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.
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.
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.
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.
Travel Time: 5 Hours
¥108,669 per person based on double occupancy
Single Supplement: ¥27,331
Travel Time: 4 Hours
¥103,203 per person based on double occupancy
Single Supplement: ¥27,331
Airfare to Ishigaki
Detailed itinerary and directions
Appropriate number of nights at the Art Hotel Ishigakijima with breakfast
¥19,132 per person per night based on double occupancy
¥21,865 based on single occupancy