating artworks.
To deepen your understanding of Hawaiian traditions and history, pay a visit to the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site. This sacred temple was constructed by King Kamehameha I and played a crucial role in the unification of the Hawaiian Islands. Take a guided tour or explore the site on your own, marveling at the impressive architecture and learning about the cultural significance of this heiau (temple).
After immersing yourself in the cultural sites, return to the Mauna Lani Resort for relaxation and rejuvenation. Treat yourself to a spa treatment inspired by traditional Hawaiian healing practices or simply unwind on the beach, listening to the soothing sounds of the waves.
In the evening, indulge in a delicious meal at one of the resort’s restaurants, where you can savor a fusion of local flavors and international cuisine. Experience the true taste of Hawaii with dishes made from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.
As your day comes to a close, take a moment to reflect on the cultural significance of the sites you explored. Appreciate the efforts made to preserve and honor Hawaii’s heritage, allowing future generations to connect with the island’s past. Rest up and get ready for more adventures on Day 9.
Day 9: Snorkeling and Dolphin Watching
Day 9 of your Big Island adventure is all about immersing yourself in the vibrant underwater world and encountering the magnificent marine creatures that call these crystal-clear waters home. Get ready for a day of snorkeling and dolphin watching, creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Start your day by heading to one of the renowned snorkeling spots on the island, such as Kealakekua Bay. Known for its pristine waters and colorful coral reefs, this marine sanctuary offers an incredible snorkeling experience. Dive into the turquoise waters and meet a variety of tropical fish, sea turtles, and maybe even spot a gentle manta ray gliding by.
To enhance your snorkeling adventure, consider taking a guided tour on a boat or catamaran. These tours provide opportunities to explore multiple snorkeling sites, ensuring you get a chance to witness the diversity of marine life that thrives in the waters of the Big Island.
As you navigate the waters, keep your eyes open for playful pods of dolphins. The Big Island is home to several species of dolphins, including spinner dolphins known for their acrobatic displays. If luck is on your side, you may have the opportunity to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
For an even more engaging dolphin encounter, consider joining a dolphin watching tour. These tours offer a chance to observe dolphins in their natural environment while abiding by responsible, dolphin-friendly practices. Get an up-close look at their playful behavior and marvel at their grace and beauty.
After a thrilling day of snorkeling and dolphin watching, take some time to relax on one of the island’s stunning beaches. Let the sun warm your skin and the gentle sound of the waves lull you into a state of pure tranquility.
In the evening, consider treating yourself to a sunset cruise, where you can watch the sky transform into a painting of vibrant hues as the day comes to an end. Savor this magical moment as the sun dips below the horizon, creating a truly unforgettable experience.
As the day winds down, reflect on the incredible encounters you had with the vibrant marine life and the awe-inspiring beauty of these volcanic waters. Rest up for your final day on the Big Island, ready to bid farewell to this stunning destination.
Day 10: Farewell to the Big Island
On the final day of your Big Island adventure, it’s time to bid farewell to this enchanting paradise. Although it’s hard to leave behind the beauty and the memories you’ve made, take this day to reflect on your journey and savor your remaining time on the island.
Start your day by enjoying a leisurely breakfast at a local cafe or at your accommodation. Take a moment to soak in the views one last time and appreciate the peacefulness of the Big Island. Reflect on the incredible experiences you’ve had during your trip and the beauty of the natural landscapes.
If time allows, consider squeezing in one more activity or visit a site that you may have missed during your stay. Perhaps there’s a trail you’ve wanted to hike, a picturesque beach you’ve yet to explore, or a cultural site that piques your interest. Allow yourself to be present in the moment and savor every last bit of the island’s charm.
Before you depart, make sure to gather any souvenirs or mementos to remind you of your time on the Big Island. Whether it’s locally crafted jewelry, traditional artwork, or a jar of Kona coffee, take a piece of the island home with you to cherish and evoke the memories of your remarkable journey.
As you say goodbye to the Big Island, remember to express gratitude for the experiences, the nature, and the people you’ve encountered. Reflect on the kindness and hospitality of the locals, who have shared their island with you, and the incredible natural wonders that have left you in awe.
Before heading to the airport, take a moment to bid farewell to the ocean, the mountains, and the land that have captivated your heart. Promise yourself to return again one day to relive the magic and explore more of what the Big Island has to offer.
As your plane takes off and you look out over the island disappearing from sight, hold onto the memories and the spirit of aloha that you’ve experienced. Carry the essence of the Big Island within you, allowing it to inspire and uplift you in your everyday life.
Farewell, Big Island. Until we meet again.