Fun days of adventure finished off with evenings of sigh-worthy sunsets are in store for you with our week-long Big Island vacation itinerary. In just seven days, we include all the major highlights of Hawaii’s wonderful Big Island — the active volcano, amazing waterfalls and much more!
Though this itinerary is based on one week, you can easily adapt it for more or less time.
Ideally, we recommend a longer stay than a week on the Big Island and splitting time between the Hilo/Volcano side and Kona side as we describe on our where to stay on the Big Island article. There are days’ worth of interesting things to see and do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park alone. However, we recognize that most people typically plan just one week’s vacation staying on the Kona side. With that in mind, we’ve created this itinerary assuming a one-week stay on the Kona side of the Big Island.
Most likely you’ll have a long day of travel to get to the Big Island. You might also have a bit of jet lag. So we don’t recommend scheduling any activities on your day of arrival.
A nice way to get your Hawaii vacation started is to get settled in your accommodation by unpacking and then exploring your hotel and its amenities. Grab some pupus (appetizers), a refreshing drink and enjoy a beautiful Hawaiian sunset if you can.
Day 1 – Ocean Fun + Free Time
The big, beautiful, blue Pacific will be beckoning you to enjoy it. So, the first day is a great day to take a tour that gets you out on the ocean.
You’ll likely be waking up early with jet lag and the excitement of being in Hawaii. So, make your jet lag work for you by taking advantage of the smoother ocean conditions that are typically found in the mornings. Snorkel tours, submarine tours and whale watching tours (in peak season from January – March) are all great options.
We love to start our Hawaii Island vacation with a morning snorkel tour. Some snorkel tours that we recommend are:
- Mauna Lani Sea Adventures on the Kohala Coast – We’ve seen lots of honu (sea turtles) in addition to tropical fish on their tours.
- Kohala Sail & Sea – A small sail boat experience
- Kealakekua Bay south of Kona – This sheltered, historic bay offers excellent snorkeling.
If you’re staying in Kona, the Kona Boys shack rents snorkel equipment and the snorkeling is quite good just off the beach by the shack.
If snorkeling is too adventurous for you, but you’d still like to see what’s under the sea, a great way to do so is via a submarine tour out of Kona. We haven’t been on this particular Atlantis tour, but we’ve been on the Atlantis submarine tour out of Maui and it was really well done.
Snorkel tours normally take three to five hours, so you’ll have free time to relax for the rest of the day.
Day 2 – Waterfalls & Volcanoes
There’s so much awesomeness in store for this day. You’ll be seeing several of the Big Island’s top attractions including Waipio Valley, Akaka Falls, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Rainbow Falls, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and if you’re lucky, volcano activity! (Update: For safety, the main area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed in late May 2018. Check their website for updates.) We’ve detailed all the attractions to see on this day in this article: Kona to Hilo Day Trip.
This will be a long, but very energizing and enjoyable day. We recommend an early start, say around 7am or even a bit earlier, if you can. You’ll most likely be a bit jet lagged, so an early start will probably not be much of an issue.
Day 3 – Customizable Day
After the long day of Day 2 of our itinerary, you may want to relax on a beach or by a pool by Day 3.
A great beach to spend the day is Hapuna Beach on the Kohala Coast. There are restroom and shower facilities here as well as lifeguards. Learn more here.
If relaxing on a beach is not your style, choose from these popular activities:
- Waterfalls hike and swim tour – note that if you choose to do this tour, you could combine it with Day 4 sightseeing.
- Horseback riding in Waipio Valley – note that if you choose to do this tour, you could save time on Day 2 by dropping Waipio Valley off the Day 2 agenda.
- ATV tour
- Kayak tour on sugarcane irrigation ditch
- Zipline tour
- Helicopter tour
- Farm tour
- If you didn’t get enough of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Day 2, you could return for more including our favorite Big Island hike, Kilauea Iki.
- Day trip to Oahu
- Sunset tour to Mauna Kea summit and stargazing
- Evening manta ray snorkel tour
- Evening luau
Day 4 – Kohala Sights + Free Time
On this day, we have a Kohala driving plan that’s sure to amaze you as you go through several climate zones – from almost desert-like conditions to a lush rainforest. You’ll see stunning Pololu Valley, a statue of the king who first united the Hawaiian Islands, a former sugarcane plantation town and more. The plan is all here.
The sightseeing plan for this day shouldn’t take your entire day, so you should have time left over to relax.
Day 5 – Place of Refuge and Kona Sights
On this day, you’ll learn about ancient Hawaiian culture, check out a Kona coffee farm and enjoy a stroll around the town of Kailua-Kona.
Start the day at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park which was designated as a place of refuge in ancient Hawaiian laws. Stroll around the beautiful, oceanfront grounds and get a glimpse of what Hawaiian life may have been like centuries ago.
(Optional – see the historic Painted Church – directions.)
Next, taste and learn about Kona Coffee with a free coffee farm tour at Greenwell Farms.
Go to Kailua-Kona town to walk around this historic bay front town. Three of the most historical buildings to see are Mokuaikaua Church, Hulihee Palace and the grounds of Kamakahonu beside of the Courtyard King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. There are lots of shops and restaurants located off Ali’i Drive.
(Optional – end the day with a historical sunset cruise of the Kona Coast.)
Depending on how much time you spend at each of the suggested sites, you may end up with some free time to relax.
Day 6 – Customizable Day
Spend the day relaxing or choose from the activities listed from Day 3.
Day 7 – Enjoy Your Final Big Island Moments
On the final day of your Big Island vacation, start out by enjoying a nice breakfast with an ocean view.
If your time allows, enjoy some last minute beach or pool time near your accommodation.
If your flight leaves later in the afternoon or evening and you want to enjoy some more attractions and/or pool/beach time, you’ll need to come up with a plan to deal with your luggage. See our suggestions for what to do with your luggage on your last day.
An activity that we’ve enjoyed by the Kona airport is touring the sea horse farm.
– Check ocean/beach safety conditions before swimming, snorkeling or other ocean activities.
— Is this your first trip to Hawaii? See our first time Hawaii visitors guide.
— Our Big Island itinerary has been tested by multiple friends and family and they have all raved about their Big Island vacation.
– If you need more suggestions and/or would like a guidebook, we recommend the Ultimate/Revealed guidebook for the Big Island.