Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Let’s start with the basics. Okinawa is in the southern most part of Japan and is a 2.5~3 hour flight from Tokyo. The capital of Okinawa is Naha, and is recommended as one of the best places for summer vacation in Japan. For Naha, I think that 3 days is more than enough to see all the recommended beaches and landmarks and drink a tonne of Orion Beer a locally brewed gem. I was in Okinawa just last month for 3 days and hope that this itinerary will help those who plan to visit Japan for a short time, or people living in Japan who only get limited holidays from work. Of course you can extend your stay and visit the islands nearby as well if you’d like.
Okinawa in my opinion has everything you could possibly want in a destination. From beautiful beaches to natural forests, world heritage sites and a unique culture that is very different from the rest of Japan, a huge variety of shopping spots and more. I have selected the best destinations and attractions so that even first timers can enjoy themselves.
For experiencing the whole of Okinawa a rental car is highly recommended so that you can move around more freely. Of course if you don’t have a driving license , there are buses and monorail services available but they are painfully infrequent specially once you step out of Naha city. So If you would want to make use of the full 3 days, I would say a rental car is the best option for going around. You can also take tour services that has the highlights in its packages as well according to your preference.
This schedule assumes that you arrive early in the morning. There are flights at around 7 or 8 from Tokyo and Nagoya. Go pick up a car from the airport and head towards central Okinawa (ONNA) one of the hottest sightseeing areas of Okinawa. Its a one hour drive from the airport.
Onna is a major diving spot, so if you are looking for activities this is where you should be. We did the marine walk and diving activity at the Blue cave. The water here is crystal blue and has a bunch of coral reefs.
I would suggest getting a package deal like we did so that it becomes cheaper ( we took the marine walk at Onna village and blue cave diving from an activity company called the Blue Ocean). If you wish to do each activity on its own it kind of gets expensive. After arriving at Onna head straight to Onna village. For the marine walk you get to pop on a special weighted marine helmet that lets you walk along the sea floors with tropical fish . This activity takes around one and a half hours. Next you can head towards the blue cave diving. You embark from the boat near the mouth of the cave. And the guides takes you to see beautiful underwater vistas as you head towards the the coral reefs under the Blue Cave. This has been one of the best places I have dived in. ( vital tip: be sure to pinch your nose and blow a few times in order to send air to your ears once you start heading into deeper waters. The water pressure in the lower depths can painfully disorient you!)
Onna Diving and Marine Walk
After both the activities grab something to eat. There are a lot of traditional Okinawan restaurants nearby.
One of Okinawa's delicacies are the Sparerib Soba, and for lunch we went to get our fill at the Onna no Eki Nakayukui Market. After a well deserved lunch head over to Cape Manzamo, a popular scenic site famous for its unique elephant trunk shaped cliff. This place is very popular for photography and is always cramped with tourists. After taking some photos and going around cape manzamo, head over to the nearby Manza beach for beers as you take in the sunset. This is what the island life is about.
Pro tip: stock up on beers from convenience stores. We scoured Onna for a beach bar and could not find one
For those who are not into activities, Onna has a lot to offer. Instead of doing activities you can head over to Ryuku Mura. It is a small theme park about traditional Okinawan culture in the form of a recreated village from the times of the Ryuku kingdom. There you can make your own pottery, try delicious Okinawa dishes and enjoy local performances as well.
There are a lot of hotels nearby the blue cave, but we decided to book a house in Onna to get them Terrace House feels but it is completely up to you. After such a hectic day, we decided to just chill for the rest of the evening. Later for dinner we went for Yakiniku ( Japanese BBQ)
The next day we checked out around 10 AM and took a long drive around the northern coast of Okinawa.
Our first stop was Churaumi Aquarium. The highlight of this place is the Kuroshio Tank which contains a variety of marine species, the most impressive one being the 9m long whale sharks and giant mantra rays. Make sure to check the feeding times and show times before going in so that you don’t miss a thing.
If you cant to hire a car, its best to consider tours around the island. Here’s one that touches down in some of our favorite places
After taking a gander at the sea life you can venture leisurely to Emerald Beach, aptly named after its crystal clear greenish blue waters. Okinawa is literally called the Hawaii of Japan, so when you’re there might as well take in as much of its amazing beaches as you can. Thats what we did the rest of the day, drove around the north and took in the sights. There are a lot of marine sports activities to be enjoyed in the North as well. Our next stop was Sesoko beach famous for its clear water and white sand. Crossing the Sesoko Ohashi bridge is also one of the highlight of this area where the natural beauty of Northern Okinawa spreads before your eyes. You can enjoy swimming at Sesoko to your hearts content. You can also see colorful fish close up in the shallow waters. All in all this place would make you feel like you are in a natural aquarium. If you're a sports person, there are also a variety of marine sports around Sesoko beach. We stopped by Sesoko Beach Marine Club, a diving shop located near the bridge connecting Naha and Sesoko islands. The packages there were pretty reasonable and we got to go parasailing and biscuiting for less than a 100$.
Kokusai Dori At Night
We stayed at Kokusui Dori in Naha city that night, at a really nice condo called Okinawa Prison. The name might be deceiving but the place was very luxurious and located just two minutes away from the train station. If your in the mood to explore the nightlife of Okinawa Kokusai Dori is the place for you. The street is filled with bars and clubs that form a vibrant scene after dark. After getting a few drinks in you from the all you can drink (飲み放題ーnomihodai）places explore the alley ways hidden off the main street home to a plethora of local restaurants that sell local delicacies like Agu pork, Snake wine called Aomori, Okinawa soba and a lot more!
The third day should be for shopping and buying souvenirs because you don’t want to carry them with you throughout the trip. Keep this day for the two hotspots of the town: American Village and Kokusai Douri and visit the attractions in the city if you have time.
In the morning we visited the Shuri Castle but upon arrival we found out that it had burned down last year.It was a Unesco Heritage site but due a natural fire this wooden castle was lost overnight. It is currently being reconstructed and you can still climb up to the ruins of the castle to take in panoramic views of Okinawa city.
Next, we headed towards American Village. The American village is a huge entertainment complex in Chatan and the name was given because there are a lot of American military bases. It contains more than a 100 stores and restaurants that will give you major American vibes. After roaming here for a couple of hours we headed towards Kokusai Dori, this time in the daylight.
Kokusai Dori Shopping Street
Kokusai Dori is known as the heart of Naha .The bustling street has it all, street performances, farmers market, restaurants you name it. We spent our last few hours in Okinawa souvenir shopping and drinking our last few gallons of Orion Beer.
At around 6PM we headed towards the airport after 3 hectic but very fulfilling days. Our heads filled with memories of beautiful underwater coral reefs and striking coastal landscapes.