The Yaeyama Islands are an archipelago in the southwest of Okinawa Prefecture.The Yaeyama Islands are home to numerous species of subtropical plants and mangrove forests. The islands produce sugarcane and pineapples. Coral reefs around the islands are ideal habitats for dolphins, sea turtles, and larger fish such as manta rays and whale sharks. Before being wiped out by humans, whales and dugongs were common as well, and Yaeyama once had the largest population of dugongs in the Ryukyu Islands.
Places Not To Miss:
- Ishigaki Island:
Ishigaki , also known as Ishigakijima, is a Japanese island west of Okinawa Hontō and the second-largest island of the Yaeyama Island group. It is within the City of Ishigaki in Okinawa Prefecture. 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.
- Iriomote Island:
Iriomote Island is the largest of the Yaeyama Islands and the second largest in Okinawa Prefecture after Okinawa Island itself. 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.
- Taketomi Island:
Taketomi is a small island which lies just a few miles to the southwest of Ishigaki. Thanks to preservation efforts, the small village consists almost entirely of traditional style, one-storied houses, which are surrounded by stone walls, and covered with red tiled roofs and ample lion-like shiza statues to ward of evil spirits. Some of the village’s houses serve as minshuku accommodations.Various rules are in place to prevent the more aesthetically displeasing aspects of modern construction from ruining the beauty of the island, such as replacing concrete walls with hand-packed stone. Popular tourist activities include relaxing at the beach, snorkeling, taking an ox-cart ride through the village, and simply walking or biking around the island while enjoying the quaintness of the village and the natural scenery.