Knowing what activities are possible on the Big Island is key to choosing the activity that is right for you and/or your family and helps to prevent you from having to change your plans last minute.
The “problem” of deciding what you want to do while on our island is making a choice, because there often too many ‘unmissable activities’ to choose from that fit in the 8 days that most people spend on the Big Island. Our preferred solution to this “problem” is to stick with only a few activities (no more than 1/day) and to make sure that they count. Enjoy the moment and take as much time as you and/or your family/friends need without having to stress about the next item on the itinerary.
We know that “just” picking a few activities is easier said than done, so we have made a small list of highlights to help you make the first cut. A few of these are unique to the Big Island (i.e. not possible from other Hawaiian islands, see also our guide to things to do on Oʻahu), while others can also be enjoyed at other islands albeit with a different setting.
“Only on the Big Island” activities
- The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which offers stunning and ever changing landscapes.
- Visiting the Mauna Kea summit with its world-class telescopes for stargazing and out-of-this-world sunsets.
- The manta ray night dive/snorkel.
- Seeing red-hot lava (only when the volcano is active).
Recommended activities by location (Hilo and Kona)
Very crudely the Big Island can be split in two sides, each with its own special activities: The Hilo (eastern) and Kona (western) coast. Here are some of the local highlights:
We have compiled short list of curated tours with what we think are the best tours you can find on the Big Island. We only recommend tours that are well-organized, that give back to the community, and that make sure to have an as small as possible ecological impact on the island as possible. Most importantly, all tours on there receive consistent stellar reviews from their guests.
Read more about our list of tours on the Big Island.
Big list of Things to do
You can find outdoor adventure wherever you are on the Big Island. The activities listed below in alphabetical order are the most common things to do on land, in the water, and in the air:
ATV tours are a fun way to explore the beautiful difficult to access places such as the wild forests and cliffs on the Kohala coast. These tours typically take you on a 10+ mile drive through private lands with stops on the way at scenic points, historic sites, and waterfalls. Read more about the ATV Tours on the Big Island.
The Beaches are one of the main attractions of the Big Island and are great for being lazy, snorkeling, surfing or what not! Here you can find world-class white sand beaches, but also black sand beaches and even a green sand beach! Read more about the Beaches on the Big Island.
You can rent a bike to explore the island at your own pace. Biking is a low-key and relaxing (except if you are biking up the volcano) way to explore Hawaii. Put on your helmet and read more about Biking on the Big Island.
The Hilo and Hamakua coasts are filled with rainforest, waterfalls, and tropical flowers and these natural treasures can be most easily seen in one of the botanical gardens on the Big Island. Read more about Botanical Gardens on the Big Island.
There are campsites and beach parks around the whole Big Island where you can pitch your tent and be truly outdoors. Plan ahead because most campsites need to be reserved ahead of time. Read more about Camping on the Big Island.
Farm tours are a great way to make a deep connection with the land and to explore our exotic farms and animals. Learn about (and taste) our local coffee, vanilla, honey, chocolate, macadamia nuts, and more. Animal lovers can also find e.g. a seahorse farm, a petting zoo and (exotic) animal sanctuaries. Read more about the Farm Tours on the Big Island.
Farmers markets are one of the little-known gems of the Big Island of Hawaii. They are spread over the whole island and with only a little planning you can stop by one for breakfast, lunch or souvenir shopping on your itinerary around the island. Read more about Farmers Markets on the Big Island.
By far the most popular tourist destination on the Big Island is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Here you can hike over recently solidified lava fields, take hikes through rain and fern forests that make you feel like you are in Jurassic park, see the lava glow at night from the Jaggar Museum, and much more! Read more about the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The Big Island is known as the golf capital of the state, and Kona is in the heart of it. Some of the biggest names in course design have carved championship golf courses into the island that will call you back to the green – again and again. Read more about Golfing on the Big Island.
The Big Island hides many of its awe-inspiring wonders behind obstacles that are impassable and are impossible to see – except through the air! Think about the hidden waterfalls or fresh lava flows, and what about the lava lakes in the Halema’uma’u and Pu’u O’o craters the Kilauea volcano? Read more about taking a helicopter tour on the Big Island.
The Big Island hosts some GREAT hikes through barren lava fields, lush rainforests or to secluded beaches. Or do you feel like hiking through a crater that was filled with lava only 50 years ago? That is also possible! Read more about Hiking on the Big Island.
Several ranches around Waimea offer the opportunity to explore their (often very large) range as part of a guided tour of the pastures with spectacular views of the coastline and peaks. It is also possible to make it off the range and explore other spectacular parts of the island, such as Waipi’o valley. Learn more about horseback riding on the Big Island.
There are several hot springs / hot ponds in the Puna district on the east coast of the Big Island. Most are publicly accessible and especially if you are staying more than 7 days on the Big Island, these make a great addition to your itinerary! Learn more about hot ponds on the Big Island.
Both Hilo and Volcano Village are well suited to use as a base when you want to go and see the lava. Hilo is closer to the lava flows in Kalapana, while Volcano village is literally around the corner of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Read more about lava viewing on the Big Island.
Exploring lava tubes is a great way to get to know more about the volcanic processes that continue to shape the Big Island, especially when there is no lava flowing on the surface. Because they are easy to access and have a fascinating formation history (rivers of lava!) they are a perfect family outing, but more hard-core multiple-hour spelunking guided tours are also possible. Read more about exploring lava tubes.
Luau and Hula Performances
A Luau show is a good way to experience local food and culture, but there are more (and cheaper) ways to do so. Read about all your options to experience Hawaiian culture in Luau and Hula shows on the Big Island.
Manta-Ray Night Snorkel + Dive
The famous Kona Manta Ray Night Dive is one of the most memorable dives around the planet and is one of the activities in Hawaii that you shouldn’t miss. Read more about the Manta Ray night dive.
Our guide is filled to the brim with information on how, where, and when to see the mantas, but we also recommend a few manta ray tours. The following is one of our favorites because of their manta-friendly approach and good price/quality ratio (which explains why they get such stellar reviews):
Sunset Manta Ray Snorkeling Tour
Snorkel adventure on a 45-foot luxury trimaran to see the majestic manta rays at the world-famous "Manta Village" location in Keauhou (south Kona).
Duration: 2 hours
By: Sea Paradise
Free cancellation: up to 24 hours before tour
Having a picnic is an easy and fun way to add value to your excursions. By packing a cooler with cold drinks and snacks you can fit a picnic in between the activities you plan in the morning and the afternoon, saving time and money and adding an experience. Read more about picnicking on the Big Island.
A small detour to your destination can often open up a whole new face of the Big Island. These scenic drives are made to show some of the beautiful places on the Big Island that you would have missed if you rushed from destination to destination. Read more about Scenic drives on the Big Island.
Scuba diving in Hawaii is a great way to get away from the crowds and enjoy the Big Island underwater paradise on your own. The underwater world around all Hawaiian Islands is a #1 destination for Scuba divers worldwide. Read more about Big Island Scuba Diving.
Hawaii is famous for its warm tropical waters and extremely diverse marine life. The waters around the Big Island are teeming with tropical fish of every size and color, and snorkeling is the perfect way to explore this beautiful underwater world. Read more about Snorkeling on the Big Island.
Stargazing and the Mauna Kea summit
Hawaii is one of the world’s best places for stargazing, and there are many stargazing options that fit in your itinerary on the Big Island; from a (free) nighttime picnic to an adventurous visit to the world-class telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea. Read more about Stargazing on the Big Island.
Joining a stargazing tour is a good solution for people that do want to go to the Maunakea summit to see the sunset and then go stargazing, but don’t want to drive the perilous road to the summit or go through the hassle of organizing a 4×4. If that sounds like you have a look at the following tour, which ee highly recommend because it is led by knowledgeable and interpretive guides that respect the local customs and habits.
Mauna Kea summit and stars experience
A stargazing journey from sea level to the nearly 14,000 foot summit of Maunakea reveals the wonders and world-class clarity of the Hawaiian night sky. This tour lets you see the sunset among some of the world's best telescopes and then takes you for a private star show at 9000 ft. with an 11” Celestron telescope.
Duration: 7 to 8 hours
Free cancellation: up to 48 hours before tour
Stand up paddle surfing (SUP) or, in the Hawaiian language, Hoe he’e nalu, is an emerging global sport with a Hawaiian heritage. Kona and Hilo both offer SUP board rentals and lessons and are great places to try out SUPping. Read more about SUP.
Seeing and/or swimming with Dolphins
Swimming with the dolphins on the Big Island can be done by people of all ages and swimming skills. Those that have done it describe it as an unforgettable experience that will leave you with memories for a lifetime. Do not forget to take your (waterproof) camera. Read more about swimming with dolphins on the Big Island.
Seeing dolphins and going snorkeling are two activities that go very well together, and there are many tour operators offering dolphin swim and snorkel tours. We really like the following 4.5 hour snorkeling tour that takes you to one of our favorite but difficult to reach snorkeling spots on the island, has a dolphin guarantee (or come again for free), and has you back in time for lunch:
Deluxe Snorkel BBQ & Dolphin Watch
Step aboard a 65’ Catamaran for a fun-filled day of adventure! This 4.5 hour cruise offers breakfast, BBQ lunch, plenty of shade, cushioned seating, restrooms, changing rooms, showers, high-dive platform, 20’ water slide, snorkel gear, Rx masks, snorkel instruction, life vests, inner tubes, flotation station island, water toys, sea-view boards, stand-up paddle boards, noodles and Reef Safe® sunscreen.
Duration: 4.5 hours
By: Body Glove
Free cancellation: up to 48 hours before tour
Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing and the Big Island offers surfing for all levels. If you have never experienced the thrill of riding a wave but want to you should try signing up for a surfing class at a local surf school. Read more about surfing on the Big Island.
One way to have fun AND do good at the same time is to become a volunteer on Hawaii. Giving something back to mother nature is guaranteed to be a memorable experience and, besides, it will take you into the wilderness that few other visitors (and locals for that matter) will ever experience! Read more about the volunteering opportunities on the Big Island.
The lush and tropical north and east coast (Hilo, Hamakua coast, Waipi’o Valley) of the Big Island are filled with waterfalls. We list the 5 most easily accessible, biggest and most popular waterfalls. Read more about waterfalls on the Big Island.
Hawaii is a great place to go whale watching during in the period between December and May, and the Big Island is one of the most popular Hawaiian Islands for Whale watching. Read more about whale watching on the Big Island.
Ziplining is an activity where you are attached with a harness to a rope that is strung between a high and a low point. The zip lines are built high above scenic areas and features such as ravines, jungles, meadows, and forests, and there are plenty of those on the Big Island. Read more about Ziplining on the Big Island.