Unlike Taketomi (“The Little Village Island”) and Iriomote (“The Jungle Island”), Ishigaki Island cannot easily be boiled down to one defining feature. As the most inhabited of the Yaeyama Island chain, and their economic and political centre, Ishigaki has a wide variety of interesting things to offer. So for our last full day before flying back to Okinawa Main Island, we rented a car and set off to explore the place that had become our home base in the Yaeyamas.
Under the Island
It seemed that the bad jungle weather we had endured on Iriomote Island decided to follow us back to Ishigaki. So for our first stop, we decided to escape the weather above and explore the world beneath. Ishigaki Island is home to a rather impressive system of limestone caves created over time from coral, and remnants of the sea can still be seen in the cave today.
Under the sea
After the caves the weather wasn’t looking any prettier, so we decided to try our luck on the far coast. The caves were just outside of Ishigaki City on the south end of the island, so we made our way up the west coast, heading north to Kabira Bay. After finding lunch, we decided to see what was going on under the sea by taking a tour by glass bottom boat. After that, as the rain let up a little bit, we thought ‘heck, if we’re going to be soaked, we might as well be in the ocean’ so we headed to a nearby beach to go for a swim.
Under the palm trees
After our boating and beaching, we decided to take a different route back to Ishigaki City, which would take us down the centre of the island and allow us to visit “Yaeyama Palm Grove” on our way. Yaeyama palms are a unique variety found only in the Yaeyama Islands. En route we discovered some very interesting creatures… and were discovered by some very evil ones.
Ishigaki Island Travel Tips
- Renting a car was definitely a good decision for us on this island, even though we weren’t initially going to, because it gave us a lot of freedom to go where we wanted, when we wanted. If possible, I’d recommend it. If not, there are buses – but the majority of the population is centred around Ishigaki City, so if you want to go anywhere asides from the main tourist areas you might have trouble.
- Be aware that you’ll have to take a bus or taxi from the airport to downtown if you haven’t rented a car. The bus is cheap, but takes about 45 minutes to an hour.
- Pay attention to the location of your lodgings when you book. Downtown Ishigaki City, which includes the port, is walkable, but if you end up booking somewhere outside of Ishigaki, you’ll have to rely on buses or taxis every time you want to get to/from the port. We had a place downtown for the first portion of our trip, but ended up staying in Shiraho – a town about 30 minutes out of Ishigaki City – on our last night entirely by accident. It worked out perfectly, though, as Shiraho was only a few minutes away from the airport.
- Speaking of Shiraho, if you want to have an adventure, do consider spending a night or two there (“Shiraho Friends Guesthouse”). It is very much a hostel with all that that entails, but the guys who run the hostel were super friendly and offered all different kinds of tours to “locals-only” spots… for a moderate price. It was our last night so we couldn’t take them up on their offers, but it sounded like a good alternative way to see the island, especially if you can’t rent a car on your own. It is outside of the city, so no nightlife – but it offers different things, in regards to which all I can say is “you’ll see…” And by the way, if you go, listen to their advice about local restaurants: they know their stuff.
- This is a great island to go to beaches – if you don’t get totally rained out like we did. The Shiraho guys told me the beaches on the peninsula to the far northeastern point of the island – which we unfortunately didn’t make it to – are the best (and most unadulterated by “tourists.”)
- While the glass bottom boat tour was cool, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it – at least not in Kabira Bay. While we did see a lot of vibrant coral and interesting sea life, we also saw a lot of dead and dying coral, the signs of stress placed on the underwater environment, probably at least partly due to boats like the one we were on motoring around and spouting fumes all over the place. I felt kind of guilty about adding to the environmental destruction, and would not want to do it again.
- Last but not least, and this may seem trivial to non-Japan dwellers, but there is a freaking A&W in Ishigaki City! (There are no A&Ws in the rest of Japan outside of Okinawa, so this was very exciting). Note to Canadians: no poutine, but seriously go there and enjoy a root beer for me! Cheers!
Okinawa Island Hopping Series
Be sure to check out the other posts in this series, the JWs’ last grand adventure in Japan.