hilo, big island, downtown

Downtown Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii

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Hilo is the capital of the Big Island and lies on the windward (East) side of the Island. This is the rainy side on all Hawaiian islands and rainfall here averages 140 inches annually. This makes the Hilo district tropical and lush, and fills the surrounding (rain)forests with colorful flowers and waterfalls.

Our guide to Hilo is structured as follows:

Hilo is not your typical tourist town but very easy to fall in love with. It is rainy and charming, tropical and laid back. People here are friendly, and time here seems run just a bit slower than on the Kona side of the island. Hilo is our favorite city on the Big Island.

Hilo Hawaii
Aerial view of Hilo Bay and Downtown Hilo

Hilo (Hawaii): students, culture, orchids, and capital of the Big Island

Next to being the Big Island capital Hilo also is the largest city on the island. With a population of almost 45.000 it is 3.3 times as big as Kailua Kona and is home to more than 23% of all residents of the island of Hawai’i.

Hilo is home the University of Hawaii Hilo campus  whose students and staff form about 10% of all of Hilo’s inhabitants. This gives parts of Hilo the vibe of a college town, with its own special atmosphere.

Hilo also is considered the Cultural capital of the island. Historic buildings, two recent tsunami’s, and a heritage of the old plantations days set the scene. You’ll want to check the galleries and museums in downtown Hilo and don’t miss the farmers market every Wednesday and Saturday.

Did you know that Hilo is the Orchid Capital of the world? The Lush climate on this side makes it the perfect place for cultivating orchids. If you look around you might see a few in the ‘wild’ yourself.

A good local resource about Hilo with often updated local events and information is downtownhilo.

Activities in and around Hilo

There are plenty of things to do in Hilo to spend a day or two. You can go see waterfalls, visit a few museums, check out the zoo, among other things. Read more information on our page dedicated to activities in Hilo.

Outside Hilo there is also plenty of action for the outdoors-minded visitor:

Activities north of Hilo (Hāmākua coast):

North of Hilo the lush Hāmākua coast stretches out, with many scenic routes, canyons, and waterfalls that can easily keep you mesmerized for the day. Closer by, there are many easily accessible spectacular waterfalls and lush rainforest trails to pick, of which the Rainbow Falls and “Boiling Pots” are the most famous.

Activities south of Hilo (Puna district)

South of Hilo you can find the Puna district. This is the newest part of the island which is visible from the wild nature and high volcanic activity.

In the middle of Puna you find the picturesque old hippie town of Pahoa. Plan a day in Puna to see a few extremely scenic drives between quaint beach parks,  dip in hot ponds heated by the volcano, and see lava flowing into the sea (of course, only when the flow is active).

Activities west of Hilo (Volcano Village)

Volcano Village and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are a 40 minute drive to the south-west away from Hilo.

Both deserve an important role in your itinerary if you are interested in active volcanoes and some of the magical rainforest on the Big Island.

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Directions to Hilo:

Hilo is the landing place for many visitors to the Big Island through the Hilo International Airport. All the main rental car agencies have an office at the airport, but it is also possible to leave the airport by bus (hele-on bus).

Kailua-Kona (86 miles, 2 hr 20 min), Waimea (55 miles, 1 hr 20 minutes), Pahoa (20 miles, 35 minutes) and Volcano Village (30 miles, 50 min) are all easily reachable by car. (back to top)

hilo, big island, downtown
Hilo as seen from the ocean looking towards downtown. Adapted from original image by Prayitno on Flickr, published under a CC BY 2.0 license.


With an average rainfall of 140 inches annually, a light raincoat is not a luxury. However, the rain here has the courtesy to wait mostly for the evening, and weeks without rainfall (during the day) are common. (back to top)

Local Weather in Hilo:

Weather in Hilo is more humid and less sunny when compared to the rest of the Big Island. -But don’t worry to much about the weather! You will still be in the so-called “tropical United States”. If you want to see what this means for your visit to Hawaii (average temperature, hours of sunshine, cloudy days and precipitation) check out the monthly average weather for Hilo.

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Interactive Map of Hilo:

This is our map of Hilo with clickable icons. The icons denote information on this website about local activities, shops and vacation rentals. Clicking an icon will display more information. (back to top)

Are you looking for the map of another part of the Big Island? We also have interactive maps of  Volcano Village, Kona and Waimea!