Ishigaki Island (石垣島, Ishigakijima) is the main island of the Yaeyama Islands and the region's transportation hub. Ishigaki City, Japan's southernmost city, is the Yaeyama's only urban center and is the site of the region's major airport and boat terminal, as well as lots of hotels, shops, restaurants and bars.
Ishigaki offers several nice beaches and good snorkeling and diving in the surrounding coral reefs. Snorkeling can be enjoyed at nearly every beach on the island, while diving is offered through the numerous dive shops with tours available for all experience levels. If diving, be sure to check out the island's famed manta rays which congregate in large numbers around Manta Scramble near Kabira Bay.
Ishigaki's rivers, while not quite as wild as those of nearby Iriomote, also offer a jungle like scenery and are nice to explore by kayak. Ishigaki also has the highest mountain in Okinawa Prefecture, as well as various hiking trails throughout the island's hilly interior.
Yonehara Beach - a coral beach
The reef of Yonehara Beach
Ishigaki Island has both sandy beaches and rocky beaches which are covered in small pieces of bleached coral. At the beaches you can enjoy swimming (best during high tide), snorkeling, and diving, or just lay in the sun; and while the beaches are open year round, they are best from April to November when the air temperature consistantly tops 25 degrees. The beaches usually have public facilities such as showers, restrooms, and rental shops; however, there are no lifeguards, and the facilities may be closed outside of summer.
When using the beaches, always beware of strong currents that can pull you out to sea and poisonous creatures such as Habu Jellyfish, a type of box jellyfish, that are most prevalent from June to October. Signs in English inform about the dangers while some beaches have netted off swimming areas. Although jellyfish stings are rare, if stung you should pour vinegar over the sting, remove any tentacles, and seek medical help as it may become life threatening if left untreated.
While Ishigaki Island is the most populous of the Yaeyama Islands, there is still a lot of nature to experience. In addition to snorkeling and diving along the island's beaches and coral reefs, the interior of the Ishigaki has palm forests, mangrove lined rivers, and jungle covered mountains that offer hiking and camping.
The Yaeyama Islands have a rich history and culture going back to before their incorporation into Japan, when they were part of the Ryukyu Kingdom.