The Big Island of Hawaii might be ‘BIG’ for Hawaiian standards but in absolute measure it is quite small. At the widest point, the island only measures 95 miles across!
Regardless, the Big Island is still almost twice as big as all other Hawaiian Islands combined. If you want to be in control of your own transport there is only one viable option to navigate around the Big Island: renting a car.
If for whatever good reason this is not an option for you there are a few alternatives. Our guide to getting around the Big Island takes you through the different options:
- Getting around with a rental car
- Getting around without a car:
- Flying between the Hawaiian islands
Getting around the Big Island with a rental car
Renting a car is one of the best investments to make if you want to get the most out of your time on the Big Island. Public transport here (see below) is not as efficient as on O’ahu, and some of the best Big Island attractions and activities are far away and difficult to get to without your own transport.
Note that even with a rental car some places are difficult/impossible to reach. Most rental car agencies, for example, forbid you from taking their cars to some places such as the summit of Mauna Kea (for stargazing) or to the Green Sand Beach.
How to get around the Big Island without renting a car
Renting a car is not the best choice for every visitor. If, for example, you don’t plan to travel around the island a lot, or if you are not used to driving on the right side of the road, you should consider other options to get out of the house/hotel. These options are using public transport, using shared ride /taxi services, or taking guided tours.
The public (Hele-on) bus service is an alternative if you have plenty of time and want to avoid (renting) a car.
The cheapest way to get around the Big Island after walking yourself is the public bus (Hele-on-Bus). This bus will get you to most places on the island, but transit times are long and connections infrequent. The Hele-on bus is meant to accommodate workers on the Big Island to get to and from work and consequently most of the bus departure times are early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
Taxi and shared ride programs
Shared ride services such as Uber and Lyft are currently (2016) not available on the Big Island, only on Oahu.
There are some taxis in Kona (list on yelp), and fewer in Hilo (list on yelp). You should not count on flagging one down on the street when needing one, but plan ahead and make a reservation to be picked up. Taxis on the Big Island are not cheap. Have a look at this list for a sample of fares from the Kona airport to ~20 locations.
In the Hilo area it is possible to use a flexible shared ride taxi program for as little as $2 per ride. Travel with the shared taxi ride program is restricted to within the Hilo urbanized areas and to 9 miles per ride which is quite restrictive. Although using this program is possible for tourists, it is far from practical for most visitors.
Taxi coupons have to be ordered ahead by mail in quantities of 5, 10 or 15 coupons, and a copy of your ID is required. See the shared taxi ride information page of Hawai’i county for more information.
Using guided tours
This is a good option if you plan to stay your whole vacation in one place and only would use your car to go sightseeing. What you lose in flexibility you gain in comfort, but make sure to know what the total costs will be. Especially for larger groups these can grow quickly when going on many tours.
Guided tours come in every form and shape, from bus tours and taxis to shuttle services and private limos. They are convenient because you don’t need to plan anything ahead of time and because food is often also provided.
Using these tours for sightseeing if you don’t have a car is easiest if you are staying in one of the larger hotels or resorts on the Kona coast. Before booking a tour make sure that you can be picked up at your hotel. If this isn’t possible, you should have a plan on how to get to the starting point of the tour before booking.
The downside of using tours for sightseeing without a rental car is a loss of flexibility. We highly recommend to book tours ahead of time, and if you cancel your tour last minute you might lose your deposit.
Traveling between the Hawaiian Islands
Many people choose to visit multiple Hawaiian islands during their visit. Popular Islands other than the Big Island are Oʻahu, Maui, and Kauaʻi. Planning the sequence in which you visit the islands smartly can often win you half a day in free time and also some money. Read more in our guide to inter-island flights.
Flying to Hawaii
The best tickets for your Hawaiian vacation often are found by picking the right time to visit and by finding the right (affordable) airfare. We have summarized our experience on these topics in our flying to Hawaii guide.