airport image from Unsplash by Oskar Kadaksoo

airport image from Unsplash by Oskar Kadaksoo

Which Big Island Airport Should You Fly Into?

Amy Fujimoto

There are two main airports on the Big Island. So naturally, the most common question we get is “Which Big Island airport should I fly into?” Here are some tips that will help you decide on where to set your destination when you book your flight to the Big Island.

Practical Differences Between Kona And Hilo Airports

The Big Island has two airports - one in Kona and one in Hilo. The most distinct difference between Kona and Hilo Airports is their location. Kona International Airport is located in Kailua-Kona on the west side of the island. Hilo International Airport is located in Hilo Town on the east side of the island.

In general, you’ll want to keep in mind that Kona is sunnier and more popular with visitors. With that comes convenience, more activities, and a plethora of things to do nearby. On the other hand, Hilo Town is where the majority of locals live. It does have a tendency to rain, but this keeps everything extremely green and lush. Also, you can expect the waterfalls and freshwater pools to be flowing.

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA)

Kona International Airport (KOA)Ken Lund / Flickr; CC-BY-SA-2.0

More commonly referred to as the Kona Airport or Kona International Airport, it’s definitely the more popular of the two. Because of this, flights to Kona can be more expensive. However, if you’re planning on staying in the resort areas of Waikoloa or Kailua-Kona - this airport is your best bet. 

Hilo International Airport

Hilo International Airport (ITO)Simon Allardice / Flickr; CC-BY-SA-2.0

Many locals and residents will fly in and out of Hilo International Airport as it’s closer to the homes of their friends and family. As a visitor, it can be convenient to fly into Hilo if you’d rather start your vacation on the east side and work your way to the west. Hilo’s attractions are generally farther apart and some people like to utilize the distance by incorporating the stops in a long drive to Kona.

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The Big Island’s Main Attractions

map of big island

As you plan your flight to the Big Island, you’ll most likely visit these big attractions during your stay. Here’s how easy (or difficult) it is to get to them if you’re flying into Kona or Hilo.

Kona Gold Coast And Beaches

The most beautiful beaches on the Big Island to spend the day at are located on the Kona coast. Nicknamed the “Gold Coast” because of the sunny weather and variety of resorts along the coastline. Most visitors end up flying into Kona International Airport mostly because of the easy access to the beaches here on this side of the island. 

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RELATED: The Ultimate Big Island Travel Guide


North of Kailua-Kona is Waikoloa, where you’ll find a handful of famous resorts and hotels, including the ever-popular Waikoloa Village. Waikoloa has its own list of fun activities ranging from golfing to black sand beaches. You’ll even find easy access to tours and activities such as night diving with manta rays!

Mauna Kea

From both Kona and Hilo, it will take you over an hour to get to Mauna Kea Visitor Center. The center is popular for sightseeing, hiking, and amazing stargazing! If you do decide to drive all the way up to the summit, make sure you give yourself at least 30 minutes to acclimate to the altitude. Otherwise, you may feel the effects of altitude sickness.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Undisputedly, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the most popular attraction on the Big Island. With volcanoes, craters, and otherworldly terrain in every direction, it’s easy to see why it draws a crowd. We highly recommend devoting AT LEAST one day at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - that’s how vast it is!

[Insert Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Tour image. Link to tour.]

hawaii volcanoes national park tour

From Hilo, the drive to this unique national park will only take you about 45 minutes. However, from Kona, you can expect your drive to take you roughly 2 hours. There is no direct road, so you’ll need to drive along the southern coast in order to reach this destination.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a full-day activity, so some strategy is recommended as you plan your itinerary. If you drive from Kona, you might want to spread your visit across 2 days. Otherwise, you can stay in Volcano or Hilo to decrease your driving time.

RELATED: Things to Do in Volcanoes National Park

Other Factors To Consider

As you make your decision on which Big Island airport to fly into, here are a few more things to think about that may impact your decision.

How Long Is Your Vacation?

If you’re staying less than a week, it might be a better idea to pick one location and use it as your travel hub. Time is of the essence, so you don’t want to be wasting your time driving from one end to the other and back again in order to catch your flight off the island. While it is possible to fly in from one airport and out the other, this is not a popular strategy as one-way trips tend to cost more.

If you have more than a week on the Big Island, staying at 2 or more locations becomes a possibility. Some visitors like to stay in Hilo or Volcano for a few nights. So that they can devote more than one day exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

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Both Kona International Airport and Hilo International Airport have hotels in their own vicinity. But Kona tends to have more options when it comes to accommodation. If you want to have that resort experience and beautiful ocean views, it will be much more convenient for you to arrive on the Big Island via Kona International Airport.

Driving Between Kona And Hilo

The drive between Kona and Hilo takes roughly about 2 hours and 40 minutes. That’s a long time to be on the road. So you may want to break it up by stopping at attractions. Another option is to drive around the island and explore on your own. If you drive along the southern coastline, you’ll pass by Punaluu Black Sand Beach and Ka?u Coffee Mill. This route is covered in our South Island Epic Coastal Journey that takes you through Kona, South Point, Volcanoes and Mauna Kea.

south island epic coastal journey

The northern drive has the gorgeous Hamakua Coast. Which is a fantastic scenic route filled with unique stops and sights along the way. The coastline is lush and you’ll drive through jungle roads, majestic waterfalls, and rainforest hikes. This route is covered in our North Island Jungle Adventure Loop that takes you through:

  • Waimea Town
  • Waipio Valley
  • Hamakua Coast
  • Hilo and
  • Mauna Kea

north island jungle adventure loop

There’s so much to see and do in each corner of the Big Island. Regardless of which airport you fly into, you’re bound to find nearby attractions to keep you busy your entire stay! 

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airport guide in big island with airplane on background

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RELATED: Hawaii Airports Guide


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