7 day big island itinerary

BEST 7 day Big Island itinerary for 2023 (covers entire island!)

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Big Island is one of the most mesmerizing and beautiful vacation destinations that I have ever been to.

Other Hawaii islands are equally beautiful, but Big Island felt so powerful with its volcanoes and lava rocks everywhere, magical with the lush green rainforests and waterfalls, and unique with the black, green, and white sand beaches.

I spent 7 days in Big Island with my family and I did a lot of research before our trip to make sure we cover all the must-do attractions, beaches, volcanoes, waterfalls, and towns in our trip.

This Big Island itinerary for 7 days covers the best beaches and snorkeling spots in Kona, snorkeling with the manta rays, the must-do hikes and viewpoints in Volcanoes National Park, the best spot to see the lava glow (if there is volcano activity during your visit), the waterfalls and rainforests in Hilo, and the unique black, green and white sand beaches of Big Island.

In a hurry and looking for the top recommendations for a trip to Big Island:

Best Place to stay in Big Island:

Rent a car at SFO International Airport. I recommend Discover Cars as they check top car rental brands and provide the best rates.

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7 day Big Island itinerary for epic Hawaii vacation

Visiting Big Island, Hawaii is a bucket list destination for most people. This 7 day Big Island itinerary will make sure you get to see all the unique sights and do the activities that are popular on Big Island. There are so many incredible things to do on Big Island that are a must-do!

Big Island is really big in size when compared to the other Hawaiian islands like Oahu or Maui. It takes 2 to 3 hours to drive from the west side of the island to the east and vice versa. Be ready for a lot of car time but the stunning scenery around you will make road trips so much fun!

We spent the first two nights in Hilo and the last 5 nights in Kona. That way we were able to explore both sides of the island and minimize driving.

This itinerary is jam-packed with activities to do on Big Island but can be easily modified if you want to take some more beach or resort time. You can also leave out things that don’t appeal to your group. I wanted to make sure that I cover all the top sights in Big Island.

This itinerary is for 7 days on Big Island, but you can easily use it for any Big Island itinerary from 3 to 10 days. I have also added some additional activity options later in the post if you are looking for more adventure or to extend your Big Island itinerary to 10 days!

Make sure to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and fit in some time for snorkeling with the manta rays as those are the most unique and popular things to do on Big Island!

Day 1: Visit Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

As the Volcanoes National Park is the most popular attraction in Hawaii and so unique to Big Island, on day 1 of our 7 day Big Island itinerary we headed straight to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We had the most amazing day trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

You can drive to the Volcanoes park on your own and it takes around 2 hours to drive one way from Kona and around 45 minutes to drive one way from Hilo.

Alternatively, you can take a full-day volcano tour from Kona to ensure that you cover all the top sights in Volcanoes park and learn about the volcanoes’ history from an expert.

There are several half-day volcano tours from Hilo to explore the volcanoes park, which are great if you are staying in Hilo for a few days.

Below are some highly-rated excursions to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park if you are looking to take a tour and ensure you don’t miss on any sights

Small Group Big Island Twilight Volcano and Stargazing Tour – Full-day Volcanoes tour from Kona and stay for sunset and stargazing!

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Kona Coffee Farm – Small group full-day tour from Kona includes Volcanoes Park, Punaluu black sand beach, and a visit to Kona Coffee farm.

Big Island Helicopter Flight from Kona – 2-hour helicopter flight from Kona, for impressive aerial views of volcanoes, valleys, waterfalls, and coastline.

Below are some tops things to explore in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:

Kilauea visitor center

When you enter the Volcanoes National park, Stop at the Kilauea visitor center to pick up a map, and learn about the hikes and get information about the latest volcano eruptions.

Kilauea Iki Crater hike

If you have time to do only one hike in Big Island then it should be the Kilauea Iki trail. This hike offers a truly one-of-a-kind experience as it takes you through a lush rainforest and inside the crater of a volcano, with the added bonus of being able to explore a lava tube at the end.

Kilauea Iki Crater hike
Kilauea Iki Crater hike

This hike is a loop and the total distance is approximately 3 miles roundtrip and involves an elevation gain of around 700 feet, as you descend into and ascend out of the crater. However, the hike is considered moderate and not overly challenging.

I suggest starting the trail counterclockwise from the parking lot, which is what we did. The crater is filled with enormous lava rocks and broken surfaces.

The return journey up the crater passes through a picturesque rainforest, providing a refreshing change in temperature after walking in the heat of the crater.

Thurston Lava Tube

When hiking counterclockwise, be sure to stop by the Thurston Lava Tube on your return to the parking lot. This impressively huge lava cave is illuminated during the daytime, and is really fascinating!

The Halemaumau crater Overlook at the Volcano House

Once you’ve completed the Kilauea Iki crater hike, be sure to visit the Volcano House to enjoy stunning views of the Halemaumau crater from their expansive overlook area.

During our visit, we were able to witness steam rising from the crater during the day, making for a truly memorable experience. This spot offers excellent photo opportunities with the crater in the background.

Halemaumau crater Overlook at Volcano House
Steam rising from Halemaumau crater Overlook at Volcano House

In addition to the incredible views, the Volcano House also features a restaurant for lunch, a gift shop, and restroom facilities.

Chain of Craters Road

The Hawaii Volcano National Park features a stunning 19-mile scenic drive called the Chain of Craters, which descends to sea level.

This route offers views of various volcano craters and rocks of different sizes on both sides of the road, along with multiple hiking trails and lookout points to explore.

Pu‘uloa Petroglyphs is a nice short hike to see ancient carvings in lava rocks towards the end of Chain of Craters road.

The drive culminates at the Holei Sea Arch, an impressive 90-foot high arch formed by erosion in the lava rocks. To reach the viewing area for the arch, a walk of approximately 1000 feet is required at the end of the road.

Allow for sufficient daylight hours and gas in your vehicle if you plan on completing the round-trip Chain of Craters drive to the ocean, which typically takes 2 to 2.5 hours.

Where to see the lava glow at night time in Big Island

The possibility of witnessing lava glow largely relies on the presence of volcanic activity during your visit. During our trip, the Kilauea volcano happened to be active.

Kilauea Volcano glow Big Island
Kilauea Volcano glow seen from Devastation Trail Big Island

In the event of volcanic activity, it is possible to remain in the volcano park after sunset to observe the glowing lava.

To do so, simply park at the Devastation trail parking lot and follow the short paved path to the Keanakākoʻi Overlook. From there, you can witness both the Halema’uma’u crater and any active lava flow.

We consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to have seen the red glow of the lava during our visit. Walking along the trail at night was a memorable experience, with the clear and dark sky adorned by bright and beautiful stars.

The trail was crowded, and it was not difficult to locate the overlook and return to our car in the dark. We merely followed the crowd.

We spent overnight in Hilo downtown in the Hilo Hawaiian hotel which was a great oceanfront place to stay close to all Hilo attractions.

Day 2: Explore Hilo, Waterfalls in Hilo, Black sand beach

On day 2 in your 7 day Big Island itinerary, explore the historic town of Hilo, visit the many waterfalls, and then drive south to the Punaluu black sand beach!

Hilo gets a lot of rainfall year-round so it’s lush and green and beautiful. It rained several times during our stay but it was never continuous. We could always go about our day and rarely got soaking wet. 

You can also take a tour to explore Hilo like this Volcanoes and Hilo highlights tour that will cover Hilo waterfalls, Volcanoes Park, black sand beach, and much more.

Explore Hilo – Coconut Island, Banyan drive, Liliuokalani Park

Start your Day 2 in Big Island by exploring Hilo. Right across our Hilo Hawaiian hotel was Coconut Island, a small island that can be reached via a pedestrian bridge on Banyan drive.

Coconut Island Hilo
Coconut Island in Hilo and Mauna Kea summit in the distance

On a clear day, Coconut Island offers breathtaking vistas of the Mauna Kea mountain summit. We could see the snow-covered mountain peak with the observatories on top.

Stroll along Banyan Drive, a street lined with colossal banyan trees, which is famously dubbed the “Hilo Walk of Fame” because of the celebrities who planted them.

At the base of each banyan tree, a plaque bears the name of the celebrity who planted it. With the roots dangling from their branches and touching the earth, each banyan tree seems to form a miniature forest!

Adjacent to Coconut Island is the Liliuokalani Park, an exquisitely landscaped park designed in a Japanese garden style. This park is free to visit and offers a serene and stunning atmosphere, complete with ponds, bridges, and rock gardens.

Akaka state park and Akaka falls

If you are short on time and can only visit one waterfall in Big Island, then Akaka Falls and Akaka State Park should be your top pick.

Akaka falls in Big Island
Akaka falls in Big Island

A lovely and short trail through a dense and picturesque rainforest leads to the overlook of the Akaka falls. The paved trail, which forms a loop of only half a mile, is easy and doable for all ages.

It was most refreshing to walk through the tropical plants and the Akaka waterfall has an impressive 422 feet drop surrounded by dense green foliage.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls is an easily accessible waterfall, located just a few steps away from the parking lot. There is an overlook area from where you can view the falls.

Rainbow falls in Big Island
Rainbow falls on Big Island

If you happen to visit before noon on a sunny day, you may have the opportunity to observe a rainbow forming in the mist of the waterfall. We saw one!

Peepee Falls 

If you have to see every waterfall (like me!) and have time, Pe’epe’e falls is a cascading waterfall just a short walk away from the parking lot.

We did all 3 waterfalls in around 2 hours. If you are short of time you can just do Akaka and Rainbow falls. 

Punaluu Black sand beach

After the falls we went to the Punaluu Black Sand beach. It is on the southeast part of the Island and around an hour’s drive from Hilo.

Punaluu black sand beach Big Island
Punaluu black sand beach in Big Island

We checked out of our Hilo hotel in the morning, drove south to visit Black sand beach, and then we planned to drive up the west coast of the Big Island to our resort in Waikoloa.  

Regardless of the duration of your stay on the Big Island, I highly recommend that you include a visit to the black sand beach in your Big Island itinerary. This was the most unique beach we have ever been to.

The “sand” on the black sand beach is composed of fine particles of black lava rocks, which gives it the appearance of black sand.

There are only a few known black sand beaches in the world, and therefore, visiting one during your trip to Big Island is an opportunity that you don’t want to miss. Another very popular black sand beach is the Wainapanapa black sand beach on the Road to Hana in Maui.

Turtle in Punaluu black sand beach Big Island
Turtle spotted in Punaluu black sand beach, Big Island

The Punaluu black sand beach is a great resting spot for Hawaiian green sea turtles. We saw 3 turtles near the beach in the 2-3 hours we spent at the beach.  Remember to keep your distance from the turtles and not disturb them in any way!

If hungry, you can stop by the popular bakery Punaluu Bake Shop where you can savor Hawaiian sweet bread and other baked treats.

After having our fill of waterfalls and black sand beach, and a long day of driving the east, south, and west coast of the island, we reached our Waikoloa resort in the night.

We stayed at the Hilton vacation club in Waikoloa. We had a spacious one-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen with a wrap-around balcony with golf course views. It was beautiful and the space was very much useful as we were planning to stay here for 5 nights.

Day 3: Hapuna beach, Waipio Valley lookout, explore Waikoloa region

On day 3 in your 7 day Big Island itinerary, visit Hapuna beach in the morning which is one of the best beaches. In the afternoon drive to Waipio valley for some incredible views.

Hapuna beach

In my opinion, Hapuna beach is one of the best and family-friendly white sand beaches on the Big Island. It has a beautiful stretch of white sand and we had a great time playing in the waves.

At the end of the beach, there is a cute little cave to take some great pictures. The paid parking lot at Hapuna beach is spacious and we could easily find parking.   

Visit the sacred Waipio Valley

The Waipio Valley, a place of great natural beauty and cultural significance to the locals, is a must-visit destination on any Big Island itinerary.

At the parking lot, there’s a lookout area that offers awe-inspiring views of the valley, and from there, you can catch a glimpse of the Waipio black sand beach.

Waipio valley lookout big island
Waipio valley lookout in Big Island

As of February 2022, visitors or non-residents are not allowed to hike or drive down the steep road to Waipio Valley. The only way to go to Waipio Valley is through a tour.

We took this Waipio Valley Shuttle tour and it was the most beautiful and memorable experience in our entire Big Island vacation. I highly recommend taking a tour and visiting the sacred Waipio Valley.

Make sure to check out Waipio Valley Artworks, an art gallery showcasing the work of local artists and handmade gift items.

Tip: If you have time and love all things vanilla, book a tour at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company to learn about vanilla plants and how they process the beans to make vanilla extract. They have some great vanilla gifts to buy for home. It’s 30 minutes south of Waipio valley lookout.

Exploring Waikoloa

In the evening we walked to the Hilton Waikoloa resort and explored the boardwalk to the beach there. The Hilton resort is huge and they have a train that runs in the property between different buildings! Hilton also has a dolphin lagoon and they have dolphin shows daily. 

Sunset in big Island
Sunset on Big Island

The beach behind the Hilton resort is the perfect place to catch the sunset in the evening! It was a great memorable experience sitting on the lava rocks and watching the sunset over the ocean with my family. A moment in time that will be my happy place. 

Lava Lava Beach Club is a very popular restaurant in Waikoloa right on the beach and makes for a great evening. It was the perfect way to end Day 3 in our Big Island itinerary.

Day 4: Mauna Kea Beach and Stargazing at Mauna Kea Summit

On day 4 in your 7 day Big Island itinerary, visit the beautiful Mauna Kea beach and then drive up to the Mauna Kea visitor center for some stargazing!

Mauna Kea Beach

Mauna Kea beach is a great family-friendly white sand beach next to the Mauna Kea Resort. The parking lot at this beach is smaller and it’s a little hard to get parking.

We circled around twice before we were allowed in. The resort has a café at the beach where you can get some refreshing drinks and snacks. 

Stargazing at Mauna Kea Summit

Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, is home to some of the world’s most advanced astronomical observatories.

Mauna Kea’s summit, at an altitude of 13,803 feet, is renowned for its clarity of the night sky, with minimal atmospheric disturbances, and almost no light pollution, making it ideal for stargazing.

On a clear night, the sky at the summit of Mauna Kea is breathtaking, with stars twinkling brightly, and you can even see the Milky Way Galaxy!

The drive to the summit is very winding and requires a 4-wheel drive. Plus the altitude change makes it even harder. It is highly recommended to take a stargazing tour to the Mauna Kea summit.

➡ Check rates and availability for this highly rated Mauna Kea sunset and stargazing tour that includes photos, hot beverages, and warm jackets.

Stargazing at Mauna Kea Summit can be an evening activity after a nice morning at the beach.

Stargazing at Mauna Kea visitor center 

Kids under 13 are not allowed to go to the summit because of the altitude change and health risks associated with that. Because we had kids under 13 we just decided to do stargazing from the visitor center. 

You can drive to the Mauna Kea Visitor center in your rental car, four wheel drive is not needed to drive up to the visitor center. 

Make sure to call the visitor center to check for the weather before you start. The weather up there can be very different from the rest of the island. Check the sunset time before you start and make sure to reach before sunset.

We reached the visitor center just before sunset and were able to find parking. Even though the visitor center is at 9000 feet plus elevation the drive up there was quite easy and no steep cliffs at all. This was quite in contrast to the drive up Haleakala summit on Maui which was nerve-wracking with steep cliffs!

There is a small hill opposite the visitor center parking lot from where you can do stargazing. It is really cold up there so make sure to bring some warm clothes. Quite contrary to being on the beach in Hawaii 🙂 but a very unique experience. 

All the crowd was making their way up the hill and we did too. The sky was clear, and as it became darker we could see some bright and beautiful stars.

But, in a little while heavy fog started setting in, and we had to cut our stargazing short. It was pitch dark and cellphone lights and the crowds guided us back to the parking lot. 

Day 5: Snorkeling in Kona, explore historic sites in Kona

On day 5 in our 7 day Big Island itinerary we will explore the Kona region, visit a National Historical park and have some snorkeling fun! Kona is a tourist town and there are plenty of awesome things to do in Kona for every age and ability.

Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

If you’re looking for a unique and culturally enriching experience in Kona, a visit to the Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is a must. This park is a sacred site that served as a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiians who had violated kapu, or sacred laws.

Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

The park is in a beautiful coastal setting and you can stroll through the coastal walk and admire the various historical structures and artifacts. The towering palm trees and the ocean backdrop are great for photos!

You can fit a visit to this park into your Big Island itinerary whenever you have a couple of hours in Kona.

Right next to the historic park is a famous snorkeling spot called Honaunau Bay or Two Step beach and there were a lot of families snorkeling there. 

Snorkeling with Manta Rays 

Big Island is a world-class snorkeling destination and there are several snorkeling spots for every interest and ability. Snorkeling should definitely be on your Big Island itinerary.

Manta Ray Snorkeling in Big Island
Manta Ray Snorkeling in Big Island

The Big Island’s most popular snorkeling attraction is swimming with the majestic manta rays.

Keauhou Bay in Kona is particularly renowned for its resident manta rays, and there are numerous tour operators offering unforgettable nighttime snorkeling excursions to observe these magnificent creatures up close.

It is recommended to book your tour in advance as this is the most popular snorkeling activity on Big Island. 

➡ Check rates and availability of this highly rated Sunset and Manta Ray Snorkel Adventure from Kona.

The Sheraton Kona resort (now known as Outrigger) is a prime location for Manta ray viewing and has a Manta learning center where you can learn more about the magnificent manta rays and see some amazing pictures. 

Snorkeling at Honaunau Bay (Two Step beach)

Two Step Beach, located on the Kona Coast of the Big Island, is a well-known and highly-regarded snorkeling destination. Two Step beach is adjacent to Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.

The beach’s name refers to a unique feature of the shoreline, where visitors can easily access the water by stepping down two natural ledges into the ocean.

Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Snorkelers at Two Step beach can encounter a variety of tropical fish, sea turtles, and many species of coral, making it a beautiful and colorful underwater landscape.

As the surf can be rough here, snorkeling at Two Step Beach is only recommended for experienced swimmers and snorkelers.

There is limited parking and only portable restroom facilities. There is no sandy beach here, but plenty of lava rocks and paths to explore the waters. 

You can visit the historic park in the morning and then head to Two Step beach for some snorkeling fun. 

Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument

The Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument is a very popular spot for snorkeling on Big Island. The Captain Cook Monument has historical significance as it marks the spot where Captain Cook was killed. 

Accessing the Captain Cook monument for snorkeling is possible through boat tours, hiking, or kayaking, as the monument is not accessible via road.

The hike to the Captain cook monument is around 4 mile round trip with quite a bit of elevation and is considered strenuous. Getting there via a boat tour is the easiest and recommended way to see the monument and do snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay. 

➡ Check rates and availability of this highly rated Kealakekua Bay snorkeling cruise to Captain Cook Monument with water slides!

Day 6: Papakolea Green sand beach, South Point

On day 6 in your 7 day Big Island itinerary drive to the southernmost part of the Big Island to visit the Papakolea green sand beach and South Point.

Papakolea Green sand beach

If you have an extra day in your itinerary, you can add a trip to the Papakolea green sand beach which is at the southernmost tip of the island. The sand is made of green crystals (olivines) that give the beach its name.

Papakolea green sand beach
Papakolea green sand beach in Big Island

It is quite a long drive to get there from either side of the island. It took us around 2 hours each way. It takes up almost an entire day to visit this beach. 

The hike to the beach from the parking lot is a very long 6 miles round trip. It’s best to stick to the trail closest to the ocean to avoid getting lost as there are several paths in the sand dunes here.

You can pay the locals to get a ride to the beach but we were told that it is illegal. Although that didn’t stop people from getting rides. 

The surf can be quite rough at this beach and there are no lifeguards. 

South Point

On your way back, there is a fork at the South Point Road, and 10 miles down the road will take you to the southernmost tip of the United States, Ka Lae, also known as ‘South Point‘.

This entire southern part of the island is a National Historic Landmark and you can experience the powerful force of nature here with the gushing winds and the ocean currents.

Day 7: Visit a Kona Coffee and Chocolate farm, attend a Hawaiian Luau

On day 7 in your 7 day Big Island itinerary visit some Kona coffee and cacao farms and sample some homegrown coffee and chocolates! Later if you have time, visit Sea Horse and Octopus farms which are very unique to Big Island.

End your day by watching a Hawaiian Luau and experience traditional Hawaiian cuisine and hula dance.

Visit a Chocolate / Cacao farm

On both the Kona and Hilo sides of the Big Island, there are numerous cacao orchards that provide paid guided tours of their orchards. During the tour, you can learn about the cacao bean processing and production process and sample the resulting delicious chocolate.

Most orchards offer tours on select days of the week, so depending on your itinerary pick an orchard that has a day and time that works for you. Advance booking is recommended. 

➡ Check rates and availability of this highly rated Coffee and Cacao farm tour and sample some homegrown coffee and chocolates!

Original Hawaiian Chocolate Farm

We visited the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Farm in South Kona. It was a one-hour tour and was very informative. We saw the cacao pods in the orchard and a demonstration of how the beans are processed from the pods. 

We also had tiny visitors who were very interested in the cacao beans. The geckos were very cute and were the star of the show! 

Their chocolate samples were delicious and we bought some more to take back to the mainland from their store after the tour. 

Lavaloha chocolate farm

Lavaloha chocolate farm is on the Hilo side and was on my list to visit if we were planning to do the tour while on the Hilo side.

Visit a Kona coffee farm

Coffee drinkers will be thrilled to know that the world-famous Kona coffee is grown in Big Island. Numerous Kona coffee farms in the region offer tours and coffee tastings, providing a delightful experience for coffee enthusiasts.

➡ Check rates and availability of this highly rated small group combo tour of Volcanoes park and Kona Coffee farm

Visit Ocean Rider Seahorse farm

Ocean Rider Seahorse farm is conveniently situated a mere 5 minutes away from Kona airport and can be experienced on the day of your return if you have a late return flight. You will need to make advance reservations for this tour.

Visit Kanaloa Octopus farm

Located adjacent to the Seahorse farm, the Kanaloa Octopus Farm on the Big Island of Hawai’i offers tours of their facility as well. The farm is situated in the Hawai’i Ocean Science and Technology Park, behind the Kona International Airport.

Visit the seahorse farm first, if you plan to visit both the seahorse and octopus farms on the same day. This is due to the strict biosecurity regulations in effect, which prohibit entry to the seahorse farm if you have already visited any other aqua farm, including the Octopus farm, on that day.

Attend a Hawaiian luau

Attending a luau is the most popular thing to do in Hawaii and it is a great way to experience the island’s culture, traditions, cuisine, and traditional hula dance. Attend this preferably on the last night of your trip for one last big Hawaiian party!

Make sure to wear your Hawaiian shirts and dresses for memorable pictures with your family! Advance reservations are required and most luaus have assigned seating. 

➡ Check rates and availability of this highly rated Voyagers of the Pacific Luau in Kona

Options to extend your Big Island itinerary to 10 days

If you want to extend your Big Island itinerary to 10 days or pack some more action in your 7 day Big Island itinerary below are some more great things to do on Big Island.

Take a Helicopter tour of Big Island

One of the best ways to see Big Island’s incredible landscape and stunning coast is by taking a helicopter tour. You can cover so much more and see hidden valleys and waterfalls from an aerial view that is impossible to reach by road.

You will also experience incredible views of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with a helicopter tour.

➡ Check rates and availability for this highly-rated 2 hour helicopter tour from Kona

➡ Check rates and availability for this highly-rated 1 hour helicopter tour from Hilo

Do some Whale watching in Big Island

If you are traveling during the whale season which is typically November to April on Big Island, you can see humpback whales by taking a whale-watching tour.

During the warmer winter months the whales migrate from the colder regions of Alaska to the warmer waters of Hawaii and going on a whale-watching tour is the best way to see these magnificent humpback whales.

➡ Check rates and availability of this small group whale watching tour on a catamaran boat in Kona

Ziplining over waterfalls

The Umauma zipline experience in Big Island will get your heart racing with excitement and adventure as you zipline over waterfalls, rivers, and treetops! This is a great family-friendly activity on Big Island.

This zipline tour has a 9-zipline course with many dual lines where you can race with friends and family. The platforms have panoramic views of the Pacific ocean to enjoy while waiting for your turn.

➡ Check rates and availability of this 9-line zipline experience on Big Island

Explore Farmer’s markets in Big Island

There are several farmer’s markets in Big Island in both Hilo and Kona regions to try local foods, fresh produce, and handmade gift items. This is also a great way to interact with the locals.

Most markets are only open on 1 or 2 days a week but there are several different markets and there might be one open during your trip days.

The Hilo farmers market is the largest market in Big Island with over 200 vendors in Hilo downtown area. It is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays till 3 PM.

In downtown Kona on Alii Drive, the Kona farmers market is popular and open Wednesdays to Sundays till 4 PM. Here you can buy handmade arts and crafts from local vendors which make great gifts! You can also buy fresh produce, fruits, and flowers for your stay.

Drive the scenic Hamakua coast

The Hamakua Coast is a stunningly scenic region north of Hilo, on the northeastern side of the Big Island of Hawaii. The area is known for its rugged coastline, lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and picturesque small towns.

Waipio valley in Big Island

Waipio Valley and Akaka Falls State Park are some iconic features on the Hamakua coast along with several small towns like Honokaa, which is known for its charming downtown area and historic buildings.

Visit Pololu Valley lookout

Situated on the northeast side of the island, the Pololu Valley Lookout offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Pololu Valley and the surrounding rugged landscape.

One of the main attractions of the Pololu Valley Lookout is the hiking trail that leads down to the black sand beach below. The hike is steep, rocky, and challenging but doable with appropriate footwear.

The water can be rough here so swimming is not advisable, it’s mainly for the scenic views.

Visit the ‘Painted Church’ in Kona

Located in South Kona, the St. Benedict Catholic Church, also known as the Painted Church, is a magnificent historic building that is well worth a visit if you have the opportunity.

Adorned with intricate paintings depicting stories of early Hawaiian life, the church’s walls are a stunning sight to behold. Additionally, the church’s well-manicured grounds provide a beautiful backdrop for visitors to explore.

It is important to note that the church is still in operation, so be sure to check its open hours before planning your visit.

Where to stay in Big Island of Hawaii

Most hotels/resorts are either in the Waikoloa, Kona, or Hilo regions of the Big Island. On the western side, most resorts are in the Waikoloa or Kona region. On the eastern side, most hotels/resorts are in Hilo. 

To minimize daily driving time, I would recommend splitting time between the west and east parts of the Big Island. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is easily around 2 hours drive each way from the western regions of Kona and Waikoloa.

We spent our first 2 nights in Hilo and then the remainder 5 nights in Waikoloa. You can also stay in Waikoloa/Kona first and have your fill of snorkeling and beaches, and then stay in Hilo and explore the Volcanoes Park and Hilo waterfalls.

But if you prefer to stay at just one place for your entire stay then that is alright too. Just be prepared for starting early in the day and for long drives around the island. The island and the views are so beautiful that it should be no problem!

Waipio Valley in Big Island

I will list down some recommendations for hotels/resorts in each region.

There are also several vacation rental homes and condos that you can find on Big Island if you like more space and rooms and a kitchen.

Where to stay in Waikoloa

The area of Waikoloa, situated about a 20-minute drive to the north of Kona, is known for its brand name and family-friendly resorts, making it a highly sought-after destination for tourists.

Hilton Waikoloa Village is an oceanfront luxury resort in Waikoloa with world-class amenities like a massive swimming pool complex, a lagoon with dolphins, several restaurants, kids’ programs, and spectacular sunsets!

Hilton Grand Vacations Club at Waikoloa offers spacious suites with full kitchens and stunning views of the golf course. A great option if you want a 1 or 2-bedroom apartment with living space, without sacrificing the amenities of a resort.

Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Waikoloa is located on the Anaeho’omalu Bay which is great for snorkeling. The resort has a great pool and restaurants and is beachfront for great sunset viewing.

The Westin Hapuna beach resort is a luxury resort at Kohala cost and provides great access to Hapuna beach which I think is the best beach on Big Island.

Similarly, the Mauna Kea beach hotel provides access to Mauna Kea beach and has great resort amenities.

You can also find Vacation rental homes or condos in Waikoloa if you are looking for more space or need access to a kitchen.

Where to stay in Kona

As opposed to the Waikoloa region, which primarily consists of larger, upscale resorts, Kona offers a diverse range of accommodations to fit every budget.

Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel is a beachfront resort at a prime location on Alii drive in downtown Kona, and is popular with families.

The Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa, formerly known as the Sheraton Kona, is a nice resort with a spectacular view of Keauhou Bay. Guests can enjoy the breathtaking sight of the manta ray feeding lights shining into the ocean at night, right from the comfort of the resort.

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is on the expensive side but a world-class resort with all the luxury amenities and a golf course.

Vacation rental homes or condos are a great option in Kona as well, for those looking for more space or access to a kitchen.

Where to stay in Hilo

In Hilo, most hotels are located on Banyan Drive. While there are fewer accommodation choices in Hilo compared to Kona, you can certainly find suitable options for a couple of nights’ stay.

Hilo Hawaiian hotel is a mid-range hotel on Banyan drive right next to Coconut Island and Liliuokalani Garden. This hotel is oceanfront and in close proximity to everything in Hilo. This is where we stayed for 2 nights.

Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo is another hotel on Banyan drive with similar ocean views and amenities.

Vacation rental homes or condos are a great option in Hilo for those looking for more space or access to a kitchen.

Where to stay in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Volcano house is the only place to stay if you want to spend the night in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Kilauea Lodge, located only a mile away from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, offers a great lodging option for those wanting to stay in close proximity to the park. This lodge features an on-site restaurant.

You can also stay in a vacation rental home or condo near Volcanoes Park for easy access to the park.

➡ Check rates and availability for hotels and resorts in Big Island

➡ Check rates and availability for Vacation rental homes and condos in Big Island

Where to eat on Big Island of Hawaii

Big Island has some amazing restaurants offering Hawaiian cuisine as well as American, Mexican, Indian, and Asian cuisine. You can find pretty much any kind of food here. Below are some of the most popular restaurant recommendations.

View from the Coffee Shack in Kona

Popular restaurants in Big Island of Hawaii

Merriman’s Big Island in Waimea is a renowned restaurant known for the quality of the food prepared from locally sourced ingredients and the exceptional dining experience. It is expensive and booked out months in advance.

James Angelo’s Underground Pizza in Waimea serves excellent New York style pizza, some of the best pizza I have had to date! Make sure to try the Tiramisu desert when here.

Lava Lava Beach Club in Waikoloa is a beachfront restaurant famous for its stunning sunset views and laid-back atmosphere. You can enjoy playing lawn games or listening to live music while dining.

Pineapples in downtown Hilo is a great open-air restaurant. Great food and amazing drinks served in pineapple fruit!

Ken’s House of Pancakes, a 24-hour diner in Hilo, serves local as well as classic American food and breakfast foods. Macadamia nut pancakes are amazing!

The Coffee Shack in Kona is so worth it for the breathtaking views! We had to wait for 45 minutes but was so worth it and we got a seat in the inside room next to the window. Several geckos were roaming on the windows and were so cute! Liliokai pie here is delicious!

Gypsea Gelato in Kona is a great stop for ice cream and make sure to try the Mauka trial flavor with macadamia nuts, chocolate, and coffee. We stopped here on the way back from our Papakolea green sand beach trip for a refreshing treat.

Punaluu Bake Shop is a very famous bakery in the southern part of the island. Stop here when you visit Punaluu black sand beach, for some Hawaiian sweet bread and other baked treats.

Must try foods in Big Island of Hawaii

Hawaii is a great destination for foodies and there are some must try foods here.

Hawaiian shaved ice is very unique to Big Island and you can get it in a variety of flavors and toppings! So yum!

Tropical fruits like fresh coconut juice, fresh-cut pineapples are a must try while in Big island! You will find that pretty much anywhere in all parts of the island. There are many roadside shacks selling these items.

Malasadas are another popular food item, a fried donut filled with different flavors like custard, Nutella, etc.

Macadamia nuts are grown locally in Big Island and you can buy them at local grocery stores and farmer’s markets.

And of course, try the delicious Kona Coffee as well as Hawaiian chocolates made from homegrown cacao beans.

Travel tips and FAQs for Big Island of Hawaii

Below are some travel tips to help you make the most of your trip to Big Island:

How many days do you need in Big Island?

7 days in Big Island is ideal to see everything that Big Island has to offer, but not everyone can afford to devote that much time. Still, I really think you need a minimum of 5 days in Big Island.

I spent a week with my family, and I could have easily found things to do for another few days. This itinerary is for 7 days in Big Island, but you can easily use it as a 3 or 5 day Big Island itinerary or customize it as per your needs.

If you are trying to decide whether to stay in Kona or Hilo and how many days to spend on each side of Big Island, check out my post about Hilo vs Kona: Where to stay in Big Island and why.

When is the best time of the year to visit Big Island of Hawaii?

There cannot be a wrong time to go to Hawaii! Really, I can go there any time of the year. If you are trying to avoid crowds, Hawaii’s peak tourist season is during the school break season, so summer break, winter break, and spring break can get very crowded.

Summer break is usually less crowded than winter break. The 2 weeks during winter break from mid-December to January first week is the busiest tourist season. But if that is when you can go, then go for it.

I actually visited Big Island in January’s first week with my family, and we really had a great time. Hawaii is very laid back and there is no rush anywhere.

September to November and February-March would be considered good months to visit if you do not have school-going kids to worry about.

How to get to Big Island of Hawaii?

Flying in and out of Kona International airport which is on the west side of Big Island is the best way to get to Big Island, also called the Island of Hawaii.

Inter-island visitors coming from the neighboring islands of Ohau or Maui also have the option of flying into Hilo International airport which is on the east side of the island.

Although Hilo Airport also receives some flights from the mainland, Kona Airport offers more extensive flight options than Hilo.

Cruise ships come into the Port of Hilo on the eastern region of Big Island, and that is another way to get to Big Island.

How to get around Big Island?

The best way to see the Big Island is to rent a car. I recommend using Discover Cars as they check top car rental brands and provide the best rates.

Big Island is really big in size and it takes a couple of hours one way to go from west or east or vice versa. You will need a rental car to see the south, east, and north parts of the island.

You might be able to manage without a car in the west Kona region by booking tours for excursions. There are many tours of the Volcanoes park from Kona as well as Hilo.

As soon as you book your flights, it is highly recommended to book a rental car before you arrive in Big Island, as many times in peak tourist season there can be a rental car shortage.

➡ If driving around Big Island yourself, I highly recommend this Big Island Audio tour bundle that plays through GPS on your phone via an app. We have used these audio tours extensively in Hawaii and they are great in telling you about the upcoming stops as you drive, stops that we would have missed otherwise. It also tells you about the island’s history and plays local music!

Packing list for Big Island vacation

It is best to bring everything you need with you as prices can be high here, considering most stuff is coming from the mainland. Below are a few essentials that you should pack.

  • Hawaiian style clothes – Hawaiian shirts, dresses, shorts, t-shirts, skirts, sun hat/cap
  • Footwear – flip flops and sandals for the beach. Shoes for hiking
  • Swimwear and that too several pairs!
  • Reef-safe sunscreen – lots of it!
  • Snorkeling gear – It’s cheaper to buy your own snorkeling gear than to rent it daily. Snorkeling tours provide gear.
  • Backpack and reusable water bottle – For all the day trips!
  • Ponchos – for the sudden pouring rain in Hilo excursions
  • Jacket, gloves, and winter cap or beanie – This seems out of place for a Hawaii packing list, but if you are going up to the Mauna Kea summit, or even just up to the visitor center for stargazing, it is very cold up there in the night. Trust me, we even took a blanket from the hotel!

Final Takeaways: Big Island itinerary 7 days

Big Island is truly a magical, sacred, and beautiful bucket list destination. There are so many amazing things to see that you really need 7 days in Big Island.

Summary of Big Island 7 day itinerary suggestions with options for extending to 10 days –

  • Day 1: Visit Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
  • Day 2: Explore Hilo, Waterfalls in Hilo, Black sand beach
  • Day 3: Hapuna beach, Waipio Valley lookout, explore Waikoloa region
  • Day 4: Mauna Kea Beach and Stargazing at Mauna Kea Summit
  • Day 5: Snorkeling in Kona, explore historic sites in Kona
  • Day 6: Papakolea Green sand beach, South Point
  • Day 7: Visit a Kona Coffee and Chocolate farm, attend a Hawaiian Luau

Below are top activity suggestions in Big Island:

I hope my 7 day Big Island itinerary helps you plan a memorable Hawaii vacation!

Related Posts

Visiting Big Island, Hawaii? Check out my other posts in the Big Island series: