The Big Island of Hawaii: Highlights & Overview

The island flower for the Big Island of Hawaii is the Ohia flower. The vibrant red color is what makes this flower pop.
Official flower of the Big Island: Ohia
This regional map of the Big Island can be used as a great guide when planning your trip.
Regional Map of the Big Island (Hawaii)

The island of Hawaii, known as the “Big Island” is the youngest and largest island in the Hawaiian chain. The island is continuing to expand because of its active volcano called Kilauea.

The lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano is expanding the Big Island of Hawaii.
Lava entering the ocean to expand the land

The Big Island is so large that the land mass will exceed the total land mass of all of the other Hawaiian islands combined.

The Big Island is the largest island in the Hawaiian Chain.
Map of the Hawaiian Islands

The population on the Big Island is just under 200,000.

Big Island for Visitors

Things to consider for a vacation on the Big Island


There are two airports on the Big Island: Kona International Airport (KOA) and Hilo International Airport (ITO).

The Kona Airport is located on the west side of the Big Island. Hilo International Airport is located almost directly across on the East side. The shortest distance between the Kona and Hilo airport is 78.1 miles (1 hour, 33 min drive).

You may feel tempted to fly into one airport and fly out of the other so you can explore both sides of the island. It’s totally doable but keep in mind that since you will be dropping off the car at a different location, you will be charged an extra fee.


The best way to get around on the Big Island is by rental car. It is a pretty large island so depending upon ride shares (uber/ lyft/ taxi) can get expensive really quick! Although there is a bus system that is cheap, the bus schedule is not ideal for tourist who want to sightsee and go to multiple places in a day.


The majority of the hotels are in Kona. There are few on the Hilo side.

There are a lot more hotel options on the Kona side since it is the tourist side. You can easily find a hotel using

If you are traveling with small children, I would recommend staying at the Hilton Waikoloa Hotel where you will be able to swim with dolphins on property.

Kids can swim with dolphins at Dolphin Quest at the Hilton Waikoloa.
Go swimming with dolphins!
PC: Dolphin Quest

The Hilo side is a lot more laid back so there are less options. The Grand Naniloa Hotel – DoubleTree by Hilton is the nicest hotel in that area. If your budget allows, try to book there.

Naniloa Hotel is located on the Hilo side of the Big Island of Hawaii.
Naniloa Hotel in Hilo
PC: Claudine Van Massenhove /

General tips for the Kona and Hilo side:

Kona Side

Kona is pretty sunny year-round!

Visitors to the Big Island generally stay on the Kona side. There are many restaurants and tours & activities for tourists. The weather is nice but can get hot so don’t forget to pack or purchase sunscreen and re-apply frequently.

I highly suggest going to the night snorkel with the Manta Rays. The thought of it might scare you but just as long as you listen to the instructions by the tour staff, you’ll be fine.

There are many different companies that will take you out to see the Manta Rays. The company I used was Kamanu Charters.

Swim with manta rays is another fun and exciting activity if you take a visit to Kona.
Manta Ray Adventures in Kona

Hilo Side

The Hilo side, located on the East side of the Big Island is the rainy side. It rains almost everyday for at least a short while so don’t forget to pack your umbrella.

This side of the island is laid back and less accommodating for tourists.

The busiest area in the Hilo is the old Hilo town. Its a small area but if you want to get a feel for the Hilo local life you will certainly want to check out the Hilo Farmers Market. There are many vendors who cram under tarp tents selling things from locally picked fruits to jams and jellies.

The Big Island of Hawaii has an awesome Farmer's Market. Check out the Hilo Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Hilo Farmer’s Market

Main Attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii

Kilauea Volcano

The main thing that attracts visitors to the island of the Big Island is the Kilauea Volcano.

I mean, who isn’t fascinated to see slow puddles of fire oozing out of rocks. It’s so amazing to see and so witness the miracles of mother nature.

A huge part of the Big Island of Hawaii  is covered by lava. Lava is fascinating to see.
Lava flow on the Big Island

I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble but I do want to give you all the heads up now. The lava flows and eruptions change every minute and are unpredictable. One day the lava might be moving slowly like hot thick slime and the next day it might be spewing 50ft toward the sky.

Friends, if you are going to visit the Big Island to see lava, set your expectations to see the hot thick slime activity. The 50ft spewing lava occurs once every great while…and when I mean great while…I mean like years in between.

Merrie Monarch Festival

The Merrie Monarch Festival is a week long cultural festival that is held every year (cancelled in 2020 due to COVID) at the Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium located in Hilo. The main event is the Hula competition where many groups compete to win or defend the championship of their title(s).

Hilo has an annual hula competition called the Merrie Monarch.
Merrie Monarch Competition
PC: Maui News

Summary of the Big Island of Hawaii

For simplicity sake, the two main areas on the Big Island are Kona (located on the West side) and Hilo (located on the East side). Because the island is large, you should definitely rent a car. The Kona side attracts more tourist than the Hilo side mostly because of the sunny weather and things to do. For a more relaxing experience, Hilo might be a better choice. Regardless of which side of the island you decide to stay, you won’t want to miss out on the allure of the lava from the Kilauea Volcano.