Get the Most from Big Island, Hawai'i

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Advisor - Monika Ulcakova
Curated By

Monika Ulcakova

  • Luxury Travel

  • Active Travel

  • Adventure Travel

  • Family Travel

  • Solo Travel

  • Group Travel

  • Honeymoons

  • Nature Escapes

  • Beaches

  • Hiking

  • Island

  • National Park

purple pink and yellow sunset over ocean with silhouette of palm trees
Curator’s statement

Big Island is the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian islands. I came here on my first solo vacation and had to return for more adventures and to experience all Big Island has to offer. From beautiful beaches with white, black and green sand, an active volcano area and amazing snorkel experiences to hiking, greenery, and stunning views while stargazing on Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain of the world from sea level. Hawaii is one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world with 8 different climate zones, so a vacation on Big Island is sure to be unique.

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Where to stay in Big Island

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Things to do in Big Island

people walk on the black rock surface of a volcano in the sun
  • Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park: There is so much that this national park can offer from educational programs, hiking trails, to a volcano house lunch spot with views of the smoky crater and an evening lava flow hunt (the best experience ever)! Volcanoes National Park is great for any any type of explorer.

  • Akaka Falls: On the East side of the island, this short hike to a unique 442-foot drop waterfall offers stunning views around sunset.

  • Rainbow Falls: Easily accessible, and you can see rainbows appear in the mist just under the waterfall on sunny days. There are also beautiful sunrises.

  • Punalu'n Beach: A black sand beach where you will surely see sea turtles!

  • Papakolea Green Sand Beach - Nice views of the coast while you hike to one of the four green sand beaches in the world. The hike can get pretty windy, so grab a lot of water and your sunglasses and be prepared for a possibility of a small sand storm. Nothing to be afraid of; the hike is not too hard (6-mile round trip). I recommend a 3-mile walk down the beach before jumping in a local truck to bring you back to the parking lot. Locals also offer roundtrip rides, but I recommend walking there and coordinating a ride back.

  • Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park: Archeological park with lava formations, stunning white sand beaches and coastal views, plus Tiki Gods Statues. This is worth a visit.

  • Pololū Valley Lookout and trail to black sand beach - A secret valley and amazing scenery with access to a large black sand beach (not recommended for swimming). The walk inside the valley is a breathtaking experience.

  • Mauna Kea Observatory: This place will make you feel like you've arrived on a different planet. The ride to to Mauna Kea is amazing as well (a 4x4 vehicle is needed for this trip). Be prepared to ride slowly in this high altitude. Bring a lot of water and take a break in the Visitor's Center before exploring the Observatory summit. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in Hawaii and it can get quite chilly up there, so dress warm (the mountain is snow covered in the winter)! At the top, experience a sunset like you have never seen before.

  • Mauna Kea Stargazing Adventure: Take pictures of the Milky Way! With millions of stars above you, this experience is just dreamy.

  • Helicopter Tour: Fly over valleys, waterfalls, coasts, lava rocks and volcanos. This was amazing. I did the open door helicopter tour from Hilo and the feeling was something I won't forget.

  • Manta Ray's sunset snorkeling tour: An amazing snorkeling experience for everyone. Take a beautiful sunset boat ride to snorkel among huge Manta Rays glowing in dark. I am afraid to snorkel, especially in dark, but this experience was super safe and easy. A once in a lifetime experience!

Beaches of Big Island

Besides the black and green sand beaches, the West side of Big Island has a coast with plenty of white sand beaches. I recommend renting a 4x4 vehicle for easier access and a more comfortable ride. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Magic Sand Beach: Special local beach close to Kona city with shops and restaurants

  • Aiopio Fish Trap: White sand beach with sea turtles and calm water

  • Kekaha Kai State Beach: From here, hike to the stunning Makakawena Beach. It is not a hard hike but it can be rocky so bring proper shoes!

  • Manini'owali Beach (Kua Bay): One of my favorite beaches. While the sun was shining, the beach reflects the pure white sand and makes you feel like you're swimming in Caribbean waters.

  • Captain Cook is another area on the island that is full of possibilities for great snorkeling and kayaking.

There is so much to do and see while on Big island, so let me know if you are looking for any more information!

Places to eat & drink in Big Island

two lattes with milk art in black mugs sit on wooden table


While visiting the Big island of Hawai’i, you have to experience some coffee farms with the famous Kona coffee. I had an amazing tour at Heavenly Hawaiian Coffee Farm.

Other coffee spots include HiCO, Arvo Cafe Waimea, and The Coffee Shack (try the macadamia latte... yum).



  • Sushi Sam: High quality menu

  • ULU Ocean Grill: Hawaiian restaurant with ocean views, perfect sunset spot

  • CanoeHouse: Upscale Hawaiian restaurant with ocean view

  • Papa Kona: Fresh fish spot with Mai Tais and stunning views

  • On the Rocks: Fresh mahi-mahi and Mai Tais are must, sunsets here are stunning too

Luau dinner show is a traditional Hawaiian party with dance and story telling while you enjoy great local food. There are many places to experience your Polynesian culture dinner. Here are a few:

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out my guide, Guide to Puerto Rico: A Caribbean Paradise.

Advisor - Monika Ulcakova

Travel Advisor

Monika Ulcakova

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This is part of our ongoing series on travel to Big Island, and our longer series on travel to Hawai'i.