Okinawa. Japan’s tropical getaway beloved by domestic and international travellers alike, Okinawa has a vibrant personality unlike anywhere else in Japan. Surrounded by stunning scenery you can admire through hiking, snorkelling, kayaking, canyoning, and caving, there are truly so many adventurous things to do in Okinawa.
But more than that, Okinawa has a distinct history that has shaped its cultural identity. Once the thriving Ryukyu Kingdom (an independent kingdom of China), Okinawa acted as the center of trade between China and Japan, as well as other Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines and Thailand. Consequently, Okinawa exhibits a rich melange of culture, cuisine, and art.
Now, if you’re thinking of exploring the Okinawa Islands, you may be wondering where to go. With over 160 islands (only 47 of which are inhabited), the Okinawa Prefecture is filled with beautiful places. So which Okinawan Islands should you visit? How do you get around? What local cuisine should you try? What are the best things to do in Okinawa?
To find out, continue reading: this is your travel guide to Okinawa, Japan!
How to Get to Okinawa
First, where is Okinawa? Located between Taiwan and the mainland of Japan, the Okinawa Islands are scattered around the East China Sea. As a result, the only ways of getting to Okinawa are by plane or by boat. However, taking a ferry to Okinawa from Japan’s main island is pretty inconvenient, so I recommend flying.
When is the best time to visit Okinawa?
With its southern location and subtropical climate, Okinawa offers warm days year-round, with the winter temperatures averaging around 17°C and the summer temperatures averaging around 34°C. Consequently, it’s always a good time to visit Okinawa!
However, the best time to visit Okinawa (in my opinion) is the spring and autumn, around March to May and September to November. And, if you want to jump in the water, Okinawa’s beaches are typically open for swimming from March to October.
Furthermore, I recommend avoiding Okinawa during Golden Week and Silver Week, two big holiday weeks in Japan, as this is when domestic travellers hit the top vacation spots like Kyoto and Okinawa, resulting in larger crowds and higher prices. Golden Week takes place over the first week of May, and Silver Week takes place in mid-September.
Finally, if you wish to avoid some more temperamental weather patterns, Okinawa’s rainy season is from early May to June, and occasional typhoons occur in July and August.
How to Get Around Okinawa
Now, once you’re in Okinawa, there are many ways of getting around. For the most part, the best way to travel around an island is by renting a car. However, if that isn’t possible, you can also get around by bus, taxi, or by renting a bike.
However, if you are arriving at the Naha Airport, you can take the Okinawa Urban Monorail (i.e., the Yui Rail) into the city centre. The only rail system in Okinawa, it serves the cities of Naha and Urasoe on Okinawa Honto (Okinawa Main Island).
Budgeting for Okinawa
The cost of an Okinawan vacation can vary greatly; while Okinawa (and Japan in general) has a reputation of being expensive, there are many ways of traveling Okinawa on a budget.
This includes flying into Okinawa on a budget airline, staying in hostels and guesthouses, traveling around by bus (and using a local bus pass), sticking to mainly free activities like hiking and swimming, and only visiting one or two of the islands, instead of island hopping (if you want to learn more ways of traveling on a budget, read my article on budget travel.
Nevertheless, the daily average cost of traveling Okinawa is around ¥13,000/day.
Top 10 Things to Do in Okinawa
Now, let’s get into the best things to do in Okinawa…
- Explore the Sights of Naha: The biggest city in the entire Okinawa Prefecture, Naha is filled with incredible best things to do in Okinawa, from touring the historic Shuri Castle (currently under renovations after the 2019 fire) to window-shopping down Kokusai Dori Street.
- Tour Okinawa Honto (Okinawa Main Island): If you’re visiting Naha, you shouldn’t stick to the city limits. Explore the entire island! From Cape Manzamo, Kouri Island, and the Nakagusuku Castle Ruins, Okinawa Honto is filled with beautiful spots.
- Drive Around Ishigaki: One of the most popular Okinawa Islands, Ishigaki is an unmissable stop on your trip to Okinawa. From trekking Banna Park, taking a glass boat tour around Kabira Bay, touring Ishigaki Island’s Psychedelic Shisa, and visiting Hirakubozaki Lighthouse, you won’t regret driving around Ishigaki.
- Take a Day Trip to Taketomi Island: Off the coast of Ishigaki, only 10 minutes by ferry, lies the small but enchanting Taketomi Island. With a preserved, traditional Ryukyu village, with houses protected by shisa statues, there’s no better way of immersing yourself in Ryukyu culture. Another of the best things to do in Okinawa.
- Go on an Adventure in Iriomote: Another marvelous day trip from Ishigaki is Iriomote Island. The entire island is a national park, covered in mangrove forests, vast caves, towering waterfalls, and lush jungles, accessible through canyoning, caving, trekking, kayaking, and more. If you love adventure, I definitely recommend visiting Iriomote!
- Visit Kume Island: Sometimes referred to as the Island of Ryukyuan Beauty, Kume Island is a small but enchanting Okinawan island 90 kilometres from Okinawa Honto. Famous for its pristine beaches, Kume Island also offers amazing food; you have to try the umi budo (sea grapes) and Japanese tiger prawns!
- Snorkel Around Miyako Island: Located between Okinawa Honto and Ishigaki Island, Miyako Island is the prime destination for snorkelling and scuba diving. Surrounded by incredible coral reefs and covered in breathtaking beaches, it is one of the best Okinawan islands for those who love the beach.
- Check Out the Public Markets: Regardless of the island you’re visiting, one of the best things to do in Okinawa is to visit the public markets. From unique souvenirs to fresh seafood, the Okinawa public markets are filled with wonder. I particularly recommend visiting the Mashiki Market in Naha!
- Relax on the Beach: While some islands offer nicer beaches than others, Okinawa as a whole is famous for its delightful beaches. With crystal clear waters, smooth white sand, and enchanting coral reefs, the beaches are one of the best best things to do in Okinawa.
- Go Scuba Diving or Snorkelling: If you’re hoping to get a better look at the sea creatures swimming around the Okinawa Islands, then you have to check out the Okinawa diving spots. Regardless of the island you’re visiting, the Okinawa Islands are surrounded by stunning coral reefs and diverse wildlife!
Note: if you’re visiting Okinawa and trying to decide which islands to visit, I highly recommend choosing Ishigaki over Okinawa Honto (Okinawa Main Island). Not only do I strongly feel this way, but I have heard this sentiment repeated many times, from local Japanese tourists to American expats… Ishigaki is definitely the premium Okinawa destination!
Where is the best places to eat in Okinawa
While Okinawa’s tumultuous history and remote location has made it unique in many ways, there is no better way to experience Okinawa’s distinct identity than through their cuisine. Some local Okinawa dishes you have to try include Okinawa soba, taco rice, goya champuru (bitter melon stir fry), and umi budo (sea grapes).
These are my top recommendations of where to eat in Okinawa
- Where to try Okinawa soba: Shuri Soba: Located near Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa Honto, Shuri Soba offers some of the best Okinawa soba on the island.
- Where to try taco rice: Taco Rice Café Kijimuna: A local dish created to appeal to American soldiers, taco rice is a great choice if you are a bit tired of traditional Japanese food. The taco rice at Taco Rice Café Kijimuna is filling, affordable, quick, and delicious!
- Where to try goya champuru: Yunangi: While this Naha restaurant is a bit pricey, it is without-a-doubt one of the best restaurants in Okinawa! With great, authentic dishes and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, it is the best place to try goya champuru (bitter melon stir fry).
Where is the best places to drink in Okinawa
In addition to its great food, Okinawa also offers a vibrant nightlife (especially Naha!). Two local alcoholic drinks you have to try are Orion Beer and Awamori. Food is always the number things tod do in Okinawa.
These are the top places to drink in Naha
- Taste of Okinawa: Located in Kokusai Dori, the restaurant and bar Taste of Okinawa is well-known for its cooking classes. However, this is also the best place to try Okinawa’s local craft beers! With a great atmosphere and delicious food, Taste of Okinawa is the perfect place to relax after a long day.
- 8men Okinawa: For a bar that’s both LGBTQ+-friendly and foreigner-friendly, check out the upbeat 8men Okinawa. With super friendly and welcoming bartenders, a great atmosphere (with cool lighting), and cosy places to hang around and drink, 8men Okinawa is one of the best bars in Naha.
- Parker’s Mood Jazz Club: Finally, for a more upscale but intimate Naha bar, check out Parker’s Mood Jazz Club. While Parker’s Mood is one of the more expensive bars (with a cover charge), it offers a nice, relaxing atmosphere, great jazz performances, and a wide variety of drinks.
Where to stay in Okinawa
Finally, here are my top recommendations for where to stay in Okinawa:
Where to Stay in Naha, Okinawa Honto
- Hotel: Stay in a double room at the Tissage Hotel Naha by Nest from ¥4,600 a night.
- Airbnb: The average cost for 2 people per night is around ¥10,472.
- Hostel: Stay at Guest House Umikaji for ¥990 a night for a female dorm bed, or ¥1,140 for a male dorm bed.
Where to Stay in Miyako Island
- Hotel: Stay in a two-person double room at the Hotel Risingsun Miyakojima from ¥13,844 a night.
- Airbnb: The average cost for 2 people per night is around ¥15,644.
- Hostel: Stay at Hotel Hibisicus for ¥2,700 a night for a mixed dorm bed.
Where to Stay in Ishigaki Island
- Hotel: Stay in a double room at the Hotel Mr. Kinjo Suns in Ishigaki from ¥6,050 a night.
- Airbnb: The average cost for 2 people per night is around ¥16,449.
- Hostel: Stay at Guest House Yun Terrace for ¥1,700 a night for a dorm bed.
Did you enjoy this guide of the best things to do in Okinawa? Let me know if the comments your favourite!
Author Bio: Mia is a Canadian with a passion for hiking and exploring the world on foot. She is currently working abroad in Japan and runs the successful travel blog Walk a While with Me, where she shares her tips and guides for travelling around the world. Follow Mia adventures on Instagram too!
My Travel Tips and Recommendations
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