Where to stay in Okinawa, the tropical paradise of Japan
Thanks to its rich and interesting history and culture, Japan has plenty to offer as a popular tourist destination. In the south of Japan’s main archipelago is a group of islands known as Okinawa, which is one of the favorite hotspots for international and local travelers alike. The islands are a true tropical paradise with pleasantly warm temperatures and pristine waters throughout the year. We have created a list of the best areas to make things less overwhelming for those of you looking where to stay in Okinawa for your next travel adventure.
Main public transport in Okinawa involves a Yui Rail monorail, buses, and taxis. It’s still more convenient to rent a car, motorcycle, or even a bicycle to get around if you want unlimited freedom to explore Okinawa. You’ll need a license for driving in Japan if you want to rent a car. Learn more about it here.
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Okinawa is a group of islands in the East China Sea, perfect for everyone who wants to explore Japan in a tropical atmosphere. Snorkeling and diving are immensely popular, but there are also plenty of shops, restaurants, gardens, old castles and temples, and a jungle waiting to be explored.
If you’re looking for the best neighborhood to stay in, make sure to check out our top picks:
- Kerama Islands
For our neighborhood roundup, we used several factors to pick the best areas for your stay:
- The atmosphere and vibe of the area
- Interesting things to do and see
- The cultural and historical importance
- Neighborhood safety
- Ease of transport
- Accommodation cost
|Best neighborhoods to stay in Okinawa|
|Nago||For a first-time visit||Natural and wildlife paradise|
|Iriomote||For a budget-friendly stay||Jungle and tropical forests|
|Naha||For nightlife fun||The largest city with sandy beaches|
|Ishigaki||For a cool and boho vibe||A place with beautiful beaches|
|Kerama Islands||For families/long-term stay||Hotspot for diving and snorkeling|
Nago is a buzzing city in the north of Okinawa’s main island, ideal for your first-time visit. It has an amazing beach, but there are other options to keep you entertained. The Busena Marine Park is a great way to learn more about the area’s marine life, while Pineapple Park will let you learn more about pineapples in a fun and unique way.
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- Enjoy the amazing marine and wildlife of the island
- Learn more about the island’s history and culture
At the Busena Marine Park, you’ll be able to visit the underwater structure, so that you can watch and learn more about marine life without having to get into the water. You can also visit the Neo Park Zoo if you want to check out the island’s wildlife. And Pineapple Park is definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in something different and special.
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If you want to learn more about Okinawa’s culture and history, head to the Nago Museum. It effectively represents the shift from the past to the modern lifestyle of the island. One of the most popular exhibits includes the giant clam shell weighing more than 200 kg.
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The second-largest Okinawa island is Iriomote, home to the National Park and a place mostly covered by tropical forests and jungle. This is the best place to stay in Okinawa for nature lovers and people looking to explore the area on a budget. River cruises, hiking, and beach fun are the main activities on Iriomote.
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- Hit the Urauchi river to explore the area
- Hike and dive to get the adrenaline pumping
Iriomote is the ideal place to get in touch with nature and check out the beautiful scenery, flora, fauna, and marine life of the area. In case you’re not an experienced adventurer, it would be best to get a kayak or join the cruise on the Urauchi river.
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In case you have more experience with natural explorations and wildlife, don’t miss the opportunity to dive in Manta Way and swim together with manta rays. If you prefer hiking, you’d definitely enjoy the 20-kilometer hiking path in the middle of the island.
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Naha is the capital of Okinawa and the biggest city on the main island. This is where the main airport is located, which is why the place is filled with tourists. The small beach in the city is really popular, and there are also plenty of other fun activities. History buffs will adore Shuri Castle, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is packed with bars and clubs, as well as lovely local shops.
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- Shop around and eat delicious local specialties
- Explore the ancient sites and marvel at the architecture
At Kokusai Dori, you’ll be able to find the most curious items that will satisfy your souvenir needs. Make sure to visit the Tsuboya Pottery District, too if you’re interested in local pottery work. Soba noodles are the local specialty, so don’t hesitate to treat yourself with some at the Shuri Soba restaurant.
As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Shuri Castle is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Naha. It dates from the 14th century. For almost 500 years, it was used as the royal court and administrative center of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Today, it holds huge historical importance for Okinawa and Japan.
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Ishigaki is one of the Okinawa islands considered to be the coolest place in the area with some of the most gorgeous beaches. It’s also a great place to try out diving and snorkeling. Ishigaki is a paradise for foodies and it also has some fun activities for people interested in historical and cultural sightseeing.
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- Explore and relax at Ishigaki’s popular beaches
- Check out the museum
- Try out local delicacies
If you’re looking where to stay in Okinawa for a sandy paradise, Ishigaki is the best place. Yonehara Beach, Sukuji Beach, and Sunset Beach are the most popular hotspots where you can also engage in diving and snorkeling.
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In case you want to learn more about Okinawa and Ishigaki, pay a visit to the Yaeyama Museum, and immerse yourself in the archaeology, history, art, and folk traditions of the area.
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You can’t go wrong with any restaurants or eatery in Ishigaki. Ishigaki beef is the local specialty that is an absolute must-try during your visit. It’s even available in the form of sushi and sashimi.
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Those of you that decided to settle for a longer period of time in Okinawa should consider Kerama Islands. It’s also a fantastic place if you’re looking where to stay in Okinawa when traveling with your family. This is the hotspot for diving and snorkeling thanks to the amazingly clean ocean water. You can also witness the migration of humpback whales during the winter.
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Where what to do in the Kerama Islands
- Relax at the beaches, dive, and snorkel
- Take a tour during winter months to see humpback whales
Tokashiki and Zamami islands are the two most popular diving locations in Kerama Islands. Even if you’re a complete beginner, this is the place to learn how to dive. You can also snorkel and swim together with the sea turtles, or simply enjoy the sun and scenery at one of its picturesque beaches. If you’re staying in the Kerama Islands between January and March, you can easily find a cruise to check out the humpback whale migration.
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