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.
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:
You may want to plan to divide your time between the Hilo side and the Kona side. If you have a week or longer on the Big Island, plan to spend approximately two nights on the Hilo side and the rest of your time on the Kona side. By staying on the Hilo side, 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 historical sightseeing. 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. If you can’t arrange that, don’t worry, you’ll enjoy the drive from one side to the other.
- 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 sightseeing 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.
From the Hilo side, we’ve enjoyed stays in the village of 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. In the Volcano area, you’ll find a small lodge, Kilauea Lodge and lots of B&Bs. Additionally, within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, there’s a small hotel, Volcano House, that sits on the edge of a crater.
There are hotels in Hilo, which is the Big Island’s most populated town.The town offers shops and restaurants and bay front views. In all our trips to the Big Island, we haven’t stayed in Hilo because we prefer the solitude and quaintness of the Volcano area and its convenience of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Plus, from Volcano, you can more easily access some of the more remote points south of the park — such as the small town of Punalu’u and their famous black sand beach.
On 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, plus it seems that you get a lot of luxury for fairly reasonable prices. Another benefit 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 and the Mauna Lani Resort area of the Kohala Coast.
The town of Kailua-Kona, which is more commonly called Kona offers a couple of large hotels and smaller inns. This town is fairly lively with lots of touristy shops, restaurants and a smattering of nightlife in a few laid-back bars offering live music. If nightlife is important to you, Kailua-Kona is your best bet.
South of Kona is Keauhou which has a Sheraton hotel. This area is somewhat remote, but still drivable to other scenic areas of the island.
** If you choose not to split your stays between the Hilo side and the Kona side, you can enjoy a bit of both worlds by using our do-it-yourself, day-trip guide from Kona to the volcano. **
Here’s a list of Big Island hotels with our full reviews:
- Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
- Westin Hapuna Beach Resort – Note that in 2018 this resort was rebranded from Hapuna Beach Prince hotel to Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. Our review is based on our stay in 2015. Since then the resort has undergone a $46 million renovation with newly designed rooms and an adult-only pool.
- Fairmont Orchid
- Mauna Lani Hotel & Bungalows – note that this hotel closed in October 2018 for a multi-million dollar renovation.
- Hilton Waikoloa Village
- Courtyard King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel
- Additionally we have stayed in condos at Waikoloa Beach Villas, Halii Kai, which are both in Waikoloa Beach Resort. Since condos are normally individually owned and decorated reviews can’t be comprehensive. We did enjoy both condo resorts.
- Volcano Teapot Cottage
- We haven’t written a review, but we have stayed at the Volcano Rainforest Retreat
We hope that you’ll find these suggestions help you narrow down the many decisions to something that’s more manageable.
>> Go back to the Big Island Vacation Guide