Is Okinawa worth visiting? This might seem like a strange question, given that dozens of flights that travel from the Japanese mainland to the country’s iconic archipelago every day.
On the other hand, in spite of Okinawa’s popularity among Japanese, foreigners (at least those not in the US military, or who live outside Asia) are a rare sight in the islands. Likewise, while Okinawa is known as the “Hawaii of Japan,” the tendency of Japanese people to vacation in Hawaii belies this comparison.
I love Okinawa a lot—I won’t pretend to be on the fence—but I’ve had a rich enough array of experiences there to know why some people might not feel the same. Continue reading if you’re unsure about whether you should visit Okinawa.
My Okinawa Story
Is Okinawa worth visiting? I would’ve answered “no” if you had asked me in early 2018, when I made what I viewed at the time as a big mistake. I visited Okinawa in February—and it definitely felt like winter. And I’m not talking about the weather that tropic dwellers mistake as winter. I’m talking heavy rain falling under a thick blanket of clouds, and temperatures somewhere below 5ºC. Beach weather for whales.
My next trip to Okinawa and the one after that, however, allowed me to enjoy the islands as one is meant to do. From the main island and the city of Naha, to outlying islands like nearby Ie and Tokashiki (and the not-so-nearby Ishigaki), Okinawa proved to be the picture of paradise, with powdery white sand and crystalline, fluorescent water. I would almost go so far as to say Okinawa’s beaches are among the most beautiful I’ve seen.
5 Key Truths About Okinawa
The beaches are otherworldy
I could (and will) write an entire post on the best beaches in Okinawa, but for now I’ll just say this. Whether you’re at Aharan Beach on Tokashiki island, Kabira Bay on Ishigaki or simply visit Naminoue Beach in downtown Naha, it’s impossible not to be amazed by Okinawa’s beaches.
(The beach hotels are mostly not)
Is Okinawa worth visiting? Yes, but you need to set your expectations for lodging low. If you want to stay on the beach, this is. City accommodations in Naha and even Ishigaki are perfectly fine, and in line with what you can expect to find elsewhere in Japan.
Okinawa is warm all year
Okinawa weather can be agreeable all year, given that it’s a subtropical archipelago. I have friends who have visited in January and February, and have been able to snorkel and scuba dive, as a result of sunny skies and mild air.
(Except when it isn’t)
Unfortunately, my experience (in winter, anyway) wasn’t like this. I guess I was just unlucky, because I spent fou days shivering under white skies, with nary a moment of sunshine or when even putting my foot in the water would’ve made any sense. Is Okinawa worth visiting? Not with weather like that!
Okinawa is a lot bigger than it looks
Want to go Okinawa island hopping? Good! Give yourself as long as possible there, though, because distances are greater than they look on the map. This is even taking into account the super-fast hydrofoil ferries that run between certain islands, and the fact that you essentially have no choice but to fly from Naha to Ishigaki.
Okinawa Practical Matters
How many days in Okinawa should you spend? That depends, of course, but I’d say that most travelers can get by with 2-3 days. This assumes, of course, you’re staying in one part of the archipelago. If you base yourself at Hotel Collective in Naha, for example, this will give you time to explore the main island, and also to take day trips to nearby Ie and Tokashiki (but not, probably, Ishigaki).
Indeed, another element that might inform whether you answer the questions “is Okinawa worth visiting?” in the affirmative is logistics. While you can visit a great number of places from any of the major islands as day trips by boat, and while the big island has a decent public transportation system, chances are good—almost 100%, in fact—that you will need to rent a vehicle of some kind during your Okinawa trip.
Other FAQ About Visiting Okinawa
What is the best month to visit Okinawa?
Okinawa is theoretically fine to visit all year round, although I’ve found that the summer months (in particular June and July, before typhoon season begins in earnest) are the most enjoyable, as the bright sun and scorching temperatures practically force you into Okinawa’s paradisiacal waters.
When can you swim in Okinawa?
You can theoretically swim any time of year in Okinawa, although this might not be comfortable during the winter months, even if it’s not as terribly cold as it was when I visited Okinawa in winter. Note that swimming is forbidden at some Okinawa beaches, notably Kabira Bay on Ishigaki island.
Are there cherry blossoms in Okinawa?
Okinawa has its own special breed of cherry blossoms, although the flowers are a darker pink than the classic somei yoshino variety you find on the Japanese mainland. Cherry blossoms in Okinawa typically bloom during late January or early February.
The Bottom Line
Is Okinawa worth visiting? Yes, if you have the opportunity. On the other hand, in spite of my own affection for Okinawa, there are reasons not to go out of your way to visit Okinawa, especially if you don’t have a particular reason for visiting. Likewise, if you aren’t spending a nice chunk of time in Japan (at least two weeks in Japan and probably longer, like a month in Japan), a few days in Okinawa might be time better spent elsewhere. Regardless of whether you end up visiting Okinawa, I do hope you’ll hire me to plan your Japan trip if you’ve still got ambiguity about it.