Looking for the best things to do in Okinawa? Then you are in for a treat because this stunning archipelago has pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, fascinating historical sites, epic food and, of course, plenty of local culture. My husband and I recently did a full Okinawa itinerary and got to enjoy the highlights of this island.
In this comprehensive guide, you'll discover the top attractions and activities that make Okinawa a must-visit destination. Get ready to explore the breathtaking beauty of Okinawa's beaches, where you can lounge in the sun, snorkel in coral reefs, or take long romantic walks on pure-white sands. Dive into the underwater world at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, one of the largest and most spectacular aquariums in the whole world, or immerse yourself in history at the Nakijin-Jo Castle Site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Experience the charm of Okinawa's culture by strolling down Kokusai-Dori, the main island's shopping street filled with retailers, restaurants, and local food markets. Or, for a unique cultural experience, rent a traditional kimono or yukata and take photos with the island's stunning backdrop.
For nature lovers, Okinawa has plenty of adventures to connect you with the natural world. Visit the Southeast Botanical Gardens to see a diverse range of tropical and subtropical flora, or embark on an island-hopping adventure to explore Okinawa's most stunning islands.
Whether you're a beach bum, a history buff, a foodie, or an adventure seeker, Okinawa is going to knock your socks off. It's an under the radar tropical Japan that simply leaves everyone in awe.
Buckle up and get ready to explore the best things to do in Okinawa, and discover why this tropical paradise is a bucket-list destination for travellers worldwide. Let's dive in!
Table of ContentsOpen
Things to do in Okinawa
To help you maximise your experience in Okinawa, I have gathered a collection of helpful links to some of the most exciting activities on the Okinawan islands. These resources will ensure that you have everything you need to make your trip to Okinawa truly exceptional.
Activity: Official Street Go-Kart Tour
Tour: Full-Day Bus Tour to Yanbaru National Park
Activity: Full-Day Introductory diving & Snorkelling in the Kerama Islands
Adventure: Kabira Bay SUP/Canoe + Blue Cave Snorkeling
Tour: Naha Full-Day Private Tour
Attractions: Okinawa Fun Pass
Adventure: Onna Village Marine Walk
Adventure: Kayak Mangroves or Coral Reef
Culture: Tea ceremony, flower arrangement and calligraphy
Beaches in Okinawa
Okinawa is sometimes called the Hawaii of Japan, so you can imagine that these beautiful islands are blessed with pristine beaches. And yes, some of these beaches have clear turquoise waters, soft white sands, and abundant marine life. If you're a sun worshipper, want to enjoy snorkelling or just want to chill on the beach, Okinawa's beaches are perfect for you.
Yonaha Maehama Beach
Located on Miyako Island, Yonaha Maehama Beach is a must-visit for every beach lover. Its crystal clear, shallow waters and 7-kilometer long white sandy beach make it a perfect place to get your toes in the sand. If you love watersports, this beach should also be calling you can do jet skiing and windsurfing. Let's nor forget the striking beauty of Kurima Bridge seen in the distance, especially gorgeous during the sunset.
For snorkelling, head to Furuzamami Beach on Zamami Island, with its beautiful reefs teeming with tropical fish. Bring your kit or rent a Snorkelling gear, SUP or kayak from the local shop. There are lifeguards, restrooms, coin showers and shops nearby for your convenience. To reach the beach, you can drive for about 5 minutes from Zamami Port or walk the distance for about 20 minutes on foot.
Kondoi Beach is a tranquil beach on Taketomi Island. This beach is perfect if you are a beach bum who just wants to relax. The water here is so beautiful. Crystal clear, perfect for romantic walks on the beach. Thanks to its west-facing location, Kondoi Beach is not just perfect for a swim in the ocean, but ideal for couples looking for a romantic sunset. The beach is well-equipped with facilities such as restrooms and rental shops for beach parasols and lounge chairs.
Located within the Ocean Expo Park on the main island, Emerald Beach is unique due to its division into three separate areas: one for playing, one for resting, and one for viewing. The beach offers splendid views of the stunning Okinawan sunset and is located near major attractions like the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. There's the Emerald Beach Snack Stand for food as well as the restaurants which belong to the Hotel Orion Motobu Resort and Spa.
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, located within the Ocean Expo Park in Okinawa, is one of the largest and most spectacular aquariums in the world. The name “Churaumi” was chosen by public vote and can be translated from the Okinawan language as “beautiful sea”.
The aquarium is renowned for its massive Kuroshio Sea tank, which holds 7,500 cubic meters of water. Through the giant glass, you will be able to see manta rays and whale sharks. The Okinawa Aquarium has several other exhibits too, including the Coral Sea tank, which is my favourite, where you'll find a replicated coral reef ecosystems. If you're afraid of diving, then this is the next best place for seeing a coral reef up close.
Don't miss the Deep Sea exhibit, which features stunning creatures that live in the dark depths of the ocean, and check out the Shark Research Lab to discover what sharks really are. The Okinawa Aquarium is not just a tourist attraction, but also a centre for marine research and education. It has been involved in various conservation efforts, including the breeding and protection of endangered species.
The aquarium is part of the larger Ocean Expo Park, which includes other attractions such as the Tropical Dream Center and the Emerald Beach. The park also houses the Native Okinawan Village and Omoro Arboretum, which offers a peek into the traditional Okinawan lifestyle.
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is equipped with dining facilities where you can enjoy a meal or snack, and a shop for souvenirs.
- 🕒 Opening Times: Daily 8:30 am–6:30 pm
- 🎟️ Book your tickets
Bise Fukugi Tree Avenue
Bise Fukugi Tree Avenue is a charming and picturesque area located in the Bise district of Motobu, Okinawa, about 10 minutes walk from the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.
The avenue is lined with hundreds of Fukugi trees, which are evergreen trees native to the region. They are known to be incredibly resilient and resistant to fires. The kana characters of the word “Fukugi” mean “Good Luck Tree” and these trees have been traditionally used in Okinawa as windbreaks. The ones in Bise are said to have been planted over a century ago.
There are over 20,000 tall trees here, which form a long avenue with a dense canopy of trees. Walk through the cool, shaded path and listen to the gentle sound of waves coming from the coast.
Along the avenue, you'll see traditional Okinawan houses with red-tiled roofs and stone walls. Walk, rent a bike and cycle the avenue, or take a ride in a cart pulled by a water buffalo. Apart from the calming walk, the Bise area also hosts a few attractions nearby. These include the Emerald Beach, located within the Ocean Expo Park.
- 🈚 Admission: Free
- 🕒 Opening Hours: Always open
- 🗾 Address: Bise, Motobu, Kunigami District, Okinawa Prefecture 905-0207
Nakijin-jo Castle Site
Nakijin-jo Castle Site is a historical and cultural site in Okinawa, located on the Motobu Peninsula in the northern part of Okinawa Island. The castle was the residence of the rulers of the Hokuzan Kingdom, one of the three kingdoms that existed on Okinawa before it was unified into the Ryukyu Kingdom in the 15th century.
One of the reasons why Nakijin-jo Site is special is because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed as part of the “Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu”. The term “Gusuku” refers to the unique Ryukyuan form of castle or fortress, and the sites included in this listing are considered to be of immense value in understanding the history and culture of the Ryukyu Islands.
The Nakijin-jo Site is known for its impressive stone walls, which were constructed using a technique called “Nozura-zumi”, where stones of different shapes and sizes were piled together. The walls, which follow the natural contours of the land, show the advanced engineering skills of the Ryukyu people.
Explore the Nakijin-jo castle ruins, which include the remains of palace buildings and sacred sites. The site offers panoramic views of the surrounding area, including the East China Sea. In early spring, the site is adorned with blooming sakura trees, making it a popular spot for cherry blossoms.
- 🕒 Opening Times: 8:00 am to 6:00 pm (January to April, September to December) and 8:00 am to 7:00 pm (May to August)
- 🎟️ Admission: 600 yen
- Official website (Japanese only)
Southeast Botanical Gardens
The Southeast Botanical Gardens is a beautiful and expansive botanical garden covering an area of about 100 acres. This natural paradise is home to over 2,000 species of plants, including tropical and subtropical flora from around the world.
The garden is divided into two main sections: the Water Garden, which features a large pond and water plants, and the Botanical Garden, which showcases a variety of plant species in different themed areas.
There are four iconic plants you won't want to miss. The Alexander palm can only be grown in greenhouses on mainland Japan, but here at the botanical garden you can walk along a whole palm-lined avenue, which is stunning for photos. You will want to see the Za baobab, which originated from Madagascar. If you're visiting in the rainy season, you'll see lots of lotus blooms and my favourite, the dragon blood tree, which produces a dark red raisin.
One of the highlights of the Southeast Botanical Gardens is the stunning illuminations that take place during the winter months. From the end of October until the end of May, the garden is transformed into a magical wonderland of lights. Thousands of colourful LED lights are used to create enchanting displays that illuminate the garden after dark.
- 🕒 Opening times: 9:30 am - 6 pm
- 🎟️ Tickets: Get your tickets online via Klook
Read More about the the Southeast Botanical Gardens
The American Village in Okinawa is a popular entertainment and shopping complex located in Mihama, Chatan Town. It's a great area with shops, restaurants, a cinema, a bowling alley, and a large Ferris wheel. Imagine a large American-themed outdoor mall but on the main island of Okinawa. The architecture and atmosphere of the American Village are designed to resemble a typical seaside town in the United States, hence the name “American Village”.
The reason it's called the American Village is largely due to the influence of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa. After World War II, Okinawa was under U.S. administration until 1972 when it was returned to Japan. However, the U.S. still maintains a significant military presence on the island, with several bases scattered throughout Okinawa. In fact, Okinawa hosts the majority of U.S. military facilities in Japan. The American Village was originally developed to cater to the U.S. military personnel and their families, but it has since grown into a major tourist attraction that appeals to both locals and visitors from around the world.
I must stress that Okinawa is not in any way a U.S. territory; it is a prefecture of Japan. Due to the ongoing U.S. military presence, there is a unique blend of Japanese and American cultures in Okinawa, which is reflected in places like the American Village.
Snorkelling and Diving
Let's face it, when you see those crystal-clear waters in Okinawa, the first thing you want to do is dive right in! It's no surprise that snorkelling and diving in Okinawa are among the best activities in Okinawa. Okinawa has surreal clear waters, abundant marine life, and beautiful coral reefs, making it a paradise for underwater exploration.
Okinawa has excellent snorkelling options. The waters surrounding the islands are home to a diverse range of marine life, including tropical fish, sea turtles, and colourful coral formations. Some of the best snorkelling spots in Okinawa include the Blue Cave in Onna Village, the Kerama Islands, and the Yaeyama Islands. These locations offer exceptional visibility. All you need is your snorkelling kit.
Okinawa is also a fantastic destination for scuba diving. The region's warm, clear waters and rich biodiversity provide an ideal environment for divers of all experience levels. There are numerous dive sites scattered around Okinawa's islands, including wreck diving and drift diving. Some of the most popular dive sites include the Yonaguni Monument, the Kerama Islands, and the Manza Dream Hole.
Want to just chill on the beach and swim in-between your snorkelling sessions? No worries, as you can also swim in the ocean in Okinawa. The clear and warm waters in Okinawa are perfect for swimming, especially between May and October.
Fantastic snorkelling and diving tours in Okinawa
Onna Village Marine Walk
Onna is one of the best parts of Okinawa for couples looking for romantic breaks and pristine beaches. But did you know that you can do some fun activities like enjoying a marine walk?
A marine walk in Onna Village allows you to walk across the sandy ocean bed and watch the marine life while wearing a special dive helmet. You can breathe normally underwater while keeping your face dry. It's such a great activity for people who are a little too afraid to dive.
After my diving experience in the Seychelles, the marine walk was a much more enjoyable activity for me, personally. There is less pressure, and it's a little easier if you are prone to ear problems when underwater. I recommend it, especially if you wish to visit with your family, as kids as young as ten can enjoy this as well. Just wear your swimsuit or put on a wetsuit if you prefer (included in your fee anyway).
- 🎟️ Admission: From $48 per person
- 👉🏻 Get your tickets on Klook (our preferred partner)
Shuri Castle, known as Shurijo in Japanese, is a must-visit destination in Okinawa for its historical, cultural, and architectural significance. Shurijo is the former royal palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which ruled the islands from the 15th to 19th century. The castle played a central role in the political and cultural development of the islands, serving as the residence of the Ryukyu kings, the seat of government, and the focal point of foreign trade and diplomacy.
The castle's architecture is striking, particularly its main hall, or Seiden, which is painted red. This colour is considered to symbolize wealth and power in the Ryukyu Kingdom.
Unfortunately, Shuri Castle was destroyed by a fire in 2019. The castle is currently being rebuilt, with the reconstruction process underway. Despite the loss of the main buildings, the castle grounds, which include several gates, walls, and other structures that survived the fire, remain open to the public.
The significance of Shuri Castle extends beyond its physical structures. It is a symbol of the resilience and enduring spirit of the Okinawan people, who have rebuilt the castle multiple times throughout its history. The castle's history, its unique architecture, and its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site all contribute to its status as a top destination in Okinawa.
- 🈚 Admission Free Areas: 8:30 am-6:00 pm (Kankaimon, Kobikimon, Kyukeimon)
- 🎟️ Paid Admission Areas: 9:00 am-5:30 pm (Houshinmon, Yohokoriden, Agari-no-Azana)
Nago Pineapple Park
Nago Pineapple Park is a sweet (pun intended) tourist attraction located in Nago City, in the northern part of Okinawa Island. As the name suggests, the park is dedicated to pineapples, a fruit that has a long history in Okinawa and is an important part of the local economy. You will get to experience everything pineapple related, including pineapple rides, pineapple seminars and pineapple dishes!
First, visit the Nago Pineapple Factory to learn about the process of pineapple cultivation and production. The factory offers informative displays and exhibits that explain the history of pineapple farming in Okinawa, the different varieties of pineapples, and the various stages of pineapple growth and harvesting.
One of the highlights of a visit to Nago Pineapple Park is the cute pineapple cart ride. These automated, pineapple-shaped carts take you on a tour around the park. When you arrive, there is also a pineapple train to take you from the parking lot to the entrance of the factory.
After exploring the park, sample and purchase a wide range of pineapple products at the park's shops. These include fresh pineapples, pineapple jams, cakes, and other pineapple-based treats. The park's café is a great place to relax and enjoy a variety of pineapple-themed dishes, such as pineapple tarts, pizza, juice, and ice cream.
- 🕒 Opening hours: 10 am-6 pm
🎟️ Admission fee: 600+ yen
👉🏻 Book your tickets via Klook
Higashi-son Fureai Hirugi Park
Higashi-son Fureai Hirugi Park is one of the most incredible destinations in Okinawa, nestled in Higashi Village in the northern part of the main island, an area known as “Yanbaru”. This region has unbelievable lush forests, which cover approximately 72.5% of the total area, and the 14 large and small rivers that flow from these forests.
The park is set within the largest mangrove forest on the main island of Okinawa, in Gesashi Bay, which was designated as a national natural monument in 1972. The mangrove forest is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including several species of adorable fiddler crabs, tiny mudskippers, and elegant egrets.
My recommendation is to canoe through the peaceful river that winds its way through the mangrove forest. It feels like a true adventure in the wilderness. If canoeing is not for you, take the walkway through the park, to an observation deck from where you can observe and photograph the mangroves.
Recommended kayaking tours:
Okinawa World is a popular theme park located in the Nanjo city of Okinawa. Your journey through Okinawa World will begin with a visit to the Gyokusendo Cave. This is the second-largest cave system in Japan, measuring around 5 kilometres, with close to 1 kilometre of it open to the public. As you walk through the cave, you'll be awed by the stunning stalactites and stalagmites, illuminated to highlight their natural beauty.
After exploring the cave, head to the tropical fruit garden, then try your hand at some traditional Okinawan crafts. The park offers several hands-on experiences, including Ryukyu glassmaking. This is a great opportunity to create your own unique souvenir to take home.
No visit to Okinawa World would be complete without enjoying an Eisa show. Eisa is a traditional Okinawan dance performed to the beat of drums.
Learn about the fascinating and somewhat fearsome habu snakes at the Habu Museum Park. The museum offers a wealth of information about these venomous snakes, and you can even see live habu snakes up close.
The price of admission to Okinawa World can vary depending on the attractions you wish to visit. For the full experience, which includes the Cave, Kingdom Village, Habu Museum and 1 craft workshop, the price is $23 per person. Alternatively, you can get a Klook Pass Okinawa for just $28 which includes tickets to Okinawa World experience as well as three other top attractions.
To get to Okinawa World, you can take a bus from Naha. The number 54 bus from Naha Bus Terminal goes directly to Okinawa World. The journey takes about an hour. Alternatively, if you're driving, the park is about a 30-minute drive from Naha Airport.
- 🕒 Opening hours: 9 am–5:30 pm
- 👉🏻 Buy your Okinawa World tickets in advance
Cape Manzamo is a stunning natural landmark located on the western coast of Okinawa's main island. It's renowned for its scenic beauty and the unique shape of its cliff, which resembles an elephant's trunk. This beautiful spot offers panoramic views of the East China Sea, making it a popular destination for sightseeing and photography.
My advice is to visit for sunset if you can, as it's located on the west side of the main island, so the sunsets there can really make the experience so much better and romantic. The plateau atop the cliff is covered in lush greenery, ideal for picnics while enjoying the breathtaking ocean views.
There is no admission fee to visit Cape Manzamo. It's a public area that's open to everyone, making it a budget-friendly option for those looking to enjoy Okinawa's natural beauty. There is a parking available nearby, but be prepared to do a bit of walking to get to the viewing point.
Neo Park Okinawa
Okinawa Neo Park, located in Nago City, is the perfect Okinawan experience for nature lovers and families with kids. This expansive natural park has diverse flora and fauna of Okinawa, as well as replicated habitats from around the world.
When you enter the park, you'll first visit the Flamingo Lake, a spectacle of free-flying birds. The park is home to fresh water ponds, many tropical flowers, and lots of exotic animals, including lemurs.
Neo Park is great for kids to learn more about the world's diverse ecosystems and the creatures that inhabit them. One of the highlights of a visit to Neo Park is being able to interact with the park's animals. You can feed many of the park's rare animals and birds and there is even a petting zoo, where children can get up close and personal with a variety of friendly animals.
- 🕒 Opening hours: 9:30 am–5:30 pm
- 🗾 Address: 4607-41 Nago, Okinawa 905-0012, Japan
- 👉🏻 Book your ticket in advance
Sesoko Beach, located on Sesoko Island just off the western coast of Okinawa's main island, is a picturesque oasis with crystal clear waters and fine-grained sands. If you're searching for a romantic spot to visit in Okinawa, this is the place!
Sesoko island, connected to the mainland by the 762-meter Sesoko Bridge, has an 800-meter-long beach that offers breathtaking views of neighbouring Minna Island and Ie Island. This place looks especially beautiful at sunset. The silhouette of Mt. Gusuku on Ie Island adds a dramatic touch to the horizon.
As night falls, the low level of light pollution on Sesoko Island reveals a sparkling star-studded sky. The best stargazing experiences are typically during the cooler evenings from the end of summer through fall.
Just below the Sesoko Bridge, you'll find the smaller, less crowded Anchihama Beach. This local secret is a peaceful spot perfect for a relaxing day out. You can rent a barbecue set, complete with food, and enjoy a picnic while soaking up the serene surroundings.
Sesoko beach is open from 9 am until 5 pm. Nearby you'll find local operators to offer a range of activities, including snorkelling, diving, banana boat rides, and parasailing, providing fun and adventure for visitors of all ages.
Sesoko Island is easily accessible by car. It's a 15-minute drive from Churaumi Aquarium and a 90-minute drive from Naha Airport via the Okinawa Express way toll road.
- 🕒 Opening hours: 9 am–5 pm
- 🗾 Address: 5583-1 Sesoko, Motobu, Kunigami District, Okinawa 905-0227, Japan
- #️⃣ Official website
Kokusai-Dori (International Street) is often referred to as the main street of Okinawa, and for good reason. Stretching over a mile in length, Kokusai-Dori is packed with shops, restaurants, bars, and street vendors. If you're after Japanese souvenirs, this is the place to be.
The street is lined with stores selling everything from clothing and accessories to traditional Okinawan crafts. Don't miss the Makishi Public Market, which is a must-visit spot known for its local food products, fresh seafood, and Okinawan specialities.
Kokusai-Dori is also a great place to try Japanese food, street food and delicious desserts. Try local dishes like Okinawa soba, goya champuru (stir-fry with bitter melon), and umibudo (sea grapes). And while you are at it, you have got to try the delicious seaweed tempura, one of my favourite Okinawan foods.
Kokusai-Dori hosts various events and festivals throughout the year, including the 10,000 Eisa Dance Parade in August.
Busena Marine Park
Busena Marine Park is a fantastic destination for those looking to explore the underwater wonders of Okinawa without getting wet. The park's main attraction is its underwater observatory, which sits four meters below sea level.
The observatory has 24 windows and offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the underwater world at 5 meters depth. It's like being in an aquarium but observing the marine life in its actual natural habitat. It's such a fun attraction, especially for families with kids who can't otherwise dive to such depths.
You'll experience being aboard a whale-shaped glass-bottom boat, too, to see the coral reefs from the surface. The ride takes around 20 minutes and the boat seats only 36 people.
Onna no Eki Nakayukui Market
Calling all foodies, I have the best foodie thing to do in Okinawa. Onna no Eki Nakayukui Market, located in Onna Village, is the place to immerse yourself in the flavours of Okinawa. This market is a fantastic stop during a drive around the island.
I must warn you, though, you'll want to buy everything here, but be mindful of your luggage space. If you're after food on the go, make sure to try the local sea grapes, which are a type of Okinawan seaweed usually served on rice. Depending on the season, you'll be able to find sea urchins, as well as all sorts of seafood like mussels, scallops, and lobster.
Chances are, it will be hot and lovely when visiting Okinawa, so make sure to try the Okinawan shaved ice with an array of tropical flavours (like mango, dragon fruit and passion fruit).
- 🚗 Good to know: Onna no Eki Nakayukui Market is actually a rest stop, which is primarily targeted at visitors who will drive in Okinawa.
- 🕒 Opening times: 10 am–7 pm
- 🗾 Address: 1656-9 Nakadomari, Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa 904-0415, Japan
Driving in Okinawa
Driving in Okinawa is indeed one of the best ways to explore Okinawa. The island's diverse landscapes, from its lush forests and mountains to its stunning coastlines and beaches, make for a truly scenic drive. The roads in Okinawa are generally well-maintained and safe, and the traffic is less congested compared to major cities like Tokyo or Osaka, making driving a pleasant and enjoyable experience. Renting in Japan is easy and hassle-free, too.
One of the advantages of driving in Okinawa is the freedom and flexibility it offers. It's my favourite way to explore the islands because you can stop at any interesting spots you come across, and reach areas that are less accessible by public transport. Besides, it saves a lot of time, allowing for more time sightseeing, and less time waiting for buses.
Foreigners can drive in Okinawa, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, in Japan, people drive on the left side of the road, which might take some getting used to if you're from a country where driving is on the right. Second, you'll need an International Driving Permit (IDP) in addition to your home country's driving licence to drive in Japan.
One of the great things about driving in Okinawa is that parking is usually free, even at major attractions. This is a big plus, as it allows you to visit various places without worrying about parking fees.
Yukata and Kimono Rental in Okinawa
One of the best things to do in Okinawa is to dress up in a kimono or yukata for stunning pictures with stunning beaches as a backdrop. Dress up in traditional Japanese attire and explore the local attractions, adding a touch of authenticity and elegance to your trip.
Yukatas are ideal for summer days as they are made from thinner cotton material. Of course, you can customise your kimono or summer yukata and select the colour and patterns you enjoy the most.
The rental process is seamless and hassle-free, thanks to the professional staff who assist you in choosing your outfit and dressing up. Each rental set comes complete with a belt, tabi (traditional socks), zori (sandals), and a handbag. Simple hairstyling is also included, ensuring that you look your best in your chosen attire.
Enjoy island hopping
Island hopping in Okinawa is a top experience that promises a lot of fun and incredible views. This is the best way to see the best of Okinawa and snorkel and dive in the best spots, walk on the most pristine beaches and venture through proper jungle-like forests.
Okinawa comprises more than 160 inhabited and uninhabited islands, so you have plenty to pick from for your island hopping adventure.
Known for its beautiful beaches and coral reefs, Ishigaki Island is a paradise for beach lovers. If you close your eyes and imagine white sand, stunning waters and tropical vegetation, then this is the island for you. The island's crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life make it a popular destination for diving and snorkelling. The island is also home to Mount Nosoko, a great hiking spot that offers panoramic views of the island. Book your Phantom Island Snorkeling+ Taketomi Island Sightseeing.
The Kerama Islands are a group of islands located to the west of Okinawa's main island. The islands are known for their coral reefs and are a popular destination for snorkelling and diving. The clear waters around the islands are also home to a large population of sea turtles. This island can be enjoyed as a day trip from Naha.
Iriomote Island is the second-largest island in Okinawa and is mostly covered by dense jungle and mangrove forests. I mainly recommend this island for adventure seekers that really love hikes in raw nature. The island is known for its Iriomote wildcat, which is found nowhere else in the world. Kayaking and jungle trekking are popular activities on the island.
Miyako Island is renowned for its stunning beaches, particularly Maehama Beach and Yoshino Beach, with their white sands and turquoise waters. The island is also a great place for water sports like snorkelling and diving. My favourite thing here is walking on the Maehama Beach, which is considered one of the greatest beaches in the world! Don't miss a cool Starry Sky & Subtropical Jungle Night Tour.
Kouri Island, connected to the main island of Okinawa by the Kouri Bridge, is a small island with beautiful beaches. But the journey to the Kouri island is an adventure in itself. You'll cross the Kouri Bridge, a 2-kilometer-long bridge that offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding ocean, making the drive across a memorable experience. Kouri Island is home to several attractions, including the Kouri Ocean Tower, which offers a 360-degree view of the island, and the Heart Rocks, a pair of heart-shaped rocks that have become a symbol of the island.
If you're looking for a spiritual activity in Okinawa, Naminoue Shrine is the place to visit. Naminoue Shrine is a Shinto shrine located in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa Prefecture, and situated on a cliff by the sea. The name of the shrine itself means “above the waves”. Naminoue Shrine is the most important and frequently visited shrine on the island.
The shrine overlooks the Naminoue Beach, which is a fine sandy beach.The shrine is a popular spot for Hatsumode (the first shrine visit of the New Year) and other festivals.
- 🕒 Opening times: 9 am–5 pm
- 🗾 Address: 1 Chome-25-11 Wakasa, Naha, Okinawa 900-0031, Japan
Where to stay in Okinawa
For first time visitors, Naha is the best place to base yourself as it has a variety of attractions, shopping, and dining. There are countless hotels and accommodations to choose from that cater to your preferences and budgets.
For a romantic beach holiday, I recommend staying in Onna. Or for a proper surreal island experience, consider the islands of Miyakojima, or Ishigaki.
For a complete breakdown on all the important areas in Okinawa and reviews of my favourite hotels, read my where to stay in Okinawa article. I discuss different areas and why they are most suitable for your type of travel style and budget. I also recommend my favourite hotels in Okinawa, organised by budget.
$$$ Hotel Collective - Perfect for a luxury stay in Okinawa. Each accommodation at the 5-star hotel has city views, and guests can enjoy access to a sauna and a hot tub. Quick access to the beach or chill by the private outdoor pool. Check prices and reviews for Hotel Collective
$$ Best Western Okinawa Kouki Beach - A fantastic mid-range hotel located right on the beach with plenty of walking opportunities. Some rooms come with breakfast and dinner included so you can enjoy a hassle-free holiday on the beach. Check prices and reviews for Best Western Okinawa
$ M´s Stay Okinawa - An affordable accommodation option fitted with air conditioning, a fully equipped kitchen with a dining area. This aparthotel is great for a budget-friendly holiday in Okinawa. .Check prices and reviews for M´s Stay Okinawa
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Okinawa best known for?
Okinawa is best known for its beautiful beaches with crystal-clear turquoise waters, white sands, and abundant marine life. The subtropical climate makes it a popular destination for beach goers, divers, and snorkellers. It's an ideal place for honeymooners who seek a stunning tropical paradise with Japanese food, tradition, and hospitality.
The islands are surrounded by some of the world's most extensive coral reefs, home to a diverse range of marine life. Okinawa has a unique culture and history that is distinct from mainland Japan, influenced by its history as the independent Ryukyu Kingdom. This is reflected in its traditional music, dance (like Eisa), cuisine, and the local language.
Okinawan cuisine is known for its health benefits and is often associated with the longevity of its people. It includes dishes like goya champuru (bitter melon stir-fry), Okinawa soba (noodles), and umibudo (sea grapes).
Okinawa is the birthplace of karate, and many people visit to train in the many dojos available on the islands. Although it was unfortunately damaged by fire in 2019, Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an iconic symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom's history.
Okinawa is known as one of the "Blue Zones", areas in the world where people live exceptionally long lives. This has been attributed to a combination of their diet, regular physical activity, and strong community ties.
From the lush Yanbaru forests in the north to the beautiful Kerama Islands, Okinawa is known for its diverse and stunning natural landscapes.
Okinawa hosts a significant number of U.S. military bases, which has influenced the local culture and economy.
Is Okinawa good for tourists?
Absolutely, Okinawa is a fantastic destination for tourists. It has so many underrated beautiful beaches and crystal-clear water, making it a paradise for those who love the sea or who want a perfect honeymoon. The subtropical climate allows for year-round outdoor activities, including snorkelling, diving, and beach lounging.
Okinawa's rich history and unique Ryukyuan culture, which is distinct from mainland Japan, offer fascinating insights for history and culture enthusiasts. The island is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Shuri Castle and the Gusuku Sites.
Okinawa's cuisine is another highlight, with unique dishes like goya champuru and Okinawa soba, and it's known for its longevity diet.
The island also has a vibrant nightlife, with Naha city offering plenty of bars, restaurants, and live music venues. Okinawans are known for their warm hospitality, which adds to the welcoming atmosphere for tourists.
How many days is enough for Okinawa?
A stay of 3 to 5 days on the main island of Okinawa is recommended to experience its key attractions fully, indulge in beach relaxation, and savour the local cuisine.
If your itinerary includes a visit to the smaller surrounding islands like the Kerama Islands or the Yaeyama Islands, consider extending your trip to a full week.
For an extensive island-hopping experience that includes the main island of Okinawa, Miyakojima, Ishigaki, and Iriomote, a two-week trip would be ideal. This allows for travel time between these islands, which are accessible by flight. Each of these islands boasts unique attractions and a tranquil pace of life, making a leisurely visit all the more rewarding. These islands have their own unique attractions and natural beauty, and the pace of life is slower, so you won't want to rush your visit.
Is Okinawa Japan expensive to visit?
For travellers coming from abroad, the most significant cost is likely to be the flight to Japan. However, once you've landed, you'll find that the costs for hotels, food, and experiences in Okinawa are on par with those in other Western destinations, making it a reasonably priced option for a vacation.
If you're already in Tokyo, the cost dynamics change considerably. Domestic flights within Japan can be quite affordable, with flights to Okinawa often available for as little as $100. This makes Okinawa a very cost-effective option for a tropical paradise getaway if you're already in the country. So, while the initial cost to reach Japan from abroad can be high, the actual cost of enjoying Okinawa's stunning beaches, vibrant culture, and delicious cuisine can be surprisingly affordable.