Hilton Waikoloa Village

Where To Stay On The Big Island Hawaii In 2024 

Wondering where to stay on the Big Island? You’ve come to the right article. 

The Big Island has many beautiful regions. From the sunny resort town of Kona, to the charming small town of Hilo, and Volcano Village in the rainforest, there’s truly somewhere for everyone.

I’ve been to the Big Island 3 times and have stayed in a Kona resort and a vacation rental in Hilo. These towns have completely different vibes, so it’s important to choose somewhere that aligns with your preferences.

Most people stay in Kona or Kohala, which is a resort town near the island’s main airport. This is where the oceanfront resorts, beautiful beaches, and touristy activities take place. 

On the other hand, the small town of Hilo on the opposite end of the island has more of a local feel, and tons of free natural attractions to appreciate. 

So which side of the island is better to stay on? And which airport should you fly into?

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about staying on the Big Island. 

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase through our links, we may earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. 

Staying in Kona or Kohala

The west side of the island consists of Kona and the Kohala Coast. This is the sunny resort town of the Big Island, where most tourists stay.

Here there are sandy beaches, great snorkeling opportunities, farm tours, shopping centers, and more.

Hapuna Beach, Kona Hawaii
Hapuna Beach, Kona Hawaii

If it’s your first time visiting the Big Island, staying in Kona or Kohala is a great option. Kohala has upscale resorts ideal for those on a honeymoon, as well as large family-friendly hotels. 

On my first trip to the Big Island, I stayed in the Hilton Waikoloa along the Kohala coast. This is a beautiful resort with a gym, private beach, pools, and a large lagoon. 

Hilton Waikoloa Village
Hilton Waikoloa Village

If you’re traveling on a budget, you can find cheap Kona vacation rentals through Airbnb or Vrbo. I highly recommend checking out rentals near the Captain Cook Area in south Kona.

Here you’ll find gorgeous vacation rentals within walking distance to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, and Two Step Beach (an excellent beach for snorkeling).

There are also vacation rentals in downtown Kona, if you want to be close to the shops and restaurants. 

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

If you stay in Kona or Kohala, you’ll be around a 2 hour drive from Hilo and the Volcanoes National Park.

Pros of staying in Kona or Kohala

  • Sunniest area of the Big Island (less rainfall than Hilo)
  • Amazing resorts and waterfront restaurants
  • Most beautiful beaches and sunsets
  • Interesting historical parks, landmark, and farms (coffee, vanilla, sea salt) to visit
  • Best snorkeling opportunities 

Cons of staying in Kona or Kohala

  • Most expensive area of the Big Island
  • Beaches can be crowded with tourists
  • Many places have entrance/parking fees which can add up
  • Around 2 hours away from the Volcanoes National Park

Where To Stay In Kona

Best value overall: Royal Kona Resort: A mid-range hotel with a private beach, saltwater lagoon, pool, gym, and spa, overlooking Kailua Bay in downtown Kona.

Here you can walk to the shops in downtown Kona, or attend a sunset luau. 

Best for families: Hilton Waikoloa Village: A large family-friendly resort in Kohala with a private beach, 4 acre lagoon, pools, lazy rivers, restaurants and bars.

Hilton Waikoloa Village
Hilton Waikoloa Village

Here you can relax in a cabana, snorkel in a protected lagoon, swim with dolphins, or attend a nightly luau!

Hilton Waikoloa Village
Hilton Waikoloa Village
Hilton Waikoloa Village
Garden view suite at Hilton Waikoloa Village
Pools at Hilton Waikoloa Village
Hilton Waikoloa Village

If you want to feel like you’re on vacation, this is the place to go.

Sunset at Hilton Waikoloa Village
Hilton Waikoloa Village

Best for couples: Fairmont Orchid: A luxurious Kohala resort, perfect for couples on a honeymoon with a private beach, spa with massage huts and cabanas, and on site activities like snorkeling and canoeing. 

Staying in Hilo

if you want to stay somewhere less touristy, I recommend staying in Hilo.

Hilo is located on the east side of the island, and has more of a local small town feel.

Hilo has a few small hotels, and cheap vacation rental options. If you’re traveling on a budget, staying in Hilo can be a great option.

Hilo has tons of free natural attractions to explore, including a free zoo, beach parks, and waterfalls.

Rainbow Falls, Hilo Hawaii
Rainbow Falls, Hilo Hawaii

I stayed in a cozy vacation rental in Hilo, and it significantly cut the costs of my vacation. 

Hilo is also only around 45 minutes away from the Volcanoes National Park, whereas Kona is nearly 2 hours. 

Check out our article on Kona vs Hilo for more insight on how they compare. 

Pros of staying in Hilo

  • Tons of free attractions (Waterfalls, zoo, beach parks, a lava tube)
  • Amazing poke spots and restaurants by the bay
  • Not as crowded with tourists as Kona
  • Great family-friendly lagoons for snorkeling
  • Has one of the of the largest Farmer’s Market on the Big Island
  • Only 45 minutes from the Volcanoes National Park

Cons of staying in Hilo

  • Downtown area is not as developed as Kona
  • Receives the most rainfall on the island
  • Most restaurants close very early 
  • Less beaches than Kona
  • Not many shopping opportunities

Where To Stay In Hilo

Best value overall: The Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel: An oceanfront hotel tucked along Hilo Bay with a gym, pool, and free breakfast.

Here you’ll be within walking distance to Liliʻuokalani Gardens, Coconut Island, and restaurants in Hilo Bay.

Best for families and couples: Dolphin Bay Hotel: Also overlooking Hilo Bay, this is a cozy hotel with complimentary coffee and banana bread for breakfast. 

Staying in Volcano Village 

Volcano Village is a peaceful rainforest town located just a few miles outside of the Volcanoes National Park.

Volcano Village, Hawaii
Volcano Village, Hawaii

If you plan on spending 2 or more days exploring the park, you may want to consider staying here.

Here you’ll find amazing hotels and vacation rentals, including eco-cottages, cozy cabins, and treehouse style bungalows.

When it comes to dining options, there’s amazing food trucks, cafes, and restaurants with crater views here.  

Pros of staying in Volcano Village

  • Cozy and peaceful vibe in the middle of the rainforest
  • Great cafes, food trucks, and restaurants
  • You’ll get the chance to view the glow from the Halemaʻumaʻu crater at night

Cons of staying in Volcano Village

  • Limited grocery store options
  • The closest beach is around 35 minutes away (Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach) 

Where To Stay In Volcano Village

Best value hotel for solo travelers, families, and couples: Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant: A comfortable lodge with a delicious onsite restaurant, hot tubs, and rooms with coffee makers, heated towel holders, and fireplaces.

Here you’ll be within a 5 minute drive from the Volcanoes National Park, and can enjoy all your meals at the onsite restaurant. 

Best vacation rental for couples: Volcano Village Serenity Suite: A cozy, secluded vacation rental in the middle of the rainforest, perfect for couples on honeymoon.

The suite has hammocks, a fireplace, kitchenette, and a free prepared breakfast for the first morning.

Here you can relax to bird sounds in the middle of the rainforest, and it’s within a 5 minute drive to the park. 

Activities in Kona vs Hilo

When it comes to things to do, Kona and Hilo differ quite widely in activities. If you want to spend most of your time relaxing on the beach, Kona is the place to go.

Kona has sunny white sand beaches, whereas Hilo has more of a tropical rainforest climate.

Kona also has historical parks, shopping centers, and a variety of farms. In Kona, you can tour a coffee farm, vanilla farm, honey farm, sea salt and even a seahorse farm! 

Additionally, Kona offers more paid tourist activities, such as food tours, sunset luaus, and night time manta ray tours. 

On the other hand, Hilo has many interesting natural attractions.

It’s surrounded by rainforest, and has a zoo, waterfalls, beach parks, botanical gardens, a lava tube, and more.

It’s also home to one of the largest Farmers Markets on the Big Island. If you want to appreciate nature and the local community, Hilo is the place to go. 

Where To Stay With Kids

Most families stay in Kona, since it has many large family-friendly resorts.

Hilo only has a few small hotels, but it can be a good choice if you’re traveling on a budget. 

One of the best places to stay with kids is the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Kona.

Hilton Waikoloa Village
Hilton Waikoloa Village

This is a large resort along the Kohala coast, with pools, lazy rivers, waterslides, and a lagoon with water sports rentals.

Hilton Waikoloa Village
Hilton Waikoloa Village

I’ve stayed here for three nights, and bought a day pass to the lagoon because I enjoyed it so much.

Hilton Waikoloa Village
Protected lagoon at Hilton Waikoloa Village

They offer many kid-friendly activities as well, from swan boat rides in the lagoon to dolphin swimming lessons at Dolphin Quest.

Dolphin Quest at Hilton Waikoloa Village
Dolphin Quest at the Hilton Waikoloa

Where To Stay For Couples

Where you stay for a couples vacation ultimately depends on your preferences. 

Some of the best resorts for couples are located along the Kohala coast and Volcano village.

The Kohala Coast has luxurious resorts with private beaches, and spas that offer couples massages. 

Volcano Village has romantic cabin getaways in the middle of the rainforest, with hot tubs and free breakfast. 

Should you fly into Kona or Hilo?

It’s best to fly into whichever airport is closest to your accommodation.

The airports in Kona and Hilo are both very small, with Kona being the busiest since it’s near most hotels.

If you fly into Hilo but are staying in Kona, you’ll have to make a 2 hour road trip to your accommodation. 

Renting A Car On The Big Island: Is It Necessary?

I highly recommend renting a car on the Big Island. There are Uber/Lyft and taxi services, but it can be very expensive for a short trip. 

Additionally, the Big Island has limited public transportation options.

The only form of public transportation is the Hele-On bus, which is mainly used by locals to commute, and doesn’t stop at tourist areas.

Renting a car will allow you the flexibility to drive from Kona to Hilo, and explore the entire island. 

On my recent trip to the Big Island, we picked up an SUV from Dollar Car Rental at the Hilo airport.

I recommend and always use Discover Cars to find the cheapest car rentals. They aggregate the best deals, and offer free cancellation up to 48 hours before pickup.

This gave us the flexibility to explore all of the natural attractions, and make the road trip from Kona to Hilo. 

Tip: Just make sure to check that the reviews for the rental company, (Hertz, Thrifty, Dollar Car, etc.) are in line with the reviews listed on Discover Cars. 


The Big Island is the largest Hawaiian island, so it’s important to stay in an accommodation that aligns with your preferences. 

If snorkeling, relaxing on the beach, and enjoying beautiful sunsets is high on your priority list, I recommend staying in Kona.

If you want to experience a small town vibe away from tourists, I recommend staying in Hilo

And if you plan on spending more than 2 days at the Volcanoes National Park, I recommend staying in Volcano Village.

If you want to explore the entire island, make sure to check out articles on things to see between Kona and Hilo