Cruise ships dock at Hilo Port – a port, largely used by cargo and container ships, protected by a wide breakwater after the devastating tsunami in 1960. Cruise passengers are often greeted by Hawaiians, dressed in traditional clothes, performing traditional Hawaiian song and dance. There are also souvenir stalls on cruise days. It is possible to walk the 2 miles to town; however, the path goes through an industrial area and it’s very likely to be hot and humid. It rains very often as well so make sure you pack an umbrella. Right outside the port there is a bus stop of the public bus line, marked Keaukaha, that will take you to Hilo Downtown (last bus stop) for just a dollar. The bus doesn’t run on Sundays. There are a couple of free shuttles as well, organised by a local grocery store and the Farmers’ Market of Hilo. A taxi to the city centre would cost 15 USD at the most. Hilo International Airport is only 3 miles away, less than 10 minutes by car.
The local currency is the American dollar (USD). All major credit cards are accepted everywhere. There are plenty of ATMs and exchanging money is easy, however the rates at home in UK seem to be better than in the States, so do some research prior to travelling. You can exchange cash at one of the few money exchange shops at Hilo downtown. Make sure you check the market rate and ask if there would be any commission charges and fees. Sales tax is normally added at the till and it’s 4% in Hilo. If you use your cards to draw cash from an ATM, make sure you have notified your bank you would be spending time abroad and you are aware of any transaction fees. More and more banks and financial companies now tend to offer cards with no additional fees when using abroad, so it might pay off for you to check if you can get such card before travelling.
Opening hours and bank holidays. Opening times are quite generous in Hilo. The malls and shops would be open 9 am to 6 pm. Some of them would close as late as 10pm, and there are a few grocery stores that are open 24/7. The parks and attractions are open 9 am to 9 or 10pm. Some of them are open for ‘extra hours’, some of them are open 24/7 and some of them would close at 4pm on Sunday. The banks and post offices would be open 8 am until 4.30 pm, and some of them are open until midday Saturday as well. Most of the outlets would be open at national holidays as well. The best thing to do would be to check particularly at the websites of the attractions you are looking to visit for their exact opening hours, as they could vary significantly, especially if your time is limited. Check the dates of national and state holidays as well, before you travel, because if open, the attractions may be very busy, or they might be closed.
Tipping culture is the same as everywhere else in USA. As a general rule, you should tip any service staff. Many of them are paid low hourly rates and rely heavily on tips. Between 15 and 20% of the bill at a restaurant is considered normal but beware that some establishments include it in your bill, especially for larger groups. Hotel staff should also be tipped about a dollar per bag for the bellboy and about 2 USD per day for the housekeeper. Taxi drivers and spa saloon staff expects between 10% and 20% of the bill, if the service has been exceptional, feel free to leave more. Bartenders expect about a dollar per drink, more if the place is more upscale, and tour guides anything from 15 to 20%, depending on the length and the size of the group.
The local time in Hilo is GMT-10 hours and the dialling code is +1 808.
Things To Do
Hilo is mostly popular as a getaway to Volcano National Park, home to one of the most active volcanos in the world – the Kilauea Volcano and the world’s most massive shield volcano – Mauna Loa. There are many highlights of the park, but we are listing here are favourites. The park is open 24/7 and many of the sites are best seen at night. Bear in mind that some of them may be temporarily or permanently closed. The Kilauea Iki Overlook is spectacular at just before dawn and at dusk. Learn more about volcanology at the Jagger Museum with well executed and easy to understand displays. The museum is open until 8 pm. The Thurston Lava Tube (official name Nahuku) is a 500 years old cave, formed when a river of lava gradually builds solid walls and ceiling, that remain after the river has passed downhill. The Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs are more than 23,000 ancient Hawaiian Petroglyphs – images of cupules or holes, circles and other geometric forms, cryptic designs and human representations, canoe sails, etc., carved into lava rock. Don’t miss the Sulphur Banks Trail – an impressive reminder of the volcanic activities in the park, where volcanic gasses raise above the ground through cracks in the unusual colourful mineral deposits. Prepare yourself for the rotten eggs smell of sulphur. Please bare in mind that you are not guaranteed to see volcano eruptions or lava flows.
Tsunami Museum is dedicated to the history of the 1960 Tsunami that destroyed much of the East coast of the Big Island, especially Hilo. The wave knocked down hundreds of buildings and claimed 220 lives. The museum’s mission is to educate people about tsunamis and prevent such devastation from happening again, as well as serve as a commemoration to those who lost their lives in past tsunami events.
If you have time to see only one waterfall in the Big Island, let that be Rainbow Falls. This beautiful picturesque waterfall with many rainbows, formed by the rays of sunshine, falling on the broken mist is very accessible, close to Hilo Town. You can also stay relatively close to take those best holiday snaps – go early in the morning if possible.
There is a lot more to do in Hilo, visit the Macademia Nut Plantation, the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, the Farmer’s Market, the Lyman Museum. Enjoy the lush greenery and lovely warm weather at the many scenic waterfalls – the Akaka Falls, Pe’epe’e Falls, Umauma Falls, Hi’ilawe Falls. Although Hilo is famous for its volcanos, and not beaches, there are a few beautiful beaches for choose from – the Coconut Beach State Park, Kahalu’u Beach Park, Hapuna Beach State Park. Take a relaxing warm dip in Champagne Pond, drive along Hamakua Coast or Banyan drive and admire the scenery, hike to the Kohala Historical Sites State Monument, take a stroll through the Japanese Gardens Liliuokalani Park & Gardens.