Carefully considering your Big Island itinerary prior to arriving is essential for maximizing your vacation hours.
Unlike the other Hawaiian islands, drive times can quickly stack up here on the Big Island!
In this guide, we will present everything you need to know for planning YOUR perfect Hawaiian vacation. This includes where to stay, how to get around, all of the best things to do, maps, photo galleries, and more.
Having learned from our multiple trips to the Big Island of Hawaii and doing each activity presented at least once, we have designed this 7 day Big Island itinerary in a way that provides flexibility and personal customization while ensuring the best experience possible.
Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links 🙂
🌋 Big Island Travel Advisories:
As of September 22, 2023, travel to the Big Island is safe and free of disruptions.
All areas are open for tourism.
What to know about the Big Island wildfires
On August 8, 2023, wildfires blazed across several regions of Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii. The impact to the West Maui region was devastating, but Big Island was mostly unscathed.
Three small wildfires flared up in the North and South Kohala regions of the Big Island. All of these fires were quickly contained and no one was killed or seriously injured.
Only the Mauna Kea beach fire impacted tourists by forcing temporary evacuation of the Mauna Kea resort. However, the fire was quickly contained and the region remains undamaged and completely open to visitors.
What to know about the Big Island volcanic activity
There are currently no travel disruptions being caused by volcanic activity on Big Island.
There are frequently volcanic eruptions occurring on the Big Island of Hawaii. Mauna Loa volcano began erupting again in November of 2022, but ceased in January 2023.
Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park often has small eruptions, but is currently inactive. It has, however, been showing recent signs of “unrest”.
Some things to know:
- Most eruptions are small and unlikely to impact your ability to visit to the Big Island of Hawaii.
- The most common location to experience volcanic activity is at the Kilauea Volcano within Volcanoes NP.
- You can find daily updates with the most up-to-date information at the government website here.
🏝 7 Day Big Island Itinerary Overview
In this guide, we will address every point of planning you need to consider when arranging your one week Big Island itinerary.
This section provides just a snapshot of everything that will be covered in greater detail throughout the remainder of the guide.
If you have less than a week on the Big Island, we recommend reading our 5 Day Big Island Itinerary.
🍍 Big Island of Hawaii 7-Day Itinerary Overview
• Hapuna Beach
• Mauna Kea Beach
• Beach 69
• Puako Bay
|Kona or Waikoloa|
|• Captain Cook Snorkel Tour|
• Kailua-Kona Town
• Magic Sands Beach
|Kona or Waikoloa|
|• Green Sand Beach|
• Black Sand Beach
• Ho’okena Beach
|Kona or Waikoloa|
South Kona Region
• Pu’uhonua O Honaunau NP
• Manta Ray Night Snorkel
|Kona or Waikoloa|
North Kona Region
|• Kua Bay|
• Kukio Beach
• Mahai’ula & Makalawena Beach
• Sunset Luau
|Kona or Waikoloa|
|• Local waterfalls (Rainbow Falls, Peepee Falls, etc.)|
• Volcanoes National Park
|Kona or Waikoloa|
Mauna Kea / Kona
|• Drive back to Kona via Mauna Kea|
• Depart from Big Island
|Hilo or Volcanoes NP|
🏄 How to Best Use This Guide
- First, decide where to stay. This will affect your entire itinerary! We recommend Kona Town for most, but Waikoloa is another good option. Additionally, 1 night in Hilo can limit drive times substantially if you wish to explore both sides of the island.
*Read the complete guide on Where to Stay on the Big Island here.*
- To allow flexibility due to things like inclement weather or sold-out tours, this itinerary has been designed so that the days are interchangeable.
- Some activities will require reservations, but the vast majority can be booked or modified on the go as needed.
- You will need to rent a car or van to truly see Big Island. More on that in the Getting Around section.
🔎 SUGGESTED: ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR PLANNING A TRIP TO BIG ISLAND
🌈 Big Island Maps
Below are some Big Island maps to better help you understand the layout of the islands and the breakdown of the regions.
We recommend opening the Google Map in a new tab and familiarizing yourself with the different regions of the island to make this guide easier to follow.
Map of Big Island Regions
The map above shows the regions of the Big Island color-coded for easy comprehension.
Big Island Itinerary Map
The interactive map above shows all the points of interest mentioned within this 7 day Big Island itinerary, color-coded and grouped by day.
To open the Google Map in a new tab, click here or on the image above.
🏖️ 7 Day Big Island Itinerary Day 1:
Having just arrived and potentially still adjusting to the new time zone, the first day of your Big Island itinerary aims to balance leisurely exploration with plenty of beach time.
We recommend you use Day 1 to drive north of Kona to the Kohala region, getting a feel for the landscape while you cruise up.
Once in Kohala, you will find some of the most beautiful beaches and incredible coral gardens on the Big Island, as well as a bit of luxury in the Waikoloa area.
End your first on the island being wined and dined on a magical sunset sail, hopefully helping to truly get your mind away from the mainland and into proper vacation mode.
Below are the best stops in the region in the order we recommend visiting them.
Stop 1: Mauna Kea Beach
Mauna Kea Beach (Kaunaʻoa Beach in Hawaiian) is a white sand beach with crystal clear water located at the shoreline of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Autograph Collection.
While the hotel keeps this tropical paradise carefully manicured, it is a public beach that anyone can enjoy.
Stop 2: Mau’umae Beach
This small, remote beach is hidden away just north of Mauna Kea Beach along a semi-rough road.
If you prefer your beaches to feel more authentic than the curated resort beaches, it is worth popping over. However, it is not so special as to be considered unmissable by most.
Stop 3: Lunch at Hapuna Beach Park
Hapuna Beach is truly one of the best beaches on the Big Island in every regard.
The water here is incredibly clear and the hazardous lava rock present on most of the Kona shoreline is scarce here.
A wide, white sand beach is available for spending the day lounging and soaking in the sunshine.
Of all the beaches you will visit on this first day of your Big Island itinerary, plan to spend the most time at Hapuna.
The park offers plenty of covered picnic tables, parking, restrooms, showers, and even a lifeguard.
If you have the foresight to pack a lunch, this is an excellent place to spend the afternoon and enjoy a picnic on the beach.
Stop 4: Beach 69
Beach 69 neighbors Hapuna Beach to the south. Is one of the best places to snorkel on the Big Island, but the beach itself is otherwise lacking.
If you have brought a snorkel set (which we highly recommend), take some time to explore the underwater world and coral gardens at Beach 69.
If snorkeling is not your thing, you can skip this stop as there is little to experience from the shore.
Stop 5: Puako Beach / Puako Bay
For the photography enthusiasts reading this, Puako Beach is one of the least-known destinations for incredible, postcard-perfect tropical scenery.
From an experiential standpoint, however, this hidden beach leaves a lot to be desired.
While the photos make it look sublime, it is worth noting that there is no sand here. Rather, you’ll find large chunks of white coral.
The reef in Puako Bay is absolutely incredible, but it is not recommended to snorkel from Puako Beach due to the dangerous lava rock shelf.
In other words, those without an interest in photographs can leave this one off their Big Island itinerary, but the shutterbugs among you should highlight this secret sunset destination.
Stop 6: Waikoloa & Sunset Sail
Waikoloa Beach is one of the nicest beaches in Kona, forgiving the coarse sand shore. It is maintained by the surrounding resorts and offers a great family-friendly beach with full services.
The Waikoloa region is one of the places we recommend staying for your week on the Big Island. It is a bit more pricey than most of the island, but the beach, resort, and facilities nearby make it a tremendous home base.
Within the Queen’s Marketplace in the Waikoloa area, you will find upscale and mid-range shopping options as well as semi-daily cultural events such as live Hawaiian music, hula shows, etc.
This is also the easiest place to find dining options in the North Kona / Kohala region of the island.
You should aim to make Waikoloa your final destination on Day 1 as this will allow you the most options in how you choose to end the day.
Here are the 3 most popular sunset options in the Kohala region:
- Waikoloa Sunset Sail: Best for anyone celebrating a special occasion, a sunset sail is a magical way to end the day while being wined and dined in paradise.
- Waikoloa Beach: Best for those who just want to relax, stay present, and get their minds into vacation mode. The westerly view from this beach is fantastic.
- Dinner & Drinks: As mentioned, the Waikoloa area has the most restaurants and bars on this side of the island. Find the one that is right for your budget and preferences and end the day with a heart as full as your belly.
🐠 7 Day Big Island Itinerary Day 2:
Now that you’ve had a day to enjoy the beaches and soak in some of those aloha vibes, it’s time for a little adventure!
The Big Island is considered by many to provide the best snorkeling in the state of Hawaii. It has the healthiest coral gardens, and aquatic wildlife sightings are almost expected!
These include everything from spinner dolphins to whales to turtles, and even the occasional whale shark.
Afterward, spend the day exploring the buzzing town of Kailua-Kona and some of its best beaches.
Stop 1: Captain Cook Monument (Snorkel Tour)
The Big Island is known for being the best snorkeling destination of the 4 major Hawaiian islands.
Of all the places to snorkel here, the Captain James Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay is considered the best of the best.
Begin Day 2 of your Big Island itinerary with a snorkel adventure to Captain Cook.
The boat tour we recommend provides food and beverages and takes care of everything, making it an easy and fun way to begin the day. You will also learn more about the history of the area.
If you don’t want to take our word for it, you can also check out their excellent 5-star TripAdvisor reviews!
While it is technically possible to get to this snorkel spot without a tour, it requires a very long drive and an even longer hike. The tours are affordable and provide a much more pleasant experience, and save a lot of time as well.
The coral garden at the monument is rich and colorful and teeming with tropical fish and aquatic life.
Expect to see turtles and tropical fish underwater, and you will almost always see spinner dolphins from the boat.
During whale migration season, you will also likely see a few of these gentle giants if you do a boat tour!
Stop 2: Kahalu’u Beach Park
If you do not want to book a tour but are still interested in snorkeling, head to Kahalu’u Beach Park instead.
While the snorkeling is not as good as Captain Cook or Two Step, it provides quick and easy access to a lovely coral garden.
The sand is gray and coarse, so it’s not the most comfortable for lounging on. However, the park provides covered picnic areas, full restroom and shower facilities, and ample parking.
Turtle sightings are a bit more rare in the afternoon but common in the morning.
Stop 3: Kailua-Kona Town
Having spent the morning snorkeling around with Hawaii’s cutest underwater residents, you will likely be ready for some dry land and relaxation. Before hitting the beaches, consider exploring the charming and historic town center of Kailua-Kona.
You can easily walk the entire town, giving some indication as to its relative size. You will find, as expected, plenty of restaurants, bars, shops, and quick eats.
If nothing else, treat yourself to a shaved ice or cocktail.
When you have recharged and fueled up, grab the cooler and sun chairs out and head to some of the best beaches in the Kailua-Kona region to end Day 2 with a sunset on the water.
Stop 4: Magic Sands Beach
While it is very small, this white sand beach has the softest sand and easiest ocean access in the area.
As you will discover if you have not by now, the relative youth of the Big Island (it is the youngest in the Hawaiian Island chain) means there is still a lot of exposed lava rock and coarse sand to contend with at most beaches, but (mostly) not at Magic Sands.
There is a large parking area, restroom facilities, a lifeguard, and a handful of restaurants, bars, and convenience stores all in close proximity if you need any supplies.
Take the time to relax and enjoy some well-deserved beach time.
Magic Sands faces west, making it a great place to end the second day of your Big Island itinerary watching the sunset from the beach.
Stop 5: Keiki Beach Queen’s Bath
If you are traveling with small children or prefer something off the beaten path, Keiki Beach / Queen’s Bath is one of the best and most secret beaches in Kona.
“Keiki” means “child” in Hawaiian, so this translates to kid’s beach. It is a popular choice for families with children because a lava rock shelf breaks incoming waves and protects the cove from strong currents.
Additionally, a small shallow pool collects the water and forms a natural kiddy pool known as Queen’s Bath.
You will certainly have time to enjoy both Keiki Beach AND Magic Sands should you so choose. Keiki Beach is the quieter, more peaceful option, but Magic Sands is much easier to get to and feels more tropical.
Both are good options for sunset.
🌋 Big Island 7 Day Itinerary Day 3:
Having had a couple of days to get adjusted to island time and explore much of the west coast, Day 3 becomes a bit more adventurous.
By now, you have enjoyed a few of the golden-sand, lava rock beaches that Kona provides, but did you know that the Big Island of Hawaii is home to green and black sand beaches?!
In fact, Papakolea Beach (aka Green Sand Beach) is one of the best beaches in all of Hawaii, boasting silky soft sand of an unusual color and crystal clear water within a sheltered cove.
End your day on Punaluʻu Black Sand beach and enjoy watching the sunset alongside resident sea turtles.
Stop 1: Papakolea Beach (aka Green Sand Beach)
The first stop is one of the most unusual beaches of Hawaii.
Green Sand Beach derives its unusual tint from the olivine mineral present in the sand. Though it isn’t quite as green as some may hope, it is definitely unique and a must-see on any Big Island itinerary.
The beach itself is also one of the nicest in terms of experience. The sand is like powder, easily the softest on the island, and the water is impossibly blue and turquoise.
Large olivine cliffs protect it from winds, creating the perfect shelter for a day on the beach.
Be aware that getting to this marvel requires either a very long walk in the sun or buying a ride with one of the local ATV drivers down to the beach.
Stop 2: Punaluʻu Beach (aka Black Sand Beach)
You have already seen a grey sand beach and a green sand beach, so it seems fitting to make your next beach stop a visit to the incredible Black Sand Beach of Big Island.
Known locally as Punaluʻu, this is perhaps the best place on the island to see the resident honu (Hawaiian sea turtles.)
The black sand is very coarse and is not the most pleasant to lay on, but the visual aesthetics are second to none.
While it doesn’t provide westerly views, it is still a beautiful place to watch the sunset alongside sea turtles.
Ka’u Region Tours
Day 3 of this Big Island itinerary involves the most driving you will have to do all week.
If you don’t particularly enjoy driving or just prefer to have things taken care of for you, this is a great day to book a tour.
There are a number of full-day tours that include stops at Black Sand Beach and Volcanoes National Park. We typically advise people stay one night in Hilo and visit Volcanoes NP on that evening, but taking a tour is logistically much easier.
Most do not include a stop at Green Sand Beach, instead, they offer other stops such as Rainbow Falls, Thurston Lava Tube, and Waipio Valley.
Below are some of the top-rated tours that include Black Sand Beach and Volcanoes NP. They are all full-day tours lasting 11-12 hours and include pick-up and lunch.
Each tour has different stops, varying numbers of guests, and other inclusions, so be sure to read through the descriptions to ensure it suits your needs.
- Big Island in a Day: Volcanoes, Waterfalls, Sightseeing, History: 5/5 ⭐
This highly-rated small-group tour starts on Kona coast. From here you’ll spend the day exploring the highlights of the Big Island with a professional tour guide. It includes the most stops allowing you to see as much as possible, but also means more limited time at each stop.
- Hawaii Small-Group Volcano Experience: 5/5 ⭐
As well as visiting Black Sand Beach and Volcanoes NP, this tour includes a visit to Mauna Kea Summit to see the stars (weather permitting). Additionally, it includes a three-course dinner at Kilauea Lodge Restaurant.
- Big Island Circle Tour and Volcano: Coffee, Wine, Waterfalls and Hamakua Coast: 5/5 ⭐
Spend a full day exploring the Big Island with visits to waterfalls, beaches, tropical valleys, stunning viewpoints, and so much more. This tour also includes stops at Volcano Winery and Kona Coffee Farm.
🗿 Big Island 7 Day Itinerary Day 4:
South Kona Region
Day 4 of your Big Island itinerary is going to largely be an underwater adventure.
We have purposefully kept it mostly light in the day in preparation for the absolute best thing to do on a visit to the island: the manta ray night snorkel!
If snorkeling is not your thing, consider spending a little more time exploring some of the remote beaches and sacred historic area, or take whatever else you feel you need.
⭐️ Pro Tip: Begin your day early and you are almost guaranteed to spend the morning with resident spinner dolphins!
Stop 1: Ho’okena Beach Park
Ho’okena Beach is one of the best beaches in Kona. It has some of the softest sand on the Big Island and has a distinct grey color that contrasts marvelously with the tropical palms and water.
The best part is that a pod of resident dolphins live here and they tend to be around in the early morning hours.
While it is no longer legal to swim with them, the dolphins do not know the law and will often come to swim with you if you fancy a morning snorkel!
Full facilities are available at Ho’okena Beach Park, and there are even covered picnic tables if you require shade.
Stop 2: Two-Step
Most agree that Captain James Cook Monument is the best place to snorkel on the Big Island, but Two Step comes in as a close second.
The best part about Two-Step, however, is that it does not require a tour!
The coral garden at Two Step is amazing and morning swimmers often are lucky enough to be joined by a resident dolphin pod.
Services are limited here so plan accordingly.
Also, it is so named because it requires two slippery steps to get into and out of the water. People with mobility issues may struggle at this location and should instead consider Kahalu’u Beach Park.
Stop 3: Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Area is located directly beside Two-Step.
However, it is part of the National Park System and therefore requires paid entry unless you already have an interagency pass (which we highly recommend as it pays for itself very quickly!)
This sacred site holds historical and cultural significance that the NPS looks to preserve. The grounds are absolutely incredible to walk and learn about native Hawaiian culture.
Be aware that beautiful as it is, you are not allowed to swim in the water here and the beach itself is very small.
If you are not interested in the Manta Ray night snorkel or find yourself with an open sunset, Pu’uhonua O Honaunau is one of the best places to watch sunset in Kona.
⭐️ Pro tip: Don’t forget to bring your Annual National Parks Pass to get free access to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Area.
Final Stop: Manta Ray Night Snorkel
The absolute best of the things to do on a visit to the Big Island of Hawaii is a manta ray night snorkel (or scuba dive if you’re certified)!!
Note that you do not need to be a strong swimmer nor have any snorkeling experience to participate; you simply have to hold onto the handles of a floating board with lights that attract the manta rays.
This is one of the most incredible, even spiritual experiences you will have on your Big Island vacation. It is hard to overstate the grace, beauty, and size of these gentle giants.
It is truly magical to watch them swim directly at you, then barrel roll belly to belly.
We cannot recommend this experience highly enough and consider it the one a “must-do” on your Big Island bucket list.
🏖 7 Day Big Island Itinerary Day 5:
North Kona Region
The fifth day on your Big Island itinerary should be spent seeing the only remaining section you have yet to explore; North Kona.
This region has most of our favorite Big Island beaches. Unfortunately, most of them are a bit difficult to get to, but each is well worth the effort.
End your day with a climactic flourish by enjoying a sunset luau.
Watch the sun go down while feasting on traditional Hawaiian food and learning more about the history and culture of the natives. It is one last memory you will cherish forever.
Stop 1: Makalawena Beach / Mahai’ula Beach
Most people consider Makalawena Beach and neighboring Mahai’ula Beach to be the absolute best beaches on the Big Island.
There are two major catches, however, that you need to be prepared for when including them in your Big Island itinerary.
The first is that the road to the beach is extremely rugged. You will have to either park and walk a very long road to get there or have a vehicle with a bit of clearance.
Technically, standard commuter cars can make it but it may take some scrapes along the way.
The other catch is that the park closes around sunset. While they will not typically lock the gate that early, they will ticket anyone on the beach side of it!
Due to the long walk and enforcement, we absolutely recommend visiting these gems but making them one of your earliest stops.
Stop 2: Kua Bay Beach Park
Kua Bay has the softest sand in North Kona and is the best beach in the area for swimming and water sports such as boogie boarding.
This is one of the few places with easy sand access to the ocean without having to deal with lava rock.
There is a large parking area with restrooms and showers available at the beach park. It can get very busy as it is among the most popular beaches on the Big Island.
However, there are usually spaces available.
This is one of our favorite places for sunset in Kona as well. While we recommend something a bit more special for one of your final nights on the Big Island, such as a sunset luau, Kua Bay Beach is a good free option as well.
Stop 3: Kukio Beach
Kukio Beach is somewhat a hidden gem, always seeming to be quiet despite being absolutely incredible.
On our most recent visit, we had the entire beach to ourselves for a spectacular sunset… with the exception of an endangered monk seal lounging on the beach who joined us.
Be warned that Kukio Beach is fantastic for sitting in the sand and enjoying paradise, but it is not a great place for swimming.
A lava rock shelf is scattered across most of the water entry, making it challenging and a little dangerous for splashing around.
Final Stop: Sunset Luau
A sunset luau is an absolute must at some point during your visit. It is one of the best options available for splurging on a memorable night as it combines culture and a show along with a feast for the eyes, ears, and stomach.
Several resorts in Kona offer luaus, which combine Hawaiian cuisine with dance, culture, and storytelling.
The Voyagers of the Pacific Luau is widely considered the best luau on the Big Island, with spectacular ocean views.
✨ 7 Day Big Island Itinerary Day 6:
Begin Day 6 by driving over to Hilo for a night on the wet side of the island. Here, you will discover a very different landscape, pace, and overall island vibe.
While there are really no true beaches on the Hilo side, there are a variety of beautiful waterfalls and nature hikes to enjoy, as well as a bit more history than you will find on the Kona side.
Since you will not be spending much time sunbathing or snorkeling, you have a few options to choose between.
These include waterfall chasing, a walk around the historic village, exploring the eastern coastline, and making a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
⭐️ Pro Tip: If the National Park is more appealing than having a central location, you could even consider staying at Volcano Village rather than Hilo. This will make a night visit easier.
Stop 1: Explore the Hilo Coast & Beaches
The best Hilo “beaches” are Carlsmith Beach Park and Onekahakaha Beach Park.
Keaukaha Beach Park is popular for picnics on the grass near the water. However, there is no actual sand beach there (this goes for most Hilo Beach Parks).
Stop 2: Chase Waterfalls in the Hilo Rainforest
The rainforest near Hilo is home to some beautiful jungles and waterfalls.
Among them, Pee’pee Falls, ‘Akaka Falls State Park and Rainbow Falls are the most popular and easiest to reach.
We recommend checking out these three waterfalls as part of your day in the area. They are easy to get to and are unique natural features.
Stop 3: Hilo Town
Hilo is very different from Kona and still feels much more authentic… less touristy.
Take some time to wander the shops and local restaurants and get a feel for this historic little gem.
Stop 4: Night Visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The absolute highlight of any visit to the Big Island is seeing the volcanic origins of the Hawaiian Islands at the source.
There are few things more humbling and incredible than gazing out to an oozing lava lake with magma bubbling and exploding like natural fireworks.
You do not want to miss a visit to Volcanoes National Park to witness the otherworldly red glow of the Halemaumau Crater and marvel at the island taking form.
This experience is best at night, if possible, as the lava is easier to see. Twilight is also a fantastic time for that same reason.
There are a variety of viewpoints around the crater which are worth exploring, but the best view is from Keanakako’i Overlook.
If possible, bring a tripod and the biggest zoom lens you have for photos or binoculars otherwise. This is one of those experiences in life you will simply never forget.
If organizing this on your own feels too complicated, tours are readily available.
⭐️ Pro tip: Don’t forget to bring your Annual National Parks Pass to get free access to Volcanoes NP.
🛫 Big Island 7 Day Itinerary Day 7:
Mauna Kea & Departure from Kona
On your final day on the Big Island, drive back toward the Kona side via the beautiful Mauna Kea mountain range. This stunning, scenic drive is an adventure all its own.
Depending on your time of departure, you may or may not have time for some additional activities.
Fortunately, they don’t call it “the BIG Island” for no reason!
Despite a jam-packed itinerary, there are still a few bucket list items and activities to consider if time permits.
You should spend your last day in Hawaii however feels right. Below are a few photos and suggestions for popular activities not yet featured:
- Get a beer at the famous Kona Brewing Co.
- Explore the Waipio Valley* and Kohala Forest Reserve.
*Currently only accessible via tour.
- Go stargazing at Mauna Kea.
- Visit a world-renowned Kona coffee plantation.
- Take to the air on a scenic helicopter flight.
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🏠 Where to Stay on Big Island
Choosing the right place to call home on your holiday is the most important decision you will make.
It is undebatable that Kailua-Kona is the preferred region to stay, but even this is a large region. For perspective, driving from the north end to the south takes almost 2 hours.
*AS THIS IS AN INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT DECISION, YOU MAY FIRST WANT TO READ OUR COMPLETE GUIDE ON WHERE TO STAY ON THE BIG ISLAND.*
Below is a quick breakdown of where to begin your search for the perfect accommodation.
North Kona receives the most sunshine year-round. For this reason, the resorts near Waikoloa are among the most popular, but also the most expensive.
Accommodation in this region is a good choice for those who plan to spend more time at home than adventuring. However, it is a poor choice for those who wish to explore.
Mauna Kea, the largest mountain on the Big Island, creates its own weather systems which can leave South Kona engulfed in clouds.
During shoulder seasons, this may mean more hours in overcast weather than sunshine. However, Kona Town is typically sunny, the most centralized location for exploring, and the nearest area to the major services.
⭐️ Pro Tip: The best option for limiting drive times is to divide your stay between Waikoloa & Kona Town. However, if you prefer not to have to check out, repack, and settle into a second home, make it easy and just book all 7 nights in the same place.
Hilo is on the wet side and is a 1.5-hour, 75-mile drive from the Kona Airport (KOA). It is known for its lush vegetation, rainforests, and waterfalls.
It is also much closer to Volcanoes National Park; a must-see on any Big Island itinerary.
The downside to staying in Hilo (for most) is the climate, remoteness, and the lack of tropical beaches.
We recommend staying at most 1 or 2 nights here to experience everything the island has to offer and to allow an easier night visit to Volcanoes NP.
If you’re more interested in visiting the National Park than the town and surrounding waterfalls, you can choose to spend a night in Volcano Village closer to the park.
🚗 Getting Around the Big Island
Best Option: Rental Car
You will absolutely need a vehicle to explore the Big Island. There is some public transport available, particularly near Kailua-Kona, but the island is simply too big and time too precious to rely on buses.
For the vast majority of visitors, renting a car is the best option.
The Big Island has all of the typical rental car services.
However, another cheaper option is to use the Turo app which has gained popularity in Hawaii. This app allows you to rent a car directly from the owner which is usually far more affordable and puts money directly into the pockets of the locals.
The most notable downside to using Turo is that you may have to pick it up at their location which requires additional costs and maneuvering.
Second Option: Campervan
Finding a campervan on the Big Island is not as easy as we wish it were. For those who manage to get one, however, this is probably the best choice for exploring.
The size of the island makes commuting back and forth to a hotel or BnB a major loss of time. With a campervan, you can limit overall mileage while saving money on accommodation and gas.
You also get your choice of views to wake up to each morning, which is cheaper than any ocean-view hotel room!
Consolidating your rental car and hotel into one comfortable setup is the best choice for maximizing time and money on your Big Island itinerary.
There are some drawbacks of course. For one, it offers less comfort and privacy than hotels, especially in the bathroom department. Also, finding places where you are safe and allowed to park overnight is not always easy.
Third Option: By Tours
If you are unable to drive but still want to see the Big Island, the best option for you will be to pre-book tours for all of the activities you want to do.
For those who elect this option, you will want to choose a hotel or resort in Kailua-Kona as nearly every tour company will arrange pick-up in this area.
🧳 Packing for 7 Days on the Big Island
Your individual packing list will vary depending on the type of vacation you intend to have. However, there are a few essentials that you will want to consider taking with you to the Big Island.
You can also find a printable checklist in our Hawaii Packing guide. This covers all the essentials, as well as often overlooked items.
- Swimsuit: Whether on a snorkel tour, the beach, or splashing around in your hotel pool, you’re going to need a swimsuit!
- Reef-safe sunscreen: Hawaii is the first state to require the use of reef-safe sunscreen. We use Stream 2 Sea sunscreen as it’s non-harmful. Additionally, most of their bottles are made from sugarcane resin rather than plastic.
- Beach travel towel: Hotels will provide towels for use within their grounds. However, you will want to take a towel with you for the beach. We recommend bringing a travel towel specifically as they are small, dry quickly, and do not collect sand!
- Beach shoes: You’ll find many of the beaches on the Big Island have lava rock and/or coarse sand. It is worth taking some beach shoes that can be worn in the water and will help to protect your feet. Trust me, I learned this the hard way after cutting my foot on lava rock on my first day in Hawaii!
- Lightweight waterproof jacket: It’s likely to rain while on the Big Island at least once. Additionally, it can get chilly at Volcanoes NP and Mauna Kea. Therefore, having a lightweight waterproof jacket will come in handy! We love our Columbia jackets as they’re super lightweight making them easy to pack and they come in a variety of colors.
- Snorkel gear: If you’re planning on doing a lot of snorkeling while in Hawaii, it is cheaper and easier to bring your own snorkel and mask and fins than renting them each day. You can also buy these items as a snorkel set which works out cheaper still.
Photography Gear for Photographing the Big Island
- Camera: The Big Island is a beautiful place and you’ll want to capture those moments to cherish. We use the Sony a7riii love it. However, beginners may wish to consider an entry level DSLR.
- Waterproof camera: As the Big Island is home to some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii, you may find yourself taking more photos from underwater than on the land! We recommend either the GoPro or Olympus TG6, both of which we use.
- Microfiber cleaning cloths: You will want to bring plenty of dry microfiber cloths to clean your lens between shots.
- Filters: We strongly recommend learning how to use a Circular Polarizing (CPL) filter. These are incredible for enhancing natural colors by cutting glare the same way that polarized sunglasses do. The best CPL we have found is the Quartzline from Polar Pro.
- Camera Rain Cover: You may want to consider a rain cover for your camera to protect it from both rain and saltwater spray. Both can damage your camera, but salt water is especially harmful
✈️ Traveling to Hawaii in 2023
Impact of 2023 Wildfires in Maui
Much of the island of Maui has been tragically impacted by recent fires, with the region known as West Maui being most affected and Historic Lahaina Town having been all but destroyed.
All fires are contained (or nearly so) at this point, including the most recent wildfire in Ka’anapali on Aug 26. Travel is safe and encouraged, outside of the West Maui region!
The Hawaii Tourism Authority message to tourists is to maintain travel plans to visit the island and to help support the local economy, but to be mindful and respectful of the hardships the locals are enduring, and to avoid the West Maui region.
You can find out more about the Hawaii fires and find the most current updates here: HAWAII TOURISM AUTHORITY.
Domestic Travel to Hawaii
There are no current domestic restrictions for domestic flights to Hawaii. Additionally, the REAL ID enforcement date has been pushed back to May 7, 2025 due to the recent pandemic.
International Travel to Hawaii
For those traveling from international destinations with direct flights to Hawaii, you will only need to follow federal requirements for international visitors to the USA. There are no additional State of Hawai‘i requirements.
As of May 12, 2023, visitors to the U.S. no longer need to show proof of a negative test or proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
You will need to ensure you either have a valid ESTA or visa for entry.
🤔 7 Day Big Island Itinerary FAQs
Below are the most frequently asked questions for visitors planning their Big Island itineraries. Click the dropdown arrows for answers and more information on each topic.
Is 7 days enough for Big Island?
One week on the Big Island is enough to experience the snorkeling, beaches, and town of Kona while also having time for other top sights such as Hilo, Volcanoes NP, Mauna Kea, and the Waipio Valley.
How much you see in 7 days will be dependent on how much time you desire for relaxing on the beach and how well you prepare your itinerary.
Which volcano is erupting on Big Island right now?
Mauna Loa became began erupting again in November 2022, but has since been mostly quiet. Small eruptions do occur from time to time but are unlikely to impact your visit.
How many days for Big Island?
If you want to have enough time to see all of the best things the island has to offer while also leaving time to relax on the beach, two weeks is the perfect amount of time to spend on the Big Island.
Those with less time available should aim for at least 7-10 days if possible, but even a shorter visit is highly enjoyable. With less than a week on your itinerary, travelers should stick primarily to Kona.
Do you need a car for Big Island?
You will absolutely want to rent a car or campervan to explore the Big Island. Drive times can be substantial, even between seemingly-nearby destinations, and public transportation is limited.
If you are unable to drive, the most cost and time-effective option is to stay in Kailua-Kona and book tours that provide pick up.
What are the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii?
The best things to do on the Big Island are:
- Snorkeling at Captain Cook
- Night swimming with manta rays
- Seeing lava at Volcanoes NP
- Stargazing at Mauna Kea
- Whale watching (seasonally)
- Visiting Green Sand Beach
- Having a beer at Kona Brewing Co.
- Sunbathing in Kona
- Visiting a Kona coffee farm
- Chasing waterfalls in Hilo
- Attending a traditional Hawaiian luau
What is the best area to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii?
The best region to stay on the Big Island is in Kona (the dry side). Along this 60-mile coastal stretch, the two most popular villages for finding accommodation are Kailua-Kona and Waikoloa on the north end.
Is Waipio Valley open?
Non-residents can currently only access the Waipio Valley floor via a tour*. The Waipiʻo Lookout is still accessible to everyone.
The Waipio Valley Road is closed to non-residents and access for any pedestrians, uncovered vehicles, and horseback is prohibited.
*Information accurate as of September 2023. You can read the amendment to the Mayor’s closure of the road here.
🌴 More Big Island Travel Guides
The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below 🙂
If you have found the information in this Big Island itinerary useful, you may also want to consider reading some of our other regional guides.
- HAWAII PACKING LIST
- PLANNING A TRIP TO BIG ISLAND: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
- 101 BEST THINGS TO DO ON BIG ISLAND: THE BUCKET LIST
- BIG ISLAND PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE
- ALL THE BEST BEACHES ON BIG ISLAND
- TOP 25 KONA BEACHES
- BEST BEACHES OF HAWAII