Did you know that Japan has also tropical islands? When we searched for interesting things to see in Japan that are not so frequently visited by tourists and firstly saw some pictures of the Yaeyama islands, we thought: this is it! We have to go there! But there wasn’t many information in English about these islands and we did not know exactly what to expect.

Yeayama islands are the southernmost archipelago of Japan. They are part of the Okinawa Prefecture and have a subtropical charm. When you step on the islands, you realise that this is a completely different Japan than you experienced on the northern main islands. Here you will find jungle, beautiful secluded beaches, great snorkelling and scuba diving, plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures…

We visited the three main islands of the Yaeyamas: Ishigaki, Taketomi and Iriomote. They are quite different from each other.

Ishigaki island (Ishigaki-jima)

The island of Ishigaki is considered to be quite developed and touristy (where you can easily escape from those few tourists). It is the main transport hub into the Yaeyamas and can be the staring point of your “island hopping” tour. It’s accessible by plane directly and daily from Tokyo (Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka too) and has the ferry terminal that is your gateway to the rest of the Yaeyama Islands.

There are numerous things to do on Ishigaki. It’s an ideal base for scuba diving trips, it has beautiful beaches, colorful coral reefs and lush jungle. The island is a great getaway without giving up the comfort of modernity.

Things to do on Ishigaki island:

– visit Kabira Bay. It’s quite touristy as it’s Ishigaki’s main attraction, but well worth the scenic view. You can take a glass-bottom boat tour and watch the gathering manta rays if you are there in the right time of the year

– snorkel or dive on beaches of the island: Yonehara beach being one of the best

– enjoy the gorgeous views at Tamatorizaki Observatory, the northernmost cape Hirakunosaki or the wild Cape Ongazaki

– visit the Yonehara Palm Grove and have the best fresh tropical fruit juice

– visit the Ibaruma Sabichi Cave

– chill out on your own secluded beach on one of the many on west part of Hirakubo peninsula

– take the half-day or whole-day snorkeling tours to coral reefs

We traveled around the island by a rented car and for accommodation we had our own tent that we set up in the Yonehara Camping Ground (a very basic campsite, but situated right on a great beach).

Iriomote island (Iriomote-jima)

Iriomote island is considered as one of the “last frontiers” of Japan. With its immense untouched tropical rainforest, ample mangroves and endemic species, the gorgeous ocean that surrounds the island, colorful coral reefs and picture-perfect beaches makes a great destination for adventurous travellers.

Things to do on Iriomote island:

– go hiking trough the dense rainforest, we did an organised hiking trip to a lovely waterfall trough the jungle and walked big part of the trip upstream a river

– one or multi day kayaking trip to many of beautiful beaches and mangrove forest

– scenic canoeing or kayaking trip on the mangrove river and than trekking to the Pinaisara falls (the highest waterfall in Okinawa Prefecture)

– trekking to other magical waterfalls

– snorkeling day-trip tours to coral islands with white sandy beaches and lush pristine coral reefs

– short hike to the coal mining ruin, overgrown by jungle plants (near the jungle cruise boat station on the northern part of the island)

– chill out on the picturesque Hoshinosuna beach, famous for its star-shaped sand and small rocky islands

The Iriomote island is the largest of the Yaeyamas and has a turbulent weather conditions as its big part it’s covered by lush rainforest. It’s recommended to be prepared and have appropriate gear with you as it rains quite a lot.

We rented a car also on Iriomote island and camped in the Hoshinosuna campsite.

Taketomi island (Taketomi-jima)

15 minutes by ferry from Ishigaki island there is the magical Taketomi island. It’s small and mostly visited as half-day or day-trip, but full of traditional charm and has an amazing beach. The  island is best to explore by bicycle. There are numerous bicycle rental shop mini vans that wait in the port to take you to the shop. Cycling trough the traditional village and passing by beautiful flower trees is a special experience and the white sand bank at the end is like a cherry on the cake. Just a must visit if you are on Ishigaki island!

The Yaeyama islands are so diverse, known for their laid back atmosphere and rural lifestyle. They make a great escape from the the hustle and bustle of the classic Japan city tour. They are definitely the Japan “off the beaten path”.

Thing to bring when traveling to Yaeyama islands:

wet weather gear for exploring the beautiful island of Iriomote no matter the weather

– a good insurance as for every travel. We use Coris for years now and had great experience with it when we got into troubles

– a translate app is very helpful, as very few people speak more than very basic words and phrases in English