Hilo, Hawaii USA cruises

Nestled on the eastern shores of Hawaii’s ‘Big Island’, Hilo is an Edenesque city peppered with cascading waterfalls and vibrant gardens.

Hilo port guide

Captivating art galleries. Museums filled with historic exhibitions. Street art, restaurants, and plenty of live music. Downtown Hilo offers plenty in the way of cultural treats. Step off your ship and find yourself a short distance from a friendly, buzzing atmosphere waiting to welcome you with open arms. Should you be looking to explore the natural beauty of Hawaii that this region is famed for, Hilo offers up what seems like endless tropical gardens and parks.

Top landmarks and sights in Hilo

Hilo is the second largest town in Hawaii, after Honolulu, and as such it brings plenty of important monuments and treasures to explore. From the sights and sounds of the Downtown area, to historic markers that paint a picture of Hawaii’s past, you’ll find no end of different ways to fill your time.

Downtown Hilo

You could spend an hour or so wandering the streets of the Downtown area, where you’ll discover centuries-old wooden facades, as well as tempting shops and restaurants. Kamehameha Avenue, facing the beautiful bay, is home to the 1925 Palace Theater and the popular Farmers Market.

King Kamehameha Statue

Within the Wailoa River State Recreation Area stands the proud, 14-foot-tall statue of King Kamehameha. As the first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii, who reigned in the late 18th century, King Kamehameha is credited for unifying the islands and choosing Hilo as his first official capital.

Naha Stone

Outside the Hilo Public Library is the ancient Naha Stone – brought to Hilo in the 12th century from the island of Kauai. This stone was used as a way of determining the members of the Naha Clan; baby boys were placed on top - if they were silent, they were Naha, if they cried, they were not.

Things to do in Hilo

As well as ticking off Hilo’s landmarks, this Hawaiian gem boasts a wealth of museums and natural highlights. Perhaps take time out and forget the outside world as you wander among palm trees and bright flowers, with the sound of bubbling pools and waterfalls providing a heavenly ambience. Find yourself in the quintessential Hawaiian scene you’ve always imagined.

Gardens and reserves

In an effort to create spaces in which flora and fauna can thrive and be enjoyed in peace, Hilo is home to several designated parks, gardens, and Hawaii’s only rainforest zoo, the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo. Here you’ll find all kinds of tropical creatures including spider monkeys and lemurs, which are endangered in Hawaii. The Lili’uokalani Gardens is another highlight, as the largest Japanese Garden outside of Japan, featuring rock gardens, fishponds, and pagodas.


National and state parks flourish in this part of Hawaii. Discover Rainbow Falls, on the Wailuku River in Hilo, for an idyllic, postcard-worthy scene. Further upriver is Pe’epe’e Falls, where cascading water creates a bubbling pool, known as the Boiling Pots area. 11 miles north of Hilo is the ʻAkaka Falls State Park, where a short hike among verdant green wilderness also includes two mesmerising waterfalls. Then there’s the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is roughly a 40-minute drive from Hilo. Home to two significant volcanoes, this is a must-see spot for anyone interested in geology.

Museums and galleries

The Tsunami Museum is a unique and interesting option should you wish to escape the Hawaiian warmth for a while. Here you’ll find an exhibition that illustrates the devastation caused by tsunamis in 1946 and 1960. Learn more about Hawaiian natural history at the Lyman Museum, about astronomy at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, and explore local culture and traditional art at the East Hawaii Cultural Center.

Eating and drinking in Hilo

When you think of Hawaiian food, it’s hard not to picture platters of colourful, exotic fruits. In Hilo, one of the best places to get your fill of these juicy, fresh treats is at the Hilo Farmers Market in the Downtown area. Opening twice a week, come along to browse, take photos, and get a closer glimpse of local life.

Some other local foods to try include the classic Hawaiian Plate, which you’ll find at many restaurants and markets. This will generally consist of rice, macaroni salad, kalua pig (similar to pulled pork), poke (raw fish), and poi and laulau, which are made from the roots and leaves of the taro plant. These plates are a great way of sampling a mix of local delicacies in one dish.

A noodle soup called saimin is a good option for something a little lighter, as is ‘manapua’, steamed buns. For a more filling meal you could try Luau Stew, which is usually made with taro leaves, rice, kalua pig, sweet potato,

breadfruit, and seaweed. Whatever you choose, end your dinner perfectly with a sweet and refreshing bowl of shaved ice, flavoured with different syrups.

Shopping in Hilo

While browsing the Hilo Farmers Market may prove fruitful in terms of trying local produce, you may well want to shop for keepsakes and gifts to take home too. Tourist shops offer the more cliché souvenirs, like ‘aloha’ shirts and leis (colourful garland necklaces), or you could also find more unique trinkets, like hand-carved koa wood products including bowls, jewellery boxes, and photo frames.

For more mainstream shops you could visit the Prince Kuhio Plaza, where you’ll find well-known brands and department stores including Macy’s and Sears.

Getting around: Hilo transport

Hilo cruise port is just over 2 miles from the town centre. The walk takes around an hour, however much of it is unsheltered from the sun (and rain if there is any). Shuttle buses are often provided, however, which take just a few minutes, or you could pick up a taxi from the cruise port. When in Hilo itself, you’ll find the town is easy to get around on foot. You’ll likely only need to use public transport or taxis if you want to leave the town to explore the island further afield.

Hilo port facilities

The cruise port in Hilo offers a range of helpful facilities including toilets, a gift shop, and a small snack bar.

Top tips for Hilo


As a US state – the Aloha state – Hawaii uses the US Dollar. While most establishments in Hilo, and across Hawaii, accept card payments, it can be helpful to carry some cash with you for smaller purchases such as at market stalls. You’ll find ATMs dotted around the town, or you can also purchase dollars on your ship.


Like the rest of the US, tipping is an expectation in Hawaii. The general rule is to tip between 15-20% of the bill in bars and restaurants, and 10-15% for taxi drivers. It’s worth checking your bill in restaurants, however, to make sure a service charge hasn’t already been added.


The lush greenery and tropical beauty of Hilo is able to flourish due to the region’s humid, wet weather. The town sees roughly 275 days of rain per year while still being warm, so it’s wise to bring a thin showerproof jacket and practical shoes. Throughout the year the temperature in Hilo stays between around 22 and 28 degrees Celsius.