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Big Island-stay in Kona or Hilo? Any hotel recs?

We've decided to switch and do the Big Island instead of Kauai on our Hawaii trip next year (we'll still also go to Maui). Should we stay in Kona or Hilo? Or should we stay 1-2 nights in one and one night in the other? We're thinking of doing 2-3 days on the Big Island and then the rest of our time in Maui. We know we want to go to Volcanoes National Park and we want to do the night snorkeling with the manta rays. That being said, where should we stay? Any hotel recs? Any other must dos? We're still researching obviously but would love some advice from folks who have been.  Thanks!

Re: Big Island-stay in Kona or Hilo? Any hotel recs?

  • We honeymooned at the Fairmont Orchid north of Kona and loved it.  It was pricey but for our honeymoon, we splurged.  We rented a car and travelled all over the Big Island for a week.   We had looked at condos on the island (a bit cheaper) but we wanted to be pampered.

    We spent one evening at the observatory on Mauna Kea.  There are tours but we drove up ourselves.  Beware of the invisible cows.  To get to the observatory, you go through the cloud layer.  The stupid cows will lie down in the middle of the road.  Between the switch back roads and the foggy clouds, you cannot see the stupid cows until you are practically on top of them.  If you drive yourself, the cost is minimal.   Because you are so high up (about 12k feet) the stars are like jewels just out of reach.  If you do this, pack winter gear.  It is cold at the top of the volcanoes.  We went up for the sunset and stayed for the observatory.  Rent a larger vehicle if you are going to climb any volcanoes.  We managed to turn on every engine light possible on our economy car at the end of our climb.  Also have a full tank of gas.  We used 5/6ths of a tank up and had to coast a bit down the mountain.  It was a bit nerve wracking.

    Pick up a copy of the Big Island Revealed.  This book helped us find the most gorgeous hiking trails that we could take for free. It also pinpointed which/when attractions/experiences would have the most/least crowds.  It also pointed out a couple of farmers markets where we picked up fresh produce for our hikes.  Pack a crushable cooler and freeze bottles of water in your hotel (condo) fridge. 

    We took the Blue Hawaii helicopter tour over Volcanoes National Park.  Again, it was expensive but totally worth while.  Where else do you get to see the earth on fire?

    We ate some fantastic meals:  Tako Taco in Waimea (their fish tacos with pineapple tomatillo salsa were heavenly) Thai Orchid in Kona (just the right amount of spiceso that you had good heat without the burn), Hilo Bay Cafe in Hilo (I want a lillikoi martini now), Sushi Rocks in Hawi  (The fishermen delivered the evening catch and then they put up their menu for the evening).

  • If you want to make Volcanoes National Park a priority for your Big Island visit, I highly recommend staying right in the village of Volcano.  We did this, and it was totally worth it to have the park five minutes away and we could visit it as often as we wanted, instead of trying to cram everything there is to see at the park into a day trip.

    However, if you're looking for the more typical Hawaii experience -- on a beach with palm trees -- than Volcano would be disappointing.  It's a teeny little village in the rain forest where the temperatures are cool and it often rains.  And there's limited dining options and zero night life.

    But it is an AMAZING place to get away from it all and relax.  And it worked well for us as a base to explore the rest of the island.

    Here's my Big Island trip report for more info.

  • I highly recommend Ka'awa Loa Plantation.  It's in the Captain Cook area which is closer to the drier side of the island.  The price is extremely affordable and the views and food are amazing! 

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g60580-d644908-Reviews-Ka_awa_Loa_Plantation-Captain_Cook_Island_of_Hawaii_Hawaii.html

     

    If you hang out in this area, you must go to Kealakekua Bay.  You can rent a kayak from a local and swim with wild dolphins!!  This was the most amazing part of our entire trip which was to 3 of the islands.  (Note that you can drive down.  You don't have to hike down)

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60580-d109549-Reviews-Kealakekua_Bay-Captain_Cook_Island_of_Hawaii_Hawaii.html

     

    Have a great time!

     

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  • image MrsKelleyT:

    I highly recommend Ka'awa Loa Plantation.  It's in the Captain Cook area which is closer to the drier side of the island.  The price is extremely affordable and the views and food are amazing! 

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g60580-d644908-Reviews-Ka_awa_Loa_Plantation-Captain_Cook_Island_of_Hawaii_Hawaii.html

     

    If you hang out in this area, you must go to Kealakekua Bay.  You can rent a kayak from a local and swim with wild dolphins!!  This was the most amazing part of our entire trip which was to 3 of the islands.  (Note that you can drive down.  You don't have to hike down)

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60580-d109549-Reviews-Kealakekua_Bay-Captain_Cook_Island_of_Hawaii_Hawaii.html

     

    Have a great time!

     

    Definitely do the bay! We booked through a tour group, so we kayaked over to the other side of the bay and then snorkeled with the group. The dolphins must be really used to kayakers because they swam right next to us!

    We stayed here in Kona: https://www.wyndhamvacationresorts.com/ffr/resort/details.do?id=0071 and I do NOT reccomend it unless they are done with the renovations. Wyndham purchased it just a few weeks before we stayed and it was under remodel while we were there. Our room smelled like moldy old furniture and the screen door to the lanai would not open or shut completely. There's no beach access and both pools were closed. I really liked the town of Kona though. Lots of restaurants and shops. And if you like books there is this HUGE used book store. I found some real gems on the cheap.

    We also stayed our first night in Volcano, since Kona was such a far drive from there. If you do this, you can go see the lava flows at night, and then explore the rest of the park during the day. We bought sandwiches from a shop near our hotel and picnicked in the park during the long hike we took.

  • We just got back from a trip to Hawaii. We had 5 days on the Big Island, and we split our time between 2 nights in HIlo & 3 in Kona. I definitely recommend going to Volcanoes National Park, and that's much easier to do from Hilo than Kona. 

     In Kona we stayed at the Keauhou Beach Resort and liked it. It's inexpensive but reasonably nice, and includes a full breakfast buffet every morning. It's on the main road, but further down than all the shops and everything. 

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