Flying into Okinawa had us awestruck. The colour of the water was pristine and crystal blue as we flew overhead and touched down into Naha, the capital city of Okinawa Prefecture. The first thing we noticed when we left the aiport was the humidity! Our stay was in May/June during the rainy season however we had plenty of beuatiful sunny days with blue skies during our stay. We came here to soak up the sun and explore some islands and here is how we did it!
Staying in Naha
Japan being Japan, accommodation can be expensive (much like anything here) however in recent years Japan has become more affordable and therefore has received an increase in tourism. As backpackers we opted for a guesthouse and we couldn’t have loved our stay at Monkey Inn Guesthouse (aka Osaruno Oyado Naha click to check out my review). We chose our accomodation by price and proxomity to the ferry port as the main goal here was to take day trips to some of the beautiful islands off the west coast.
The whole guesthouse became like a huge family. We went to the karaoke bar most nights to sing and drink sake!
Daichi-san (down the front in the white hat), the mananger of the Monkey Inn guesthouse, will make sure you have the best time during your stay in Naha. It was my birthday during our stay and the staff got me a slice of cake and sang Happy Birthday. It was so lovely as being away from home durng a birthday can make you quite homesick! You will feel apart of the family at Monkey Inn! We hope to go back one day.
Close by are supermarkets and conbinis (convenience stores) including our personal favourite Aeon Max Value. We would usually head here at night around 9pm every second day as the sushi would be marked down by 50%. Safe to say we survived on half price, amazing tasting, sushi while we were in Naha. Sushi picnic on the beaches of the islands anyone? I highly reccomend this!
If you’re going to Okinawa on holiday and have money to splash out with there are an array of excellent hotels available here close to the main tourist distrcit and main street full of restauarants and tourist shops.
Kerama Island Hopping!
The best part of Okinawa was our visits to the islands, called the Kerama Islands, you can access within an hour from the main ferry port in Naha, Tomari Port.When traveling from the port to the Kerama Islands you can choose the high speed boat (35 minutes) for around 3,200 yen or ferry (60 minutes) for 1,600 yen equivalent to $20AUD approx. (£10). Ferries depart in the early morning and return at around 4pm in the afternoon. Get to the port a little early in order to fill out the ticket order form and walk to your boat!
As you can see above we opted for the floor seating area which usually had enough room to lay down. Joe has the right idea! So good for a nap on the way back to the mainland after a long day of swimming and snorkeling.
Sea turtles can be seen pretty much year round on the Keramas with egg-laying season between May and September so you must be careful not to enter into areas where they hve lain there eggs (there will be signs). Whale watching season is December to April and within the last 8 years they are recorded to have first been witnessed from late November to mid-January and last sighted from between early April to mid-May.
At the port they have all the information you need including island maps and tour options if you are so inclined. We like to explore for ourselves as much as possible and did not regret our decision. The marine life is abundant with many people traveling here to snorkel, like we did, and go diving. We swam with a family of sea turtles! More on this below. Don’t stress! If you don’t have your own snorkel you can easily hire for the day when you get to the island for an affordable 500 yen.
When you hop off the ferry and onto Tokashiki island it is easy to access a bus that will take you to the main beach, Aharen Beach, which is on the opposite side of the island. If you’re willing it’s also not that far to walk but the bus is cheap (200 yen) and gives you more time to snorkel! There is a section of the sea you are allowed to swim in with lifeguards watching on. This section is marked by ropes and we found it to be a very small area. This is partially due to dangeours currents further out and also the conservation of the Kerama natural environment.
We wanted more space to explore so we decided to walk north of Aharen Beach. We thought we might give hitchhiking a go, for a laugh, as the walk was a bit hilly. Next thing you know someone is pulling over to give us a ride. If there’s a major lesson we learnt during our travels of Japan it was that Japanese people are some of the most kind people there is. As long as you mind your manners and say Arigatōgozaimas (Arr-ee-gato-ga-zye-mas; thank you!) with a huge smile they will be more than happy to go out the way for you.
We made it up to the hill above Tokashiku beach (turtle beach, very promising I know!) and the view below of the bay was so beautiful! We practially ran down to get to the water. It was too easy to lose track of time whilst in the water and we knew we were in a good area as there were diving boats and divers around us. In saying that it was a very quiet beach compared to Aharen. After a few hours we didn’t think we would see a turtle when I heard our mate Joe yell through his snorkel and point through the water ‘turtle!’. We swam with the little guy as he snacked on algae for almost an hour when we realised he was taking us a bit far our to sea. It was a spectacular experience.
While we took a day trip to Tokashiki it is of course possible to stay on the island. Your mainland accommodation should be able to book it for you over the phone.
Aka is smaller than Tokashiki but still equally as beautiful. We took a brief day-trip to this island. From the ferry port we walked to Nishibama Beach. There was a slight incline to hike to get there! But it was ok it made the water feel that much better! As we neared the beach there was a table set-up with snorkel gear and flippers for hire. We hired some snorkels for the usual 500 yen and off we set to the beach another 250m down the road.
When we arrived a life guard was set up on the beach and she advised us not to step on the coral. Once we swam out we realized that the coral was absolutely everywhere and if you needed a rest you had to swim back inland. This beach had stunning views of the Zamami islands opposite but. Unfortunately no sea turtles were seen today. We did see a wide variety of fish, a striped sea snake and a HUGE Moray Eel hiding in a small cave under the coral bed.
Zamami Island was my favourite of the 3 islands we visited and we nearly didn’t even get to go to it as we had ran out of time in Okinawa. We were flying to Taiwan when our flight was cancelled (thanks Peach airways a blessing in disguise). Not only did we get to go to Zamami in the end but we camped there overnight to celebrate my 23rd birthday!
We took the ferry over to Zamami in the morning. From the ferry port facing the town we went left and walked along the main road for about 30 minutes until we reached the islands campground; Kaminohama campground. Here we were able to hire a tent per couple (2000 yen for a medium tent but I think we could’ve got the small tent instead!), a sleeping mat each couple (300 yen) and snorkel gear. We paid a 300 yen base fee for amenities such as the showers. The campsite is a grassy area blocked off from the beach by trees. Accessing Ama beach is very easy through one of the pathways.
We set up our tents which was hilariously fun with all the flies, mosquitos and the heat. Lucky for some shade provided by the trees. After many words exchanged we were set up and ready to explore. We cooled off with a swim and a snorkel until after sunset. We walked back into town for some food. I had a great burger and a cocktail (glamping, I know) at a local restaurant before we headed back to the campsite. We ended the night by gorging ourselves on the Dairy Milk chocolate my mum had sent me for my birthday (can’t find anywhere in Japan!) and drinking wine. Perfect birthday really.
The next morning we were up at 6.30am because we were told by a regular camper at the site that this was prime turtle time due to high tide. Out we swam into the cool water which was lovely after a humid nights sleep and it was a good wake up call. Around 20m out into the ocean we saw our first sea turtle grazing on the bottom! We ended up swimming with a whole family of turtles by the end of it including one zippy little baby sea turtle that was too fast for a photo. It’s been one of my favourite travel experiences so far and why Okinawa is a place I will definitely go back to one day.
If you are to camp or spend a few nights over on Zamami be advised that there is only a small grocery shop in the village and a couple of restraunts. Absolutely no conbinis! Make sure you come prepared with a few supplies for lunches, we recommend half price sushi from Aeon Max Value!
If you haven’t already opened a new tab to google flights to Okinawa then NOW is the time because this is the end of the post. It is a serious paradise and the perfect place to relax, unwind and escape life.
I hope you enjoyed the pictures and found it informative. Every bit of information is from our experience during our trip and researched if I forget to write it down at the time! If you need more advice on your trip to Okinawa contact us on the contact page!
Also check out our YouTube video of us Traveling around Japan including Tokyo, Kyoto, Matsumoto, Hiroshima and Okinawa. There’s footage of the sea turtles and the sea snake we saw 👍🏻