Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii

The Ultimate Big Island Itinerary For 5 Days

The Big Island of Hawaii holds a special place in my heart. With family on the island, I had the pleasure of going on family trips to the Big Island instead of Disneyland for vacation. 

The Big Island has volcanoes, black sand beaches, waterfalls, green sea turtles, delicious Kona coffee, and much more.

Although I spent most of my time at the Hilton Waikoloa resort as a kid, I made it my mission to see all the island had to offer as an adult. 

This five day Big Island Hawaii itinerary is for anyone that wants to see all of the notable places on the island. If you’re seeking to relax on vacation, this is probably not the itinerary for you.

But, if you want to pack your days full of activities and adventure, keep on reading!

Here is my ideal 5 day Big Island itinerary, starting in the beautiful town of Kona. 

Day 1: Kona

Free coffee samples at Greenwell Farms, Kona
Free coffee samples at Greenwell Farms, Kona

To get energized for your first day, head to a Kona coffee farm for a free tour.

Kona coffee is grown in mineral rich soil on the slopes of the volcano, and handpicked, making it one of the most flavorful (and expensive) types of coffee in the world.

There are a variety of free coffee farm tours, but I visited Greenwell Farms. They have free coffee tours daily from 9am-3pm.

We walked throughout their farm, sampled peppercorn right off of a tree, and learned all about Kona coffee production from a friendly guide.

At the end of the tour, we got to enjoy complimentary Kona coffee and Hawaiian sea salt samples. 

Hawaiian sea salt samples at Greenwell Farms, Kona
Hawaiian sea salt samples at Greenwell Farms, Kona

After the coffee tour, head to Hapuna Beach on the Kohala coast.

Hapuna Beach, Kona Hawaii
Hapuna Beach, Kona Hawaii

Hapuna Beach is a beautiful white sand beach that’s perfect for swimming or boogie boarding. We had to pay $10 to park and $5 per person for the day but it was well worth it.

We stopped at Magic Sands Beach on the way to Hapuna Beach, which is completely free to visit.

Magic Sands Beach gets its nickname “Magic Sands” because the tide pulls the sand into the bay, making most of the beach disappear when the tide is high.

Magic Sands Beach, Kona Hawaii
Magic Sands Beach, Kona

When we visited, nearly all of the beach was missing so we chose to visit Hapuna instead. But, Magic Sands is an amazing white sand beach to visit during the summer months. 

Once you’re done relaxing at one of Kona’s beaches, head to downtown Kona to stroll along Ali’i Drive. This area has small boutique shops, restaurants, and is where the Kona Farmers Market is held.

Kona Shopping Inn Village along Ali‘i Drive
Kona Shopping Inn Village along Ali‘i Drive

The farmers market is open Sunday through Wednesday from 7am-4pm. There are vendors selling local produce, flowers, and souvenirs.

This is a great place to try out tropical fruit, and get fresh coconut water to sip on as you shop around. 

As the sun begins to set, head to the harbor to go night time manta ray snorkeling.

Honokohau Harbor, Kona Hawaii
Honokohau Harbor, Kona Hawaii

You’ll get to go on a short cruise to a site where you can swim up close to huge manta rays.  

Snorkeling with manta rays is one of the most unique experiences on the Big Island, and it’ll leave you with lifelong memories.

Day 2: Kona

Structures at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

One of the best places to go snorkeling on the island is Kealakekua Bay.

It’s the deepest sheltered water bay on the island, and is only accessible by boat or hiking.

Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii

It’s also one of the most historically significant sites on the island. The name Kealakekua Bay translates to “pathway of the gods”, and it’s home to the Captain Cook Monument.

This monument marks the site where the first westerner that discovered the Big Island, Captain James Cook, first landed on the island, and was later killed in 1779.

Captain James Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay
Captain James Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay

If you visit early in the morning around 7-11am, you’ll have a good chance of spotting dolphins around the bay as well.

The bay is a popular resting site for spinner dolphins, and home to a diversity of marine life.

Coral reefs at Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay

To get to the bay, you’ll need to go on a snorkeling tour or hike the Ka’Awaloa Trail (Captain Cook Monument Trail).

Most people go on snorkeling tours, because the hike down to the bay is relatively difficult.

Captain Cook Monument Trail, Kona Hawaii
Captain Cook Monument Trail, Kona Hawaii

I chose to hike there to save money, but I highly recommend going on a tour. It was a nearly 4 mile hike round trip, with the hike back up being entirely uphill.

Most of the trail is over loose lava rocks, and I passed by herds of wild goats feeding on shrubs right in the middle of the trail!

That being said, the bay was incredibly beautiful, and there were many great snorkeling areas once I arrived.

Coral reefs at Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii
Kealakekua Bay, Big Island Hawaii

The bay is filled with coral and tropical fish, so you can easily spend a few hours snorkeling there. 

If you choose to hike the trail, make sure to wear sunscreen, comfortable hiking shoes, and bring snacks and lots of water.

After snorkeling, head to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park.

This park is known as the place of refuge, where ancient Hawaiians would historically flee to for safety after breaking laws.

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

The park grounds are surrounded by ancient structures, and it’s very peaceful to walk around.

Structures at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

Once you arrive, make sure to stop by the gift shop to watch a short film on the site’s history. It costs $20 per vehicle or $10 per person to enter, and is open daily till sunset. 

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, Kona Hawaii
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

The perfect activity to end the night is attending a luau at sunset. If you’re in north Kona, the Legends of Hawaii luau takes place at the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort.

If you’re in downtown Kona, the Island Breeze Luau and the Voyagers of the Pacific luau are held at the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, and Royal Kona Resort.

For dates and prices, see our full list of Big Island luaus.

Day 3 – Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Volcanic crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Crater Rim Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, and is home two two of the world’s most active volcanoes – the Mauna Loa and Kīlauea.

It spans over 330,000 acres, and makes up over 50% of the Big Island!

Although you won’t be able to explore the entire park within a day, it’s perfect for a day trip. On the way to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I recommend stopping by Punalu’u bake shop and Punaluʻu Beach.

The Punalu’u bake shop is famous for their malasadas, a type of Hawaiian yeast donut that’s a must try while on the island.

Punaluʻu Beach is a picturesque black sand beach, just 20 minutes from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The black sand is made of basalt from the rapid cooling of lava that reaches the ocean.

Punaluʻu Beach, Big Island Hawaii
Punaluʻu Beach

The sand was very warm and I spotted a sea turtle on the shore when I visited. 

Once you arrive at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, it costs $30 per vehicle to enter the park, and the pass is valid for 7 days.

You’ll want to stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center to pick up a map and familiarize yourself with the different hikes.

I hiked the Crater Rim Trail, Sulphur Banks Trail, and walked through the Thurston Lava Tube.

Volcanic crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Crater Rim Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Sulphur Banks Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Sulphur Banks Trail
Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Thurston Lava Tube

You can see a full detailed list of day hikes on their official website. Beyond the hikes, you can drive the Chain of Craters Road to see petroglyphs, craters, a sea arch, and more.

The road is 19 miles long, and it ends in a dead end created by a lava flow that covered the road. 

A great way to end the night before leaving the park is to see the lava glow from the Halema’uma’u crater.

For directions, check out this guide on the best viewpoints for the Halema’uma’u crater.

Day 4 – Kona to Hilo

Rainbow Falls, Hilo Hawaii
Rainbow Falls, Hilo Hawaii

To drive to Hilo from Kona, you can take Saddle Road (quickest option), or drive along the scenic Hamakua Coast via highway 19.

Taking highway 19 is the best option, because you’ll get to stop in Waimea for breakfast, and visit the Waipio Valley Lookout.

The Waipio Valley Lookout is just a short walk to an incredible viewpoint of the cliffs and lush green valley. After stopping by the Waipio Valley Lookout, head to Akaka Falls State Park. 

Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii
Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii

Akaka Falls is a stunning 442 foot tall waterfall nestled in the middle of the rainforest. This was the most beautiful waterfall I visited in Hawaii, and it looks even larger in person!

Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii
Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii

It costs $5 per nonresident to enter the state park, and it’s just a short 0.4 mile hike to reach the falls.

There’s a parking fee of $10 at the main lot, but you can park for free on the road leading up to Akaka Falls. 

After Akaka Falls, head down to Hilo Bay for lunch.

Hilo Bay Cafe is a great restaurant with a view right by the water. It’s also within walking distance to Coconut Island and the Liliuokalani gardens.

These places are free to visit, and take less than a half hour to explore.

Liliʻuokalani Gardens, Hilo Hawaii
Liliʻuokalani Gardens

The Liliuokalani gardens is a beautiful park with arched bridges, Japanese lanterns, banyan trees, and fishponds.

Coconut Island, Hilo Hawaii
Coconut Island, Hilo Bay

Coconut Island is a tiny island located over a bridge that has picnic areas and a small sandy beach for swimming. 

The next waterfall to visit is Rainbow Falls in Hilo.

Rainbow Falls, Hilo Hawaii
Rainbow Falls, Hilo Hawaii

This is a scenic 80 foot waterfall that’s named after the rainbow that forms from the mist underneath the fall. The rainbow is best seen early in the mornings on sunny days, so I unfortunately didn’t see it on an overcast day.

Nonetheless, it was still very beautiful. Rainbow Falls is also known for its magnificent ancient banyan trees.

You can hike a short flight of stairs to see the banyan trees and the upstream river that creates the waterfall. 

Banyan trees at Rainbow Falls
Banyan trees at Rainbow Falls in Hilo Hawaii

A must see place not far from Rainbow Falls are the Kaumana Caves. The Kaumana caves are part of a 25 mile lava tube created by a volcano eruption from 1880.

The caves recently reopened to the public, and you can explore up to 2 miles!

The inside of the cave has preserved lava flow patterns, and unlike the Thurston Lava Tube, you’ll need to bring a flashlight since it’s not lit up during the day. 

After exploring the lava tube, take Saddle Road to visit the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station.

Mauna Kea Summit Visitor Information Station
Mauna Kea Summit Visitor Information Station

The Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station is roughly 30 miles from the Kaumana Caves, and it sits at an elevation of around 9,000 feet.

The Visitor Information Station (VIS) is free to visit, and is arguably the best place to watch the sunset on the island. 

The Visitor Information Station has restrooms, a small gift shop, and a park ranger to answer questions. We followed the park ranger’s advice to hike the sunset hill trail for the best view.

Mauna Kea Summit Visitor Center Sunset Hill Trail
Mauna Kea Summit Visitor Center Sunset Hill Trail

The sunset hill trail is a short 10 minute hike up a small hill, where you’ll have an incredible view of the sunset over the clouds.

Just remember to wear warm clothes since it gets very cold due to the elevation. 

Mauna Kea Summit Visitor Center Sunset Hill Trail
Mauna Kea Summit Visitor Center Sunset Hill Trail

If you want to drive to the top of the summit, you’ll need a 4×4 vehicle, or to go on a tour.

But driving to the top isn’t necessary since you’ll have an amazing view from the visitor center. 

Day 5 – Hilo to Kona

Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden
Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden

Start the day off in Hilo by shopping at the Hilo Farmers Market.

The Hilo Farmers Market is open daily from 7am-3pm, and has over 100 vendors selling local produce, crafts, tropical fruit, and more.

Paul’s Place is a great breakfast restaurant near the Farmers Market, and Makani’s Magic Pineapple Shack is a go to place for acai bowls and smoothies.

After the Farmers Market, you can spend time snorkeling with sea turtles at one of Hilo’s beach parks.

Onekahakaha Beach Park, Carlsmith Beach Park and Richardson Ocean Park are all just a few miles east of Hilo Bay.

Carlsmith Beach Park, Hilo Hawaii
Carlsmith Beach Park, Hilo Hawaii

Carlsmith Beach Park and Richardson Ocean Park are excellent beach parks with tide pools and sea turtles if you’re looking to snorkel.

Richardson Ocean Park, Hilo Hawaii
Richardson Ocean Park

The next place to visit in Hilo is the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo. This is a nonprofit zoo in the middle of the rainforest that’s entirely free to visit.

Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens
Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens

The zoo has around 200 animals, with tigers, spider monkeys, lemurs, and more.

Tiger laying at Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, Hilo Hawaii
Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, Hilo Hawaii

They have a small gift shop where you can leave a donation or buy a souvenir to support the zoo. 

To get back to Kona, we took the scenic highway 19 along Hamakua coast once again. On the drive to Kona, we stopped at the Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden.

Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden, Big Island Hawaii
Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden

This is a stunning 17 acre botanical garden with thousands of tropical plants. It has orchid gardens, waterfalls, and trails that lead down to the coast.

Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden
Hawai‘i Tropical Botanical Garden

The botanical garden is open daily from 9am-5pm, and the entrance costs $20 per person.

I spent a little over an hour walking throughout the park and it was a nice stop before the long ride back to Kona. 

Another reason to take highway 19 is to stop in Waimea for lunch. Waimea has incredible barbecue restaurants, burger joints, and a popular roadside barbecue stand – Gj’s Huli Chicken. 

As we drove back to Kona along the Kohala coast, we stopped at Spencer Beach Park.

Trees at Spencer Beach Park, Waimea Hawaii
Spencer Beach Park, Waimea Hawaii

Spencer Beach Park is a kid friendly beach with gentle waters, shaded picnic areas, and campgrounds.

After, we visited the Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site, which is just up the street from Spencer Beach.

Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, Big Island Hawaii
Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

This historic site has a gift shop with a film on the history of King Kamehameha, and a short trail to an ancient temple.

Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site
Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

It’s an excellent place to learn about Hawaiian history and pick up souvenirs before leaving the island. 

If you have the time, you can also stop by the Lapakahi State Historic Park, which is less than a 20 minute drive from Spencer Beach Park.

Lapakahi State Historic Park has a short hiking trail to an ancient fishing village, and is one of the best places to go whale watching during their migration season (November to April).

Less than a 10 minute drive from Spencer Beach Park, the Hamakua Nut company is the perfect place to pick up gifts before leaving the island.

They sell ice cream, Kona coffee, and a variety of flavored Macadamia nuts. We got to enjoy ube ice cream and free samples of flavored macadamia nuts when we visited.

To end our trip, we shopped along Ali’i Drive in downtown Kona to purchase a few more souvenirs for family.

Kona Shopping Inn Village along Ali‘i Drive
Kona Shopping Inn Village along Ali‘i Drive

Conclusion

The Big Island has so many beautiful places to visit, and fun activities to offer. Historic parks, volcanoes, waterfalls, white sand beaches, the island has something for everyone.

I recommend spending a minimum of five to seven days to fully explore the island. 

If you don’t want to make the trip from Kona to Hilo twice, it can be beneficial to stay in an Airbnb in Hilo for a night or two. 

For more ideas on what to do during your trip, see our list of 20 unique things to do in Kona, and the best things to do in Hilo!