A trip to Hawaii can be a life changing event. We get it, you want to make the most out of your time without stressing the easy-going vibe of the islands and enjoy the top activities on the Big Island in Hawaii. It’s daunting, but we’re here to help.
We absolutely love Hawaii and want you to experience the incredible beauty and culture. Whether you’re here just a couple days or have decided to extend your stay indefinitely (you’d be surprised how often that happens), we have organized a short list of the best and most noteworthy experiences on the Island of Hawaii aka the Big Island. We hope our suggestions take a little pressure off making an itinerary.
1. Top activities on Big Island, Hawaii: Dive or Snorkel with Manta Rays
If there’s one rule of a Hawaii vacation, it’s to make the most of your time, and if you’re looking for the top activities on Big Island in Hawaii, than look no further. Your one-of-a-kind vacation deserves a one-of-a-kind experience and this is certainly it. The Travel Channel had even deemed manta ray tours one of the “top ten things to do in your lifetime.”
Snorkeling with manta rays takes you up close and personal with the (non-dangerous) beautiful underwater creatures. And when we say “personal” we mean “personal”. Manta rays feed on plankton, the tours use LED lights to attract the food source, and the food source attracts the mantas (kind of like if there’s a taco truck, you’re bound to find us there). The mantas come so close that it isn’t unusual for them to swoop by you.
Being this close to the manta rays in Hawaii is truly an incredible experience, worth every penny, and one you won’t regret. Although the chances of no mantas are very very slim, some companies have a manta-guarantee, so you can always reschedule if there’s some unpredictable occurrence.
If you’re looking for the top activities on the Big Island in Hawaii, keep in mind that only a few companies on the island offer this tour.
At Sea Paradise, we offer manta ray tours where you can snorkel with the gentle manta rays at the world-famous “Manta Ray Village” outside of Keauhou Bay and the unforgettable manta encounter is guaranteed.
2. Drive to Waipio Valley
Entrancing emerald jungles, crystal clear waterfalls, black sand beaches and crashing ocean waves. . .it may sound like bad poetry, but in reality it’s an absolutely true description of one of the most beautiful spots in the entire state.
Waipio is located far north, away from most resorts and hotels, so prepare yourself for a long drive. And then once you get there, the real drive begins. You will definitely need 4WD, it’s a single lane bumpy steep descent. Move slowly and if you don’t feel confident then don’t risk it. You can also hike down into the valley along the same road, but be warned it isn’t an easy walk, and if you do decide to take this option plan for it to take the better part of a day. Once you’re down in the valley, the view is absolutely stunning. The next valley over, called Waimanu, is even more beautiful. That one requires a hike and some pretty significant planning, so we’ll leave those details for another time.
3. Sea the incredible underwater life on Big Island, Hawaii (we punned)
You’ve driven along the coast and seen the stunning ocean surf, or watched the sun set over the horizon, now it’s time to explore what’s under those crashing waves. The Big Island of Hawaii has some of the best snorkeling in the world; they go to great lengths to protect the surrounding reef so the aquatic life is abundant and plentiful.
Among the best places to snorkel in the island are Kealakekua Bay and Red Hill. These two locations are popular with both visitors and locals alike.
Kealakekua is a hike to get to, and not an easy one, especially after you’ve expended all your energy chasing those fish around, including the much-loved state fish humuhumunukunukuapuaa.
Sure, you can spend most of your day walking or swimming to these prime locations, but we’ve found the best way to go about this experience is letting a professional guide you.
A couple companies offer snorkel morning or afternoon tours (go with morning) and place you exactly where you want to be. Although there’s a few options out there, Sea Paradise is one with consistently great reviews. We know the history and underwater geography like the back of our hand and we love what we do!
The morning tours stop at both stunning snorkeling locations and we provide drinks, snacks, and snorkel gear. Considering the entirety of what you get during this four hour trip, it really is a steal. Book HERE and enjoy one of the top activities on the Big Island in Hawaii!
4. Visit Papakolea – one of the best beaches on Big Island and in the world
Hawaii is known for it’s beaches, and the Big Island is unique in it’s variety of white, black, and green sand beaches.
That’s right, Papakolea otherwise known as Green Sand Beach (creative name, huh?) is a mixture of black and white sand as well as broken-down ovaline (green-tinged rocks). It’s a stupefying location that will only be around for a finite amount of time. There’s only so much of the green rock, please please don’t take any with you, leave it for others to enjoy.
It’s a bumpy ride to the beach where 4WD is certainly necessary. You could also hike to the beach but be warned, it’s a long long way and feels even further. Another interesting option is hopping in the back of a truck for $20 (although prices tend to shift). Locals with their 4WD trucks wait at the beginning of the hike and will offer you transport for a small fee. This beach certainly ain’t a breeze to get to but it’s well worth the effort.
5. Grab a sunset maitai on Big Island
Enjoy a maitai how they were meant to be enjoyed, watching a stunning sunset over the ocean horizon.
Vacations can be such a rush to see and experience everything, and sometimes it’s important to take a breather and bask in your surroundings. This is especially true in beautiful Hawaii. Find a lovely viewpoint and grab Hawaii’s signature vacation drink for the perfect R&R.
Maitai’s are abundant here, as are great locations for the sunset. One of our favorite of the specialty cocktails is at Island Lava Java (it’s a traditional one, not as sweet but incredibly delicious) or you can always check out Don the Beachcomber, which is one of the places they claim the signature drink was invented.
6. Cliff jump
Not for the faint of heart. Flex your adrenaline muscles after lounging on the beach and sipping all those tropical cocktails with a heart-pumping cliff jump.
Our favorite cliff jump is at South Point, the southernmost point in the United States (another pretty cool reason to visit). Follow the signs towards the coast and admire the enormous windmills off in the distance as you approach.
The jump is a popular one, so you’ll see the car-filled parking lot and see the crowd surrounding the jumping point. You’ll probably see a variety of people on the cliff: visitors trying to gather up their courage, worried mothers advising against it, and locals doing backflips like it ain’t no thang.
It’s an intimidating jump at approximately 40 ft. up, but it’s still one of the top activities on the Big Island in Hawaii that are worth experiencing. We suggest not looking down, jumping out far, and saving the tricks for another time. There’s a latter tethered to the cliffside which can likewise be a little nerve-wracking.
7. Try the local food on Big Island
In order to truly immerse yourself in the culture and history of this beautiful island, you absolutely must try the local food. From Kalua pig to lau lau, haupia to poi, poke to huli-huli chicken. Local cuisine offers a variety of flavors you’re sure to miss when you’re gone.
Although we prefer some more than others (we grew up on poi and still haven’t learned to love it), we’d say they’re all worth a try.
Most restaurants offer their version of Hawaiian dishes (mostly seafood or kalua pork nachos). For a full local style menu try Uncle Georges at Volcano House. They offer plate lunches with just enough to sample a bunch of different local classics. Other good spots include Kanaka Kava and Kuleana Rum Shack. If you’d like to try some modern local classics look for a Loco Moco on the menu. It’s a popular breakfast item here on the islands.