Did you know that Japan can easily compete with places like Hawaii and the Maldives when it comes to gorgeous emerald sea and white beach islands? There are several different island groups in Japan that are great destinations for a beachy holiday like the Izu Islands, the Amami Islands, and Okinawa prefecture? It is in this last island group where not only the famous Okinawa Main Island, but also the beautiful Yaeyama Islands are located.
Comfortably situated in the subtropical climate zone, the weather is pleasant here year-round and it is a true paradise for water sports lovers. Pack light, and let’s go island-hopping on the Yaeyama Islands!
1. Ishigaki Island
For most travelers, their Yaeyama island-hopping adventure starts on Ishigaki island, the most accessible island of the group. There are multiple flights per day that leave from Tokyo, Osaka, and other major cities that are operated by low-cost carriers as well as ANA and JAL. Ishigaki is the most developed Yaeyama island, and it is easy to get around by rental car. We recommend a stay of 3 or 4 days to make the most of it, and the following highlights; a glass-bottom boat ride on deep blue Kabira Bay, snorkeling on Yonehara Beach, the Ishigaki Island Limestone Cave, and the amazing view from the Tamatorizaki Observatory.
Recommended tours on Ishigaki Island
▶Snorkel the Emerald Water of Ishigaki Island
Swimming above the beautiful coral reefs and you may spot manta ray if you are lucky!
2. Taketomi Island
From Ishigaki island, you can take a morning ferry to nearby Taketomi island. It is easy to spend an hour or even 5 on this small paradise island that’s surrounded by some of the clearest water in the world. A must-do activity here is to take a ride on the water buffalo carriage to fully take in the beautiful tropical environment. Then, it is fun to rent a bicycle to go around the tiny island, and it’s one of the best ways to see everything there is. The best beach on the island is Kondoi Beach, which boasts shallow crystal clear water, soft white sand, and a dreamy-looking sandbar that appears when the tide is higher. A very nice place to take a dip in the ocean and enjoy your surroundings.
3. Kohama Island
Kohama can only be reached by ferry from Ishigaki, Taketomi, and Iriomote, so it is important to plan your trip to this small island well. Intrepid travelers come to Kohama to enjoy a nice resort hotel and the beautiful white beaches. Many tourists like to relax at their hotel for most of their time, but it is also fun to rent an electric bicycle and go around the island for a bit. Sugar Road is surrounded by fields of sugarcane fields, making it the most scenic road on the inner part of the island. From the top of the 99 meter-high Mount Ufudaki, you can enjoy beautiful views of the ocean dotted with other Yaeyama islands. If you happen to run into a spiritual event, you might be able to observe the traditional style of indigo dyeing of kimonos.
4. Iriomote Island
Once you are done exploring Taketomi and Kohama, it is time to hop on the ferry to Iriomote island. This is the largest Yaeyama island, but it only has a population of a little more than 2000 people as most of the island is covered in a jungly forest. On Iriomote, we recommend spending plenty of time in the lush natural surroundings. Most hotels organize activities like jungle trekking tours, kayaking expeditions, sunset SUPing tours, stargazing evenings, and firefly walks. One of the best beaches on the island is Hoshizuna beach, where you can do some great snorkeling in the shallow bay.
Recommended tours on Iriomote Island
▶Iriomote Island Pinaisara Falls and Yubu Island Tour
Starting off with kayaking past mangroves and hiking through the jungle to Pinaisara Falls in the morning, then heading to Yubu Island where you can ride a water buffalo cart!
5. Yonaguni Island
The westernmost island of Japan is Yonaguni is only 111 kilometers away from Taiwan, giving it a distinctly different culture from the other islands and mainland Japan. Yonaguni is most famous for its wild horses that are native to the island. Kita Bokujo is one of the most popular places to go for a nature walk and spot the horses. Other animals tourists love to encounter here are hammerhead sharks when they go diving. They pass by the island in large groups between November and April, and in the rest of the year divers enjoy the Underwater Ruins, Light Palace, and Double Arch. Yonaguni can be reached by airplane from Naha and Ishigaki and by boat from Ishigaki only.
The tiny island Kuroshima is usually done as a day trip from Ishigaki because of its remote location and lack of large hotels on the island. If you are looking for a place that could feel like a private island because of the lack of crowds, Kuroshima is just the island for you. The heart-shaped island is a perfect little getaway where snorkeling and laying on the beach will be your main activities. One of the largest coral reefs of the world can be found here where many rare sea creatures live. We also recommend renting a bicycle near the harbor to go around the island and discover all its little nooks and crannies. You can only go to Kuroshima from Ishigaki by ferry.
Do you want the island to be even smaller? Aragusuku consists of 2 tiny islands and has a population of only 15 people who all live on island Kamiji. Island Shimiji turned into a cow pasture when the population shrank. The water around the islands is extremely clear and offers amazing swimming and snorkeling. You can only reach the island with an organized snorkeling tour from Ishigaki or Iriomote.
8. Hateruma Island
While Yonaguni is Japan’s westernmost island, Hateruma is the southernmost. With a population of only 500, it is a small island but it is well-prepared for tourists who love the amazingly clear blue ocean and white beaches. Nishihama Beach is simply perfection, and it is considered one of the best beaches in Japan. It is recommended to spend at least one night in Hateruma so you can see the stars, as the island is the best place to spot the Southern Cross constellation from and its nights are unhindered by light pollution. You can only go to Hateruma island by ferry from Ishigaki, the ride takes around one hour.
As you can see, Japan is a noteworthy destination for anyone who loves beach holidays.
Are you thinking about traveling around Japan? While it is getting easier and easier to get around the country with English signage becoming more ubiquitous if you really want to make the most of your trip, hiring a private guide for one or multiple days is still very much worth the investment. On a private tour, your guide will make an itinerary that fits your interests and there is always flexibility to change the plan for the day. The guide will also share a wealth of knowledge that will give context to the places you visit. We organize private tours in cities like Tokyo and Kyoto!
Don’t forget to check out our private tours!
Planning a trip to a foreign country alone is never easy! If you need some help to organize your trip to Japan and want to see Japan like a local, you should definitely check out our private tours complete with an English guide! We’re glad to help you make your trip to Japan a safe, comfortable, and unforgettable memory!
Visit the must-visit highlights in Tokyo with our friendly guide! This tour is flexible and destinations are completely customizable according to your requests.
Kyoto is a beautiful city full of historic temples and shrines. It is also a perfect spot for enjoying the incredible autumn colors in fall!
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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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