If you’re looking for a subtropical paradise, look no further than Okinawa! The island about 3 hrs south of Tokyo, is the perfect place for a break if you live in Japan, and a great addition to your Japan trip at the end of your stay. There are some typical highlights that most tourists already know about like the Churaumi Aquarium, Blue Cave, Kokusai Dori (International Street), Shuri Castle, and American Village, but how about those hidden spots that the locals enjoy? Check out our favorite 10 hidden gems in Okinawa! All places on this list are on Okinawa Main Island or easily accessible from the Main Island!
1. Horse Garden Churan
This small charity dude ranch serves as a retirement home for old or handicapped horses. The horses that are brought here couldn’t serve their purpose anymore for their previous owners, and they come to this sanctuary to live out their lives in dignity. Ran by volunteers, Horse Garden Churan solely gets by on donations and they are happy with your visit.
You can buy food to feed the horses and goats they have, and for ¥1,000 you can ride a short round on one of the horses. As the horses are not so strong, there is a weight limit of around 50 kg, so it is mainly meant for children. They also have activities like photoshoots and they sell homemade art. There is a small food truck on-site that sells shaved ice and coffee.
Horse Garden Churan
Daily open from 10am to 5pm
2. Tataki Falls
Hiking the small river to Tataki Falls is a favorite pastime of Okinawa’s locals, as this is a perfect trek for kids as well as adults. It is adventurous enough to be exciting, but it is doable for those with a moderate level of fitness. You will wade through a shallow river and climb over rocks and small waterfalls. And the best thing is that there is a very refreshing waterfall waiting for you at the end of the route! A Tarzan rope has been fitted to one of the trees from which you can swing into the water. You can opt to visit this place by yourself or join a guided river trekking tour.
There is a parking area where you can rent water shoes, which are a must, and live vests for those who can’t swim. The walk to the waterfall takes around 30-45 minutes, and you will walk the same way back again. Most people take around 2 hours in total including a swim around the waterfall area.
Daily open from 8am – 5.30pm
Parking fee ¥200 for 2 hrs + ¥50 additional 30 min
3. Gyokusendo Cave
As large parts of Okinawa consist of limestone that’s built up from coral, you can find limestone caves as well. The largest and most impressive limestone cave is the Gyokusendo Cave, which is situated on the grounds of theme park Okinawa World. The path in the cave is well-defined and parts of the cave are lit up beautifully. In some parts, it looks like fairies would live here!
The fun will continue when you exit the cave, as Okinawa World is a great park to explore the traditional culture of Okinawa. You can enjoy performances, drink foamy Buku buku tea, and try on traditional clothes. They also organize great workshops where you can try your hand on crafts like pottery and Ryukyu glass blowing. There is even a museum that is dedicated to Okinawa’s most dangerous snake, the Habu.
Daily open from 9am to 5pm
Admission fee ¥2,000
4. Bisezaki Kaigan
Not far from the popular Churaumi Aquarium is Bisezaki Kaigan, a beautiful small village that still has a traditional atmosphere. The sandy roads are lined with tropical Fukugi trees, and most buildings are built in Ryukyu style. Several shops offer bicycle and electric scooter rental, which are both perfect ways to get around the small area.
The northernmost seaside offers great swimming and snorkeling opportunities, so make sure to bring your swimwear and snorkeling gear with you! The water is rather shallow in most spots, crystal clear, and there are many tropical fish in the area. We recommend you to go at the low tide, as that is the perfect time to safely check out the tide pools.
5. Kouri Beach
Kouri Island is a small island that is connected to Okinawa’s Main Island via Yagaji Island by Japan’s longest toll-free local road bridge.The base of the bridge at Yagaji Island is a popular scenic spot, as the ocean is incredibly blue in this area. Right next to the landing spot of the bridge in Kouri Island, you can find Kouri Beach. There are parking areas on both sides of the road where they have showers and small shops selling local food, souvenirs, and snorkeling gear.
Kouri Beach boasts fine, white sand and a clear ocean. Snorkeling is highly recommended here because this is one of the few places in the world where you can still spot the Ryukyu sea dragons. They are endangered sea horses who live in shallow tropical waters. Their color doesn’t really stand out so you have to look closely, but as there are quite a few of them you should be able to see a few. As with all marine life, the rule of thumb is to look but not touch.
It is a long drive from Naha to the north, but if you love nature Daisekirinzan is worth checking out! Also, as you leave Chatan, route 58 offers many amazing views of the ocean so it is a fun drive to take. When you arrive at the park’s entrance, you will be brought to the starting point of the walking routes with a small bus and off you go!
You can choose between four routes, and if you have a few hours you can do most of them. One of the routes is accessible for strollers and wheelchairs. The other three routes are the ocean view trail, the rock formation trail, and the subtropical forest trail. The rock formations are especially interesting to see, they almost look like the area belongs to a different planet. Banyan trees are also abundant here. Be ready to take lots of pictures! We also saw one of the cute young wild pigs that roam the area.
Daily open from 9.30 to 17.30
Admission fee ¥1,200
7. Gorilla Chop
This is hands-down one of the best spots for snorkeling and scuba-diving on Okinawa Main Island, as long as the sea is calm. Its name comes from a large rock next to the water that supposedly looks like a gorilla doing a karate chop. The water is very blue and clear, and the bottom gradually goes from shallow to around 10 meters deep. There are beautiful large corals and many colorful fish, some of them are quite large!
Gorilla Chop is a very convenient spot to go snorkeling as there is a free parking lot, there are toilets and cheap showers, and it is very easy to enter the water either via the beach or from the stairs. There are a few restaurants nearby as well. But you do need to bring your own gear, as there are no rental shops nearby.
8. Fuu Cafe
This semi-outdoor cafe definitely has the wow-factor! Located on Sesoko Island, having lunch or a drink in this cafe feels like you’re visiting a friend with a very large, lush, and green garden. There are table seats with large parasols and hammocks to relax in, and a beautiful building in a forest style.
Not unimportantly, the food is also delicious and they serve several coffee specialties and local fruit juices. As is typical in Japan, the food is presented in a beautiful way, so you will definitely whip out your camera to take some great pictures here.
9. Kudaka Island
Okinawa consists of some 160 beautiful islands, all of which are beautiful and will offer a great relaxing experience. Some islands like Ishigaki and Miyakojima are more popular than other and visited by tourist. But do you want to go a bit off the beaten path in Okinawa? Then you will definitely like Kudaka Island (久高島) which is located a few kilometers from the southeast of the Main Island. There are only about 200 people living here, giving it a very traditional vibe. The nature of the island is considered sacred, so it is important to respect the rules and not to enter off-limits areas. You can see the boat’s time table and an overview of the rules on their official website.
The best way to explore Kudaka Island is by bicycle. When you arrive, you will see two large bicycle rental shops near the harbor area where you can rent electric or regular bicycles for about ¥1,200 per bicycle. While cycling around the island, it is nice to stop at a few spots like Habyan and Yaguruga. The only beach where you are allowed to swim is Megihama (メーギ浜). Getting hungry? Make sure to time your lunch for when you are around the tiny village center, as this is where the few small restaurants are concentrated.
10. Kerama Island Group
Have you ever heard of the color ‘Kerama Blue’? It is a vibrant blue that got its name from the incredibly blue oceans around the Kerama Island group. Located around 30 km from Okinawa Main Island, intrepid tourists like to take day trips or short overnight trips to one of the Kerama Islands. You can board a ferry from Naha that will get to one of the island. Boasting very small populations, people mainly go here to enjoy snorkeling and diving. The most popular Kerama Island is Zamami.
Ama Beach and Furuzamami Beach are the island’s two main beaches, and everything you need for a great beach day can be found; rental parasols, rental snorkeling gear, and facilities like toilets and showers are all here. You can also do activities such as SUP-ing and taking a ride in a glass-bottom boat. Around the Kerama Islands there is a large variety of marine life, and if you are lucky you can even spot sea turtles!
Recommended activities in Kerama:
As you can see, there are many reasons to combine a trip to the main island of Japan with a few days in Okinawa. If you are planning a holiday to Japan, we offer some amazing tour experiences all over Japan to help you enjoy your stay here even more.
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Stefanie Akkerman moved from the Netherlands to Japan in 2013 with her Japanese husband and son. She jumped into the niche of Dutch tour guiding in Tokyo and Kamakura in 2015 and occasionally writes articles about all the great sights and activities Japan has to offer. She loves (Japanese) food, and to work that all off she goes diving, snorkeling, cycling, or hiking.
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