Ka’u or Volcano Village? The Pros and Cons

Big Island Guide Travel Guide

Whether you’re planning your very first visit to the Big Island or returning and seeking an alternative to the tourist-heavy areas on the Kohala Coast, two off-the-beaten path options have likely arisen: the regions of Ka’u, a sparse and rural area in the south or Volcano and the quaint, attractive town of Volcano Village. Both offer incredible proximity to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and are ideally suited to accommodating multi-day adventurers to the area, there are pros and cons associated with either option. Before you book your B&B or vacation rental, consider these factors:

Staying in Ka’u

Pros:

Cheap Accommodations
There are two popular bed and breakfasts in Ka’u: Macadamia Meadows and Leilani. Both are priced very competitively, especially compared to the rest of the island. If you’re planning on a short stay, either option will be comfortable and surrounded by natural beauty. There are also plenty of Airbnb and vacation rentals available in Ka’u, with nightly and weekly rates far below the average you might find in Kailua-Kona or Hilo.

Beauty Around Every Corner
Home to the largest undeveloped coastline on the island, Ka’u spans from Volcano to Southern Kona and includes colorful beaches, abundant farmland, expansive lava fields, and plenty of palm trees and tropical forests to keep you cool. A hiker’s paradise and a beach-goer’s delight, Ka’u keeps things calm and relaxed throughout your stay.

Excellent Agriculture and Coffee
As we previously mentioned, Ka’u is rife with agricultural features and opportunities to experience locally-grown food. The region is known for its coffee production and hosts an annual festival, the Ka’u Coffee Festival, where attendees can tour local production facilities, talk to coffee farmers, and taste some of the world’s finest coffee for themselves.

Cons:

Remote and Isolated
If you’re headed to Hawaii for short walks to the beach from your hotel, Ka’u isn’t for you. Housing is basically DIY, restaurants are mostly populated by locals, and the nightlife leaves something to be desired. But if you want an isolated, nature-filled adventure, the southern part of the Big Island is the right choice.

Not always the Friendliest Area for Tourists
If there’s anything to be said about those who reside on the Big Island, it’s that they’re protective. The exploding tourism business has pushed many islanders out of the main cities and Ka’u is one of the few areas that remains affordable. Unfortunately, the actions of a few insensitive individuals have resulted in poor relations with some residents of Ka’u, but those who keep the aloha spirit alive and act with kindness and respect to others and to the environment should get along just fine.

Few “Traditional” Beaches
Due to the volcanic activity in Ka’u over the ages, much of the coastline in Ka’u is rocky and rough – not exactly the “toes in the sand” ideal that many tourists seek. But those who trek toward Punalu’u Black Sand Beach or Ka Lae will find amazing beauty and reliable waves for watersports and surfing.

Staying in Volcano Village

Pros:

Footsteps from the Park
Volcano Village is easily within walking distance of the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Kilauea Visitor Center as well as the famous Thurston Lava Tube, so if you’re inclined to make an extended adventure out of the park, staying in Volcano Village is a great option. With over 320,000 acres, there’s plenty to explore, but visitors to the park often regroup, refuel, and recharge at Volcano Village, so staying during peak tourism season can be a crapshoot.

Excellent Camping and Hiking
Because of its proximity to the park and the many campgrounds and hiking paths contained within, staying in Volcano Village and backpacking in for an overnight stay is an easy and painless endeavor. And with hiking trailheads that begin right off the main road, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get out and see the Big Island up close.

Cons:

Cooler Weather than the Rest of the Island
Volcano Village sits just below 4,000 feet above sea level, which makes it slightly cooler (by about 10-15 degrees) than elsewhere on the island. While this can be a plus or not depending on if you enjoy the heat, most visitors to Hawaii, with its reputation as a tropical wonderland, don’t pack properly for the colder climate of Volcano Village and have a poor experience as a result. If you’re determined to visit the park and stay in Volcano Village, bring a set of jeans and a jacket just in case.

Few Attractions Outside of the Park
If you’re a nature junkie, a stay in Volcano Village is well worth the trip. If you’re more inclined to relax by the pool, enjoy fine dining, and get a luxurious spa treatment during your time in Hawaii, this isn’t the place for you. While there are plenty of excellent art galleries and art-centric local events, the main attraction here is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, so if you’re only interested in checking it out for a day or two, you may be better off with a short stay or staying elsewhere and traveling over on a day trip.

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