Ishigaki and the Yaeyama islands: practical information
Why choose Ishigaki?
When planning to visit Okinawa, you certainly wondered if you should go to Okinawa main island, Miyako or Ishigaki. All three are worth a visit, but are very different.
Okinawa Honto (main island) has many cultural sites to visit (it was the capital of Ryukyu (Okinawa) kingdom) but it is quite densely populated, at least in the south of the island, and somehow disfigured by the presence of so many American military bases. So it you want to escape from Japanese big cities and see authentic Okinawa, small islands are more preserved.
Miyako jima is a coral atoll so it has beautiful lagoons and reefs to explore, if your main target is snorkeling Miyako is a must. But it does not have the diversity of landscapes that you can have in Okinawa honto or Ishigaki.
Ishigaki is the main of the Yaeyama islands, and the perfect place to stay to explore the surroundings islands as day trips. Most famous islands are Taketomi, with its beautiful villages and beaches, Iriomote with its mangroves, jungle and waterfalls, and Hateruma with its beautiful beaches and snorkeling spots. Ishigaki itself has also a lot to offer, with mountains, rivers, jungle, beaches and coral reefs, so you'll certainly find out you don't have enough time to do everything.
Ishigaki is famous for its sightseeing (Kabira bay, Uganzaki, Hirakubo), its diving and snorkeling (especially to see manta rays) and its culture (festivals, pottery, weaving,...) and is still relatively preserved from mass tourism (but things are changing fast unfortunately)
How to access to Ishigaki?
We have direct flights from all Japanese main cities, many flights a day to Naha in Okinawa, international flights to Hong kong (HK express) and Taipei (China airlines)
How to move around in Ishigaki?
Renting a car or scooter is by far the most convenient may to visit the island. There are a few buses but not enough, except between the city, Shiraho, to the airport
What to bring?
- a driving license: international license in most cases but for some countries (Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Taiwan for instance) international license won't be accepted, you will need a translation of your domestic license. You can do the translation in any JAF office in Japan (there is no JAF office in Ishigaki), or by mail if you have an adress in Japan (we can do it for you)
- Sun protection (hat, long sleeves, lycra T-shirt to swim), please don't damage the coral reefs with chemicals.
How long time to stay?
Most of our guests stay one week and say it is too short. I would say 2 full days for Ishigaki, 2 days for other islands, 1 day snorkeling and diving, and at least 1 day just to enjoy and relax. 6/7 nights is a good plan.
What to do?
Main thing to do here is drive around. discover the island, find you own ideal beach. Then snorkeling, diving from the beach or with a boat. Takes ferries to explore the others islands. Taste local food (ishigaki beef is famous) local music and dance. Relax on the beach, ...
When to come (weather)?
From April to November, depending on what you are looking for.
Winter (December to March) is rainy and relatively cold (15 to 20 degres), you can have beautiful days with 25 degres, but most of the time the north wind brings clouds and it is not that nice. Offical beach opening is usually mid march.
April is nice and not too hot.
We have a rainy season from mid may to mid June (basically a few showers a day and sun in between).
From mid June summer starts, hot and humid until end of august.
September, October and November are nice until the north wind starts to blow again bringing clouds and rain.
We can have typhoons from July to October (usually 2 to 3 per year).
Keep in mind we have a sub tropical climate: it can rain at any season.
Where to stay?
Basically Ishigaki is divided in 3 areas:
- South coast with the city, supermarkets, restaurants, nightlife, airport and ferry terminal.
- middle: farming area.
- North coast, from Kabira (west) to Hirano (top north), with the beautiful beaches and sightseeing spots.
So you will have to commute between the north and the city (because even if you are not night live lover, you still have to go shopping and take ferries to the others islands).
If your focus is food, night life, island hopping, or if you don't drive, stay close to the city.
If you dream of sunsets on the beach and nature, the north is for you.
We think Shiraho village (where is Le Lotus Bleu) is a good compromise, close enough to the city, very quiet, close to the airport, with an easy access to the north coast.
If you want a house for yourself with a secret beach just for you away from everything, try la terrasse Kookai.
It is difficult to plan your stay around matsuris, because we don't know long in advance when they happen but if you happen to be here, it is a beautiful experience. Main festivals are
Haari, beginning of June. Fishermen festival, row boats competition.
Hoonensai, end of July. harvest festivals. They are organised by each village / neighbourhood and can be held at different dates.
O bon, 2nd half of august.