I visited the Island of Hawaii in June 2019. At this time of the year, the temperature was around 85 degrees (29 celsius). This is my second favorite island in Hawaii (Oahu will always be first). I did not expect to like the Big Island as much as I did, but it is a must visit. It is amazing!
I flew American Airlines to Kailua-Kona (KOA airport code) for $193 roundtrip from Washington, D.C. (DCA). The first flight, Washington, D.C. to Kona International Airport (1.5 hour layover in Houston, Texas ) I purchased for $193. For the return flight (45 minute layover in Phoenix, Arizona), I used my AAdvantage miles with American Airlines to get my ticket. An interesting fact about the Kona International Airport is that the runway sits on top of lava flow from the Hualālai (inactive) volcanic eruption in 1801. It is very noticeable when you land and interesting because it is not something that you usually see at an airport.
*Travel Tip #1: Never do a short layover under 1 hour especially at a large airport or an airport you have never visited. Luckily I made my connecting flight just in time but it was very risky and a lot of running through the Phoenix airport.
*Travel Tip #2: Download and subscribe to Secret Flying (via cell phone) to receive notifications for cheap flight deals from the airport(s) closest to where you live.
I stayed in Kailua-Kona at the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel which is approximately 15-20 minutes from the Kona International Airport. The hotel is located in the heart of the downtown area of Kailua-Kona and surrounded by many places to shop, eat, the Kailua Pier (water sports), and has its own man made beach. However, if you want to go to a real beach, then Magic Sands Beach Park is only 10 minutes away. The hotel hosts a luau on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays and you must purchase a ticket to attend. Also, although it starts at 5:00 p.m., many people line up at least an hour in advance.
Uber is available on the island (especially at the airport) but it is best to rent a car. However, if you plan to spend most of your time in Kaliua-Kona, you do not need a car as there is a shuttle/trolly to get around and it only costs $2 USD per person per ride (exact cash only, no change).
Things to Do on the Big Island
Black Sand Beach
This beach is a must visit! If you’re looking for turtle sightings you will definitely find them here nesting and resting on the beach. The area around the turtles is protected (roped off) which is prevents the turtles from being bothered by the public. As for the black sand, it is created by tiny fragments of lava that have entered the water, cooled, solidified, and shattered instantly.
Akaka Falls State Park
Akaka Falls is one of the islands famous waterfalls. You can find this beautiful waterfall (plummets 442 feet) on the Hilo coast of the island. Once you enter the park, you will take a relatively short hike to get to the waterfall. If you have to choose one waterfall to see on this island, this is a must!
Wailuku River State Park
At this park, you will find another popular waterfall that is also located on the Hilo coast of the island called “Rainbow Falls.” This waterfall plummets 80 feet and is easily accessible as it is right by the entrance and no hike is necessary. The name “Rainbow Falls” comes from being able to see a rainbow in the mist of the waterfall during the morning hours. Peepee Falls (not pictured) is another waterfall that you can visit further up from Rainbow Falls at this park.
Known for its infamous volcanoes (5 total, 2 remain active), the Big Island has many lava tubes. While some are safe to enter, many others are not and most require a tour guide. As such, it is best to do your research before visiting. The lava tube I visited is located on a coffee farm, Royal Kona Coffee Center. Although the lava tube I visited was relatively short, it was still interesting. If this is something that you would like to do during your visit (highly recommend) I encourage you to check out more popular lava tubes such as Kula Kai Caverns and Kazuma Caves (the longest and deepest lava tube in the world!).
*Travel Tip #3: Royal Kona Coffee Center has great coffee and allows visitors to sample many varieties (with cream and sugar/artificial sweetener provided) prior to purchasing! They also have tea which is equally great!
Volcano National Park
A visit to the Volcano National Park should be a priority on your list of things to do when visiting the Big Island. After all, it is the island with the most recently active volcano, Kīlauea (2018), and is home to another active volcano Mauna Loa (1984). There are many things to do in the park ranging from hiking to a drive around the summits and slopes of Kilauea volcano. While there, I took a day hike through the lava molds from the Mauna Ulu flow. Manua Ulu is a volcanic cone located in the Kilauea volcano that continuously erupted from 1969 to 1974.
Waipio Valley Lookout
Another must visit on the Big Island! You must see this place in person! This beautiful sacred valley is located on the coast of Hamaku. From the lookout point, you can get great breathtaking views of this sacred valley and its high cliffs (up to 2,000 feet). The valley is named after the river that runs through it and this valley was once home to Hawaiian kings and native Hawaiians (less than 100 natives live there now). If you travel down to the valley floor, you will find another beautiful black sand beach, the river, and a waterfall. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is required to get down to the valley floor as the road is very steep. However, if you do not want to drive you can book a tour to get down there via shuttle or a horse, or walk (not for the faint at heart).
- Spend time on both sides of the island. Stay in Kaliua-Kou and Kona to see all that the island has to offer.
- Visit the green sand beach “Papakōlea Green Sand Beach” it is 1 of 4 green sand beaches in the world.
- If you do not want to rent a car, then there are plenty of tours that will take you around the island. Highly recommend Wasabi Tours Hawaii.
- Go shopping at the open air mall “The Shops at Mauna Lani”
- If you’re a frequent Marriott hotel visitor, apply for their bonvoy card for rewards and other awesome benefits including TSA precheck and global entry, priority pass lounge access, $300 yearly bonus and many more!