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The Perfect 7-Day Okinawa Itinerary: Discover Japan’s Paradise

When I was innocently planning my Okinawa itinerary while in Singapore, I had no idea just how blown away I would be by the cluster of small islands off of the coast of China!

The beauty of Okinawa’s shores paralleled some breathtaking beaches I had only seen in the most remote islands in the Pacific.  I couldn’t believe I was in Japan. 

I was certainly not expecting to see such pristine white sand beaches and turquoise blue water so close to major civilizations such as Taiwan,  Hong Kong, and China. 

Who would have guessed that Japan has such a paradise?   

Okinawa Taketomi
You can just leave me here!

When I was researching for my Okinawa itinerary, I noticed that limited information was available in English, as the majority of tourism info, transportation details, and business websites were available only in Japanese.   Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Okinawa remains under the radar for Japan travel.  

But since my trip to Okinawa turned out to be so much more than I had imagined, I couldn’t keep this gem of an Asian paradise all to myself. 

I put together this travel guide on the perfect Okinawa 7-day itinerary so that I can share my tips on where to go, what to see/do and where to stay in Okinawa

okinawa itinerary: hostel in naha
met a friend while backpacking solo in Naha!

Why Visit Okinawa

Since Japanese food is one of my favorite foods of all time and I love bumming around on white sand beaches, a trip to Okinawa was practically an ultimate dream come true!

Even though Okinawa is a part of Japan, it had tropical, quaint, and laid back vibes which are quite different from what I experienced on the mainland of Japan.   The Okinawan food is also a bit different with their unique cuisines and dishes!   

Okinawa cuisine
A traditional Japanese meal

While the beaches and food alone are enough reasons for me to visit Okinawa, there is much more to do and see, including a World Heritage Site, a remarkable underwater world (snorkeling and scuba diving), a National Park (mangroves, waterfalls and nature trekking) and an eye-opening WWII museum. 

If you want to learn more about Okinawa, read on!  

Where is Okinawa? (Japan Map)

Okinawa Prefecture is a chain of islands located 640km (400mi) south of mainland Japan.  Naha, the capital island which is located in Northern Okinawa, hosts an international airport that makes traveling to Okinawa a breeze for both domestic and international travelers. 

Direct domestic flights from Tokyo or Osaka to Naha takes approximately 3.5 hours, which makes Okinawa an ideal holiday destination for many Japanese residents of Honshu, or the “main island.”

Best Time to Visit Okinawa

Even though most people associate Okinawa as having a tropical climate, it generally has four seasons, with the coldest temperatures getting down to around 10°C. 

The best time to go to Okinawa for most people is during the spring (March – April) and fall (October – November) when the humidity is low and the temperature is mild.

In most of Japan, “Tsuyu,” or the wet season, generally starts in early May and lasts through mid-June.   What follows the rainy season are hot and humid months of July and August. 

September is generally known as the typhoon season. 

TRAVEL TIP:  The Golden Week is Japan’s biggest holiday and the busiest travel season, including Okinawa.   I recommend that you avoid traveling to Okinawa during this week, which is usually at the end of April.   Prices will be inflated, and you will be surrounded by mobs of domestic travelers particularly around Naha.

Zamami beach and the emerald green waters
Would you ever believe that this is Japan?

Okinawa Itinerary:
Day 1 - 3 in Naha

Highlights:

  • A World Heritage Site: Shurijo Castle
  • Churaumi aquarium
  • Kokusai Dori (shopping)
  • Makishi Market (shopping)

Getting Around Okinawa:

Renting a car is perhaps the most convenient option of getting around Naha and other islands. Note that an international license is required to reserve a rental car in Okinawa.   If you don’t have one, taxis and public buses are best alternatives in Naha.

YuiRail is a monorail that connects Naha Airport to various points in the city.   The YuRail makes several stops in Naha, so check out the map and see if it will connect you to your desired destinations.   The tickets are reasonable, ranging from ¥80 to ¥330 per ride.

I took a public bus to explore Naha on my own for a couple of days.   It was the most economical option although it does require you to walk a bit to/from the stations, as well as wait around for the scheduled bus stops.

But with all the yummy goodness I was consuming in Okinawa, I needed the exercise 😉

If you are going to stay in Naha for more than a day, a day pass that will allow you to use for both buses and monorail may be the most economical option.

Okinawa itinerary: a parking lot full of public buses
Public buses in Naha

Day 1 in Naha

Explore the Island

Option A:  Explore Naha on your own.   Whether you are renting a car or adventuring out on public transportation, one stop you don’t want to miss is the Okinawa Peace Memorial Museum.

The memorial is located on top of a hill in South Naha, where the Battle of Okinawa was fought and ended during the WWII.   The Battle of Okinawa was the only battle fought on Japanese soil, which took lives of over 200,000 civilians and military forces.

Make sure to check out the museum where you can explore and examine the remnants of an underground military operation that was built during the war.

The Peace Memorial and Museum is, as with any other war memorial, heart-wrenching and heart-breaking.  But it is an eye-opening experience that offers an insight into the historical background of Okinawa.   I also found the view from the hilltop to be quite beautiful.

Underground exhibit at the Peace Memorial Museum

Option B  If you are a foreign traveler relying on public transportation, communication can be a problem in Japan.   While polite and willing to help, the Japanese speak very little English (even in Okinawa), making it difficult to ask directions or buying a proper bus ticket. 

If a language barrier is a potential problem for you, you may consider a pre-packaged tour that is designed around foreign visitors. 

There is a one-day Bus Tour that conveniently offers 5 tour options to fit your destination preferences and time restrictions.

A bus tour is perfect because you get the convenience of being transported in a comfortable air-conditioned ride, with routes and times all figured out for you so that you can see a bit of everything without spending most of the day trying to figure out how to get around.

Most of the tour options make a stop at a must-see attraction – the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.   It is one of the biggest aquariums in the world that provides a rare exhibit of whale sharks and manta rays.

okinawa itinerary: a speed boat cruising past a harbor
A speed boat pulling up to a harbor

Day 2 in Naha

Get Wet!

Option A: Join either a Snorkel or Dive trip to Kerama.

Okinawa is popular for various water activities due to the tropical weather (almost) year-round, perfectly clear waters and colorful reefs and marine life.

When I dived in Okinawa, I couldn’t believe how clear the water was!   The visibility was out of this world – it was easily ~40m, some of the best I’ve ever seen underwater.  Dare I say, the visibility was even better than some of the best snorkeling I’ve done in Indonesia! 

By the way, if you are a mermaid wannabe like me and can’t get enough of the underwater world, check out my Okinawa scuba diving guide here!

Option B: – Explore Zamami Island on your own.   Take a ferry across the channel to Zamami, where you can splash around in shallow crystal clear waters, bum around on the white sand beach, take a hike up the hill for a stunning bay view and whisk yourself away to an enchanting little island.

During my Okinawa itinerary, I ended up spending a couple of nights in Zamami after falling in love with this quaint little paradise.

Okinawa itinerary: a view from hilltop in Zamami island
A hilltop view on Zamami Island

Day 3 in Naha

Shop and Eat Your Way Around Town

Take yourself on a walking tour of Naha City.  There are a few shopping streets to scope out the local market scene, as well as look around for great souvenir finds.

Check out Kokusai Dori and Makishi Market for great shopping around Naha.   I bought a very cute purse and a matching wallet made of traditional Japanese fabric.  I still cherish it to this day!

Since you’re in Japan, why not try on a traditional Kimono!   Posing in a traditional Japanese robe is guaranteed to get attention on Instagram 😉

And while exploring Naha, don’t forget to try some of Okinawa’s unique dishes such as Goya Champuru (stir-fry vegetables), Rafute (pork belly), and Okinawa Musubi (rice ball with fried egg and spam)!

Or better yet, make your own Okinawan cuisine! This amazing cooking course teaches you about the local food culture and to prepare a 4-course meal (appetizer, soup, main course, and dessert).

When you are out on town, keep your eyes out for ice cream!  I had some of the creamiest soft serve ice cream in the streets of Naha City – try unique Japanese flavors such as Azuki (red bean), Matcha (green tea), or Sakura (cherry blossom)!

A lively "izakaya" (restaurant) in Naha

Where to Stay in Naha Okinawa

Budget

~$11/night female bunk bed or $13/night for a female capsule (excluding breakfast)

I liked Sora House because many Japanese backpackers were staying here and I was able to meet local travelers.  The guest house has a well-equipped kitchen, laundry, and cozy Japanese style-common room. 

The Sora House is also ideally located within walking distance of the bus station, YuRail station, supermarkets and the ferry port.  

Mid-Range

~$53 single room/night excluding breakfast

The single room is cozy, but the location is perfect with supermarkets, drug store and Kokusai Dori nearby.  The YuRail and ferry port are also within walking distance. 

Luxury

~$99 double room/night including breakfast

Located in “downtown” Naha, this hotel is within a few minutes to just about everything you can need.  The hotel is new construction, with a clean and modern design.

Also one of the more spacious hotels in Naha. 

Okinawa Itinerary:
Day 4 - 6 in Ishigaki

Highlights:

  • Kabira Bay
  • Takatorizaki Observatory
  • Yonehara beach
  • Sukiji beach
  • Taketomi Island
  • Iriomote Island

How to Get In:

For the second half of your Okinawa itinerary, spend a few days exploring on and around Ishigaki island.

Ishigaki is located about an hour flight south of Naha.   A domestic flight is affordable, around $50-80 one way. 

Why bother flying to yet another island in Okinawa?  

Because you get to see and experience the last remains of Okinawa’s original Ryukyu culture and architectures in Ishigaki.   You can also swim with manta rays, hike the national park for wildcat sightings, and see more immaculate beaches (I mean, can you ever get enough of those!?)

I thought I had seen some of the most stunning beaches during my travels in SE Asia but I must say that Okinawa surprised me with its breathtaking sceneries. 

Find the CHEAPEST Flight from Naha to Ishigaki: 

a view of the okinawa islands from the plane above
The stunning view from above

How to Get Around Ishigaki

On Ishigaki Island, the public transportation is not as convenient as it is in Naha.  The buses run only on the south section of the island.   

The best way to get around Ishigaki is to rent a car.   However, if that is not an option for you, you can take the public transportation that is available or book yourself a day trip (recommendations below) that offers a pick-up and drop-off service. 

Day 4 in Ishigaki

mantas flying overhead
you can see mantas in Ishigaki!

Swim with Manta Rays

Ishigaki Island is the only island on the chain of Okinawa where you can regularly see manta rays.   You can either snorkel or dive with these flying carpets of the sea.

After seeing manta rays on my first trial scuba dive in Bali, I got hooked on the underwater world.  I fell so in love with scuba diving that I eventually became a PADI Scuba Instructor so that I can share the wonders of our ocean with others.

If you have never seen manta rays, book a trip NOW.   Swimming with these magnificent creatures is an experience you will never forget!

Day 5 in Taketomi

Okinawa Itinerary: Taketomi Island
Charming Ryukyu village on Taketomi Island

Taketomi is one of the rare places left in Okinawa where you can still see the remnants of Okinawa’s traditional Ryukyu village.

The majority of the original Ryukyu architectures in Okinawa were sadly destroyed during the WWII and Taketomi has the last preserved village.

Take a water buffalo ride, enjoy the quiet beaches and ride around this charming island on a bicycle and take in the rare atmosphere of the original Okinawa.

To get to Taketomi, you can either take a ferry from Ishigaki (40min) on your own, or book a day trip.

The day trip includes a roundtrip ferry fare to/from Taketomi, as well as an option to take a glass-bottom boat ride and/or a water buffalo cart ride around the Ryukyu village.

If you prefer to explore the island on your own, you can rent a bicycle for about ¥1500 as I did!  Taketomi is such a quaint little island, you will manage to cycle around the island in about an hour 🙂

Okinawa Itinerary: water buffalo in Taketomi
Water Buffalo in Taketomi

Day 6 in Iriomote

Iriomote is known in Okinawa as the “jungle” island.  The main attraction here are the rare wildcat sightings, mangroves, waterfalls, and a river cruise through the National Park.

You can take a ferry from Ishigaki (45min) on your own, or book an all-inclusive Day Trip that includes:

  • A cruise on Urauchi river through the mangroves
  • A nature hike through the national park to the Manyuodo waterfall
  • Kayaking
  • A roundtrip ferry from Ishigaki
  • Lunch

I opted for the day trip for the convenience of having a tour guide and having all activities arranged for the day.  I highly recommend it!   The lush green jungle was stunning.

A view of the waterfall in the Iriomote National Park

Day 7 in Ishigaki

Explore the Island

There are some breathtaking views to enjoy on Ishigaki, including the Kabira Bay (the cover photo) and Takatorizaki Observatory (pictured below).  

Takatorizaki is only accessible if you have a car, as it is located at the northern tip of Ishigaki.  

If you do not have access to a car, fear not!   You can enjoy the rest of Ishigaki’s highlights by hopping on public buses.    

If you have enough time, be sure to check out the beaches (Yonehara or Sukiji) on Ishigaki!  I promise, you will be blown away. 

Okinawa Itinerary: Ishigaki island
An amazing view at the Takatorizaki Observatory

Where to Stay in Ishigaki Okinawa

Budget

$15-20/night female dorm excluding breakfast. 

These clean, modern, and cozy dorms are perfect for budget travelers.  Breakfast is not included but there are plenty of convenience stores nearby, and an equipped kitchen/dining at this Guest House is useful if you want to prepare your meals.  

In addition to dorms, this guest house also offers “private” rooms for single travelers – if you asked me, it’s not worth the money.   The private rooms are just a taller version of your dorm cubicle, which allows you to stand up.  Besides the vertical space, the private rooms are built the same way as the dorm cubicles.   Dorms are the most economical option!

Mid-Range

$67/night for a standard single room including breakfast

Conveniently located within a few minute walk to either ferry port or public bus station, this hotel has a unique approach to encouraging eco-friendly choices.  If you opt out of daily sheet changes, you will be offered a free pass to their beverage station!   How cool is that!

Yummy Japanese breakfast is served (included in your room charge).

Luxury

Starting at $214/room for a superior single/double ocean view including breakfast

Located beachfront on the southwest point of Ishigaki, this resort is perfect if you are looking to relax outside of the “downtown” area.   But if you want to access “downtown,” the resort offers a free shuttle service (which is also available to the airport).   

The breakfast buffet offers a wide selection of western and Japanese options, and the resort pool is definitely a plus after a day full of activities!

Note:  Even though the resort has a stunning ocean view (and the sunset), the beach is not accessible for swimming.

Okinawa Itinerary Wrap Up

There are not too many places in the world where you can find nearly everything in one destination – pristine beaches, amazing food, cultural experiences, nature, historical sites, and shopping.  Okinawa is one of the most beautiful islands I had been to, both above and underwater.

If you plan a trip to Japan, make sure to add Okinawa to your destination list – it’s definitely worth visiting at least once. 

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