The Perfect 10 Day Big Island Itinerary

With diverse and rich ecosystems across the island, Hawaii’s Big Island has so much to offer. This is why this 10 day itinerary for the Big Island includes all of the best things to do on this tropical island. From hiking to exploring the marine life around the island, this big island adventure itinerary will create lifelong memories for you to enjoy. 

We start on the Kona (west) side exploring the many beautiful beaches and enjoying the prime snorkeling conditions of this side. The second half is spent in Hilo, the island’s largest city, but it is more focused on hiking and waterfalls, along with a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Follow along to learn exactly how to spend 10 days on the Big Island, and everything you need to know to have the best time exploring!

Laynie seen walking toward the Akaka Falls viewing platform
A must-see waterfall on the Big Island: Akaka Falls

When to Visit the Big Island

If you’re looking for beautiful sunny weather, Hawaii is great for this all year round. However, you will see more crowds from mid-December to March (as whale season is in full swing), and the most expensive pricing from June to August. 

If you visit during the wintertime, be advised that the waves can get pretty crazy, so swimming at the beaches may not be safe in certain conditions.

Visiting during spring or fall time will put you at ease when it’s less busy and prices are at their lowest. Hilo sees rain 275 days of the year, but it’s typically during the night. Still, it’s best to bring a light jacket and shoes with traction for potentially muddy conditions.

How to Get Around the Big Island

When traveling through the Hawaiian Islands, it’s heavily advised to get a rental car. Public transportation options are scarce, especially on the more remote Big Island. As the name implies, the Island of Hawaii is HUGE, so big that it can fit all of the other Hawaiian islands inside of it, so getting a rental car will give you the freedom to get around on your own. 

I would recommend getting a car from rentalcars.com, as they search for deals from multiple rental companies to offer tons of options for your trip. For this itinerary, I’d pick up your adventure-mobile in Kona and drop it off in Hilo (unless you are arriving and leaving from the Kona International Airport).

It is technically possible to visit the Big Island without a rental car, but it does limit your flexibility. Uber and Lyft are available in the more popular areas of the island, though it can take a while when waiting for a ride. If you’re still looking for how to save on a Big Island trip, you can also hitchhike or book tours with pickup.

There is a bus from Kona to Hilo as a budget option, but the schedule can be unpredictable or unfavorable. This itinerary assumes you’ll be traveling with your own vehicle.

A drone shot of a car driving down a country road in Kauai
Renting a car is the best way to explore everything Hawaii has to offer

Where to Stay on the Big Island

Kona side has more upscale resorts, but there are a few budget options as well. Here are some great places to book for the first 6 nights of your trip:

Hilton Waikoloa VillageHigh end resort, with full access to all of the pools and saltwater lagoon, on-site store and restaurants
Royal Kona ResortFound right on Kailua Bay, on-site restaurants, outdoor swimming pool, and saltwater lagoon, top-rated location for the area
My Hawaii HostelOffers shared dorms and privates for as low as $50/night, close to downtown Kona, with boogie boards and other amenities available
One of the beautiful pools at the Hilton Waikoloa Village
Upscale resorts like the Hilton Waikoloa Village can be found on the Kona side

Hilo is not known for it’s luxury hotels, but this is the spot where you’ll find more sustainable accommodation options that give back to Hawaii. Book your last 4 nights here:

SCP Hilo HotelLocated in the heart of Hilo, comfortable rooms with AC, outdoor swimming pool and dining on-site
The Inn at Kulaniapia FallsA natural escape in the Hawaiian nature, close to Kulaniapia Falls with tours available, locally-sourced breakfast every morning!
Big Island HostelOffers shared dorms and privates for as low as $60/night, 15 min walk to downtown Hilo, fully equipped kitchen and working space for digital nomads

Day 0: Checking In & Chilling Out

I’m not including the day of arrival since most flights will arrive later in the day, and the long flights and time change are not a great precursor to island adventuring. 

Check into your accommodation and take some time to relax in a new tropical environment. If you want to get a taste of the Kona area, head to Kamakahonu (King Kam) Beach, in the heart of downtown Kona. 

Day 1: Stunning Valleys & SUP

Since you’ll most likely be jetlagged when arriving in Hawai’i, we start day one off bright and early to check out one of the most beautiful spots on the Big Island: Pololu Valley

This iconic valley is about a 90-minute drive from Kona, so getting on the road early will help you beat the crowds and enjoy the spectacular views before the midday heat starts to hit. 

Some visitors simply go to the lookout and snap a few pictures before heading on their way, but the hike down to the beach can’t be missed. The hike is not long (about 25 minutes), but it is steep and can be slippery, so proper footwear is encouraged. 

A view from the Pololu Valley viewpoint
Visiting the best black sand beach on the Big Island requires a steep hike down the sea cliff

After you emerge from the jungle that surrounds the beach, take in the essence of the black sand beach at the bottom. With massive sea cliffs on either side, this is the best black sand beach on the Big Island. It’s important to note that you should not swim here as rip tides and high surf can make getting in the water dangerous if you’re not a good swimmer.

Make sure you pack an adequate amount of water for the hike back up as you scale the cliff back up to the lookout. There are no bathrooms at the lookout or the beach, and you can find the closest bathrooms about 10 minutes away at Keokea Beach Park. 

After taking in the views at Pololu Valley, start heading back towards Kona, and our next stop is about an hour from the viewpoint at the Hilton Waikoloa Village

While this resort town is known for luxury accommodations and big price tags, you can make a day trip here and enjoy all that it has to offer without paying for a night at the resort. A day pass for the Hilton Waikoloa Village is $100 and gives you access to all of their on-site pools and lagoons. 

Laynie chilling on a stand-up paddleboard in one of Hilton's lagoons
Grab a stand-up paddleboard and keep an eye out for sea turtles

The lagoon is a great place to go stand-up paddleboarding, as the waters are calm and clear for a relaxing time on the water. This is the best place to see turtles on the Big Island, and you’ll surely see plenty of them as you paddle along the lagoon. 

With a day pass, you get access to these amenities from 10 am to 5 pm, and the on-site restaurants are a great choice for lunch while basking in the tranquility of the village. There are trams that will take you around the resort at a moment’s notice.

Day 2: Beach Day & Night Snorkel

The second day will start at Kua Bay, also known as Manini’owali Beach. This beach boasts pristine white sand and picture-perfect conditions, making it a gorgeous addition to your Big Island itinerary. It’s best to arrive earlier as the beach can get crowded on the weekends and during peak season.

There are bathrooms, showers, and a lifeguard tower at the beach. Make sure to bring reef-safe sunscreen as there is very little shade at the beach. Ensuring the sunscreen is reef-safe is important as typical commercial sunscreens contain chemicals that are dangerous to the oceanic ecosystems.

A look at the pristine white sands of Kua Bay
Visit one of the most beautiful beaches on the Big Island: Kua Bay

The conditions at Kua Bay allow for snorkeling and boogie boarding- but be aware that as swells rise in the wintertime, it’s important to exercise caution during this time. Simply basking in the tropical sun is worthwhile on a visit to this beach.

In the evening, you’ll have the chance to experience the beloved manta ray night dive. This is a can’t-miss attraction on the Big Island, and the unforgettable nature of this activity will leave a lasting impression on your trip. 

Most tours set off from Kona, and after being provided with wetsuits and snorkeling gear, you’ll take a short (about 5 minutes or less) boat ride to Manta Village. Once you arrive, the guides will enter the water with a specially designed surfboard with bright lights that shine downward to the ocean floor.

These lights attract plankton, which the manta rays feed on. They first discovered the manta rays loved the bright lights of the resorts after they began popping up off the beach, and the lights from the buildings brought tons of rays to Manta Village! While wild animal sightings can never be 100% guaranteed, there are hundreds of rays that frequent this area because of the tours. Most tours also offer another free tour if you don’t see mantas.

Once you hop in the water, you’ll hold onto the board and lay face down while you wait for the gentle giants to arrive. These huge rays are not shy and may even brush up against you as they swim up to the board! 

A baby and mother manta ray feeding on the Big Island night dive
Get up close to these gentle giants in an ethical way!

Good to know: Do not reach out and touch the manta rays during the tour. It’s important to remember that they are still wild animals, and they should feel protected in their own environment. If you’re lucky, they will make contact with you on their own while they feed.

The cost for the night dive typically ranges from $100-150, and this tour from Viator is a great one to book as they are committed to bringing sustainable ocean experiences to their guests!

Day 3: Riding Waves & Downtown Kona

Hawai’i has a worldwide reputation for its excellent surfing conditions, and the Big Island is no exception! Banyans Beach is one of the best surf spots on the Big Island, frequented by locals, and has year-round conditions for surfing. 

Rainbow array of surfboards that say "Aloha"!
Embrace the spirit of Aloha through surfing

If you’ve never surfed before, no worries! Surf lessons can easily be booked online, and experienced surf instructors will be able to pick a perfect spot to go out and assess the conditions for your safety. Here’s a great tour to book:

Surfing is an adventurous sport, so preparing with plenty of hydration and sunscreen will help you enjoy your time on the water. 

After a morning of riding waves, head to downtown Kona for lunch! Papa Kona is a favorite among locals and tourists alike, with oceanfront views and nightly live music. Their menu is exceptional- they even have a Vegan Poke option for those looking to try out a local Hawaiian favorite. 

Next, you can spend some time exploring downtown Kailua-Kona! There are dozens of boutiques and souvenir shops, and the entire area is walkable. This area is the heart of the island’s west side, and I always grab a shaved ice before browsing the shops. You can also pick up a snorkel kit at the ABC store if you don’t have one already for tomorrow’s adventure!

Downtown Kona shops
Downtown Kona has a unique flair of island vibes in their shops and restaurants

Following an afternoon of shopping and perusing downtown, head to Magic Sands Beach where you can admire the sunset. This white sandy beach is rather popular amongst boogie boarders, but there is a rocky shoreline to be aware of before heading out. Magic Sands has a restaurant right on the beach that is a perfect dinner spot for you to check out, and I’ve even spotted whales from here during whale season!

Watching the sun go down from this stunning beach will conclude a third day of adventures.

Day 4: Connection To Hawaiian Culture

This morning will be spent at one of the best snorkeling spots in all of Hawaii: Honaunau Bay (better known as two-step beach). There is no actual beach here, so entry is required via the rocky ledge that leads into the water, and many people will also set up towels and chairs on the lava rock. 

Getting here early is essential to getting a parking spot and being able to bask in the sunny, clear conditions that the morning brings to the bay. Two-step opens at 7 am, and is about a 30-minute drive south of Kona, so leaving around 6:30 am should give you plenty of time to grab a parking space and hop in the water.

There are shallow coral groups along the shoreline where you can spot groups of fish and sea turtles, and if you swim a bit further out, you may be able to spot spinner dolphins or a reef shark!

Tropical fish that surround the reefs of Hawaii
Tropical fish are abundant in the reefs surrounding Hawaii

You can also visit the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park which is found just next to the bay to learn more about ancient Hawaiian history and the Kapu system. For lunch, head to South Kona Grindz for a delicious meal following a morning of ocean exploration. 

This evening, you’ll be immersed in Hawaiian culture with a Voyagers of the Pacific Luau. Sit back and enjoy stories of the Polynesian culture complete with a complimentary traditional Hawaiian dish and unlimited Mai Tais. The festivities and performances involved in the show allow you to connect deeper to the local culture and learn of the history of the Hawaiian islands.

A fire show at a traditional Hawaiian luau
Connect to Hawaiian culture through a luau with traditional meals like this one

This event at the Royal Kona Resort is only available Monday through Wednesday and Friday, so planning accordingly is essential to being able to experience this celebration of culture. Luckily, the first few days of this itinerary can easily be switched to accommodate your travel dates.

Day 5: Snorkeling & Coffee

Today you’ll explore another one of the Big Island’s stellar snorkeling spots, Captain Cook Monument. This bay boasts an abundant coral reef with sightings of tropical fish and other Hawaiian marine life offered here. However, it’s not easily accessible by car. 

Captain Cook Monument
Snorkeling at Captain Cook can’t be missed! Photo by Rosby

To get to Captain Cook Monument, you can:

  • Hike two miles down to the monument on a challenging trail (you’ll have to make the hike back up once you’ve finished exploring)
  • Rent a kayak and paddle to the monument (there are also kayaking tours that will take you here)
  • Take a boat tour with a snorkeling/scuba diving group

While it is possible to get to the monument on your own, choosing a tour may be in your best interest to be able to explore Kealakekua Bay comfortably. This tour is a top-rated option that will bring you to Captain Cook from Kona:

Once you’ve been able to revel in the marine diversity that Captain Cook Monument shows off, grab lunch at Shaka Tacoz and feast on some delicious Mexican cuisine while overlooking the ocean from their outdoor patio dining space.

Kona Coffee is famous, so exploring the coffee farms of the area is a must while on the Kona side. There are dozens of farms you can find in the area to visit, but the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation offers free tours every half-hour from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm every day. Here, you’ll learn about how the coffee is grown and processed, but you can also opt for the paid self-guided tour of three lava tubes found along their nature trail. 

Day 6: Green Sands & Travel to Hilo

This is where your Kona adventures conclude as you begin the drive to the east side of the island. There are many ways to get to Hilo from Kona, but this route will take you past the lava fields and along the south coast to the Big Island’s most unique beach.

The Papakolea Green Sand Beach is about 90 minutes south of Kona, and arriving early is integral to beating the crowds. Check out of your accommodation early and start heading south. 

You’ll pass the Coffee Shack along the way, a perfect spot to pick up breakfast before your journey to the beach. Make sure you check out their patio that overlooks the lush greenery that leads to the ocean and don’t miss the handmade sustainable products that they sell in the shop.

Overlook (from the coffee shack) of the Big Island jungle leading to the ocean
Check out this view from the coffee shack!

Once you arrive at the parking lot, you can get started on the 2.7-mile hike to the beach. The trail is not very challenging and mostly flat, but there is no natural shade and it can get very hot, so arriving early is in your best interest to avoid the heat. Packing plenty of water, sunscreen, and sporting comfortable shoes is crucial, especially because you will need to hike down to the beach once you reach the end of the trail. 

Some locals hang out around the beginning and end of the trail that you can hitch a ride with if you aren’t up for the trek, and they’ll typically charge about $20 (per person) each way to take a bumpy ride to and from the beach.

The green sand beach of Big Island, Hawaii on a sunny day

This beach is one of only four green sand beaches in the world, and it adds to the Big Island’s massive diversity of environments. The waves here can get pretty big, so boogie boarding here is popular, but it’s important to exercise caution as these conditions can quickly become threatening.

After basking in the sun at the green sand beach, you’ll begin the 2-hour drive west to Hilo. You can stop for lunch at the Aloha Mix Food Truck Cafe, with outdoor picnic-style eating and a diverse menu including the delicious and natural acai bowls. 

Once you arrive in Hilo and check into your accommodation, this is your time to chill after an early start and many days of exploration. If you’d rather relax beachside, head to Coconut Island. Most of the beaches in and around Hilo are either black sand beaches or simply grassy patches before the rocky shoreline, but Coconut Island has two sandy beaches where the waters are calm. 

View from bridge to Coconut Island
Local kids love hanging out at Coconut Island! Photo by Lisa

For dinner, check out Pineapples! Both locals and tourists love this spot for their delectable dining choices and live music. Our first day exploring the Hilo area will start early, so get a good night’s sleep to prepare.

Day 7: Mountain Exploration

Your first full day in Hilo will be spent exploring the Big Island’s tallest peak: Mauna Kea! This is actually the tallest mountain in the world from base to peak, but most of it is underwater. Here, you’ll be able to see yet another new ecosystem of the Big Island. The alpine climate sees snow at the summit in the cooler parts of the year- not what you’d expect for a tropical island vacation!

The sunset from Mauna Kea Summit
Mauna Kea sunsets are not to be missed

There are a few ways to enjoy Mauna Kea. You can choose to brave the mountain yourself, firstly via a steep 12-mile hike. This is the more challenging option, and will probably take up most of your day. Alternatively, you can drive to the summit with a 4-wheel drive to brave the wild road to the top. However, check with your rental company beforehand; some companies do not allow you to drive all the way to the summit. 

Luckily, you don’t have to do it yourself, and this tour will bring you up to the Mauna Kea summit for sunset before stargazing, while informing you of the history and culture behind the mountain.

Day 8: Waterfalls Galore

This day is all about waterfalls, and there are plenty on the Hilo side of the island! For thrill-seekers, there’s a zipline tour over Umauma Falls– our first stop of the day. If you’re not up for this, you can simply admire the falls from the viewing point. You can grab a self-guided tour at the visitor’s center for $12 per person. 

After witnessing the three cascades of Umauma Falls, we’ll head on to the most popular waterfall on the Big Island, Akaka Falls. Admission to the state park is $5 per car, and parking is $10. After parking, you’ll take a short hike through the rainforest leading to the viewpoint. 

You’ll quickly see why this waterfall is a must-see activity on the Big Island. The dramatic waterfall is 422 feet high, and surrounded by lush greenery that truly highlights the tropical nature of this part of the island- the view is breathtaking!

Lush rainforest surrounds one of the best waterfalls on the Big Island
Akaka Falls is surrounded by iconic Big Island greenery

Your next stop will be just a stone’s throw from the falls at Krishna Cow Sanctuary. They offer a unique Big Island experience: cow cuddling therapy. When I tell you this is even cuter than it sounds, I mean it. Krishna’s is a beautiful place, built on rescuing cows and treating them with love, which is very important to me as a conscious traveler. For $20, you can cuddle with the cows with no time limit!

Grab lunch at Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill on the way back to Hilo, where our final stop will be! Rainbow Falls is found in Hilo Town itself, making it super easy to visit- you can even see it from the parking lot. The falls are free to visit, and you can take a short hike to the main viewpoint through the tropical vegetation where you’ll pass tons of stunning Banyan trees.

Rainbow Falls in Hilo, Big Island
Rainbow Falls is easily accessible from Hilo

After our final waterfall, hang out at Carlsmith Beach Park, boasting calm waters that are perfect for snorkeling. This is another great place to see sea turtles on the Big Island and will remind you of the unique formation of the island with its lava rocks that lead into the beach. 

Day 9: Volcanoes!

I’m not gonna lie, this day is gonna blow your mind!

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park showcases the unbelievable volcanic environment that created the Big Island. As the youngest of the Hawaiian islands, the island of Hawai’i is made up of 5 volcanoes, and the park’s Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes bring millions of visitors each year. Needless to say, this is an extremely popular Big Island experience. 

From Hilo, the park entrance is only about a 40-minute drive, and there’s a $30 entrance fee per car, but it’s valid for 7 days in case you have more time and want to continue exploring the park- because seriously, there are so many cool and interesting things to discover here! Stop at the Tuk Tuk Thai Food Truck just before the park’s entrance for some fuel before a full day of volcano exploration. 

If you just have today, though, this is how I would see all of the can’t-miss spots on your Hawaii Volcanoes National Park itinerary:

  • Kilauea Visitor Center: Start the day off with a visit to the visitor center for information on the current volcanic activity and trail conditions (volcanoes are unpredictable so conditions are constantly changing!)
  • Drive along Crater Rim Drive: Take this road around the park, with the first stop being at the Steaming Bluff to admire the steam vents created from the heat of the magma below the surface of the rocks
  • Kilauea Overlook: The dramatic views of the Kilauea Caldera will amaze you as you look out over this fascinating volcanic environment
  • Kilauea Iki Trail & Crater Rim Trail: Start this 3.2-mile loop trail going counterclockwise, down to the Thurston Lava Tube to traverse this incredible force of nature that was formed from flowing lava, then through the lush rainforest to cross the solid lava lake, where you can relish in the unique volcanic history
Overlook of the Kilauea Caldera at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Being in the park feels like being on another planet- Photo by Kim

Make sure to check the national park site for updates on the current lava flow at the park, you may just be able to catch an unforgettable moment on your trip. Seeing the lava as Kilauea erupted on my trip was one of my favorite experiences on my trip to the Big Island (second only to the manta dive, of course). 

An eruption from Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is unique and fascinating

With so many things to see at the park and tons of history to discover, taking a tour of the park like this one is an easy way to see the best spots and learn more about the extraordinary history and natural occurrences of the park and the island.

Day 10: Saying “Aloha” to the Big Island

Your final day on the Big Island will surely be a bittersweet one as you prepare to leave this island that will leave an impression on you for years to come. You may only have limited time on your last day if your flight from Hilo leaves early to mid-day, or if you have to make the drive back to Kona.

If you still have time after these caves, hang out around downtown Hilo. The town has a more laid-back vibe than the touristy Kona area, and you can grab a bite to eat at Moon and Turtle, an Asian-fusion restaurant with a menu that changes daily!

If you have some more time, you can add Kaumana Caves on to spend your last day on the Big Island discovering more of its natural diversity. This cave system is just 10 minutes from Hilo, where you can hike down to the jaw-dropping entrance of the cave which was formed by lava flow. These caves are slippery, so shoes with proper traction are recommended for this unique Big Island experience.

Inside the Kaumana Caves of the east side of the Big Island
The Kaumana Caves give more insight into the interesting makeup of the Big Island

When it’s time to return the rental car and head to the airport, say “Aloha” to your Big Island adventures and start planning your next adventure!

In Case You Don’t Have 10 Days:

This itinerary can be adjusted easily for however much time you have on the Big Island. If you don’t have 10 days, I’d recommend staying in Kona and picking out your favorite experiences from this itinerary! Some essentials to see would be:

  • Manta Ray Night Dive
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  • Pololu Valley
  • Papakolea Green Sand Beach
  • Akaka Falls State Park

Day tours can be an easy way to hit all of these spots without too much planning, so you can consider booking some of the Big Island’s best-rated tours:

Essentials For Your Big Island Packing List:

For your adventures, this are the best options for exploring the Big Island:

  • Insulated water bottle: Getting a water bottle that can keep your drinks cold is perfect for a tropical vacation, and a filtered water bottle can be used worldwide for safe drinking water on many trips to come
  • Reef-safe sunscreen: Using reef-safe sunscreen is necessary for protecting the ocean and your skin
  • Snorkel Set: Owning your own snorkel kit will help you avoid the stress of rentals and end up saving you money after just a few uses
  • Swimsuits: Of course, you’ll have to pack tons of swimsuits for all of the wonderful beaches and snorkeling there is to see on the Big Island
  • Reliable hiking sandals: Having shoes that are durable for trekking through terrain will make your trips more safe and comfortable, and Teva’s are the way to go for warm climates like Hawaii
  • Beach Towel: With all of the ocean expeditions on this trip, make sure to pack a quick-drying beach towel- these ones are adorable and convenient
  • Bug Repellent: In tropical environments like Hawaii, this will be a lifesaver for you. This option is natural, plant-based, and suited for carry-on
  • Sunglasses: Though Hawaii is blessed with warmth and sun year-round, keeping some sunglasses on you will protect your eyes and keep you stylish

You can’t do Hawaii in just 10 days, so when you’re ready to plan your next island adventure, check out my other Hawaii travel guides!

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