Yes, you read it right - beautiful, fascinating Okinawa is a vacationers paradise for many reasons - but unlike other parts of Japan where there are trains aplenty, getting around this stunning island takes a little bit more planning. Okinawa does have a monorail - but it's relegated to the downtown area of Naha, the largest city in the prefecture. Since the island doesn't have a train network, the main method of public transportation are their buses.
Some of the best beaches and attractions are a little off the beaten path though, or take a really long time to access via bus. Here's a thought though - what says summer vacation more than an amazing road trip? You're able to do things at your own pace, taking as much or as little time at locations as you want. When we visited the island, it was so much more practical for us to rent a car. There were a number of reasons for this...
We had luggage and the idea of getting that on and off a bus wasn't appealing.
We were staying on the Northern Coast of Okinawa, and getting there by bus was going to take significant time, as well as having to switch buses multiple times to get to our required destination.
We were traveling with our young daughter and we wanted her to be in a car seat and not just sitting on our lap!
We wanted to be free to explore on our own timeframe. What if we particularly loved somewhere? With a car, we had the flexibility to stay longer and not worry about missing the last bus or having to sit around waiting for it for a long period of time.
Thankfully, driving in Okinawa is very easy - and talk about scenic! The process of hiring a car is straightforward too, if you want to go down that route (which I would highly recommend). We went through Times, because we knew they were reputable, having hired through them before in other parts of the world. Plus, their proximity to Naha Airport can't be beat!
Wondering about the process of renting a car? It's super simple! Booking online is a cinch...
Plug in your travel dates when you'll need a vehicle, as well as your pick up and return times.
Select the kind of vehicle that bests suits your travel needs.
Add on any additional needs, like children's car seats or extra insurance.
Then, it's just a matter of adding in your personal details (name/address, contact information) and you're good to go!
Upon Arrival to Naha Airport
When you fly into Naha Airport and you've grabbed your baggage, if you've come in on a domestic flight from somewhere else in Japan (perhaps you've been enjoying yourself in Tokyo or Osaka beforehand!) then head out to the buses at the domestic arrivals area. Bus Stop 11 has a free shuttle to and from the airport to Times. If you're headed to Okinawa directly on an international flight, head through to arrivals and follow the signs.
On arrival at the Times Building, head inside to the front desk to let the staff know you've arrived. From there, you'll be shown your vehicle and they'll run over some checks to make sure everything is in order. If you have children traveling with you and need car seats for them they should have these ready in advance for you with your booking - the one we requested was all installed in the car and ready to go!
Once that's done, away you go on your trip! Some quick things to bear in mind about driving in Japan - driving is on the left hand side of the road (so if you're from the States that will be an adjustment!) and there is an expressway on Okinawa Island, but from start to finish it's only around 1000 yen. It's a lot quicker taking the expressway than it is taking surface streets, so it's usually a small price to pay.
Where to drive to?
There are a plethora of great options that are conveniently accessed by car. Here's just a sampling - but honestly you could go wherever the road takes you!
American Village is an entire American themed outdoor mall that has shops, restaurants, a movie theater and a huge ferris wheel. It's a fun stop to grab a bite to eat, whether it's American food (they have options like Tony Roma's and A&W) or Japanese inspired fare.
Nago Pineapple Park
It wouldn't be a tropical island trip without tropical fruit, right? Nago Pineapple Park gives you all the information about how pineapple are grown, as well as a bunch of pineapple filled foods and drinks (pineapple wine, anyone?)
It's a fun place to head to, particularly if you are on your way to my next spot...
Churaumi Aquarium is truly world class! Getting there by car from Naha is super convenient, and the aquarium is great no matter the age of the people traveling with you. There's 77 different tanks with displays - the largest one being a massive 35 meters long, 27 meters wide and 10 meters deep. As well as all the tanks, there are some great hands on experiences for the little ones!
The best times for swimming in Okinawa are said to be May through September and there's lots of great beaches on the main island to head to!
Bibi Beach is only about a 20 minute drive from Naha Airport - and is best known as a favorite spot for people to grill out at. If you want a quick beach stop near to the airport to start your vacation off right, this could be the spot for you!
Okuma is on the northern coast of Okinawa, not too far from the aquarium and other attractions in Nago. If you want a pristine beach that has spots that are great for kids, as well as great for snorkeling and watersports too - this is a great spot.
Azama Sun Sun
This beach is particularly good if you're traveling with a family, since it has a great soft sandy stretch, beautifully clear water and there's even a field to play in! Barbecue facilities can be rented there too, if you want to have lunch or dinner by the water.
Cape Maeda (for SCUBA/snorkeling)
Cape Maeda calls itself the best spot for Scuba and snorkeling in Okinawa - big claims! If you want a beautiful spot to see some of the marine life the island offers, it's definitely a spot to check out. You can head to their website here for more information.
Cape Hedo is the very northernmost point of Okinawa Island - and you've got the South China Sea to the West, and the Pacific Ocean to the East. It's a beautiful scenic spot, and a pleasant drive up the coast.
Kerama Islands (accessible by Ferry)
The Kerama Islands consist of several different islands - some are inhabited, and some are completely deserted! There are a couple that you can get to by ferry with your car - they are Zamami Island and Aka Island. There are some English details about how to do that on this site.
Tokashiki Island (accessible by Ferry)
There is also a ferry that heads from Tomari Port in Naha to Tokashiki Island - and you can take vehicles on it too. It does get particularly busy during the summer season though, so reservations in advance are needed. They have a website here which can be translated into English for more details.
Times is offering a fantastic deal to help visitors embrace Okinawa by car to the fullest - 25% off their standard rental price, from July 18th until September 15th, 2017. If you're dreaming of a tropical vacation in Okinawa, now might be the time to jump in and go for it - those dates are an excellent time of year for travel. Touring around by car really is the most convenient way to get around this wonderful part of the world. Head on over to the link here if you want to book, and for more details.
Don't forget, if you're on vacation in Japan and need to hire a car you'll need an International Driver's Permit - check with your country's license issuing organization about how to obtain one if you're not sure.