Your Travel Guide to Big Island
The Big Island of Hawaii, also called “Hawaii”, has much to offer and many surprises. It is the largest of all the islands with a population of approximately 185,000. There is plenty of space to move around. The roads there are perfect for all the driving you'll do. Don't take infrastructure for granted (Oahu's is not so great, but there's 8 x more people). What you can take for granted is that Hawaii truly is paradise, for now at least (lava flow).
After arriving in Kona, we drove North toward Hawi and back down to Waimea onward to Hilo. The drive was a memorable one. The rolling hills of the countryside had us feeling like we were out west, not in Hawaii. We saw goats, cows, and horses. I loved it! I suggested it as a place to retire. Although, who knows! We have a lot more traveling to do. After spending 2 fun-filled days in Hilo, we scooted south and over to Kona where we spent 2 more days. If you would like to know which I liked better, my reply is Hilo. I like the small-town feel and that the buildings remain untouched by chain hotels, restaurants, and stores.
Things to see and do
With Maunakea being the highest point on the island, you can see more stars than you've ever imagined (at least I did). We attended the star-gazing party at the observatory. It was cold and fantastic. A highlight of the trip for sure.
Volcanoes National Park is a must. Drive the Chain of Craters Rd until it meets the water. There are restrooms at the end and a 10-mile hike if you're feeling anxious. I wasn't.
In Kona, rental bikes are offered near Huggo’s and in front of the police station on the strip. I believe the rental fee is $3.50 for the day.
The links below will take you to a map of the places I recommend visiting. There is so much to experience, but I prefer seeing the historical sites, scenic drives, waterfalls, eating, and people watching. I will be adding to this list as time goes on. Once on the map, you can click to view websites and ratings. Also, you can access our full 5-day itinerary here: Big Island. It will give you a starting point for planning.
Drive and walk with aloha. Be peaceful and kind. The Big Island is a tourist spot and you’ll want to be welcomed by the locals, you may need their advice or assistance.
We stayed in two Airbnbs; one in Hilo ($81 per night/w $50 cleaning fee) and one in Kona ($88 per night/ 2 $30 cleaning fee). It was our first time staying in an Airbnb and we loved it. It saved us a lot of money and they were both in great locations.
I like to shore hop, so I can experience the towns I want without having to drive for too long.
In Hilo, the average cost for a 3-star hotel will be between $100-$200.
In Kona, the average cost for a 3-star and above hotel will be over $200 per night.
Wherever you choose to stay, do your research to determine how close it is to transit, if breakfast & WiFi are included, is it safe to walk to/from the hotel, etc.
Food was pricey, and I wasn’t prepared for that. Allow me to prepare you in advance. For two people, 5 days, plan for $25 per meal, if you’re dining out. If you wish to have drinks, expect to pay more. We had a kitchen while in Kona, but didn’t take full advantage of it, but that was only for 2 days. We could’ve shopped and made sandwiches, but I wanted to relax (i.e. not cook or clean).
Hawaii does have a bus, but I am not a bus rider here. I prefer a car, especially since we drove 600 miles. We rented a car from Thrifty, but not at the airport. We saved over $1000, because I booked a car 2 months prior on Priceline and from the Thrifty located at a hotel in Kona, NOT the airport Thrifty. Yes, we had to get a taxi from the airport, but that $30 didn’t come close to what we saved. Gas was $3.49 while we were visiting. Luckily, we had a Mazda 3 and the gas mileage was good.
Keep in mind, if you wish to drive to the summit of Maunakea – you will need a 4-wheel drive. My suggestion is rent the 4-wheel drive for 1 day, not your entire stay. You’ll save $! Book it at the same time you book your car, especially if you’re going in the peak season. The Thrifty at the airport was sold out when we arrived. (I know because I forgot which Thrifty location I booked at. hehe)
Lastly, I’m a real fan of the Speedi Shuttle and you can book it online, in advance. That is, if the hotel doesn’t offer a shuttle. Often, it’s cheaper than a taxi and I don’t have to worry about if my luggage will fit. (Husband carried a spear gun.)
Above and beyond accommodations and rental car, be prepared to budget for gas, activities/tours, souvenirs, and food. For the moderate spender who eats breakfast cheap, or at the hotel, and maybe a glass of vino with dinner, I suggest budgeting an average of $100 USD a day (2 people). Although, one thrifty spender could get by for less.
Don’t believe everything Yelp says. Paradise Farms reviews were great, but in reality – not. Skip it.
Walk the Onomea trail – it backs up to the Botanical Gardens and it’s gorgeous. It’s free vs. the $18 entry fee.
Make sure you have gas all the time and don’t get your key fob wet (said our taxi driver).
What recommendations do you have?