Active volcanoes, lava tubes, waterfalls, and the most splendid beaches are just a handful of reasons to visit the Island of Hawaii (also known as Big Island). The Big Island is not as big as the name suggests, and you can very easily drive around the Island of Hawaii in a day. However, to really enjoy the island, I recommend planning a Big Island 5 day itinerary.
To be honest, I was on the Big Island for two full weeks the last time I was there. While I spent many days relaxing and also learning how to scuba dive, you could easily spend 5 days in Hawaii and feel satisfied with how much you saw.
With that in mind, I created this guide for spending 5 days on the Big Island with helpful tips on how best to experience your time here.
Tips for Spending 5 Days on the Big Island
Here are a few tips to help you out during your trip.
Getting to the Big Island of Hawaii
There are two international airports on the island. One is in Kona and the other in Hilo. You can catch a flight from most big cities around the world. You can also access the island by sea if you’re stopping on the island during or after a cruise. If you want to treat yourself, you can fly in luxury in Hawaiian Airlines’ business class.
For those already on another of Hawaii’s islands, you’ll have to take a commuter plane for your Big Island 5 day itinerary.
How Do You Get Around the Big Island?
If you’re up for one of the most spectacular road trips ever (although a Big Sur road trip is pretty scenic as well!), I’d suggest you rent a car and drive yourself around the island (make sure to check out the road trip essentials you’ll want to bring). This offers independence and control over your time at each stop. You’ll also be able to see much more during your 5 day Hawaii itinerary.
If you’d prefer not to drive, there is also the Hele-on bus, public transportation that is available at an affordable price. But, the bus means longer travel times, less than reliable schedules, and some crowding.
The island also has Uber, Lyft, and private taxis for rent. These can be pricey, and they also have restricted zones in which they travel. So you’re not likely to get to all of the attractions listed below using a taxi or rideshare.
To do the full 5 day Big Island itinerary around the island, I’d suggest renting a car and driving yourself.
Where to Stay on the Big Island
Thanks to the island being small enough to drive around in less than 12 hours, you could choose to stay in one of the bigger towns, like Kona or Hilo, and travel from there each day. Alternatively, you can pick hotels that are spread across the island to make the most of your five days on the Big Island.
Here are the top options for you to stay at during your trip:
- Kona Coast Resort – Enjoy some of Kona’s luxury and stay at this tropical garden resort. With its own restaurant, sauna, and direct beach access, it’ll be just the island paradise you’re looking for.
- Kohala Lodge, Hawi – This homely cabin is just a short distance from the town of Hawi. Located on what was once a working ranch, the lodge is fully furnished, eco-friendly, and has its own patio overlooking the beauty of the island in the distance.
- Wild Ginger Inn Hotel & Hostel, Hilo – Set in an old plantation housing building, this family-owned inn is a home-away-from-home in Hilo. The inn has a B&B-meets-hostel vibe and offers authentic Hawaiian friendliness from the hosts and staff.
- At the Crater’s Edge, Volcano Village – A short 5-minute drive from Hawaii Volcano National Park, this lodge is nestled into its lush tropical garden surroundings. Rooms have large, floor-to-ceiling windows, which make them light and airy, as well as providing breathtaking views of tropical rainforest.
Top Things to Do on the Big Island in 5 Days
If you have extra time on Big Island, here are a few more things you should add to your Hawaii itinerary for 5 days.
This dormant volcano is the highest point on the Big Island, peaking at 13,803 ft above sea level. It’s considered sacred by many native Hawaiian people and is believed to be the home of the gods.
You can hike up to the summit during your Big Island 5 day itinerary, or drive if you have a 4×4, but beware of altitude sickness. It’s a brilliant trip to do just before sunrise or sunset, for breathtaking views. The top is also a romantic spot to go for stargazing on the Big Island.
Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site
This national site is a short drive from Kona. It’s home to one of the largest heiau in Hawaii. A heiau is a Hawaiian temple that natives would build to worship and honor things of great importance.
You can visit the site daily from 8:00 am to 4:45 pm and enjoy a walking tour of the site during your 5 days in Big Island.
Puakō Petroglyph Park
This park is a small field of an undamaged collection of petroglyphs that were carved into cooled lava flows by the native Hawaiian people. The park is home to almost 1200 different petroglyphs, made up of designs of sailors, turtles, dancers, and other everyday items and animals.
When you do visit, be sure to respect the area and don’t touch or damage the designs. We want to take care of them to ensure they’re around for more generations to see.
Lava Tree State Monument
Located in the Puna district, this public park is home to preserved lava molds of tree trunks that once belonged to a lush forest. The 17-acre park is open every day during daylight hours and has no entrance fee, so it’s the perfect free activity for your Hawaii Big Island itinerary for 5 days.
There’s a hike that’s flat and less than a mile, so it’s a good place to get your kids’ energy out if needed. That said, don’t let them run too far ahead, as there are some uprooted trees here.
This rustic town is right outside of the Volcano National Park and perfect to stop at during your Big Island 5 day itinerary. It’s home to art galleries, cafes, and is surrounded by rainforest. It’s a stunning place to visit and it offers a tranquil, relaxing time away from the hustle and bustle of the bigger towns.
There are so many things to see on the Big Island, and an endless amount of adventure to be had. Even if you don’t have a full 5 days on the Big Island to spend here, the island is a must-see on any Hawaiian trip.
Big Island 5 Day Itinerary
There are plenty of things to do on Big Island, here’s a suggested itinerary offering enough time for each activity. There’s no need to rush through your Big Island 5 day itinerary if you plan it wisely. Make sure to check out my Hawaii packing list before you go so you’ll have everything!
Day 1: Explore Kailua-Kona
Kona is one of the bigger towns in Hawaii, and it’s a great place to put on your Big Island itinerary for 5 days. There’s a great selection of beaches along the nearby coast, and this is the ideal spot if you enjoy being in the water. Scuba diving, snorkeling, and swimming amongst the reefs and fish are all top Hawaii Big Island activities here.
You’ll want to check out the Kona Farmer’s Market to buy fresh fruit and local crafts. I went back here twice to buy dresses and jewelry from local artists, as it’s one of the best things to do in Kona.
Get into the Hawaiian spirit on your first day and visit some of the relaxing beaches. Visit Magic Sands Beach Park or Kahalu’u Beach Park, and take a bit more of a drive down to the Captain Cook Monument.
Head to Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park to learn more about the lives of native Hawaiians and view the petroglyphs. Kona also has a range of coffee farms to tour and enjoy tastings at. And if the ocean is calling to you, there are surf lessons you can book as well.
Inside the town, you’ll find restaurants, shops, and a number of historical landmarks. Kamakahonu Beach is home to King Kamehameha’s personal temple and a reconstruction of the king’s home.
For an authentic first dinner on Big Island, Island Breeze Luau – He ‘Ohana Kakou offers traditional food and a show.
Day 2: Visit a Coffee Plantation, Waimea, and Hawi
From Kona, Hawi is about a 1 – 1.5 hours drive. The eccentric town is a Big Island must-see, but there’s also plenty to see along the way during this part of your Big Island 5 day itinerary.
Take the Hawaii Belt Road out of Kona, and make your first stop just 20 minutes away at Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation. Here, you can taste some premium coffee, tour the farm, and purchase a bag of beans to take home with you as a souvenir when looking for what to do on the Big Island for 5 days.
Just before you reach Hawi, you’ll enter Waimea. This town offers spectacular hiking opportunities, gorgeous green spaces, and two of the oldest ranches where you’ll discover the lives of Hawaiian cowboys. There are also several art galleries and heritage centers to browse through before you continue on your way.
After all this exploring, you’ll most likely reach Hawi by lunchtime. Before you visit the town, stop off at Bamboo Restaurant & Gallery for a meal and a look at some of the island’s unique artworks.
Stop in at the visitor center to learn more about the town, and then take a walking tour of the colorful streets. The town is full of art galleries and fascinating historical landmarks.
Day 3: Find Adventure in Waipio Valley
About 1.5 hours from either Kona or Hawi, Waipio is a significant historical site for Hawaiians. Waipio Valley, or ‘The Valley of Kings’, is a stunning valley at the bottom of one of the steepest roads. Unless you have a 4×4, you’ll have to hike down the road to reach the bottom of the valley (and it’ll be a steep hike back up again).
The valley is extremely fertile, which is why it was, and still is, home to the island’s taro farming community. At the top of the valley is the lookout, offering picturesque views, especially on a clear day. At the bottom, you’ll find the black sand beach and the Muliwai Trail – which is only recommended for expert hikers or with a tour guide.
There is a handful of gorgeous waterfalls in and near the valley, so taking a knowledgeable local with you is a good idea. If you love hiking, you’ll want to add this to your 5 day Big Island itinerary.
Near the valley, you’ll find 5 days on the Big Island, a gallery to browse through before or after your hike. If you’re still not quite ready to head back to your hotel, I’d suggest a visit to Honokaa, a small town nearby. There’s an old theater, a chocolate company, and various cafes and restaurants to refuel at.
Day 4: Discover Hilo
Driving from Kona to Hilo takes around 1.5 hours right across the island. However, it’s not a bad idea to book accommodation in the town so that you’re not wasting time traveling during your 5 days on the Big Island.
Hilo is the biggest town on Big Island has a whole lot to see and do, so put this on your 5 day Big Island itinerary.
First, I’d suggest you head to Akaka Falls, as you really wouldn’t want to leave the island without seeing this majestic beauty. You’ll have to drive for about 20 minutes from Hilo, and the hike takes around 30 minutes. This makes for a pleasant 1.5-hour breakfast trip, so take a picnic and a flask of coffee to enjoy.
On your way back to Hilo, you’re going to want to stop in at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens. Take a moment to admire the 1800+ species of tropical plants and snap splendid photos of Mother Nature’s beauty.
Once back in Hilo, you can take your pick of what to discover. There are plenty of beaches, of course, and the town has more than enough eateries. There are also fantastic museums, like the Pacific Tsunami Museum, as well as an astronomy center.
Another must-visit spot is Wailuku River State Park, home to the Boiling Pots overlook and Wailuku Falls.
Day 5: See Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Save the best for last. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is an unmissable destination on any 5 day Big Island itinerary and is reached with an easy 40-minute drive from Hilo. If you’ve stayed in Kona throughout your trip, the drive will be around 2 hours.
The national park is most famous for its twin active volcanoes, namely Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. While these volcanoes are active, there is very little chance of the rumbling and spewing lava while you visit during your 5 days in Hawaii itinerary.
The park has several hiking trails to be conquered – totaling 150 miles of trail. It’s also got a few spectacular biking trails for the cyclists – bikes can be rented on the island. You can drive through the park if you have a 4×4, but this is best done on a guided tour.
The park is also home to many species of endangered birds, making it a popular spot among bird watchers. And if all of that isn’t exciting enough, you can always take a stroll through a lava tube.
If you have the time, dinner at Volcano House is possibly the best way to end this enchanting trip. And if you’re lucky enough to be here during sunset, watching the volcanoes begin to glow in the dark is the absolute cherry on top during your 5 day Hawaii vacation itinerary.
Whether you’re visiting to take advantage of the thrilling hikes or to discover every bit of the sea or immerse yourself in the island’s culture and heritage, there’s something here for everyone. From the rumbling volcanos to the tranquil rainforest, Hawaii is a true tropical paradise, just waiting to welcome you during your Big Island 5 day itinerary.