Big Island 5-Day Itinerary
The Big Island is the largest and youngest Hawaiian Island. Here you can find diverse landscapes, active volcanoes, lush rainforests, scenic white sand beaches, black sand beaches, and more. This Big Island 5-day itinerary offers the perfect mix of relaxing and exploring, ensuring that you see the best of the Big Island. If you are looking to spend more time relaxing, you can always add a couple days to your trip and spend it near Kona where you can find sunnier weather and white sand beaches.
How to Get to the Big Island
The Big Island has two airports flights to and from the other Hawaiian Islands and mainland United States: Hilo (ITO) and Kona (KOA). Kona is a bigger airport with more flight options so I recommend flying here. You can search for flights on Skyscanner to find the cheapest flight days. The easiest way to find great flight deals to the Big Island is to sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights which will send flight deal notifications to Hawaii and other destinations directly to your email.
How Many Days Should You Spend on the Big Island?
As the name suggests, the Big Island is “big” compared to the other Hawaiian Islands. Therefore, I recommend spending at least 5 days if you want to see and do the highlights on the Big Island. There is never a shortage of activities, so if you have more time you can spend it snorkeling, relaxing on the beach, hiking, and more. The Big Island has many lookouts that are a short walk from the parking lot, making it easy to explore certain places quickly compared to other islands that have longer hikes to get to lookouts.
Tips for Visiting the Big Island
- The best way to explore the Big Island is to rent a car and do a road trip. Make sure to rent a car in advance on Discover Cars as rental cars can sell out on the island and prices often increase last minute.
- Book guided activities for your 5 days on the Big Island in advance on Viator. One experience you cannot miss while visiting the Big Island is night snorkeling with Manta Rays. It is important to book the snorkeling with Manta Rays far in advance before the tour can sell out, especially during the summer months.
- The Big Island has a wet season (November through March) and a dry season (April through October). The best time to visit is during the shoulder season (April-May and September-October) when the weather is good but there are less crowds. If you visit during the winter you can still have a great trip! Just be prepared for rain and don’t expect sunny skies, especially if you are on the east side of the island.
- The weather on the Big Island can vary widely due to elevation changes, trade winds, and other island conditions. Bring layers! and always have a rain jacket nearby if you want to stay dry.
- The sunniest part of the Big Island is the Kohala Coast (west side of the island). If you are looking to relax on the beach, you will want to do so in this area. The east side of the island is known as the wet side and gets significantly more rain.
5 Things You Need for Your Big Island Adventure
- Snorkel Gear: There are amazing places to snorkel on the Big Island where you can see unique fish. Bring your own snorkel set and find different snorkeling spots throughout the island.
- Beach Towel: This beach towel is perfect for your Big Island 5-day itinerary as it is light, drys quickly, and is super thin.
- Dry Bag: This dry bag is a must for your trip to the Big Island! You can put your valuables in it when you get caught in the rain or use it to store your valuables when participating in water activities.
- Rain Jacket: Certain areas of the Big Island are known to get a lot of rain, especially Hilo and the area near Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. As it can get windy, an umbrella will be difficult to use. Instead, make sure to bring a rain jacket so you can stay dry and continue exploring this Big Island.
- Reusable Water Bottle: Make sure to check if the water is drinkable at your accommodation as in some areas such as Volcano the water may be rain water. If this is the case, usually the Airbnb or hotel will have drinking water available that you can fill up. Bring a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the trip.
Big Island 5-Day Itinerary
Day 1: Explore Beaches in North Kona, Mauna Kea Drive
Arrive in Kona the day before if possible so you have a full day to explore. Base yourself near Kona for the first couple of nights before driving to Volcano.
Explore Beaches Near Kona: Relax, Swim and Snorkel
Start your day with breakfast in Kona and then head to ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach. This scenic beach can get busy so make sure to get there early. Then continue driving north to snorkel at a top destination. Beach 69 has incredible snorkeling opportunities with unique fish and clear water. Make sure to buy snorkel gear ahead of time so you can use it throughout your trip. Another nice beach that is great for swimming in the summer is Hapuna Beach.
There are many beaches on the Big Island that are beautiful and worth visiting, but one that you cannot miss on your Big Island 5-day itinerary is Mauna Kea Beach. This is a public beach located at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel where you will need to get a free parking pass (first come first serve). This picturesque beach is beautiful and a great place to enjoy a nice swim.
Mauna Kea Volcano
Mauna Kea is a dormant shield volcano and the highest mountain on earth at 33,476 ft above its base on the ocean floor. The exposed part of Mauna Kea is 13,796 ft. Since the elevation increases significantly as you drive up Mauna Kea, it will get colder so make sure to bring layers.
Mauna Kea is a great spot to watch the sunset and stargaze. You can drive to the visitor center on Mauna Kea on your own. If you would like to visit the top of Mauna Kea, I recommend booking a tour that will take you the top with a 4×4 vehicle, as most rental car companies don’t allow cars on the Mauna Kea Summit Road.
If you choose to do a tour to the top of Mauna Kea, make sure to book the tour ahead of time on Viator so that you don’t miss out! This Mauna Kea Tour takes you to the summit of the Big Island’s tallest peak with a 4×4 van and includes dinner. You will also get to enjoy stargazing on Mauna Kea using a telescope.
Day 2: Kona Coffee Farm, Snorkel, Manta Rays
Eat Breakfast with a View
Start your day with breakfast at The Coffee Shack with a view of the Kona Coast and Kealakekua Bay. Admire the big avocado tree and enjoy ocean views while getting energized for the day.
Tour a Coffee Farm in Kona
An activity that you must do on your Big Island 5-day itinerary is visit a Kona Coffee Farm. Kona Coffee is grown on a small 30-mile stretch on the western side of the Big Island and only makes up 1% of the coffee grown in the world. Greenwell Farms offers free coffee farm tours between 9 am and 3 pm, every half hour to one hour. The guide talks about the history, farming and processing of coffee and after the tour you will have a chance to taste different coffee. The tours are usually between 45-60 minutes and you can sample coffee before and/or after the tour. If you are interested in visiting additional coffee farms, Heavenly Hawaiian Kona Coffee Farm is another popular spot that has cheap tours.
Snorkel at Two Step
Two Step is a popular snorkeling spot with very clear water. You can park on the street near the volcanic rock and bring your snorkel gear with you. There is not a great spot to sit and relax, so spend your time snorkeling here instead. You can bring your car key in a dry bag with you. Two step is one of the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island with diverse fish and coral. From the outside all you can see is volcanic rock, but I promise it is worth entering the water and snorkeling!
View the Captain Cook Monument from this scenic bay. If you are interested in snorkeling more, checkout the nearby Manini Beach. This beach is a great spot if you are traveling with a group where some people want to relax and some people want to snorkel.
Snorkel with Manta Rays
Snorkeling with Manta Rays is an unforgettable experience you can’t miss on your Big Island 5-day itinerary. Manta Rays can have a wing span of 20 ft and can weigh up to 3,000 pounds. It is important to book your Manta Ray night snorkeling experience in advance so that you don’t miss out. Make sure to consider the season when booking a tour. Manta Rays prefer warm weather and calm water, so you are most likely to see Manta Rays in the summer near the Big Island. We visited in July and saw several Manta Rays with unique patterns and different sizes throughout our snorkeling experience. You can book Manta Ray night snorkeling tours on Viator where you have the flexibility to cancel up to 24 hours before for a full refund.
Each company has a different flotation device that the people on the tour hold onto. There are lights on the bottom of the flotation device that attract plankton which is what the Manta Rays eat. They have a good memory so they remember that’s where the food is typically and return nightly. The tour company will take you on a short cruise to the Manta Ray site. I recommend bringing your own snorkel gear, although the company will lend you snorkel gear if you don’t have any. Don’t forget to bring your waterproof camera for this memorable experience!
Day 3: Drive from Kona to Volcano with Stops at Lookouts, Akaka Falls State Park, Botanical Garden
Scenic Drive Along North Part with Lookout Stops
Before exploring the north part of the Big Island, get breakfast at Kona Haven Coffee with an ocean view. There are several spots that are worth stopping at while driving from Kona to Volcano along the north part of the island. Drive to Pololū Valley Lookout where you can hike down to a secluded black sand beach or enjoy the views from a short hike part way down. Road tripping here lets you see the diverse landscapes of the Big Island.
Next, drive to Waipio Valley Lookout, where you can see a view of the valley and black sand beach below. During the rainier months, you will also be able to see waterfalls down the cliffs.
Akaka Falls State Park
Continue driving towards Hilo, and stop at Akaka Falls State Park. Here there is a scenic 0.4 mile loop that takes you to views of Kahuna Falls and the popular 442 ft Akaka Falls. Don’t forget to pay the parking fee!
Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden
Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden is a breathtaking garden with over 2,500 plant species. The trail is only about 1.25 miles long but you will want time to enjoy the garden and take pictures. Make sure to arrive in time to have at least one hour to explore. You can also enjoy great views of the coast from the garden. If you have more time you can continue walking the Onomea Bay Trail outside of the park.
Rainbow Falls is located right near the parking lot which makes it a great quick stop. On sunnier days you may be able to see a rainbow near the falls.
Kaumana Caves are a lava tube formed by an 1881 flow from Mauna Loa. There is only a small portion that you can explore, but it is worth a quick stop. Make sure to bring a flashlight!
Stay in Volcano
Volcano is a town near Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park which offers a unique destination to stay. There are several Airbnbs in Volcano nestled in the fern forest. If you prefer to stay closer to more restaurants and shops you can look for a place to stay in Hilo, but it won’t be the same experience as staying in this lush rainforest. We stayed at this Airbnb in Volcano which was comfortable and cozy, and I highly recommend it.
Day 4: Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
A highlight of this Big Island 5-day itinerary is spending a day at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park includes the summits of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, extending from sea level to 13,680 ft. Since this is a US National Park there are fees required or you can purchase an America the Beautiful Annual Pass. This interagency pass it is valid for one year and covers entrance fees to over 2,000 federal recreation sites including National Parks, National Monuments, and National Forests.
Start your visit driving around Crater Rim Drive, with stops at Sulphur Banks Trail, Kilauea Overlook and Thurston Lava Tube. Sulphur Banks Trail is a 1.2 mile round-trip walk from the Kilauea visitor center where you can see volcanic gasses come out of the ground. Make sure to check out Thurston Lava Tube, a 500 year old cave that 2000 degree Fahrenheit lava used to flow through.
A visit to the Big Island is not complete without hiking Kīlauea Iki trail. This must-do hike in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was the highlight of our Big Island 5-day itinerary. The hike takes you down a lush rainforest to the lava lake on the floor of Kīlauea Iki crater. There are varying distances that you can hike depending on where you start. The shortest option is from Kīlauea Iki Overlook (3.3 mile loop) but parking is limited here. The second option is from Kīlauea Visitor Center (5.3 miles round trip). If you are looking for a longer, scenic trail you can start at Devastation Trailhead which will be about 6 miles round trip and will let you explore Thurston Lava Tube along the way.
Finish your day exploring Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park with drive down the 18-mile Chain of Craters Road where you can see several craters and volcanic flows from past eruptions. At the end of the road you will reach the ocean with an overlook of Holei Sea Arch, an arch made of lava rock.
Day 5: Drive South Part Back to Kona
On your last day visiting the Big Island, drive back to Kona along the south part of the island. On the way you can stop at different spots including Panalu’u black sand beach, Paradise Meadows Farm, and more local farm stands as you get closer to Kona.
If you are interested in seeing the southernmost point of the United States, you can drive 40 minutes out of the way round trip to the south point. This part of the island is very dry, so you won’t see much other than volcanic cliffs and the ocean. A popular beach near south point is Papakolea green sand beach. You can hike about 5.5 miles round trip to the beach or try to catch a ride on a truck (with fees).
Comment below if you have any questions about this Big Island 5-day itinerary!
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