Complete Guide to Okinawa Islands; Things to Do and Places to Go!

Ishigaki OKinawa Okinawa

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. The culture of Okinawa is very interesting and it is quite different from other parts in Japan. As Okinawa is very close to Taiwan and China, the Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese cultures have mixed together here and have resulted in Okinawa’s unique culture.There are also some historical spots, including a number of World War II sites, to be visited.

In spite of its’ somewhat remote 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?

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. 

Coral OKinawa

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 September. 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.

Okinawa Main Island

The main island of Okinawa is home to a number of amazing places. Naha city is the prefectural capital of Okinawa and 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.Also, it is a great sport to experience Okinawa’s unique culture, as some big festivals are held here every year. For example, the Eisa festival that is held during the weekend after the Okinawa Obon holiday. Young people wear Okinawan traditional clothes and dance with traditional drums. Kokusai Dori should certainly not be missing from your to do list in Naha.

At the end of the World War II, Operation Iceberg took place on Okinawa Island, one of the most cruel battles during World War II. It was the largest amphibious landing in the Pacific theater of World War II. It resulted in the largest casualties with a few hundred thousands deaths and huge destruction. Okinawa Peace Memorial Park (沖縄県平和祈念資料館) is the memorial to the Battle of Okinawa which represents the history to remember. The park is open 24 hrs and is free to enter.

Churaumi Aquarium is the biggest aquarium in Japan and the second biggest in the world. Here you can see animals living in and/or around the Okinawa sea. “Chura” derives from Okinawa’s dialect which means beautiful while “umi” means sea in Japanese. Thus, this aquarium is exhibiting the beautiful sea of Okinawa. Animals that can be seen here include whale sharks and manta rays swim in a massive 7,500m3 water tank.

Ishigaki Island

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.

Ishigaki OKinawa

Taketomi Island and Kohama Island

Ishigaki is also close to Taketomi Island and Kohama Island. Taketomi a small island with traditional houses and sandy beaches. If you are are interested in learning more about the the history of Okinawa’s culture, you want to visit Taketomi as the original Ryukyu culture is super well-preserved. You will feel like time traveling back to ancient times when you pass the traditional houses and visit the traditional festivals there. It is also a rather small island, which means you can move around the island by bicycle or even ride on a water buffalo carriage. This islands also has beautiful beaches on the west side of the island. 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.

Miyakojima

Miyako Island is another remote island with some of the best beaches in all of 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 one of the longest bridges in Japan, connects Miyakojima with another beautiful island called Irabu Island

Miyako island Okinawa

Iriomote Island

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 and mangrove forests. About 2.400 people live in the coastal areas of the island that is described as a treasure box of nature. 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. Scuba diving is also a good choice to explore the beautiful sea. You don’t need to have a scuba diving license as an instructor will be with you to support and guide you during your diving. From Ishigaki Island, it is accessible by ferry running four times a day. 

Iriomote

Yonaguni 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. 

Akajima Island

This tiny island is one of the Kerama islands, located south of Okinawa Island. The length of the island is only 11 km and around 300 people live there. To explore it, you can just walk around or ride a bicycle. You will be able to see marine turtles in the sea or the beach. The sea surrounding the island is extremely beautiful. It only takes 50 min by ferry to get to the island from the capital of Okinawa, Naha, making a the perfect day trip!

Nagannu Island

Nagannu is another island belonging to the one of Kerama islands, located just 20 minutes away from Naha by high-speed ferry. The island is uninhabited but still there are some shops and restaurants. Since nobody lives there, its pristine and immaculate emerald beach and sea are strikingly beautiful. It also has become a famous diving spot. If you like exploring the ocean and want to learn more about the stunning tropical paradise that this island holds, we recommend you to try scuba diving.

Hateruma 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!    

Turtle Okinawa Sea

Kume Island

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

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

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.

Whale watching

From the end of December until early April, you can see humpback whales in Okinawa. One of the most popular places for whale watching are the Kerama Islands. They are are made up of 36 beautiful islands, including Zamami and Tokashiki island. You can book a tour to go to Kerama islands by boat, departing near the airport.

Go snorkelling with the whale sharks!

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.

Sunset ishigaki okinawa

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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