The Perfect BIG ISLAND Itinerary for 5-7 Epic Days (2022)

Bis Island Itinerary for 5-7 Days blog cover image.  Text overlaying an image of a girl lying in the shallow turquoise water on a golden sand beach with lava rock and palm trees in the background.

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.

With only 5-7 days to explore, every minute spent commuting or researching on the island is a minute that could have been spent snorkeling with turtles and manta rays, soaking in the sunshine, or gazing in awe at a bubbling lava lake.

Having learned from our multiple trips to the Big Island of Hawaii and done each activity presented at least once, we have designed this 5 to 7 day itinerary in a way that provides flexibility while also allowing you to make the most of your time.

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5 – 7 Day Big Island Itinerary Overview

Snowy Mauna Kea summit on the Big Island of Hawaii

To allow flexibility due to things like inclement weather or sold-out tours, this one week itinerary has been designed so that the days are interchangeable.

Before we get into the day-by-day breakdown, you must first decide where you want to stay on the island. This will be based on your personal budget and needs, as well as how to get around.

If you only have 5 days on the Big Island, we recommend spending them specifically in Kona. For 7 day itineraries, consider adding 1-2 nights in Hilo to experience both sides of the island.

A map showing the regions of the Big Island of Hawaii color coded for easy comprehension.
The map above shows the regions of the Big Island of Hawaii color coded for easy comprehension.

At a glance, here is what we suggest for your 5 and 7 day Big Island itineraries:

5-Day Itinerary Overview

  • Day 1: Kohala Region
    Waikoloa, Hapuna Beach, Mauna Kea Beach, Beach 69, Puako Bay
  • Day 2: Kailua-Kona Region
    Captain Cook Snorkel, Kailua-Kona Town, Magic Sands Beach
  • Day 3: Ka’u Region
    Ho’okena Beach, Green Sand Beach, Black Sand Beach, Volcanoes NP
  • Day 4: South Kona Region
    Two-Step, Pu’uhonua O Honaunau NP, Manta Ray Night Snorkel
  • Day 5: North Kona Region
    Kua Bay, Kukio Beach, Mahai’ula beach, Makalawena Beach, Sunset Luau

7-Day Itinerary

  • Day 6: Hilo Region
    Local waterfalls (Rainbow Falls, Peepee Falls, etc), Volcanoes NP
  • Day 7: Mauna Kea / Kona
    Drive back to Kona via Mauna Kea, Depart from Big Island
  • Extra Days / Substitutes / Bonus Activities
    Waipio Valley, Kohalo Forest, Mauna Kea Stargazing, Sunset Sail

SUGGESTED: ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR PLANNING A TRIP TO BIG ISLAND

Big Island Itinerary Map

The interactive map below shows all the points of interest mentioned within this 5-7 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 below.

Big island itinerary map showing each of the points of interest color-coded and grouped by day.

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.

5 Day Visits

Travelers with only 5 days in Big Island will want to stay in Kona. This is the dry side of the island and home to most of the nicest beaches and snorkel spots. It is also where you will find the largest offering of services, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.

Waikoloa: 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.

Drone photo showing the lagoon, beach, and shoreline of Waikoloa in Kona on the Big Island.
Waikoloa Aerial View.

Kailua-Kona: 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, it is typically sunny, the most centralized location for exploring, and nearest to services.

The best option for limiting drive times is to divide your stay between the north and south of Kona, such as the two popular villages listed above. If you prefer not to have to check out, repack, and settle into a second home, make it easy and just book all 5 nights in the same place.

Palm trees and turquoise water decorate the wind sand at Magic Sands beach in Kona on the Big Island.
Magic Sand Beach in Kona

7+ Day Visits

If you have more than 7 days on Big Island available, you will still want to spend the majority of that time staying in Kona. However, the extra days present the opportunity to also spend some nights in Hilo on the east side of the island.

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 and the lack of tropical beaches. Still, it may be worth considering a couple of nights to experience everything the island has to offer.

Getting Around the Big Island

By 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 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 to puts money directly into the pockets of the locals. The most notable downside is that you may have to pick it up at their location which requires additional costs and maneuvering.

By Campervan

A campervan is the best to organize a Kauai landscape photography adventure.

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 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. Of course, it is also potentially the least comfortable.

By Tours

If you are unable to drive but still want to see the Big Island, the best option is 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.

Big Island 5 Day Itinerary

Day 1: Kohala Region

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 vacation mode.

Below are the best stops in the region in the order we recommend visiting them.

Mauna Kea Beach

Mauna Kea Beach (KaunaŹ»oa 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.

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.

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 shoreline is scarce. 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.

Beach 69

Drone photo of Beach 69, one of the best Big Island snorkeling spots in Kona.
An aerial view of the crystal clear water and coral gardens at 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.

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.

Waikoloa

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 look to end Day 1 in the Waikoloa area as this will allow you the most options in how you choose to do so. Here are the 3 most popular sunset options in the Kohala region:

A catamaran with the sun setting behind it on a Hawaiian sunset sail tour
  • 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.

Day 2: Kailua-Kona Region

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 be the best snorkeling in Hawaii. It has the best coral gardens and aquatic wildlife sightings are almost expected, from spinner dolphins to whales to turtles and even the occasional whale shark.

For Day 2 of your Big Island itinerary we, recommend beginning with a morning snorkel tour to Captain Cook Monument, considered the best snorkeling spot on the Big Island, followed by spending time in and around the buzzing town of Kailua-Kona.

Captain Cook 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 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!

Kahaluā€™u Beach Park

If you do not want to book a tour but are still interested in snorkeling, head to Kahaluā€™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.

Explore Kailua-Kona Town

The entrance to Kona Square in Kailua-Kona town on Big Island of Hawaii.

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.

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.

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.


Day 3: Ka’u Region

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 Hawaii, boasting silky soft sand of an unusual color and crystal clear water within a sheltered cove.

End your day with a once-in-a-lifetime experience, watching magma bubble and burst within a large volcanic crater at Volcanoes National Park.

*If you do not want to visit Volcanoes NP or simply are unwilling to stay until after sunset to see the lava, we recommend driving back after Black Sand Beach to watch sunset at Ho’okena Beach Park. Additionally, if you have a 7 day itinerary, you may instead wish to visit Volcanoes NP in conjunction with your visit to Hilo.*

Ka’u Region Tours

Day 3 of this Big Island itinerary involves the most driving, including back in the dark if you stay at Volcanoes NP through sunset. 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. While 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 ā­
    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 ā­
    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 ā­
    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.

Papakolea Beach (aka Green Sand Beach)

The next 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. You can also book an ATV tour that includes a stop at Green Sand Beach, as well as other places including Ka Lae, or South Point, which is the southernmost point in the United States.

PunaluŹ»u 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 final beach stop a visit to the incredible Black Sand Beach of Big Island.

Known locally as Punalu’u, 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.

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.

If at all possible, plan to end your day at Volcanoes National Park and wait for twilight. 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.

For those that aren’t comfortable driving in the dark, you may want to consider booking a tour to Hawaii Volcanoes NP.

Pro tip: Don’t forget to bring your Annual National Parks Pass to get free access to Volcanoes NP.


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.

Pro Tip: Begin your day early and you are almost guaranteed to spend the morning with resident spinner dolphins!

Ho’okena Beach Park

Depending on personal preference, you should start Day 4 at either Ho’okena Beach for a leisurely morning of relaxation, or at Two Step for some morning snorkeling.

Both locations have large groups of spinner dolphins that tend to be around in the early morning hours and while it is no longer legal to swim with them, the dolphins do not know the law and will often come swim with you!

Ho’okena Beach is one of the best beaches in South 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.

Full facilities are available at Ho’okena Beach Park, and there are even covered picnic tables if you require shade.

Two-Step

Most agree that Captain James Cook Monument is the best place to snorkel on the Big Island, but Two Step comes in a close second and 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 Kahaluā€™u Beach Park.

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Area

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. However, you are not allowed to swim in the water here and the beach is very limited.

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.

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 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.


Day 5: North Kona Region

The final time for 5 day Big Island itineraries should be spent seeing the only unexplored section of Kona to the north.

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 vacation 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.

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 Day 5 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.

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 your final night on the Big Island such as the sunset luau, Kua Bay Beach is a good free option as well.

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.

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.

Sunset Luau

Performers at a Hawaiian sunset luau.

If this is the final night of 5 days on the Big Island, make sure you do something special to end it. A sunset luau is the best option as it combines a feast for the eyes and ears, as well as the 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.

Big Island 7 Day Itinerary

If you have a week on the Big Island, you will have enough time to visit the Hilo region which may be a bit too much of a stretch for people on shorter visits.

Hilo is on the east side of the Big Island, which is the wet side. This means more cloudy days, but more greenery and waterfalls as well. It is a beautiful place filled with lush rainforest and a handful of waterfalls.

All of the best beaches are on the Kona side. Therefore, do not expect to spend much time sunbathing or snorkeling. Instead, explore the rainforest, and if you haven’t already, be sure to head up to Volcanoes National Park to witness the otherworldly red glow of the Halemaumau Crater and the bubbling magma lake that lies within.


Day 6: Hilo Region

Begin Day 6 by driving over to Hilo for a night on the wet side of the island. As discussed, 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.

If you’ve not yet visited Volcanoes NP, this would also be a great time to do so! Depending on your preferences, you could even consider staying at Volcano Village.

If possible, stay one night to give yourself ample time to truly see all there is to see.

To put it bluntly, the Hilo region is not known for its beaches. This side of the island typically features pebbles, lava rock, and/or lava shelves. The beaches here are drastically different from the golden sand shores of Kona.

That said, if waterfalls hold little appeal and you would rather spend the day on the eastern coastline, just make sure you bring some beach shoes for the adventure!

Carlsmith Beach is featured as one of the best beaches on the Big Island in the Hilo region.
PC: dronepicr

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).

Some of the other top things to do in Hilo include Rainbow Falls, Peepee Falls, ā€˜Akaka Falls State Park, and Coconut Island. Nearby you’ll also find a number of coffee, tea, chocolate, and other farm tours!

Day 7: Mauna Kea / Depart from Kona

A photo from an airplane window looking out over a beach on Kona flying over the Big Island of Hawaii.

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:

Packing for 5-7 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.

An image of our printable Hawaii Packing Lists.
Make sure you don’t forget anything with our Printable Hawaii Packing List!

Essentials

  • 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.
View of a girl standing at the back of a car holding a mask, snorkel and fins on a sand beach with the ocean behind, as seen from the inside of the vehicle.
Consider bringing a snorkel set to the Big Island.

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 2022

Turquoise waters and white sand beach surrounded by black lava rock as sen by airplane when traveling to Hawaii
The Big Island adventure begins before you even land!

Hawaiā€˜i is welcoming most travelers again. However, there are some pre-travel requirements for international travelers visiting Hawaiā€˜i.

Domestic Travel to Hawaii

As of March 26, 2022, there are no COVID-related requirements for domestic passengers arriving in Hawaiā€˜i.

You can find current information, advice, and guidelines related to COVID and travel in Hawaii on the Hawaii Covid-19 website here.

International Travel to Hawaii

For those traveling from international destinations with direct flights to Hawaii, you will need to follow federal international requirements. There are no additional State of Hawaiā€˜i requirements.

As of June 12, 2022, international visitors are no longer required to show a negative COVID-19 viral test or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board their flight.Ā  However, the CDC is still requiring proof of vaccination for international visitors to travel to the United States. Requirements are constantly changing so ensure you check the CDC website or within your airline for current guidelines.

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 5 days enough for Big Island?

That depends on your agenda. 5 days is certainly enough to enjoy the Kona region and see many of the Big Island highlights with a well-planned itinerary. However, it does not leave much time for relaxing by the beach. 7-10 days is preferable for those with an interest in exploring.

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 (currently closed). 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.

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.

More Big Island Travel Guides

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.

Next Stop: Other Hawaiian Island Guides

A swimmer walks the shores of Maui's Red Sand Beach.
Where to next? Discover Hawaii’s other hidden treasures with our guides below.

If the Big Island is just one stop on a journey around the Hawaiian Islands, browse the titles below to see if any of our other local guides may be useful while planning.

MORE HAWAII ITINERARIES & Guides

MAUI GUIDES

KAUAI GUIDES

OAHU GUIDES

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