Visiting Hawaii’s Big Island: Should You Spend More Time in Hilo or Kona? (2024)

If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii’s Big Island, you will discover there are two major cities on either side of the island: Hilo and Kona. Which one should you spend more time in?

The answer depends on your interests and the length of your visit. The first time I visited the Big Island, I didn’t know enough about these cities and ended up making an uninformed decision in terms of allocating my vacation days.


Generally speaking, most tourists who are visiting Hawaii for a tropical paradise vacation experience will want to spend a little more time on the Kona side than the Hilo side.

But Volcanoes National Park is closer to Hilo, and so are the impressive rainforests. So you should definitely plan to visit both sides of the island if you have the time to spare.

Read on for a more in-depth discussion about where to spend your time during your Hawaii getaway!

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Kona: A beautiful, upscale vacation destination

Kona feels fairly upscale. There are breweries and expensive restaurants and shopping options. You need a car to get around because there isn’t much of a downtown.

Prices are higher here, but the area is beautiful, with trees all over the place bearing bananas, avocados, and oranges.


The beaches are great in Kona, and those who snorkel prefer this side of the island. Kona has a decent-sized LGBT population as well.

Add it all up, and Kona reminded me of San Francisco, Puerto Vallarta, and to a lesser extent, Key West.

A busy beach on the Kona side of the island.

Kona is comfortable, clean, and beautiful. You can’t go wrong spending a great deal of time on this western side of the Big Island.

Recommended Kona Tours and Activities:


Hilo: More Historic With Lots of Nature

Hilo is very different from Kona. Hilo reminded me of Cleveland (or any Rust Belt city) with palm trees. That’s not a bad thing – I’m from the Midwest and I love those cities.

The buildings are older and have some wear. The area feels more working-class and the community as a whole has a slightly grittier feel. Hilo is more affordable and has more local character.

Fun turtle artwork in downtown Hilo!

Hilo definitely feels less touristy than Kona, which is a good thing. It does have its share of attractions, like the Tsunami Museum. And its proximity to Volcanoes National Park makes it a great place to stay before or after visiting the park.

Hilo has some great rainforests and waterfalls in the area, so it’s a good place for hiking and other outdoor activities. The Hilo side gets a lot more rain than Kona, so consider that as well.


Hilo has fewer beaches than Kona, and they are less popular. Hilo is more pedestrian-friendly, with more of a proper downtown area, whereas Kona isn’t very walkable.

Recommended Hilo Tours:


Hilo vs. Kona Itinerary Suggestions

Usually when you’re on vacation – especially when you’re going to a tropical destination like Hawaii – you want to indulge a little. You want to relax and feel like you’re in paradise.

Kona fits that description a bit better than Hilo in my opinion. That’s why I’d recommend staying in Kona longer than Hilo.

hawaii big island kona vs hilo

If you’ve got a week on the Big Island, try 3 days in Kona, 2 in Hilo, and 2 in Volcanoes National Park. Or consider swapping out a day in Hilo for one on the less-populated northern side of the island, perhaps in Waimea or Laupahoehoe.

If you only have 4-5 days, perhaps spent 1 day in Hilo and the rest of your time in Kona and Volcanoes National Park.

Kona and Hilo are both worth visiting – just adjust your schedule based on whether you prefer beaches and upscale shops or rainforests and history. You can’t go wrong with either destination!

If you’ve visited the Big Island before, do you prefer Hilo or Kona?


Scroll up to see a bonus Hawaii video showing a sea turtle frolicking off the coast. This one actually wasn’t taken on the Big Island – it was taken in Oahu. Click to read about fun and quirky things to do in Oahu!