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
- Fairmont Orchid
- Mauna Lani Hotel & Bungalows – note that this hotel closed in October 2018 for a multi-million dollar renovation. It will reopen in January 2020 rebranded as Mauna Lani Auberge
- 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
would like to know what air line goes to the big island hawaii
It depends. A quick and easy way for you to see the options from your home airport is via Cheap Air’s flight search engine.
Need to know that since i am stationed in kona side (work related) and want to do the volcano tour 1 day(4 persons), can i get a private tour guide with his vehicle who can take us from Kona and drop us back ? Appreciate your input
I have no idea about private tours. I do know that Hawaii-Forest offers volcano tours from Waikoloa Beach Resort about 20 minutes north of Kona.http://www.hawaii-forest.com/index.php/tours
Alternatively, you can tour in your own private rental car with this plan: https://www.govisithawaii.com/2013/06/03/kona-hilo-day-trip-waterfalls-volcano-lava/
Thank you for such an informative article (and website overall). We are planning a trip to Maui and the Big Island and this has definitely been a helpful site.
Hi there – thanks for all the great info on your site, it’s been so helpful in planning my upcoming trip with my 16 & 19 year old sons in August 2017. We’ll be on the Big Island for 5 days and will be staying on the Hilo side the entire time as almost all the activities that appeal to us are there – mainly falling betw VNP and Waipi’o Valley. We’ll go over to the Kona side for one day. I’m deciding between a handful of rentals – a couple of which are about 15 miles N of Hilo and the rest more toward Puna ranging betw Keaau and Pahoa. All other things being equal – would you recommend one of those areas over the other? Thanks for any insights you might have!
We don’t really have an opinion between your choices. You may want to map out driving distances to all the attractions you plan to visit to see if one involves less driving.
We stayed at the Naniloa in Hilo and were thoroughly impressed. Service was terrific, the hotel had every amenity, including good entertainment in the lounge every night, and a very comfortable room. I would recommend it highly.
Which hotel did you stay in?
Love your website! My boyfriend and I are very serious in planning a move to Kona-area early next year. Do you know of any other web sources that would be helpful in actually moving advice, not just visiting? Any help would be appreciated.
No, unfortunately, we don’t know of sites with moving advice.
Very helpful information for first time traveller.
I am planning to stay for two weeks what will your suggestions?
I like hiking and snorkeling.
A collection of most of our Big Island articles and advice are organized here: https://www.govisithawaii.com/hawaii-big-island-vacation-guide/
Have you ever stayed in any of the rental units in the Mauna Lani Resort area of the Kohala Coast? Is this resort is nice as the Waikoloa Beach Resort? I’m trying to decide if one has advantages over the other. Such as a better beach, etc?
We have stayed at the Mauna Lani hotel, but not the condos. It’s a really nice area. There’s a shopping center within the larger resort area with a grocery store and restaurants. I think Waikoloa has more shopping and restaurant options, though.
The beach at Mauna Lani point is a nice one and popular. There’s a restaurant that we really like that’s beachfront there. It’s great for lunch and dinner.
Here are some tools to help you make your decision: https://www.govisithawaii.com/2017/05/03/how-to-choose-a-hawaii-hotel-condo-or-villa/
Very helpful information here, thanks.
My son and I are planning a trip in August 2018, it will be our first time in Hawaii and we’ll be on Big Island for 1 week. Is it necessary to book our accomodation in advance or will we be OK with a hire car and finding B&B where and when we need it?
Also, is there a bus service between Kona and Hilo?
Chris and Elias
We advise doing your research and booking before your trip. It may not be necessary, but it saves you the precious time that you could be spending enjoying the island rather than researching during your limited vacation time.
Is there a reason you did not review the volcano rainforest retreat? My wife and I were thinking of staying there
The only reason that we have not written a review is that we stayed there years before we started writing this site. So, we didn’t make notes about it when we stayed there.
We stayed in Hilo for 10 days in 2017 and loved it. It’s a beautiful working town, not a touristy destination like Kona. It has lovely local cafes, beautiful beaches and viewing of sealife. We stayed at the Naniloa and loved it. It has wonderful entertainment in the hotel lobby at night and a beautiful open air beachside lobby. It’s located on Banyan drive, the best collection of these magnificent trees on the island.
I am sorry to read that you have not stayed in Hilo. You should. It’s THE launching place for visitors who really want to explore the island out of the usual tourist crowds. We drove to the volcano twice, visited the top of the island at Waimea, and many small towns and back roads. Don’t shortchange your visitors with faint praise of the Hilo side.
Perhaps you didn’t read what we wrote. While we have not stayed in Hilo, we have stayed on the Hilo side and driven to the Hilo side many, many more times!
Waimea is easy to access from the Kona side. So are the small towns between Kona and Hilo. One of our popular articles describes a detailed trip from Kona to Hilo and HVNP with stops to magnificent views and scenic back road drives.
Hilo is one of the rainiest cities in America. Not many people enjoy rainy vacations.
The Kona side has plenty of non-tourist sites and experiences, too.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, however, it’s a bit harsh and unfair for you to say such things as, “Don’t shortchange your visitors with faint praise of the Hilo side.” We’ve done no such thing!