Lots of visitors come to Hilo for the day but don’t want to stay here. “Too much rain!” they say. Well, it depends what time of year it is—and what time of day. You can expect rain in the afternoons November-March; although, due to global climate change, even that has been more erratic, with some years completely dry. And yes, Hilo has beaches, too. They aren’t as large and white-sanded as on the Kona side, but they offer good access for swimming, snorkeling, and surfing.
Hilo can make a good base to explore the island: It’s only 45 minutes to Volcano and about an hour to Mauna Kea, and it’s at the beginning of the drive on the Hamakua Coast. Staying the night in a hostel is an incredibly inexpensive way to travel, especially solo or in very small groups. They’re a long-standing favorite of backpackers, too.
Out near the beaches east of town, Arnott’s Lodge (98 Apapane Rd., 808/969-7097, $25-130) is a good option for budget travelers. Arnott’s has six two-person lockable rooms, as well as a few open-air bunks, all with shared bath. A room with private bath sleeps three, and a two-bedroom suite sleeps up to five. There’s also tenting space ($10 per person) on the lawn. Free WiFi is available throughout. No check-in is available after 10pm. Arnott’s also runs wonderful, inexpensive touring excursions.
Located downtown in a huge, historical building that dates to 1912, Hilo Bay Hostel (101 Waianuenue Ave., 808/933-2771, $70 private, $25 dorm) is similar to what you’d find in Quito or Bogota. There is a shared kitchen (with lots of people around cooking) and free WiFi. It’s close to the bus station and downtown shops. Stay at one of these places if you’re traveling solo—otherwise, it’s not that much more expensive for two people to stay at a nearby bed-and-breakfast while splitting the cost.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.