Closer to Taiwan than Tokyo, Ishigaki Island (石垣島) is the main island of the Yaeyama Archipelago in Okinawa Prefecture. Flights to Ishigaki Airport are available from Tokyo, Osaka and Naha.

Surrounded by coral reefs and clear waters, Ishigaki is perfect for all sorts of water activities – scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, kite-surfing and more! Popular with divers is a zone known as Kabira Ishizaki Manta Scramble (川平石崎マンタスクランブル), aptly named as one may be able to see a mantle ray.

Otherwise, view beautiful blue coral colonies from boats with see-through bottom at Shiraho Marine Park Zone (白保).

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グラスボート” by Kentaro Ohno is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Nature lovers will not want to miss out on a visit to the Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park (西表石垣国立公園), which includes Mount Omoto (於茂登岳) and Kabira Bay (川平湾). Home to evergreen broad-leaved forests and a rich diversity wildlife, this national park has both cultural and scientific value. Kabira Bay is popular with tourists but swimming is prohibited (to protect the black pearls). However, just taking amazing photographs of the sea is tempting enough.

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Kabira Bay of Ishigaki Island” by 663highland is licensed under GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
Opt for a kayaking tour along Fukidou River Mangrove (吹通川マングローブ) to marvel at the magnificent mangrove ecosystem. This is a fun workout for the whole family, and you can take a cool respite in the shade during the intense summer heat of Okinawa. Unlike the mountainous area surrounding Fukidou River, Miyara River Mangrove (宮良川マングローブ) is located on lower ground, with calm waters that are great for a leisure ride.

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Summer! #8” by Guwashi999 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

With so many limestone cave systems throughout the island, exploring these caves is another highlight of the trip. Ibaruma Sabichi Cave (伊原間サビチ洞) is unusual in that it leads out to the sea, which is a rare natural phenomenon in Japan. Rumour has it that a mysterious giant eel makes its home in a large pond in the cave.

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Photo by Takeshi Kuboki is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For those who want a fantastic view, there are several vantage points to choose from. Make your way down to Cape Hirakubo (平久保崎) and be rewarded with spectacular photographs with the lighthouse, while the view at the foot of Uganzaki (御神崎) is one of rugged beauty.

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Photo by USIO Design Project is under Public Domain

Meanwhile, Tamatorizaki Observatory (玉取崎展望台) offers two views – the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, while Kannonzaki Viewpoint (観音崎展望台) is ideal for a picnic and to catch the sunset.

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Tamatorizaki 玉取崎展望台 石垣島_6” by ajari is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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Tamatorizaki 玉取崎展望台 石垣島_1” by ajari is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Right across from it is the Toujin Grave (唐人墓), which serves as a memorial for the Chinese labourers who perished when their boat crashed off the island coast. Others prefer the less popular observation point at Banna Park (バンナ公園), after which you can pop by the tiny but well-stocked insect museum for some creepy crawly fun!

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Photo by bubusbubus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Built in 1819, Miyara Dunchi (宮良殿内) in Ishigaki city is one of the few remaining traditional Ryukyuan samurai houses. Designated as an Important Cultural Property, the house has a splendid dry landscape Japanese-style garden, and the original roof was replaced with classic Okinawan red tiled roof.

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Miyara-dunchi in Ishigaki Island” by 663highland is licensed under GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
One unique aspect of Ishigaki is its cuisine, which features a lot of meat due to American influence. For example, spam can be found in many dishes. Ishigaki beef is the top favourite and can be found in many restaurants around the island. Meanwhile, Nakamuraya Restaurant (中村屋) is a quaint, welcoming restaurant, famous for its Vegetable Curry.

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Photo by USIO Design Project is under Public Domain
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Photo by USIO Design Project is under Public Domain

For those who need their daily coffee fix, head to High Tide Cafe (ハイタイドカフェ) or Re: Hellow Beach for some delicious fish and chips!

Tired of the usual hotel stay? Go deeper into Okinawan culture by staying in a traditional red-tiled roof home such as Ishigakijima Akagawara Villa (石垣島赤瓦ヴィラ) or KOMINKA 古民家. If you want something cuter and more vibrant, check out nico-stay! It really makes you experience the summer vibe that is almost always associated with Okinawa!

We would recommend driving around the island, instead of cycling, as the terrain can be rough but car rental is relatively affordable.


Extra, extra, extra:

  • How does it feel like to dive with mantle rays? (Fast-forward to somewhere near the end).
  • Don’t forget to catch these festivals when planning your trip to Ishigaki!
  • Check out what else does the Yaeyama Islands have to offer!

Are you excited for the next island feature?

*Header image by Pedro Cambra is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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