Japan’s Ishigaki island is a picture-perfect tropical getaway
By AYA ICHIHASHI | Stars and Stripes | Published: November 14, 2019
Ishigaki island, 256 miles southwest of Naha, capital of Okinawa prefecture, is a jewel of the Yaeyama archipelago.
The largest of the 10 inhabited Yaeyama Islands, Ishigaki’s population is approaching 50,000. It’s one of three islands I recommend that my friends visit, and its port serves as a convenient departure point for ferries to the other two, Taketomi and Iriomote.
Ishigaki has many picture-perfect spots: a lighthouse; a white, sandy beach with turquoise water; and the biggest blue coral habitat in the world.
The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful.
Public transportation on Ishigaki is very limited, so plan on renting a car, which costs about $80 per day. Otherwise, getting around the island is almost impossible.
As soon as I get a car, I usually hit the northern part of Ishigaki because the view is just so different than Okinawa — it’s more majestic and dynamic.
My first stop is Nobare Farm and Cafe, a 10-minute drive from the airport, to grab the best mango juice ($8.50) on the island.
If you love mango, you must try their juice because it is more delicious than you can imagine. They use 100% Ishigaki-grown mangoes, which makes it a tad pricey, but it’s worth the money.
If you are hungry, Yaeyama soba ($5.50) makes for a quick bite. The view from the cafe is amazing, and is another reason I keep coming back.
Next stop is Hirakubosaki Lighthouse, a 30-minute drive from the cafe to the northernmost tip of Ishigaki. I enjoy the road trip through the countryside to the lighthouse, especially the sight of farmers rolling hay. On my most recent trip, an elderly, tanned and wrinkled farmer with a cute smile waved at me while I passed by his farm.
Hirakubosaki Lighthouse has free parking at a small lot, and I’ve never had issues parking my car there.
Don’t forget to grab a camera or your smartphone to capture the amazing view. When I was there last time, paragliders were flying over, having a blast and looking super happy.
My next stop is Kabira Bay, about an hour drive from the lighthouse and awarded three stars by Michelin Green Guide Japan in 2009. You’ll agree with Michelin once you see the turquoise green ocean and silky white beach there.
The bay offers free parking, as well as paid parking. If I’m lucky, I find a free parking space immediately, but even if you don’t, it’s worth paying for a spot.
Strolling around the beach area won’t take any more than an hour. Take a glass-bottom boat ride ($10) to see what’s beyond the beach; swimming is prohibited at Kabira Bay due to fast currents.
Kabira Bay is famous for black pearl culture, so don’t forget to check out the jewelry shops nearby if you like black pearls. And grab a delicious soft-twist ice cream from the small kiosk there.
The last stop will be Shiraho to see the biggest blue coral habitat in the world. At the World Wildlife Fund Japan Coral Reef Conservation and Research Center, you can learn about the amazing Shiraho blue coral and research on the reef. Admission is free, and the center is fully air-conditioned.
I went snorkeling through a tour from Maezto Inn, which offers trips twice daily at 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. at $40 for adults.
On the boat, I met a mascot duck — yes, a duck. His name is “Kin-chan,” and he’s always the center of attention. He jumped up on my back and chilled while I was snorkeling.
Kin-chan tends to grab all the attention from snorkelers, but the blue coral is awe-inspiring.
At low tide, the coral maze is very challenging to maneuver; next time I’ll attempt it at high tide.
I said goodbye to Kin-chan until I see him again.
DIRECTIONS: Ishigaki is 256 miles southwest of Naha, Okinawa.
TIMES: The island is a 50-minute flight from Naha airport. Nobare Farm and Cafe opens 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed on Thursdays.
COSTS: Airfare starts at $55, one way, with an early-purchase discount through JAL or ANA websites.
FOOD: At Nobare Farm and Cafe, try Yaeyama soba (starting around $5), fresh mango juice ($5) and Ishigaki Beef burger ($15).
INFORMATION: Online: yaeyama.or.jp; Maezato Inn Snorkel Tour: Address: 165-395 Tozato, Ishigaki Okinawa, 907-0241; Phone: 0980-86-8065