Okinawa had been on my bucket list for awhile. My Japanese friends have always told me that it’s “the Hawaii of Japan”. Every time I saw a photo of Okinawa, the gorgeous emerald ocean got me exclaiming “I have to go there!” Last month, I finally got the chance to visit with my boyfriend. There were some unexpected change of plans during our trip, but in the end it turned out to be an amazing experience. To help you put together your own Okinawa itinerary, here are the best highlights from our trip that we thoroughly enjoyed.
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Our Okinawa Itinerary Highlights
Walking around downtown Naha
The feeling on the Okinawa Island is very different from the rest of Japan. When we first arrived, the palm trees lining the roads threw me for a loop that I was in a completely different country. We enjoyed walking around Naha, the biggest city and the capital of Okinawa prefecture.
The main and most famous street down town is Kokusai dori, a mega long street featuring all sorts of shops and restaurants. Although the vibe is quite touristy at times, it is fun to see many shops selling local goods from glassware and pottery, to colorful island style closing. A great place to browse for souvenirs indeed.
Going on a Food hunt
Okinawa has many signature food products. From Okinawa soba, to bittermelon, to sea grapes, to taco rice. I was on a hunt to try them all.
Kokusai street is a great place for food hunting. In addition to the array of restaurants on the main street, there is Kokusai Yatai Mura, a mini village that hosts 20 food stalls that features Okinawa food. We had a delicious time here shop hopping and trying different dishes.
Visiting the Okinawa aquarium
The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world! I was very excited to visit and it certainly did not disappoint. Located in the Ocean Expo Park on the northern side of the island, it is accessible via the Airport Limousine Bus from Naha. It took us about two hours and a half to get there.
The aquarium itself is spread out into three flours. There are many tanks featuring all sorts of fascinating species! The main attraction is the massive Kuroshiro tank that is the home to several giant whale sharks and manta rays! Unfortunately, we did not catch the feeding show that goes on twice daily. However, it was still awe inspiring to see these majestic creatures so up close.
Outside the main aquarium building, there are also some outdoor pools where you can watch adorable dolphins, sea turtles and manatees free of charge. As well, just 5 minutes’ walk from the aquarium inside the Ocean Expo Park, there is a gorgeous emerald beach. We went on a rainy day, but the water looked so beautiful that we could not help but dip our toes in anyways.
Diving at Maeda Point
With pristine coral reefs and a wide variety of tropical species, Okinawa is known as one of the best scuba diving destinations on the planet. With diving companies that take care of divers of all levels, I decided to not miss this opportunity and try diving for the first time here. Originally, we planned to dive in the Keramas, a group of islands about one hour and a half from Naha known for their beautiful dive sites. However, due to the ferries being cancel in fear of typhoon, we were unable to go and opted for diving at Maeda Point on the main Okinawa Island.
Maeda Point is a very popular dive site in Okinawa. The friendly and clean ocean, colorful fishes, and a mysterious “Blue Cave” are all the reasons why people love to dive here. There are many companies with English speaking staffs. We booked a private tour with a company called Sealovers Okinawa. Our instructor took us for a beautiful day out under the water. He spoke English very well and was very gentle with teaching a nerve-racked first timer like me.We were given bread pieces to feed the fishes. There were so many! The company also took photos of us for free with their underwater camera. It was an amazing experience and one that I would highly recommend!
Staying at the Moon Beach Hotel
This was a total splurge on our end but also the biggest highlight of our trip. The Moon Beach Hotel is located near Cape Maeda. We stayed here for two nights and it was tremendous. The room we stayed in was spacious, clean, and had a beautiful ocean view from the balcony.
There were two swimming pools in the hotel, one of which was an infinity pool right by a private beach! Watching the sunset over the sea while sitting inside the infinity pool was amazing.
The facility also had many restaurants, shops and activities. At night, we enjoyed the buffet dinner while watching Polynesian dancers perform to tropical music. Time passed in a dream like state while we were here. It was exactly the relaxing holiday that I needed. I would definitely recommend the Moon Beach Hotel for a romantic getaway or a family vacation.
Okinawa Itinerary Planning Tips
Here are some things you should know before going to Okinawa (I learned a couple the hard way):
Okinawa is big!
The Okinawa Island is the 5th largest island in Japan. Many points of interest are very spread out. Naha, its capital city, is located on the southern end of the island. It is where most tourists fly in from. However, there are many beautiful attractions on the northern end of the island. If you want to visit these places, be prepared to travel two to three hours. In addition to the main island, the Okinawa prefecture includes many small islands. The Kerema islands are famous dive sites, Ishigaki is great for sailing, and Iriomote is popular for jungle exploring. These islands can be reached by flights or ferries. So give yourselves a lot of time to explore, especially if you want to discover some of the more remote islands.
Public transport is not so great
In addition to everything being spread out, the public transportation system on the island is not spectacular. With the exception of Monorail in central Naha, public transportation on the main island is limited to buses. It is a little confusing to find the right connections, especially if you do not speak Japanese. The wait time between buses is also very long at times. The best option is to rent a car. We made the mistake of not doing so during our trip and definitely regretted it.
Typhoon season is no joke
Do yourself a favor and do not book your trip during late August to late September. You would risk running into typhoon in Okinawa and it won’t be fun for your trip. Guess who made this mistake? We did. We booked our trip from September 13 to September 18. As luck would have it, we went right in the middle of a typhoon. The first couple of days were rainy and windy. It was hard to do much (Although we tried our best anyways. The aquarium was a good indoor option). Luckily, the weather god decided to be more kind to us for the last half of our trip. The advised best time to visit Okinawa is March to May, during spring when the weather is not too hot.
Okinawa is truly a slice of paradise on earth. We wish we had more time there. A return trip is already on my mind!
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