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.
- The Big Island is home to the tallest sea mountain and the largest volcano in the world, and has 8/13 climate zones! These are our Favorite Hawaiian Records.Continue reading about: 3 Good Reasons why the Big Island is so Impressive
- "Did you know" fact sheet for the Big Island. Collection of interesting facts, fun trivia and little-known gems of knowledge about Hawaii. Surprise yourself.Continue reading about: 40+ Big Island Facts and Trivia. Do you know them all?
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:
- Kauna'oa Beach (Mauna Kea Beach) is one of the prettiest white sand beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii. A family beach good for sunbathing and snorkeling.Continue reading about: Kauna’oa (Mauna Kea) Beach
- Punalu'u beach is the most famous black sand beach of Hawaii. It is easily accessible and great for swimming, snorkeling, coastal hikes and seeing turtles.Continue reading about: Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
- Guide to visiting Green sand beach (Papakōlea) on the Big Island, Hawaii. Driving directions and hiking tips for one of two(!) green sand beaches in the USA.Continue reading about: Green sand beach (Papakōlea)
- Hāpuna beach on the Big Island is consistently voted among the 'best beaches of the world' and our favorite. Activities, directions and local information.Continue reading about: Hāpuna White Sand Beach
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:
- Stargazing on MaunaKea DIY guide for the Big Island of Hawaii. Visit telescopes and see the sunset. Find (free) astronomy tours + Mauna Kea summit tours.Continue reading about: Stargazing on MaunaKea: DIY guide + summit tours
- The manta ray night dive (or snorkel) is our #1 favorite thing to do on the Kona coast. Guide with background + list of favorite tours on the Big Island.Continue reading about: Manta Ray night dive and snorkel (Kona coast)
- Snorkeling guide for the Big Island of Hawaii. Favorite snorkeling spots, where to rent or buy gear, learn how to find the fish, booking a tour, safety tips.Continue reading about: Snorkeling on the Big Island
- Guide to safely seeing lava yourself on the Big Island of Hawaii. Lava viewing In the Halema'uma'u crater (Kilauea Volcano) or close-up at the lava flows.Continue reading about: Lava viewing guide for the Big Island
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.
- List of farmers markets, directions and opening times on the Big Island of Hawaii. Find farmers markets near Hilo, Kona, Volcano village and Waimea.Continue reading about: Farmers Markets on the Big Island
- Guide for organizing a DIY Kona Coffee Tour on the Big Island of Hawaii. Learn how to visit, where the best farm tours are, what the best time is for a tour.Continue reading about: Kona Coffee Tours
- Hawaiian food is a mix from traditional local food and exotic dishes and crops introduced by immigrants. Learn about the many local snacks and specialties.Continue reading about: Get to know the local food in Hawaii
- Hawaiians love good beer, and know how to make it. Read about the three very good local breweries on the Big Island of Hawaii (as well as a beer festival)..Continue reading about: Big Island Beers – Delicious Hawaiian Brews
“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
If you are sending more time in Kona you can try out some of our 5 favorite things to do in Kona.
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.
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.
- The Hilo Farmers Market with 200+ local farmers and crafters is a must-visit when you are in Hilo. (+5 nearby farmers markets in Hilo, Pahoa, and Keaau).Continue reading about: The Hilo Farmers Market + 5 smaller farmers markets near Hilo
Hilo is a big city, and if you spend more time in the area you should try to see more of our Hilo favorites.