Murmur the name of Okinawa elsewhere in Japan and many will sigh wistfully in longing for this well-known paradise. These sub-tropical islands, reaching south towards Taiwan, are the perfect place to wind down. On top of the golden sands, blue seas, and dense jungle, they have a distinctive culture that pays strong homage to their independent routes as the Ryukyu Kingdom. Whilst all destinations are proud of their unique identity, Okinawa is fiercely so. The food is incredible too, especially the region’s speciality dish: a moreish pork and bitter melon stir fry called goya chanpuru.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Okinawa’s 113 islands cover a huge area, and it’s important to use your time effectively by being choosy about which you visit. Ishigaki and nearby Taketomi, in the archipelago’s southernmost quarter, vie for attention as relaxed retreats where you can reflect on all that you’ve seen on the mainland. Ishigaki is undeniably beautiful, although still relatively unheard of. The town can be a little understated, so it’s important to look deeper and find the gems that suit you. Relax on the beaches, dive and snorkel offshore, and take things at your own pace. Though they take a little longer to get to, if you’re satisfied with relaxing on a tropical island rather than seeking more experiential activities, then these are the islands to aim for.
The seas surrounding Okinawa’s islands are a diving and snorkelling wonderland. Already popular with the domestic diving scene, the area is increasingly making a splash with international visitors too. There are myriad fascinating sea creatures to be spotted in these warmer waters, both close to shore and further out, but perhaps the most enticing are the magnificent manta rays. The best diving operators know just where to moor up to be in with the best chance of a sighting. If you’re not an experienced diver, there are plenty of accessible snorkelling experiences too. Alternatively, you can take advantage of the other water sports on offer, or simply stay dry and sip a freshly-made awamori cocktail as you watch the sun sparkling on the water’s surface.
This exotic island, just a few kilometres from Ishigaki, makes a fantastic day trip. Its dense jungle and atmospheric mangroves open up opportunities for canyoning, waterfall trekking, kayaking, and hiking along inland trails. One of the island’s most intriguing inhabitants is the endemic Iriomote cat. These animals are fantastically elusive, and the chances of spotting one are fairly slim, but the eagle-eyed can see evidence of where they have been... To the untrained eye they look rather similar to ordinary pet cats, so you might not realise at first if you have seen one! To make Iriomote a real feature in your trip, stay on the island and immerse yourself in its untamed landscape - it makes memories of Tokyo feel surreal!
Wander along the ancient trails of Kumano Kodo and its spiritual shrines, enjoying the peaceful, and enchanting surroundings as well as taking in the hospitality of local families along the way.