Sun, sand and sea in Keramashoto National Park
Sun, sand and sea, island retreat in Okinawa
Summer is the busiest season in Okinawa, when the water temperature remains consistently above 25 degrees Celsius and when the outside temperature averages around 30 degrees Celsius. Winter, on the other hand, tends to be mild compared to the rest of Japan, with temperatures hovering around 15-20 degrees Celsius in the day time. While summer may be the most popular time to visit Okinawa, going during the off-season in winter allows for uncrowded beaches and tourist attractions, and cheaper accommodation.
The Kerama Islands are a group of islands just 30 kilometers west of the main island of Okinawa. Designated as the Keramashoto National Park in 2014, the island chain is known for its stunning blue waters commonly referred to as Kerama Blue, outstanding snorkeling and diving opportunities. The islands are home to local flora and fauna that are endemic to Okinawa. Additionally, there remain a small number of culturally important traditional Okinawa-style buildings that survived the Battle of Okinawa during World War II, which destroyed many other residences and buildings.
Map of the Keramashoto National Park. My lunch sitting on Tokashiki Island where this picture was taken
I spent two full days visiting the Kerama island group in early January, in particular the bigger islands of Tokashiki, Zamami and Aka. I started my trip on Tokashiki Island and stayed the night there. On the second day, I took the first ferry out to Aka Island and explored it for a couple of hours before catching the midday ferry to Zamami Island and stayed overnight. I returned to Naha on the morning of the third day.
Local grocery store on Zamami Island
Tokashiku Beach is best known as the feeding ground of green sea turtles who munch on the sea grass in the shallow waters near the beach. Appropriate conduct should be adhered to when observing these endangered marine turtles. They include: no chasing after them, no touching or feeding them, and giving the turtles ample space when they surface for air.
Tomari Port in Naha
Inside the high-speed ferry
Looking out at Tokashiku Beach
Rental cars, mopeds and bicycles are available on the island, and there is also a local bus that connects the port to the beaches which is timed to the ferry arrival times. Alternatively, tour operators and accommodation facilities typically provide pick up and drop off at the main port of Tokashiki.
Entrance to the grocery store
Aharen Beach at the end
The local bus that provides access between Tokashiki Port and Aharen
The water temperature in the Kerama Islands hardly falls below 20 degrees Celsius even in the winter months. The shallow waters close to the beach can be warm on sunny days, but swimmers and snorkelers would probably appreciate an additional layer if staying underwater for longer periods of time or heading into deeper waters.
I changed into my rental wetsuit and headed off with Morino-san, my guide, for a couple of hours of snorkeling. We set off on his boat from Aharen beach and headed towards the Tokashiku beach side. We saw a couple of sea turtles munching on sea grass and managed to get pretty close to them before going to check out the corals and reef fish in deeper waters. I had a great time swimming around and saw a lot more fish than I expected.
Another advantage of having a guide is that they are typically good sources of information regarding the area and are also on hand to advise visitors on what not to do when in the national park. There are some basic rules to follow when swimming in the national park, and they include not stepping on the corals and not chasing after the sea turtles. Visitors are requested to abide by these rules in keeping with environmental protection and conservation efforts.
Island's Trip, located right by Aharen Beach
Sea turtle munching on sea grass in the shallow waters at Tokashiku Beach
Surfacing up for air
Corals and reef fish
Walking past the grocery store in Aharen
Everything you need while on this island
Aharen village and beach on one side
Tokashiku Beach on the other side
The main road that connecting the north and the south
Getting my first look at Aka Island
Loved the weather and the view from here
Dinner at a local restaurant in Tokashiki
Small private shrine right beside my accommodation. Out of respect to the locals and their property, visitors should not enter their private shrines
The Sango Yuntaku-kan, a visitor center, was a couple of minutes walk from Aka Port. Opened in 2018, the visitor center displays the various types of corals that can be found in the Keramashoto National Park. Visitors can learn more about coral conservation as well as the local marine life, and information is written in a variety of languages. I found it very educational to read about the corals, some of which I saw while snorkeling the day before, and how the beaches on the island were made.
Boat arriving at Aka Port
The view of Aka Port
Exterior of Sango Yuntaku-kan Visitor Center
A nice addition to the beach is the Nishibama Terrace, a wooden deck overlooking the beach and sea. I imagine it to be crowded with beach-goers having a snack from the nearby food trucks in the summer, but I was fortunate to have the entire terrace and beach to myself as I was there in winter. Yet another perk of visiting in the off-season!
Entrance into the visitor center
Information cards inside
Coral on display
Star-shaped sand can be seen at the beaches in the Kerama Islands. Note that it is prohibited to remove anything from its natural environment and take it home
The beach is all mine
Nishibama Terrace sits right on the beach
View from Nishibama Terrace
I could not resist picking up the sand to look for star-shaped sand
Modern convenience and luxury along the way
Moving away from Aka Island
Arrival at Zamami Island
I spent some time relaxing at the observation deck, and after descending, went for a proper walk through the main village. The main village in Zamami is neatly laid out, and I found that I did not need a map to navigate at all. One of my favorite parts of walking through the village was turning into the small alleys, visiting the local grocery stores and seeing what was available for the season.
Walking up to Takatsukiyama observation deck
View of the main village of Zamami along the way up
Walking path through the woods
Beaches that can be seen from the observation deck
The view from here is unbeatable
A row of Shisa, Okinawan guardian dogs
Inside the local store on Zamami
I walked back to the port area to catch the sunset and to bring my trip to a close. It was an amazing two days in the Keramashoto National Park. I had the opportunity to check out beautiful beaches and clear waters filled with marine life, walk through cute villages and interact with the locals. There could not be a more rustic and ideal location to decompress from the daily bustle of city life. Two days was a right amount of time for me unwind, but there are enough on these islands to spend an entire week. I enjoyed my trip so much and would definitely not hesitate to visit the Kerama Islands again, given another opportunity.
Walking from Zamami Village to the beach
Road to Furuzamami Beach
This place is great and amazing during the low season
Watched the waves crash, crash and crash
Open air deck at Furuzamami Beach
Grocery store on Zamami
Walking through the main street that leads to the village hall
Checking out the route to my dinner place before it got dark
Dinner of champions in Zamami
Sunset at the port
Tomari Port in central Naha, is the main ferry terminal from where ferries bound for the Kerama Islands depart.
How to get the Kerama Islands
- ・Ferry Tokashiki (slower car ferry) - 70 minutes and 1690 yen one way
- ・Marine Liner Tokashiki (high-speed ferry) - 35 minutes and 2530 yen one way
Prices are valid as of February 18, 2020. Updated information about the ferry schedule is available on Tokashiki Island's official website.
Aka and Zamami islands
- ・Ferry Zamami (slower car ferry) - 90 minutes (Aka), 120 minutes (Zamami), and 2150 yen one way
- ・Queen Zamami (high-speed ferry) - 50 minutes (Aka), about 60 minutes (Zamami), and 3200 yen one way
Prices are valid as of February 18, 2020. Updated information about the ferry schedule is available on Zamami Island's official website.
The Mitsushima village ferry provides inter-island access between Zamami, Aka and Tokashiki. It costs 300 yen to take the ferry between Aka and Zamami, and 800 yen between Tokashiki and Zamami/Aka. Travel time takes between 15-35 minutes. Note that the ferry between Tokashiki and the other two islands requires advance reservation, which should be made by 17:00 the day before travel.
Loved my time here