I’ll be honest, I had never even heard of this island until the day I booked flights to it! I know, I’m a bit of a compulsive traveler sometimes. IT WAS SO WORTH IT.
Why Okinawa? We were going to Japan and everyone knows that cherry blossoms are a must-see when going to this part of Asia. It has always been a dream of mine! I did some research and realized that we were traveling a little too early to see any of the cherry blossoms, apart from one little island nestled between Japan and Taiwan. But it wasn’t just cherry blossom season on that island; it was literally one of the two weeks of the entire year that was perfect to see the best blossoms that Okinawa has to offer.
We were only planning on being there for a few days because we wanted plenty of time on mainland Japan beforehand and had to fly into Hong Kong for CNY, because if you’re going to be in Asia during Chinese New Year why would you NOT be in China that week??
Like the rest of our trip, we were relying on public transportation to get around Okinawa island. What a mistake!! We booked a place to stay closer to the north part of the island where tourists very rarely stay, which is usually what I prefer. But the public transportation was terrible and nearly impossible for us to figure out without knowing any Japanese (this was before I realized how cool the Google translate app actually is). We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get to our next location and even more time waiting for the buses that seemed to come by once every hour or longer. Moral of the story is, a rental car is worth literally everything in Okinawa.
Despite the transportation situation and the fact that we didn’t have much time there to begin with, we found some pretty incredible things to do that I’m excited to share with you!
Nakijin Castle Ruins
Our first stop were these amazing castle ruins! Aside from the perfect view of the East China Sea, it’s one of the best places to see cherry blossoms between late January/early February. These 14th century castles are a beauty, plus there are a couple of ice cream stands inside the park which is always an added bonus! There is an entrance fee, but it’s a fairly small one.
The Okinawa Aquarium
Yes, you saw that right. Whale sharks!! I had literally seen a tank of whale sharks two days previously in Osaka, but I don’t think it will ever not be jaw-dropping to see such enormous creatures. Overall you could tell that the animals were well cared for, and the entire park was amazing! We spent the entire day in this area and loved every moment of it.
When the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium opened in the early 2000s, it was the biggest aquarium in the world! As of right now, it is the third largest after the aquariums in Atlanta and Dubai.
Emerald Beach is conveniently located within walking distance of the Aquarium and has the softest sand! You also get a lovely view of Lejima Island, which is somewhere I want to visit next time we’re in Okinawa. The only downside was that you couldn’t actually swim in that crystal-clear water because there were Blue Ringed Octopus and jellyfish found there. Even still, it was refreshing to walk around barefoot and feel that ocean breeze.
Tropical Dream Center
I will be the first to admit that when I had read about the Tropical Dream Center online, I marked it on the itinerary as one of those “go if there’s time but I’m not sad if we miss it” types of places. But it definitely exceeded any expectations and I’m so glad we made the time to visit! It is a 15 minute walk from the aquarium and you get half price tickets if you flash them your aquarium ticket stubs. Bonus!
What to expect: lots of greenhouses, gardens, and archways FILLED with different types of flowers and fruit trees. There’s a tower that overlooks the ocean and the gardens, and the overall aroma of the place just makes you want to breathe in that sweet, summery air forever.
Good Eats: “La Tilla” Cafe
We were in Okinawa for Valentine’s Day and were in search of a nice restaurant for dinner. There were lots of places in the area, but almost all of them were closed between their lunch and dinner times. After walking for thirty minutes or so, we found a cafe that was just opening for dinner. La Tilla Cafe had great service, amazing food, and a beautiful view of the ocean. Pizza and sunsets made for the perfect day with my perfect guy (had to say something corny in honor of V day).
Okinawan purple sweet potato is something that you can’t leave without trying! Partially because it’s uniquely delicious and partially because it’s literally everywhere. We got the purple potato pie at La Tillas (in the photos), but we also tried purple potato ice cream and popcorn which were also both pretty mind blowing. I found out later that the potato was named one of Dr. Oz’s superfoods, so maybe it was sort of healthy pie/ice cream/popcorn? Sweet justification.
If it wasn’t on there already, add Okinawa to your travel bucket list! It’s not a very popular destination (yet), but I’d love to see comments of anyone else who goes/has been and what you loved about the island!