A year into the pandemic we were itching to travel again. Hawaii was within the United States and had a clear Covid protocol. Knowing we would be allowed to enjoy the island, as long as we followed the pandemic rules they put in place, gave us peace of mind to book. We were on The Big Island for 4 nights but stayed in Hawaii for two weeks. Check out our Hawai’i The Big Island travel guide below!
How we traveled there
We flew direct from Denver to the Kona International Airport (KOA) which took 6 hours. We loved the convenience of flying direct but there were some cheaper options with a connection. The other airport you can fly into is Hilo International Airport (ITO) which is on the east side of the island.
We used Turo, a car-sharing app, to get around the island. It worked out well for us because the person we rented the car from dropped it off right at arrivals and when we gave it back she met us at departures. We didn’t have to wait in long rental car lines worrying if they would run out of inventory plus it was less expensive.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel which was a 15-minute drive south of the airport. It was right on Kailua Bay which gave us direct hotel beach access and calm water to swim in. This location was walkable to restaurants and shops. This hotel also had a cafe, small convenience store, restaurant, bar, pool, and gym.
What activities we experienced
We tried to stay up late to get on their time zone but we failed and fell asleep early. If there are any activities where you want to start early in the morning then do it on your first full day since you will naturally wake up early.
We drove to Volcano National Park which took 2 hours. We drove the route that takes you south first since we were taking the east route the next day to Hilo. Don’t forget to bring your national park pass for free entrance. We hiked the Crater Rim Trail which was 740 feet of elevation gain and 3.2 miles. You walk across the crater on igneous rocks (hardened lava). After you are finished hiking, take the 5-minute drive to the Thurston Lava Tube. The lava tube is a short walk from the parking lot which has limited spots. It stretches 600 feet with lighting inside to guide you through making it one of the most easily accessible lava tubes on the island. You must enter and exit on specific ends. On our way back to Kona, we stopped at Punalu’u Beach, known for its black sand and green sea turtles.
On our second day, we drove to the island’s east side to see more lava tubes and waterfalls. It took two hours to drive to Akaka Falls State Park. The drive around the Akaka Falls State Park was full of luscious greenery since it rains almost every day on the east side of the island. The state park entrance is $5 and the waterfall is a 0.4-mile walk from the parking lot on a paved footpath. This waterfall was stunning plunging 442 feet.
After the state park, we stopped at Rainbow Falls which is 0.1 miles from the parking lot. Our last adventure of the day was the Kaumana Lava Tube Cave. It is free with parking close by. You have to take a ladder to get down into the cave. There are no lights in the cave but the natural light illuminates far enough into the cave. It can also be slippery so wear grippy shoes. We drove around the town of Hilo but didn’t see anything worth stopping for.
On our last full day, we decided to stay put for a beach day at the hotel. Not many hotels in the area had their own beach access so we were fortunate we could walk right down from our hotel. The beach shack had snorkels, paddle boards, kayaks, and more to use for the day. There were a few fish but no note-worthy snorkeling.
Late at night, we went swimming with manta rays which was the highlight of this trip. You get on a boat for a short trip to the manta ray area where you get into the water and hold onto a large LED light. The light attracts plankton which manta rays eat causing them to swim inches from you to grab the plankton. Jessica even received a boob tap from a manta ray fin! The first minute was overwhelming because they are coming so close to you so fast but you soon realize they are there for the plankton and not you. Don’t forget a waterproof phone case for videos. We were so bummed we didn’t capture this experience.
Before heading to the airport we stopped at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. In a short walk, you arrive at the beach where we saw multiple sea turtles off to the right.
Where we ate
- Kona Brewing Company – loved the live music, expect a wait
- Basik Açaí – delicious açaí bowls, they are big bowls two people could split
- Shaka Tacos – this is 20 mins south of Kona and overlooks the ocean. We stopped on the way back from Volcano National Park.
- Quinn’s Almost by the Sea
- Vibe Cafe
Where we drank
- Ola Brew Co – we loved their ciders, especially the Kona Gold pineapple cider
- Kona Brewing Company
- Kona Coffee & Tea – we went here every day because we loved their chai tea and coffee. They also have quick breakfast options.
What we recommend knowing/preparing
- If you own an annual national park pass bring it with you for free entrance into the Volcano National Park
- We used this guide to decide which lava tubes to visit
- Between the first two full days, we drove 4-5 hours each day. I recommend considering driving from Kona to Volcano National Park then driving up to Hilo and staying there one night. The next day you can explore the east side of the Island then head back to Kona to cut down on the amount of hours spent in the car. I have a friend who loves Hilo and stayed there multiple days. The town didn’t have a strong pull for me but the beauty of the parks and hikes sure did.
- If you stay on the east side of the island know that it rains every day. Always have your raincoat and boots close by.
- Most places we went to were closed at 9 pm or 10 pm. We didn’t experience much of a nightlife scene here.
- The Big Island was very humid. We remember it being the most humid out of all the islands.
- Check out our travel tips page for general recommendations
What we didn’t do but looked into
- Luaus – our hotel puts on a luau two nights a week but it was booked by the time we arrived on the island. If you are keen on seeing a luau during your trip then book ahead.
- Stargaze on Mauna Kea – You can’t drive most rental cars to the summit of Mauna Kea, but you can take any car to 9,200 feet, where the visitor information center is located
- Papakolea Green Sand Beach – 2-mile hike to the beach
- Hāpuna Beach
- Manini’owali Beach (Kua Bay)
- Seahorse Farm
What we packed
- Raincoat and waterproof boots are a must if you are spending time on the east side of the island
- Athletic clothing for hikes and lava tubes
- Warm weather clothes
- Check out our recommendations for travel clothing and essentials
We hope you enjoyed our Hawai’i The Big Island travel guide. Leave a comment below or contact us for any questions. If you are interested in exploring other Hawai’i islands then you should check out our Molokai travel guide.