Okinawa Diving: a lionfish over a colorful coral reef
Diving Trips,  The Pacific Islands

How to Plan the Most Amazing Okinawa Diving Trip

Ahh, Okinawa!   My first Okinawa diving trip was beyond my wildest dreams.

When I began planning for my scuba diving in Okinawa Japan, I didn’t know what to expect as there was limited information available online about traveling to Okinawa, particularly in English. 

There were general travel guides in English, but more specific recommendations or tips were mostly in Japanese.  And I certainly had not heard anything about the quality of Okinawa diving despite having dived many places around the world and met fellow divers from across the globe.

But as it turned out, Okinawa surprised me in more ways than one

The archipelago located 400 miles south of the mainland of Japan had some of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen, unique cuisines that I had not seen elsewhere in Japan, and the clearest waters I had ever dived in.  

From drop-offs, walls, WWII shipwreck, swim-throughs, caves, to dunes, the underwater landscape of Okinawa blew me away

To add to the diverse dive sites, Okinawa offers fantastic visibility, shallow coral reefs, colorful tropical fishes and mild diving conditions, making it an excellent scuba destination for beginner divers as well as experienced divers.   

I honestly had not expected diving in Japan to be so amazing!

In this post, you will find a list of top 4 Okinawa diving destinations and all the travel tips on diving conditions, marine life, who to dive with, and where to stay!

I hope you find this post helpful in planning your Okinawa diving trip and more importantly, that you enjoy the paradise islands of Okinawa and are blown away by the quality of diving as I was! 

Okinawa coastline
Beautiful Okinawa coastline

Okinawa Scuba Diving Season

Despite the subtropical climate, Okinawa’s winters can be slightly cool, especially in the water.  The water temperatures range from 20°C to 30°C throughout the year, the coldest months being from December to March.  

Despite the cold water temperatures, dive centers throughout Okinawa are open year-round.

When planning a trip to Okinawa Island, keep in mind two factors:

  1. Domestic Holidays.  In Japan, Obon (early August) and the Golden Week (generally at the beginning of May) are major holidays in Japan and Okinawa see an influx of travelers from the mainland.    It’s best to avoid these periods if possible.
  2. The peak of a typhoon season is generally expected between July and August. The visibility is said to be murkier than usual during this season.  However, this is not the rule because I traveled during the second week of August and the weather was perfect with excellent underwater visibility of ~40m.

    Unlike other parts of the world that experience consistent and steady precipitation during the rainy season, Okinawa’s typhoon season can be temperamental.

okinawa itinerary: a speed boat cruising past a harbor

#1: Okinawa Diving in Naha

Due to the incredible marine life that surrounds the paradise islands of Japan, snorkeling and scuba diving are some of the most popular activities in Naha and beyond.

Naha is the capital of Okinawa and a transportation hub that welcomes all travelers entering Okinawa.  It’s a busy island, but you’d be surprised at the quality of diving that is found here.

There are about 10 diving spots along the coast of Naha Island (excluding Kerama Islands), offering interesting underwater topographies and landscapes including sea walls, drop-offs, and the infamous Blue Cave.

Due to the proximity of the popular diving and snorkeling destination of Kerama Islands, many dive shops around Naha frequently arrange a day trip to Kerama’s 20-30 dive site locations.   If you are on limited vacation time and plan to base your holiday on Naha, booking a day trip to Keramas is definitely worth it!

But if you have a few days to spare, I highly recommend that you take a separate trip to any one of the three major Kerama islands (details in the next section) and experience the stunning coastlines, quaint beach towns, and relaxing island life. You can also book diving trips on each Kerama island.

There are, however, 2 main advantages of basing your Okinawa diving trip in Naha.

  1. Dive sites around Naha are mostly shallow, with sandy bottom and minimal current – it’s an optimal location for beginner divers, or for those who wish to learn or refresh dive skills.

  2. Being the capital city of Okinawa, many dive centers around Naha have a team of international staff who speak English or even other languages. The majority of dive centers on Kerama islands were staffed only by Japanese guides and instructors who spoke very limited English. 

    If communication in English is an essential factor for your scuba trip, you may want to book your trip with an operator in Naha (recommendations below).

okinawa diving: a school of fish swimming over soft corals

Access: Naha International Airport (the main Okinawa Airport)

Dive Experience level:  All levels.   Some sites, however, such as the USS Emmons dive, require Advanced Open Water certification and a certain number of logged dives.

The depth of dive sites: 5m – 40m

Visibility:  20 to +30m

Currents:  none to light drift

What you can expect to see:  Napoleon Wrasse, turtles, reef sharks, sea snake, lionfish, scorpion fish, tuna, trumpet fish, butterfly fish, moray eels, squid, garden eels, puffer fish, porcupine fish, nudibranchs

Dive Center:

In Naha Area: Honu Honu Divers Okinawa 

Japanese-owned but staffed with English speaking Instructors and dive team, you can take PADI courses for scuba diving certification with  Honu Honu, as well as book fun dives around Naha island.

In Onna Area: Piranha Divers Okinawa

Where to Stay in Naha Okinawa:  There is no shortage of accommodation options in Naha, ranging from dormitories to luxury beach resorts and everything in between.

If you are on a budget, the Okinawa Sora House offers dormitory beds ($16) and basic twin rooms ($46).  I loved this cute communal hostel because it is located in the city center and everything is within walking distance including Tomari Port, the Miebashi Monorail station, Kokusai street, convenience stores and plenty of restaurants.  

If you are a solo traveler and want to experience a modern “capsule” accommodation with upscale amenities, you should check out Y’s CABIN&HOTEL Naha Kokusai Street – it’s certainly an experience!

For western comforts, check out Violette Higashimachi for a “home away from home” in a city center of Naha.

Okinawa diving: the turquoise blue waters at Naha Island
The turquoise waters around Naha

#2: Okinawa Diving in Kerama Islands

Kerama Islands are one of Japan’s cherished National Parks, with pristine white sand beaches surrounded by stunning blue sea.   The colors of the ocean around the Keramas are so breathtaking in fact that the Japanese have coined the term “Kerama Blue” to describe the azure-colored, crystal clear waters in the region.

Although you can book a scuba diving day trip out of Naha if you are short on time, I encourage you to take a few days to get out to one or more of Kerama Islands and explore the beautiful sceneries above and under the water!

The one thing that blew me away about diving around Kerama was the perfect underwater visibility.  

Before I got to Okinawa, I had been diving in the Coral Triangle where the marine life is said to be some of the best in the world.    I had dived around Thailand, Philippines, and Indonesia so I had already seen some phenomenal underwater world, but Okinawa’s water clarity and the “sea desert” blew me away.

The underwater landscape was so unique and breathtaking that to this day, I still talk about my Okinawa diving excursions!

Aside from the excellent visibility, Keramas is also known for turtle spawning around the island shores, and you can often encounter turtles just snorkeling at the surface.

The great thing about the Keramas is that if you do not yet have scuba certification, you can still enjoy excellent snorkeling around the islands

Okinawa diving: a turtle resting on a coral reef

When to Go: Okinawa weather offers mild climate year-round, so you can dive year-round in Kerama waters, although the winter months of December to March can drop to as low as 20C.   For divers who enjoy the warmer waters like me, head to Keramas in the summer between July to September and enjoy some of the incredible beach scenes too!

The winter around Zamami and Tokashiki Islands, however, gets exciting with Humpback Whale migration!

Between December to March, female Humpbacks migrate to the Pacific from the north to give birth to their calves.

Although you cannot get in the water and swim with the whales in Okinawa as you could in Tonga, the sight of these majestic animals breaching above the surface or flapping their fin is a pure joy and one you will never forget.

If you plan to head to Okinawa during the whale season, don’t miss the once-in-a-lifetime encounter!

Access: A ferry from Naha (30-50 minutes)

Dive Experience level:  All levels

The depth of dive sites: 7m – 30m

Visibility:  20-30m

Currents:  none to moderate

What you can expect to see:  Green Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, Mantas, schooling Snappers, Cuttlefish, Batfish, Sweetlips, Grouper, Sea Snake, Goatfish, a variety of Anemonefish

Dive Center:  I found it very difficult to find scuba dive shop websites in English in this region.   I ended up booking my diving package once I arrived on Zamami island and dived with Coral Divers.

If you are heading to a charming island of Aka, you can pre-book your scuba package here.   Keep in mind that this diving trip is based on Aka island so you will need to find your way to Aka on your own.

On Tokashiki Island, contact Marine House Aharen.

Where to Stay in Kerama Islands:  Tokashiki, Zamami, Aka are the main habited islands where you will find comfortable accommodations surrounded by stunning beaches and views.   You can’t go wrong with any of the islands, but my personal favorite was Zamami for its laid-back island vibes, beautiful observation decks, and the breathtaking Furuzamami beach.

For travel tips on Kerama beaches and Okinawa hotels on Tokashiki, Zumami and Aka islands, check out this post.

Zamami beach and the emerald green waters
My favorite beach on Zamami Island (can you blame me?)

#3: Okinawa Diving in Yaeyama Region

Even though Yaeyama region consists of four main islands, Ishigaki, Taketomi, Iriomote, and Hateruma, what draws most scuba divers to this region are the manta rays off the coast of Ishigaki.

Manta rays are found in the shallow cleaning stations near Ishigaki Island, so even snorkelers and Discover Scuba Divers can enjoy what I call the “flying carpets” of the sea!  As I had seen manta rays many times while I was diving in Nusa Lembongan Bali, I did not sign up for a manta dive in Ishigaki – but if you have never seen these majestic animals, you must try it at least once

I can still remember the sheer joy and awe when I laid my eyes on manta rays for the first time during my Introductory Dive in 2009.  I’ve been hooked on scuba diving ever since!   

Beyond the magnificent mantas, Yaeyama dive sites offer great macro life too.   From frogfish, ghost pipefish, nudibranchs, leaf scorpionfish to shrimps and crabs, Yaeyama is sure to please critter hunters and macro lovers!

In one of the dives, my dive guide showed me eggs of squid that were attached to the bottom of a rock and I could see the little eyes inside a sheer, small bubble – talk about an awesome dive!  

Access: Ishigaki Airport via a domestic flight from Naha or Narita International Airport in Tokyo.

Dive Experience level:  Suitable for all levels

The depth of dive sites: 5m – 30m

Visibility:  20-40m

Currents:  none to light drift

What you can expect to see:  Manta rays (can be seen around Ishigaki between June – Sept), Dogtooth Tuna, Giant Trevallies, Cuttlefish, Garden Eels, Barracudas, Fusiliers, Napoleon Wrasse, Batfish

Dive Center:  There are several English-speaking dive shops around Ishigaki, including Prime Scuba, UMICOZA, and Euro-Divers.

Where to Stay in Yaeyama Region:  Ishigaki is the biggest island with ample accommodations, restaurants, shops and various water and land activities.

While on Ishigaki, book a day trip to Taketomi for a traditional Ryukyu village experience, or an all-inclusive day trip to Iriomote for an adventure into a Japanese jungle as well as a stopover in Taketomi.

While you can find accommodations on smaller islands of Taketomi and Iriomote, Ishigaki is optimal if you are looking for a range of accommodation and restaurant options.

Here are some of my top recommendations on each island:

Ishigaki: For a cheap yet comfortable stay in a dormitory close to town center, check out Guest House Chura Cucule Ishigakijima.    

If you prefer a bit more privacy, Hotel Emerald Isle Ishigakijima is located just a few minutes away from the bus terminal and the pier, making it a perfect option if you are looking to book day trips.   Hotel Emerald is also within walking distance to many shops and restaurants.

Taketomi:  Hosted by a lovely Japanese couple, you can experience western comforts with Japanese hospitality at this charming Guest House Cago.

Iriomote: Villa Hiruji, located close to the port, gets my vote for the best accommodation on the island with stunning nature and ocean views.  The common areas and bathroom are shared as in many traditional Japanese “minshuku,” but the facilities are immaculate, and the owners and staff are so helpful!

okinawa diving: colorful reef fishes swimming over soft corals

#4: Okinawa Diving in Yonaguni

Yonaguni is the farthest Okinawa island from the mainland and is situated closer to Taiwan (75 miles/120 kilometers) than it is to Naha.  

Perhaps most famous for the mysterious underwater monument that has caused much controversy as to its origin, Yonaguni Island attracts avid scuba divers, scientists, photographers, history buffs and tourists who wish to get a peek at the magnificent structure also known as the “Japanese Atlantis.”

Some speculate that the Yonaguni Monument is a natural geological phenomenon, while some Japanese scientists and residents claim that it is an ancient civilization that submerged underwater, likely from a devastating tsunami.

According to a Japanese Marine Biologist who has been diving and researching the mysterious rock formations, the presence of animal-like statues and carvings suggest influence by a man, perhaps as old as 5,000 years

You can check out some of the photos here, or head to Yonaguni and see it for yourself!  

Aside from the mysterious underwater monument, there are various dive sites around the island where you can enjoy fascinating rock structures, tunnels, and caverns.

Okinawa diving: a panoramic view of Zamami beach

When to Go:  The summer months of July to September see warm water temperatures between 27 – 29°C but winter months between December to March can see a drop to 23°C. 

But the cold water temperature in the winter invite the hammerhead sharks, which I say are worth traveling to Yonaguni alone!

Access:  Yonaguni Airport via a domestic flight from Naha (OKA) or Ishigaki (ISG). 

Dive Experience level:  Advanced/Experienced is recommended, due to the potentially strong currents around Yonaguni, particularly at the underwater monument.

The depth of dive sites: 8m – 35m

Visibility:  ~40m

Currents:  Medium to strong.  You can expect mostly drift dives in Yonaguni.

What you can expect to see:  Hammerheads (Oct to March), Dogtooth Tuna, Snapper, Trevallies, Baraccudas, Napoleon Wrasse

Dive Center: Sou-Wes Dive Center is owned by the very man who discovered the Underwater Monument in 1986, Kihachiro Aratake.

If you do not possess a scuba diving certification, Sou-Wes also offers snorkeling trip and a glass-bottom boat tour of the Yonaguni Monument.

Where to Stay in Yonaguni: Located just 5 minutes away from the airport, Ailand Hotel Yonaguni is ideally situated for all island excursions including diving with Sou-Wes Dive Center.

Excited to start planning your Okinawa diving trip yet?!

By the way, if you have ever been diving in Okinawa and have other recommendations for Okinawa diving destinations, please leave me a comment below and let me know!  

I am always looking for a scuba trip inspiration, and a reason to go back to Okinawa is always a good thing 😉

Otherwise, I hope you found this guide to scuba diving in Okinawa helpful! If you’d like to know about topside things to do during your next Okinawa trip, check out this post on the ultimate 7-day Okinawa itinerary!

 

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Scuba Travel | Okinawa Japan | Check out this post for the top 4 scuba diving destinations in Okinawa that are sure to blow you away! Get all the tips on where to go, when to dive, and where to stay to help you create an epic dive trip in Japan's paradise islands! #okinawa #scubadive #diving #scubatravel #japan #scubadiver
Scuba Travel | Scuba Diving Bucket List | Thinking of diving in Okinawa Japan? Check out this post for the 4 best scuba destinations in the paradise islands of Japan, and all the travel tips you will need to help you plan an epic scuba adventure of a lifetime! #okinawa #japan #scubatravel #scubadiving #travelasia

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