Explore the Big Island in 5 Days
Big Island of Hawaii 5-Day Itinerary Suggestions
At some point in planning your vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii, it’s probably going to hit you, “Wow, this is a lot harder than I thought it’d be... there’s so much to do.” Welcome to the state where the possibilities for activities and adventures are limitless, to where you’ll likely never find yourself bored unless you refuse to leave your hotel room. This portion of our website is here to help you focus on planning your trip and should allow you to organize what you want to do into simple itineraries. Planning your vacation doesn’t have to be a chore, and hopefully, our recommendations will be of assistance in your preparation.
Ultimately, we’ve designed our Big Island of Hawaii itineraries around a set number of on-island Big Island days: offering one, three, five, seven, and even ten-day itineraries for exploring the island, soaking in the best sights, and ensuring your precious time, and potentially money, on the Big Island of Hawaii are spent wisely. We’ve tried to balance our itineraries between those who seek adventure and those looking to find a good beach and relax. Overall, we want your experience to be exactly what you’ve dreamed of when planning your Big Island of Hawaii trip.
We’ve provided all Big Island directions via Google Maps when possible, as Google Maps works on all platforms and across all devices. You should be able to pop the directions into your phone or tablet and go. To help you visualize each day’s itinerary, we’ve also provided overview maps that help you get your bearings.
Our five-day Big Island of Hawaii itinerary includes many of the recommendations in our three-day Big Island itinerary, plus some other must-see sights, attractions, and activities for the extra two days on the island. The additional two days will go a long way on the Big Island of Hawaii and reduce some of the driving required to see the island’s highlights during a shorter visit. We still recommend most visitors book a trip to the Big Island that lasts at least a week in duration if you genuinely want to explore the island thoroughly. Still, we’ve done our best to work on five days of great Big Island attractions and activities for you below. Skip ahead to the 5-day itinerary now →
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Accommodations on the Big Island of Hawaii & Where to Stay Summary
On the Big Island, you’re probably considering splitting your stay between the Kona side and Hilo side of the island, that’s smart - it will make visiting each respective side of the island’s attractions easier, because after all, the big island is, well, BIG. The last thing you want to do most days is to spend hours in the car driving to a destination on the other side of the island. If you haven’t yet decided where to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii, we can help with that too, be sure to check out our Where to Stay on the Big Island of Hawaii article for the best tips and suggestions on where to book your stay. Don’t worry if you’ve already booked your trip on just the Kona or Hilo side, or if your lodging isn’t even in Kone or Hilo, as there are a number of accommodations, b&bs, inns, etc scattered across the island. Regardless of where you’re staying, we’ll still help you plan accordingly.
Be sure to also read our Best time to Visit the Big Island article for an in-depth look at which time of year is best to visit the Big Island for your travel party.
Getting Around the Big Island of Hawaii
On Hawaii island, a rental car is definitely the best option for getting around the island and viewing all the sights we detail in our itineraries. This is especially true because of how spread out some of the various attractions are located geographically speaking. The rental rates in Hawaii are often some of the cheapest anywhere in the world because the competition is usually fierce.
There is no reliable bus service on the island and taxi services are both expensive and illogical for sight-seeing purposes.
Summary of what to pack on your Big Island of Hawaii trip
Regardless of how much you’ve traveled in the past and where you’ve been, there is one good rule to follow when coming to Hawaii, leave as much as you can at home. Seriously, bring only what you’ll need during your stay and nothing more. For starters, schlepping around three suitcases is NOT what you want to be doing after getting off a long plane ride. Next, consider that long pants, dress clothes, and anything else formal really have no use in Hawai‘i (unless you are staying in a very exclusive resort). Chances are a pair of shorts and an old Aloha shirt are all you’ll need for even some fine dining.
As far as clothing goes, that’s usually a few pairs of shorts, several T-shirts, sandals or flip-flops (slippahs as Hawaii residents call them), and a good visor or hat, anything made of a cotton blend is usually good. A light jacket might also be nice for those visits to higher elevations.
With the motto, “less is more” in mind, here are a few other items to bring. Sunblock (the UV on Hawai‘i is typically 10+ in the spring, summer, and fall), a backpack (for any hikes) and a water bottle, slippers (flip flops, shower shoes, zoris), mask, snorkel, and fins (or rent locally instead), two bathing suits (one to wear while the other dries) and a cover-up, your phone or a camera, lightweight raincoat or poncho (for mountain/rain forest hiking), bug spray with DEET (for any forest hikes), flashlight (if the sun goes down before your hike ends or for night walks on the beach), hiking boots and hiking rods, and most importantly a list of all your troubles to leave behind. For more information on what to pack, seeing our What to Pack When Visiting Hawaii article.
Five Day Itinerary for the Big Island
5-Day Big Island Wayfinder Guide
We'll officially kick off our itinerary suggestions by quickly covering the days you both arrive and depart. While they are not completely a wash in terms of planning something to actively do or participate in those days, we like to keep them open and use them for relaxing after we arrive and before we depart.
Arrival Day on the Big Island
Let the first day you arrive be a day to adjust to the islands. Grab a bite to eat, pick up supplies and/or groceries, enjoy your first Hawaiian sunset that evening, and get to bed early as it has likely been a long day. If you’re flying in from another island, as we often do, then some light sightseeing probably won’t be a problem once you’re set up with your new rental, etc. But generally, we advise people to take it easy the first day, soak in their local surroundings, and acclimate to Hawaiian time.
Departure Day from the Big Island
Like your arrival day, this day is meant to wind down from your trip and prepare for your jump to another island or for the journey home. We suggest grabbing a bite to eat from one of your favorite local restaurants near your accommodation and maybe some final souvenir shopping at some of the many stores and local shops around the island. Undoubtedly, the local community would appreciate your business. In Hawaii there are no “Goodbye’s” - so we’ll say A Hui Hou, which in Hawaiian means ‘Until we meet again.’ Aloha!
Big Island 5-Day Essentials Itinerary
We're working on our more advanced modular itinerary for the Big Island, similar to how we've set up our Maui Itineraries. Until we have that ready, check out our essentials Big Island of Hawaii itinerary to get you started.
For finding local food, which we recommend as many nights as you can do so, check out our recommended best local dining articles; look for the Big Island section in each article.
You'll want to split your time and accommodations in this suggested itinerary between Kailua-Kona (Days 1-3). Then we recommend you head to the Hilo (or Volcano Village) area for the remaining days. On the day you depart, likely from Kailua-Kona, head back across the island to catch your flight.
Day 1: Kona Coast and Kailua-Kona
- Spend the morning at the Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park.
- Afternoon at Kua Bay (Manini'owali Beach).
- Explore downtown Kailua-Kona: visit the Hulihe'e Palace and Mokuaikaua Church, and walk along the Ali'i Drive.
- Dinner in Kailua-Kona.
Day 2: Coffee and History
- Visit a Kona Coffee farm in the morning.
- Drive south to visit the Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.
- For lunch, stop by Kaaloa’s Super J’s for laulau (you'll thank us later).
- Late afternoon snorkel at the popular Two Step location nearby.
- Return to Kailua-Kona for dinner.
Day 2 Alternative: Beach Relaxation
- Explore out to remote Makalawena Beach, or if you're looking for a great beach that's easier to access, check out the popular Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area.
- Do some shopping in the Queen's Marketplace on your way back.
- Return to Kailua-Kona for dinner.
Day 3: North Kohala and Waimea
Day 3 Alternative: North Hamakua Coast
- Take the 'north route (Highway 19)' to explore the Hamakua Coast, beginning at Waipio Valley Overlook.
- Visit Akaka Falls State Park.
- Drive the 4-Mile Scenic Route to Onomea Bay and visit the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (admission required). Be sure to stop at What's Shakin' for a memorable smoothie experience.
Day 4: Volcano Adventure
- Early drive to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park via the 'north route (Highway 19).'
- We recommend spending the remainder of your trip on the Hilo side (or in Volcano Village).
- Spend the day exploring the park: see Kilauea's Overlook(s), the Nahuku (Thurston) Lava Tube, and hike the Crater Rim trail. If you're feeling adventurous, hike the Kilauea Iki trail (which includes part of the Crater Rim trail but also switch-backs down into the Kilauea Iki crater before climbing back into the surrounding fern forest above the crater.
- Dinner at Volcano House overlooking the crater.
Day 5: Hilo and the East Side
- Explore Hilo Town (visit the farmer's market if it's a Saturday morning)
- Visit the 'Imiloa Astronomy Center.
- In the afternoon, visit Rainbow Falls.
- If time allows, visit Kaumana Cave.
Day 5 Alternate: Mauna Kea
- Spend a day exploring Hilo before heading along Saddle Road to Mauna Kea, and remember to prepare for the altitude and colder weather. A tour is highly recommended.
- Visit the visitor center and, if possible, arrange a stargazing tour before your visit.
With this itinerary, you'll be able to visit various important places across the Big Island, from historical sites to volcanoes, waterfalls, and beautiful beaches. Please remember this is just a suggested itinerary, and you might want to adjust it based on your preferences and local weather conditions.