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Iriomote Island (¼•\“‡, Iriomotejima) is Okinawa's second largest island. It is largely undeveloped, with nearly 90 percent of its land covered by dense jungle and mangrove forests. Wide areas of the island are part of the Iriomote Ishigaki National Park, the southernmost of Japan's national parks and one of the country's most unique.

The island's attractions are based around tours to Iriomote's abundant nature including sea and river kayaking, fishing and sailing. Other activities can be enjoyed either on tours or individually such as beaches, snorkeling and various hiking trails, the most challenging of which is a 20 kilometer path through the interior of the island which should only be tackled by experienced and well prepared hikers.

Iriomote is also a popular scuba diving destination especially at Manta Way, the strait between Iriomote and nearby Kohama Island, where schools of manta rays congregate in spring and summer. Diving tours are available for all skill levels.

The island is also home to the Iriomote Yamaneko, a type of wildcat, which was discovered in 1965 and is only found on Iriomote Island. The chances of encountering an Iriomote Yamaneko are low as the nocturnal, house cat sized animal is an endangered species that is thought to number less than 100 individuals.

River Activities

Most of the island's interior is covered in dense jungle accessible by a number of rivers that head inland from the sea. Jungle boat cruises are organized on the island's two longest rivers, the Urauchigawa (Urauchi River) and Nakamagawa (Nakama River), and guided kayak tours operate on both of those as well as many of the smaller rivers around the island.

Urauchi River Cruise

Boat Departures: 9:00 to 15:30
Closed: No closing days
Fee: 2200 yen
Urauchi River is the largest river on Iriomote and is found near Uehara Port on the north western side of the island. The hour long cruises travel along the Urauchi River to a trailhead from where it is a 45 minute walk through the jungle to two beautiful waterfalls, Mariyudo and Kampire.

Nakama River Cruise

Boat Departures: boats depart only during high tide
Closed: No closing days
Fee: 1850 yen
The Nakama River Cruises start in the south of the island in Ohara and travel inland to a large mangrove tree where you can get off and walk around for a few minutes before catching a return boat. The hour long cruise has Japanese speaking guides who describe the river and mangrove trees along the way.

Kayak River Tours

Fee: around 8000 yen for a guided 3-hour tour
Kayak tours (commonly called "canoe tours" by local operators) are offered on the mangrove-lined Urauchi and Nakama Rivers as well as many of the smaller rivers around the island. Each river has one or two companies operating on it, with 2-hour guided tours starting at about 6000 yen per person (reservations should be made in advance). A small number of operators also offer unguided kayak rentals.

Pinaisara Falls

Fee: from 9000 yen for a half day tour
With a vertical drop of about 55 meters, the Pinaisara Falls are Okinawa Prefecture's tallest waterfall. The falls can only be reached by a 30-40 minute kayak ride along a mangrove-lined river, followed by a 30-40 minute hike into the jungle. Half day tours lead to the plunge pool at the base of the waterfall where visitors can jump in to cool off as well as have lunch in the surrounding jungle. Full day hiking tours continue to the top of the waterfall and require a certain level of fitness.

Omisha Road Park

Admission: Free
Omisha Road Park is a small rest area with a parking lot along the side of the main road that has short walking paths. Visitors can follow the walking paths that lead into a mangrove forest on the one side and to a small river on the other side.

Beaches

Iriomote has its share of beautiful beaches which offer swimming, snorkeling and diving opportunities. Most of the beaches around Iriomote do not have any public facilities, and some of them can only be reached by boat as the island's coast is only partially accessible by car.

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 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.

Hoshizuna no Hama

Admission: Free, no parking fees
Hoshizuna no Hama means star sand beach, and is so named because the grains of sand found here are shaped like tiny stars. The sand is actually the skeletons of small one-celled organisms that live among the sea grass. This beach offers nice snorkeling and swimming, but is rather shallow during low tide. There are no public facilities at the beach besides the parking lot.

Tudumari no Hama

Admission: Free, no parking fees
Tudumari no Hama is a quiet beach also known as Tsukigahama (Moon Beach) for its crescent shape. The wide beach is one of the best sunset spots on the island. The Urauchi River flows out into the sea on the southern end of Tudumari no Hama carrying with it lots of fine sand deposits which can be seen at the mouth of the river.

Barasu Island

Fee: from 5500 yen for a half day snorkeling tour
Barasu Island is a small coral island a short boat ride from Uehara Port. Unmarked on most maps of Japan, the island can only be reached by joining tours which typically allow for a short stay on the island before moving on to snorkeling in the waters nearby. The clear waters surrounding the island offer plenty of opportunities to see corals and marine life.

Other Attractions

Yubujima Suigyu Cart Ride

Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Closed: No closing days
Fee: 1760 yen includes entry to the islands botanical garden
Yubujima is a small island separated from Iriomote by a shallow, sandy strait. Water buffalo take carts filled with visitors to the island where there are restaurants, souvenir shops and a botanical garden. The cart rides are interesting, if not touristy, and some cart drivers describe the island's history and play the sanshin (Okinawan stringed instrument).

Yamaneko Museum (Iriomote Wildlife Conservation Center)

Hours: 10:00 to 16:00
Closed: Mondays (or following day if Monday is a national holiday), national holidays, June 23 and Dec 29 to Jan 3
Fee: Free
This museum serves also as a refuge for Iriomote Yamaneko that are rescued after being injured by cars. The wildcats can only be viewed through a live video feed, while the rest of the museum has displays on the ecology of the Yamaneko and other animals found on the island. English explanations are provided throughout the museum.

Getting there and around

Ferry companies operate high speed ferries, as well as an infrequent car ferry, between Iriomote and Ishigaki Island.

High speed ferries depart Ishigaki for Ohara Port (35-40 minutes, 1600 yen, departures every 1-2hours) on the south end of the island and Uehara Port (2090 yen, 40-50 minutes, departures every 1-2 hours) in the north. Additionally, slower car ferries operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to Ohara (80 minutes, 1120 yen one way), on Mondays, Fridays and Sundays to Uehara Port (110-130 minutes, 1450 yen one way). Online reservations can be made through Direct Ferries.

There is only one main road on Iriomote, running along the coast from Shirahama to Ohara. A public bus runs between Shirahama and Ohara five times per day. The complete journey takes about 90 minutes and costs 1410 yen. A one day bus pass is available for 1050 yen while a three day pass costs 1570 yen.

Besides the public buses, there are shuttle buses, operated by ferry companies and by the various diving and sightseeing companies on the island. Lastly, it is also possible to rent a car from one of several outlets near the ferry terminals.

How to get to and around the Yaeyama Islands

Hotels around Yaeyama Islands

Top rated on the Yaeyama Islands
Budget:
    • Ishigakijima Pacific Club
      Budget-friendly
      Located in Ishigaki Island in the Okinawa region and Yaeyama Museum reachable within 7 km, Ishigakijima Pacific Club provides accommodation with free WiFi, BBQ facilities, a garden and free private parking. Accommodation is comprised of a living room, a kitchen with a microwave and a fridge, a washing machine, and a private bathroom with bidet and shower. All units are air conditioned and include a seating and/or dining area. ? la carte and American breakfast options are available daily at the apartment. Ishigakijima Pacific Club offers a terrace. A car rental service is available at the accommodation. Tamatorizaki Observation Point is 22 km from Ishigakijima Pacific Club, while Ishigaki Public Market is 7 km away. The nearest airport is New Ishigaki, 6 km from the apartment, and the property offers a free airport shuttle service.
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    • HOSTEL SunTerrace Ishigaki
      Budget-friendly
      HOSTEL SunTerrace Ishigaki in Ishigaki Island provides adults-only accommodation with a shared lounge, a garden and a terrace. This 1-star hostel offers a shared kitchen and luggage storage space. Free WiFi is available and private parking can be arranged at an extra charge. Popular points of interest near the hostel include Painuhama Artificial Beach, Yaeyama Museum and Ishigaki Public Market. The nearest airport is New Ishigaki Airport, 11 km from HOSTEL SunTerrace Ishigaki.
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    • Guesthouse Asibina
      Budget-friendly
      Boasting a terrace, Guesthouse Asibina is a guest house situated in Ishigaki Island, a 15-minute walk from Yaeyama Kanko Ferry Terminal. The guest house with free WiFi is 13 km away from Yonehara Beach and Kabira Bay. Attractions in the area include Sukuji Beach, 15 km away, or Tamatorizaki Observation Point, set 21 km from the property. All guest rooms are fitted with air conditioning. Each dormitory rooms has an electrical outlet and fan. Shared bathrooms have free toiletries. Guests can benefit from a shared kitchen with a fridge and kitchenware. A washing machine and tumble dryer can be used for a fee. Ishigaki Sunset Beach is 28 km from the guest house. The nearest airport is New Ishigaki Airport, 11 km from Guesthouse Asibina.
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    • Alaise De Bale Ishigaki
      Luxury
      Situated in Ishigaki Island, 70 metres from Idona Beach, Alaise De Bale Ishigaki features accommodation with a restaurant, free private parking, an outdoor swimming pool and a bar. 11 km from Tamatorizaki Observation Point and 23 km from Yaeyama Museum, the property provides a garden and a terrace. Free WiFi and room service are available. The rooms in the hotel are fitted with a kettle. At Alaise De Bale Ishigaki rooms are fitted with a wardrobe, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom. Guests at the accommodation can enjoy a continental breakfast. Guests at Alaise De Bale Ishigaki will be able to enjoy activities in and around Ishigaki Island, like hiking. Banna Park is 22 km from the hotel, while Ishigaki Yaima Village is 22 km from the property. The nearest airport is New Ishigaki Airport, 10 km from Alaise De Bale Ishigaki.
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    • Ishigaki Sunset Cove
      Luxury
      Situated in Ishigaki Island, 5 km from Yonehara Beach, Ishigaki Sunset Cove is set along the beach and rooms with free WiFi access. Among the various facilities of this property are an outdoor swimming pool and a garden. At the resort, the rooms come with a wardrobe, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom. Selected rooms here will provide you with a kitchen with a microwave, a toaster and a fridge. The units at Ishigaki Sunset Cove come with a seating area. An alternating Western or Japanese breakfast is available daily at the property. The accommodation offers a sun terrace. The area is popular for cycling, and a limited number of rental cars are available at Ishigaki Sunset Cove. Tamatorizaki Observation Point is 5 km from the resort, while Kabira Bay is 10 km away. The nearest airport is New Ishigaki Airport, 10 km from Ishigaki Sunset Cove.
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    • Shiraho Friends House
      Budget-friendly
      Just a 2-minute walk from Shiraho Beach, Friends House features a free-use kitchen, free parking and free Wi-Fi throughout. Simple air-conditioned private rooms and dormitory-style accommodation are offered. A shuttle service is available from New Ishigaki Airport at a charge. Guests at Shiraho Friends House can enjoy a private room with a TV that looks out on local greenery, or sleep in a bunk bed in a room shared with other guests. All rooms have shared toilets and bathrooms. The property is a 4-minute walk from Shiraho bus stop and within a 5-minute walk from Shiraho Coral Reef Conservation and Research Centre. Guests must reserve in advance to use the chargeable shuttle from New Ishigaki Airport, which is a 5-minute drive away. You can sunbathe or barbecue at the rooftop sun terrace or use the free-use internet PC at the air-conditioned dining room. There is an outdoor weight-lifting area, and the property has a free-use washing machine and a coin-operated dryer. No meals are served.
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    • Lulaliya
      Budget-friendly
      Set in Ishigaki Island, 300 metres from Kabira Bay, Lulaliya features air-conditioned rooms and free private parking. The bed and breakfast has a barbecue and sun terrace, and guests can enjoy a drink at the bar. Some units feature a seating area for your convenience. Extras include slippers, free toiletries and a hair dryer. Lulaliya features free WiFi throughout the property. There is a shared lounge at the property. Sukuji Beach is 1.9 km from Lulaliya, while Yonehara Beach is 5 km away. The nearest airport is New Ishigaki Airport, 13 km from Lulaliya.
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    • Matsukaze The Guest House Ishigaki
      Budget-friendly
      Featuring free WiFi, Matsukaze The Guest House Ishigaki is located across the street from the bus stop and a supermarket. The property is 1 km from Yaeyama Museum. Property staff can assist guests with creating their travel plans and give advise on nearby areas. Featuring a terrace, this 2-star guest house has air-conditioned rooms with a shared bathroom. The accommodation provides a shared kitchen and a shared lounge for guests. The living room features tatami (woven-straw) floors and a seating area where guests can relax. A washing machine is provided for guests during their stay for their comfort, while detergent is available for an additional fee. Guests can rent a bicycle to explore the nearby areas or go snorkeling with a rental snorkeling set available on site. Ishigaki Port Ritoh Terminal is a 8-minute drive or a 15-minute walk from the guest house. Kabira Bay is 13 km from the guest house, while Yonehara Beach is 13 km away. New Ishigaki Airport is 10 km from the property.
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    • Hotel Patina Ishigakijima
      Mid-range
      A 7-minute walk from Ishigaki Port Ricoh Ferry Terminal and a 3-minute drive from the beach, Hotel Patina Ishigakijima offers cosy rooms with hardwood floors, free internet and a private balcony. Free parking is available on site. The air-conditioned rooms at Patina Hotel include a private bathroom and refrigerator. Guests can enjoy watching the flat-screen TV with a fresh cup of tea. A free-use washing machine and coin-operated dryer are provided, as are free-use bicycles. Free wireless internet and 2 computers with free internet access are offered in the lobby. Massages can be requested for an extra cost. Ishigakijima Patina Hotelfs restaurant serves breakfast daily.
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    • Joya
      Mid-range
      Set in Ishigaki Island in the Ishigaki Region, 200 metres from Kabira Bay, Joya features a sun terrace. Free private parking is available on site. Each room is equipped with a private bathroom equipped with a bath. Joya features free WiFi. There is a shared lounge at the property. Sukuji Beach is 1.9 km from Joya, while Yonehara Beach is 5 km away. New Ishigaki Airport is 13 km from the property.
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