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The largest island in the Yaeyama archipelago, Ishigaki is a sunny outpost closer to the coast of Taiwan than to mainland Japan. Part of Okinawa, this little island is home to beautiful beaches and famously clear Scuba diving sites.
With crystal-clear water, rugged landscapes and alfresco eateries, Ishigaki has something for every type of tourist. Some of the best diving can be found along Kabira Bay where the island’s manta rays swim in schools, but you can snorkel just about anywhere along the coastline to enjoy the abundant coral reefs.
There’s plenty to do on the island as well thanks to winding rivers, mangroves, palm forests, and rolling hills. The best time to visit is April through November, when the temperature hovers consistently around 25 degrees Celsius.
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The centre of transport and commerce in the Yaeyama archipelago, Ishigaki City is the only urban area on the island. Come nightfall, the Misakichou district comes alive with bars and restaurants serving up grilled skewers, bottles of awamori liquor, and a never-ending flow of Orion beer.
Home to some of the island’s most luxurious resorts and picturesque views, Kabira Bay attracts both families and couples looking for a romantic getaway. You can’t swim in the bay itself, but sun seekers flock to nearby Sukuji Beach. The 1-kilometre-long crescent features soft sand, shallow water and a plethora of casual eateries nearby.
On the northern side of the island is sprawling Yonehara Beach, which is among the top destinations for tourists. There’s top-notch scuba, snorkeling, diving and pristine white coral, as well as the famous Yonehara Palm Tree Grove.
From famous Ishigaki beef to Yaeyama soba, sampling the unique food in Ishigaki makes the trip even more enjoyable. The regional cuisine is distinct from the rest of the Japan, famous for its bitter vegetables, fresh sushi and amazing noodles.
The northern coast is the best place to see the manta rays, particularly during the autumn season when they tend to swim together in groups. Dive operators dot the coastline and can take you out to sea, however it’s best to book ahead as this tends to be a popular activity.
A tribute to the Yaeyama’s history as a part of the Ryukyu Kingdom, this cultural museum showcases ancient pottery, traditional garb, carved canoes and various other relics.
As the transportation hub of the Yaeyama archipelago, Ishigaki makes for a great base if you want to explore the nearby islands. It’s an easy day trip to Kohama, Kuroshima and Taketomi — small and intimate islands that can be explored on foot.
The Awamori Museum
The staple drink in Okinawa is awamori — an indica rice liquor that’s akin to whisky — and this is the place to learn all about it. Located within the Seifuku Awamori Distillery, the museum showcases the unique brewing process and a popular tasting experience.
A short road trip up to the northern peninsula will reward you with the sandy, secluded shores of Sunset Beach. It’s a short walk down the pathway to the swimming area, where some excellent snorkeling awaits.
Tamatorizaki Observation Point
The highest point on the island is not to be missed — you can see across the entire island, Ibaruma Bay, Cape Tamatori, and farther out to sea.
Ishigaki boasts a wide array of accommodations, from budget-friendly “minshuku” guesthouses to large and glamorous resorts. Located throughout the main city area, minshuku typically provide tatami mats, small bathrooms — expect comfortable yet sparse surrounds.
On the southeastern side of the island, several large resorts have settled down on quiet stretches of sand. Other luxury resorts can be found along the Kabira Peninsula, where turquoise waters and verdant parks create a relaxing environment. Most of the luxury resorts come with comprehensive facilities — think saunas, swimming pools, spas, bars and fine dining restaurants.
Camping is also a popular activity on the island, and there are various public sites that provide an adventurous way to experience the island life. You have to bring your own tent to camp, however you can purchase one on the island.
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