Japan's Tropical Paradise: Okinawa
Today we'd like to introduce you all to Okinawa, where the people of Japan go for that island resort experience. It's a beautiful area full of tons of things to do, so read on for all the information you need to plan the perfect trip.
Okinawa is the southernmost part of Japan, and it's its own chain of islands, large and small. The four largest of these islands is the Okinawa Main Island, Miyako Island, Ishigaki Island, and Iriomote Island, but there are many smaller landmasses and tiny islets surrounding them as well.
Take on Okinawa!
Most people spend the majority of their first trip to Okinawa on the main island, and stick relatively close to Naha Airport. The other areas have plenty to offer, but there's nothing wrong with staying in one area when you first visit!
Some of the most popular attractions on the main island are the city of Naha and the town of Onnason, along with Okinawa's famous Churaumi Aquarium.
Of course, you can sightsee all you want in Okinawa, but the biggest draw towards Okinawa is the sea! Missing the chance to enjoy the beautiful emerald waters would be a terrible waste.
1. But where to stay? (Some Hotel Recommendations)
Accommodation is the first thing we all think of after purchasing our plane tickets. Are we thinking of staying in an affordable guesthouse? A comfortable hotel? Maybe even a 5-star resort? There's lots to decide.
Lots of travelers like staying in Naha City or American Village. They're easy to access from the airport, making them convenient options.
If you want to really get into Okinawa, though, you can always rent a car. Then you're free to go wherever you please. Doing that would let you stay in Onnason, a beautiful little village, and we'd like to recommend a few places in that area.
① Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha Bay
This resort hotel is right on the beach, meaning that balconies include amazing ocean views of the vibrant blue water. Sit in the shade of your own room and admire the waves breaking on the shore at the same time.
In front of the resort is also a private beach, with 800 meters (2625 ft) of sand reserved only for hotel guests.
- Playground for Children
- Ocean View Balcony
With the fun balconies (complete with safe guard rails), and play areas, there are great kids' facilities at the hotel, making it a good choice for families. They also offer marine sports, so you don't have to stray far looking for adventure!
Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha Bay (リザンシーパークホテル谷茶ベイ)
1496 Tancha, Onna Village, Kunigami, Okinawa
Car Rental Map Code: 206 158 991*66
② Best Western Okinawa Onna Beach
This hotel has its own private beach, as well! Some of the rooms are even designated ocean view rooms, and you can literally see the beach from your bed. This hotel is known for its spacious and clean rooms, very much American-style, as well as an outdoor pool.
- Ocean View Rooms
- Enjoying the Beautiful Weather
If you want to really get into the Okinawa spirit, try some of the Ryukyu cuisine (traditional Okinawan food!) available as part of the breakfast buffet.
Best Western Okinawa Onna Beach
1888 Maeda, Onna-son, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa
2. Restaurants Not to Miss!
I don't know about you, but once I know where I'm staying on a trip, the next thing I think about is what to eat. That's an important reason for traveling somewhere new, isn't it? There's heaps of good food in Okinawa, but here are a few restaurants and cafes we recommend you check out.
- Such Nice Outdoor Seating!
- Okinawa Soba, an Okinawa Specialty
① Okinawa Soba Restaurant Makabechina (茶処 真壁ちなー)
Okinawa soba is a specialty of the area, and is something that you have to try if you're visiting! It's hard to find outside of Okinawa, and a bowl of these chewy noodles in a sweet-and-savory broth is worth your time.
Makabechina (茶処 真壁ちなー)
223 Makabe, Itoman, Okinawa
Hours: 11:00 - 15:00 (Closed Wednesdays)
- Tasty Beef in All Shapes and Sizes
- Plus Drinks from Tropical Juice to Wine
② Steak on International Street, at Steak House 88
Okinawa has some pretty popular beef, so you'll see lots of steak shops, especially where visitors flock. We recommend a visit to Steak House 88, which you won't miss thanks to its bright neon signs! This local chain has multiple locations scattered along International Street, and is open until 10 pm, so tasty steaks made from Okinawan beef are always readily available.
③ A Cafe Complete with Ocean View, Cafe Curcuma
This cafe is super popular because of the amazing views that can be had right from your seat! Feel free to sip on tasty drinks and enjoy the cerulean waters, or head over for a solid meal from morning till night. They've got a pretty interesting menu, filled with items taken from around the Asian continent. (The picture above shows their "pumpkin of your dreams", which is steamed pumpkin filled with a luscious coconut-milk-based pudding!)
Cafe Curcuma (カフェくるくま)
Chinen-1190 Chinen, Nanjo, Okinawa
Hours: 10:00 - 21:00
④ An Attractive Spot for Rainy Days: Yachimun Cafe Shisa Garden
This cafe is nice even in the rain, with its lovely covered outdoor seating looking out onto the garden. The little sculptures you'll see out there are shisa, a traditional Ryukyuan (Okinawan) cultural artifact; they're a lot like Chinese guardian lions. If you're a shisa fan, you'll love the view.
Try the "ultra mikan juice" for a blast of vitamin C. It uses lots of local citrus fruits for a tart and delicious drink.
Yachimun Cafe Shisa Garden
Address: 1439 Izumi, Motobu, Kunigami District, Okinawa
Hours: 11:00 - 19:00 (Closed Mondays & Tuesdays)
3. Okinawa = Fun in the Water!
If you're headed to Okinawa, don't forget to plan for snorkeling, diving, and tons of other fun things you can do in the ocean. With so much to do in the water, you could basically live at the beach. Here are some of the activities we would do again.
① Take in the Clear Waters at Kouri Island
An hour and a half from Naha by car, Kouri Island (or Kourijima, 古宇利島) is famous for its crystal clear waters, reflecting emerald light from the blue skies of Okinawa. It's not too crowded, so you can get that amazing Okinawa ocean experience without too many people filling up your photos. You might already recognize it as the background for lots of Japanese TV show episodes, or movies.
Kouri Island Beach (古宇利島ビーチ)
Kouri, Nakijin, Kunigami District, Okinawa
Car Rental Map Code: 485 722 490 3
If you do get there by car, you'll be relieved to hear that there are free parking lots, making it a breeze to get there. Once you arrive, it's a dream come true for any water sport lovers! Head over to Kouri Ocean Side (our personal recommendation), and try out their flyboards, jetskis, banana boats, and more!
② Pretend You're on a Private Island at Mission Beach
Pay a small fee to get out onto, Mission Beach a private beach with that exclusive feeling. It's cleaner than most free beaches, and is a super safe place to lay back and totally relax.
There are also facilities for everything from various marine sports to banquets.
In addition, there are free to use showers and toilets, plus the lawns are all nicely manicured and pleasant.
This beach may not be super well known (a plus if you want a quiet area), but it was used as a filming location in a music video by popular k-pop heartthrobs SHINee!
Address: 2005-1 Afuso, Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa
Hours: 9:00 - 18:30
Car Rental Map Code: 206 349 757 * 46
Admission Fee: 300 yen per person, plus 300 yen per vehicle
③ Enjoy the Ocean, Even if the Water is a Little Scary, at Busena Marine Park
If walking out into the water makes your heart beat a little bit too fast... or you just don't feel like getting wet one day, Busena Seaside Park is a clear destination for you! It's the only place in Okinawa where you can get a look deep in the water, while staying dressed and dry!
- A Convenient Free Shuttle Bus
- Get That One-on-One Time You Wanted with a Parrot Fish
If you purchase a ticket at the ticket office, you can take their free shuttle bus to the underwater observation area. You can look through their specially made windows to the ocean, and make friends with all the tropical fish in the area.
Busena Marine Park (ブセナ海中公園)
Address: 1744-1 Kise, Nago, Okinawa
Hours: Apr. to Oct. 9:00 - 18:00 | Nov. to Mar. 9:00 - 17:30
Car Rental Map Code: 206 442 075
Admission Fee: Adults 1,030 yen | College Students 820 yen | Children 520 yen
④ Dive Under the Surface at Blue Cave
Located in Onnason, this popular diving and snorkeling spot glows with a mysterious blue light! Enjoy the magical glow while you float in the water.
Inside of the cave is quite dark, giving you a good view of the blue luminescence. Sometimes fish sneak by illuminated by the glow.
If you're looking for a company to take you to the cave, we recommend Marine Support TIDE ZANPA.
Blue Cave Diving Experience
Company Name: Marine Support TIDE ZANPA
Fee: 12,000 yen in advance | 13,000 yen day-of
Reservations: Advance reservations can be made up until 3 days ahead of time at email@example.com or +81-80-2730-7076.
⑤ Swim with the Whale Sharks!?
A trip to Okinawa offers lots of opportunities to snorkel or try diving.
If you've ever wanted to make friends with a whale shark, there's no better time than this! Make your reservations before it's too late!
Sure, Churaumi Aquarium has some cool whale sharks, but this is a chance to see them with no barrier at all! They come right out in front of you.
This whale was involved in a breeding program, so until it's a little bigger, it's under some protection.
Professional staff chum the waters with snacks that will especially attract whale sharks, bringing them right up to you. It's an amazing chance to get up close and personal with these huge creatures.
We used the company Top Marine
, which is famous for these whale shark snorkeling experiences.
Whale Shark Experience
Company Name: Top Marine
Fee: Whale Shark Snorkeling 9,100 yen | Whale Shark Diving 13,400 yen
Reservations: These and many more activities available on their home page.
- Important Pre-Snorkel Info!
- A Whale Shark Eating Chicken
The whiteboard above is showing us the depths you dive to for each of the experiences they offer. Obviously divers go deeper than snorkelers!
But snorkeling still gives you a great view, so if diving is too much for you, don't sweat it.
4. Visiting Some of Okinawa's Biggest Attractions
These are some places that any Okinawa expert will say you should see once in your life. If you haven't done the rounds yet, here are the places you shouldn't miss.
① Churaumi Aquarium (美ら海水族館)
This particular attraction seems like such an Okinawa standard, we almost don't need to list it. But the idea of anyone going to Okinawa and missing out on this amazing aquarium is too concerning, we just had to include it. It's a huge aquarium with tons of amazing exhibits, but most would probably agree, the huge central tank with multiple whale sharks is the main attraction.
Churaumi Aquarium (美ら海水族館)
Address: 424 Ishikawa, Motobu, Kunigami District, Okinawa
Hours: Oct. to Feb. 8:30 - 18:30 | Mar. to Sep. 8:30 - 20:00
Admission Fee: Adults 1,850 yen | High School Students 1,230 yen | Elementary/Middle School Students 610 yen | Children under 6 are free!
② A Cliff or a Trunk? You Decide at Cape Manzamo (万座毛)
This 20 meter (66 ft) cliff is known for the beautiful view at sunset, with the last rays shining over the water. Among all the other seaside cliffs, though, this one is particularly popular because, well, it kind of looks like an elephant from the side, doesn't it? The cliff is right in Onnason!
③ A Subtropical Forest Theme Park, Bios Hill
This huge chunk of land is dedicated to celebrating the flora and fauna of the subtropics, with lots of plants and animals being raised on the premises. As a theme park, you can get on a boat and cruise the lake, get in your own canoes, ride in an Okinawan water-buffalo-drawn car, and dress up in traditional Ryukyu (Okinawan) costumes. These outfits are a little like your average Japanese kimono, but they've got some distinct island spirit.
Read more about the park here!
Bios Hill (ビオスの丘)
Address: 961-30 Ishikawa Kadekaru, Uruma, Okinawa
Hours: 9:00 - 18:00
Admission Fee: Adults 900 yen | Children ~15 y.o. 500 yen
Rental Car Map Code: 206 005 263
④ Pineapple Park
This place is exactly what it says! Tour a pineapple plantation in a little buggy, and once you make it through, taste some Okinawan pineapple. The gift shop includes a huge variety of pineapple products.
Nago Pineapple Park
Address: 1195 Biimata, Nago, Okinawa
Hours: 9:00 - 17:30
⑤ Okinawan Folk Village Ryukyu Mura
Named after the native people and culture of Okinawa, the Ryukyu Mura Okinawan Folk Village is a great place to learn more about the region. Watch traditional performances of all kinds!
Ryukyu Mura Folk Village (琉球村)
Address: 1130 Yamada, Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa
Hours: 8:30 - 17:30
Admission Fee: Adults 1,200 yen | Children 600 yen
⑥ Murasaki Mura Ryukyu Kingdom Theme Park
Check out all of the workshop experiences available at Murasaki Mura! This place was originall built by NHK studios when filming a drama based in Okinawa, but it's not a place where visitors can learn traditional local dances, glass-making, and other regional traditions.
Murasaki Mura Ryukyu Kingdom Theme Park (むら咲むら)
Address: 1020-1 Takashiho, Yomitan, Nakagami District, Okinawa
Hours: 9:00 - 18:00
Admission Fee: Adults 600 yen | High School/Middle School Students 500 yen | Children 400 yen
Car Rental Map Code: 338 513 17 * 30
⑦ Little America, or Okinawa's American Village
Want to see Okinawa's take on American culture? Head over to the American Village, where you can find lots of western food and interesting experiences.
⑧ Okinawa's Largest Shopping Mall! Aeon Mall
This mall, definitely huge for Japan, is visited by 13 million people a year! Inside are 200 different shops, including lots of clothing, some travel agencies, restaurants, various sundries, and more. They have events all throughout the year, so maybe you'll get to see something especially exciting when you visit.
Aeon Mall Okinawa Rycom
Address: Kitanakagusuku, Nakagami District, Okinawa
Hours: 10:00 - 22:00 (Varies depending on the floor.)
This is a great spot for all kinds of shopping while you're in Okinawa, including souvenirs. Get into the Japanese spirit and bring back some sweets for your friends; purple sweet potato tarts are a delicious Okinawa specialty. There are also lots of adorable shisa characters to bring home, and much more.
5. Okinawa's World Heritage Sites
Okinawa has a total of 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites scattered around the chain of islands. Here are a couple of those that we thought were particularly notable, so think about adding them to your schedule!
- Shurijo Castle
① The Center of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Shurijo Castle
This castle was the capital of the old Ryukyu Kingdom for about 500 years, making it a center of Okinawan politics, economics, and culture for all that time. These days the magnificent building is painted a bright vermillion.
Shurijo Castle (首里城)
Address: 1-2 Shurikinjocho, Naha, Okinawa
Hours: 8:00 - 19:30
Admission Fee: Adults 800 yen | High School Students 600 yen | Children 3y.o.+ 300 yen
② Historical Sacred Rocks, Sefa-utaki
These huge rocks, supporting each other at unusual angles, has historically been a highly sacred place for the Ryukyu people. Worshipped for thousands of years, the beautiful rocks and interesting ocean views are still worth a pilgrimage.
Address: Kudeken-455 Chinen, Nanjo, Okinawa
Admission Fee: 200 yen
A Fun and Relaxing Vacation in Okinawa~