For my third trip to Okinawa, it was time to explore the last of the main islands I hadn’t visited yet: Miyako Island or Miyakojima in Japanese. Miyako is known for the Irabu Bridge, the longest toll-free bridge in Japan, and famous for cavern diving among Japanese scuba divers. To my greatest surprise, it was where I had the most fun of all the Okinawan islands, but it wasn’t due to scuba diving… oops!
So, let’s go through my best surprises and the things that didn’t meet my expectations to try to explain the terrible mixed-feeling I had after my one-week stay on Miyako Island.
My best surprises on Miyakojima
1 – The most beautiful beach of all Okinawa
In all my previous trips to Okinawa, I saw some lovely beaches but nothing like the one showcased on the tourist brochures. I started to wonder if they existed at all. They do and most of Okinawa most beautiful beaches are actually on Miyako Island!
The stunning beach of Yonaha Maehama on the southwest shore deserves to get the prize of the most beautiful beach of the entire Okinawan Archipelago. The sand was so white, so thin and so soft, and the water so clear and turquoise made it irresistible to go for a swim. No wonder why with its incredible shades of blue, I saw a new married couple taking their pictures every 15 minutes!
The other beautiful spots of the island for sand lovers include:
- Sunayama Beach
- Boraga Beach
- Yoshino Kagan Beach
- Aragusuku Beach
2 – The best snorkelling of all Okinawa
While I was under impressed with scuba diving, the biggest paradox came from how good the snorkelling spots were! Dense coral reefs, lots of tropical fish, sea turtles and plenty of space to free dive with the depth going from 8 to 15m close from the shores.
Here my top 3 snorkelling spots of the island:
- Imgyo Marine Garden: To me, this is the most underrated part of the island, barely a small pin and with a tiny description on the touristic map. It’s by looking on Google maps satellite view that I understood I had to check the place out. Such a good idea! This spot has everything to spend an incredible half a day: nature trails around a small rocky island with a breath-taking view of the south lagoon of Miyako from its highest point. After my walk, I went snorkelling and enjoyed looking for the many sea anemones and anemone fish.
- Waiwai Beach: It looks more like a small harbour than a beach, but this is the ultimate spot to see turtles by only going for a swim. You can easily combine this spot with Imgyo Marine Park as it is close by.
- Shimoji-shima: The spot is on the beach right before the Toriike Ponds (small blue holes) of the sister island of Irabujima (on the other side of the Irabu bridge). I swam with butterflyfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish and anemonefish among a fantastic diversity of hard corals. The deeper I could go was 10 m, but there is a bit more depth slightly further out.
3 – Making friends on Miyakojima
The last and not the least, the experience I had with all the people I met on the island, ranked Miyako as the island where I had the most fun of all Okinawa.
From the lady of the beauty parlour who helped me with an ice tea when I was lost at my arrival in town with a smartphone running out of batteries to the couple running my guesthouse who took me to watch the turtles at WaiWai Beach and eat the best tofu of the island, my week on Miyako Island was full of these friendly encounters.
I had met Hiromi at the Tokyo Dive Show earlier in April 2019. With a big smile, she was the one who convinced me to come to Miyakojima. We kept in touch on Instagram, and when she knew I was coming, she organised her weekly schedule to spend an entire day with me. On my last day, we went searching for hidden treasures of Miyako. It included finding a hidden tunnel from WWII below the most famous viewpoint of Irabujima to exploring Pumpkin Hole, a marine cave, with a friend of hers, an adventure tour guide.
The things that didn’t meet my expectations
1 – Scuba diving in Miyakojima
I know, this is not something usual on my blog, but it sometimes happens. I wasn’t impressed by my dives in Miyakojima. To give you a point of comparison, I saw way more things underwater in the Izu Islands, Tokyo Prefecture, than in Miyako.
Scuba diving in Miyakojima is mostly about cavern diving. During 90% of the year, the winds blow from northeast to southwest, making the beautiful coral reef of Yabiji on the north coast only accessible from July to September between typhoons (!). As a result, every day, the boats from the different dive centres of Miyako Island cross the channel between Miyakojima and Irabujima to go diving near the shores of Shimoji-shima where most dive sites are. With small blue holes and maze of tunnels, if you love swim-through, I guess you will like it. I do too but to some extend only. You know the saying, too much of the same thing… During my stay, I had planned 2 days of diving, during which I scuba dived 5 times. Honestly, half a day and 2 dives would have been enough.
Obviously, there wasn’t enough space in the caverns and the tunnels for all the divers of the numerous diving boats. So, our divemaster made it very slow to the entrance of each cavern and still we had to wait most of the time. On the one hand, from a safety point of view, I can’t deny this is the right thing to do, but on the other hand, when you spend more than 50% of your dive waiting and seeing almost nothing, I was already bored from my second dive.
Have I become a spoilt diver? Maybe… The caverns were nice, but I think the overall experience was the issue. Beyond the usual schools of soldierfish and I still saw a few cool marine critters, but too few honestly for subtropical waters: a couple of lionfish, a young white tip shark, a leaf scorpionfish, a couple of anemonefish and fire gobies, and that was pretty much it. Another issue was the dive centre I had booked with; they took customers on deep dives, whereas they clearly didn’t have enough experience and let them touch everything.
My dive parameters:
- #1 Mini Tori Ike – max depth 20 m – total dive time 64 min – water temp 27 °C
- #2 Nakanoshima Hole – max depth 28 m – total dive time 45 min – water temp 28 °C
- #3 Naruhodoza Cave – max depth 15 m – total dive time 51 min – water temp 28 °C
- #4 Sango Hole – max depth 32 m – total dive time 34 min – water temp 27 °C
- #5 Nakanoshima Channel – max depth 14 m – total dive time 47 min – water temp 28 °C
2 – Yukishio factory
It was maybe my biggest disappointment. Let me explain: when I visited Okinawa for the first time in 2018, I visited the Yukishio shop in Naha and completely fell for their soft ice cream and the variety of flavoured sea salts you sprinkle on it. At first, I thought it was a weird idea, but the staff kindly made me try, and it was one of the best things I had ever tasted.
As I kept exploring more islands of Okinawa, Yukishio ice-cream and their hibiscus, matcha or yuzu flavoured salts became my regular treat. Visiting their main factory on Miyako Island and see how they produce their sea salt was, as a result, big on my list.
Unfortunately, the factory at the north tip of Miyako island is just a small modern factory, with no opportunities for visits, only a brief video explaining the process. The shop wasn’t even an outlet with discounted prices (I found they were actually more expensive than in town) and it had less choice than the shop in Naha for instance. In a nutshell, it was a total waste of time.
3 – Miyako City
I am well aware than on the Okinawan islands, you need to rent a car at some point. However, so far, I only had to rent a car for a couple of days, doing most of my activity from the main town of each island and using public transportation. So, I did the same in Miyako. I based myself in the central city to have all the services, shops and restaurants around me from a walking distance.
While it was a pleasant experience in Naha or Ishigaki, with lovely areas to walk around, it just wasn’t the case in Miyako. The main street with the izakayas (traditional Japanese pubs) was so small I couldn’t believe that was it at the beginning. Despite a few interesting archaeological sites in town, overall, the Miyako City has very little charm. Hopefully, I was staying in a super cosy guesthouse with super cool owners, and it saved my stay.
You can, of course, decide to stay in a hotel with a better view, but be aware you will need a car for your entire stay on the island.
How to go to Miyakojima?
Located in the centre of the Okinawa Archipelago, Miyako Island and its neighbouring islands are unfortunately not reachable by any ferry from Naha on Okinawa Island or Ishigaki Island. You have to fly. Luckily you can fly quickly from Naha or Ishigaki, but you can also go directly from Tokyo.
The JAL Explorer Pass allows foreigner visitors on a tourist visa and with an international return ticket to Japan, to fly domestically with special fares, about 95€ single way from Tokyo, and about 65€ single way from Naha, until 3 days prior to departure. ANA is not available for Miyako contrary to Okinawa and Ishigaki.
Where to stay on Miyakojima?
Another paradox of Miyakojima: I couldn’t find any good value accommodation on booking.com as I would usually do all over Japan. But on Airbnb, I found terrific locations with incredibly friendly hosts. It was something I wished I could have done In Ishigaki, but it was the opposite situation.
If you are on a budget, I can’t say enough good things about Tsurumisō Guesthouse. For 26€ a night, I had my private Japanese style room! On Airbnb, they only rent private rooms, but they also have a dorm for a lower price. The house was super cosy, with a large kitchen and living room where all guests would share dinner while telling their adventures of the day. The guesthouse page on Airbnb is in Japanese, but they speak good English, so don’t hesitate to message them.
If you are looking for a more luxurious option, then don’t look further than booking the Tokyu Resort near Yohana Maehama Beach. For something more mid-range, in town, next to the harbour where I boarded my scuba diving boat, the Locus Hotel made an excellent impression on me.
In the end, due all the great moment I spent with the guests and the staff of Tsurumiso guesthouse on Miyakojima, I was sad to leave. I wish I had an extra week to spend more time with my new friends on Miyakojima to explore more splendid beaches and exciting snorkelling spots.
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This article was written in partnership with the tourism and convention bureau of Okinawa. As always, all my views and opinions are my own and reflect my experience honestly.