As the largest of the Hawaiian islands in the archipelago, the Big Island of Hawaii is loaded with countless things to see and do. From lush forests and valleys to sipping mai tais on a soft-sand beach, a Big Island itinerary isn’t complete without a mix of exploration and leisure.
In 5 to 7 days in the Big Island, you can hit the highlights with plenty of time for lounging around the pool or at the beach. Detailed below are itineraries for both amounts of time depending on the length of your trip. Check it out.
How Many Days on the Big Island?
After settling on visiting the Big Island vs Maui, Oahu, Kauai or any of the smaller islands, you then need to figure out how many days to budget for your itinerary.
If it’s your first visit, 7 days on the Big Island is ideal. This amount of time provides plenty of space for exploring the incredible natural wonders interspersed with laying on the beaches. With a 7-day Big Island itinerary, you’ll circle the island and hit the main highlights. You can also opt to stay on one side of the island for a more leisurely vacation.
If you have only 5 days in the Big Island, you can still see much of what it has to offer. You will most likely skip a couple of the sites in the center of the island in favor of circling the entire Big Island.
However, it’s important to remember that you can structure your time in any way you please. Regardless, we recommend spending the first day getting acclimated.
Getting To & Around the Big Island
You’ll most likely fly into Kona which is located on the west side of the island. Hilo is located on the opposite side of the island, but most flights there tend to be slightly more expensive.
Hilo sits squarely in the middle of the wet side of the island, so most visitors like making Kona their start and end point, with a visit to Hilo in between despite there being a lot to see on the drive from Kona to Hilo. This prevents you from having to choose between Kona and Hilo as a base.
That said, you’ll want a car. Renting a car in Hawaii is by far the most popular way to get around. The island is easy to navigate and there are several rental car agencies available. You can browse Rentalcars.com to compare prices across the major car hire companies available.
If you plan to follow our itinerary below, a car is absolutely necessary. There are guided tours such as this full-day tour or this small-group tour from Kona or this half-day tour from Hilo, but we recommend visiting the island’s sites on your own time during your trip to the Big Island.
5 to 7-Day Big Island Itinerary
Whether you’re spending 5 days on the Big Island or 7 days on the Big Island, you’re in for an incredible experience.
Your Big Island road trip will cover the highlights as well as some lesser-known recommendations. Without further ado, here’s our suggested itinerary for visiting Hawaii’s Big Island.
Day 1 – Kona
Start your Big Island itinerary by getting acclimated. You’ll arrive in Kona, where you can find restaurants, bars, beaches, and much more.
Hapuna Beach and Waikoloa Beach are two of the most popular beaches nearby on the Kona coast, although there is no shortage of stunning beaches to relax on.
Take your time wandering Kona. Check out the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm, Hulihe’e Palace, and a walk along the main street. Don’t forget to leave without getting a shave ice and an acai bowl.
One of the best experiences to have while you’re near Kona is swimming with manta rays. It’s the only place in Hawaii where you can hop in the water with these gentle giants. Sign up for a guided night tour—manta rays are most active at night. You can snorkel or scuba dive.
If you’d rather not swim with mantas, but would still like to see them, the Mauna Kea Hotel sets up a light over a feeding station near a viewing platform on land.
You’ll spend your first night on the Big Island in Kona before heading out.
Where to Stay in Kona
Kona Tiki Hotel – This mid-range hotel is the perfect option for those looking for a comfortable and convenient place to stay in Kona. They have a range of lovely rooms to choose from, a great location and a great swimming pool to enjoy. Click here to check availability
Aston Kona By the Sea – Those looking for a bit more of a luxury option in Kona will love this centrally located hotel. They have an array of delightful rooms to choose from, a gorgeous on-site swimming pool and private beach area and plenty of other amenities, as well. Click here to check availability
Private Rental – If you’re looking for your own apartment or house during your trip to Hawaii, there are lots of options – such as this fully-furnished condo – available in Kona. Click here to browse Kona private rentals
My Hawaii Hostel – Budget and solo travelers will love this highly-rated hostel in Kona. Centrally located, they offer both private rooms and dorms (with female-only and mixed options!) along with easy access to the beach and good common areas. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Kona hotels!
Day 2 – Pololu Valley & Pu’u O Umi Natural Area Reserve
You’ll get to see a few black sand beaches on the Big Island during your visit. One of the most famous is at Pololu Valley.
The valley is part of the Kohala region on the northern edge of the Big Island. From the parking lot, you’ll catch impressive views of the lush green valley and river that leads to the black sand beach and ocean.
However, the valley is best experienced up close. Take the short hike down to the beach and explore the area. Be wary of the trail as it’s a steep and uneven trek to the bottom. It’s a great spot to watch the sunrise if you can get there early enough.
After visiting the beach, continue circling the island and head to Pu’u O Umi Natural Area Reserve. This stretch of protected land covers 10,000 acres along the slopes of the Kohala Mountains.
It’s important to note that you won’t find many maintained trails here and there are very few legal access points, but it’s worth it to pause a few places and take in the views. It’s one of the lesser-visited parts of the island, making it a great stop if you’re looking to get away from the crowds during your stay on the Big Island.
For tonight, continue to base yourself in Kona or consider finding an Airbnb at one of the smaller towns a bit further inland.
Day 3 – Akaka Falls, Mauna Kea & Beach Day
Spend the third day of your week on the Big Island combining exploration and relaxing. Start by visiting Akaka Falls. Akaka Falls State Park is located directly between Pololu Valley and Hilo. You can do a short hike for an up-close view of this 442-foot waterfall.
Head to your accommodation for a relaxing afternoon at the beach or pool before gearing up for your evening adventure: Mauna Kea. Watching the sunset and stargazing from Mauna Kea is one of the most unique experiences you can have while on the Big Island.
The best way to do this is through an organized tour. You’ll get picked up mid-afternoon, have dinner at the Mauna Kea Visitor Center, before driving up to the summit.
Tonight, head into Hilo to stay for one or two nights.
Where to Stay in Hilo
Hilo Bay Oceanfront Bed and Breakfast – Located in the center of Hilo, this little bed and breakfast is perfect for a cosy and convivial place to stay on this side of the island. They have a range of great rooms to choose from along with breakfast available in the mornings. Click here to check availability
The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls – Situated in the lush countryside just outside of Hilo, this hotel is the perfect option for those looking for a tranquil escape. They have a number of great rooms and cabins on offer along with breakfast served each morning. Click here to check availability
Private Rental – If you’re looking for a self-catering option on the eastern side of the island, there are plenty of options available in Hilo. For instance, this beach studio is one of countless options to choose from. Click here to browse Hilo private rentals
Big Island Hostel – This hostel is an excellent option for those who are after a great budget choice while staying in Hilo. They have a range of dorms available along with fantastic common areas and self-catering facilities. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Hilo hotels!
As we mentioned above, Hilo is the other large coastal town on the Big Island. It’s located on the “wet” side of the island, and as soon as you reach this area you’ll see why.
This lush, green landscape is full of waterfalls, canyons, and beaches to explore. Plan to spend this day hiking and seeking out viewpoints. There are several shorter hikes that guide you toward these natural landmarks. In truth, you could spend several days in this area alone.
Rainbow Falls and the Waipio Valley Overlook at two highlights. We also recommend stopping by the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden and the Hilo Farmers Market and crossing the footbridge over to Coconut Island. You’ll either spend tonight in Hilo or in a town closer to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you’re headed next.
Day 5 – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
A visit to Volcanoes National Park is a must when you plan your trip to the Big Island. There is one main road that goes around the entire park with some offshoots here and there. You can drive here or take an organised tour such as this small-group tour.
You’ll start by visiting the Kilauea Visitor Center. Here you can get park updates, learn what roads are accessible, and volcano statuses before heading out.
Just past the visitor’s center is a viewpoint over Kilauea, one of the park’s main attractions, and the steam vents.
Continue on the Crater Rim Drive to visit the Halemaumau Crater, where you might be able to spot lava, the Thurston Lava Tube, and sulphur banks. If the weather is in your favor, hike Devastation Trail over the hardened ash fields and lava rocks from the Kilauea explosion to get a close-up view of Halemaumau Crater.
If you have some time to spare, drive out to the coastline to find the Holei Sea Arch. This 90-foot arch extending into the ocean was created from ancient lava flows.
After wrapping up at Volcanoes National Park, drive back to Kona for your final evening on the Big Island before departure.
If you’re continuing your trip, it can be worth staying near the park. This grants you the entire day to explore the park and invites time for a nighttime tour of the volcanoes as this is the most impressive time to see lava.
Day 6 – Punalu’u Black Sand Beach & Southernmost Point in the United States
If you only have 5 days on the Big Island, consider stopping at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach on your drive from Volcanoes National Park to Kona. If you have more time, it’s worth taking a leisurely visit to this beach.
It’s one of the more popular black sand beaches on the island, created due to the Big Island’s constant volcanic activity. It’s a common beach to spot Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. They will sit within a protected boundary that visitors aren’t permitted to cross.
You’ll want to wear shoes on this sand as black sand gets hot really fast.
Continuing your drive back to Kona, take a brief detour to the Southernmost Point in the United States. The entire area is a registered historic landmark, and it’s not hard to see why when you arrive. Here you’ll find ruins, fishing shrines, and other cultural landmarks.
Each direction you look offers stunning views. You might find some daring individuals cliff-jumping into the ocean. Green Sand Beach nearby is one of the only safe swimming spots. After driving another hour and a half, you’ll arrive in Kona where you’ll spend the night.
Day 7 – Visit a Coffee Plantation & Beach Day
There is no shortage of coffee plantations around the island, but most are clustered near Kona. Coffee lovers will enjoy an afternoon spent touring a few different coffee plantations near Kona and tasting some Kona coffee on your last day on the island.
Thunder Mountain Coffee Roasters is closest to Kona, but if you’re willing to drive 15 to 20 minutes outside of town, there are dozens of plantations to explore. Some require reservations while others run tours every hour for anyone who shows up. You can book an organised tour if you prefer to visit a guide.
Round out your 7 days on the Big Island by relaxing on the beach in Kona and watching the sunset.
Have More Time?
If you have more time to spend on the Big Island, consider scheduling more relaxing days on the beach. You can jump into a water activity like snorkelling, scuba diving, or surfing.
We’d also recommend spending more time exploring the natural area near Hilo. Sites like the Banyan Tree Drive, Pacific Tsunami Museum, Imiloa Astronomy Center, and Wailoa River State Park are great ways to spend your time.
You could attend a luau or visit Lava Tree State Park. Likewise, you could easily spend more than one full day hiking and seeing Volcanoes National Park.
If you want to use Kona as your home base and take a day trip somewhere else on the island with your spare time, consider heading toward Waimea. The inland region was primarily known for cowboy culture and ranching lifestyle.
Visitors can get a taste of this lifestyle by visiting Kahua Ranch or Parker Ranch. You can go hiking or horseback riding. It’s an easy detour after visiting the Kohala region during your first couple of days.
This itinerary can be used as is or reorganized to fit how you want to see Hawaii. No matter how you structure your Big Island itinerary, your visit to Hawaii is truly unique. From delicious seafood and Hawaiian BBQ to stunning landscapes that could only exist in volcanic regions, your visit will be one for the books.
Are you planning to visit the Big Island? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!