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Camellia, Churches and Chocolate

As the turbo-prop I’d boarded just minutes earlier in Nagasaki approached Fukue Airport, I wondered whether it would ever touch down. The entirety of the short flight had been haunted by the specter of an ominous announcement. Due to visibility issues, the captain had warned, we may need to turn around and head back.

Thankfully, as the ground appeared through the clouds and drew nearer, it became clearer that we would in fact be landing. It also became clear that I was about to begin exploring someplace very special—and just because of all the enchanting ads for camellia-related products that had been so conspicuous back at Nagasaki Airport.

No, a particular detail of the the scene below stood out to me—the soil looked like cocoa powder, almost as it I could eat it. This might seem peculiar or even unimportant, but I think you’ll find it’s a good starting point for this quirky Goto islands itinerary.

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How to Reach the Goto Islands

As I alluded to in the intro, airplane is one of main ways to kick off a Goto islands trip. Several flights per day depart both Fukuoka and Nagasaki airports to Fukue Tsubaki Airport on the main island of Fukue. These are the fastest way to the islands, taking just 30 minutes each way. Although they’re expensive for the length of the flight, you can sometimes get deals if you book weeks or especially months in advance.

The alternative option is to travel by ferry, be that a slower traditional ferry or a much faster (but more expensive) jetfoil. The latter can get you between Nagasaki and Fukue in around two hours, and is therefore the only realistic replacement for a domestic flight. However, given that ferry tickets can cost as much as airplane ones, I do think flying remains the best option. Once on the island, you do need to rent a car.

What to Do in the Goto Islands

Enjoy panoramas from Onidake and Minodake


After getting my interest piqued by the view from the plane, I became set on finding solid ground from which to enjoy a panorama of Goto’s unique landscape. If you type “viewpoint” into Google Maps, the first result it pulls up is Onidake, an extinct volcanic cone that does provide pretty good views of everything below. In my opinion, however, the view from Minodake just south of it is actually superior.

Head west for beaches and more views


While I don’t think that beaches, generally speaking, are a big part of what make the Goto islands worth visiting, there is one major exception to this rule: Takahama Beach, on the west coast. Beyond this, heading west is (as is so often the case—this is cliché, I know) more about the journey than the destinations, and takes you through wild, rugged countryside with random towns smattered within it.

Follow Nagasaki’s “Hidden Christians”


Although some of the UNESCO-designated churches in the Goto islands are on islands other than Fukue (more on those in a minute), there are a few ones of note on the main island. The Kaitsu Church, located not far from Takahama Beach and famous for its stained glass, is one of them. Another worthwhile stop is Dozaki Church, which you can visit on your way back to town.

Dig deeper on Nakadori island


Not every Goto islands itinerary recommends that you visit islands other than Fukue, but mine does. In my opinion, the best way to go about this is boarding a jetfoil at Fukue Port and riding it to Nakadori island. Here, you can rent another car and start driving. After a brief drive over to adjoining Wakamatsu island to enjoy a view, you can stop at Nakanoura Church, Oso Church, Hamagurihama Beach and Takaitabi Church.


NOTE: Many people will also recommend you make the drive up to Kashiragashima Church on Kamigoto Island, but this is an awful long way to go to visit a church with authoritarian limits on photography, and unfriendly staff.

Eat local udon


I’ll be honest: I rolled my eyes a little bit when I found out that the Goto islands where famous for…udon. I love noodles as much as the next guy; but I love flavor more. The good news is that most udon shops offer sets that include tempura or even sushi, so even if you find the noodles themselves as bland as I do, you can appreciate them alongside something that actually tastes good.

How Long to Stay in the Goto Islands

The Goto Islands, individually, are not very big; one full day on each one you plan to explore is more than enough to see the major attractions; you’ll also need an extra “buffer” day. In my case, this entail arriving on afternoon one, spending all of day two explore Fukue island, taking a day trip to Nakadori (which includes Wakamatsu and Kamigoto islands) on day three and flying back on morning four.

Now, many a Goto islands travel blog (especially any/all written by “slow travel” enthusiasts) will suggest spending a week or even longer in the Goto archipelago. For me, however, this is not realistic, given that there’s so much else you will want to see in Japan during your time there. So I’d suggest following in my footsteps, and planning to spend 3-5 nights in the Goto islands, ideally as a place like Goto Tsubaki Hotel.

Other FAQ About Visiting the Goto Islands

How do I get to the Goto Islands?

There are two basic ways to reach the Goto Islands. The quickest is going via turboprop flight from either Fukuoka or Nagasaki. A slightly slower option is to ride a ferry (either a slower, traditional one or a faster jetfoil) from Nagasaki Port.

Where are the Goto Islands?

The Goto Islands are located a couple hundred kilometers west of Nagasaki off the coast of Japan’s Kyushu island. Politically, they are part of Nagasaki prefecture, although they are technically closer to Korea than they are to most of the rest of Japan.

How do I get to Fukue island?

As the main island of the Goto archipelago, Fukue is the easiest of the islands to reach. The fastest way to get here is a flight from either Fukuoka or Nagasaki, which takes between 30-45 minutes. A jetfoil ferry from Nagasaki takes much longer, but is not necessarily cheaper.

The Bottom Line

This is the Goto islands itinerary I wish I’d had when planning my own trip. Although it focuses primarily on the “main” island of, following in my tire tracks will also take you to Nakadori, Wakamatsu and Kamigoto islands, where you can more carefully follow various threads that are only hinted at on Fukue. My advice is also useful if you want to combine a trip to these islands with a hop over to Iki and Tsushima, thus rounding out your offshore Nagasaki experience fully. Need personalized help putting your trip to Nagasaki prefecture together? Consider hiring me to plan it!


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