Okinawa is a group of about 160 beautiful islands located in the south of Japan. The archipelago is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan, known for its tropical climate, white sandy beaches, colourful coral reefs and rich culture. There are also some historical spots, including a number of World War II sites, to be visited. In spite of its’ somewhat isolated location, Okinawa is visited by a great number of tourists that visit the area to explore the beautiful nature and the blue sea, all year round. Okinawa prefecture consists of a number of (uninhabited) islands, and some of them are connected to each other by bridge, others are accessible only by airplane or ferry. The islands have different experiences to offer and you can pick your destination based on the location and different characteristics of each island. In this article, we will help you plan a memorable trip to Okinawa!
- Where is Okinawa?
- Best time to visit Okinawa
- How to get to Okinawa
- Things to do in Naha City
- Ishigaki Island
- Miyako Island
- Yonaguni Island
- Hateruma Island
- Iriomote Island
- Kume Island
- Senaga Island
- Kouri Island
- Private tours in Japan
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Where is Okinawa?
Okinawa Prefecture is the southernmost part of Japan, located in the East China Sea, approximately 1,600 km away from Tokyo. The islands group is spread out over 400 km and out of the 160 islands, 49 are uninhabited. The prefectural capital is Naha, the biggest city situated in the main island, also the the largest island. There are more than 1.4 million people living there, and it has the 9th highest population density in Japan.
Best time to visit Okinawa
Okinawa is known for its subtropical climate with pleasant temperatures all year round. Though, we recommend to best time to visit Okinawa is spring or autumn, when the beaches are open and the temperature is not too hot. You will want to avoid the rain season in Okinawa, which lasts from early May to early June. In addition, typhoons can be a problem in Okinawa in July and August, and occasionally into October. All things considered, we recommend the best time to visit Okinawa is from March to early May or late September to December.
How to get to Okinawa
From Tokyo, there are daily, direct flights that take you to Okinawa in less than 3 hours. This is definitely the fastest and easiest way to get Okinawa island for an affordable price – we recommend you book well in advance. You can also take domestic flights to Okinawa from other airports such as Kansai International Airport in Osaka. In addition, there are daily direct flights to Ishigaki, Miyako and Shimoji airport from several airports including Narita and Haneda airport. Okinawa Airport also offers some international connections in East Asia.
How to get around in Okinawa
Once you arrive in Okinawa, you need to find some reliable type of transportation to take you around the islands. As the public transportation system in Okinawa is not so developed compared to big cities, most people rent a car to get around the main island. There are a number of car rental shops around the Naha Airport. Make sure to make a reservation online prior to your visit, as it easily gets fully booked during holiday seasons! If you want to travel to the more isolated islands, you can take a ferry or domestic flights, and rent a car or bike on site.
Things to do in Naha City
Naha city is the prefectural capital of Okinawa. It boasts a number of famous tourist spots such as Shurijo Castle and Naminoue Shrine. Shurijo Castle was an iconic structure in Okinawa with has a long history. It was once a main castle for the Ryukyu Kingdom, which governed the island from the 15th to 19th century. It stood on a hill overlooking the Naha port which functioned as a trade center at that time. Unfortunately, a big fire largely destroyed in 2019. At this time visitors can visit parts of the Okinawa castle and witness the extensive restoration project. If you want to try some local specialties or get gifts for your family, visit Kokusai Dori, a lively downtown street full of great restaurants and retail shops! Kokusai Dori should certainly not be missing from your to do list in Naha.
After spending a couple of days in the city of Naha, fly to Ishigaki Island to have a relaxing experience in nature! Ishigaki Island is one of the most popular remote islands belonging to Okinawa. Ishigaki is the 3rd largest island in Okinawa, and located about 410 km south west of Naha. You will certainly by fascinated by the beautiful ocean, perfect to enjoy marine sports such as diving and snorkeling. Ishigaki is also suitable for stargazing at night, as there is less light pollution from residential areas. There are a number of luxurious hotels offering a comfortable stay with an amazing view of the sea.
Taketomi Island and Kohama Island
Ishigaki is also close to Taketomi Island and Kohama Island. Taketomi Island a small island with traditional houses and sandy beaches. Kohama Island is known for its sugar cane fields, the bright green sugar cane fields spread out around the island are a beautiful contrast with the clear blue sea and white sand beaches! Taketomi Island and Kohama Island are both accessible by ferry from Ishigaki Island, and offer a relaxing experience to those who prefer small, calm islands away from crowds.
Miyako Island is another remote island with some of the best beaches in Japan. It is situated approximately 300 km south west of Naha, and widely known for the beautiful beaches and coral reefs. Yonaha Maehama Beach is a beautiful white sand beach, stretching about 7 km. Take a relaxing stroll along the sandy beach while taking in the scenic beauty and feeling the sea breeze. Irabu-Ohashi Bridge, with its’ 3,540 m, is the longest bridge in Japan and connects the Miyako Island with another beautiful island called Irabu Island.
Yonaguni Island is located at the westernmost point of Japan, located about 110 km in front of the Taiwanese coast. It is widely known for the amazing scenic spots with the blue ocean in the background. The unique, steep rock formations along the coast line represent the power of nature, and fascinate visitors with totally different experience from other remote islands. Yonaguni Island is also a home to the small Yonaguni horses, one of the eight existing horse breeds native to Japan. You can ride them and explore the island, or enjoy an exciting horse ride on a sandy beach! Yonaguni Island is best accessible by ferry or plane from Ishigaki Island.
Hateruma Island is the southernmost inhabited island in Japan. There are about 500 people living there, and one third of them is engaged in agriculture or farming. With a total size of 15 km, it boasts beautiful nature and a pleasant time. Visit Nishihama Beach, where you can see sea turtles swimming in the crystal-clear water or explore the small island and meet the welcoming local people. For the best stargazing experience, head to Hateruma Observatory Tower for an impressive. It will definitely be one of the highlights of your trip in Japan!
Iriomote Island is the 2nd largest island among the Okinawa islands. Most part of the island is undeveloped with more than 90% of the island covered in jungle, but about 2.400 people live in the coastal areas near the beautiful sea. Thanks to unique geographical features, it offers a large variety of activities and experience for tourists. Join exciting tours which take you to the mangroves full of wildlife. Options include boat cruises, SUP, or canoeing. If you are looking for something more exciting, go trekking through the scenic rivers and gorges or join a highly-recommended jungle cruise! From Ishigaki Island, it is accessible by ferry running four times a day.
Kume Island is a small remote island, located about 100 km west of the mainland of Okinawa. From the main island, it takes three hours to get there by ferry, and 30 minutes by plane. The volcanic island is officially designated as Prefectural Natural Park, and visited by a small number of tourists all year round. One of the highlights is Hatenohama Beach, a large sandbar located off the coast of Kume Island. It is comprised of three sandbars, and only accessible by boat. The 7 km long white beach offers breathtaking views, especially when the sun sets. Mifuga Rock is another well known attraction: a giant rock formation with a unique shape. It has a hole in the center offering scenic views of the sea.
Senaga Island is located south of Naha Airport. It is connected to the Okinawa island by a bridge and accessible by car, bike and buses that depart from the airport. Because of the convenient location, many people stop by there in order to enjoy the great views of the sea on their way back home or straight after their arrival. You can also see big airplanes flying overhead from Naha Airport. Senega Island Umikaji Terrace is a huge shopping complex, opened in 2015, with a number of restaurants, cozy cafes, souvenir shops and more. Many restaurants serve special dishes with ingredients locally produced. It is an ideal resort island for everyone regardless of age.
Kouri Island is a small, peaceful island, located about 1.5-hour drive from Naha city, and connected to Yagaji Island by a bridge completed in 2005. The circular island’s main destination is Kouri Beach, a popular swimming destination that can get rather crowded with tourists in the summer season. Visit the Kouri Ocean Tower for some a breathtaking panoramic views of the island and the sea at 82 m. There is also a museum that exhibits a large collection of beautiful shells collected all over the world. The island is also known as a spiritual spot that is supposed to bring luck in love.
Private tours in Japan
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The combination of the beautiful scenery, with crystal clear water and white sandy beaches and a subtropical climate, make Okinawa a popular destination for tourist. It’s unique culture and welcoming atmosphere are another reason why you should visit this amazing spot. Visit Okinawa in spring or in autumn to avoid the rainy season, hot summers and the occasional typhoon. To make most out of your experience we recommend you fly in to Naha airport and from there discover the islands with a rental car.
If you need any help for your trip to these cities or anywhere else in Japan, Japan Wonder Travel will be more than happy to help you!
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