Travel Hacking » 1st Timers Guide to the Big Island of Hawaii

1st Timers Guide to the Big Island of Hawaii

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1st Timers Guide to the Big Island of Hawaii

Sun, sand, lush tropical areas, volcanoes and so much more! If you’ve wanted to go to Hawaii and you’re planning your first trip you probably have a thousand thoughts racing through your head, where can you go, what can you see, where should you stay, how much will it cost?!

Here’s a thorough 1st timers guide to the big island of Hawaii to help you plan a fantastic vacation on a family-friendly budget and still get to “do it all.”


The Big Island of Hawaii offers beautiful beaches, but not just the regular beach sand you’re probably accustomed to; I’m talking about sparkling green sand, soft black sand, and white sand beaches, each with its unique flora and fauna surrounding them.

Some of these beaches require a bit of a hike to access, while others are incredibly accessible, and you’ll be able to drive up to them.

Where to Stay

Once you get over the concerns of HOW you’re getting to the Big Island, by ship or plane, your next most significant decision will be, “Where should I Stay?” There are many hotels available around the island, and some areas are considerably less expensive than others. However, there are Airbnb options as well as Home Swapping.

Hilo Area- (East)

There’s a decent-sized airport here that’s often less expensive to fly into than the airport on the western side of the island. Hilo is terrific if you want to take short day trips to lush jungle areas, or head south towards Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park where you can drive to the summit of Mauna Kea.


We stayed at a local Hilton for a week using our Hilton Honors Points that we accumulated from regular purchases throughout the year. If you’d like to apply for a Hilton Honors card you can do so here.

Kailua Kona (West)

The Kailua Kona area is a beautiful location if you’re planning on spending the day golfing, shopping, or enjoying gorgeous beaches. The hotels are a bit pricier on this side of the island, but you still have both Airbnb and Housesitting/Homeswapping options available.

Waimea (North)

In Waimea, a range of overnight options, Hotels, Airbnb, staycation that puts you minutes from the Mahukona Beach Park and Mau’umae Beach

Explore two of the Islands’ Famous Volcanoes located in Volcano National Park

You’re likely familiar with Kilauea as it has been famously erupting continuously since 1983 and is one of the world’s most active volcanoes! However, there are five volcanoes on the island: the Kea, Kohala, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and the Kilauea, as mentioned earlier.

While at the park, visit the Halema’umua’u Crater for some incredible lava viewing.


Be aware that taking home a piece of rock is considered rude to the culture and may result in angering the goddess of the volcano, causing an eruption!

Island Road Trip

Renting a car is a great way to take in everything the island has to offer, as Taxi and Uber can be difficult to find in many areas. Drive around the entire island in a grand tour that will provide many breathtaking stops along the way. Rugged coastline, lush rainforests, and even fields of lava await you.

Be aware before renting that some areas will be inaccessible via a rental vehicle as the rental companies prohibit the use of their rental cars on certain roads. One such route is the access to Green Sands Beach, which you can choose to hike to or pay one of the locals to drive you to the beach. It’s not for the faint at heart!

When choosing a vehicle, ensure you pick one with maximum road clearance, such as a 4×4 jeep, as many areas have steep, challenging terrain.

5ca00463a73f0 1st timers guide to the big island of hawaii

Relax in the Hot Springs

As you travel the East coast of the island in the Puna district, you’ll encounter two top-rated parks sporting natural hot springs. Ahalanui Park, also known as the Ahalanhui hot pond, offers a large area for picnicking as well as restroom and shower facilities.

At the Isaac Hale Beach Park in Puna, you can enjoy hot springs created from collapsed lava tubes at the Pohoiki Warm Springs. These areas are quite popular with the locals and can get crowded on weekends.


The best areas for waterfall viewing lie between the Hamuka Coasts of Hilo and the Kohala Mountains. As you pass through, you’ll encounter Hi’iulawe Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Akaka Falls State Park.


Akaka Falls, Hawaii

Check out the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

The entrance to this lush tropical garden can be a bit tricky to find as you’ll often see locals parked along the edge of the roadside about a mile prior with a large winding scenic pathway that’s gorgeous to walk if you have the time.

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden offers ample free parking and a gift store directly across the street from the entrance. The lush garden is home to more than 2,000 species of tropical plants and will provide many opportunities for taking memorable photographs.


Banyan Tree

Visit a Coffee Plantation

Many of the Coffee plantations on the island offer free tours of both the fields and the processing area. Learn how your favorite mug of coffee goes from the ground to the table with these fascinating tours that take about 30 minutes total on average. Once you’ve completed your journey, sample the world-famous Kona coffee.


Enjoy the local Cuisine.

Farmer’s markets are widely accessible on the island. There are three primary markets to be aware of: Keahou, Kona, and Hilo, as well as four much-smaller markets around the island. The markets offer fresh fruits and vegetables as well as other handmade food items, locally made crafts, and clothing.

Be sure to stop by a roadside stand and treat yourself to hot Malasadas!

Scuba Dive & Snorkel

Throughout the island, there are a number of areas where you can snorkel or scuba dive. If you want to get up close and personal with the wildlife, consider a Manta Ray dive, which offers a beautiful sunset trip across the open water and the chance to get within literal inches of some of the world’s most massive, most gentle creatures. Manta Rays can have a wingspan of 23 feet across from tip to tip!

Depending on the time of year that you opt to take your vacation, be sure to choose a tour that offers HOT Showers (onboard) and hot chocolate following your dive.

Snorkeling is an option that you can do rather inexpensively at many of the beaches around the island. Be sure to never step on coral as these creatures are incredibly delicate and you’ll kill them. Also, here’s some excellent information about Reef Safe Sunscreen.

Go to a Luau

Spend at least one evening of your vacation immersed in the lovely Hawaiian culture, feast on the local specialties as you watch, entranced by the breathtaking traditional dances, music, and elaborate costuming. You’ll likely have the option of joining in and learning the Hula too!


5 Cultural Etiquette Tips to be Aware of when visiting the Big Island

  • Removing Shoes Before Entering Homes:

    In Hawaiian culture, it is customary to remove your shoes before entering someone’s home. This practice is a sign of respect and helps keep the living spaces clean.

  • Respecting Sacred Sites (Heiau):

    The Big Island is dotted with sacred sites known as heiau. When visiting these places, it’s essential to show respect by following posted guidelines, refraining from loud conversations, and refraining from any actions that may be perceived as disrespectful to the spiritual significance of the site.

  • Offering and Receiving Gifts:

    Gift-giving is a significant part of Hawaiian culture. When presenting or receiving a gift, it is customary to use both hands. Additionally, it’s polite to express appreciation with a genuine “mahalo” (thank you) to acknowledge the gesture.

  • Sharing Food and Space:

    Hawaiians have a strong sense of community, and this extends to sharing food. If invited to a local gathering or someone’s home, it’s courteous to bring a dish to share. When partaking in a meal, wait for the host to initiate and express gratitude for the hospitality.

  • Mindful Use of the Shaka Sign:

    The shaka sign, a gesture made by extending the thumb and pinkie finger while keeping the other fingers curled, is a popular symbol of aloha and goodwill. While widely used, it’s important to be mindful of its context. Using the shaka inappropriately or casually can be seen as disrespectful, so it’s best to use it in situations where it is culturally appropriate, such as expressing gratitude or acknowledging a positive experience.


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