I am a small island girl at heart, so I’m never really ready to say goodbye to summer. One year, in late November as the weather in Tokyo started to cool down, I decided that I needed a snorkeling and diving fix, so I booked a flight to Okinawa.
My husband and I flew from Tokyo to Naha, the main city on the main island. Naha is huge with a population of 700,000. Not the “island-feel” we were going for. Knowing this beforehand, we immediately hopped on a ferry to the nearby Kerama Islands, where the water is so radiant and beautiful that people call its color “Kerama Blue”. From Tomari Port in Naha, we made it to Aka-jima, where our island adventures began.
With a population of only 300, this is the island to go to if you want beach, sun, and isolation. There are no resorts, so everything is laid-back and local.
We stayed with Kawai Divers, a family-run operation, with the most welcoming and friendly English-speaking hosts. You get a private room, shared bathroom, breakfast, and dinner. Service, cleanliness, food – all remarkable, and you feel right at home. This place is located on the beach with ocean views, and we were able to step out through our window and stroll along the sand.
If you are certified, you can go diving with the hosts. However, snorkeling is just as good, for the reef is shallow and in excellent condition. The water was crystal clear, so we saw plenty of diverse tropical fish, and we even spotted a few rays. The hosts will help you find great spots to see marine life.
We were sad that our time in Aka-jima was over, but we were excited to check out Zamami-jima, a short ferry ride away. The population is a bit more than Aka’s – 600. Life is slightly busier without losing that island-life touch. There are more businesses, restaurants, and cars than Aka, but Zamami has still kept its charm.
We stayed at Nakayamagwa Guest House (book through 3rd party agents such as booking.com), with a private room, roof-top lounge area, shared bathroom, and shared food storage area. The English-speaking hosts are so sweet and they keep the place clean and with lots of local character. For breakfast, we stocked up on Onigiri and Cup Ramen from the local grocery store, and we had no problems finding places to eat for lunch and dinner.
Diving and snorkeling are popular activities in Zamami, but check the excursion locations because you may be going back to Aka’s reefs for the day. My favorite snorkeling spot around Zamami-jima was Ama Beach, which has sea turtles! During high tide, the turtles surf in to eat the grass that grows on the shore. The turtles aren’t shy and will let you observe them as long as you leave them alone to munch away.
We spent a little bit of time in Naha before our flight back to Tokyo. Two points of interest are shopping through the exciting arcades of Kokusaidori Street and meandering around the beautiful Shuri Castle. Some people make a trip to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which I hear is amazing, but we had our fill of marine life in their natural habitat around the Kerama Islands!
While visiting the Okinawan Islands, do not miss….
- Orion Beer – Okinawa’s local brew
- Taco Rice – ground meat, cheese, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, tortilla chips on top of rice
- Goya – bitter melon, usually fried with eggs and spam
- Soki Soba – noodle soup with generous chunks of braised pork
- Sashimi – get a taste of the local fish
- Benimo Desserts – purple sweet potato treats. Try Benimo ice cream, Kit Kats, cookies, cakes, etc.