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Great Getaways: Hawaii's Big Island

By Kaeli Conforti
updated September 29, 2021
Sunset in kona
Courtesy melvilla/myBudgetTravel

When I was 12 years old, my family was living in Hawaii on the island of Oahu, and we decided to branch out and explore the other islands—we started with Maui, and eventually visited the Big Island and Kauai before the summer was over. I remember being especially excited to visit the Big Island since we had just finished learning about volcanoes in my middle school science class a few weeks before our trip, and couldn't wait to see the real thing up close. I recently wrote about the best things to do on Oahu—here's my list of places you shouldn't miss on Hawaii's Big Island. (Special note: you will need a car to reach the places mentioned, as most Big Island hotels are centered around the towns of Hilo and Kona.)

Get up close to an active volcano

Remember all those earth science classes you took about volcanoes and lava rocks? Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the real thing in action. Not only will you get the chance to drive right up to the caldera—don't miss the Crater Rim Drive, an 11-mile road that passes through the various volcano landscapes from tropical rainforest to the desert-like crater itself, with scenic overlooks all along the way—there's also the opportunity to walk inside the Thurston Lava Tube, no longer an active part of the volcano, that allows you to walk 1/3 mile inside Kilauea where lava once flowed a few hundred years ago. Expect to pay $15 per vehicle that enters the park, or $8 per individual if you enter by foot, bicycle, or $10 per motorcycle (passes are valid for seven days). Grab a park map on your way in and stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center and Jaggar Museum to learn more about what you're viewing. Free camping and hiking opportunities are also available, as are park ranger-led walking tours, but be sure to check the website for updates on volcanic activity in the park before you head out. Always stick to the marked paths and never try to get closer to the lava, no matter how great you think your photo might turn out. You're still on an active volcano, after all.

Don't take lava rocks as a souvenir, it's bad luck

There are any number of souvenirs you could buy and take home from the Hawaiian Islands, but taking lava rocks  from their natural place is a major no-no. Tourists from all over the world have been known to send back lava rocks to the Hawaii Visitor's Bureau with letters saying they've had an unusual streak of bad luck lately, which locals claim is just a little dose of revenge from Pele, the volcano goddess. Don't buy souvenirs containing fragments of lava rocks, and remember to shake out your shoes after a hike so as not to accidentally take any lava dust home with you. Even if you're not the superstitous type, don't say I didn't warn you.

Visit the Hilo Farmers Market and nearby Akaka Falls

You can't visit the Big Island without stopping in Hilo, home to the Hilo Farmers Market. Every Wednesday and Saturday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., more than 200 local farmers and crafters share their goods with locals and tourists alike, offering the best deals on local produce, arts, and crafts around—coupons are also available on their website for more discounts. A wide selection of Hawaiian food vendors, clothing, coffee and tea, honey, and fresh flowers are also available, and keep an eye out for free live musical performances offered twice a week. Just a 25-minute drive north of downtown Hilo is `Akaka Falls State Park, home to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the islands. Admission is $5 per vehicle and the photo-ops are endless.

Snorkel in historic Kealakekua Bay

Don't miss Fair Wind's Morning Snorkel Cruise & BBQ for a chance to sail along the Big Island's historic west coast from Keahou Bay to Kealakekua Bay, home to gorgeous coral reefs, crystal-clear waters, and a beautiful coral reef to explore. The day-trip is 4.5-hours long and includes breakfast, delicious Kona Coffee, and the use of snorkel equipment, inner tubes, and floatation devices, as well as a yummy BBQ lunch and two 15-foot water slides for you to play with—Kealakekua Bay is also a popular spot for dolphins so keep those cameras handy! From $129 per adult, $79 for children ages 4-12, and $29 for children ages three and under.

Go stargazing at Mauna Kea

At 14,000 feet, Mauna Kea is Hawaii's highest point and home to the world's biggest telescopes at the Mauna Kea Observatories. Drive 90 minutes from Hilo on Route 200 up the twisting, winding, Saddle Road, and stop at the Visitor Information Station of the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy to learn more about the dormant volcano, see the giant telescopes, and buy souvenirs. Brace yourself for cold temperatures and the occasional snow drift at such high altitudes (yes, it does sometimes snow in Hawaii), and if weather and road conditions permit, drive to the 14,000-foot summit for a view of the main observatory. From $212 per person, Mauna Kea Summit Adventures will pick you up from certain locations in Kailua-Kona, and loan you cold-weather parkas and gloves for an educational trip to Mauna Kea's summit, and the stargazing opportunity of a lifetime using their large portable telescopes. The tour can last anywhere from seven to eight hours, and also includes dinner at the Mauna Kea Visitors Center.

Stay in the heart of Hilo or on the beach in Kona—for less!

Located just a 10-minute drive from Hilo International Airport and about five minutes from downtown, you'll find the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, your best base for any day-trips to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, `Akaka Falls, or anything else of interest along the island's east coast. It's also right next door to Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens, a beautiful beachside 30-acre park along Banyan Drive that is dedicated to the Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii to work in the sugar cane fields (rates from $156 per night). If you're after iconic Kona sunsets on the west side of the island, stay at Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel. The property is located right on Kona's main drag so you'll be able to walk to most restaurants and nightlife downtown (or else you can always hop on the Keahou Honu Express Shuttle for $2 per person), and its lobby is reminiscent of a beautiful gallery with local Hawaiian artwork on display. Don't miss it (rates from $152 per night).

For more information and to plan your Hawaii adventure, visit GoHawaii.com.

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Inspiration

Three-Day Weekend: Quebec City

I’m walking the streets of Quebec City with a red feather clipped into my hair, a fluffy layer of petticoat-like cushions, a large (and surprisingly heavy) red and gold skirt layered over them, and a rather snug matching long-sleeved corset top to bring the outfit together. My father, John Conforti, who accompanied me on this weekend getaway, is smiling ear to ear, dressed as a dashing French nobleman, hamming it up for the camera. He declares that he’s never felt more like a musketeer in his life. There’s something special about a place that throws a five-day bash to celebrate its heritage by donning period costumes and partying like it’s 1699. Quebec City’s New France Festival, held each summer, commemorates the anniversary of the 1665 siege of Quebec, in which 500 French Canadians defended the city against the British army. I quickly discover that the people here are warm and welcoming, speaking French or English depending on your reaction to their friendly, “Bonjour, hello!” At times it feels like I’m strolling along a pretty Parisian promenade, but have to remind myself that it’s the St. Lawrence River I’m fawning over, not the Seine. Of course, the biggest perks here are the prices—everything’s a bargain thanks to the strong dollar—and the fact that I’ve flown only 90 minutes from New York City to get here. Here’s why you should visit, too. PICK A FESTIVAL, ANY FESTIVAL Quebec City may be best known for the world’s largest Winter Carnival. It’s returning January 29 to February 14, 2016, and you’ll find everything from snow sculptures to ice skating and tons of winter wonderland fun for the whole family (the official Carnaval Effigy pin is your entry to all festival events and activities, about $11). Visit during the summer to see Macy’s-level fireworks shows every Wednesday and Saturday night, or in early August for the New France Festival, mentioned above. Get in on the fun by making your own costume or renting one at Costumier Lépoque from $60 to $160 each, depending on how intricate you want your outfit to be). An $8 festival medallion gives you access to all festival venues and activities. If music festivals are more your style, check out the Quebec City Summer Festival, an 11-day event featuring 300 shows on 10 stages. The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, and Keith Urban all headlined this year (tickets from about $74 for the 11-day festival). STAY IN THE CENTER OF ALL THE ACTION—FOR LESS Charming Hôtel Château Laurier Québec is a 10-minute walk from the heart of Quebec City’s Old Town—you’ll know you’re there when you reach the impressive-looking ramparts (from about $129 per night). The hub of the city’s nightlife is around the corner along Grand Allée, with an artsy vibe and food scene happening on nearby Cartier Street. For a non-traditional traditional stay, try Le Monastère des Augustines, once a cloistered monastery for the Augustinian Sisters, now a newly renovated hotel in the center of the Old City (breakfast and access to the museum and heritage site included, historical-style single rooms from $95 per night, traditional-style double rooms from about $110 per night, and contemporary double rooms from about $141 per night). Hilton Quebec is also lo- cated just outside the ramparts and offers rooms overlooking the scenic city below (from about $135 per night). GET AROUND TOWN BY BUS—OR SEE THE SIGHTS FROM THE ST. LAWRENCE RIVER It’s wonderful to just spend time wandering the colorful streets of Quebec City, taking in views of the St. Lawrence River from the historic Promenade Samuel-De Champlain. For a different point of view, take a ride up and down the Funicular between Upper Town and Lower Town (about $2 per person). If you’re short on time, opt for a hop-on-hop-off city tour from Old Quebec Tours to see the sights (about $27), or better yet, take in the city from the water with a 90-minute cruise down the St. Lawrence River, operated by family-owed company Croisières AML (from about $26). ADMIRE WATERFALLS AND ART ON A DAY TRIP TO THE CÔTE-DE-BEAUPRÉ COAST AND ÎLE D’ORLÉANS No car? No problem! Old Quebec Tours offers half-day guided trips from Quebec City. You’ll visit the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Shrine—a stunning neo-Roman basilica known for being the oldest pilgrimage site in North America—Montmorency Falls, an impressive waterfall 1.5 times higher than Niagara Falls, and Île d’Orléans, home to quaint country villages (about $38). If you decide to rent a car to better explore the region, don’t miss a trip to Canyon Sainte-Anne, a gorgeous waterfall complex surrounded by family-friendly hiking trails (about $10, open seasonally between May and October). Art lovers should stop by the Albert Gilles Copper Art Museum for a look at 50 beautifully embossed panels that depict the life of Christ, a masterpiece that took artist Albert Gilles more than 15 years to create (free). On your way back into town, treat yourself to lunch at La Monnaguette restaurant, part of Cassis Monna & Filles, on Île d’Orléans, where you can taste delicious, locally made black currant wines and other farm-to-table specialties (entrées from $10). EAT WHAT THE LOCALS EAT Don’t forget to try every Québécois’ favorite dish, poutine, an intriguing yet deliciously filling combination of French fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds—several locals told me the best poutine in town can be found at Chez Ashton, a popular chain restaurant offering heaping plates of piping-hot poutine (from $7). THE BEST PART: IT’S CLOSER THAN YOU THINK Yes, you will need a valid passport if you’re traveling from the U.S., but great news: Quebec City is super-accessible thanks to planes, trains (VIA Rail Canada, anyone?), and automobiles—catch a nonstop flight from many cities within the U.S. and Canada via Delta, United, WestJet, Air Canada, and Porter Airlines (round-trip flights from $323 in mid-December on Porter Airlines from Newark to Quebec City with a stopover in Toronto). Feeling adventurous? Make it a French-Canadian road trip from Montreal to Quebec City (roughly a 2.5-hour drive), and continue another hour north to Le Massif de Charlevoix for a Canadian skiing adventure you’ll never forget (half-day lift tickets about $44).

Inspiration

Are Airline Passengers Subject to Racial Profiling?

Have you ever been questioned or asked to de-board a plane because of your physical appearance or the language you speak? Southwest Airlines is under media scrutiny for two reports last week that it may have singled out passengers who were Muslim or of Middle Eastern background. (In addition, just last night, Southwest diverted a flight because of what it termed “unruly behavior” by three passengers, who appear to have been removed from the flight.) The two incidents last week happened at Chicago’s Midway airport. On Wednesday night, a Philadelphia man and his friend were reportedly asked by a Southwest gate agent to step out of the boarding process because a fellow passenger said they were fearful of flying with the men because the men spoke Arabic. Believing he had been racially profiled, the Philadelphia man called the police and he and his friend were eventually allowed to board the plane. A second Southwest flight out of Midway was delayed on Wednesday when passengers complained about the behavior of six Middle Eastern men; the men were reportedly removed from the flight. We have long admired Southwest for its exceptional customer service. And we fully understand that boarding a plane provokes anxiety in many passengers for a wide variety of reasons. It’s too soon to say whether these incidents represent a new trend for Southwest (or, for that matter, U.S. carriers in general), but we feel that bringing them to light and discussing them openly is essential to keeping air travel accessible to our audience. TALK TO US! In your travels, have you ever been treated differently because of your physical appearance or the language you speak?

Inspiration

If You Could Ring In The New Year Anywhere, Where Would It Be?

We recently asked several of our staff members to share the places they'd love to celebrate New Year's Eve—here's what they said. "A sleigh ride dinner in the Colorado Rockies under a canopy of stars with my wife and daughters." —Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Executive Editor "London. I'm in awe of photos and videos of the fireworks along the Thames, with Big Ben clanging and the London Eye right in the middle of it all." —Jamie Beckman, Senior Editor "New Year's Eve in Hawaii was always a great time. I'd love to be back celebrating and watching the fireworks on the beach with my friends again." —Kaeli Conforti, Digital Editor "I'm so excited. I'll be in Sydney to celebrate 2016!" —Jennifer O'Brien, Marketing Manager "Brazil. I was told there are huge beach parties and everyone wears white and dances all night. Sounds amazing!" —Rosalie Tinelli, Marketing Associate "Caye Caulker, Belize. I want to bring in the new year with a warm breeze and a cold drink!" —Amy Lundeen, Photo Director "Christmas Island. Rumor has it this Pacific isle is the first place in the world to ring in the new year because of its GMT + 14-hour time zone!" —Whitney Tressel, Photo Editor "In Cambridge, England, with my dear friends, punting on the River Cam and passing under the Bridge of Sighs at the stroke of midnight." —Chalkley Calderwood, Creative Director "Orpheus Island on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia." —Maureen Kelley Stewart, Advertising Account Manager "Watching the Northern Lights from inside a glass igloo in Finnish Lapland (with a flute of champagne!) —Amy Mironov, Media Relations "Paris. Watching the fireworks on the Champs-Élysées with a glass of champagne." —Elaine Alimonti, President, Publisher "Copenhagen, Tivoli Gardens. It's all about the lights!" —Jo Neese, Neese & Lee Media "Champagne in hand, sky full of stars, floating on a private sailboat somewhere in the South Pacific." —Cathy Allendorf, Director of Digital Media Now it's your turn: We want to know, if you could ring in the New Year anywhere on earth, where would it be? Share it below!

Inspiration

Easy & Affordable Caribbean Escapes!

Hurricane season ends on November 30, and early December is a great time to grab bargains in the Caribbean, before the holiday and winter crowds descend, driving up prices. Here, some tips for booking your pre-holiday escape and some money-saving tips that will last all winter long. NASSAU, BAHAMAS: Ready for conch fritters and a beautiful beach? A family of four traveling to Nassau in early December can expect to pay around $1,700 for round-trip airfare and three nights at a nice hotel on Paradise Island. The same family trying to book a comparable deal in February could end up easily paying 50 percent more! (BT's Digital Editor, Kaeli Conforti, just got back from a wonderful weekend escape to Nassau and shared it in Three-Day Weekend: Nassau & Paradise Island.) CURACAO: If you're the impulsive type, we’re especially fond of JetBlue Getaways, which can often be a bit last-minute. You may have to book it within a day or two, but you’ll have till, say, January to travel. JetBlue's Curacao vacation packages start at under $700 per person for airfare and three nights' accommodations at a cushy resort. GUADELUPE ISLANDS AND MARTINIQUE. Norwegian Air Shuttle is offering $99 one-way airfare to the French Caribbean! Nab a flight to the perfect beaches, beautiful volcanic mountains, lush rainforests, and unique cuisine of Guadelupe and Martinique. Norwegian Air Shuttle is making waves with super-discounted airfares, but of course availability is limited and seats go fast—check Norwegian.com regularly and be flexible with your travel dates.