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WPCS 2.1.3

Yaeyama Islands (Okinawa) Add-On Tour

Recommended Length: 3 days/2 nights / Best Access: Tokyo, Osaka
Yaeyama Islands Details

The Yaeyama Islands are both the southernmost and westernmost inhabited islands of Japan. Together with the Miyako Islands and the Okinawa Islands they make up the three main island chains of Okinawa Prefecture.

With their tropical atmosphere and laid back, rural lifestyle, the Yaeyama Islands are a popular getaway destination for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of Japan’s metropolises. This island paradise offers beaches, snorkeling, diving, outdoor activities as as well as just relaxation.

Of the Yaeyama Islands, Ishikgaki Island is the most populated and serves as the region’s transportation hub. Other islands include the jungle covered Iriomote Island and Taketomi Island, famous for its beautifully preserved, traditional Ryukyu village.

Because accommodations are limited on Iriomote and Taketomi Islands, we recommend using Ishigaki Island as home base, and visiting the other islands by ferry as day trips.

Yaeyama Islands Map
Ishigaki Island

Ishigaki Island is the main island of the Yaeyama Islands and the region’s transportation hub. Ishigaki City, Japan’s southernmost city, is the only urban center of the Yaeyama Islands and the site of the region’s major airport and ferry terminal, as well as of lots of hotels, shops, restaurants and bars.

Ishigaki offers several nice beaches and good snorkeling and diving in the surrounding coral reefs. Snorkeling can be enjoyed at nearly every beach on the island, while diving is offered through the numerous dive shops with tours available for all experience levels. If diving, be sure to check out the island’s famed manta rays which congregate in large numbers around Manta Scramble near Kabira Bay.

Ishigaki’s rivers, while not quite as wild as those of nearby Iriomote, also offer a jungle like scenery and are nice to explore by kayak. Ishigaki also has the highest mountain in Okinawa Prefecture as well as various hiking trails throughout the island’s hilly interior.

Ishigaki Island has both sandy beaches and rocky beaches which are covered in small pieces of bleached coral. At the beaches you can enjoy swimming (best during high tide), snorkeling, and diving, or just lay in the sun; and while the beaches are open year round, they are best from April to November when the air temperature consistently tops 25 degrees. The beaches usually have public facilities such as showers, restrooms, and rental shops; however, there are no lifeguards, and the facilities may be closed outside of summer.

Sights on Ishigaki Island

Yonehara Beach

This is one of Ishigaki’s nicest beaches with some of the best snorkeling on the island. The beach is mostly covered in pieces of white coral, and its reef offers great snorkeling and diving. There are shower, restroom and changing facilities, and snorkeling equipment can be rented at the camping site nearby.

Sukuji Beach

The one kilometer long Sukuji Beach, near Kabira Bay, is one of Ishigaki Island’s nicest sand beaches. The waters around Sukuji Beach are shallow with a sandy bottom, and offer swimming and snorkeling¬†with a portion of the beach netted off to protect swimmers from habu jellyfish. Showers, restrooms, and changing rooms are located near the parking area. The Club Med Kabira Ishigaki resort is located at one end of the beach.

Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach is a sandy beach located in a cove along the western side of Ishigaki’s tail shaped northeastern peninsula. The beach is a short walk down from the parking lot and offers swimming and snorkeling that is good even during low tide. Most of the beach is surrounded by a net to protect swimmers from habu jellyfish. Next to the parking lot are picnic areas and paid showers and restrooms.

Kabira Bay

Emerald blue Kabira Bay (Kabirawan) is considered Ishigaki Island’s most scenic view. Swimming, snorkeling and diving in the bay are not allowed, but a touristy 30 minute long glass bottom boat ride lets you take a look at the bay’s underwater world. Kabira Bay, along with Iriomote, are the only two cultivation sites of black pearls in Japan.

Boat Departures: 9:00 to 17:00

Boat Fee: 1200 yen

Tamatorizaki Observation Point

This is an observation platform offering nice views of Cape Tamatori, Ibaruma Bay, Ishigaki’s hilly northern peninsula and the emerald blue ocean with its coral reefs.

Yonehara Palm Tree Groves

Walking trails lead through this palm forest, which features several dozen types of palm tree varieties, including the tall, native Yaeyama Palm, a designated national natural monument.

Yaeyama Museum

The Yaeyama Museum displays historical and cultural items of the Yaeyama Islands. On display are wooden canoes, pottery, traditional clothing and household items as well as items from the various festivals and cultural events held among the islands.

Miyara Dunchi

Miyara Dunchi is a preserved samurai style residence, built by a local nobleman in 1819. Similar residences on Okinawa Island were mostly destroyed in the war, making Miyara Dunchi a rare surviving example. It is not possible to enter the house, but you can walk around the outside of the house and visit its small garden.

Ishigaki Yaima Village

Ishigaki Yaima Village is a collection of relocated Yaeyama Island-style residences from across the archipelago. There are a variety of activities at the village including a traditional song and dance performance which is held three times daily in one of the houses and reminiscent of the traditional form of entertainment. There is also a small mangrove area, a squirrel monkey park as well as a restaurant and a souvenir shop.
Ishigaki Island Tours/Activities

River Kayak Tours

Tours depart in the mornings and afternoons

Fee: around 6500 yen for a 3-hour tour

Kayak tours are offered on the mangrove lined Miyara River (not far from the city center) and Fukido River (near Yonehara Beach). Tours start around 4000 yen per person for a 90 minute guided tour. Unguided boat rentals are not available.

Kabira Bay Glass Bottom Boats

Explore the coral gardens through a glass-bottom boat. The emerald sea against a blue sky, fine white sands and shoreline forests all make Kabira Bay one of the greatest spots for natural beauty on Ishigaki Island. There’s an observation spot that provides a breathtaking view of the bay and its nine uninhabited islands, and there’s plenty to see at ground level too. But the best way to see the bay up-close is to spend an hour in one of the glass-bottomed boats.

The glass-bottomed boats all charge around 1,000 yen for adults and 500 yen for children for a 30-minute ride.

Snorkeling and Diving

Experience the fun of diving at a tropical island and meet up with manta rays. Okinawa has no shortage of fabulous locations for diving and snorkeling, but if you want to experience something special, head for Ishigaki Island in summer or early autumn when manta rays congregate in Kabira Bay.

Taketomi Island

Taketomi Island is an island just off the coast of Ishigaki Island and the site of a beautifully preserved, traditional Ryukyu village. As Taketomi Island is fairly small, it is often visited as a day trip from Ishigaki.

Thanks to preservation efforts, the small village consists almost entirely of traditional style, one-storied houses, which are surrounded by stone walls, and covered with red tiled roofs and ample lion-like shisa statues to ward of evil spirits. A few of the village’s houses serve as minshuku accommodations.

Other traditional homes inside the village are used as restaurants and shops selling local food and crafts. There are no rental cars on Taketomi, and most visitors either walk or rent a bicycle to travel through the village’s white sand roads and to the nearby beaches along the western shore of the island.

Taketomi Island has both sandy beaches and rocky beaches where you can enjoy swimming and snorkeling. Except for Kondoi Beach, the beaches do not have any public facilities.

Sights on Taketomi Island

Kondoi Beach

Kondoi Beach is Taketomi Island’s best beach with emerald green water with a shallow, sandy floor. It has a large white sand beach that is perfect for laying out in the sun, and warm waters to swim in, although they are too shallow to swim in during low tide. Grassy, shaded picnic areas as well as restroom, changing, and rental facilities are also available.

Kaiji Beach

This beach, together with Hoshizuna Beach on Iriomote Island, is known for its sand which is shaped like tiny stars (although it is actually made up of the skeletons of small one-celled organisms that live among the sea grass). Though a protected beach today, little star sand remains as it was bottled and sold as souvenirs in past decades. Swimming is prohibited due to strong tidal currents.

Taketomi Island Tours/Activities

Water Buffalo Cart Rides

Two companies offer water buffalo drawn cart tours of Taketomi Village. The 30 minute tours travel around the preserved, traditional streets of the village while a Japanese speaking guide talks about the island, sings songs and plays Okinawan music on their sanshin (Okinawan stringed instrument). You may notice that the guides rarely offer guidance to the water buffalo who know their routes by heart.
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Fee: 1500 yen
Iriomote Island

Iriomote Island is Okinawa’s second largest island. It is largely undeveloped, with nearly 90 percent of its land covered by dense jungle and mangrove forests. Wide areas of the island are part of the Iriomote Ishigaki National Park, the southernmost of Japan’s national parks and one of the country’s most unique.

The island’s attractions are based around tours to Iriomote’s abundant nature including sea and river kayaking, fishing and sailing. Other activities can be enjoyed either on tours or individually such as beaches, snorkeling and various hiking trails. The trails range in difficulty from beginner level to a 20 kilometer path through the interior of the island which should only be tackled by experienced and well prepared hikers.

Iriomote is also a popular scuba diving destination especially at Manta Way, the strait between Iriomote and nearby Kohama Island, where schools of manta rays congregate in spring and summer. Diving tours are available for all skill levels.

The island is also home to the Iriomote Yamaneko, a type of wildcat, which was discovered in 1965 and is only found on Iriomote Island. The chances of encountering an Iriomote Yamaneko are low as the nocturnal, house cat sized animal is an endangered species that is thought to number less than 100.

Sights on Iriomote Island

Omisha Road Park

Omisha Road Park is a small rest area with a parking lot along the side of the main road that has short walking paths. Visitors can follow the walking paths that lead into a mangrove forest on the one side and to a small river on the other side.

Hoshizuna no Hama Beach

Hoshizuna no Hama means star sand beach, and is so named because the grains of sand found here are shaped like tiny stars. The sand is actually the skeletons of small one-celled organisms that live among the sea grass. This beach offers nice snorkeling and swimming, but is rather shallow during low tide. There are no public facilities at the beach besides the parking lot.

Tudumari no Hama Beach

Tudumari no Hama is a quiet beach also known as Tsukigahama (Moon Beach) for its crescent shape. The wide beach is one of the best sunset spots on the island. The Urauchi River flows out into the sea on the southern end of Tudumari no Hama carrying with it lots of fine sand deposits which can be seen at the mouth of the river.

Yamaneko Museum (Iriomote Wildlife Conservation Center)

This museum serves also as a refuge for Iriomote Yamaneko that are rescued after being injured by cars. The wildcats can only be viewed through a live video feed, while the rest of the museum has displays on the ecology of the Yamaneko and other animals found on the island. English explanations are provided throughout the museum.

Iriomote Island Tours/Activities

Urauchi River Cruise

Boat Departures: 9:00 to 15:30
Closed: No closing days
Fee: 2200 yen

Urauchi River is the largest river on Iriomote and is found near Uehara Port on the north western side of the island. The hour long cruises travel along the Urauchi River to a trailhead from where it is a 45 minute walk through the jungle to two beautiful waterfalls, Mariyudo and Kampire.

Nakama River Cruise

Boat Departures: boats depart only during high tide
Closed: No closing days
Fee: 1850 yen

The Nakama River Cruises start in the south of the island in Ohara and travel inland to a large mangrove tree where you can get off and walk around for a few minutes before catching a return boat. The hour long cruise has Japanese speaking guides who describe the river and mangrove trees along the way.

Kayak River Tours

Fee: around 8000 yen for a guided 3-hour tour
Kayak tours (commonly called “canoe tours” by local operators) are offered on the mangrove-lined Urauchi and Nakama Rivers as well as many of the smaller rivers around the island. Each river has one or two companies operating on it, with 2-hour guided tours starting at about 6000 yen per person (reservations should be made in advance). A small number of operators also offer unguided kayak rentals.

Pinaisara Falls

Fee: from 7000 yen for a half day tour
With a vertical drop of about 55 meters, the Pinaisara Falls are Okinawa Prefecture’s tallest waterfall. The falls can only be reached by a 30-40 minute kayak ride along a mangrove-lined river, followed by a 30-40 minute hike into the jungle. Half day tours lead to the plunge pool at the base of the waterfall where visitors can jump in to cool off as well as have lunch in the surrounding jungle. Full day hiking tours continue to the top of the waterfall and require a certain level of fitness.

Yubujima Suigyu Cart Ride

Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Closed: No closing days
Fee: 1760 yen includes entry to the islands botanical garden
Yubujima is a small island separated from Iriomote by a shallow, sandy strait. Water buffalo take carts filled with visitors to the island where there are restaurants, souvenir shops and a botanical garden. The cart rides are interesting, if not touristy, and some cart drivers describe the island’s history and play the sanshin (Okinawan stringed instrument).
Yaeyama Islands Photo Gallery
Pricing

Kyoto, Osaka

Travel Time: 5 Hours
$994.00 per person based on double occupancy
Single Supplement: $250.00

Tokyo

Travel Time: 4 Hours
$944.00 per person based on double occupancy
Single Supplement: $250.00

Inclusions

Airfare to Ishigaki
Detailed itinerary and directions
Appropriate number of nights at the Art Hotel Ishigakijima with breakfast

Extra nights

$175.00 per person per night based on double occupancy
$200.00 based on single occupancy