The subtropical islands of Okinawa in Japan are a land of beaches, sunsets, great food and some seriously laid back people. After a month spent in this super-chilled region, here are my top 10 things to do in Okinawa.
1 – EXPLORE NAHA
Okinawa’s capital Naha is a little city with a peaceful vibe, some great hotels, lots to explore and absolutely loads to eat. Wander around Shuri Castle, go souvenir shopping along International Street, and eat all the sashimi at First Makishi Fish Market, for starters. Read my post on the Best Things To Do In Naha for more.
2 – UNDERSTAND OKINAWA’S HISTORY
The Battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest battles of the second World War with over 240,000 casualties over 82 days. The US occupied the island until 1972 and today over 30,000 US troops are based on the island, with 19% of Okinawa’s land controlled by the US military. The Cornerstone of Peace in the south of the island is a somber and stark reminder of what happened on this island, with 240,734 names of those killed during the conflict from both sides inscribed on the memorial.
3 – TAKE A ROAD TRIP
Okinawa is a small island and although there are busses that will take you from town to town, renting a car is the best option. Rental prices are very reasonable, the roads are safe and there’s relatively little traffic. And that freedom will allow you to journey around the island however you want. It’s by far the best way to see Okinawa.
4 – BEACH TIME
Okinawa’s subtropical climate makes it great for a bit of beach time during the summer months. Okinawa’s take on beach culture isn’t quite the same as Western culture – you need to pay to visit some beaches and can only swim within an often tiny area – so I recommend finding a beach that doesn’t have such rules. Good thing is, there are plenty, the water is crystal clear, and the sunsets are pretty awesome.
5 – AMERICAN VILLAGE
American Village is one of the weirdest places in Japan. It’s a West-coast themed village that feels like some weird American theme park but somehow even more tacky. But it’s kinda cool at the same time. Get a burger, go bowling, and even grab a weird souvenir at a discount American military surplus store.
It also has a nice beach which is a lovely spot to watch the sun go down.
6 – CLIMB A MOUNTAIN
There are many hiking trails in Okinawa that promise good views of the islands but the Mount Katsu Dake Trail is short, pretty easy and has amazing 360 degree views of the ocean and mountains as well as the nearby city of Nago. It’s also home to a pretty awesome Instagram spot too.
7 – STALECTITE CENTRAL
Over 300,000 years old, Gyokusendo Cave is the second largest cave in Japan and although you have to fight your way through about 6km of Okinawa World’s gift shops either side of the cave itself, the thousands of huge stalactites and lovely climate (it’s 21 degrees in the cave all year round) make this a worthwhile way to spend an hour or two.
8 – DRINK AWAMORI (STRAIGHT FROM A TAP)
Okinawa is the only place in the world I’ve personally experienced being able to drink unlimited spirits out of a tap on my own table. Okinawa’s local spirit Awamori is made out of long grain rice and packs a punch (it’s usually around 30%). There are quite a few bars across Okinawa that do this but the one we went to (and stumbled out of) charge a ludicrous $10 USD for three hours of solid unlimited tap drinking. If you want to try the Japanese pre-drinking hangover-cure, this might be a good time to give it a go.
9 – SEE WHERE TWO OCEANS MEET (CAPE HEDO)
I’m a big fan of Capes. Seeing two oceans collide right in front of you is something special. Okinawa has two Capes but the one in the North of the island, Cape Hedo, is more impressive. It’s where you can see the collision of the South China Sea with the Pacific Ocean. Pretty cool.
10 – HIKE UPSTREAM TO TADAKE FALLS
One of the coolest experiences in my trip to Okinawa has the short hike up the river (I mean, literally up the river) to Tadake falls. If you have good sandals or shoes you don’t mind getting wet, take them along as most of the hike literally involves wading through shallow river water and climbing over rocks. But the reward is an impressive roaring waterfall with a nice spot to swim and even a rope swing.
11 – GO ISLAND HOPPING
Okinawa Island, where Naha is located, is just one of 113 islands in the Okinawa Island group, and many of the others are accessible by both ferry and plane. Some of the closer islands are just 15 minutes on a fast ferry from the main island, and some, like Ishigaki, are best accessed by plane.
12 – HEART SHAPED ROCK
Leaving the best until last is something I often do.
Not the case this time, but Heart Rock (someone really needs to open a cafe here) is a nice little diversion from the mainland the other side of the cute Kouri Island, and you might even see some colourful tropical fish in the tiny little rock pools nearby.
Have you been to Okinawa? If you have any great recommendations for other travelers or if you have any questions at all, please make a comment below. And please Like, Share and Follow Travelist!