In search of where to spend our summer holiday in Japan, we began by checking our weather app and for almost any given week in June and July, Okinawa had the best weather forecast with the lowest chance of rain. No wonder this string of stunning, tropical islands is the favourite place to go amongst Japanese tourists in summer. As soon as our summer holidays started, we had our bags packed and were on a flight to Okinawa’s main island and decided to stay in the beach holiday resort area called ‘Onna’, to stay in a hotel with a pool by the beach. As you can gather from previous travel reviews on here, we’re usually not into slow beach holidays, but rather do full-on itineraries every day to see and walk or cycle as much as possible. I was also sceptical whether travelling in Okinawa would be expensive (as I heard it would be), overly touristy or crowded. But as this was a special summer, none of it was the case! We were lucky to get our hotel booked for 80% less than it usually costs, getting an upgrade to the top floor, almost every day being the only ones in the pool and also on any beach. It was an extraordinary experience to be in Japan’s most popular and touristy place for summer holidays, but without tourists. And what can I say, everything in Okinawa surpassed my expectations! If you are thinking of going to the main island, but are not yet sure what there is to see, here are our top recommendations for a holiday in Okinawa. We stayed for seven nights, but almost didn’t get on our plane back to Tokyo, as we really loved staying in Onna, Okinawa.
Tip Before You Go: Rent a Car
We went through the hassle of getting his UK driving license converted to a Japanese driver’s license, which is what you need to do to rent a car in Japan as a foreign resident. In order to convert it, you need to first get a Japanese translation of your driver’s license (these days by post) and then take that along with other relevant documents to your city’s driving license center. It’s a bit of a hassle, but worth it to visit more remote places in Japan without being stuck to slow bus timetables. Before our flight to Okinawa, I researched online to find the cheapest car rental and RentalCars actually provided me with by far the best quote. As in most places in Japan, the service at rental car counters and petrol stations is outstanding and never ceases to amaze me – for example, when we came to drop off the car just before our flight, it was a smooth 2-minute handover and they put on a shuttle bus immediately just for us to get us to the airport quickly; or when arriving at a petrol station, there is always someone greeting you and fueling your car for you, whilst even washing the car windows free of charge! Long story short, unless you just plan to explore Naha on foot and visit one or two remote islands from Naha for 3-4 days, I would highly recommend to rent a car so you can stay flexible while staying at a beach resort.
Where to Stay – Onna – Okinawa’s Beach Paradise
Onna is located in Okinawa’s central eastern part and perfect if you are looking for a relaxed beach holiday where you can swim, have bbqs by the beach, star gaze, snorkel and take it easy. There are so many different guesthouse and hotel options, depending on what you’re looking for. One of my friends rented out a whole villa with private beach with a big group of other friends and they loved it; while we booked an apartment-style hotel room with kitchenette and pool by the beach, which we also loved. Booking a place to stay where you can cook gives you the flexibility of eating whenever and whatever you feel like, as there is not quite an abundance of restaurant options. However, our favourite eatery in Onna was definitely the Poke Bowl 808 for lunch and Hawaiian Pancakes for breakfast! Our favourite beach in Onna was Diamond Beach, however, there were so many beaches, we didn’t get to try out all of them. At sunset time, Cape Manza is a great spot for exceptional views over the cliff edge.
Remote Island Hopping from Okinawa Main Island
After some research into which of the many remote islands close to Okinawa main island we would like to visit as a day trip from Naha, we decided on Tokashiki Island, part of the Kerama Islands and famous for its Kerama blue sea and snorkelling.
It was easy to get to Tokashiki Island from Naha port on a 1-hour ferry, where a bus was already awaiting us to take us to Aharen Beach. Unfortunately it was the first time in my life that I got sea sick (along with many other passengers on the ship) and my advice to you is: take motion-sickness pills before you go and stay on the outdoor top deck! That aside, we had a great time snorkelling and swimming in the sea and were impressed by the amount of life guards, safety measures and gear and activities offered on the beach. Only downside: we already had to get the bus back to the port at 3ish for the last ferry at 4 pm that day!
Okinawa Southeast Botanical Gardens
Ever since moving to Japan, we’ve become big fans of Japanese landscape and Botanical gardens. It’s impressive at how many different types of flowers and plants you can see in Japan and we love how the Japanese intensely celebrate every flower season with themed sweets, drinks and decorations. Visiting the Southeast Botanical Gardens is a fun day trip if you love being in nature, flower photography, but also pets and animals! It’s a really cute (and actually huge!) places with vast variety of flora and fauna and areas where you can feed capybara, bunnies, goats and other small animals, making it a great day trip in Okinawa for families.
Discovering World Heritage of the Ryukyu Kingdom
Did you know that until 1879 Okinawa was called the Ryukyu Kingdom before becoming a prefecture of Japan? While there are Ryukyu castle ruins all over the main island, there are a lot of traces of the former kingdom near Naha, where the central airport is located. While Naha itself is most famous for its’ market, bars and restaurants, you can easily spend a whole day following a route visiting historic sites.
You can download a ‘Best Of Okinawa’ ebrochure from the official website, which we used (page 10) to follow the itinerary. We set off on foot and started visiting the Naminouegu Shrine – bring your swim gear and enjoy a dip in the sea just a two minute walk from the shrine!
Next up was a short visit to the Fukushuen Garden, a traditional Chinese garden to celebrate the friendship between Naha and Fuzhou – we really liked it, as it did feel like an authentic Chinese garden.
Then we took a bus to the Shikinaen Garden, which was quite a distance away. It is famous for being the largest second residence of the Ryukyu royal family and some parts of it felt very quaint and tame, while other parts were quite wild and we had to watch out for those massive spiders hanging in cobwebs around the trees!
Moving on, we skipped the recommended crafts and shopping places and set off for quite a long walk to Okinawa’s famous Shurijo Castle. As the castle unfortunately caught fire last year, we couldn’t visit the main building, but we loved the walk up the the castle grounds on the Kinjo Stone Road on old, cobbled alleys! That might have been the highlight of our day. The weather on our tour was very Okinawa-like unpredictable, being mostly hot, humid and sunny with a drizzle at noon and torrential rain in the evening. Most days, the weather app just predicts ‘thunderstorm’ all day, but don’t let that put you off, it just means there might be rain and/or thunder for up to an hour some point throughout the day.
I hope that my itinerary suggestions for Okinawa main island are useful to you, if you are thinking of visiting! Next up will be a review of an even more tropical, remote and fascinating island: Ishigaki!
Planning your Okinawa itinerary? Then these blog articles might be of interest to you: