The Ideal 4-Day Big Island Itinerary

Woman in a swimsuit and coverup walking over the lava bed that has flown down in front of Mauna Loa in the Big Island of Hawaii

Got Hawaii on your mind? I can’t say I blame you. The Aloha State is full of incredible scenery and ever since I got back I’ve been constantly dreaming of how quickly I can go back. Like, checking Google Flights on the regular to see if I can still make it back in time during whale season. I’m obnoxious and also I’m unashamed, it’s who I am. So if you decide on your trip and the island of Hawai’i makes your travel plans, I’ve got the perfect 4-day Big Island itinerary for you. My trip to Hawaii was split between the Big Island and Maui, which I highly recommend for a trip. And because I’m me and have got your back, here’s the Maui itinerary I used and loved. Also thinking about Kauai? Got a Kauai itinerary for you too.

The Short Version of my 4-Day Big Island Itinerary

  • Day 1 – Road trip around western/northern island
  • Day 2 – South Point for the Papakolea Green Sand Beach
  • Day 3 – Volcanoes National Park
  • Day 4 – Snorkeling in Captain Cook; daytime and nighttime manta ray snorkel

Keep reading for details on individual tours, where to stay, and more!

The Long Version of My 4 Days on the Big Island of Hawaii

Our home base for our time on the Big Island was in Kona on the western side of the island. Kona was a great town that had lots of lodging offerings and was a good starting point for us. If I were to change where we were staying I may have added a night or two in Hilo, but overall the drives on the Big Island are gorgeous so it didn’t bother us spending time in the car.

Check out my Hawaii Packing List for everything I packed for my 4 day trip to the Big Island!

How to Get to the Big Island

There are lots of flights that will get you straight to the Big Island that fly directly into the airport without having to transit through Oahu, for example.

Fly Into Kona

Fly Into Hilo

How to Get Around the Big Island

I highly recommend renting a car to help you complete this 4 day Big Island itinerary. Or for really any Hawaii trip. Cabs and Ubers/Lyfts aren’t the easiest to come by and it’s just so much nicer to explore on your own time.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

I stayed in the town of Kona on the west side of the Big Island, but there are beautiful options all over. Hilo, on the east, is the other biggest town, so most lodging options will likely be found between those two cities. I did love being in Kona though; it felt like a great middle ground for all of the activities we wanted to do on our Big Island 4 day itinerary, while still waking up to the sound of the ocean. I thoroughly enjoyed Kona!

4 Day Big Island Itinerary Breakdown

Day 1 – Road Trip Around Western and Northern Hawaii

In my research, I found lots of really cool beaches and impressive views all over the island so we decided to spend our first day just leisurely driving around to these views. Here were the notable spots we had to see:

Woman walking on a beach in Hawaii walking away from the camera with palm trees in the background
Makalawena Beach

  • Gorgeous white sand beach but also has some really stunning black, rocky coastline as well.
  • Driving down into this beach was a hilariously bumpy ride and you’ll absolutely need a 4×4 for this.
  • I’m pretty sure this is where we saw some airplanes flying in above us, so there’s an opportunity to snap some really cool photos.
Woman walking along a black sand beach in a white swimsuit and coverup under the palm trees on the Big Island of Hawaii
Kiholo Bay

  • Black sand beach that was almost entirely empty unless you count the goats, which, if you do, we shared our time with probably 15 of them.
  • Another rocky drive down but wasn’t nearly as aggressive as Makalawena.
  • The black sand here is more like pebbles, so don’t expect this to be super fine or comfortable to walk on without shoes.
Woman looking out to the Pololu Valley on the Big Island, running her fingers through her hair
Pololu Valley

  • This outlook has some really cool views of the coastline that are pretty close to your next stop of Waipio Valley.
  • There is also a hike down here but the views from the top are gorgeous if hiking isn’t your thing.
Woman smiling, standing atop Waipio Valley
Waipio Valley

  • More insane views with an absolutely gnarly hike down if you want to do it.
  • The hike down is so steep that it’s one of the few roads on the island that rental car companies will not let you drive on.. so.. yeah be prepared for that. We walked down probably a quarter of the way because it was getting late and it was still a very sweaty hike back up.
Hazy waterfall day at Akaka Falls
Akaka Falls State Park

  • This state park was SO unique and cool it was maybe my favorite stop of the day even though it was pouring down rain.
  • Because it was pouring we didn’t get to spend as much time there as I’d have liked to, but this was seriously so cool and very worth it even in the rain.
  • A very short hike gets you around the park with this waterfall being the big payoff. But there’s so much cool stuff alone the way. Can’t recommend this enough.

Day 2 – South Point for the Papakolea Green Sand Beach

This was another driving day where we headed south to explore one of the rarest types of beaches in the world, a green sand beach. This rarity was obviously going to be included on my 4-day Big Island itinerary. I’m a sucker for unique landscapes. Papakolea Green Sand Beach was incredibly unique but not necessarily easy to access. It’s super far south on the island, so likely at least an hour drive from where you are if you aren’t staying in the area.

Once you get there, there is a relatively grueling hike three miles down, because you’re exposed to the elements and there’s no real cover, in addition to it just being pretty steep. There are often locals with trucks waiting that will drive you for a steep price, but it turns out driving down to the beach is actually illegal.

After spending an afternoon at this incredible green sand beach, I highly recommend heading over to watch the sunset at South Point nearby. Not only is it the southernmost point in the United States, but it consists of gorgeous coastline and wild sunsets. A perfect beautiful Hawaiian day to add to your Big Island itinerary.


Day 3 – Volcanoes National Park

At Volcanoes National Park we spent a full day hiking the Kilauea Iki Crater trail and exploring Chain of Craters road. This park had such a unique landscape it was like being in a whole different world. Seeing where the lava has just run down the volcano and into the ocean was magical. If your 4-day Big Island itinerary doesn’t include a trip to this unique park, you’ll be missing out. You can check out my full day at Volcanoes National Park post to see how cool it really was and how I tackled a day there.

Want to go with experts? Join a tour!

Day 4 – Snorkeling at Captain Cook

You can add either of these to your 4 day Big Island itinerary, but honestly I’d do both if you can make the time!

Daytime Snorkel

We went to Captain Cook to snorkel and it was full of colorful, beautiful fish. To be honest I’d probably recommend one of the snorkel experiences in Kona that you are more likely to see dolphins on. This was still a good time; clear water and fish galore. But it just didn’t compare to the snorkeling we did in Maui, or the manta ray snorkel.

Evening Snorkel with Mantas

This. Was. Incredible. This manta ray snorkel experience is a MUST DO for any 4-day Big Island itinerary and one of the best things to do on the Big Island in general if I do say so myself. It was seriously one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had and I cannot recommend this enough. It makes all other snorkeling look meh in comparison.

So there you have it; a 4-day Big Island itinerary that includes rare beaches, manta ray feedings, and volcano hikes. If you want to follow along on my trip, check out my Big Island Highlight reel. And if you want more Hawaii recommendations and tips, check out my other Hawaii blogs.

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16 thoughts on “The Ideal 4-Day Big Island Itinerary

  1. This all sounds fantastic, although it sounds like you squeezed a lot into that first day! I guess you made up for it by relaxing more on day 2. 🙂 The best part has to be Volcano National Park – what an epic area to explore!

  2. I have been wanting to go to Hawaii forever. I have never heard of Manta ray snorkelling – I didn’t realise that the light attracted the plankton and the Mantas! I definitely need to add this to our itinerary when we finally get there – thank you!

  3. Hawaii is a huge dream for me so this really peaked my interest! Also, your ideas are great and the photos stunning!

  4. Goats on the beach are pretty funny! Who would have thought? Haha… I found the Akaka Falls fascinating. Too bad it was pouring when you were there, so you couldn’t get to explore a lot.

  5. Wow, I’ll definitely have to save and return to this! I’ve been to Oahu once, and that’s where I want to return and re-explore, but this really made the Big Island sound AHmazing.

    1. Yes I actually just learned about this recently! I went a few years ago and hadn’t seen anything in my research at the time. I’ve updated the post to reflect that – so thank you for pointing it out!

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