I’ve been to Japan several times throughout my lifetime and have visited a wide range of cities, including Tokyo, Hokkaido, Fukuoka, and Osaka. This winter was my first time in Okinawa, and it was full of surprises. Okinawa is not like the rest of the Japanese islands. For one thing, it’s so far down south that the geographic latitude is similar to Taiwan, resulting in tropical climates. The rich sea life, the exotic and multicultural vibe, and the absolutely delicious foods make Okinawa a bucket list destination, especially when you want to escape to warmer climate in the winter. Here are some suggestions on what to do in Okinawa, and some of my favorite experiences from my own trip. Share and comment if I missed any of your favorite places in Okinawa!
|What to Do in Okinawa|
Best Time of Year
Mid to late March for dry weather. Early to mid January for cooler temperatures (average 60 degrees Fahrenheit, 16 degrees Celsius)
Recommended Number of Days
3-4 days would be enough to be able to tour the most popular tourist attraction sites in Okinawa.
Recommended Number of People
2 to 3 people to help coordinate and plan your trip, as well as enjoy your stay as a group.
Eat, Drink, Stay, See, Acquire
Kariyushi Beach Resort – A beautiful resort with pools, fountains, outdoor grill stations, and a view of the ocean. Because the resort is so big and elaborate, some people stay inside for days just to try everything that is available. The best part is the food. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is a fusion buffet of Western and Japanese style dishes. You can also carry your own meats and vegetables out to one of the grill stations and have a barbeque party.
Okinawa Mariott Resort & Spa – Currently rated number 1 in “Best Value Hotels to Stay in Okinawa” by Trip Advisor. The hotel has a 4 out of 5 rating and positive reviews by almost 1,500 visitors. Mariott is the classic 5-star hotel across the globe; it will not fail you if you’re looking forward to a luxurious stay.
Hotel Aqua Citta – A beautiful, new, modern hotel with a rooftop bar and an outdoor pool. It has an excellent rating of 4.5 out of 5 according to Trip Advisor. Hotel Aqua Citta is also the perfect choice if you are on a budget, going as low as less than $200 for a three-night stay.
Eat + Drink
Purple Yam Tart – The purple yam, known as benimo, is an iconic food in Okinawa. It’s in every kind of dessert you can find — ice cream, pastries, chips, biscuits… the most famous one is the tart, little pastry boats filled with a creamy, deep purple yam paste. Just the thought of having a bite of this tart and a gulp of milk makes my mouth water.
Purple Yam Kit Kat – Basically the same benimo ingredient present yet again in a different form: Kit Kat. Crazy Kit Kat flavors are famous in Japan. These flavors include matcha, apple, and sake (which contains 3% alcohol). Purple yam Kit Kat is native to Okinawa and is only available in this part of Japan. Be sure to grab a box on your way out of the souvenir shop!
Agu (Okinawa Pork) – Agu is Okinawa pork, meat from the wild boar that lives on the island. Marinated in a savory sauce, agu katsu-donburi (rice topped with meats and vegetables) is a must when in Okinawa. Additionally, glazed agu belly marinated in soy and honey is also crisp on the outside and incredibly tender on the inside.
Orion Beer – The one and only Orion beer factory was founded in Okinawa. Although not as internationally well known as Asahi or Sapporo, Orion is definitely a local favorite. They are recognizable by the three red stars on the can, alluding to the constellation forming Orion’s belt.
Okinawa Soba – Soba is traditional Japanese buckwheat noodles. Okinawa has a unique style of this dish, where the noodles are made with wheat instead of buckwheat, giving it a thicker, more savory feeling than the typical bowl of soba noodles. Served in a hot bowl of bonito broth, Okinawa soba is savory and filling. The usual toppings include fish cakes, slices of pork, sliced scallion, and pickled ginger.
Ryukyu Glass – Ryukyu glass is formed by a unique method of glassblowing. The colors are bright and exotic, streaks of blue, green, and yellow. Leaving bubbles made during the process creates beautiful patterns and effects on the glass. Therefore, the glass is never completely transparent or smooth; no two Ryukyu glass are the same.
Shisa Statue – Shisa is a lion-like creature that is prevalent in Okinawan mythology. People believe that having a pair of Shisa statues in the home will protect residents from evil spirits.
See + Do
Churaumi Aquarium – The third largest aquarium in the world. You could spend days looking at all the fish and a countless number of other marine animals. The aquarium is part of a bigger site known as the Ocean Expo Park, which also has a myriad of things to see. Within the aquarium is the Kuroshio Tank, a massive aquatic tank that reaches up to a four-story building. The biggest attraction about this tank is that it contains giant whale sharks and several manta rays.
Emerald Beach – About a 5-minute drive away from Churaumi Aquarium is Emerald Beach, so you can consider stopping by here on your way to the aquarium. The beach got its name from the color of the water: emerald green. The view is relaxing and serene, a perfect escape from bustling cities.
Nakagusuku Castle Ruins – A UNESCO listed world heritage site of castles built in the 14th century. Members of the Ryukyu Kingdom inhabited Okinawa until Japan took over. In 1879, Okinawa became a Japanese prefecture. The Nakagusuku castle ruins are one of the remains of the architecture that was native to the Ryukyu people.