Where to stay on Hawaii’s Big Island

Pololu Valley (from the hike)Where should you stay on the Big Island?  That’s a challenging question.  In fact of all the Hawaiian Islands, choosing where to stay on the Big Island may be the most difficult choice of all because of its size and diversity of climates and terrain. We know how it’s so easy to get your brain all balled up in a knot when trying to choose where to stay because we’ve been faced with the same quandary.

We’ve spent an extensive amount of time on the Big Island, so we can speak from my own experience. In this article, we’ll provide suggestions for what we think may be the ideal plan, particularly for first time Big Island visitors.  Here’s what we recommend:

Plan to divide your time between the Hilo side and the Kona side. If you have a week on the Big Island, plan to spend 2 to 3 nights on the Hilo side and 4 to 5 nights on the Kona side.  By staying on the Hilo side for 2 or more nights, you’ll be able to explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and possibly watch lava flowing at night – two things that are not to be missed, in our opinion.  From the Kona side, you’ll have more time for relaxation mixed in with cultural and historic sight seeing. Here are some logistics for making this split work.

  • Fly into one airport and leave from the other.  You may have to pay an added fee for returning your rental car at a different location, but we think it’s worth the fee in order to maximize your vacation sight seeing time.
  • Ideally, we suggest that you to fly into Hilo (ITO) first and then fly out of Kona (KOA).  We like staying on the Hilo side first because we’re always anxious to see what’s going on with the volcano activity. We tend to be on-the-go and exploring more on the Hilo side. We recommend that you spend the second portion of the vacation on the sunny Kona (KOA) side where we find it is  easier to mix in relaxation with sight-seeing and adventures.
  • When driving from the Hilo side to the Kona side, we recommend taking the northern route around the island along the Hamakua Coast and through Waimea. To us, this is the more scenic route compared to driving along the southern route.

DSC_0921From the Hilo side, we prefer to stay in a B&B in or near the village of Volcano.  There are plenty of B&Bs between Hilo and Volcano. We enjoy staying in Volcano because it is so close to the Volcanoes National Park and it’s in a rainforest which is a significant contrast to the dry lava fields you’ll find on the Kona side.

DSC_0731On the Kona side, we prefer to stay on the Kohala Coast either in a condo or hotel. We  like the Kohala Coast because it feels a bit more remote and relaxing.  Another plus to staying on the Kohala Coast is that you are less likely to experience rain and VOG (volcanic smog).  We quite like the Waikoloa Beach Resort on the Kohala Coast.

We hope that you’ll find these suggestions help you narrow down the many decisions to something that’s more manageable. If you have questions, feel free to ask them in the comments.  For those other experienced Hawaii travelers, what do you think of these suggestions? What recommendations do you have?

  1. Veronique says:


    I’ll be there in august with my husband and 5month old baby. We were thinking of renting a condo for the hole 2 weeks, but as I was reading your article I though we may want to slip our stay into to location….and maybe visit another island?
    will have my parents with us, so my husband and I will have the chance to do some activities on our own..(snorkeling, biking…) do you think that two weeks on Big island is too long?

    1. Hi Veronique — I don’t think two weeks is too long. I’ve probably spent a total of 6 weeks on the Big Island and I’ve still not done everything. There’s fantastic snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay (south of Kona) and along the Kohala Coast. There’s plenty of scenic drives and botanical gardens. Check out this link for a list of things to do on the Big Island.

      If you think you might get bored, then consider a island hop over to Oahu for a day trip. Here’s an example of what we did for day trip to Oahu: https://www.govisithawaii.com/2011/04/04/a-day-trip-island-hop-to-oahu/

      Hope that helps.

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