Ishigaki Island – Okinawa is Japan’s Paradise. Escaping the heat to the west and frolicking in warm waters all day, everyday is the perfect escape for those contemplating a summertime holiday. There is nowhere else in the country that embodies the free spirit and laid-back vibes of summer quite like Okinawa, and Ishigaki, a small island that’s a short flight from Naha, the main tourist hub, is the perfect island in Okinawa to visit if it’s your first time (or second time, or third time…scrap that, it’s actually the perfect island, period).
As the main island of the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa, Ishigaki is everything you could hope for in a sub-tropical island: the creature comforts of a destination used to catering for visiting tourists so you’re not choice-less when it comes to comforts and a bit of luxury (like many secluded but ill-equipped destinations out there) that’s definitely not at the expense of the natural beauty and draw of the island in the first place. Basically, it’s the best of both worlds.
Due to it’s small size, easy-to-adapt to road rules, and small number of cars on the roads, the best way to get around (other than if you’re heading there on a tour) is to hire a rental car, so you’ll need an international license from your country. There are taxis that can take you around, but the comforts of traveling at your own pace and stopping to capture stunning scenery whenever and wherever you want is something you should definitely consider.
How To Get There?
Get To Ishigaki Island From Tokyo
The easiest and quickest way to get to Ishigaki from Tokyo is to catch a flight. If you’re after a budget option, Vanilla Air constantly has sales for this route, for as little as 3,500 yen one way (this is their special fare, so keep an eye out on their website if you’re contemplating this option). However, this route takes longer as it flies from Narita Airport. ANA and JAL also fly to Ishigaki from Haneda Airport, and their flights are shorter by 30-40 minutes, however, their prices are substantially more expensive.
Get To Ishigaki Island From Osaka or Kyoto
From Osaka or Kyoto, again, the easiest way to get to Ishigaki is to fly. The budget airline to look out for is Peach Aviation, with regular budget fares starting at 7,000 yen, but they can go lower during the sporadic sales throughout the year. The flights are just under three hours, and they fly from Kansai Airport.
Where To Stay?
Ishigaki Island Guesthouse – Retya
Located on the outskirts of the city centre is Retya, a modern-style guesthouse with all the facilities for a cheap and comfortable stay. If you’re after value for money, this is the option for you. Located within a short driving distance from Yonehara Beach, Kabira Bay, Tamatorizaki Observation Point, and Sukuji Beach, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an alternative that is as new and convenient as this place. Unlike many guesthouses, all guest rooms are equipped with a flat-screen TV, and being only 5km away from the airport definitely has its perks (yay for sleeping in!).
Why Guests Love It: “The room was BIG! And truly comfortable for me and my boyfriend to stay for 2-nights in Ishigaki. The host was very generous and everything went very systematically well when we checked in. The utmost thing we want to say is that we LOVED the breakfast. The reason we had a really good time with good energy in Ishigaki was because of the breakfast which the host made for us.”
Price: from 20,000 yen for 2 people/2 nights (there is a minimum number of nights for the booking of this property)
Book It Now: Retya
Ishigaki Island Hotel – Ishigakijima Hotel Cucule
Considered as one of the best sellers on the entire island, Ishigakijima Hotel Cucule leaves nothing to the imagination as it covers all aspects of comfort, luxury, relaxation, and convenience. All throughout the hotel, modern facilities such as free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, and air-conditioning will welcome you home as you try to escape the infamous Okinawan summer heat you’ve been melting in all day. There is an in-house restaurant called Yurak Tei which serves authentic Okinawan dishes, however, a short walk away is the shopping district, and just outside is a konbini, so you really are spoilt for choice.
Why Guests Love It: “Very good hotel location, extremely close to the bus terminal, ferry terminal, and shopping area. Breakfast is very nice and free drinks are available in the lobby until 11:00pm everyday”, “Excellent staff, excellent location, great breakfast, pretty and tidy room with all you need inside”.
Price: from 11,600 yen for 2 people/night
Book It Now: Ishigakijima Hotel Cucule
Ishigaki Island Resort – Grandvrio Resort Ishigakijima Villa Garden
Some people come to Ishigaki seeking paradise on earth, and if you’re after a full-frilled, 100% luxe experience, then the Grandvrio Resort Ishigakijima Villa Garden should be your number one choice. Featuring a seasonal outdoor pool, hot spring bath, free Wi-Fi throughout, a free shuttle service, and private off-site parking, this resort has practically everything you may need for the perfect tropical island holiday, and more. All rooms come equipped with a private bathroom, toiletries, and a sofa. The front desk is open 24/7, and there’s even water sports facilities, and a spa and wellness centre for the complete R&R experience. Wake up to a buffet breakfast and stunning views every morning.
Why Guests Love It: “Excellent accommodations – well appointed rooms as well as public areas. Well maintained. Superb staff. Super friendly as well as courteous”, “Wonderful hotel! Staff was very friendly and kind! Facility was nice and new. View of the ocean was gorgeous!”, “Checking-in process was very nice. Breakfast was very good, buffet style with something for everyone to enjoy”.
Price: from 22,000 yen for 2 people/night
Book It Now: Grandvrio Resort Ishigakijima Villa Garden
What To Eat?
Ishigaki Island is full of surprises. For a remote island that you can drive from one end to the other in a mere few hours, it absolutely packs a punch in terms of food options. There are restaurants and cafes lining the sides of the main street where you can just pop in for a meal, but know that because the time is slower in Okinawa, the opening hours are slightly different.
Whilst every restaurant will be able to serve up a delicious meal no doubt, below we’ve listed a few types of dishes you absolutely need to try (and are available at many restaurants), as well as a few eateries you need to make the time for.
Ishigaki Island – Umi Budo (sea grapes)
One of Okinawa’s most famous foods is the green algae known as sea grapes. Taking on the form of green baubles that resemble cavier, these are super tasty and sort of ‘pop’ in your mouth when you bite onto it. They’re served with lemon, and the acidic juices somewhat lessen the impact of the flavouring. It may look and sounwd weird, but they’re cheap and can be found at most izakayas, so give it a shot! Just ask for ‘umi budo’ (oo-me boo-do).
Ishigaki Island – Ishigaki Beef Noodles
Ishigaki beef is somewhat legendary, and most yakiniku restaurants will offer premium cuts that are tender beyond your wildest dreams. One option of consuming Ishigaki beef that is not as well-known but is definitely deserves the rapport is Ishigaki Beef stir-fry noodles. This option is an option at most izakaya restaurants, and is one of the tastiest dishes you can order! The fats and oils of the beef coat the noodles spectacularly, adding flavour that you wouldn’t normally taste in stir fry noodles. We highly recommend it!
Our Izakaya Recommendation: 肴座 円陣（サカナザエンジン) –
Ishigaki Island – Yaeyama Soba
If you’ve done any research into eating on Ishigaki, you would have come across Yaeyama Katosoba, a small seaside restaurant located right in the middle of the island with the ocean in the background. The small husband and wife team who run the joint are extremely humble and friendly, despite knowing little English, but you can get by with the English menu they provide. Their most famous dish, grilled whole prawn Yaeyama soba, is the bomb! It’s super tasty with a light broth and springy noodles, and it comes out looking like a masterpiece. Another recommendation is the Okinawan stewed pork ribs soba dish; the meat just falls off the bone and you’re left chewing on some super tender pork pieces that just melt in your mouth. Order at least one of these dishes as a combo set, as their sides are some of the best we’ve ever had. Lastly, if you still have room, their kakigori is 11/10, especially on a balmy summer day.
Unfortunately, it’s not accessible unless you have a car.
Ishigaki Island – Green Curry Soba + 10 Vegetable Curry
One thing we found super surprising on Ishigaki Island is not only the abundance of food that is available, but the supreme variety of which we can choose from. One of the best decisions we made whilst there was to give Amurita No Niwa Soshite Ongaku a visit. This small, quaint, retro-style restaurant just off the main streets of Ishigaki served up one of the meanest curries we’ve had: two curry flavours flanked by 10 different types of deep-fried vegetables, it was like having a party in your mouth. Their green curry soba also deserves a special mention; we were drawn to this dish out of sheer curiosity, and it definitely paid off. If you’re huge fan of the spices and punchy flavours of Thai food, this will really hit the spot for you.
Ishigaki Island – Visit Taketomi Island
Whilst the main Ishigaki Island is amazing and doesn’t require any additional gimmicks to make it more enjoyable than it already is, it’s surrounded by a number of small, equally as gorgeous but unique in nature and stature islands that are a mere ferry ride away – some take as little as 15-minutes to get to!
One such island is Taketomi, a small island just off of Ishigaki’s coast, home to the wonderfully preserved Ryukyu village and gorgeous Kondoi Beach. The village consists almost entirely of traditionally-built one-storied houses that will take you back in time as you wander through the open streets.
The beaches on Taketomi are even less visited than Ishigaki, meaning that wherever you waddle into, you’ll most likely have an entire area to yourself to just splash around in and play with the fish – it’s absolute serenity.
Traveling around Taketomi is best on a bicycle, as there are no rental cars on the island. You can ask the desk inside the centre near the port where the bicycle rental is, and they’ll point you in a direction that will only take a few minutes to get to. It’s cheap, and a great way to explore the island. It will only take a few hours to get around to the main areas of interest, but a day trip, including possibly riding a water buffalo through the traditional streets, is in order, because once you step foot off the island, you’re almost never going to want to leave.
Access: Head to the Ishigaki Port, and purchase a return ticket from one of the ticket booths. They operate daily, however, their prices differ slightly so you may want to check out all booths before making a decision. There are boats operating every half hour.
Cost: 1,330 yen (round-trip)
Book a tour: Day Island Tour
If you are into beautiful island in SE Asia, don’t forget to also read these blog posts: Southeast Asia Islands.
Ishigaki Island – Go Snorkelling at Yonehara Beach
‘Snorkeling at Yonehara Beach’ is definitely going to be a returned result whenever you research online about what to do in Ishigaki. Whilst the sheer number of recommendations for Yonehara might scare it off those who are after a more secluded attraction, trust us when we say, even during peak season, the people won’t deter from the sheer beauty of the place and the experience you’ll take away from it.
Without even an ounce of exaggeration, Yonehara’s waters are as azure as those desktop pictures you gaze at on the daily. Waddle out 15, 20, even 30 meters, and you’ll still be able to clearly see through the water to the seabed. It is due to this fact that snorkeling here has been rated as one of the top experiences in Isihigaki Island.
Whilst the coral reef here is not rainbow in colours and in great abundance, that alone makes it all the more precious. Rent some snorkeling gear from the shop beside the parking lot (it’s 500 yen to park there all day, by the way, collected by a guy lumbering around in board shorts throughout the day), hop into the water and away you go!
The moment you’re in, you’ll see some white fish darting around at your feet, but the further you go into the water, closer and closer to the coral reefs, the more varieties of fish you’re going to see, and they are utterly adorable. Do not miss this activity, even if you only have a few hours to spare!
Ishigaki Island – Hike to the Top of Mount Omoto
If you’re traveling all the way to the Okinawan Islands, chances are, you probably just want some R&R time at the white-sand beaches under the sun, without even having to think about any physically demanding activities to fill your days. That’s perfectly understandable, and we get it! Okinawa is generally all about soaking up the rays of sunshine and floating away from all your troubles in the warm waters of the beaches encompassing the island.
However, if you’re the outdoor type and love a good hike whenever, wherever you are, then we highly recommend driving up to the mid-way point of Mount Omoto, the tallest mountain in Okinawa, and doing the 20-30-minute hike to the top.
On a hot day, you’re under the protection of the trees most of the time so you won’t burn, but on a wet day, the narrow, leaf-blanketed path winding (at some points quite steeply) to the top can be very slippery (and we can attest to this because as we were making out way down, a slip on one of the steps almost took our knee out!). There are ropes on either side of the path so assist people in making those harder to reach steps.
It’s not for the claustrophobic, nor for those who don’t want to work up a sweat, because although it’s a mere half hour, at some points you will be squeezing past some dense shrubs that seem never-ending, and during other times, you’ll be climbing up steep, slippery steps that will work your legs in ways you didn’t think you would on an island like Ishigaki.
However, once you get to the top and climb up one of the enormous boulders, the view is absolutely insane. Every angle you look, you will see the vast and extremely blue ocean stretching out to the horizon, and the amount of forestation on the island will astound you. The gentle gust of winds will help in cooling you down, although we don’t advise you to stay up there for too long, as you’ll start the feel the harshness of the sun after a while (stay protected with sunscreen!
Address: 〒907-0004 沖縄県石垣市登野城
Access: Drive up the mountain until you see the above pictured green sign. That is the entrance to the trail. It will most likely be covered in overgrown shrubs and towering tree branches, but if that’s the case, then you’re at the right place.
Ishigaki Island – Float away at Sunset Beach
One of the lesser spoken-about beaches in Ishigaki, Sunset Beach is by no means lesser in quality or beauty. Hidden away towards the north of the island, the car park is tucked away from the main road so if you’re heading there and begin to make some questionable turns, don’t worry, it’s all part of the adventure. Parking here, like Yonehara, is 500 yen per day, payable at a small counter that you walk past to get to the entrance of the beach. It costs extra to use their showers.
You will need to walk a little further to get to the beach, however, once you settle down and jump into the waters, you’ll find that the little adventure was worth it. The mild temperatures of the water, the gorgeous sky filled with clouds and the sun, and the small crowds means you can enjoy a few hours completely uninterrupted fun. There are no fish here to play with, so be mindful of that!
However, if you’re after some fun activities, there is a tour desk that sits on the beach all day long, with professionals ready to take you out on a spin on their jet skis, banana boats, and paddleboards should you want to.
When you head out, stop by the ice cream stand to grab some of the famous ‘Blue Seal’ Okinawan ice cream – our recommendation is the mint choc chip one!
By the way, if you want to visit more beaches in Okinawa, make sure you also read this blog post: Okinawa Beach.
Ishigaki Island – Visit Hirakubo Lighthouse for Breathtaking Views
This cape right on the northern area of Ishigaki is a few hours drive from the main town, but if you’re already up north visiting Sunset Beach, then you should pop this area onto your itinerary as well, because it has one of the best views of the waters surrounding Ishigaki. The view at this place is pretty much the epitome of Okinawan Island from many western standpoints.
The water from the tip of the cape near the lighthouse actually looks unreal. It’s not swimmable, so you can only admire it from afar unfortunately, but we still highly recommend this place because the overwhelming sensation that you will get witnessing this natural beauty is unmatched – we know we’ve never seen anything like it before.
There’s a coffee and ice cream stand at the car park, although be warned, there’s limited amount of space to park so you might have to just park on the road leading up instead.
Ishigaki Island – Grab Ice Cream at Mirumiru Hompo Honten and Watch The Stunning Sunset
One of the most underrated activities to do on the island is grabbing some ice cream at Miru Miru on the hilltop and watching the sun paint a gorgeous artwork across the skies as it dips down and disappears into the horizon.
There’s something about this almost ethereal experience that will give you tingles. This time is probably the busiest time of the day, and yet during the final moments of the sun in the sky, there’s almost complete silence as everyone mutually respects the silence that is warranted to really enjoy this natural beauty.
Couple that with some delicious purple yam, dragonfruit, or tofu ice cream (they also have normal flavours but where’s the fun in that?), and you’ve got yourself the perfect afternoon activity.
There are tables set up outside, but you can also find a nice patch of grass to sit on as well (just be warned though: there are spikey bits!). Next door is a small souvenir shop for you to get some cakes random memorabilia. Remember to get there a bit before sunrise so you have time to grab ice-cream and settle down, because we did witness people get there as the sun was setting, so by the time they grabbed their ice cream and came outside, it had already disappeared.
Ishigaki Island – Admire Kabira Bay
One of the most talked points of interest on Ishigaki is Kabira Bay, and it’s almost undisputed as to why this is. Whilst all the other beaches on the island completely blows any beach on mainland Japan out of the water, the pastel blue and green hues of Kabira Bay are actually something else.
Unfortunately, due to the excessive boating activities on the bay, swimming and other water activities prohibited, meaning you can only really walk along the edge of the waters if you want a feel of the bay, otherwise, people generally just go for a gentle stroll along the beach away from the crowds to take in the sight of the blue waters against the cotton candy sky.
Parking is in abundance and is also cheap, and there is a small line of shops that sell little trinkets and snacks towards the entrance of the pathway to the bay. We recommend doing in the late afternoon, when the sun isn’t scorching down on your skin.
Ishigaki Island – Visit the Yonehara Palm Trees
We’re going to be blunt and say: this is not an absolute must-do. However, if you have a spare half hour during the day, and you happen to visiting Yonehara Beach, then this Palm Tree Grove is worth a short visit.
Located only 5-minutes drive from the beach, this collection of palm trees requires you to take a short walk through a wooden platform path which wind through a small green forest before ending at a landing area surrounded by the palm trees.
There are occasional information boards in front of various vegetation to explain the history and nature of them, however, they’re in Japanese so you can only hope to guess what they mean!
There is free parking just at the entrance to the wooden platform, and there is also a small fresh fruit juice shop located outside selling an amazing dragon-fruit juice that many people rave on about, as well as freshly pressed sugar-cane juice.
A getaway to Okinawa may not be on the books for many people visiting Japan, but it’s one that no one regrets going out on a limb for. It’s comparable to the island beaches of Fiji and Hawaii, and you get to see a side of Japan that’s usually overlooked for the likes of temples, shrines, and castles. If you’re visiting from either March – May, or Sept – Dec, consider this a leg of your itinerary – it’s the best time to visit, as the skies are another level of blue, and the waters are as clear as day.