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Okinawa’s Tokashiki Island a snorkeler’s paradise with beautiful beaches

At Tokashiku Beach, tourists can experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim with sea turtles.

AYA ICHIHASHI/STARS AND STRIPES

By AYA ICHIHASHI | Stars and Stripes | Published: August 30, 2018

There are 47 inhabited islands in the Okinawa archipelago — and out of the 30 or so I have visited, the island of Tokashiki remains one of my favorites. Located about 18 miles from Naha, Tokashiki Island is part of the Kerama archipelago and is famous for its white, sandy beaches and diverse marine life.

Tokashiki Island is reached via two ferries, which depart daily from Tomari Port in downtown Naha. The high-speed Marine Liner Tokashiki reaches the island in just 35 minutes, but the speedier trip comes at a higher cost for tourists. For the budget-minded traveler, the slower Ferry Tokashiki completes the trip in just over an hour — making it a perfect option for those looking for a more leisurely experience. During the summer, Tokashiki is a popular sightseeing destination, so making ferry reservations in advance is recommended.

At Tokashiki Port, buses and tour vans are available to take visitors on sightsteeing excursions — which include scuba diving and glass-bottom boat rides.

In the past, visitors had time for only one of the island’s two most popular beaches, Tokashiku Beach and Aharen Beach, in a single day as there were limited transportation options. In recent years, Yonehama Taxi — the only regular taxi service on the island — began offering visitors beach-hopping services to both locations for 1,800 yen per person (about $16.25), which also includes a return trip back to the port. Look out for the Yonehama Taxi drivers in their hard-to-miss bright neon green shirts to hire a ride.

Tokashiku Beach, located on the west side of the island, is roughly a half-mile long and features breathtaking views of bright blue water and fine white sand. Visitors can bring beach gear to the island, or items such as beach umbrellas can be rented from Tokashiku Marine Village, a small kiosk located nearby. Here, customers can also purchase snacks and drinks. Tokashiku Marine Village can arrange pick-up services in advance from the port.

Tokashiku Beach is primarily famous for the chance to view sea turtles as they visit the beach to feed during high tide. It is strictly prohibited to touch or harass the sea turtles, so it’s best to observe these gentle creatures from a distance. Tourists can also swim with sea turtles — but doing so requires advance reservations through Tokashiku Marine Village.

When searching for sea turtles, I generally look for groups of snorkelers in the water, as turtles can usually be found swimming nearby. Friendly turtles aren’t scared of swimmers, and the experience is one of my favorite activities to do on the island.

Aharen Beach, about 10 minutes from Tokashiku Beach on the southwest side of the island, provides more amenities for tourists in the way of restaurants and bars. The beach can be reached by public bus for 400 yen per trip. The observatory, located on a peninsula adjacent to the beach, offers a fantastic view of the island and the surrounding ocean.

Due to damage caused by tourists to the coral reefs, snorkelers at Aharen Beach are now mandated to wear life vests while in the water and are restricted to specific swimming zones. For visitors looking to get a better glimpse of marine life, banana boat or glass bottom boat tours make regular excursions to nearby Hanare Jima, an uninhabited island. With these tours — about 1,000 yen per person — swimmers can explore without the hassle of crowds at Aharen Beach.

The waters near Hanare Jima are emblematic of the beauty of the Kerama archipelago: White sand ocean floor, beautiful coral formations and schools of tiny, colorful tropical fish.

ichihashi.aya@stripes.com

Tokashiki Island

DIRECTIONS: Two ferries — the Ferry Tokashiki and the high-speed Marine Liner Tokashiki — depart Tomari Port in Naha several times daily. From Camp Foster, drive south on Route 58 for roughly 8 miles before making a right turn at the Tomari Wharf Entrance intersection. A parking lot is on the right side of the road.

FERRY TIMES AND FEES: Check the ferry schedule online, as departure times change monthly. Generally, the Ferry Tokashiki makes two trips daily: The first departs from Tomari Port at 10 a.m. and arrives at Tokashiki Island at 11:10 a.m.; the second departs from Tokashiki at 4:10 p.m. and arrives at Tomari Port at 5:10 p.m. During summer months, the Marine Liner Tokashiki can make up to three round trips daily. The first Marine Liner Tokashiki departs from Tomari Port at 9 a.m. and arrives at Tokashiki at 9:35 a.m., while the last boat departs from Tokashiki at 5:30 p.m. and arrives at Tomari Port at 6:05 p.m. Parking at the Tomari Wharf costs roughly 1,300 yen (about $12) for a full day. Round-trip tickets on the slower Ferry Tokashiki are 3,160 yen for adults and 1,580 yen for children ages 6 through 12, while round-trip tickets on the high-speed Marine Liner Tokashiki are 4,740 yen for adults and 2,380 yen for children. An additional 100 yen environmental tax is required for passengers of high school age and older. Children ages 6 and under can ride the ferry for free.

FOOD: Several cafes and restaurants serving a variety of Japanese comfort foods are located on the island, but most accept only cash.

INFORMATION:
Tokashiki Island official website: vill.tokashiki.okinawa.jp
Tokashiki Ferry website: tokashiki-ferry.jp/Senpaku/portal

Tokashiku Beach is located on the west side of the island.
AYA ICHIHASHI/STARS AND STRIPES

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