Bushbaby Travel: Inspiring travel for life
Kabira Bay, Credit Inside Asia

Okinawa Islands, Japan

Welcome to Okinawa, where the sand is white, the water is warm and the snorkelling opportunities are endless. Japan’s southernmost prefecture is made up of three groups of islands: the Okinawa Islands, Miyako Islands and the Yaeyama Islands. It’s easy to see why this smattering of islands, set amidst an ocean of teal and turquoise, is often compared to Hawaii.

 

Kabira Bay, Credit Inside Asia

The northernmost group is the Okinawa Islands, dotted around Okinawa Main Island (Okinawa Honto), which was the seat of power of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Its capital, Naha, was flattened during the Second World War but is now a thriving urban centre with popular resorts, good shopping and a steady stream of sun seekers. Learn about the traditions of ceramics at Tsuboya Pottery Museum, then walk along atmospheric Tsuboya Pottery Street, listening out for the tinkling of the “sanshin”, a kind of banjo that originated here.

South of Naha, the Peace Memorial Park is Okinawa’s most important war memorial. Or head north, and you’ll find the hilly Motobu Peninsula with its great beaches and popular Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. Constructed around the world’s largest aquarium tank, it’s home to a vast range of marine life including whale sharks and loggerhead turtles.

The other islands in the Okinawa Shoto are far smaller than the main island, and many are uninhabited. Kume Island and the Kerama Islands offer fantastic snorkeling and diving with a laid-back vibe and a slower pace of life. Keep your eyes peeled at dusk for Kerama deer, descended from the 17th-century and designated a National Treasure. Book snorkelling, diving and whale watching trips to see the marine life up close.

Some 300km southwest of Okinawa Main Island, the Miyako Islands are also home to superb beaches and walking trails. At the far southwestern end, the Yaeyama Islands include the main island of Ishigaki. As well as an abundance of beaches and brilliant dive sites, it has a rugged, tropical landscape that deserves to be explored on foot. Start your day spotting manta rays underwater, then spend the afternoon hiking. You’ll find views that reward your effort at the top of Mount Mape (282m), and Mount Omoto, the highest mountain in Okinawa (525m).

In the southwest corner of the island, Ishigaki City is filled with shopping arcades and the modest but fascinating Ishigaki City Yaeyama Museum, where you’ll find displays on the history and culture of the island. On the north of the island, Kabira-wan is a good beach for families thanks to its sheltered position, while Yonehara Beach is ideal for snorkelling and has plenty of cafes nearby.

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