Where to Stay in East Hawaii (Big Island)
The only “large” town on the East side of Hawaii (Big Island) is the town of Hilo. Hilo is on the coast and in the middle of the coast (the coast running South/North). Hilo is surprisingly large, with major hospitals and stores such as Walmart, Target, Safeway, Home Depot, a mall with a modern movie theatre, a university campus and a classic downtown. Hilo’s downtown area is also a great tourist town, with businesses in the center and outlying communities, with many beautiful sites if you use my site to become familiar with them.
What Traveler are You? There are two types of Hilo vacation rental travelers. The first has never been to Hilo, but has decided to check it out. They usually spend from one to three days, assuming there is little to do but go to the Volcano National Park. The second vacation rental traveler is familiar with Hilo and stays because they have discovered what a special place it is. They often spend a week or more. If you are committed to only spending from one to three days, the location you choose isn’t as important as long as it is close to places you want to visit.
Hilo Downtown and Reeds island. The area of Hilo is rather small. One can drive from on side to the other in less than 10 minutes. Staying “close” to Hilo is relative. There is no need to stay in or right near downtown. Downtown is fine to visit attractions, but it isn’t pretty. Hilo is a working town, with a struggling economy. There are many options just above Hilo and just north of Hilo. For the traveler staying a few days, one can simply look for a good rate. Avoid lush, jungle looking homes. They look great in pictures, but you will need to live with mosquito repellent on. Mosquitos are a large problem in East Big Island. If it is lush, it is alive with them. Simply look for a house that is clear of neighboring jungle. Use Google Earth to get a good view.
South of Hilo (Paradise Park). To go south of Hilo you will need to go up to Highway 130 and then south to the southern district called Puna. It is a 25 minute drive into town. One should expect to save money by doing this. The downside is that you can’t jump out anywhere. It is a drive. If you want seclusion and privacy, there are great rentals on the water. Spend a little extra money for a stay on the water. It isn’t that much more and the views are fantastic. You will also find far fewer mosquitos on the water and homes are more developed so there is less jungle around. Because highway 130 enters above Hilo, this area is about the same distance to Volcano National Park.
Far South of Hilo (Kalapana). Unless you are looking for total seclusion and have no interest in traveling around, avoid going this far south. The rentals have great pictures of homes on the water, but it is a 45 minute drive into Hilo and most East Hawaii attractions. You will find that very annoying. There is simply no need to be this far away from most places of interest.
Volcano and North Hilo. Many visitors are visiting East Hawaii to go to Volcano National Park, so a stay in the town of Volcano seems logical. It isn’t a good idea. With so much to see around Hilo, I don’t recommend spending more than a few hours at the Park. The park is 40 minutes from Hilo. There is nothing else to do up there. Nothing. There aren’t neighborhoods with activities. Generally just small homes surrounded by lush vegetation. As mentioned above, you will need to live with mosquito repellant on. The homes are cheap – for a reason. Use your home as a base. Keep it close to Hilo.
North of Hilo and Weimea. Weimea is a beautiful town in between Kona and Hilo, but well north of both. It is the home of Parker Ranch and other ranches that offer horseback riding. With an elevation of 2,000 feet, it is cooler with green pasturelands. It is a nice place to drive through and drive around, but there is no need to stay overnight here. Driving from Weimea to Hilo gets you close to Waipi’o Valley. Another great place to visit for a couple hours. Then you drive down to Hilo with the next attraction about 20 minutes north of Hilo, Akaka Falls. With so little to see and do so far North of Hilo, there is no reason to stay so far away from Hilo.