With over 160 isles under its belt, you can basically pick and choose your own ultimate island experience in Okinawa. Whether you’re looking to enjoy myth-rich culture, rare and exotic wildlife, or completely escape and have a beach all to yourself, with Okinawa’s island itinerary you’re guaranteed to find at least one island that is your perfect fit. Here are 14 favourites to get you started. Best for history: Kume Island One of the larger outposts in Okinawas collection of islands, Kume Island is just as close to China and the tiny independent Ryukyu Kingdom as it is to Japan, so it offers a unique cultural lineage. You can tour castle ruins, shrines, lost villages and historic houses, or learn about the ancient art of silk weaving. But its natural attractions offer equally diverse explorationfrom caves and waterfalls to rocky peaksall lit by fireflies come spring. And then theres the coast. Try Hateno beach, an off-shore swipe of sand accessible by boat thats a favourite nesting ground for sea turtles. Best for untouched landscapes: Iheya Island Iheya Island is Okinawas northernmost territory. With about 80% of the land dominated by a 200-meter-high mountain range, its main attraction is nature at its most untouched and pristine. Large sand dunes, emerald seas and endless white-sand beachesthis island is beauty distilled. Far from any crowds, its coral reefs are almost immaculate, and you might easily spot humpback whales just a few minutes from the fishing port or find yourself surrounded by schools of dolphins. Best for island strolling: Aka Island If the idea of car or bike rental doesnt appeal then head to Aka-jima, one of the Kerama Islands, where everything you needand by that we mean glorious beaches, friendly people and water activitiesis within walking distance. When you hit the water, choose between snorkelling, kayaking, whale watching and of course swimming. Hiking here is wonderful too and you will be richly rewarded for your efforts with incredible views. Best for adventurers: Minami-Daitō Island Uninhabitable until 1900 due to its sharp cliffs, this is one for the more adventurous traveller. Ferries to Minami-Daitō Island are few, but the fascinating nature, culture and hospitality of the place can easily make it worth the effort, even just for a weekend visit. Swim in its natural pools, explore underground caves, gaze across the island from the Hinomaru observation tower, and keep a lookout for mammals big and small: youre in with a chance of spotting both whales and Okomori bats. Best for nature lovers: Aguni Island Aguni Island, about 60km north west of Naha on the main island of Okinawa, is famous for its rows of beautiful garcinia trees and cycad (king sago) palms. It is an island of contrasts, with a picturesque sandy coastline on the eastern side and sheer cliffs along the west. Its hard not to fall for its charm. For those that prefer adventure underwater, the diving here is also well-lauded. Best for beaches: Miyako Island What sets Miyako-jima apart is its intriguing array of beaches. One favourite is the privately owned yet publicly accessible Shigira Beach, where you can rent a sun lounger and sip on a freshly made juice concoction from the beach house. Its also one of the best spots to swim with sea turtles. Best for a time-warp: Taketomi Island Taketomi lies just off the coast of Ishigaki Island and is the site of a beautifully preserved, traditional Ryukyu village. As Taketomi is fairly small, it is often visited as a day trip from Ishigaki, made worth it by beautiful beaches such as Kondoi. With its crescent-shaped leaf-lined bay and shallow aquamarine waters, Kondoi is arguably one of Okinawas best beaches. During low tide a small island of sand is revealed around 100 metres from the shore. Wade out to this sun spot and enjoy the view of Iriomote and Kohama, emerald green interruptions on an otherwise sapphire-filled distance. Best for cycling: Kuroshima Island For those looking for a pedalling paradise, Kuroshima is it. Small, with few cars, cycling is by far the best way to get around and if you arrive before midday, youll have time to tour the islands main sights and beaches before the last ferry departs. When you get tired, make sure you head to Undouya café, renowned for its coconut crab noodles. Best for a Robinson Crusoe experience: Aragusuku Island The only way to reach this island is by private ferry and the lack of regular public services mean youre likely to have much of the island to yourself: just the way we like it. The sea is a truly stunning shade of turquoise, inviting you in for an afternoon of snorkelling under azure skies. Best for postage-stamp experiences: Hatoma Island This miniscule island is less than 0.96 km2, with only 50 residents. The postage-stamp size means that whatever direction you walk in, youll reach the sea. But if you have to choose one direction in particular, head to tiny Shimanaka, a tucked-away beach on the northern end thats ideal for whiling away an afternoon. Best for wildlife: Iriomote Island Iriomote is known as Japans last frontieran island of tropical jungles blanketed by mangrove forests and encircled by pristine waters. Its been called the Galapagos of Japan thanks to its myriad of wildlife. As you make your way through the wilderness, via pure waterfalls, keep an eye out for the islands elusive yamaneko, its rare native wildcat. With its particularly beautiful coral, Iriomote is also famous for its scuba diving; head to the Manta Way in spring and summer to see schools of manta rays. Best for island gardens: Yubu Island The entire island of Yubu-jimareached from Iriomote Island by a swaying water buffalo-drawn cart is a subtropical garden paradise. It features ten varieties of palm tree peculiar to the subtropics, fruit trees such as guava and papaya, and thirty varieties of the well-loved hibiscus. Once you have strolled through the Bougainvillea Garden, the Shell House and the Butterfly Garden looking out for fruit bats and other wildlife, take a break on the eastern beach of the island, which affords a wonderful view of the neighbouring isles. Best for stargazing: Hateruma Island The southernmost inhabited spot in Japan is an isolated haven with scores of gorgeous beaches to lounge on during the day. But the real show starts after dark. As the light dwindles and the blue starts to fade, youll be treated to a spectacular sunset as you relax on the beach. And then real jewels reveal themselves: the stars here are as clear and bright as you can possibly imagine. Best for divers: Yonaguni Island At the westernmost point of Japan, Yonaguni is so far-flung it has its own local dialect evolved in isolation for centuries. Its also a bucket-list diving spot for the intermediate to advanced. Attractions include caverns, caves and underwater rock formations such as Daiyati and the Temple of Light, and most famously the mysterious underwater ruins which lie off the southern coast of the islandwhich some claim are the product of the Lost Continent of Mu. Shark lovers will also relish the opportunity to see hammerhead sharks, and occasionally whale sharks on their underwater travels. Tom Marchant is Co-founder of Black Tomato. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.
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