From manta rays to volcanoes to snow and ice, there’s a lot to experience on the Big Island. And packing it all in can be a challenge. Even the most die-hard adventurers who prefer independent exploration have to admit: some of the Big Island’s most incredible assets are best experienced on a tour. And there are some pretty incredible tours to experience.
These are a handful of the best tours the Big Island has to offer, most of them providing out-of-this-world encounters with the natural world that you’d never be able to snag on your own:
Helicopter Ride over Volcanoes National Park
This isn’t the cheapest item on the list, but it might be the most memorable–especially if you happen to be visiting during a volcanic eruption. There’s nothing like seeing the world’s most active volcano (Kilauea) from the air. More recently, the Mauna Loa eruption drew tens of thousands of visitors to the island to see the first lava flow on Mauna Loa’s slopes in nearly 40 years. Helicopter tours like Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours fill up incredibly fast. Take a ride and see the legendary residence of Pele from an incredible bird’s eye view!
Snorkel With the Manta Rays at Night
Snorkeling with manta rays is one of the most-talked-about tours that visitors take on the Big Island. You’ll feel like you’ve entered another world when you look under the water at night, and swimming with huge rays is an experience you won’t soon forget. Most manta ray night snorkel tours (or dive tours, for those who are SCUBA certified) leave from Kona in the evening and last a couple of hours. Some snorkel tours offer the added security of holding on to a cleverly-rigged line attached to the boat as you enjoy the view, so you don’t have to be an experienced snorkeler to get the most out of the tour.
Umauma Falls Zip-Line Tour
This one’s for the adrenaline junkies. Zip through a rainforest and over a multi-tiered waterfall at speeds up to 65 miles per hour with Umauma Falls Experience. This tour lets you see the incomparable Umauma Falls from above. Tours are great for the entire family (ages 4 and up), and no experience is necessary!
Mauna Kea Summit Sunset
Mauna Kea is the highest peak on any of the Hawaiian Islands. The summit, over 14,000′ above sea level, is accessible only to 4WD vehicles; if you haven’t rented one of your own. A tour with Mauna Kea Summit Adventures, to the top is a can’t-miss opportunity. Sunsets atop Mauna Kea just can’t be captured with a camera; you’ll feel like you’re immersed in color from the top of the world. This is also the spot for some of the best sky-gazing on earth, as evidenced by the presence of multiple huge telescopes at the top.
Whale Watching Tour
If you want to spot the gentle giants of the Pacific, your best bet is to book a boat tour. Captains of these whale-watching boats have an uncanny ability to get a safe distance from humpback whales, and some even guarantee a sighting, offering a free second ride if you don’t get to see a whale the first time. Whale-watching tours are relatively economical and kid-friendly, making them a great choice for families.
Boat Snorkel Tours on Kealakekua Bay
Kealakekua Bay, located in Captain Cook, offers some of the Big Island’s best snorkeling. It’s quite a swim to the reef from the shore. Take a boat tour, and you’ll get a scenic ride to the best snorkel spots, as well as high-quality rental gear so you can fully enjoy the experience. You don’t have to be an experienced snorkeler to have a great time; you’re sure to see a rainbow of life below the surface, even if you don’t stray far from the boat.
Bike Tour of Volcanoes National Park
Get a deep breath of the fresh mountain air during a guided bike tour of Volcanoes National Park! You’ll get to see the sights, ride along Chain of Craters Road, and experience the park up close and personal. Both standard and e-bike tours are available. You might find yourself wanting to return to the park the next day to spend more time on the trails after your ride.
Of course, these are just a few of the incredible tours the Big Island has to offer. Although, they’re fan favorites for a reason. The best tours have been operating for years, employing guides who are from the local area. They truly love to show guests the out-of-this-world wonder just below the surface of the Big Island. Plan ahead; some of these tours fill up quickly, so book well in advance to secure your spot if possible.