lava boat tour sees lava flowing into the ocean at the Big Island of Hawaii

Big Island Highlights: our tips to make your trip to Hawaii unforgettable

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The Big Island is the largest and most exciting of all Hawaiian islands. The island stills grows every day because of its #1 tourist attraction (which also happens to be one of the most active volcanoes in the world): the Kilauea volcano.

The Big Island is an island with so much beautiful nature and so many cool activities that it is almost impossible to fit everything in your vacation – even if you stay more than a month! That is why we give you our personal  highlights for the Big Island: as an efficient way to get to know our favorites of Hawaii.

The Big Island in a (coco) nutshell:

The Big Island is officially known as the island of Hawai’i. The Big Island deserves this name because of its surface area, which is larger than the land surface area of all other Hawaiian island combined! The Big Island is also the largest island of the United States.

Despite these impressive figures the state of Hawai’i (all islands taken together) actually is pretty small. There are only 3 states (Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island ) with less land surface than the aloha state. Yet, our “small” Big Island is home to 8 / 13 of the climate zones in the world, and there are many fun, exciting and accessible activities possible for you to explore it.

The following video is a great introduction to many of our favorite spots, and includes footage of: Waipi’o valley, Akaka falls, Rainbow falls, the Kona coast, Mauna Kea, Pololu valley, dolphins, a manta ray, and much more. Video credits go to Tyler Fairbank from Light Owl Productions.

The 185.000 inhabitants of the Big Island (which is only 13% of the total population of the state of Hawaii, 2010 census) mostly live in and around the two large population centers in the island: Hilo (the capital) on the east coast, and Kona on the west coast.

If you are interested in reading more about Hawai’i we recommend the following two pages: One with 3 reasons why we think the Big Island is so incredible impressive, and  the other with 40+ facts about Hawai’i.

Our favorite beaches on the Big Island

If you like beaches you are in luck. The Big Island is a true paradise, and has quite some amazing white, black, and green sand beaches!

Our hands-down favorite beaches on the Big Island are Hapuna and Mauna Kea beach (white sand), Punalu’u beach (black sand + turtles!), and Papakōlea (green sand). Read more about these beaches in the following guides:

Do you want to know where black and green sand come from? Easy: lava and crystals! Read more about why the sand is white/green/black on these favorite Big Island beaches.

Popular activities on the Big Island

The Big Island spans 8 out of the world’s 13 climate zones and the activities you can enjoy here are almost as distinct. Our personal favorite things to do for the Big Island are the following:

First of all, there is of course the lava. You can also snorkel over tropical reefs and enjoy a sunset snowball fight on the summit of Mauna Kea a few hours later. And then there is, of course, the unforgettable Manta Ray night dive. Read more about these 4 fantastic activities in our guides linked below:

Local food and snacks

Many people tend to forget about the culinary side of their vacation, which is a real shame! The Big Island is one destination where you should do anything to avoid that trap because food here can be so different from what you can find on the mainland.

It is easy (and tasty!) to find local food in restaurants, farmers markets, supermarkets or, at the source, the farm/orchard.

Malasadas (Portuguese sugared fried dough snacks) are a tasty snack for when you are on the road. The combination of Kalua pig with one of the many locally produced microbrews never gets old, and don’t leave the Big Island without a taste of one of the world’s most famous coffees: Kona coffee.

“Must Do” activities in Kona, Hilo, Volcano and Waimea

These are our “local flavor” unmissable activities for each of the four largest cities on the Big Island: Hilo, Kailua Kona, Volcano Village and Waimea.

Kailua Kona highlights

While in Kona make sure to connect with the ancient history of the Hawaiians. Make a visit (or two) to some of the petroglyph sites near Kona:

If you are sending more time in Kona you can try out some of our 5 favorite things to do in Kona.

Waimea highlights

While in Waimea try to plan a visit the Big Island Brewhaus in Waimea for good Mexican food and homemade beer. Highly recommended after for example visiting the breathtaking cliffs of Waipi’o valley:

Read more about our favorite things to do in Waimea.

Volcano Village highlights

If there is only one thing you can do in Volcano Village the choice is simple. The Hawaii Volcanoes national park is for us without question the only “must visit” attraction on the Big Island!

If have have more time to spend in our favorite town on the Big Island you should have a look at our list of things to do in Volcano Village.

Hilo highlights

A visit to Hilo isn’t complete without a stop at the Hilo farmers market for souvenirs and tasty food. Pick up some lunch for on the road, when you are taking one of the incredibly scenic drives close by.

Hilo is a big city, and if you spend more time in the area you should try to see more of our Hilo favorites.