Although the Big Island of Hawaii could hold all the other islands with room to spare, it has the population of a medium-sized town, with just 185,000 people (perhaps half what it held in Captain Cook’s day). Visitation remains lower than at Oahu and Maui; despite its fair share of restaurants, bars and facilities, this is basically a rural community, where sleepy old towns have remained unchanged for a century. The few resorts are built on the barren lava flows of the Kona coast to catch maximum sunshine.

Thanks to the Kilauea volcano, which has destroyed roads and even towns, and spews out pristine beaches of jet-black sand, the Big Island is still growing, its southern shore inching ever further out to sea. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which includes Mauna Loa as well as Kilauea (though not Mauna Kea, further to the north and higher than either), is absolutely compelling; you can explore steaming craters and cinder cones, venture into the rainforest, and at times approach within feet of the eruption itself.

As befits the birthplace of King Kamehameha, more of the ancient Hawaii survives on the Big Island than anywhere else, with temples and historic sites including the Puuhonua O Honaunau in the southwest, and lush Waipio Valley in the northeast.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

USA features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Dive in: 7 unforgettable experiences in the Florida Keys

Dive in: 7 unforgettable experiences in the Florida Keys

Life in the Florida Keys is dominated by the ocean. The simplest trips become postcard-worthy adventures on the Overseas Highway, the link between its countless…

17 Feb 2017 • Georgia Stephens insert_drive_file Article
The best places to go in spring

The best places to go in spring

Springtime is beautiful, with its big blue skies and flowers in bloom, so there may be no better time to travel. If you're thinking about getting away, here are…

14 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
Standing Rock: a journey to the protests on the Great Plains

Standing Rock: a journey to the protests on the Great Plains

In January 2016, energy company Dakota Access announced plans to run an oil pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois. A few months later, members of the Standing …

14 Feb 2017 • Neil McQuillian local_activity Special feature
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month