The traditional image we have of Japan is of mountains, geisha, ultra-fast trains, and crowds, but that's not all. If you look closely at the map you will discover a group of islands far from the main islands that make up the okinawa prefecture.
If you like world history you will remember that bloody battles took place here during the Second War, but beyond the tragic chapter the region is considered the Caribbean of Japan: paradise islands, wonderful beaches, heat all year round and a relaxed atmosphere that invites you to relax and have fun. But there are so many islands that as foreigners we cannot help worrying a bit. What do we visit? What do we do?
It is not a single island but a whole archipelago made up of numerous islands, large and small, inhabited and sparsely inhabited. The people here speak a particular dialect and have their own culture different from that of central Japan and that has an explanation: Okinawa was for a long time an independent kingdom. It was the Kingdom of Ryukyu and at the time it numbered a hundred subtropical islands located along 700 kilometers from Kyushu to Taiwan.
Its superb climate has made these islands the Most popular summer vacation destination for Japanese. If we add the fact that they are well connected with the most important cities (Tokyo, Hiroshima, Osaka, Nagasaki, etc.), we have in our hands a destination perhaps not so frequent among foreign tourists but it is highly recommended if you destination is Japan in summer.
When to go to Okinawa
The climate of these islands is subtropical and that means that it's hot all year, even in the winter months, although it is not advisable to go neither in January nor in February because although it is 20ºC it is cloudy and somewhat cool to get into the sea. Between the end of March and April is a good time, but you have to avoid the so-called Golden Week which is a succession of Japanese holidays because it gets crowded.
The rainy season begins in May early and lasts until the end of June so it is not convenient because it rains every day The summer remains, hot and humid, but still the most tourist season because afterwards the typhoon season and that does scare people away.
How to get to Okinawa
It has to be said that most low-cost airlines have flights connecting central Japan to Naha, the capital of Okinawa prefecture. These flights are very convenient because they can be around 90 euros or less and for us foreigners, there are good offers that we can buy from outside of Japan.
To compete with these airlines, the largest companies have special tickets that start to be sold, in general, in January (always thinking about a trip in summer), but if you visit the websites of the low-cost airlines you will find more than interesting offers all year. I'm talking about companies like Peach Aviation, for example, with rates starting at $ 30. A bargain!
The flights leave you mostly in Naha, and also in the Ishigaki and Miyako islands. Wondering about the ferries? Not many ferries, they have decreased a lot in recent years and the distances between the central islands and Okinawa are enormous so the plane is more convenient. Even ferries between nearby islands are rare, and planes come and go as the most common means of transportation.
What to visit in Okinawa
If you get to Naha, the main island of the group has many attractions and it concentrates the typical life of a city, but it really is convenient to leave it after a couple of days because if you are looking for Caribbean beauty you have to go to other islands.
HR Kerama islands, for example, they are a good destination. They are about 30 kilometers from Naha, they are the closest islands: 20 large islands and islets of sand and coral that make a beautiful postcard and a great place to go diving and snorkeling. For some time now, tourism grew due to the suspension of ferries from Naha to the Yaeyamas and Miyako Islands, so when it comes to doing short excursions people choose to come here.
Other islands near Naha are the Iheya Islands, an island with a lot of history and culture, and Noho, which is connected to the first by a bridge. If you want a bit of Okinawan history, these two islands are good destinations. Another thing you can know is the Route through the sea o Kaichu-doro. It is a tourist route nearly five kilometers long that connects the Yokatsu Peninsula on the central island that connects it with Henza Island. It is the best route to do by car.
Another destination is the Ishigaki-Jima island and from there you can get by ferry to the Taketomi Island. The Kumejima island It is only 90 kilometers away and offers a trail of charming little beaches, the best being Hatenohama, although it can only be reached by tour. How do you get to this island? By plane, there are between six and eight daily flights, only half an hour flights, from Naha or from Haneda airport in summer there is one direct flight per day. The ferry from Naha offers two services per day lasting no more than four hours.
Once on the island we can rent a car, a motorcycle or a bike. Otherwise, there are other islands precious but although they are known and recommended they are nowhere near Naha. I speak of the Miyako, for example, a paradise that is, unfortunately, 300 kilometers away. The ferry does not work anymore so the only way to know them is to arrive by plane.
The question is this: if you have little time it is advisable to base yourself in Naha, enjoy it for about three days and jump to another nearby island to be more in contact with the beautiful nature of the place. Naha offers nightlife, historical attractions, gastronomy, and the conveniences of a typical Japanese city. The rest of the islands, although they have populations with a life of their own, have a more natural offer.
If you have more time, the ideal is to spend a few days in Naha and then stay directly on one of these distant and beautiful islands, but we are talking about more than a week of stay, something rare when one goes on a trip to Japan.