Kona, a district on the west coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, is a popular destination for people looking for a laid-back vacation.
People travel for the town’s rich indigenous history, beautiful scenery, and of course, its location at the center of Hawaii’s coffee growing region (I LOVE Kona coffee!). There are plenty of things to see and do in Kona.
Lovers of history or those interested in indigenous culture should visit Hulihe’e Palace, where Hawaii’s royalty used to vacation, or take a trip outside of town to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, a historic site hundreds of years old.
Lovers of nature should swim in the calm waters of south Kona or hike the trails of Mauna Loa. Of course, no trip to the Big Island is complete without a cup of Kona coffee or a visit to a coffee plantation.
There is so much to see and do, and it’s not nearly as overdeveloped as some other parts of Hawaii. However, before you start booking your tickets any time soon, you probably want to figure out practical concerns such as safety.
But don’t worry — our travel experts have done the hard work for you. This detailed travel guide can help you figure out how to visit Kona safely, and if you need to take any precautions while you are in town.
Is Kona Safe to Visit in 2024?
Kona is a safe place for visitors, and you have very little to worry about when you plan your trip! There is some crime in the town, but it usually doesn’t affect visitors.
The area also experiences some natural disasters, but with good preparation, you can avoid most of these issues. Like any town or region in the United States, Kona has its societal problems.
Just because the pictures look like paradise does not mean that everyday life is always paradise! That includes an issue with rising crime, noticed by both visitors and locals.
Common crime incidents include:
- Petty theft
- Street harassment
- Drug abuse
Most incidents in Kona are petty in nature, either petty property crimes or other minor offenses. There are some violent incidents, such as robberies or assaults, but much fewer than in other parts of the country. Most violent incidents affect locals.
Besides crime, you should keep an eye out for natural disasters when planning your trip to Kona. Kona is located on Hawaii’s Big Island, which is home to active volcanoes including the infamous Mauna Loa.
In 2022, the volcano erupted, leading many visitors to worry about the safety of visiting Hawaii. Mauna Loa is one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, so eruptions and volcanic activity are frequent.
Hawaii was safe to visit even during the 2022 eruption according to local leaders. Keep in mind that Kona is on the other side of Big Island from Mauna Loa so won’t be affected by lava flows if an eruption happens.
However, Kona is often affected by vog (volcanic smog), and other airborne debris spewed out of the volcano.
If you have respiratory issues or are sensitive to environmental factors due to other chronic conditions such as migraines, your symptoms could intensify during an eruption in Kona. Follow the lead of locals and wear a mask.
Other common natural disasters around Kona are landslides and floods. Although they are less common than on the other side of the island because Kona has drier weather, they can still happen.
Monitor the weather forecast carefully if you are planning outdoor activities such as hiking and don’t go if there is rain in the forecast as flooding can happen with very little notice.
Crime in Kona
Crime is one of the primary concerns for people planning a trip to Kona. Crime is a concern when traveling anywhere new. The fears of tourists going to Kona are also fueled by reports of rising crime rates.
Locals and visitors complain about rising crime on forums and other places. The reports of rising crime are somewhat true. Rising crime was a problem that the entire Big Island experienced in 2022.
There were six homicides in the first nine months in 2022 on the island, two of which occurred in Kona. The homicides were symptomatic of an overall rise in crime.
The Hawaii police department does not offer data just for Kona, but the data for all of Hawaii County (the Big Island) can help us understand crime trends from Kona as well.
The official 2020 crime report showed that there was an overall increase in crime and an increase in violent crime. Violent crime makes up 13.2% of overall crimes committed, while the rest are property crimes.
The most common type of property crime is larceny-theft, and the most common type of larceny-theft is theft from vehicles. From anecdotal evidence, this trend is similar in Kona as well.
There are several societal factors fueling an increase in crime in Kona. The growth in street crime in Kona parallels the growth in homelessness. In 2022, local officials found that homelessness on the Big Island increased by 20%.
Homelessness was caused in large part by gentrification and rising rents. The homeless population in Kona specifically increased dramatically.
There were several large homeless encampments in Kona, right on Ali’i Drive. Although the city cleared away some of the largest in May 2023, that didn’t solve the problem that dozens of people remain unhoused in Kona.
To be clear, homeless people are not criminals. However, some people within homeless communities commit crimes to survive, and encampments can provide cover to criminals.
The growth in homeless encampments in Kona made people feel less safe. Kona is also facing an increasing drug problem. In 2021, the local police had to expand their narcotics department to cope with growing fentanyl abuse.
Fentanyl abuse is also fueling a rise in overdoses and petty drug-related crime. All of these societal factors primarily affect Kona locals, who are organizing their communities to try and respond to these challenges.
However, they can affect visitors as well. Plus, it’s good to be respectful of a community you are visiting and understand the challenges they are facing.
With all the news of rising crime in Kona, it is still important to keep it in perspective. The overall crime rate in Kona is 23.28 incidents per 1,000 people, and the violent crime rate is 3.05 incidents per 1,000 people.
Both of these numbers are far below the national average (although the property crime rate is slightly higher than the national average).
Although Kona has its problems, chances are that it is safer than your hometown, so you don’t need to worry a ton when you plan your visit. Just use common sense, as you would with any other destination.
Petty theft is the most common crime you will encounter in Kona, and anywhere in Hawaii. This type of theft is common anywhere where there is a large tourist population as tourists create the perfect opportunity for thieves.
There are a few types of theft you might encounter in Kona. This includes pickpocketing, purse snatching, theft from vehicles, and scams.
Although petty theft doesn’t occur that often in Kona, it is still a good idea to take some precautions to prevent theft. The most common crime in all of Hawaii is theft from vehicles, and Kona is no different.
Unfortunately, you’ll probably need to rent a car to get around Kona. Rental cars are often targeted for vehicle theft, so you’ll be exposing yourself to this type of crime. There are a few precautions that you can take to prevent theft from vehicles.
Make sure that you never leave valuables in the car. That way even if you get robbed, you won’t be devastated. Don’t leave any possessions visible in the car and store them in the glove compartment or trunk.
Make sure that your accommodation offers secure parking options. Scams are also common in Kona — and even before you venture to the region.
If you are booking accommodation or excursions, make sure that they are vetted. Don’t wire money to a place that seems suspicious as you might show up and realize that the experience you paid for is not available.
Violent crime is not very common in Kona, but there have been some incidents before. The most common violent crime that might affect tourists is robbery.
Most robberies occur at night, so a good precaution to take is not to wander in unfamiliar places at night. Ali’i Drive gets sketchy at night in certain places. Ask your hotel concierge or any local about which areas to avoid.
You also don’t want to make yourself a target when you are walking around town.
Leave the expensive jewelry in your accommodation, or better yet, at home. Don’t flash a lot of cash as that also singles you out as a potential target.
If you do get robbed, comply with the robber and focus on getting away and reporting the crime to the police. Robberies sometimes escalate into more violent crimes in Kona, and you don’t want to risk your survival for your possessions.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Certain parts of Kona are becoming sketchy, especially at night. Know which areas to avoid and you can go a long way towards feeling safe.
There are plenty of homeless encampments along Ali’i Drive, although the local authorities have begun clearing them. Be careful around Hale Halawai beach park and a few other locations that may have encampments.
While most homeless people are not harmful at all (and are more in danger themselves than dangerous), you never know who might be around.
Other sketchy locations in town include the area around Uncle Billy’s, the sea wall, and Coconut Grove.
Although most places are fine during the day, they are more dangerous after dark. Towards the south near Bali Kai is also an area where locals say is best to avoid.
Things to Consider
Here are a few other things to consider when planning your trip to Kona:
- Traffic to get in and out of town is usually bad. There is only one major road, and there are many people driving on it. Plan your trips accordingly, especially if you want to go to the beach.
- Swim safely if you go to the beach. Always obey posted warnings and never swim when there isn’t a lifeguard. Only swim during bright daylight as that is when there are fewer sharks. Never, ever turn your back on the ocean as waves are very dangerous.
- Don’t accept drugs. Drugs are illegal in Hawaii despite the hedonistic reputation of the island state. Local police are also cracking down on drug use as abuse rates skyrocket, and you don’t want to get in legal trouble while on vacation.
- Be careful when hiking. Always go with a buddy and let someone know about where you are going. Stick to marked trails. Don’t drink from streams you encounter as you might risk leptospirosis.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few common questions you might want answered about Kona before you go:
Is Big Island safe for tourists?
Kona is located on the Big Island of Hawaii. The island is safe for tourists with a below-average crime rate. Although some natural disasters can happen, the local infrastructure is usually built to handle it.
Is Kona a good island to visit?
Kona is not an island but a region of the Big Island of Hawaii. It is safe to visit, although the crime rate has been rising recently due to societal problems.
Is Kona safe at night?
Kona is not the safest at night. Stick only to very safe locations after dark, always travel with at least one other person, and opt to drive longer distances if possible. The sidewalk infrastructure is not the best, making walking in the dark unsafe.
Is Kona safe from volcanoes?
Kona is on the other side of the island from Mauna Loa, so it is rarely affected by volcanic eruptions. However, you might experience vog or volcanic smog.
Why is Kona so expensive?
Kona is not a great destination for budget travelers as most accommodation options (and everything else) are expensive. Since it is such a popular tourist destination, the prices have risen accordingly.
Book Your Trip to Kona Today!
Kona definitely has its problems, and you will have to take precautions while you are in town. However, it is mostly a safe destination, and you should have few problems as long as you don’t go wandering around at night.
So, with so much to see and do, and a safe atmosphere overall, what are you waiting for — book your trip to Kona today and experience for yourself all that this tropical paradise has to offer. Happy travels!