Hilo International Airport: Gateway to Hawaii’s Enchanting Big Island (updated 2023)
Hilo Airport (ITO) is one of two airports on the Big Island, the second one is Kona International airport located on the west side of the island. The Hilo International Airport services all East Hawaii and the districts of Hilo, Puna, Hamakua, and Kau in general. A fantastic airport that feels comfortable, friendly and easy to maneuver around from check in, TSA and nice public lounge area and gate service. The airport has wonderful outdoor gardens and open-air plan that feels very Hawaii and laid back, just like the Hilo and East Hawaii.
Hilo Airport: Travel to the Big Island, Hawaii
About Hilo Airport
Most of the flights to Hilo are from the main hub at Honolulu International Airport. There are some flights that arrive direct from the mainland with Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, but the majority are interisland flights with Hawaiian Airlines being the major carrier in the area. Originally established as an airport with a large military air operation, the demise of the military presence created a new civil airport that grew to encompass over 1300 acres of land and set up to accommodate large aircraft flying to the East side to Hilo. Visitors enjoy the airports indoor/outdoor concept and warm staff espousing that Aloha vibe that’s very natural in this environment.
Weather and the best time to visit Hilo on the Big Island
Hilo, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, boasts a tropical rainforest climate, which contributes to its lush greenery and breathtaking natural beauty. Understanding the weather patterns and identifying the best time to visit can enhance your experience in this enchanting coastal town.
Hilo experiences consistent rainfall throughout the year, with the wettest months occurring from October to April. The rainfall contributes to the area’s vibrant vegetation and stunning waterfalls. It’s important to note that the rain showers in Hilo are often brief and sporadic, allowing for plenty of sunny intervals to explore and enjoy outdoor activities.
The best time to visit Hilo largely depends on your preferences and the activities you wish to engage in. If you’re looking to experience Hilo’s natural wonders at their peak, consider visiting during the wetter months. The abundant rainfall during this time ensures vibrant foliage, gushing waterfalls, and a more dramatic atmosphere.
For those seeking sunnier and drier conditions, the months of May to September offer a higher chance of clear skies and less rainfall. However, it’s essential to remember that even during these months, some rain showers can occur.
Transportation services from the airport
There is public transportation service at the airport with bus service from the airport to the main bus terminal in downtown Hilo, check the Hele-on service website here for more information hele-on website., There are rental car vendors at the island kiosks just across from the arrival area. Also, taxi service is available curbside on the far left and far right side of terminal. Uber and Lyft service are only available outside of the airport area unfortunately although drop off is fine to the airport.
Once inside the general lounge area you’ll find the standard food services, souvenir/general merchandise store and some wonderful displays around the lounge area with this beautiful casual Hawaiian furniture with classic Hawaiian fabrics that really fit the comfortable vibe and feel of the airport. Air departures and arrivals are prompt and done very efficiently probably because of the lower volume the airport receives compared to its counterpart at the Kona airport.
Drive time from Hilo airport to major destinations on island
From airport to downtown Hilo is less than 15 minutes
Volcano Village – approximately 45 minutes
Pahoa town – approximately 2 ½ hours
Waimea area – approximately 1 ½ hours
Check out these posts visiting HIlo and East Hawaii
There are a variety of attractions around the city, check out the top things to do in Hilo here for ideas of attractions and popular places to visit around town.
Check out the top places to eat in Hilo town here for any hungry visitors looking for some delicious food venues around town.
Rainbow Falls and the series of waterfalls up the Wailuku River is beautiful and easy to drive to from downtown Hilo and explore.
Coconut Island – close to Lili’uokalani gardens and a short walk through a bridge is this island that used to be a place of refuge in ancient times and is now a popular family-oriented park with two small bridges, a lava tower and gorgeous views looking out on the bay and Hilo town.
HIlo Farmers Market – a popular market and the largest on the island, Hilo Farmers market is a must for fresh produce, delicious snacks and Hawaiian desserts along with vendors selling some of the most popular Hawaiian dishes for take out.
Explore the Japanese and botanical garden at Lili’uokalani Garden in the Banyan Drive area for some love views and visit to this historic garden.
Public walkway to Hilo – you can follow the walkway that travels right next to Hilo bay all the way to downtown Hilo. This is a great way to enjoy the bay and scenery when you want to just walk to town and enjoy the outdoors here
Banyan Drive – a street that is covered with mature banyan trees and planted by historic government and popular figures that visited the park. The trees are mature and create a beautiful canopy on the street where hotels for Hilo accommodations are plentiful
Reeds Bay – a larger bay located on the other side of Banyan drive past the hotels with nice grass areas and beach areas that are family friendly. The water is shallow at this beach which makes it a perfect place for sup paddling and kayaking the surrounding areas of the protected Hilo bay.
Where to stay in Hilo
There are wonderful local inns, BnB’s and hotels that are unique and easy to stay in Hilo as a base, check out all these well reviewed places below.
Grand Naniloa Double Tree – A fantastic location on Banyan drive with bay and ocean views and comfortable modern rooms and amenities. Includes free wifi and 9 hole golf course across from the property
Hilo Seaside Hotel – located on Banyan drive with easy access to beach, attractions and parks. Comfortable and spacious rooms, nice public areas and a wonderful and friendly staff, restaurant and services.
Hilo Bay Ocean Front Bed and Breakfast – Beautiful accommodations and location right on the bay in this classic Hawaiiana home with excellent service, strong wifi and a full Hawaiian breakfast.
Check out these top reviewed hotels on Trip Advisor here for more details, availabiity and prices.
More inside tips to visiting Hilo, Hawaii
Hilo, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, is known for its lush landscapes, stunning waterfalls, and unique cultural experiences. Here are some inside tips to make the most of your visit to Hilo:
Explore the Waterfalls:
- Don’t miss iconic waterfalls like Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls. For a unique experience, visit Rainbow Falls early in the morning to witness the rainbows forming in the mist.
- Visit the Hilo Farmers Market for fresh produce, local crafts, and delicious snacks. It’s open daily, but the largest market days are Wednesday and Saturday.
Imiloa Astronomy Center:
- Discover the wonders of space and Hawaiian culture at the Imiloa Astronomy Center. It’s an interactive museum that offers fascinating insights into astronomy and Hawaiian history.
4. Liliuokalani Gardens:
- Spend a peaceful afternoon at the beautiful Liliuokalani Gardens, a traditional Japanese garden featuring ponds, bridges, and lush greenery. It’s a great place for a leisurely stroll.
5. Panaewa Rainforest Zoo:
- Visit the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, the only rainforest zoo in the United States. It’s home to a variety of exotic animals and plants in a lush tropical setting.
6. Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center:
- Take a short drive to the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center to learn about the production of macadamia nuts and sample various macadamia products.
7. Enjoy Local Cuisine:
- Savor Hawaiian and local dishes at eateries like Ken’s House of Pancakes, Cafe 100, and Moon and Turtle. Don’t forget to try some shave ice or malasadas for a sweet treat.
8. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park:
- While not in Hilo itself, a visit to the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a must. Witness the power of nature with active volcanoes, lava fields, and scenic drives.
- Hilo’s location on the Big Island offers excellent stargazing opportunities. Consider taking a night tour to Mauna Kea’s summit for a breathtaking celestial experience.
10. Cultural Experiences: – Explore Hilo’s rich cultural heritage by attending hula performances, visiting local art galleries, and participating in traditional Hawaiian ceremonies and events.
11. Be Mindful of Weather: – Hilo is known for its frequent rain, so be prepared for showers. A raincoat or umbrella can come in handy.
12. Respect the ‘Aina (Land): – Hawaiians have a deep connection to the land. Be respectful of nature, cultural sites, and local customs while exploring Hilo.
13. Learn Some Hawaiian Phrases: – Learning a few basic Hawaiian phrases, such as “Aloha” (hello/goodbye) and “Mahalo” (thank you), can go a long way in connecting with the local culture.
Hilo offers a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural richness, making it a memorable destination for travelers. Embrace the laid-back vibe, explore the stunning landscapes, and immerse yourself in the spirit of aloha during your visit to Hilo.
How to get around Hilo area
Navigating the Hilo area on the Big Island of Hawaii is relatively straightforward, and you have several transportation options:
1. Car Rental:
- Pros: Renting a car provides the most flexibility to explore the Hilo area, including nearby attractions.
- Cons: Parking in popular areas can be limited, and rental costs vary.
2. Taxi and Rideshare:
- Pros: Taxis and rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are available and provide point-to-point transportation.
- Cons: Costs can add up, and availability may be limited in some areas.
3. TheBus (Public Transportation):
- Pros: Hilo’s public bus system, known as “Hele-On Bus,” offers an affordable way to get around the city and nearby areas.
- Cons: Limited frequency, and schedules may not align perfectly with your plans.
- Pros: Hilo has bike lanes, and renting a bicycle can be an eco-friendly way to explore the city and its surroundings.
- Cons: Biking may be limited to shorter distances.
- Pros: In downtown Hilo, walking is a pleasant way to explore shops, restaurants, and waterfront attractions.
- Cons: Walking is limited to specific neighborhoods and may not be suitable for exploring the entire area.
6. Tour Shuttles and Guided Tours:
- Pros: Joining a guided tour or shuttle service can be a convenient way to visit multiple attractions in one day, especially if you want to explore specific regions.
- Cons: Tours may have fixed itineraries and limited time at each stop.
7. Water Transportation:
- Pros: For island-hopping adventures or coastal tours, consider taking ferries or boat tours available in the Hilo area.
- Cons: Limited to specific routes and destinations.
Select the transportation option that aligns with your preferences, itinerary, and budget to make the most of your visit to the Hilo area. Each mode of transportation offers a unique way to experience the beauty and culture of this part of Hawaii.
Conclusion to visiting Hilo International Airport
A visit to Hilo International Airport marks the beginning of an extraordinary adventure on the captivating Big Island of Hawaii. As the gateway to this enchanting destination, Hilo Airport welcomes travelers with its warm aloha spirit and sets the stage for unforgettable experiences.
Upon arrival, you will be greeted by the lush greenery and tropical beauty that surround Hilo. The airport’s convenient location near Hilo’s vibrant coastal city allows for easy access to its many attractions and natural wonders. From stunning waterfalls and black sand beaches to lush botanical gardens and cultural landmarks, Hilo offers a diverse array of experiences for every traveler.
The weather in Hilo adds to the allure of the region, with its tropical rainforest climate creating a rich and verdant landscape. The occasional rain showers contribute to the vibrant flora and make Hilo a haven for nature enthusiasts and those seeking a true tropical paradise.