Okinawa’s rich natural heritage beckons adventurous travelers to sustainably explore the wild, while the southern archipelago’s mild climate makes it an ideal place for a seaside workcation at any time of year.
Okinawa’s second-largest island of Iriomote is part of a Natural World Heritage Site that was registered in 2021. More than 90 per cent of the island’s landmass is an uninhabited national park, with a mountainous jungle core, lush mangrove forests and a subtropical climate that nurtures a unique ecosystem for a trove of endemic species.
In the southeast of the island, Shinminka Villa provides the perfect place for a workcation as the exclusive annex of Iriomote’s oldest ryokan. Surrounded by a private garden, the new wooden building is modeled after a traditional Okinawan minka folk house but redesigned with transparent outer walls to give you an intimate connection with the natural environment.
On the northern tip of the island, Villa Iriomote offers visitors 60 sustainable eco-tours. Among their most popular is a trek to the famous Maryudo Falls, Okinawa’s largest waterfall by volume, where you can see the ancient geological strata of the rocky cliff and a panoramic view of the island.
Another way to experience Iriomote’s World Heritage environment is by canoeing through Japan’s largest mangrove forest. On night tours, you can search for rare nocturnal creatures such as endangered coconut crabs, Yaeyama giant eels, dazzling flocks of Yaeyama fireflies in spring, and maybe even catch a glimpse of one of the 100 or so remaining Iriomote wildcats.
Iriomote is home to only about 2,400 residents, and the islanders are fervent advocates of sustainable and ethical tourism. To preserve the island’s native wildlife, the number of visitors is capped at 330,000 per year. The Us 4 Iriomote project works with local residents to promote environmental awareness and cultural traditions on Iriomote with the aim of ensuring the island’s future.
At Chillma on the northern Motobu Peninsula, you can rent an entire villa for your workcation with a private sundeck overlooking the sea from sunrise to sunset to starry nights and everything in between. Bathe in the resort’s iconic curving infinity pool, stroll along its private beach, snorkel in the tropical waters and live the slow life on island time to balance work and play.
When you’re ready to roll, consider renting a bicycle and going for a refreshing ride along the coast. The further north you venture, the more you will be rewarded with quiet roads, remote seascapes, sparsely populated villages and the thrill of independent adventure on two wheels.
Nearby Kouri Island is an easy excursion and a popular destination for couples, featuring the timeless attraction of a coralline rock formation in the shape of a heart, which is also the setting of Okinawa’s own Adam and Eve legend.
After touring Kouri Island, head northward along the wild west coast of Kunigami past jagged concrete sea walls, above stage-like steps down to sandy shores, through rocky mountain tunnels and all the way up to the raised coral reefs of Cape Hedo.
From Cape Hedo, you can see the four rocky peaks of Ashimui, Okinawa’s ancient sacred site. Ashimui is part of Daisekirinzan, the Earth’s northernmost tropical karst of eroded limestone, formed by crustal movements in the ocean some 250 million years ago.
Occupying most of Kunigami, the 13,600- hectare Yanbaru National Park covers a mountainous area of ancient forests and rare endemic wildlife. Yanbaru is part of the new Natural World Heritage Site that includes Northern Okinawa and Iriomote Island. Hike up to cloud forests on Mt. Yonahadake, admire spectacular views from limestone cliffs overlooking Shioya Bay, or follow a scenic trail leading to the 26-metre drop of Hiji Otaki Falls.
At the southern end of Yanbaru in Nago, Oura Mangrove Road is a 726-metre path along the Oura River that flows through the natural mangrove forest. You can either observe the brackish water ecosystem from the elevated wooden walkway or get a closer look at the roots of hirugi trees, fiddler crabs, mudskippers and other native fauna and flora from the water-level perspective of a kayak.
However you choose to spend your time, Okinawa’s natural heritage invites you to immerse yourself in its ancient wilderness and escape into landscapes and seascapes, where the present moment is all that counts.
This year, the seventh Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival (international gathering of people with ties to Okinawa) will be celebrated in the prefecture.
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan after being occupied by the US with special Ryukyu exhibitions held in Tokyo and Kyushu.
Sponsored by the Okinawa Prefectural Government and the Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau
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