10 Best Things To do In Okinawa Japan For 2024

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Discover the best things to do in Okinawa, Japan, and immerse yourself in a world of breathtaking beauty and cultural wonders. From exploring the historic Shuri Castle and its captivating ruins to indulging in the mouthwatering flavors of Okinawan cuisine, this tropical paradise offers a diverse range of experiences.

Dive into the crystal-clear waters to witness vibrant coral reefs, encounter majestic marine life at the renowned Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, or unwind on the pristine beaches of Miyako Island. Unveil the secrets of Okinawa’s past at the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum, and embark on an unforgettable adventure in this captivating Japanese prefecture.

Things To Do in OkinawaDescription
Okinawa Churaumi AquariumVisit the famous aquarium with diverse marine life
Beautiful beachesRelax and enjoy the pristine beaches
Shuri CastleExplore the historic Shuri Castle
Okinawan cuisineTaste the delicious local Okinawan dishes
Coral reefsGo snorkeling or diving to see vibrant coral reefs
Whale watchingSpot humpback whales and whale sharks
Manta raysSwim with manta rays in the ocean
Yaeyama IslandsDiscover the scenic islands of Yaeyama
Ishigaki IslandVisit Ishigaki Island and its beautiful surroundings
Ocean Expo ParkExplore the park and its various attractions
Kokusai DoriStroll along Kokusai Dori, Naha’s main street
Okinawa WorldExperience Okinawan culture and attractions
Miyako IslandRelax on the picturesque Miyako Island
Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial MuseumLearn about the history of Okinawa and the Battle of Okinawa
Naha CityExplore the capital city of Okinawa
Kerama IslandsEnjoy the scenic beauty and marine activities
Main attractionsVisit the main tourist attractions in Okinawa
Okinawa HontoExplore the main island of Okinawa
Remote islandsDiscover the remote and uninhabited islands
Iriomote IslandExperience the lush nature of Iriomote Island
Sefa UtakiVisit the sacred site of Sefa Utaki
Kouri IslandEnjoy the beautiful beaches and Kouri Bridge

Okinawa is a prefecture made up of hundreds of islands in southern Japan. Located in the East China Sea between the Japanese mainland and Taiwan, it was once known as the Ryukyu Kingdom before becoming part of Japan in the late 1800s. With its beautiful beaches, coral reefs, and unique culture, Okinawa has become a popular tourist destination. If you’re planning a trip to Okinawa in 2024, there are many exciting things to do and see. Here are some of the best things to experience on the islands of Okinawa:

Explore Okinawa’s Main Island

The largest and most populated island in Okinawa is Okinawa Honto, also known as Okinawa’s main island. About half of Okinawa’s population lives here. The capital city Naha is located on the south end of the island and makes a great base for exploring.

Some of the top attractions on the main island include:

  • Shuri Castle – Once the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, this gated castle complex dates back to the 14th century. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
  • Okinawa Prefectural Museum – Learn about Okinawa’s unique culture, history, and nature at this museum in the Omoromachi district.
  • Kokusai Dori – This busy street in Naha boasts restaurants, souvenir shops, and a covered 1.6 km long arcade.
  • Cape Manzamo – Enjoy scenic views from this cape on Okinawa’s northern coast. The strange elephant rock formation jutting from the water is a popular photo spot.
  • Okinawa World – This large theme park showcases traditional Okinawan architecture, crafts, music, and dance.

Relax on the Beaches

Okinawa is famous for its beautiful beaches with white sand and crystal-clear blue waters. The best beaches are found on the smaller islands as well as the Motobu Peninsula on the main island.

Some top beaches include:

  • Emerald Beach on Miyako Island – Known for having some of the most perfect shores in the world. The water is an incredible shade of blue.
  • Sunset Beach on Ishigaki Island – A stunning stretch of sand great for swimming and snorkeling. Stay to watch the sunset over the ocean.
  • Nirai Beach on the Motobu Peninsula – A peaceful beach perfect for families. The calm, shallow waters make it ideal for small children.
  • Blue Cave Beach on the Kerama Islands – Swim and snorkel inside this unique blue cave accessed by boat.

Snorkel or Dive the Colorful Coral Reefs

Okinawa sits by some of the most biodiverse coral reefs in the world. The tropical waters around the islands teem with marine life. Snorkeling and scuba diving allow visitors to experience these underwater paradises up close.

Okinawa’s top spots for snorkeling and diving include:

  • Zamami Island – Encounter sea turtles, manta rays, whale sharks, and a kaleidoscope of reef fish.
  • Kerama Islands – See sea snakes, octopus, anemones, and schools of fish. The coral formations and visibility make it great for underwater photography.
  • Yonaguni Island – Known for hammerhead sharks, rays, and macro sealife. Advanced divers can explore the Yonaguni Monument, mysterious rock formations believed to be over 5,000 years old.

Learn about Okinawa’s History & Culture

In addition to natural beauty, Okinawa has a unique culture. Okinawa was once an independent kingdom with distinct traditions, architecture, festivals, and cuisine. Visitors can learn about Okinawa’s history and culture at these spots:

  • Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum – Chronicles the devastating Battle of Okinawa during World War II through photographs, artifacts, and memorials. A must-see to understand Okinawa’s complex history.
  • Shikinaen Royal Garden – Traditional Ryukyuan architecture and gardens that were once part of Shuri Castle.
  • Naha’s Tsuboya and Tamaudun Tombs – These historic pottery-making and burial sites provide insight into the Ryukyuan Kingdom.
  • Attend a local festival – From dragon boat races to tug-of-war contests, Okinawa’s festivals showcase vibrant culture. Schedule your visit around one.

Savor Okinawan Cuisine

Distinct ingredients and flavors set Okinawan food culture apart. It’s influenced by Japanese and Southeast Asian cuisine. Try local delicacies like goya (bitter melon), purple yams, sea grapes, Blue Seal ice cream, awamori liquor, and Orion beer.

The best places to sample Okinawan fare include:

  • Naha’s Kokusai Dori restaurants and izakayas (pubs)
  • Makishi Public Market to browse stalls selling fresh seafood, produce, and street food
  • Hotel restaurants specializing in traditional multi-course kaiseki dining
  • Distilleries offering tastings and tours on the Yaeyama Islands

Relax in the Semi-Tropical Climate

Okinawa boasts a lovely semi-tropical, subtropical climate year-round. Average highs range from 20°C in winter up to over 30°C in summer. With little rain and humidity, winter is the peak tourist season.

Ways to enjoy the warm climate include:

  • Visiting a beach resort to relax on the sand and swim
  • Exploring outdoor attractions like botanical gardens and nature parks
  • Trying watersports like paddleboarding, kayaking, and snorkeling
  • Strolling through outdoor markets and gardens
  • Taking walking tours and hikes in the lush, green landscapes

Island Hop to Smaller Islands

In addition to Okinawa Honto, make time to visit some of Okinawa’s smaller, outer islands. You’ll find beaches, jungles, mangroves, and quiet villages to explore. Some islands worth visiting:

  • Miyako Island – Known for picture-perfect beaches, mangroves, and sugarcane fields. Relax or enjoy water sports.
  • Ishigaki Island – Lush jungle landscapes. Hike to viewpoints and waterfalls.
  • Iriomote Island – Jungle-covered island with rivers and mangroves to explore by boat. Spot unique wildlife like the Iriomote wildcat.
  • Zamami Island – White sand beaches and calm turquoise waters perfect for swimming, kayaking, and snorkeling.
  • Kume Island – Untouched island with rock formations, forests, and beaches without the crowds.

Go Whale Watching

Between January and March each year, humpback whales migrate through Okinawa’s warm waters to mate and give birth. This makes it a prime spot for whale watching.

The best places to spot whales include:

  • Zamami Island – Take a boat tour to see humpbacks swimming and breaching.
  • Motobu Peninsula – Join a whale watching cruise leaving from the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.
  • Kerama Islands – A top whale watching destination from December through April.

No matter what you’re interested in –

culture, nature, history, or food – Okinawa offers memorable experiences. With tropical landscapes, family-friendly activities, and unique attractions, it’s an incredible place to explore in 2024. Getting around via public transportation or by renting a car allows you to see the diversity of islands that make Okinawa so special. Any time of year is great for an Okinawan adventure.

When to Visit Okinawa

Okinawa enjoys a lovely subtropical climate all year long, but some times are better than others for certain activities.

The best time to visit Okinawa is during the spring months of March to May when the temperatures are warm and comfortable. Average highs are in the low to mid 20°C range. Rainfall is lower than other months, and flowers like cherry blossoms start blooming.

Summer from June to August brings hot and humid weather to Okinawa. High temperatures hover around 30°C. It’s peak beach season, but the rains also pick up during June and July.

Autumn from September to November sees slightly cooler temperatures, less humidity, and fewer rainy days. September still feels like summer while November has average highs of 23°C.

Winter is Okinawa’s coolest season. December to February daytime highs average from 15-20°C. Whale watching activities start in January while February hosts the colorful Nago Cherry Blossom Festival.

No matter when you visit, pack light clothing, swimwear, sun protection, and rain gear during wet months. Be prepared for cool and warm weather.

Getting to Okinawa

Okinawa is located about 400 miles south of Japan’s main islands. You can fly directly to Naha Airport from major cities across Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia.

From Tokyo, there are over a dozen daily nonstop flights that take about 2.5 hours. Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and other Japanese cities have frequent direct flights as well.

Full-service and budget airlines like JAL, ANA, Peach, and Jetstar Japan offer competitive fares, especially if booked in advance.

Within Okinawa, smaller inter-island flights connect Naha Airport to places like Ishigaki Airport. Ferries are another way to island hop.

Naha Airport is located just outside the capital city. It’s easy to reach the city center by monorail, bus, or taxi. Rental cars are available at the airport for exploring Okinawa’s main island.

Getting Around Okinawa

Public transportation options make it easy to get around Okinawa’s main island without a car. Within Naha city, the monorail and buses are convenient. Taxis are affordable for shorter trips.

To reach other parts of the main island, highways link major towns while local and express buses serve various destinations. JR Okinawa Urban Monorail trains connect the airport to central Naha.

For outer islands, scheduled ferries and high-speed boats take passengers to places like Kerama, Zamami, Tokashiki, and Ishigaki Islands.

Having a rental car allows ultimate flexibility for sightseeing. Major agencies like Toyota, Nissan, and Mazda have locations across Okinawa. Drive on the left side of the road. International driving permits are required for non-Japanese licenses.

Taxis and rental bicycles are good for leisurely island sightseeing. Walking around central Naha and island villages is enjoyable too.

Where to Stay in Okinawa

Okinawa offers diverse lodging options to fit any budget and style. For beach vacations, many opt to stay at a resort along the coast. Some recommended places include:

  • The Ritz-Carlton Okinawa – Luxury rooms with private terraces, multiple pools, a spa, and a golf course on the beach in Onna Village.
  • Ishigaki Island Resort Yaeyama – Chic villas blend Japanese and Okinawan design with easy beach access on Ishigaki Island.
  • Hotel Moon Beach – Stylish boutique hotel on the Motobu Peninsula with an infinity pool overlooking the sea.

In Naha city, hotels range from high-rise towers in the downtown to smaller business hotels. Benefits include proximity to dining, shopping, and attractions. Good options include Hotel JAL City and Toyoko Inn Naha Asahibashi.

For a local experience, lodging like guesthouses, pensions, and Airbnbs are available, especially on smaller islands. Book early as Okinawa is very popular.

Sample 5-Day Okinawa Itinerary

With 5 days in Okinawa, you can experience a mix of must-see sights and island hopping. Here is a recommended itinerary:

Day 1 – Naha & Shuri Castle

  • Arrive at Naha Airport, pick up a rental car
  • Visit Shuri Castle and walk through the Shikinaen Royal Gardens
  • Drive to Cape Manzamo for scenic views and elephant rock
  • Dine at a restaurant on Kokusai Dori Street in Naha

Day 2 – Snorkeling in Zamami

  • Take the early ferry to Zamami Island
  • Snorkel at Ama Beach to see coral, fish, and sea turtles
  • Relax on Furuzamami Beach’s long stretch of sand
  • Stay overnight in Zamami Village

Day 3 – Miyako Island Tour

  • Return ferry to Okinawa main island
  • Fly from Naha to Miyako Island
  • Visit picturesque Hirara’s Old Town district
  • See palm trees at Yonaha Maehama Beach
  • Marvel at the perfect sands of Emerald Beach

Day 4 – Churaumi Aquarium & Whale Watching

  • Return flight to Naha Airport
  • Visit Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium to see whale sharks and coral
  • Join a whale watching cruise in the East China Sea
  • Drive up to Kouri Island and Ponta Cape for sunset views

Day 5 – Okinawa World & Naha

  • Tour the traditional architecture, crafts, and performances at Okinawa World
  • Visit Tsuboya Pottery Street and Tamaudun Royal Tombs
  • Shop and dine on Kokusai Dori Street before departing

This provides a taste of Okinawa’s top highlights while still allowing time to relax. Extend to 7-10 days to include more islands like Ishigaki, Iriomote, or Taketomi.

Experience the Beauty of Okinawa

With tropical landscapes, rich culture, friendly people, and unique attractions, Okinawa provides an amazing and memorable destination. The island offers laid-back beach vibes, underwater marine adventures, historic sights, hiking through jungles, and much more. Okinawa has something for every type of traveler. Use this guide to help plan your own perfect trip in 2024!

Conclusion

Okinawa is a one-of-a-kind destination that makes for an incredible vacation. The islands offer natural beauty, outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, and delicious cuisine you won’t find anywhere else in Japan.

With convenient flights from mainland Japan and other Asian cities, Okinawa deserves a spot high on your travel bucket list. The warm climate and sights give you ample things to do no matter when you visit.

Whether you seek relaxation on sandy beaches, encountering whales and sea life while diving, exploring jungle interiors or historic landmarks, Okinawa has it. Getting around via a rental car or public transportation provides flexibility.

Stay in a comfortable hotel or immerse yourself in local life at a small pension. Trying delicious Okinawan dishes and participating in a local festival lets you dive into the unique customs.

While the main island has plenty of sights, don’t miss venturing to smaller islands for an even more quintessential Okinawan experience. The outer islands showcase the tropical landscapes and laid-back atmosphere that draw visitors.

For an amazing getaway where Japanese culture intertwines with island life, Okinawa is just waiting to be explored. Start planning your trip today and get ready for a vacation you won’t forget anytime soon!

FAQ: Best Things To Do in Okinawa

What is Okinawa?

Okinawa is a prefecture made up of hundreds of islands in southern Japan. The largest and most populated island is Okinawa Island. With its sub-tropical climate, pristine beaches, and unique culture, Okinawa is a popular tourist destination.

Where is Okinawa located?

The Okinawa prefecture is located in the East China Sea, south of mainland Japan. Okinawa Island is about 400 miles south of Tokyo.

Why is Okinawa a great place to visit?

With its beautiful white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and coral reefs, Okinawa is a tropical paradise. The islands offer plenty of natural beauty, cultural sites, delicious cuisine, and a more laidback vibe compared to mainland Japan. The warm climate makes Okinawa a great place to visit year-round.

What are the main islands in Okinawa?

The largest and most visited island is Okinawa Island. Other popular islands include Miyako Island, Ishigaki Island, Iriomote Island, and Kerama Islands. There are also many smaller uninhabited islands.

What are the best things to do in Okinawa?

  • Relax on the gorgeous beaches – Head to popular spots like Emerald Beach, Sunset Beach, Moon Beach.
  • Go snorkeling or scuba diving to see coral reefs and tropical fish. Good spots are Zanpa Cape and Manza Beach.
  • Visit Shuri Castle ruins, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
  • Explore Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, one of the world’s largest aquariums.
  • Hike in Yanbaru National Park, home to dense jungle and mangrove forests.
  • Learn about Okinawa’s role in WWII by visiting the Okinawa Peace Memorial.
  • Experience traditional Okinawan culture at Sefa Utaki, a sacred site.
  • Shop and dine at the popular American Village (Mihama American Village).
  • Take a day trip to a smaller island like Taketomi Island.
  • Attend an Eisa dance performance, a traditional Okinawan dance.
  • Visit the colorful Naminoue Shrine.
  • Tour the Churaumi Botanical Garden in the north.
  • See pineapple fields, a major Okinawa crop.

When is the best time to visit Okinawa?

The best time is from late March to early June when the temperatures are warm and comfortable. Late September to November is also nice. The rainy season runs from May to mid-June. July to August is very hot, humid, and crowded.

What is the weather like in Okinawa?

Okinawa has a subtropical climate. It’s mostly hot and humid year-round. Summer is the warmest season with temperatures around 85°F. Winters are mild, with highs around 68°F. Rainfall is moderate, with the rainy season in late spring and early summer.

Do I need a visa to visit Okinawa?

Citizens of many countries, including the USA, Canada, UK, Australia, and EU countries do not need a visa for stays under 90 days. Some nationalities will need to apply for a tourist visa in advance.

How do I get to the main island of Okinawa?

You can fly directly to Naha Airport on Okinawa Island or take a domestic flight to Naha from Tokyo, Osaka, or other big cities in Japan. You can also take a ferry from ports in Kyushu.

Should I rent a car in Okinawa?

Renting a car is recommended if you want to explore extensively and reach sights outside of the main towns. Driving on the left side of the road takes some adjustment. Another option is hiring a taxi for the day. Buses are available but may be limiting.

What is there to do in Okinawa besides the beach?

Don’t miss Okinawa’s unique culture seen in ancient historical sites, festivals, architecture, arts, cuisine, and more. Go shopping and dining in Naha City. Visit ruins like Nakagusuku Castle and Katsuren Castle. Check out museums about Okinawa’s history. The botanical gardens and national parks offer natural beauty.

What souvenirs are good to buy in Okinawa?

Popular souvenirs include awamori (local distilled liquor), snacks like chinsuko cookies, sea salt, handcrafted pottery, woven fabrics, blown glass, and ornaments. Get traditional clothes and hats. Also look for shell or coral jewelry.

Is Okinawa expensive?

Okinawa is generally more expensive than mainland Japan due to higher transportation costs. Hotel rooms and dining tend to cost more than other parts of Japan. But with budgeting, you can find more affordable accommodations, eat cheap local foods, take public transport, and limit activities with extra costs.

What should I know for my first trip to Okinawa?

  • Get ready for a more laidback, beachy vibe compared to the rest of Japan.
  • You don’t need to tip.
  • Convenience stores have cheap, tasty meals/drinks.
  • It will be hot and humid – light clothes and stay hydrated.
  • Bring plenty of sunscreen!
  • Have cash on hand – some places don’t take cards.
  • Learn a few basic Japanese phrases.
  • Get an international data plan for your smartphone if needed.
  • Be prepared for some sounds of nature like frogs and insects at night.

Is Okinawa family-friendly?

Definitely! Okinawa offers plenty to do for families like aquariums, a petting zoo, water parks, paddleboarding, interactive museums, and cultural/historical sites. Many hotels have play areas and some offer family rooms. There are kid-friendly restaurants and shops. The beaches are nice for families too.

How should I get around the islands?

To explore multiple islands, flying is the most efficient transportation option. Ferries are available between some islands but can take several hours one-way. Within islands, you can take local buses, taxis, or rental cars. Consider a package bus tour to see the highlights.

Is it safe to travel to Okinawa?

In general, Okinawa is very safe, with low crime rates. Standard travel precautions still apply. Don’t leave valuables unattended on the beach. Be careful of riptides at beaches. Take normal safety measures as you would anywhere else.

Do people speak English in Okinawa?

English is not widely spoken outside of major tourist areas. Learn some Japanese phrases and travel with someone who can speak Japanese if possible. Have your hotel write down any important info. Taxis and tours can help if you don’t speak Japanese. You can get by with some creative communications.

What is the currency used in Okinawa?

As part of Japan, Okinawa uses the Japanese Yen (JPY). Credit cards are widely accepted at hotels, larger restaurants, and stores. Have some cash for smaller establishments, street markets, or rural areas. ATMs are available at convenience stores and banks for cash withdrawal.

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