8 Experiences To Make You Fall In Love with Okinawa

Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, or prefer a more laidback itinerary full of local restaurants and traditional crafts, Okinawa has it all. Nomad Ayli takes us island hopping and shares her top picks of Japan’s tropical paradise.


Ishigaki Island, Okinawa Photo © iStock/kuremo

Explore Shuri Castle

This castle is a short walk from Shuri station and will easily keep you occupied for half a day. There are warning signs for poisonous Habu snakes for a reason – leave them undisturbed and you’ll escape unscathed. 

After buying your pass, you’re free to explore this unique structure. Check out the gorgeous rooms and marvel at the lacquer hardware. Don’t miss the traditional performances too, where you might even be bitten by a performing shisa (lion-dog) for good luck! 

Go for a snorkel or dive the Kerama Islands

For day trips and short getaways, visit the Tokashiki, Zamami, Aka and Geruma islands. There are plenty of marine adventures like world-class snorkelling and diving, or just relax on any of the white sandy beaches and admire the clear blue sea. Camping on Zamami is popular too, and the island provides access to uninhabited islands.

Learn traditional crafts at Miyakojima

Friendly Miyakojima is renowned for its beaches and reefs, including Sunayama, Araguska, Yoneha, and Maehama.  For the culture-vultures, don’t miss the botanical gardens. Here, you can make traditional crafts, feed and ride Miyako ponies, and explore a small jungle.

Downtown is good for handcrafted souvenirs and sampling the local delicacies. My favourites are Miyako soba and fresh sea grapes. At Miyako airport, you can rent a car or scooter if you haven’t organized one beforehand.

Visit Okinawa’s picture-perfect Yaeyama Islands

This gorgeous chain of islands is a short flight from Naha city.  If you’re looking for pristine beaches and wild flora and fauna with local charm and flavours, this is the place to be. The islands include Ishigaki, and Yonaguni.

Make sure you stay for a couple of nights to make the most of everything these islands have to offer! 

Monkey around Ishigaki

Hiking, visiting beaches, and eating Ishigaki beef are at the top of our list. Hire a car or a scooter to get around the island. If you haven’t organised this beforehand, you can rent these when you arrive. 

Take some time to stop by the lookout points and explore the local crafts shops and restaurants. Have a picnic overseeing either Hirakubo or Uganzaki lighthouses. Immerse yourself in local culture and have fun with monkeys at Ishigaki Yaima Village

Advanced divers can also swim with manta rays – all the local dive shops regularly have tours, so pick your favourite. For longer stays, hop over to the islands of Taketomi, Iriomote, and Yonaguni.

Ancient civilisations in Yonaguni?

A curious underwater formation is the subject of debate amongst archaeologists (and truthers) everywhere. Some say they are ancient ruins, while others argue that’s impossible because its age belies the technology of the time. Killjoys say it’s just a natural formation.

Decide for yourself with an unforgettable close-up dive (make sure you’re properly licensed), or view it via glass-bottom boat.

Conquer Mt. Omoto, Okinawa’s highest peak

At 582m above sea level, Mt. Omoto on Ishigaki island takes about 2h for a return trip, and the views are well worth the effort. It’s pretty small compared to other treks on mainland Japan, but it is challenging, so it’s best suitable for experienced hikers.

Hiking boots are a must, as the journey will involve crossing a river and passing a waterfall, but the views at the summit are just incredible. 

Or take a leisurely hike up Mt Gusuku

This distinctive rocky mountain of Iejima is only a 30min ferry from mainland Okinawa. The course will have you passing through the torii gate and visiting a sacred shrine. It’s suitable for hikers of all levels.

Though hiking boots aren’t required, enclosed footwear is advisable. Take more than a few selfies with the panoramic views at the top and make sure you quench your hard-earned thirst afterwards at a local eatery downtown.

Going to Okinawa?

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