Papakōlea Beach: Ultimate Guide to Hawaii’s Green Sand Beach

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Papakolea green sand beach is a breathtaking and unique slice of paradise. The only green sand beach in Hawaii, and one of just a few in the entire world, it’s a truly unforgettable place. We put together this guide with everything you need to know to visit Papakolea Beach.

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island

Papakōlea Beach is unquestionably the most unique stretch of shore on Hawaii’s Big Island. With dark olive grains of sand, it could even be considered one of the most interesting beaches in the world, as there are only 3 other green sand beaches on the planet

If you love beaches, a good adventure, or collecting unique experiences, there’s a good chance that Papakōlea green sand beach is already on your Hawaii itinerary. 

This fascinating beach is interesting to see and fun to photograph, but getting there isn’t as straightforward as you may think. 

In this article we’re sharing everything you need to know about planning your visit to this unique beach, as well as insider tips (aka where to get the BEST lunch afterwards!) and what to expect. 

Note: In this article, you may notice us using a couple different spellings for Papakōlea Beach, sometimes using the kahakō [ō] and sometimes not. The reason we use both is to acknowledge the linguistic markings of the modern Hawaiian language, while also keeping our content accessible and searchable for everyone.

Papakōlea Beach Travel Guide

Papakōlea Beach Overview

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island
  • Known For: Ultra-secluded beach with green sand
  • Other Names: Green Sand Beach and Mahana beach
  • What to expect
    • Sand: Small olivine crystals mixed with soft, fine black sand
    • Water: Clear, warm, brilliant blue water
    • Swimming conditions: Frequent strong surf; advised only for advanced swimmers
    • Facilities: None 
  • Parking: Large free lot off of South Point Road
  • Cost: Free
  • Google Maps Location

Fun Fact: Papa means “flats” and kōlea is the Hawaiian name for the Pacific golden plover bird, which can be found in this area during the winter months. 

Are there other green sand beaches in the world?

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island

Beaches with green sand are certainly not a common occurrence! The green hue is caused by a subterranean mineral called olivine, and it’s rare for it to accumulate above the Earth’s surface. However, there are a few places in addition to Papakolea Beach where this occurs.

  • Talofofo Beach, Guam: Famous for its world-class surfing and a breeding ground for hammerhead sharks
  • Punta Cormoran, Galapagos Islands: Vibrant green sand, plus a hotspot for sea turtles and stingrays
  • Hornindalsvatn Lake, Norway: Though not technically a beach, Europe’s deepest lake has sandy green shores thanks to ancient glacial deposits 

How to get to Papakolea Beach 

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island

Getting to Papakolea Beach isn’t as straightforward as many other beaches on the Big Island. 

But don’t let that deter you – visiting Papakolea Beach can easily be done as a day trip from Kona or as a stop on your Big Island road trip (we stopped here along our drive from Kona to Hilo).

Your efforts will be rewarded, as this is one of the most unique beaches in the world.

Related: Before you go, make sure you read our guide on renting a car in Hawaii!

Papakolea Beach Location

Papakōlea green sand beach is at the far southern end of Hawaii island, less than a two-hour drive from both Kona and Hilo. It’s also just a few miles from the southernmost point in the US.

Though remote, Papakōlea Beach is easily combined with other must-see Big Island sights, like Punaluʻu Beach

Papakolea Beach Map

Driving Directions from Kona

  • Distance: 63.5 miles
  • Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Reaching Papakolea Beach from Kona is fairly straightforward. Go south on Highway 11 for 50 miles, until a junction between mile markers 69 and 70, just past the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Kahuku Entrance. 

At the junction, take a right onto South Point Road and drive for about 10 miles. There’s a large sign for the green sand beach to the left, and the parking lot is about one minute beyond that. 

Driving directions from Hilo

  • Distance: 80 miles
  • Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Driving from Hilo only takes a little longer than from Kona. The route travels along the east side of the island rather than the west. 

Follow Highway 11 to Kamoa Road, taking a left right before the church. After 6 miles, merge onto South Point Road and look for the green sands beach sign directing you to the left. 

Parking at Papakolea Beach

Parking Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island

The parking lot at Papakōlea green sand beach is large, so finding a spot is rarely an issue. There’s no fee, and registration or recreation passes are not necessary. While it’s a dirt lot, any car will easily manage the terrain. 

Hiking vs. 4×4 “shuttle”

Papakolea Green Sand Beach shuttle Hawaii Big Island

From the parking lot, Papakōlea Beach is another 2.5 miles on a rugged trail — and you can’t drive. Vehicles are forbidden to protect the fragile ecosystem.

However, in an effort to eliminate the need to hike in (and to line their pockets!), some enterprising locals offer rides in their 4-wheel-drive pickups

While it’s tempting to hitch a ride, keep in mind that doing so is illegal and comes with some risk. To be honest, it’s unlikely you’ll get in trouble for using these “shuttles”, but it’s still not great for the roads and a bit sketchy, since they aren’t legitimate businesses.

Many people opt for a ride anyway, paying about $20 for a round trip. Another thing worth noting is that, again, because these aren’t official shuttles, you may find price variations.

We recommend hiking. Not only is it free and better for the environment, but the trek also offers some scenic ocean views along the way. 

That said, there is absolutely no shade or cover from the sun, so make sure you have enough water and proper sun protection.

Papakolea Beach Trail 

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Trail Hawaii Big Island
  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 370 feet
  • Type of trail: out and back
  • Difficulty: moderate

The hike to the beach follows a rough but well-beaten dirt path — it’s difficult to get lost. The ocean is visible nearly the entire way, and there are several beautiful vistas of waves crashing into volcanic rock formations. 

While not steep or technical, the most challenging aspects of the trail are the lack of shade and exposure to the wind. Bring a good shade hat, sunscreen, and lots of water, and watch out for the trucks illegally shuttling passengers along the way! 

What to expect at Papakolea Beach

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island

So now that you know how to get there, what can you expect from this green sand beach?

Facilities at Papakolea Beach

There are no facilities whatsoever at Papakolea Beach. Not so much as a trash can! 

Pack everything you’ll need for both enjoying the beach and the hike down, especially plenty of water, and take care to practice Leave No Trace guidelines. 

Things to do at Papakolea Beach

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island
  • Inspect the green sand up close. When you look carefully, it’s possible to distinguish individual olivine crystals.
  • Play photographer. The green sand isn’t the only characteristic that makes Papakolea Beach stand out — the volcanic rock formations and views are equally impressive!
  • Relax! With calming, hypnotic waves, this beach is ideal for sunbathing or reading. 
  • Go for a swim. Especially after the sweat-inducing hike, the ocean feels refreshing. Just remember, the surf here is notoriously rough. 

Can you swim at Papakolea Beach?

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island

Many visitors swim at Papakolea Beach; however, the surf is often strong and unpredictable

There are no lifeguards on duty and you’re in a remote location, so don’t stray far from the shore and be mindful of your personal limits. Keep in mind that currents pick up the further you get into open water. 

Is Papakolea Beach worth it?

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island

This is honestly a tough one for me to answer, and I think the answer comes down to you.

It is obviously a very unique beach and one of the only places in the world you can see green sand. However, getting there requires a good chunk of time. Plus, there is no shade and it can get very, very hot here.

If you’re up for an adventure and have ample time in your itinerary, go for it! A few years ago (pre baby!), I probably would have wholeheartedly recommended this spot.

However, if you are traveling with young children (like we were), I’d say proceed with caution. I personally felt like it was too hot (without much of an escape) for me to confidently recommend this to others.

I have major FOMO and really wanted to see this beach. I’m glad we went, but I don’t think I’d do it again (at least not with a baby).

Tips for visiting Papakolea Beach

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island

If you’re planning on visiting Papakolea Beach during your time on the Big Island, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Visit as early as possible

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, it gets HOT here. Plus, getting there will likely take much longer than you’re expecting, so do yourself a favor and get an early start.

2. Be prepared for the sun & heat

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island

The hike in and the beach itself are completely exposed (aka you will be baking in the sun!). Come prepared!

  • Bring plenty of water and reef safe sunscreen
  • Leave some water in your car too so you have something to drink when you return
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses
  • Bring something to cover your shoulders
  • If you don’t mind carrying it on the 2.5 mile hike, it might be a good idea to bring an umbrella or tent to give yourself some shade. We only has a regular rain umbrella, but a sweet family let us sit under their beach umbrella to keep Juniper out of the direct sun.

3. Wear sturdy shoes


If you’re hiking, flip flops are not a good choice as the trail is pretty rough. We’d recommend Chacos!

4. Don’t take any sand

While it may be tempting to grab some unique green sand as a souvenir, it is strictly prohibited to remove any sand from the beach.

5. Time your visit so you can get lunch afterwards

Once you’ve had your fill at the beach, crank the AC and head straight to Aloha Mix Food Truck Cafe. Their shrimp sampler is amazing (and big enough to share). Order that as well as a smoothie or a smoothie bowl for a killer lunch!

Once you’ve licked your plate (trust me!), walk across the street to Punalu’U Bake Shop. This is the southernmost bakery in the United States and their lilikoi malasadas (passionfruit glazed doughnuts) are damn good. 

This is a very touristy stop and you may see a tour bus there at the same time, but I think it’s worthwhile if you’re in the area.

Insider Tip: I am a huge lemon bar fan and I can’t turn them down, so at the last minute I ordered one to go. We had it that night for dessert at our Airbnb and oh em gee, do yourself a favor and get one for later!

Things to do near Papakolea Beach

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u black sand beach

The southernmost tip of the Big Island isn’t nearly as built up as the west or east coasts, but there are a few other sights you should definitely see if you’re in the area.

  • See the southernmost point in the USA. There is also cliff jumping nearby if you are feeling brave (and are a confident diver).
  • Visit the nearby black sand beach of Punalu’u, which is stunning and a good place to spot sea turtles.
  • Stop off at Paradise Meadows, which is an orchard and bee farm. Here you will find free samples, coffee, cookies, macadamia nuts and honey to purchase, as well as art. 

Food near Papakolea Beach

Punalu'u Bakery

There is nowhere to grab food or water on the beach itself, so be sure to pack accordingly. That said, there are a few stand-out places to pop in for a bite before or after your visit to Papakolea Beach.

  • Grab an iced coffee at Miranda’s Farms Coffee Shop.
  • Indulge in a freshly baked malasada (type of doughnut) from the legendary Punalu’u Bake Shop. The best flavor is lilikoi (passionfruit). 
  • Have a casual lunch of local fare at Aloha Mix Food Truck.
  • For a sit down meal of Hawaiian comfort food, Hana Hou makes a good choice. Order a glass of their refreshing lilikoi (passionfruit) lemonade.

What to wear & pack 

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island
  • Sun hat
  • Reef safe sunscreen (this is the one we personally use and love!)
  • Light layer to minimize sunburn during the hike
  • Tarp or towel for hanging out on the beach
  • Swimsuit (if you want to try to swim here)
  • Snacks
  • Plenty of water

Be sure to download our complete packing list for Hawaii! It’s packed with good suggestions and insider tips to help plan your Italy trip. And it’s completely FREE, so why not!?

Where to stay near Papakolea Beach

Personally, we think that visiting Papakolea Beach makes a great day trip from Kona or a good stop along your Big Island road trip (we stopped here during our drive from Kona to Volcanoes National Park).

However, if you have lots of time on the Big Island and are looking to slow down a bit, here are three unique places that are (very!) worthy of spending a night or two. 

Luxurious Dome Home Airbnb Big Island

Luxurious Dome Home (with an outdoor bathtub!): If you’re looking for a luxurious Big Island stay, look no further! This stunning  geodome has most of the comforts you’d expect of a hotel room as well as the uniqueness that comes with a glamping experience. It truly is the best of both worlds. 

Budget friendly Farm Stay Airbnb Big Island

Budget friendly Farm Stay: This quirky greenhouse-turned-guesthouse is perfect for travelers looking for a unique stay on a budget. With an outdoor shower and a memory foam mattress, you won’t be sacrificing comfort.

Temple Airbnb Big Island Hawaii

Indoor/Outdoor “Temple”: This bamboo structure is a Bohemian paradise and the perfect spot to slow down and take in the mountain and ocean views from your own personal hammock.

Good to know: This property requires a 2-night stay.

Planning a trip to Hawaii?

We have lots of resources on travel in Hawaii and destinations around the islands. Check out our Hawaii Homepage for everything you need to know, or start by reading some of our favorite Hawaii travel articles to help you plan your dream vacation to the Aloha State:

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