April 12, 2023

Choosing the Right Airport on Hawaii’s Big Island: Hilo vs. Kona

By Paul William

April 12, 2023

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Need help deciding which airport to fly into on Hawaii’s Big Island? You’ve come to the right place.

When I visited the Big Island of Hawaii last December, I was pretty confused about whether I should fly into Hilo or Kona airport.

The only city I knew in Hawaii was Honolulu (on Oahu), and I struggled to find much help online about the Big Island airports.

Now that I’ve experienced both airports and traveled around both Kona and Hilo, I’ll share some things to know that will help you make an informed decision on which airport to fly into for Hawaii’s Big Island.

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Overview of the Big Island Airports: Kona (KOA) and Hilo (ITO)

Airplane over hawaii

The Big Island in Hawaii has two primary airports: Kona International Airport (KOA) and Hilo International Airport (ITO).

Whichever one you choose to fly into will be determined by where you plan to stay, what you want to do on the island, and where you’re flying to/from.

If you are still planning your trip, take a look at my 7-Day Hawaii Big Island Adventure post where I detail the top locations and activities to help you plan your trip.

Both the Kona and Hilo airports have similar amenities, gift shops, and car rental availability and a variety of flights to the other Hawaiian Islands.

Kona Airport (KOA)

Kona airport big island hawaii
Kona Airport

Kona is on the West side of the Island and is known for its sunnier weather, better beaches, and a larger number of resorts and vacation rentals.

You’ll be closer to the famous black and green sand beaches, and other attractions like Two Steps beach.

The Kona airport tends to have more direct flights to/from the US mainland.

Hilo Airport (ITO)

aerial view of Hilo airport big island hawaii
Hilo Airport

Hilo on the Big Island’s East side has more of a laid back lush vibe, slightly rainier weather, and much closer access to the famous Hawaii Volcanos National Park, where you can hike through volcano craters and see some awesome nature.

There are plenty of flights to the other Hawaiian Islands from Hilo, but more limited availability to the US mainland than Kona.

Protip: Both airports are home to companies offering Big Island Helicopter Tours if that’s something you’re interested in.

Frequently Asked Questions

A Google Map showing the locations of both major Big Island Hawaii airports. Many travelers fly into one, and depart from the other (exploring the island in-between).

Are there 2 airports on the Big Island of Hawaii?

Yes, there are two primary airports on the Big Island of Hawaii: Kona International Airport (KOA) and Hilo International Airport (ITO). Kona and Hilo are the two main cities on the Big Island.

What airport do you fly into for the Big Island of Hawaii?

When visiting the Big Island, you can fly into either Kona International Airport (KOA) or Hilo International Airport (ITO).

Your choice will depend on your travel plans. Many travelers book open jaw flights, which allow you to fly into Hilo, explore the island, then depart from Kona (or vice versa).

Can you rent a car at Hilo Airport and return it at Kona Airport?

Yes, as long as you tell the rental company this is your intention, most should allow it. I personally did this on my trip, which allowed me to explore the entire island, spending a few days in both Kona and Hilo.

Which airport is better, Kona or Hilo?

There’s really no objective answer to this besides: the better airport is the one closest to where you are staying.

I did find the Kona airport more interesting since it’s an open-air airport with no roof, which was a pretty unique experience. You literally just wait in an open air atrium-type place, and then walk up a staircase/ramp to your plane.

The only other consideration is that Kona has more direct flights to the US mainland.

So if the Big Island is your last stop, it might make sense to depart from Kona if it’s convenient for you.

Many travelers fly into one of the airports and depart from the other.

So, which Big Island airport should you choose?

Hawaiian dancing lady statue near hilo hotel

In conclusion, both Kona International Airport (KOA) and Hilo International Airport (ITO) have their unique advantages when visiting the Big Island of Hawaii.

Your choice of airport will largely depend on your travel plans and what you want to see while you’re there.

If you care more about sunnier weather and a more resort-style experience, Kona may be the better choice.

If you’re looking for a more lush laid-back vibes, and plan to visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hilo may be the better choice.

My real advice: flying into one airport and departing from the other is a great way to make the most of your Big Island adventure.

By renting a car and traveling across the island, you can experience everything Hawaii has to offer before jetting off home.

Happy travels and I hope you have a great time on the Big Island!

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