I wasn't expecting much during my recent trip to the sunny prefecture of Okinawa. Beautiful beaches, diving, snorkeling, lack of public transportation is all I know. But it's much more than that, here's why it should be your next travel destination!
Food, food, food...
Every prefecture in Japan have their own unique cuisine and Okinawa is no different. But in Okinawa, the cuisine greatly differs from other prefectures. Sometimes it felt like I'm not in Japan, in a good way.
Do you know that Orion beer comes from Okinawa? Another drink that originated and unique to Okinawa is awamori. It's usually 30-43% alcohol so drink in moderation! Like sake, every awamori have their own unique taste, I particularly like the one from Zuisen Distillery. You can even learn more about this unique drink with the free 30mins tour of their distillery from 9:30am to 4:30pm!
Okinawa soba are also quite different, they usually comes with braise pork belly, which is very tasty. The broth is usually light and refreshing to drink, great for summer heat! You can also find plenty of western style cuisine like taco rice, pancakes, burgers around the island. The luncheon meat from America SPAM can also be found pretty much everywhere and even in some of the local dish served.
If you are into seafood, First Makishi Public Market is the place you need to visit. A service called "Mochiage" is available here where you buy seafood at the market and have them cooked on the second floor. Some of the staffs at the stalls are able to communicate in mandarin and english so don't worry if you can't speak Japanese. There is a helpful guide how to find the market here.
Although tourist mainly visit the main island of Okinawa, there are many islands around for you to do a day trip or just fly over and stay a couple of days!
Some of the more notable ones are Kerama Islands, Miyako Island, Nagannu Island. I visited Miyako Island for four days but I want to talk about Nagannu Island which I didn't get to experience.
Nagannu Island is a small island just 20mins away from Naha City by boat, a day trip like this is enough if you just want to enjoy some isolation from the bustling Naha City.
But one can actually stay overnight in a hut or tent on the isolated island! Imagine being able to be disconnected from the world around you for a night, do nothing except enjoying the night sky full of stars and waking up to a beautiful sunrise. Why I did not experience this you might ask? Because by the time I figure out how to book through their Japanese website, it's too late and the huts are fully booked.
If this is something you like to experience, read on. Their official booking page is in Japanese, the translated page is here. If the translated link is not working, open the Japanese site in Google Chrome and a pop up box will ask if you like to translate the webpage. The blue box with three little yellow arrows is the booking buttons, choose the package you prefer and click on them. If you are still having problem, you can reach out to them here, it's in Japanese so use Google Chrome if you are not sure what to key in. You can also try to email them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org with your enquiries, I'm not sure if they will respond if you email them directly but worth a try if you are having problems booking.
Capes, capes and more capes!
Besides beaches, there are many capes in Okinawa. The good news is most, if not all of them are drone friendly if you want that aerial view. Here are some of my favourites ones.
This cape is one of the more touristy one. Which means it's easy to access and you get shops outside selling locals foods and souvenirs. It can get quite crowded during the day but also that's when you get to see the beautiful blue colours of the sea when it's sunny. Visit during sunset if you are nearby as it's quite beautiful too.
There is a lighthouse at the cape but is under maintenance when we visited. Nevertheless, it's still fun exploring around and also fly a drone!
This cape lies at the furthest north end of Okinawa main island, about 2 hours drive from Naha city. It's a nice place to explore if you have the time.
Nishihenna Cape is on the island of Miyako. I almost skip this cape but how lucky I didn't! It's one of the most beautiful place I've visited especially during sunset! I will let the video speaks for itself.
Cape of Higashi Henna zaki (East Henna Cape)
Located on the island of Miyako, this is my favourite cape by far. A very scenic location to visit during evening and I have been looking forward to visiting it after much research before the trip. It's a very calm place to visit and the sound of the pounding waves feels so powerful when they clashes against the cliffs.
Right at the end you can see a beautiful light house, a great subject for the landscapes.
After the sun have set, wait awhile for the sky to turn completely dark and witness the Milky Way across the night sky. I felt so excited that night as it's the first time I've seen a Milky Way with my naked eyes!
Here an aerial shot of the beautiful cape.
Roads and bridges!
There are many scenic drive and bridges in Okinawa such as Niraikanai Bridge seen above. One of the things I really enjoy is driving on the roads of Okinawa, on a good sunny day you always get to drive along the beautiful blue sea.
One of the bridge I particularly like to drive on is Irabu-ohashi Bridge. At some portions of the bridge you seem to be driving towards the clouds, quite an amazing view!
Here's an aerial shot of another beautiful bridge, Kouri Bridge, There is even a small beach at the start of the bridge where you can enjoy the view before driving on.
What is Okinawa without the beautiful beaches! Even if you don't dive or snorkel like me, just spend some time in the white sandy beach with the turquoise and blue sea in the background, they are beautiful! We don't get colours like this anywhere in Singapore, I felt so happy when I first sees it!
Here are some of my favourite.
Yoshino Beach is a very popular beach for snorkelling due to its very clear water and beautiful corals and fishes close to the shoreline. You won't need to go far to experience the beauty.
Parking is not free here. We have to pay 500yen to park the car and a private van will send you down to the beach. Equipment rental is 3000yen for two person (diving mask, snorkel, shoes and life jacket), a table with umbrella and four chairs is another 1000yen.
You can rent at the rental shop at the carpark or there is a another rental shop at the beach too.
Shigira beach is a private beach of Shigira Hotel but is open to public, it's known for seeing sea turtles while snorkelling!
There are free parking at the beach but my experience with private beach is that they are generally more expensive for rental of equipments. I have attach a photo of the price list below as a guideline.
Consider one of the most beautiful beach in Okinawa. Sunayama Beach is a popular spot for snorkelling and sunset.
Parking is free, but you need to walk about 100 meters from the carpark to the beach. the slope towards the end of the sandy path to the beach is quite steep so be careful when you visit. There is shop for equipments rental if you plan to snorkel. We didn't get to experience because we were there during sunset and they were already packing up.
Useful informations and links
Below I'll compile a list of informations and links that will be useful if you plan to visit Okinawa.
Yuri Rail (https://www.yui-rail.co.jp/en/guide.html)
If you are just visiting Naha city itself or visiting locations within the city, the monorail operating within Naha is enough to get you around to the major attractions.
I recommend to purchase the 1 or 2 day ticket as it's cheaper if you are heading to a few locations. It's calculated on a 24 hours period, not by dates. So for example, you can purchase the ticket at 1 pm on Monday and still use the same ticket for your rail ride to the airport on Tuesday in the morning.
Okinawa Bus (http://www.kotsu-okinawa.org/en/map_naha.html)
If you need to travel further out from Naha City, you will need a bus.
Car rental (http://en.tabirai.net/car/)
This is a rental car search website. If you plan to travel outside Naha City, I highly recommend to drive as the roads are generally quite easy to go about and it's a more flexible way to travel. Especially if you plan to visit Miyako, you definitely need to drive. From my observation, the major car rental companies provide shuttle service at the airport so you won't have to worry about transportation before and after you rent their car.
I use ORIX Car Rental during my trip in Okinawa main island and Miyako island. My experience with them is positive and hassle free.
Parking in Japan (https://bit.ly/2Qpwxij)
Useful site about parking in Japan. But from my experience, unless you plan to park in Naha City, parking is generally free. If it's not, it will be obvious with signs and attendants in the area.
Gas stations (http://www.rentacar.or.jp/en/guide/guide-2/)
Useful page about self-serving gas station. But my advice is find gas station that comes with service, it's generally quite straight-forward and much easier. They can be found all over the island so don't worry about finding one.
Expressway Toll (https://en.driveplaza.com/expressways/toll.html)
How to pay for toll when using expressway. If you are not using ETC, drive to general lane and collect your toll ticket at the gate. I forget to collect the ticket and have to trouble the toll gate officer because of my forgetfulness.
But if you ask me, you don't need to use the expressway to get around Okinawa, I got on the expressway due to some navigation problem and it took me about the same time if I am to travel on normal road.
Zamami Village (http://www.vill.zamami.okinawa.jp.e.gz.hp.transer.com)
All information about Zamami Island, you can find the booking site for the ferry to the island on the left side of the webpage.
Pocket WiFi (http://japan-wireless.com)
If you need data while travelling in Japan.
Taxi Fare Finder (https://www.taxifarefinder.com)
A useful site to calculate fare if you need one.
Japan Mapcode (https://japanmapcode.com/en/)
A useful site to find mapcode to locations in Japan. Very useful if you plan to self-drive. I usually have all the codes ready on my mobile when I self-drive.
Besides mapcode, you can use business phone number with navigation system too.
Tide information (https://www.windfinder.com/tide/miyakojima_shimojishima)
I find that the optimal time to snorkel is when the tide goes from high to low, thats where the water will most likely to be clearer.
Blue cave Scuba and Snorkel (https://bit.ly/2QqxBCS)
Blue cave is one of the main attractions in Okinawa.
Nagannu Deserted Island Day Tour (https://bit.ly/2x6EG3k)
A day tour to the isolate Island if you don't plan to stay overnight.
Street Go Karting in Okinawa (https://bit.ly/2MnAFMP)
Experience Go Karting in Okinawa! I spotted quite a few groups during my visit.
Activities on Klook (https://bit.ly/2x8XJJq)
There are many activities you can reserve on Klook. Choose activities like night diving, one day bus tour, ATV adventures, parasailing and workshop experience!
Here I will list down the mapcodes to places of interest along with the link to google map.
Tomarin Port Parking - 33 187 308*8
Cape Maeda - 206 062 863*71
Manza Beach - 206 313 219*11
Churaumi Aquarium - 553 075 625*41 (North Gate Carpark)
Kouri Ocean Tower - 485 693 483*03
Heart Rock - 485 751 209*77
Cape Hedo - 728 736 209*44
Mihama American Village - 33 526 483*14
Cape Manzamo - 206 282 879*41
Nago Pineapple Park - 206 716 467*85
Zakimi Castle Ruins - 33 854 486*41
Ryukyu Mura - 206 033 067*77
Cape Zanpa - 1005 685 416*28
Niraikanai Bridge - 232 592 530*71
Umikaji Terrace - 33 002 602*33
Blue Seal Ice Cream Makiminato Branch - 33 341 534*66
Shuri Castle - 33 161 663*55 Carpark 1 (Parking Fee:￥320), 33 161 546*88 Carpark 2
Yonaha Maehama - 310 211 680*30
Sunayama beach - 310 603 052*66
Higashi-Henna-zaki (East Henna Cape) - 310 176 789*44
Yoshino Beach - 310 293 275*25
Shigira Beach - 310 191 122*77
Nishihenna Cape - 310 841 630*77
Toriike Pond - 721 241 559*77