TOPTravelRelaxing Retreats in World Heritage Okinawa

Relaxing Retreats in World Heritage Okinawa

Plan the ultimate getaway with these five trip ideas

By Weekender Editor

Okinawa’s rich natural heritage beckons adventurous travelers to sustainably explore the wild. For those who’ve run out of PTO, the southern archipelago’s mild climate makes it an ideal place for a seaside workcation at any time of year.

©SHINMINKA Villa Takemori ryokan

Take a Workcation on Iriomote Island

Okinawa’s second-largest island of Iriomote is part of a Natural World Heritage Site registered in 2021. More than 90% of the island’s landmass is an uninhabited national park with a mountainous jungle core, lush mangrove forest and a subtropical climate that nurtures a unique ecosystem for a trove of endemic species.

In the southeast of the island, Shinminka Villa provides the perfect place for a workcation as the exclusive annex of Iriomote’s oldest ryokan. The new wooden building is modeled after a traditional Okinawan minka folk house. Enjoy transparent outer walls to give you an intimate connection with the nature of the surrounding private garden.

©Villa Iriomote

Explore the Wilderness Through Sustainable Eco-tours

On the northern tip of the island, Villa Iriomote offers visitors 60 sustainable eco-tours. Among their most popular is a trek to the famous Maryudo Falls, Okinawa’s largest waterfall by volume, where you can see the ancient geological strata of the rocky cliff and a panoramic view of the island.

Another way to experience Iriomote’s World Heritage environment is by canoeing through Japan’s largest mangrove forest. On night tours, you can search for rare nocturnal creatures such as endangered coconut crabs, Yaeyama giant eels, dazzling flocks of Yaeyama fireflies in spring and maybe even one of the hundred remaining Iriomote wildcats.

Iriomote is home to only about 2,400 residents. The islanders are fervent advocates of sustainable and ethical tourism. The Us 4 Iriomote project works with local residents to promote environmental awareness and cultural traditions on Iriomote to ensure the island’s future. To preserve the island’s native wildlife, the number of visitors is capped at 330,000 per year.

©Chillma

Chill Out on the Shores of Northern Okinawa

At Chillma on the northern Motobu Peninsula, you can rent an entire villa for your workcation with a private sundeck overlooking the sea. Bathe in the resort’s iconic curving infinity pool, stroll along its private beach, snorkel in the tropical waters, and live the slow life on island time to balance work and play.

Kouri Island ©OCVB

Retreat to the Feefs of Kouri Island and Cape Hedo

When you’re ready to roll, consider renting a bicycle and going for a refreshing ride along the coast. Venture north and you’ll be rewarded with quiet roads, remote seascapes, sparsely populated villages and the thrill of independent adventure on two wheels.

Nearby Kouri Island is an easy excursion and a popular destination for couples, featuring the timeless attraction of a coralline rock formation in the shape of a heart.

After touring Kouri Island, head northward along the wild west coast of Kunigami past jagged concrete sea walls, above stage-like steps down to sandy shores, through rocky mountain tunnels, all the way up to the raised coral reefs of Cape Hedo.

From Cape Hedo, you can see the four rocky peaks of Ashimui, Okinawa’s ancient sacred site. Ashimui is part of Daisekirinzan, the Earth’s northernmost tropical karst of eroded limestone, formed by crustal movements in the ocean some 250 million years ago.

Yanbaru National Park ©OCVB

Hike and Paddle Through the Forests of Yanbaru

Occupying most of Kunigami, the 13,600-hectare Yambaru National Park covers a mountainous area of ancient forests and rare endemic wildlife. Yanbaru is part of the new Natural World Heritage Site that includes Northern Okinawa and Iriomote Island. Hike up to cloud forests on Mount Yonahadake, admire spectacular views from limestone cliffs overlooking Shioya Bay, or follow a scenic trail leading to the 26-meter drop of Hiji Otaki Falls.

At the southern end of Yanbaru in Nago, Oura Mangrove Road is a 726-meter path along the Oura river that flows through the natural mangrove forest. You can either observe the brackish water ecosystem from the elevated wooden walkway or get a closer look at the roots of hirugi trees, fiddler crabs, mudskippers and other native fauna and flora from the water-level perspective of a kayak.

Supporting with charity goods ©US4 IRIOMOTE

However you choose to spend your time, Okinawa’s natural heritage invites you to immerse yourself in its ancient wilderness and escape into landscapes and seascapes, where the present moment is all that counts.

This year, the 7th Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival (an international gathering of people with ties to Okinawa) will be celebrated in the prefecture. 2022 also marks the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan after being occupied by the US with special Ryukyu exhibitions held in Tokyo and Kyushu. 

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Top and feature image credit: Nature of Iriomote Island ©OCVB

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