Oh how we love Kona. We spent part of our honeymoon on the big island, and while it was a little more on the pricey side for our student budget, we have no regrets. It was gorgeous, and it is still one of my favorite trips.
Most of our larger expenses could have been avoided simply by planning and booking things sooner. Here are our tips and tricks on how to enjoy Kona on a budget.
To Do ASAP
- Book your plane ticket early. This one probably goes without saying.
- Book a rental car. I cannot stress this enough. Book a rental car around the same time you buy your plane tickets. We procrastinated this step because we were trying to research public transport or see if Uber would be cheaper. It’s not. Especially if you’re visiting during the holiday season, rental cars can be in short supply, leading to ridiculously inflated prices.
- Book a place to stay. We lucked out on this part because some family friends let us stay at their condo nearby Kona. There are a few cheaper places in Kona, but they fill up very quickly, especially during the summer and holiday season.
- San Diego is generally the cheapest airport to fly out of. If you bought tickets now (end of February), there are round-trip tickets available during May-June for $300-$400. Several other airports on the west coast also offer reasonable prices.
- We ended up renting from Harper Car and Truck Rental. They are a local company that specializes in renting out vehicles for off-roading. To be honest, they weren’t our top choice, but most of the other companies were already sold-out for the holiday season. This company was somewhat difficult to work with at first, mostly because there’s a lot of red tape for people younger than 25 to rent a car. They denied our car insurance when we applied over email, but things went smoothly once I actually called them. They picked us up at the airport, and they let us leave the car at the airport parking lot before our red eye flight, so it was all very convenient. We had read a lot of angry online reviews about exorbitant charges for minor cleaning offenses, but we were very careful with the car, and we didn’t get dinged with any fees. If they are your cheapest option, go with Harper. They are a reliable company and their cars are both clean and nice.
- If we do go back to Kona though, we will probably look at the more mainstream companies. Dollar and Alamo are cheaper options, although they tend to get mixed reviews. Hertz and Enterprise are more expensive, but they also have a better quality guarantee.
Where to Stay
So I’m a big advocate for Airbnb. If you are willing to stay on the south side of the Big Island, you can get a place for as cheap as $10 a night. Most options in Kona itself are $50 + a night. If you can’t find a good Airbnb, Kona Tiki Hotel is one of the cheapest hotels in Kona and is highly ranked on TripAdvisor.
What to Do
- We spent almost every day at Waikōloa Beach or Hapuna Beach. They were both great for boogie boarding, body surfing, and sunbathing.
- The Captain Cook Monument. An excellent snorkeling destination, we got to see all kinds of fish and coral reefs! Just beware of the sea urchins. It’s a 3.6 mile hike to the monument. There are warning signs at the entrance of the trail telling you to “think twice” before embarking on the hike, but we didn’t think it was too bad. Maybe a little steep and exposed in certain stretches, but it was more than doable.
- Kona Farmers’ Market. We went to the Kona Farmers and Crafts Market, which is open Wednesday – Sunday 7am – 4pm. We bought a variety of fruits for breakfast, and we saw plenty of handicrafts on display. There are 6 other farmers’ markets on the island that we didn’t explore, but you can find information about them here.
- Papakōlea: Green Sand Beach. This is located on the south end of the island. From the parking lot, it’s about a 2.5 mile hike to the beach. If hiking isn’t your thing, there are also plenty of locals at the trailhead who charge a fee to haul loads of tourists in the back of their pickup trucks to the beach. It is one of only four green sand beaches in the world! We recommend arriving early in the day to avoid crowds.
- Ka Lae: Southernmost Point. After visiting Papakōlea, pop on over to Ka Lae! They’re in the same area, a short 4 minutes drive apart. Ka Lae boasts to not only be the southernmost point of the island but also of the entire United States. It is also considered a National Historic Landmark, because of some leftover fishing shrines. The water is also crazy blue here! We’ve read about a few daredevils cliff diving here, but generally this is discouraged because of the strong currents.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park is in Hilo, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Kona, but it’s well worth it! There are a ton of different hiking trails of varying lengths, and the rangers give you great tips on how to (safely) see lava. The entrance fee is $25, and it is valid for 7 days.
Where to Eat
We ended up buying fruits from the farmers’ market, and we would make the most delightful smoothies for breakfast. We also stopped by Walmart and picked up sandwich fixings, so we would usually have that for lunch or dinner (on hawaiian rolls of course 😉 ) and would eat out just once a day. This cut down our food costs immensely, while still giving us the flexibility to try the local restaurants (and to fall in love with poke bowls).
- Umekes Ali’i Plaza. OH MY GOODNESS WE LOVED THIS PLACE. It was sooo good. The poke and spicy crab salad were absolutely amazing. Highly highly recommend. We spent $22.00 on two entrees here.
- Da Poke Bowl Shack. They sell a greater variety of poke for about $14.00 a plate.
- Broke da Mouth Grindz. We went here our last day on the island. We had heard a lot about the ox tail and purple potato salad that the serve. The ox tail was good, if a bit fatty for my taste. We also got their shrimp, which was superb. Highly recommended. We spent $16.99 for two choice mixed plate.
- One Aloha Shave Ice Company. Their flavors are all natural, and you can get ice cream in the middle of the shaved ice. If you are visiting during the holidays, make sure to call before going as they tend to have weird hours during the week of Christmas.
- Pine Tree Cafe. Very close to the airport, we went here right after we arrived and were starving. We bought a large Loco Moco to share for $12.95, and it filled us right up!