Everyone knows Hawaii as a beautiful tropical paradise where you can snorkel all day on gorgeous beaches and enjoy perfect sunsets every night. Hawaii Island, a.k.a. the Big Island is the largest island in the chain, and its vast mountains stretch from the coastline to nearly 14,000 feet. If you’re headed to Hawaii Island and you don’t want to miss a thing, check out these most-visited hotspots that every tourist must see!
Walk on an Active Volcano
The number-one tourist spot on Hawaii Island is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, home to the active volcano Kilauea. Though not fully recovered from the eruption of 2018, many parts of the park have reopened. There are relatively few places in the world where one can safely experience a volcano this up-close-and-personal. Hawaiian volcanoes are a unique, slow-flowing type of shield volcano, and are intensively studied and monitored. Drive along the rim of the crater; check out the heat from natural steam vents; hike along Devastation Trail and the Sulphur Banks. Be sure to bring good footwear and warm layers, as the weather at 4000 feet elevation is highly variable. The Visitors’ Center is very informative and well worth a stop.
Experience Beautiful Coastal Valleys
While most of Hawaii Island is too geologically young to have the sharply eroded cliffs of the other Hawaiian Islands, there is an exception on the windward coast of Kohala, on the island’s northern end. Steep valleys have been carved out of the mountain here by abundant rainfall, and these valleys also hold a lot of historical interest, having been major population centers during ancient times. Waipio Valley in particular is sometimes called the “valley of kings,” due to the number of powerful chiefs who have lived here.
Though these stunning valleys are largely inaccessible, there are two places where you can at least get views of this incredible coastline. From the north, hikers can access Pololu Valley, and walk down a steep trail to the beautiful black sand beach (swimming not advised). From the south, stop and marvel at the Waipio Valley lookout, where you’ll see distant waterfalls, taro farms, and a river pouring out into the ocean at a black sand beach. The lookout itself is a well-run facility with decent bathrooms and parking.
Though it is possible to drive 4-wheel drive vehicles into the valley, the road grade is extremely steep, and the task is best left to experienced locals. Either walk down or take a tour with one of the local companies: Horseback and ATV rides are both available in the valley. After stopping at the Waipio Valley Lookout, head to the nearby cute historic town of Honokaa for refreshments.
Sample the Goods, Island-Style
If you love to taste the freshest and the best, anywhere you go, then you won’t want to miss the island’s farmers’ markets. Expect a profusion of fresh veggies, great lunch-truck meals, and a bounty of unfamiliar tropical fruits, all surrounded with community character.
In Hilo, the farmers’ market is a downtown mainstay, operating seven days a week, rain or shine, though it’s much bigger on Wednesday and Saturday. Though the market venue is urban in character, you’ll find some of the island’s best prices here, especially on staples like banana and papaya. You can also expect to hear a fascinating variety of languages here, from both vendors and tourists. Further afield on the east side, but worth the trip is the Maku’u Farmers’ Market along the highway just before Pahoa town. This hippie-vibe market is very representative of the Puna district, and you’ll find everything from smoked pork to hemp jewelry. Maku’u Market happens on Sundays from 8 to 2.
Up north, in the ranching town of Waimea, you might have a hard time deciding which Saturday morning market to head to, as there are currently four Saturday markets. Waimea is essentially the state’s breadbasket for all types of greens, due to the higher elevation (2500 feet), so expect to find the freshest kale, chard, salad mix, tomatoes, and more. The market at Pukalani Stables/Paniolo Heritage Center is a fun family offering, with live music, nice crafts, and plenty of yummy food. Try some vegan Thai food, or perhaps a decadent gourmet grilled cheese! Don’t forget to check out the exhibits on paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) history and culture. If you’re traveling with kids, stop at the Parker School Farmers’ Market for a treat, then head across the street to the beautiful Anuenue Playground.
Finally, if you’re in South Kona on a Sunday, stop by the Pure Kona Green Market in Kealakekua. South Kona is known for its artsy vibe, and you’re sure to find tons of fascinating creations by local crafters here, along with delicious treats. It’s a great roadside stop on the way to beautiful Kealakekua Bay, or South Point.
While you’re driving around the island, don’t forget to stop at the many scenic overlooks to catch views of waterfalls, coastlines, and more! Make the most of your stay on our beautiful island.