We feel lucky enough to have visited the Big Island a few times. We loved every visit, trying new adventures each time, and revisiting some favorite destinations and adventures. But, if I were to give you my top 5 today, here is what I would say:
Night Snorkel with Manta Rays
One of the signature activities on the Big Island is snorkeling with the manta rays. There are many companies that provide an opportunity to snorkel (or even dive) with these beautiful docile creatures. While part of the Sting Ray family, Manta Rays do not have stingers and are completely safe.
We have done this activity 3 times now, but our recent visit was our favorite for a couple of reasons. We saw more Manta Rays and bigger Mantas. We had the boat to ourselves because crowds are smaller these days (and it was after the holiday-crowd went home). And, the company (Hawaii Experiences) provided our favorite perk for admiring these Mantas with kids – their “party pit” flotation mat where kids could sit on top and stick their heads in the water or take a break on top as needed.
While we used our GoPro7 Hero Black, our guide also used his GoPro and sent us his quality footage… for free. Major score!
Now, want to take a look at what we got to witness?!
We were whoopin’ and hollerin’ through our snorkel masks in delight. They got SO close to us, performing barrel roll after barrel roll right underneath us. We could reach out and touch them (but you can’t touch them! Leave them to be wild and free in their natural habitat).
So how do you get the Mantas to come night after night? Boats put lights in the water, usually attached to the flotation devices that people are holding onto. The lights attract the plankton, and the mantas come to feast on the plankton. They open their mouths wide to suck down all the millions of tiny plankton.
You can swim with mantas in other island destinations around the world. But, maybe not at night, which adds a unique element and sense of adventure to this activity. And believe it or not, the water is warm! They do offer wetsuits if you want though. Since you aren’t “swimming” but staying mostly still, the added wet suits are nice.
The kids had a ball. They all said they wanted to do it AGAIN after we were done. I’m totally down. Don’t miss this one, guys!
Swim with a Pod of Dolphins
Maybe you have been lucky enough to catch some dolphins swimming by you while snorkeling along in the ocean?! Yeah… we haven’t been so lucky. So, we decided to book an excursion that guaranteed we would “snorkel with a pod of dolphins” (or come back and try again). While we booked with a different company originally, they called and told us — due to Covid restriction– their boat was overfull and gave us the number of another captain to call at http://www.hawaiiexperiences.com.
This ended up working out great for us, because not only was our excursion awesome, but we ended up booking another excursion for 20% off as repeat customer (the night snorkel with Mantas as outlined above.)
The Big Island is home to many pods of dolphins. When you hire experienced guides, they know right where to take you and find them. And they know their “schedules.” These dolphins were ready to greet us and play!
We were able to snorkel with about 50 dolphins who were swimming around us, diving up and down and letting us enjoy them in their environment for about 30 minutes. This time-frame can vary based on the mood of the dolphins.
Our dolphin pod decided to eventually swim into a cloud of mirk when they were done interacting, and did not come back out until we all got back onto the boat. So then, we decided to go searching for humpback whales. And… we found some of those too!
Any day on the water in Hawaii is a great day. We enjoy the boat rides almost as much.
So what do you think? Want to go find some dolphins to swim with in Hawaii?! This is the only Hawaiian island that you can swim with a pod of this size. And dolphins are out there all year long (whereas whales are seasonal in the Wintertime throughout Hawaii). Our guide was telling us that there are about 20 companies to choose from when swimming with dolphins on the Big Island. Also, Oahu has about four companies that provide a way to drop you in over a few dolphins, but nothing like the pod scene on The Big Island.
So, check it out! What’s not to love about real-life dolphin encounters?!
Visit Several Amazing Big Island Beaches
I could tell you to visit one favorite beach on the Big Island, but why would I limit you when there are MANY amazing beaches on this Island! Beach hopping is a must do here. From Black Sand, to Green Sand, to salt and pepper sand, to the always-adoring white sand, to your quintessential, classic long-sand frolic and lounge beaches, snorkeling beaches, boogie boarding and swimming beaches. You will get a taste of it all on the Big Island.
A few of our favorite beaches include:
Lava – Volcanoes National Park
I never tire of visiting National Parks. They are all incredible, and Volcanoes National Park is no different. Because, hello… Volcanoes!
Now, even if you don’t see lava while in the park, it’s still a uniquely lovely place to explore and hike around. But, lava is still the crem-de-la-crem, and I know you want to see it. Who doesn’t?!
Park Rangers keep apprised of any current lava flow. Check out Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for current information and updates. In years passed, you could visit by boat (the lava flowed into the ocean but stopped a couple of years ago). You can also take a fun and scenic helicopter ride flying above lava fields.
Or you could hike, and get right up close to it, which is best of all IMO. Bucketlist adventure for sure! We rented bikes from a tent they had set up in Kalapana and rode to the start of some expansive dried lava fields, parked our bikes, and went searching for it. No trail. No Gps. Just hike until you find it — or maybe you won’t! It wasn’t until about dusk, when it started to get dark, that we saw it flowing. Meanwhile, you can feel “hot spots” emanating from the ground and look down in some cracks to see the red-glowing molten earth.
Enjoy this 1-minute video of our biking and hiking experience to find lava:
**From what I understand now, as of January 2021, the only lava flow is at the caldera near the Visitor Center where you can witness the glow from afar.**
Food, Always Food
Because we all need to eat after (or during) a hard day’s play! And what’s a great trip without tastey bites and atmospheric restaurants.
So I have two suggestions for you of places we love to visit every visit to the Big Island.
For your picture-perfect Hawaiian restaurant scene, including epic sunset views, toes in the sand, ocean backdrop, tiki torches, and often live music, Lava Lava Beach Club is the place for you. Food is tastey too, like the Chicken-fried rice served in a pineapple.
(You must show up in person to put your name down for a reservation, but they take your cell number now to contact you when your table is ready so no more waiting around with that dang buzzer.)
The other suggestion is more easy-going, laid back — food truck on the side of the highway kind of easy-going — with hot, fresh, flavor-filled malasadas that will beckon for you to come back the next day, and even the day after that! (Yes, we spent a lot of money on malasadas. They even remembered us, saying “you came back,” and graciously threw in a few extra malasadas. Our favorites were filled with cookie butter, nuttella, and cream. They are usually parked off the main highway near Hapuna Beach. (How do they know we want donuts have a good beach day?!😎)
So there you have it. A few of our favorites on the Big Island. Now, I’ve only scratched the surface with this incredible destination. There is so much for to enjoy, see, and do, but I promise if you seek out these adventures, you will be talking about them for years to come!
Two other honorable mentions: Fair Winds Snorkel trip to Captain Cook (yes we like boat trips and being on the water), and a day visit (or stay) at the Hilton Waikoloa property will leave the kids talking about hot tubs in caves and snorkeling with turtles in the lagoon.
Also, we never leave for Hawaii without our trusty guidebooks. These are the most thorough (and pleasantly funny) for the Hawaiian islands and have one specific to each island. I like a hard copy in case devices are ever out of range or battery.