Okinawa convinced us completely after seeing a TV documentary. We had to go to this travel destination in Japan! Blue seas, white sand beaches, great food and an amazing culture. What else could we wish for?
Okinawa is the largest island of the Ryukyu Islands and can be found on the south side of Japan. The distance between this island and the Japanese mainland is 640 kilometers. Okinawa is actually closer to Taiwan; the distance is only 500 kilometers.
The lifestyle of the Okinawan people is what makes Okinawa so special. They are known as one of the longest living people in the world! Western (chronical) diseases are unknown here and stress is something the Okinawan people never experience.
Roadtrippin’ in Okinawa
The best way to explore Okinawa is by car. In Naha you have the option to travel by tram but unfortunately it will not take you to the other parts of Okinawa. Therefore it would be better to arrange an international driving license and rent a car at any rental car company in Okinawa.
The rental cars are equipped with a touch screen navigation and are available in English. It is a very pleasant and cost efficient way of travelling; a taxi easily costs you 30 euros while renting a Japanese car costs around 40 euros per day.
Keep in mind that the speed limit in Okinawa is only 45 km per hour; your trip might take a little bit longer, but when driving slowly you will not miss the beautiful viewpoints.
Our Okinawan roadtrip
We visited Okinawa for ten days and our trip supposed to be a combination of exploring the mainland, learning more about the culture and relax at some jealousy making bounty islands.
We spend our first four days in Naha to acclimatize, to explore the mainland and to visit some beautiful beaches. The following five days were well spend at Ishigaki and on the last day we returned to (the south part of) the Okinawa mainland.
Okinawa mainland – places to visit & Okinawa city life
Okinawa is famous for its tropical beaches, which is usually the main reason for visitors to come over. The mainland itself offers only a few interesting places. We visited Naha, Shuri Castle, the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium and Ogimi.
Naha is the main capital of Okinawa. The airport is located here, which makes Naha a great place to start with. We believe that Kumoji and Matsuo are the finest areas of Naha. In these areas you will find the famous shopping/restaurant street (Kukosudai) and the big shopping mall Makishi. Great souvenirs, delicious food and a great cappuccino at Starbucks can be found here.
The Shuri Castle is one of the places that can’t be skipped during a trip to Okinawa. This Castle used to be the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom and is a very important part of the Okinawan history. In 1992 the palace has been reconstructed since it was almost completely destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa.
What we enjoyed the most was the traditional tea ceremony. You will be brought to a room that used to be the VIP room and here you can enjoy a cup of tea with different traditional Japanese cookies.
The entrance fee is approximately 6,30 euros per person and can be paid in cash or by card. The tea ceremony costs 3,50 euros per person and can only be paid in cash. The Castle can easily be reached by tram and a half day would be more than enough to visit the castle and explore this area.
The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
The second largest aquarium of the world is the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which is located in the Expo park in Motubo (north part of Okinawa). The aquarium is worth a visit because it is currently home to three whale sharks and is holds the world record for raising rays in captivity!
From Naha it will take approximately 45 minutes by car to reach to aquarium. Entrance fee is approximately 15 euros.
Ogimi was a must visit for us since this is the hometown to most of the Okinawan centenarians. This place is quiet, the nature is beautiful and the food is amazing. Drive around, explore the area, walk around in the little streets to get a glimpse of the centenarians and end your trip in the city center of Ogimi.
In the middle of Ogimi you will find a little shopping center. There is a simple restaurant located here and we highly recommend you to take your lunch here. The Okinawan noodles and the ice creams are unbelievable good!
If you wish to learn more about the healthy lifestyle of the people in Okinawa, please read our blog “Okinawa – The lifestyle of the oldest people in the world!“.
Okinawan beaches – paradise on earth
Okinawa has so many beautiful beaches and islands, it is almost impossible to choose where to go to! We believe that the finest tropical paradises can be found in Tokashiki, Ishigaki and Taketomi.
If you are planning to go to the beach, please make sure you use factor 50 sun crème. We totally forgot this and we got a huge sunburn. We don’t wish you the same experience!
From Naha (Tomari port) we took the high speed ferry to Tokashiki to visit Tokashiku beach and Aharen beach. It took us one hour to reach the island and a round trip costs approximately 25 euros. The ferry leaves at certain times and it gives you the possibility to spend six hours on the island before heading back to Naha. If you plan well, you could visit both beaches in one trip.
Both beaches are very popular among divers, because the fish and coral are wonderful. At Tokashiku beach we rented snorkeling gear as well. The shop next to the beach is renting out snorkeling gear for five euros, including a bracelet that gives you access to their toilets and showers. This is highly recommended!
We were so glad that we rented the snorkeling gear; while snorkeling we discovered gorgeous tropical fish and a wild turtle!
Aharen beach is only ten minutes away from Tokashiku beach and can easily be reached by the taxi bus. The beach itself is as beautiful as Tokashiku beach, but the biggest advantage is that restaurants are located here.
Go to Aharen beach to have a good lunch or a cold beer and walk around. Discover the viewpoints and enjoy the amazing views over the island and beach. Don’t forget to bring your camera!
Ishigaki is one of the islands that can be found on the south side of the Okinawa mainland. You can reach this island by boat or by plane. We bought plane tickets for 85 euros per ticket and it took two hours to reach Ishigaki.
For five days we stayed in the Lulaliya hostel and during this stay we rented a car for 160 euros. Renting a car is highly recommended, since there are no busses or trams on this island and taxis are very expensive.
The most famous beach of Ishigaki is definitely Kabira beach. Walk around in the park and take the most beautiful pictures from the viewpoints. Please keep in mind that swimming is not allowed here because of the boats.
Other beaches which are worth a visit are Sukuji beach, Fusaki beach and Sunset beach.
Sukuji beach is only 2.5 km away from Kabira. It is a very nice beach and is known for its extremely shallow water. When we were here, this place was very quiet and we got the whole beach to ourselves.
Fusaki beach is famous for its sunsets and the picturesque pier makes this place great for a honeymoon! The beach can be found behind the Fusaki Village and is also accessible if you don’t stay in this resort.
Sunset Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches of Ishigaki. It can be found on the west coast of the Hirakubo Penisula. When we arrived, we were suprised that we had to fee 4 euros of entrance fee. Since we were not willing to pay for going to the beach, we traveled around in the area and actually found a road (in the middle of nowhere) which took us to this beach.
The last island we visited was Taketomi. Taketomi is a village where traditional houses can be found. Every day the Taketomi’s are greeted by the “head” of this island; they wish the inhabitants a very good day ahead or ask them by the end of the day if they had a good day and where they are thankful for. These small talks motivate the Taketomi’s and bring positivity and happiness into their lives. How cute is this!
At Taketomi we rented a bike from a cute, old lady and explored the island before we spend our day at Kondoi Beach.
Kondoi Beach offers something that the other beaches don’t have; a little island where you can walk to (don’t forget your water shoes!) and experience how it is to have your own little paradise.
Make sure you cover your personal belongings in towels before you start to walk to this little island. Otherwise the aggressive birds at the beach will grab your stuff.
There are two special things we have to share with you since they made our trip even better! One thing has everything to do with food and the other one is a fairytale experience.
Food – best shaved ice in the world!
If you are going to Ishigaki, make sure you go to the restaurant next to the main view point and surf shops. A little Japanese restaurant can be found here; they serve the best shaved ice ever! It’s so soft and tasteful, you would love it!
For a once in a lifetime experience you go stay in Ishigaki. There is an Okinawan restaurant down the road which you have to visit at 7 PM. An old man will take you to a special area in the mountains where you could see hundreds of firefies! Before we knew the forest completely changed into a magical place. Hundreds of fireflies lightened up their bumps and we lived our own fairytale! For us it was the most special experience we could end our trip with.
Okinawa was our first trip together and even though this made our trip very special, we highly recommend you to go to Okinawa. The mix of the Japanese culture and the tropical beaches makes this place the next Japanese travel destination. We did experience some language barriers, nonetheless traveling around in Okinawa has been very easy and convenient. Also for solo travelers!