Welcome to the ultimate Hawaii (Big Island) Travel Guide for 2021! This comprehensive guide, brought to you by The Hawaii Vacation Guide, offers 11 tips for an unforgettable vacation on the Big Island. From where to stay, to where to eat, to the best beaches, this guide has got you covered. It also includes a 6-day itinerary with a video guide for more detailed information. You don’t want to miss the top three must-see things to do on the Big Island, so stay tuned until the end. Let us be your virtual tour guides and show you all the wonders of the Big Island!
Get ready to explore the diverse landscapes and rich history of the island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island or the Orchid Isle. Jordan and Erica, the creators of The Hawaii Vacation Guide, have compiled their best tips to help you make the most out of your Big Island vacation. Discover the best snorkeling spots, where to stay on the sunny side of the island, and where to indulge in delicious local cuisine. Immerse yourself in Hawaiian history and embark on thrilling adventures like hiking into a volcano and manta ray night snorkeling. The guide also stresses the importance of booking early and provides recommendations for tours and rental cars. So sit back, relax, and let us take you on an unforgettable journey through the Big Island of Hawaii!
Where to Stay
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Accommodations on the Sunny Side of the Island
When it comes to choosing where to stay on the Big Island, you’ll find a wide range of accommodations to suit every budget and preference. If you’re looking to soak up the sun and enjoy the warm tropical weather, the sunny side of the island is the place to be. There are plenty of resorts, hotels, and vacation rentals to choose from, all offering stunning views of the ocean and easy access to beautiful beaches. Whether you prefer a luxurious beachfront resort or a cozy cottage tucked away in a quiet corner, you’re sure to find the perfect place to stay on the sunny side of the island.
Booking Early for High-Demand Periods
If you’re planning a trip to the Big Island during a high-demand period, such as school holidays or peak tourist season, it’s essential to book your accommodations well in advance. The popularity of the island means that hotels and resorts can fill up quickly, and you don’t want to miss out on your dream vacation. By booking early, you can secure your preferred accommodations and ensure that you have a comfortable and enjoyable stay on the Big Island.
Where to Eat
Trying the Best Local Cuisine
When it comes to dining on the Big Island, you’ll be spoiled for choice with the incredible local cuisine. From fresh seafood to exotic fruits, the island offers a range of delicious dishes that will tantalize your taste buds. Be sure to try some of the local specialties, such as poke, a traditional Hawaiian dish made with raw fish and served with rice and vegetables. You can also indulge in delicious plate lunches, which typically include a main dish, two scoops of rice, and a side of macaroni salad. Don’t forget to save room for dessert, as the island is known for its mouthwatering tropical fruit pies and decadent shaved ice treats.
Thai Food from a Food Truck
For a unique dining experience, head to one of the many food trucks scattered across the island and indulge in some delicious Thai food. These food trucks offer a variety of authentic Thai dishes, including pad Thai, green curry, and mango sticky rice. The casual and laid-back atmosphere of the food trucks adds to the charm, allowing you to enjoy your meal while soaking up the island vibes. Whether you’re a fan of spicy food or prefer milder flavors, you’ll find something to satisfy your cravings at one of the Thai food trucks on the Big Island.
Malasadas from a Bake Shop
No visit to the Big Island is complete without trying the famous malasadas from a local bake shop. These Portuguese treats are deep-fried to perfection, creating a crispy exterior and a soft and fluffy interior. They are typically filled with a variety of delicious fillings, such as custard, chocolate, or tropical fruit flavors. Don’t miss the chance to indulge in this island specialty and experience the heavenly taste of a freshly made malasada.
Sunny Beaches on the Big Island
With its stunning coastline and warm turquoise waters, the Big Island boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Whether you’re looking for a secluded spot to relax and unwind or an action-packed beach with water sports activities, you’ll find it on the Big Island. Some of the best sunny beaches to visit include Kauna’oa Bay, Manini’owali Beach, and Kealakekua Bay. These beaches offer pristine white sands, crystal clear waters, and breathtaking views, making them perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and beach picnics.
Puna Lu Black Sand Beach
For a unique beach experience, make sure to visit Puna Lu Black Sand Beach. This stunning beach gets its name from its striking black sand, which is created by the volcanic activity on the island. The contrast between the black sand, blue ocean, and lush greenery creates a picturesque setting that is unlike any other. Take a leisurely stroll along the beach, soak up the sun, and keep an eye out for sea turtles, which are often spotted in the area. Puna Lu Black Sand Beach is a must-visit destination for beach lovers and nature enthusiasts alike.
Hapuna State Beach
Hapuna State Beach is another must-visit beach on the Big Island. Known for its expansive white sands and clear turquoise waters, this beach is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. The beach is backed by a beautiful park, offering picnic areas, shaded pavilions, and walking trails. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can rent snorkel gear and explore the vibrant underwater world, home to colorful coral reefs and a variety of marine life. Hapuna State Beach is a true paradise and should not be missed during your visit to the Big Island.
Snorkeling is a must-do activity when visiting the Big Island. With its crystal clear waters and abundant marine life, the island offers fantastic snorkeling opportunities for beginners and experienced snorkelers alike. One of the best spots for snorkeling is Kahaluu Beach Park, known for its calm waters and colorful coral reefs. Here, you can swim alongside tropical fish, sea turtles, and even dolphins if you’re lucky. Remember to bring your own snorkel gear or rent it from one of the nearby rental shops for a memorable snorkeling experience.
The Big Island is home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kilauea. Exploring the volcanoes and witnessing the power of nature is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you can take a guided tour or explore on your own. Marvel at the breathtaking landscapes, walk through lava tubes, and learn about the island’s geological history. If you’re lucky, you might even witness the mesmerizing sight of lava flowing into the ocean. Exploring the volcanoes is a truly unique experience that will leave you in awe of the island’s natural beauty.
Experiencing Hawaiian History
Immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of Hawaii by visiting some of the island’s historical sites. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is a sacred place that served as a refuge for ancient Hawaiians. Take a guided tour or explore the park on your own, and learn about the Hawaiian customs, traditions, and beliefs. Another fascinating historical site to visit is the Hulihee Palace in Kailua-Kona. This former royal residence offers a glimpse into the island’s royal past and showcases beautiful Hawaiian artifacts and furniture. By experiencing Hawaiian history, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the island’s culture and heritage.
Stargazing and Astronomy
Due to its remote location and minimal light pollution, the Big Island is an ideal destination for stargazing and astronomy enthusiasts. Visit the Maunakea Visitor Information Station, located at an elevation of 9,200 feet, for a breathtaking stargazing experience. Here, you can use telescopes provided by the station and marvel at the night sky filled with stars, planets, and galaxies. If you’re interested in learning more about astronomy, consider joining a guided stargazing tour, where knowledgeable experts will share fascinating insights about the universe. Stargazing on the Big Island is an unforgettable experience that will leave you in awe of the vastness of the cosmos.
Hiking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
For outdoor enthusiasts, hiking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must-do activity. The park offers a variety of hiking trails, suitable for all levels of experience and fitness. One of the most popular hikes is the Kilauea Iki Trail, which takes you through lush rainforests and across a crater floor that was once filled with molten lava. The trail offers stunning panoramic views and a unique opportunity to witness the raw power of the volcano. Another noteworthy hike is the Mauna Loa Summit Trail, which leads you to the summit of the world’s largest volcano. As you hike through diverse landscapes, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views and a sense of accomplishment. Lace up your hiking boots and explore the natural wonders of the Big Island.
Favorite Tour Operators and Resorts
To make the most of your time on the Big Island and ensure a memorable experience, it’s worth considering tour operators and resorts that have been highly recommended by previous visitors. Some popular tour operators include Hawaii Forest & Trail, which offers a range of eco-adventures and guided tours, and Body Glove Cruises, which provides snorkeling and sunset cruises along the beautiful Kona Coast. When it comes to resorts, the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel are renowned for their luxurious accommodations, world-class amenities, and stunning beachfront locations. By choosing reputable tour operators and resorts, you can rest assured that you’ll have an incredible time exploring the island and enjoying all it has to offer.
To help you plan your trip, here’s a suggested 6-day itinerary for exploring the Big Island:
Day 1: Arrive in Hilo, visit the Hilo Farmers Market, and explore the Waterfalls in Hilo. Day 2: Drive to the Hamakua Coast and spend the day exploring its beauty and attractions. Day 3: Head to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and spend the day hiking, exploring the volcanoes, and witnessing the incredible natural phenomena. Day 4: Take a snorkeling tour at the Captain Cook Monument and enjoy the vibrant underwater world. Day 5: Visit the beautiful Waipio Valley and go on a thrilling adventure tour, such as horseback riding or zip-lining. Day 6: Relax and enjoy the sunny beaches on the Big Island, such as Hapuna State Beach or Kauna’oa Bay.
By following this itinerary, you’ll be able to experience the best of the Big Island and create unforgettable memories.
Must-See Attractions in Hilo
Food Scene in Hilo
Hilo is not only known for its natural beauty but also its vibrant food scene. The town is home to numerous delicious restaurants, cafes, and food stalls, offering a variety of cuisines to satisfy every palate. Be sure to try some of the local favorites, such as loco moco, a dish made with rice, a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and gravy. For a taste of authentic Hawaiian cuisine, visit one of the traditional Hawaiian food stalls, where you can sample dishes such as laulau (pork wrapped in taro leaves) and poi (a paste made from taro root). The food scene in Hilo is a true melting pot of flavors, and you won’t be disappointed with the culinary delights it has to offer.
Waterfalls in Hilo
If you’re a nature lover, you’ll be delighted by the abundance of waterfalls in and around Hilo. One of the most iconic waterfalls to visit is Rainbow Falls, named for the rainbows that often appear in the mist created by the waterfall. The sight of the cascading water against the lush green backdrop is truly mesmerizing. Another must-visit waterfall is Akaka Falls, which plunges 442 feet into a gorge surrounded by exotic plants and flowers. As you walk along the well-maintained trail, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the waterfall and the surrounding tropical vegetation. Visiting the waterfalls in Hilo is a peaceful and enchanting experience that allows you to connect with the island’s natural beauty.
Botanical Gardens in Hilo
For a tranquil and immersive experience in nature, explore the botanical gardens in Hilo. The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is a gem located just outside of Hilo and showcases an extensive collection of tropical plants and flowers. As you wander through the garden’s pathways, you’ll be surrounded by vibrant blooms, towering trees, and lush greenery. Another beautiful garden to visit is the Liliuokalani Gardens, a Japanese-style garden dedicated to Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Here, you can stroll along peaceful pathways, admire the koi ponds, and take in panoramic views of Hilo Bay. Exploring the botanical gardens in Hilo is a serene and rejuvenating experience that offers a glimpse into the island’s natural wonders.
Manta Ray Night Snorkeling
For a truly unforgettable experience, embark on a manta ray night snorkeling tour. These gentle giants can reach a wingspan of up to 20 feet and are known for their graceful and mesmerizing underwater acrobatics. You’ll be taken on a boat to one of the manta ray hotspots, where you’ll don your snorkel gear and enter the water. With the help of underwater lights, you’ll be able to see the magnificent creatures swimming and feeding just beneath the water’s surface. It’s an awe-inspiring experience that will leave you with a deep appreciation for the beauty of the ocean and its incredible inhabitants.
Snorkeling at Captain Cook Monument
The Captain Cook Monument is not only a historical site but also one of the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island. This submerged monument marks the spot where Captain James Cook, a British explorer, first landed in Hawaii in 1778. The crystal clear waters surrounding the monument are teeming with vibrant coral reefs and a vast array of marine life. Snorkeling at the Captain Cook Monument is a unique opportunity to swim alongside tropical fish, sea turtles, and even dolphins. Join a guided snorkeling tour or opt to kayak to the monument for an adventure-filled day in paradise.
Exploring Waipio Valley
Waipio Valley, often referred to as the “Valley of the Kings,” is a hidden gem located on the northeastern coast of the Big Island. This lush and verdant valley is surrounded by towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and a black sand beach. To truly appreciate its beauty, take an adventure tour that allows you to explore the valley on foot, horseback, or in a 4×4 vehicle. As you venture deeper into the valley, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views, the sounds of rushing waterfalls, and a sense of tranquility that can only be found in nature. Exploring Waipio Valley is an adventure you won’t want to miss during your visit to the Big Island.
Beauty and Attractions of the Hamakua Coast
The Hamakua Coast is a hidden gem on the Big Island that offers incredible natural beauty and a laid-back atmosphere. This scenic drive takes you along the coastline, passing by lush rainforests, dramatic cliffs, and picturesque waterfalls. One of the highlights of the Hamakua Coast is the Waipio Valley, known for its breathtaking views and secluded black sand beach. Stop by the Akaka Falls State Park, where you can take a short hike through tropical vegetation and witness the stunning 442-foot Akaka Falls. The Hamakua Coast is a paradise for nature lovers and provides an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Top Three Must-See Activities on the Big Island
With its stunning beaches, fascinating history, and breathtaking natural beauty, the Big Island offers a plethora of activities and attractions for every traveler. If you’re looking for a tropical paradise where you can relax, explore, and create lasting memories, this is the place to be. From snorkeling in crystal clear waters to hiking through ancient volcanoes, there’s something for everyone on the Big Island. Be sure to try the delicious local cuisine, visit the stunning beaches, and immerse yourself in the unique culture and history of the island. Whether you’re seeking adventure or a peaceful retreat, the Big Island has it all. So pack your bags, embark on a journey to this tropical oasis, and get ready to experience the vacation of a lifetime.