Big Island, Hawaii Travel Guide

Big Island Summary


  • Diverse landscape; encompasses nearly every climactic zone
  • Hawaiian culture not merely observed, but lived
  • Kilauea, the most active volcano on earth, provides matchless hiking scenery
  • Not absurdly crowded beaches, especially along the lush Hilo side of the island
  • Wildlife everywhere you look: dolphins, sea turtles, Nene cross and humpback whales
  • A culinary paradise -- homegrown fruits, veggies, meat and seafood abound on restaurant menus
  • Home of one of the two national parks in Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park


  • Not a hot spot for luxury dining
  • Lacks an active nightlife scene; much of the island shuts down after dark
  • Poor public transportation
  • Rental cars available, but only one two-lane road encircles the Island.
  • Volcanic Smog (or VOG) a problem certain times of year because of rapid wind changes

What It's Like

Having trouble deciding between destinations -- the mountains, the beach, the rainforest, or the snow? Don't. The Big Island's got it all. Larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined, this isle brims over with activities for whatever mood you're in.

Between fiery volcanoes, cascading waterfalls, white-sand, black-sand, and even green-sand (!) beaches, blossoming meadows and snow-capped mountains, we're wondering: What more could you ask for from a single island? Sunbathe and snorkel by day, stargaze from frigid mountaintops by night. The downside is that the Big Island is, well, big, so be prepared for a fair amount of driving time if you plan to sightsee.

As enticing as the scenery may be, you'll find the people to be just as inviting. On the Big Island, life itself seems to be a vacation. Nearly everyone sports a pair flip-flops, or as the locals call them, "slippas." Children wear them to school. Adults wear them out to eat. And they're easy to remove before entering someone's home -- an old Hawaiian custom to show respect.

Stop and chat with sellers crafting leis or beads. Chances are they will captivate you with stories about ancient Hawaiian customs and folklore, and maybe even let you in on a few island secrets that even we don't know about.

Where to Stay

The Big Island offers a wide-range of lodging options. If you’re hoping to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, opt for the Hilo, Pena or Volcano area. Staying much farther away than this probably won’t give you enough time to discover the park, and these areas still offer local shopping, dining and a taste of Hawaiian culture. Popular resort destinations include the Kohala Coast, Keauhou and Historic Kailua-Kona Village. These locales have all the necessities -- dining, shopping and activities for the whole family. A more secluded, romantic getaway would be in the uplands of Waimea, where lush prairie lands and rolling hills paint the countryside.


View all Big Island Hotels


Languages: English, Hawaiian
Airports: Kona International Airport (KOA)
Hilto International Airport (ITO)
Peak: Dec.- March
Vaccines: No
Currency: U.S. Dollar
Electricity: 115/120 V, 60 Hv
Tipping: 15-20% at restaurants

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