We spent 5 nights on Iriomote Island exploring the waterfalls, jungles and the wilderness in June. It was one big adventure for us on Iriomote Island as we’d never been anywhere like this place! Here’s a travel guide I put together from our trip to help you plan your own trip to Iriomote Island!
The name Iriomote reminds me of the first word that comes to mind when describing Iriomote and that is: remote. Iriomote Island is the largest of the Yaeyama Islands in Japan and 90% of it is covered by jungle.
The island is amazingly unique. It’s a beautiful land of wilderness, with its untouched natural beauty, stunning mangrove lined rivers and endless jungles. There are waterfalls everywhere here and it’s also famous for the Iriomote cat, an endangered species which can only be found on Iriomote Island though you’d be lucky to see one as it’s estimated that only 250 Iriomote cats remain today.
Iriomote Island is largely undeveloped however two things that are very developed here are 1) public toilets are clean and 2) wifi. Two very important things for me when travelling. However, when it comes to exploring its various sights – there can be a lot of adventuring in the bush (or shall I say jungle) involved. It wouldn’t have fussed me a bit until I started hearing about all the habu snakes, spiders, scorpions and other creepy crawlies that can be found in the jungle. Coupled by the fact that barely any tourists are around, a two hour walk into the depths of the jungles can become a frightening thing!
Should I visit on a day trip, or stay on the island?
So, the big question is, should you visit on a day trip, or stay on the island? Here’s my take on it.
Iriomote Island is beautiful. If you don’t have much time or a packed itinerary, then I recommend you staying on Ishigaki and booking a day trip to see Pinaesara Falls. A trip to Pinaesara Falls encompasses a variety of activities – you’ll have to walk through the jungle to get to the river, then take a kayak closer to the waterfall, followed by a climb up some boulders until you get to the base of Pinaesara Falls. Such a trip offers a really good snapshot of Iriomote Island and so if you don’t have much time, then I’d recommend opting for this.
If you have more time, then here’s what I think. If you’re a real outdoorsy, camping, not afraid of spiders, snakes, mud, smelly wet shoes type and you love exploring, adventuring into the REAL outdoors and not some NZ campervan trip kind of outdoors, then you will LOVE Iriomote Island. This place feels SO untouched, it’s like nature how it was meant to be, ready to be discovered. In fact, if this is you, you have to visit because there are few places that are so untouched. You could go hiking 5 hours deep into the jungle to see a waterfall! Yes, you! (Not me)
However, if you are more of a nature lover like me who still kind of much prefers to stay away from snakes, spiders, smelly wet shoes and huge fluoro yellow flying wasp looking things, then Iriomote still has plenty to offer you and me, however I think 5 nights might be a bit long. Consider a 3 night stay instead, and within those days, you can consider: Day 1 Pinaisara Falls. Day 2 A boat tour. Day 3 Kura Falls + Star sand beach. Or if you want to go into the jungle then Urauchi River waterfall hunting.
How to get there
Thinking of visiting Iriomote Island? It’s a 45 minute ferry ride from Ishigaki port. You can book the tickets at the port upon your arrival – no need to book before hand. There are two ports on Iriomote Island which you can arrive at. Ohara port down the bottom east side of the island is where the main town is and is the more reliable port however do note that once you arrive there, you will have to drive 1 hour around the island to the Uehara port area as this is where most of the attractions are near. Uehara port on the other hand is the more closer port to the attractions however ferries can often get cancelled going to this port as the route is more susceptible to big waves.
Where to stay
We took our ferry to Ohara port and then drove our rental car up to our accomodation ‘Minshuku Sawayakaso’ near Uehara port and do recommend it if you’re visiting. They offer breakfast and dinner at their restaurant at a small cost which we found really useful as it means one less thing to think about! They’re in a good location also and have free parking. The rooms are quite basic compared to the usual (you are on a super remote island after all) but more than sufficient.
Things to see/do
There are a lot of things to do on Iriomote Island which we didn’t get around doing – snorkelling tours, day trips to islands nearby, waterfall and jungle trekking etc. as during our time on the island we had a spurt of bad weather. However, here’s a list of things we did get around to doing!
There are a lot of snorkelling spots and beautiful beaches on Iriomote that are accessible only by boat, so a day tour by boat is a great thing to add onto your trip. We went on a boat tour with Haimipapiyon which our friends helped us to book and visited a remote beach, waterfall and two snorkelling spots.
We booked this for our first day on Iriomote Island which worked out well as it gave us a good guided introduction to the island and gave us more confidence to explore the island ourselves after.
Pinaisara Falls is the most popular tourist attraction on Iriomote Island. It’s the tallest waterfall in Okinawa, standing at 55 metres tall. Most people visit Pinaisara Falls as a day trip from Ishigaki, or a day trip from Iriomote Island. For some reason, we decided to do this self-guided.. cause we just wanted to add on an extra layer of adventure to our already adventurous trip?
We knew how a day trip to Pinaisara Falls worked after researching online – you drive to the end of a dead end road, walk along a boardwalk to the river, take a kayak up the river to the end of the river, dock your kayak and trek up the rocks, arrive at Pinaisara Falls, have lunch, then head back home. Based on this we thought perhaps we could rent a kayak when we got to the river. It was here where we realised, actually no. To rent a kayak, we had to head back into town to a place called Robinson’s Hut where if you can speak Japanese, you can easily rent a kayak but if you can’t, it might take some time. I think it’s not that common to rent your own kayak to go to Pinaisara Falls, so when we tried to communicate this, it wasn’t exactly the first thing that came to Mr Robinson’s mind haha.
So if you want to visit Pinaesara Falls self-guided, just make sure to organise your kayak in town before you go, and maybe even a day before because you also have to make sure they have someone available to drive the equipment down to the river for you. Once done with the kayak, you also have to have enough strength to put it back on the storage shelves by the river and I tell you the ones you rent from Robinson’s Hut are very heavy (they’re more wooden canoes, actually). Everything else about Pinaesara Falls is easy, but it does take a bit of effort and time. There are so many people on the trail here you just follow the crowds until you get to the waterfall.
Do however make sure you have felt soled stream trekking shoes. These seem to be the uniform of all visitors on the island as tours provide these to their guests to use. However, as we were trying to do this self-guided, we also had to source these shoes ourselves. Luckily we were able to rent them off the boat tour company which we went with on the day before for 500Y.
Anyway, allow an entire day to visit Pinaesara Falls!
There are heaps of waterfalls to discover on Iriomote deep in the jungle however one of the more accessible ones is Kuura Falls. The entry to Kuura Falls is off the roadside, opposite a small carpark. If you’re lost, try to wait for a tour group to come, as it can be hard to find on your own as its covered by overgrown trees.
The trek takes 15-20 minutes total and you will need shoes that can get wet. Preferably the felt soled water shoes which are the uniform of all tourists on this island, as you will need to climb down slippery boulders and possibly wade through a bit of water and mud as well. Possibly 1.5 hours is a good amount of time to allocate for this activity, including enjoying the waterfall too!
Urauchi Jungle Cruise
Urauchi jungle cruise is also another one of the bigger attractions here. It’s a boat cruise that takes you on a beautiful 30 minute ride down a mangrove river before stopping at the station at the end. From here, you can get off the boat and walk the trail to visit Mariudo Falls and Kanpiree Falls.
The trail here is easy – it’s quite flat with not much physical difficulty, however the jungle environment can feel a bit much for me haha. We were the first to arrive in the morning and although it was meant to be a common tourist route, there was nobody else around so we were left to explore the jungle ourselves. There are a lot of jungle noises and all the signs are in Japanese so it was a little eery wandering through unfamiliar territory on our own.
The walk to Mariudo Falls and Kanpiree Falls takes about 1.5 hours total one way, but you’ll want to wander around and explore all the lookouts, so I think allocate at least 3.5 hours for this trail. Do bring your felt soled trekking boots too, as it’s quite wet, muddy and slippery at times.
Hoshizuna Star Sand Beach
Because of the coral in the area, this particular beach Hoshizuna Beach has little sand particles that resemble small origami stars. It’s famous because of this, but it’s also quite a lovely and quiet beach. There’s a restaurant next to it where you can have dinner overlooking the evening sun and there is also a souvenirs shop there too.
Our hotel was nearby here so we spent a couple of our nights watching the sun set from the beach.
Anyway that’s it from me! Hope you find this post helpful in planning any upcoming travels to Iriomote Island.