Okinawa is a very special place to visit as it is very different from the rest of Japan. In fact, once upon a time it was known as the Ryukyu Kingdom. This family of islands on the southernmost part of Japan was invaded in the Edo period and was slowly shaped into the island we now refer to as Okinawa. Anyone who has traveled to Okinawa from mainland Japan will immediately recognize the major differences between the two.
On the upside:
- The food is different
- The pace of life is different
- The fashion is more laid back and so are the locals
On the downside:
- There are no bullet trains, express trains or even subways found anywhere in Okinawa
- There is a monorail, but it only travels around the city of Naha
- Paying at the toll gates each time you travel on the expressway can get expensive quickly
Still, besides the lack of easy accessible transportation found in and around the mainland, exploring Okinawa’s many dramatic vistas is very rewarding for any traveler.
I spent three months working and traveling around Okinawa and have compiled this list of the top 10 things to see and do for the budget friendly traveler.
#10: Neo Park
Cost: 6,000 to 1,800円
If you are a lover of animals like me, you will surely enjoy this outdated but relaxing zoo to stroll around. Consider paying the extra charge for the combo ticket that includes the entrance fee and the park train ride to get a fun view of the park’s full size. There are also two more extra pay areas within the park: the petting zoo and the bonus zoo. The bonus zoo was great as it housed many exotic animals like the baby kangaroos and lemurs!
#9: Busena Marine Park
This one is expensive. If for some reason you cannot make it to Chura Umi Aquarium, then I suggest this place as a good runner up. Be sure to check out the Busena Marine Park website before going as they will cancel the glass boat rides due to poor weather conditions.
#8: Nuchi Masu Salt Factory Ocean View
The view from here is spectacular. Nuchi Masu Salt Factory is located on Miyagi Island, connected to the main island of Okinawa by Kaichu Road. You can also enjoy the very nice back roads driving to and around this area.
#7: Kokusai Street
Cost: 300 – 1,000円 parking fee
Located in the heart of Naha is the famous Kokusai strip. Kokusai Street is a must see when visiting Okinawa. Locals and visitors flock to this tourist attraction to find some unique souvenirs among the many shops found here.
Cost: 2,000 – 4,000円
Cosplay as your favorite Mario Kart character and drive around the city of Naha. What more can you ask for?! This one is truly a must for every Nintendo fan out there. MariCar is also available in areas such as Shibuya, Tokyo and Namba, Osaka but it is easier and cheaper to try this out in Okinawa. Check out maricar.com for more details.
#5: UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Cost: Free to 6,000円
There are a total of nine heritage sites to check out in Okinawa. If you can only check a few out then I recommend: Shuri Castle, Katsuren Castle and Shikinaen Garden. See my OKINAWA’S UNESCO HERITAGE SITES for a full write up on all nine sites.
#4: Manzamo Cape
This place is perhaps Okinawa’s most captivating vista. The East China Sea’s crashing waves add enchantment to this already awe inspiring viewpoint. Be sure to make your way over before the sunset to get some brag worthy snapshots. Also, don’t forget to come early to secure your spot, as many tourists overcrowd this site.
#3: Peace Park
Cost: Free to 300円
This place is full of history and beauty. The Battle of Okinawa devastated the southernmost part of Japan several decades ago. Peace Park is indeed very peaceful, yet you can gain a detailed glimpse into the devastating history by visiting the museum located here. Be sure to request an audio guide at the front reception desk to help you better understand the various exhibits. The general park is free but the museum charges a small fee for entering.
Cost: Free to expensive
Okinawa’s many beaches are awesome. The water is warm, the variety of fish is vast and there are lots of ways to have fun under the sun. Water activities are plentiful; you won’t go far without finding locals and tourist snorkeling, scuba diving, jet skiing, cave diving, water skiing, canoeing, kayaking etc.
Some noteworthy beaches to check out are:
• Maeda Flats Beach and Point
• Heart Rocks Beach in Kouri island
• Hamahiga Island
• Ikei Beach
• Tonnaha Beach
• Blue Cave
#1: Chura Umi Aquarium
There is a lot to see and do here. I recommend setting aside the whole day for this place. Chura Umi Aquarium (Beautiful Beach Aquarium) has many fun exhibits but the highlight of this place is the giant aquarium featuring the three whale-sharks among a flurry of manta and other large fish. Outside the main attraction you will find Expo Park, which houses the dolphin show arena, sea turtle and manatee cove, Sunset Park, low cost museums and a number of other worthwhile places to check out.
Kouri bridge (Free)
Bise Fukugi Tree Road (Free)
Sueyoshi Park (Free)
Valley of Gangala (2,200 – 3,400円)
Okinawa World (1,600円)
Cape Chinen Park (Free)
Nirai Bridge (Free)
American Village (Free)