Japan’s Okinawa prefecture is an archipelago of about 160 islands stretching from Kyushu to Taiwan. Nestled in the country’s southern tip, this tropical island is the go-to spot for a Japanese warm-weather vacation. It boasts the perfect mix of sunny weather, white sandy beaches, and clear turquoise waters, attracting divers, surfers, and beach lovers from within and outside the nation.
But there is more to Okinawa than simply sun and sand. The region offers many attractions, including undisturbed remote islands and world-class resorts with top-of-the-line facilities. It’s also famous for its rich tradition, which has influences from Japanese, Chinese, and Taiwanese cultures, given the island’s proximity to China and Taiwan. Okinawa’s remote location offers a refreshing change from Japan’s major cities, Tokyo and Osaka.
From fine holiday weather and exciting coastal adventures to sumptuous local cuisine, a riveting rendezvous awaits visitors to this tropical paradise. Here is a guide to making the most of “the Hawaii of Japan.”
Things To Do In Okinawa
There are enough attractions to go around in Okinawa, and tourists can look forward to a loaded itinerary with some of the top adventures in Japan.
Whether looking to sample local culinary offerings or experience Japanese hospitality up close, check out the top things to do in Okinawa.
1 Bask On The Shores Of Its Pristine Beaches
A view of Okinawa’s clear water with boats, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan
Okinawa is world-famous for being a summer destination, and what better way to kick off the vacation than visiting the beaches? With more than 100 beaches on Okinawa’s main island, tourists will be spoiled for choice.
From the silky-soft white sands and clear blue waters to idyllic coral reefs, the setting is perfect to lay back, relax, and soak in the serene atmosphere. But those who fancy a dip will enjoy the warm temperature of the water.
The best part is that the area’s subtropical climate affords tourists these fantastic conditions throughout the year.
2 Visit Shuri Castle
Okinawa, Japan at Shuri Castle.
Before becoming a Japanese prefecture in 1879, Okinawa was once an independent country known as the Ryukyu Kingdom. This is why the island’s culture and history are relatively unique to the rest of the country.
Shuri Castle served as the royal palace during the kingdom’s reign and holds a special place in the history and culture of old-day Okinawa. Despite being decimated during World War II, it was rebuilt in the 90s and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, it hosts thousands of tourists and is one of the most visited landmarks in the Okinawa prefecture.
: Adults $3, Students $2.24, Kids $1.2
: 9 am – 5:30 pm
3 Try Snorkeling In The Clear Water
Red lionfish, Pterois volitans (Linnaeus, 1758). Ie island, Okinawa, Japan
A trip to Okinawa is not complete without a snorkeling experience. Thanks to the clear waters and warm tropical weather, the conditions are ideal for venturing under the surface, where almost 200 of the globe’s 800 coral species await to be discovered in the waters around Okinawa.
Fortunately, tourists don’t have to look far or wide as snorkeling hotspots abound throughout the island.
From the Onna Seaside Civil Park and Miyako Island to Kabira Bay and Blue Cave, it all comes down to the visitor’s preference. While underwater, don’t forget to check out the rich marine life.
4 Have Fun At Okinawa World
Gyokusendo Cave at Okinawa World, Japan
Okinawa World is a theme park in the southern section of the main island that offers guests a raft of fun activities. From glass blowing and craft making to drum performances, there is a lot to keep guests busy.
However, the highlight of Okinawa World is the 850-meter cave known as Gyokusendo. It houses a spectacular series of stalactites and stalagmites that will leave visitors in awe.
Outside the cave, tourists can shop for cute Japanese souvenirs at the many local stalls in the area. The facility also has a snake museum where they can enjoy snake performances or learn about the venomous Habu snake.
: Adults $15, Kids $7.5
: Open daily, 9 am – 5:30 pm
5 Go On A Whale Watching Tour
Blue waters in Okinawa
Okinawa Island offers guests a rare opportunity to spot these remarkable gentle giants up close. From December through April, humpback whales migrate to the region’s warm waters, and a boat trip can take vacationers to the middle of the action.
Some boats have hydrophones, allowing passengers to listen to the species’ unique songs.
Some prime spots for whale watching include the Tokashiki and Kerama Islands. Besides humpback whales, Bryde’s whales, sperm whales, and even whale sharks can be spotted.
6 Check Out The Churaumi Aquarium
People at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, Okinawa, Japan
Churaumi Aquarium is Japan’s largest aquarium and one of the biggest in the world. Situated at the Ocean Expo Park, the massive aquarium is home to a wide range of incredible marine creatures, such as whale sharks, manta rays, and more, making it a top attraction on the island.
However, most visitors are drawn to the Kuroshio Tank, a sprawling section holding 7.5M liters of water and housing thousands of sea species.
Besides the aquarium, guests can scope out the facility’s traditional Okinawan village and botanical garden. Visiting the Churaumi Aquarium serves as the ideal family getaway in Okinawa.
: Adults $16.26, Students $10.74, Kids $5.29
: 8:30 am – 8 pm
7 Explore The Mihama Americana Village
Okinawa, Japan at American Village.
Discover a piece of America in Japan at Okinawa’s Mihama Americana Village. Built on a former United States airfield, the village, inspired by Seaport Village in San Diego, is a large shopping complex with a unique mix of stores.
From restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and goods stores to karaoke studios, it oozes West Coast vibes and will be the perfect playground for homesick American tourists.
The US-themed establishment features a giant Ferris wheel and a popular movie theater. It’s also a great spot to watch the sunset over the beach.
8 Discover Okinawa’s Rural Side At Iriomote
Miyakojima island in Okinawa Prefecture,Japan. “Higashi-hennazaki”
Outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of open spaces should take a day trip to Iriomote. Located near Ishigaki Island, it is known for its dense jungle cover, which serves as the perfect setting to trek or hike while exploring the area. Iriomote offers an excellent escape from Okinawa’s urban space and is ideal for those who want to be one with nature.
The air is fresh and the atmosphere tranquil, with the sounds of birds and animals filling the air.
On a lucky day, tourists can encounter fantastic wildlife in the area, such as the endangered Iriomote wildcat. Alternatively, take a kayak ride on the island’s river to discover the jungle from the water.
9 Sample The Local Cuisine
OKINAWA, JAPAN: Night view of Japanese food stalls at ‘Yataimura’ in kokusai dori ,naha
Japan is world-famous for its rich gastronomic traditions, and foodies will have an exciting time treating their taste buds to the local flavors. However, Okinawan cuisine differs from many parts of the country, which should incentivize tourists to try out its offerings. Many dishes here are closely related to Taiwanese cuisine, with pork forming the staple of most meal servings.
Most recipes incorporate bitter melon and purple yams, which should be a unique taste for many and a new experience. Guests can also sample tasty tropical fruits like papaya and dragon fruit.
10 Tour Okinawa’s Sacred Site At Sefa Utaki
Sefa Utaki is considered one of the holiest sites in Okinawa, Japan.
Sefa Utaki is one of the island’s most sacred places. It is an important site in the traditional Okinawan religion, which advocates for nature worship. Sefa Utaki was especially significant in the early 16th century when it was a major location for religious rituals and ceremonies.
Today, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and receives visitors coming to pay homage to the holy site or witness it.
11 Best Time To Visit Okinawa
Naha, Okinawa, Japan downtown skyline at night.
Okinawa’s subtropical climate allows the islands to enjoy warm weather most of the year, making it a worthy destination throughout the seasons. The best time to visit Okinawa is spring or autumn when the sun isn’t too hot, and conditions are perfect for partaking in its significant attractions.
Spring marks the beginning of the beach season, and tourists head to the coast to make the most of marine sports and beach activities. Okinawa is also the perfect spot to witness cherry blossoms as it is one of the first areas in the country where the phenomenon occurs.
Summer is the hottest season on the island, with temperatures soaring to a scorching 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But this doesn’t deter tourists from flocking to Okinawa, meaning it’s the busiest time of the year. It is also the rainiest season, which comes with the risk of typhoons. Guests are advised to check local weather forecasts before traveling.
Pack a pair of sunglasses, a hat, and sunblock to cope better with the hot conditions.
Winters are not very cold in Okinawa. With highs of 80+ degrees Fahrenheit, guests will be excused for wanting to venture outside or go to the beach. Constant showers can limit outdoor expeditions.
12 Best Ways To Get Around Okinawa
Naha city non-step bus running through palm tree lined streets under Okinawa blue summer sky
Navigating Okinawa Island will be a breeze for tourists thanks to various reliable transportation options. Whether planning to stay within the city limits or venture outside, travelers can choose from various modes of travel.
Taking the monorail is the most convenient way to move around Okinawa. It is shielded from traffic, which can be frustrating in the high season, and fast. Taking just 27 minutes from Naha Airport to Shuri, the journey is almost half an hour faster than using a bus.
Also, the elevated rail (60+ feet above ground) allows passengers to enjoy scenic views of the surrounding during the journey.
Hiring a rental is the best way to get around for those planning to visit distant attractions. It offers the flexibility to follow a customizable itinerary and explore the island at a preferred pace.
Several rental companies in Okinawa offer guests easy access to a set of wheels, with some stationed at Naha Airport and other major towns. Besides cars, tourists can rent RVs to suit the whole family or group.
: About $15-$30 per day
Traffic jams are common in central Okinawa and Naha during the morning and evening rush hours. Tourists might want to avoid these, especially on weekdays.
Opt for a rental with an electronic toll payment (ETC) card to avoid wasting time driving on the expressway.
Okinawa’s main island has a comprehensive bus network linking passengers to different destinations. Fares are paid in cash or via an OKICA IC card, which can be accessed at monorail stations and bus depots.
The only issue with buses is that some lines can be infrequent, and getting the right connection can prove daunting.
10,000 and 5,000 bills will not be accepted when paying bus fares, so carry enough change to avoid the inconvenience once onboard.
Taxis are commonplace in Japan, but Okinawa operators are cheaper than most areas in the country, which makes them a popular option for tourists. Some of these double up as guides and come in handy for those unsure where to go or what to see.
Approximately $4 plus $1.5 per additional kilometer
Ferries present a scenic and unique way of exploring the prefecture. With so many islands to scope out, ferries and boats are the best way to access the smaller islands, and the major routes have regular service.
13 Where To Stay In Okinawa
The approach to the beach at Okinawa
There are more than 150 islands in the Okinawa prefecture, so tourists should have no issues finding accommodation. But with so many options, selecting one choice is always a challenge. Not to worry, here are the top areas to stay in Okinawa and their top-rated hotels.
Nago will be an excellent place to stay for those traveling to Okinawa for the first time. It is home to some of the best beaches in the country and major attractions on the island. Guests will have their plates full, from visiting the Orion Happy Park to the quirky Pineapple Park.
Outdoorsy tourists will feel at home at the Busena Marine Park, while historians can learn about local history at the Nago Museum.
The area also offers awesome adventures in the great outdoors and hosts a long list of resorts and hotels. Here are the top accommodations in Nago.
Kanucha Bay Hotel & Villas
: Abu 156-2, Nago 905-2263
Rate per night:
Starts at $277 for 2 guests
: Private beach, Snorkeling, Outdoor pool, Indoor pool, Spa and wellness center, Fitness center, Restaurant, Bar/Lounge, Room service, Free Wi-Fi
Oriental Hotel Okinawa Resort & Spa
: 1490-1 Kise, Nago 905-0026
Rate per night:
Starts at $138 for 2 guests
: Snorkeling, Outdoor pool, Indoor pool, Spa and wellness center, Fitness center, Restaurant, Bar/Lounge, Room service, Free Wi-Fi, Valet parking
Naha is Okinawa’s capital and the largest city in the region. It hosts the main airport on the island, making it the perfect launching pad for tourist activities. Besides a beautiful sandy beach, Naha boasts many attractions, including the historic Shuri castle and the Tsuboya Pottery District.
Despite being the capital, it’s also the most affordable area in Okinawa, so budget travelers will love the rates here.
Novotel Okinawa Naha
: 40 Matsukawa, Naha 902-0062
Rate per night:
Starts at $80
: Outdoor pool, Fitness center, Restaurant, Bar/Lounge, Room service, Free Wi-Fi, Tea/coffee maker, Coffee machine, Coffee shop, Wi-Fi available in all areas
Richmond Hotel Naha Kumoji
: Kumoji 2-23-12, Naha 900-0015
Rate per night:
Starts at $46 for 2 guests
: Restaurant, Room service, Free Wi-Fi, Coffee machine, Wi-Fi available in all areas, Flat-screen TV, Free toiletries, Internet, Parking
Onna is a popular resort destination to the south of Nago City. It is ideal for vacationing families and offers several safe and pristine beaches. It is also famous for the many marine sports opportunities in the area, including diving, snorkeling, and surfing.
The Blue Cave is particularly a crowd favorite, but more sites await, such as Cape Manzamo and Cape Maeda.
The Ritz-Carlton Okinawa
: 1343 – 1 Kise, Nago 905-0026
Rate per night:
Starts at $565 for 2 guests
: Snorkeling, Outdoor pool, Indoor pool, Spa and wellness center, Fitness center, Restaurant, Bar/Lounge, Room service, Free Wi-Fi, Tea/coffee maker
Best Western Okinawa Onna Beach
: Maeda 1888, Onna 904-0417
Rate per night
: Starts at $127 for 2 guests
: Outdoor pool, Beachfront, Restaurant, Free Wi-Fi, Tea/coffee maker, Wi-Fi available in all areas, Flat-screen TV, Free toiletries, Parking
14 Best Places To Eat In Okinawa
The statue of Taiki, the first man from Okinawa to be sent to China to establish a tribute trade.
Japanese cuisine produces some of the most popular dishes in dining circles, and Okinawa is an excellent gastronomic city for culinary enthusiasts. However, the food here differs from the rest of the country due to the region’s unique history and culture.
The island’s remote location to the south meant that locals developed a unique culinary culture that utilizes locally sourced specialty ingredients.
This should guarantee tourists an exciting dining experience with exotic flavors, promising to tickle their taste buds. Consider the following top eateries in Okinawa.
: 2-11-38 Yogi, Okinawa City 904-2174 Okinawa Prefecture
: Weekdays (9 am – 5 pm), Weekends (9 am – 6 pm)
Lunch and dinner:
: 2-13-20 Yamazato, Okinawa City Okinawa Prefecture
: 11 am – 9:30 pm
: 2-99 Miyagi, Chatan-cho, Nakagami-gun 904-0113 Okinawa Prefecture
: 10 am – 5 pm
: 16-14 Misakicho, Ishigaki 907-0012 Okinawa Prefecture
: 12 pm – 12 am
15 Tips To Know When Visiting Okinawa
Beautiful seascape of Okinawa Miyakojima
Okinawa is a delightful destination with plenty of activities to offer tourists. But to get the most out of the vacation, here are useful things to remember visiting this Japanese city.
- Okinawa is a hot and humid city, and temperatures can prove overwhelming for some. Try to constantly hydrate and pack enough warm clothing to try and cope. Dressing conservatively is still recommended.
- Being the cheapest prefecture in Japan, a dollar goes a long way in Okinawa. Tourists might want to spend generously on accommodation to make the most of the vacation.
- Avoid driving on the expressway unless necessary. Although car hires are relatively cheap, the tolls on the expressway can be expensive.
- While Japan accepts international debit and credit cards, carrying cash is recommended in remote islands such as Okinawa. Most old family-run businesses have a preference for cash.
Japanese culture is very much dedicated to etiquette, from basic day-to-day things like eating and conversation. Tourists should be polite and friendly when interacting with locals and try to follow their lead when it comes to public behavior.
16 How To Spend The Perfect Day In Okinawa
Cave in Okinawa, Japan
Okinawa is famous as a tropical destination, so what better way to kick off the day’s adventures than visiting one of its beautiful beaches? To skip the crowds, head to Cape Zanpa, about thirty minutes from Naha. Soak in the sun while lounging on the silky-smooth white sands and take a refreshing dip in the warm sea waters.
Later, visit Curaumi Aquarium to marvel at the rich sea life and interact with exotic marine species behind the protective glass. Proceed to Okinawa World to check out the awesome stalactite and stalagmite formations before restocking the energy reserves with an authentic Okinawan lunch at Makishi public market.
After lunch, catch a taxi to the Tsuboya pottery district and proceed to the Shuri Castle to learn about the unique Okinawa history and culture. Finally, head to the Mihama Americana Village to scope its western offerings and cap off the day with dinner at Darum Soba.
Q: What is Okinawa best known for?
Okinawa is a famous tropical beach destination and is loved for its unique cuisine. It is also one of the best places to be for the Japanese cherry blossom season.
Q: Why is Okinawa so special?
Besides offering fun adventures unique to Japan, Okinawans are known to live longer than most people around the globe. They are less prone to diseases like cancer, dementia, and heart disease.
Q: What is the best month to be in Okinawa?
Okinawa is an excellent spring destination for tourists traveling to Japan, so anytime between March and May will be perfect. However, fall (September to December) won’t disappoint.