The Ultimate Big Island Itinerary: How to Spend 8 Incredible Days (or Less!) on the Island of Hawaii

Last updated:
Photo of author

The Big Island of Hawaii is incredibly diverse, offering active volcanoes, colorful coral reefs, and stunning beaches. With such a dynamic range of activities to enjoy, it can be hard to know what to do on the Big Island during just a single vacation.

Not to worry, though- we’ve laid out your 8-day Big Island itinerary (and suggestions if you have less time here!) to make the most of this tropical paradise.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission, for which we are extremely grateful, at no extra cost to you.

Preview of instagram card encouraging readers to follow Uprooted Traveler on Instagram

Before we dive into what you should do during your time on this little slice of heaven, let’s go over some of the Big Island basics.

How to Get Around the Big Island

The Big Island is…. well, big, accounting for over half of Hawaii’s land mass.

Besides the Big Island’s massiveness, the attractions here are quite spread out. For example, most visitors stay in the resort town of Kona, on the west side of the island, which is almost a two hour drive from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, one of this island’s most popular attractions, along its western shore.

So… do you need a rental car on the Big Island? Unless your Big Island itinerary just includes walking from your hotel to the beach and back again (in which case, you’re totally going to be missing out!) or spending a TON of money on Ubers to get around, I’d highly recommend renting a car here. You didn’t fly all the way to Hawaii to not see all the cool stuff it has to offer!

Woman sitting on a Mustang along the coastline in Hawaii

I’m not going to lie- renting a car in Hawaii is usually pretty pricey. For a 9 day rental of an economy car, my husband, Justin, and I wound up spending a whopping $786. And it makes sense- the inventory is quite limited on the island and demand is high. 

I’d just recommend booking a cancellable reservation waaaaay in advance, keeping an eye on prices leading up to your trip, and rebooking if you find a better deal.

Where to stay on the Big Island

So, here’s the deal- the Big Island is HUGE, so where you stay on the island is going to impact how easy it is to get around and explore.

Luckily, if you’re wondering where to stay on the Big Island, the answer is relatively straightforward- there’s really just two places that most travelers stay while visiting the Big Island: Kona, on the west coast, and Hilo, on the east coast. 

Colorful cliffs along the Pololu Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii

While there’s lots to consider in the whole Kona vs. Hilo debate, it basically boils down to:

  • There’s tons of things to do in Kona, ranging from enjoying its beautiful beaches to partaking in its water activities, like snorkeling or whale watching tours. It also tends to have much hotter and drier weather and pricier, upscale accommodations than the Hilo side (i.e., if you’re looking to treat yourself at the Four Season spa, stay on the Kona side).
  • Hilo is rainier and thus, a lot more lush. It also offers proximity to the island’s active volcanoes, waterfalls, and rainforests. In terms of the city itself, Hilo is a bit less polished than Kona, with a kind of grungy hippie vibe, and accordingly, tends to be cheaper. 

So where should you stay on the Big Island? 

If you’re staying here for at least five days, I’d recommend splitting your time between the cities, so you can explore both sides of the island- for example, three days in Kona and two days in Hilo. 

Woman standing and overlooking the Green Sand Beach on the Big Island

However, if you’re only visiting the Big Island for a few days or simply don’t feel like moving accommodations, I’d give the edge to staying in Kona, given that more of the island’s attractions are closer to its west side.

We wrote a whole post about where to stay in Kona, but in a nutshell, I’d suggest checking out:

  • My Hawaii Hostel: For travelers on a tight budget, you can’t beat this affordable hostel, with updated facilities, super friendly staff, and a convenient location near downtown Kona and some of its best beaches.
  • Kona Coast Resort: If you’re looking for a mid-range stay, this hotel is an excellent value, with ocean views, awesome amenities, like two pools and three hot tubs, and private villas with in-suite washers and dryers. 
  • Four Seasons Resort Hualalai: If bougie accommodations are more your jam, you can never go wrong with the Four Seasons. The property offers an eye-popping EIGHT pools (including an adults-only pool and a protected lagoon in the ocean for the kiddos), an onsite spa, and a rotating list of culinary stars as the chef in residence.
Punalu'u Beach along the southern shore of the Big Island

Hilo doesn’t offer swanky resorts and, instead, provides accommodations with lots of personality and local charm.

  • Dolphin Bay: While this gem’s decor is a little bit dated, it has a whole lot of heart- think friendly resident cats and homemade banana bread at the ready; a tranquil garden, loving tended by the owners; and fresh coffee waiting for you every morning.
  • Hilo Bay Oceanfront Bed and Breakfast: For a bit more privacy, consider a stay at this charming house overlooking the ocean- there’s a big porch for you to unwind at night and you can fall asleep to the sound of the crashing waves. 
  • Grand Naniloa Hotel: If you’re looking for resort vibes, the Grand Naniloa Hotel is your best bet. Hotel guests get a free daily round of golf at the hotel’s golf course and access to its pool and sun deck, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Akaka Falls in Hilo on the Big Island

How long should I stay on the Big Island?

There’s so many things to do on the Big Island, from snorkeling with manta rays and exploring the Green Sand Beach to seeing literal lava in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Justin and I devoted a whole week here (actually, nine days to be exact) and I’d definitely recommend doing the same. 

In fact, the average traveler spends eight days here, so that’s the Big Island itinerary I’m going to suggest below.

But if you’re visiting the Big Island for a shorter period of time, not to worry- just pick and choose the days that sound like the most fun to you! I’ve grouped each day’s activities together due to their relative proximity, so it should be easy to shuffle this Big Island itinerary around to fit your schedule.

Woman smiling in the Polulu Valley

When to visit the Big Island

Good news- there’s no bad time to visit the Big Island, but, of course, each season has its pros and cons.

Summer, especially June and July, is the busiest season on the Big Island, so you may pay a premium for airfare and accommodations. On the other hand, if you’re looking for beach time on the island, it’s the warmest and driest part of the year, with daily highs around 85° F.

Beach along Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island

Winter in Hawaii, especially December through March, is also quite busy, as people flock here to celebrate Christmas on the beach and generally escape the winter cold. While days are a bit cooler (with highs around 75° F) and with showers sprinkled in, the Big Island enjoys the driest winter weather out of all of the Hawaiian Islands. Plus, it’s the best time to go out and spot the incredible humpback whales throughout the islands’ warm and shallow lagoons, like on this tour or this tour.

Personally, I think visiting in the shoulder seasons are best- think April through May and September and October. The weather is great, the crowds are limited, and you’ll get the best deals, due to decreased demand. What’s not to love?!

8 Day Big Island Itinerary

Finally, let’s chat about all of the amazing sea turtles, lava, and Hawaiian cowboys we’re gonna see during your time here. Let’s get into your Big Island itinerary!

Day 0

I’m not going to include the day you first arrive, given that most travelers arrive in the late afternoon or evening- and I don’t know about you, but I am USELESS after a seven-plus hour flight. Once you arrive, relax at your accommodation in Kona, your home for the next five days.

If you happen to arrive earlier in the day, I’d suggest taking it easy and just hitting one of the amazing beaches in Kona, such as Kikaua Point Beach Park (great for seeing turtles!), King Kamehameha Beach, or Manini’owali Beach.

Hawaiian monk seal laying on a beach on the Big Island

Recoup from the long flight, soak up that sun, and gear up for a busy week of island adventures.

Day 1

  • You’ll probably wake up bright and early, thanks to the time zone change. Grab a cup of coffee, grown nearby on a single-estate farm, from Kona Coffee and Tea, and some yummy food, like acai bowls and avocado toast, to fuel you on your day’s adventures.
  • Head on over to Honaunau Bay (also, called “Two Step”) for some of the best snorkeling on the Big Island! This turquoise bay, rimmed with rugged lava rock, offers one of the most impressive coral reefs on the Hawaiian Islands, with hundreds of species of fish, like triggerfish and pufferfish, and if you’re lucky, even some sea turtles, swimming through its waters. 

    Just make sure you’re properly geared up- Justin and I always bring along our own snorkel sets so we always have them on hand, or make a stop at Snorkel Bob’s to rent some gear.

    Additionally, note that most “normal” sunscreens contain chemicals that leach into the seawater and, for lack of a better term, cause coral cancer. So, while you’re here, be sure to bring along reef-safe sunscreen and ensure you’re not actively contributing to the murder of our coral friends!
Man snorkeling in Two Step in Kona on the Big Island
  • Right next to Honaunau Bay is Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, an important cultural landmark to Native Hawaiians. In fact, one of the coolest things about the Big Island is how many important historical sites there are scattered throughout the island, due, in part, to it being the birthplace of King Kamehameha the Great, who ultimately was responsible for uniting the Hawaiian Islands.

    Pu’uhonua O Honauna was once a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiians who broke kapu, a series of strict rules you were expected to follow or else, you’d be killed. Nowadays, most of the things considered kapu seem to be fairly innocuous- like men and women eating together or women eating bananas (the horror!). Kapu breakers could head to Pu’uhonua O Honauna as a sanctuary, avoid certain death, and eventually be absolved of their crimes.

    Today, you can learn all about Pu’uhonua O Honauna and its history at the park, and stroll around its grounds to explore its historic buildings. For example, Hale o Keawa is a centuries-old temple here that holds the bones of 23 ancient chiefs, including Kamehameha’s great grandfather.
Pu'uhonua O Honauna in Kona on the Big Island
Statue at Pu'uhonua O Honauna on the Big Island
  • Grab Shaka Tacoz for a late lunch, where you get huge portions of Mexican food with an island twist. Take it out back to enjoy on their patio- you’ll likely see some gecko friends in addition to the ocean views!
  • Spend the rest of the day at Kahalu’u Beach Park, a wide sandy beach that’s renowned for its calm waters and incredible snorkeling. It’s also just a good spot to relax on the sand and watch the surfers off in the distance catch some gnarly waves.
Kahalu'u Beach Park in Kona in Big Island
  • For dinner, check out Kona Brewing Co., the biggest brewery on the Big Island. Grab a seat on its lively patio and order up some grub and a cold beer. I’m obsessed with their Lemongrass Luau, a wheaty ale with ginger and lemongrass.

Day 2

Today is all about Mauna Kea, a massive dormant volcano that rises 13,803 feet above sea level, making it the tallest mountain in the state AND, technically, the tallest mountain on the planet (measured from the seafloor to its summit). 

Sunset at cinder cones at Mauna Kea on the Big Island

So today is going to be a choose-your-own adventure- are you feeling adventurous or still enjoying being on island time?

If the answer is SUPER adventurous:

  • Leave Kona early in the morning (make sure to pack food for the day!) and make the hour drive to the volcano’s Visitor Information Station (or “VIS”), located over 9,000 feet above sea level. 

    From here, conquer the Mauna Kea hike, where you’ll climb just shy of 5,000 feet of elevation over the course of seven miles (one-way) to reach its summit- what was once considered by ancient Hawaiians to be the realm of the gods. 

    Along the way, you’ll pass stunning views of Mauna Loa, volcanic cinder cones, and glinting telescopes that look straight out of The Martian. Due to the high elevation of the trail, this will be the most butt-kicking hike on your Big Island itinerary- but also the most unique!
Woman hiking the Mauna Kea hike on the Big Island
Pretty cute backpack, right? If you wanna learn more about it, check out our Osprey Sirrus 24 review.
  • On average, it takes hikers 10 hours to complete this intense hike. Once your hike is finished, pop into the VIS to learn about some of the telescopes at the summit, which have been built here due to the low light pollution and high elevation, making astronomical observation here some of the best on the planet.

    Hang around the VIS to watch the sunset above the clouds and, if you’ve still got a little bit of energy left, wait until the stars twinkle to life for some of the most incredible stargazing on the planet. 

    Just make sure to pack a cozy hat and a warm coat (like this one for men and this one for women). Mauna Kea is one of the few places that actually gets snow in Hawaii– in fact, it’s the snowiest place on all of the islands!
Sunset from Mauna Kea on the Big Island

Not feeling up to hiking almost a vertical mile in elevation? I gotchu!

  • Grab a fresh acai bowl at Basik Acai for a comically enormous smoothie bowl and, then, head to one of the incredible beaches in Kona. 

    If you don’t mind a bit of a drive, Waikōloa Beach, in front of the swanky Waikōloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, is an excellent place for snorkeling and spotting turtles. Alternatively, the Mauna Kea Beach, by the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, is arguably the most stunning beach on the island, with soft white sand, turquoise waters, and the swaying palm trees of your dreams.
Turtle on a beach on the Big Island
  • In the afternoon, if you rented a 4WD car that you’re allowed to take offroading (be sure to read the fineprint, y’all!), head to Mauna Kea’s VIS and, beyond, to its summit, for exploration, sunset and stargazing. That’s right; you can actually drive alllllll the way to the summit- so long as you have a car that’s rugged enough to withstand the volcano’s super gnarly roads.

    Alternatively, you can join a tour, like this one or this one, departing from Kona, where a knowledgeable guide will not only cart you up the mountain for sunset, but also teach you about the Hawaiian mythology of Mauna Kea. They’ll also bring along a telescope to show you the stunning beauty of the stars, planets, and galaxies from the tallest mountain in the world. 
Telescopes at Mauna Kea summit at sunset

Day 3

  • On this blog, we honor the expression “But first- coffee”. So head to HiCo Coffee, a trendy coffee shop, for some locally grown Kona coffee or an ube latte and some breakfast, like macadamia nut toast or musubi.
Man with sunglasses drinking coffee outside
  • Afterward, go snorkeling at the Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay, inarguably (in my opinion) the best snorkeling in the Hawaiian Islands. This bay is the biggest Marine Life Conservation District in the state, which results in over 400 species of fish, turtles, and even spinner dolphins calling this bay their home. 

    The only problem? You can’t drive here- you can only hike in via the challenging 4-mile out and back Captain Cook Monument Trail or cruise in on a boat. This limitation is probably why the coral reef here is so vibrant and untouched.

    If you’re up for the hike, go for it, but if you’re anything like me, your glutes are going to be soooore after summiting Mauna Kea the day prior. So, give that booty a break and consider joining a snorkel tour to the Captain Cook Monument.

    I loved my tour with Sea Paradise, due to their knowledgeable guides who are clearly passionate about ocean conservation. Alternatively, Fair Wind Cruises has outstanding reviews and I’m very much digging their focus on both sustainability and fun (i.e., their boat has TWO 15-foot slides- amazing!).
Fish while snorkeling in Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay
  • Stop at Huggo’s on the Rocks for lunch. This casual restaurant, which is literally on the beach, has fresh Hawaiian-inspired food and killer margaritas.
  • Time for an afternoon pick-me-up- head to an actual Kona coffee farm on the slopes of neighboring volcanoes of Hualalai or Mauna Loa.

    There’s tons of farms to choose from and tours can range from totally free to up to $1,200 for a VIP group tour. If you’re not the kind of invested in Kona coffee that would justify a $1,200 VIP tour, I’d recommend checking out the (much more affordable) tours at Hula Daddy, Greenwell Coffee, or Kona Joe.
Coffee farm on Kona on the Big Island
  • Get dinner in Kona- while not on the main drag, I loved the chill, local vibes at Ola Brewing or, for something in the downtown area, Sakura is a wonderful (and surprisingly affordable) sushi restaurant- I’d recommend getting it to go and eat it along the breakwall.

    Justin and I did this as a local man swam underneath our dangling feet and spearfished- can’t say I’ve done that every day!
Man eating sushi on the break wall of Kona on the Big Island
  • It’s time for one of the most unique activities on your Big Island itinerary- manta ray snorkeling in Kona

    On this tour, you’ll be taken out on a boat, either at dusk or at night, to certain locations around Kona where these gentle giants of the sea like to hang out. A guide will help you swim out to a floating raft with lights, shining down into the water, which emulates sunlight and attracts plankton. In turn, the plankton-loving manta rays will show up, swooping and somersaulting as they feed just inches below your face. It’s pretty wild!

    We went with Sea Paradise for our tour and LOVED their helpful and knowledgeable guides. I’d also recommend them because they’re one of the only tour companies that are recognized as a Hawaii Ocean Watch’s Green List preferred provider, which are selected by a non-profit based on their sustainability practices and other ethical actions that promote the mantas’ safety.
Manta ray in Kona on the Big Island

Day 4

  • This morning, we’re taking a good ol’ Big Island road trip along the island’s southwest coast. So stop along the way at Kaya’s Coffee, a funky organic bakery and cafe for locally-grown coffee, fresh breakfast sandwiches, and a slice of haupia pie.
  • Continue to drive a little over an hour south to the South Point Complex, a National Historic Landmark that’s home to…. drumroll, please… the southernmost point in the United States! 

    Beyond its impressive title and windswept cliffs, you’ll also find crumbling ruins of heiaus (or places of worship) and other important historical artifacts from ancient Hawaiians- in fact, it’s argued that this point may have been where ancient Polynesians landed for the very first time on Hawaii. 
Southern coastline of the Big Island
  • Once you’ve gotten your “southernmost point of the U.S.” selfie, head just five minutes east to the trailhead for Papakolea Beach, also known as the Green Sand Beach. Yet another unique addition to your Big Island itinerary, Papakolea is one of only four green sand beaches on the entire planet, getting its unusual colorings from volcanic remnants of a cinder cone, ground down over millennia by crashing waves along its shore.

    To reach the beach, you’ll need to hike 2.7 miles (one-way) along the dusty coastline- while the terrain and elevation gain are not particularly challenging, the trek can feel quite long and can get quite hot. So come prepared with proper hiking shoes (Justin and I both used our Tevas- his and hers), snacks, and plenty of water (we both travel everywhere with these comically enormous Nalgene bottles). 

    The beach itself is gorgeous, with enormous waves that are perfect for boogie boarding (but not so perfect for unconfident swimmers). Make sure to time your visit with low tide (check times here) so you’ll have plenty of that green sand to bask in the sun on.
Green Sand Beach on the Big Island
Man overlooking the coastline along the Green Sand Beach trail on the Big Island
  • Continue to head east, stopping by the Aloha Mix Food Truck for a late lunch in the tiny town of Naalehu, for super fresh island fare. 
  • Spend the rest of the afternoon at Punaluʻu Beach, which may very well be one of my favorite beaches in Hawaii! It’s absolutely gorgeous, with inky black sand and palm trees towering overhead. This is the other location that historians argue may have been the first place that ancient Polynesians landed on Hawaii and wow- I can’t imagine laying eyes on this stunning beach after months and months at sea, sailing into the unknown.

    Beyond its incredible history, it’s also one of the best places on the Big Island to see sea turtles. In fact, we enjoyed our time here so much, we came here twice during our stay- and saw turtles both times! 
Punalu'u Beach on the Big Island
  • As you drive back to Kona, stop at Black Rock Pizza along the way for dinner. The restaurant has plenty of options, ranging from gluten-free, vegan, and locally-inspired, and has a nice patio overlooking the ocean below.

Day 5

  • Today’s Big Island road trip is along its northwestern coastline. Pick up a coffee at Kona Mountain Coffee, on the north side of Kona, and let’s hit the road!
  • Drive north along the coastline for about 40 miles and watch as the scenery changes from lush green mountains to more of a volcanic desert landscape. Your first stop of the day will be at Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, home to one of the largest heiaus in the entire state. 

    There’s an informative visitor center and an easy walk to explore the historical sites here, where you can learn all about how Pu’ukohola Heiau served an important role in unifying the islands under Kamehameha the Great, as you follow in the footsteps of Hawaiian kings.
Woman looking at heiau at the Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site on the Big Island
  • Stop in the teeny, but charming sugar plantation town of Hawi, where colorful vintage buildings, housing art galleries, boutiques, and organic markets, line the street. If you’re hungry, stop by Roots Alchemy, a vegetarian cafe run by a super friendly gentleman, who lovingly cooks up empanadas and sandwiches in a relaxed setting.
Rainbow veggie wrap in front of a mural in Hawi, Big Island
  • Jump back in the car and make the 15 minute drive to the Pololū Valley Overlook, along the Kohala coast. This valley is the very oldest part of the island and is absolutely stunning, with lush, green valleys and rugged beaches. 

    You can simply take in the views from the overlook or, for a real treat, make the short one-mile (roundtrip) trek along the Pololū trail down into the valley and enjoy the gray-sand shores of Pololū Beach. While the beach is lovely, the views of the dramatic coastal cliffs from down here are even better!
View from the Polulu Valley Overlook on the Big Island
  • Start making your way back south towards Kona, heading first towards Waimea. The scenery here is jaw-dropping, with rolling green hills and seemingly endless pastures- it looks like something that you’d expect to see in New Zealand or Ireland, as opposed to the volcanic Big Island.

    Waimea is known for its paniolo (or Hawaiian cowboy) culture, but is much more than that. For example, there’s plenty of farmer’s markets, where you can try alllll of the locally-grown tropical fruit, or the Big Island Brewhaus, a small craft brewery with a focus on locally-sourced ingredients.
Road in Waimea on the Big Island
  • Head back to Kona to enjoy your last night on the west side of the island. 

    If you’ve never been to one before, checking out a luau, like the Voyagers of the Pacific Luau at the Royal Kona Resort, is a must on every Big Island itinerary.

    Here, you’ll get to feast on traditional Hawaiian dishes and unlimited mai tais, while watching Polynesian stories told through song and dance (including my favorite kind of dance- SAMOAN FIRE DANCING, yesssss!). Just be sure to show up early to snag a good table!
Fire dancer at Hawaiian luau

Day 6

Today, you’re going to pack your bags and head over to Hilo, with one crucial stop along the way- Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. 

  • Have one last breakfast in Kona at Kalikala Cuisine– they serve the freshest fruit and their patio overlooks Kailua Bay.

Make the two hour drive to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, home to two of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. The landscape in the park is incredibly unique, offering both lush rainforests, dripping with tropical flowers, and barren craters, belching out steam and gas. 

You could spend weeks exploring the park, but I’d suggest prioritizing:

  • The Thurston Lava Tube, where you can hike (in the dark!) through a 600-foot lava tube, formed over 500 years ago by a volcanic eruption
  • The Crater Rim Trail, which leads you around the rim of the Kilauea summit caldera, with stunning views of the caldera below and its surrounding steam vents
  • The Kīlauea Iki Trail, which descends down through a stunning rainforest unto a solidified lava lake from an eruption in 1959, which is slowly being taken over by colorful ‘ohai flowers. In my opinion, this is one of the best hikes on the Big Island!
Kilauea Iki Crater in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island
  • If you get hungry while you’re in the park, make the quick drive to the Tuk Tuk Thai Food Truck, about 5 minutes outside the park’s gates. The food here is SO good and the staff are friendly and helpful- it was honestly one of my favorite meals on the island!
  • If you’re lucky enough to be visiting while there’s an active eruption (check here for more information), be sure to stay in the park until it gets dark. You’ll be able to see the orange glow of the lava and its steam SO much better at night- plus, it’s such a wild experience to be able to see nothing around you, but what’s illuminated from the lava glow! 

    You’ll usually have to walk a bit of ways to see the eruption, so be sure to pack a headlamp for the hike to and from watching the lava flow.
Lava lake on Kīlauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island
  • Drive to your accommodations in Hilo and pass out after a full day of volcanoing!

Day 7

  • Grab coffee and a breakfast at Booch Bar, an eclectic and quirky spot in downtown Hilo. Their French toast lives rent free in my brain, guys.

Once you’re properly caffeinated, today is all about exploring the incredible lush rainforests and valleys surrounding Hilo. Check out:

  • Rainbow Falls, an 80-foot waterfall, cascading over a lava cave and casually sitting in the middle of downtown Hilo (ah, Hawaii things). If you get here early enough in the morning, you can see how it earned its name- when the sun is in the right place and there’s a heavy waterflow, you’ll likely see rainbows in the fall’s curtain!
Rainbow Falls in Hilo on the Big Island
  • Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive, the most stunning scenic drive on the Big Island. At just four miles long, it’s definitely worth cruising past rushing streams, trees dripping in tropical flowers, and dramatic coastal views. 
  • Akaka Falls State Park, one of the best things to do in Hilo and home to a stunning 442-foot waterfall dropping dramatically over a gorge. There’s an easy 0.5 mile loop trail that leads you under a canopy of banyan trees and other tropical plants, ending with a stunning vantage point over ‘Akaka Falls.

    Note that there’s a $5 per person fee and, if parking in the state park itself, a $10 per car fee, which many AllTrail reviewers find quite egregious. Given so much of Hawaii’s natural attractions are totally free to visitors, I’d encourage you to support the park service if you can, but if you’re strapped for cash, you can usually find parking outside of the park’s gates for free (be sure to check for “No parking” signs!).
Woman looking at 'Akaka Falls on the Big Island
  • Waip’o Valley Lookout. This one is quite far from everything else (a two-hour round trip drive north of ‘Akaka Falls), so you might consider skipping this one, unless you’re super into scenic overlooks. But the drive is absolutely stunning, with dramatic coastal views to east and dense rainforests to the west.

    The valley itself is also quite significant to Hawaiian history- it was the boyhood home of King Kamehameha the Great, earning this paradise the title of  “Valley of the Kings.”

    There used to be a hike down into the valley to a stunning and secluded black sand beach, but note that the trail is closed, due to dangerous trail conditions, for the foreseeable future.
Waip'o Valley on the north of the Big Island
  • Head back to Hilo and grab a late lunch or early dinner at Hilo Bay Cafe, where you can enjoy artisan sushi and locally inspired fare, overlooking Hilo Bay to the east.
  • If you’re up for one last adventure of the day, head about an hour south to the Isaac Hale Beach Park, home to the newest black sand beach on the Big Island from the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea. 

    While the beach itself is definitely worth exploring, the real draw here is Pohoiki Hot Springs, a series of incredible pools, tucked along the beach or in the surrounding jungle, where you can soak in steamy water, heated by the volcanic rocks underground.
  • On your way back to Hilo, stop in the hippie town of Pāhoa

    Things close early here (as they do basically everywhere on the Big Island), but you can stop at La Hiki Ola Kava Bar to try kava, a type of drink that’s been used for ceremonial purposes around the Pacific Rim for hundreds of years, believed to have a relaxing effect. If ice cream is more your jam, Nicoco Hawaiian Gelato dishes up creative flavors of coconut-based gelato that is so creamy, it’ll blow your damn mind.
Woman with ice cream on the Big Island
  • Head back to Hilo and relish in your last night on the Big Island. There’s plenty of local eateries to choose from for dinner- for example, Pineapple’s is the only open air eatery in Hilo, with tasty Hawaiian fusion food and live music Thursday through Sunday.

Day 8

At some point today, you have to head, with tears in your eyes, back to the airport. Depending on how much time you have:

  • Check out downtown Hilo, which is packed full of centuries-old wooden structures, to pick up some last minute souvenirs. Here, you’ll find several blocks of art galleries, eclectic boutiques, and art murals around every corner.
Historic buildings in downtown Hilo on the Big Island
  • While Hilo is not known for its beaches, if you want to squeeze in one last swim in the ocean, head to Carlsmith Beach Park. There’s a protective wall and reef that keeps the water incredibly calm here and it’s an incredible place for snorkeling, with turtles frequenting its still waters.
  • When it’s time, make the hour and a half drive back to the Kona International Airport, bid adieu to your adventuremobile for the week, and start planning your return trip to the Big Island!

What to Pack for the Big Island

For a complete list of everything you should pack, check out our comprehensive Hawaii packing list for all your packing needs. So instead of regurgitating that entire post, here’s 8 things you should definitely pack for the Big Island:

  • Reef-safe sunscreen: As mentioned above, regular sunscreen damages coral’s DNA and expedites our beautiful planet’s swift demise. Just don’t, okay?
  • Hiking sandals: To be honest, Tevas are generally the only shoes I take with me for most of my tropical vacations, given you can wear them with jeans or a dress, hike in them, or ford a frickin’ river in them. What can’t you do, Tevas? Here’s mine that I’m a bit obsessed with (can you tell?) and here’s Justin’s. 

Woman hiking along Captain Cook Trail on the Big Island
  • Snorkel set: If you plan on snorkeling more than once while you’re here (which, if you’re following this Big Island itinerary, you definitely will!), I highly recommend bringing along a snorkel set. You don’t have to worry about running back and forth to a rental shop and, after a couple of vacations, they more than pay for themselves!
  • Swimsuit: This one’s probably pretty obvious. Given the amount of hiking, snorkeling, and overall adventuring you’ll be doing whilst donning your swimsuit, be sure it’s something that you can move around in and not worry about genitalia accidentally flopping out, like this swimsuit for women and this suit for men. 
  • Coverup: If you’re like me and turn full blown beach bum whilst in Hawaii, a cover up that makes you look slightly classier when you want to flounce about in your bathing suit is a must. This monstera coverup feels very on the nose- I love a good tropical theme!
  • Thermal rashguard: Listen, the average annual water temperature on the Big Island is 78°F, which sounds nice and toasty, but, when you’re snorkeling about for hours at a time, can feel downright chilly. 

    I picked up this thermal rashguard before our trip to the Big Island to help remedy this problem and it was a game changer- Justin had to draaaag me out of that water! Here’s a rashguard for the ladies and here’s an option for men.
Woman wearing thermal rashguard while snorkeling on the Big Island
  • Beach towel: Depending on where you’re staying, they may or may not have beach towels available and is a beach really the same without a big fluffy blanket to lounge around on? I think not.
  • Sunglasses: Hawaii is less than 1400 miles north of the equator, so the sun is real here! Walking around in bright sunlight without proper eye protection can lead to scary-sounding things, like cataracts and macular degeneration- so simply slip on shades and avoid all of that nonsense.

    I love Warby Parkers sunglasses– not only can you order them with or without a prescription (near-sighted people, unite!), but they donate a pair of glasses to someone in need for each pair sold. Win, win, amirite?
Man hiking along Green Sand Beach trail on the Big Island

I hope this Big Island itinerary helps you plan your trip so that it’s as awesome as possible. Do you have any questions about what to do on the Big Island? Sound off in the comments below!

Thank you for reading our post! Check out our latest stories here and follow us on Instagram (@UprootedTraveler), YouTube, or on Facebook to see what we’re up to next!

Preview of instagram card encouraging readers to follow Uprooted Traveler on Instagram

4 thoughts on “The Ultimate Big Island Itinerary: How to Spend 8 Incredible Days (or Less!) on the Island of Hawaii”

  1. Just got back from a trip to the big island yesterday and I read your blog post before I went! It was really helpful and I paired it with some suggestions from the ‘hawaii revealed’ book too. I ended up sacrificing some hikes (drived instead) for more time on the beach haha

    • I’m glad it was helpful and sounds like you had a great time! There’s definitely nothing wrong with soaking up alllll the beach time (I’m just not particularly good at it- ha!). Thanks for reading!

  2. Hey Jessica, Excellent 8-day adventure itinerary for the Big Island, HI. I know you couldn’t include everything but as much as you mentioned Hilo I can’t believe you didn’t talk about strolling through the most beautiful park on the island, Queen Liliuokalani Gardens. Not only are the Banyan Trees and Monkey Pods gorgeous but the Japanese gardens, ponds, and bridges are as picturesque as you can imagine. And don’t miss the Suisan Fish Mkt. right next to them for the freshest, most delicious poke to grab and enjoy as you walk around the gardens. One more thing which is fabulous (but often quite busy) for breakfast or lunch if you are near Captain Cook is The Coffee Shack at 83-5799 Mamalahoa Hwy., Captain Cook. It’s small and querky with good food and worth the wait with a fabulous view of the ocean and lush landscape. A special treat is watching the geckos come up to the windows so that they can drink the sugar water from the tiny dishes they leave for them. It’s a delight. Thanks for your thoughtful reviews. We’re heading to the Pohoiki Hot Springs in the morning!


Leave a Comment

Want to work with us?

Ask us any questions