Excited to be sharing with you my Ishigaki Island travel guide filled with things to do and a few travel tips for visiting the island as well. We visited the Ishigaki in June, looking for a somewhere off-the-beaten path to discover in Japan and share with you all. Hope you enjoy and find it helpful if you are planning a trip to Ishigaki Island soon!
Ishigaki is the main island in a group of islands called the Yaeyama islands. Its airport is the gateway to the Yaeyama Islands region, which comprises of Ishigaki Island, Taketomi Island, Iriomote Island and surrounding small islands.
In 2018, TripAdvisor named Ishigaki Island the world’s hottest new destination to visit, after it recorded the biggest year-on-year increase in positive review ratings, search and bookings. Which is incredible, for an island which most people out of Japan probably haven’t heard of.
Located closer to Taiwan than Japan’s main island, Ishigaki is famed for being a tropical island paradise, with its beautiful coral reefs, beaches, clear blue water and tropical forests.
When we got there, it seemed that much of Ishigaki’s visitors were Japanese locals and the Taiwanese, Chinese and other Asian neighbours who know of its secret, however with each day that passes, more and more tourists are travelling further to come visit Ishigaki.
HOW TO GET THERE
For international tourists like us, the best way to visit Ishigaki is to take a domestic flight from one of the larger airports in Japan. We flew direct into Tokyo so took a domestic flight from Tokyo to Ishigaki with All Nippon Airways (ANA). I know that the JR Pass is the first thing that often comes to mind when travelling between cities in Japan, but did you guys know that international tourists can also get great deals on domestic flights within the country?
ANA offers international tourists visiting Japan discounted domestic flights at a super cheap flat fee (pay up to only 10,800 yen($140AUD) one way with the ANA Experience Fare. As long as you 1) Live outside of Japan 2) Have a passport issued by any country other than Japan or are a PR outside of Japan + 3) Have an international return ticket, THEN you are eligible.
This makes flights so much cheaper than the usual quoted fares, so a one way flight from Tokyo to Ishigaki is only around $140AUD and closer destinations are even cheaper.
HOW LONG TO SPEND ON ISHIGAKI ISLAND
With us, we spent 5 nights on Ishigaki Island, 5 nights on Iriomote Island and 2 nights on Taketomi Island. It was our first time visiting the area and if we were to recommend how long to spend there after visiting, we would provide the below thoughts:
Personally, I thought 5 nights on Ishigaki Island was a good amount of time to visit all the sights around the island, as well as to spend some time just relaxing as well. However, if you want to visit Iriomote Island and Taketomi Island, then I recommend two options.
Option 1: If you don’t have much time, then I recommend adding on extra days to your stay at Ishigaki and doing a day trip to Iriomote Island, and a half day trip to Taketomi Island. So 6-7 nights total on Ishigaki Island.
Option 2: If you have plenty of time, then:
Regarding Iriomote Island: I recommend you to consider staying on Iriomote Island only if you are a super adventurous nature buff who loves untouched jungles and all the wildlife that comes with it (I recommend such people to stay on the island for a week!). Otherwise, if you’re more a traveller like me who much prefers not to see a habu snake or spider whilst walking through the jungle (not that I did see one), then I recommend doing 1-2 day trips there, or staying there 2-3 nights max. I will share more on Iriomote on a separate post soon!
Regarding Taketomi Island: This one is can be done in two ways. You can either do a half day trip there to see the town (which is super small) or you can do a 1-2 night stay at Hoshinoya Taketomi which is an attraction in itself and basically the second village of Taketomi Island. I will share more on Taketomi on a separate post soon!
HOW TO GET AROUND
The best way to get around Ishigaki Island and the only way to get around Ishigaki Island that I can recommend is to rent a car. We had our lovely friends Ippei & Janine assist in making some bookings for us including our Ishigaki car hire. Whilst you’re at it they have heaps of cool tips on visiting the islands of Japan as well!
Some tips about driving (written from an Australian perspective):
- Japanese people generally don’t park on the street, they park in carparks. In Australia, if you see a roadside with no signs, then generally you can assume you can park there. In Japan, it’s different.
- The speed limit on Ishigaki Island is 40km/hr on larger roads and 30km/hr when passing by built up areas. It is so slow I had to double check with a local to see if I was reading the sign right. So do factor in extra time to get around. The fastest road I drove on was immediately leaving the airport – that one was 50km/hr.
- The stop sign in Japan is triangle and red, with Japanese characters written in white in the centre.
- The traffic lights are short and super small (and cute). Don’t miss them.
WHERE TO STAY
There are two main areas you can choose to stay: Kabira Bay and Ishigaki Town/Port – they are about 40 minutes away from each other from memory.
The first area is the Kabira Bay area which is up north and closer to the majority of sightseeing spots, however far away from dining and grocery options, and the port for day trips.
The second area is Ishigaki Town/Port – if you stay here you are closer to dining areas and shops and the port, however you are further away from the sightseeing spots.
I would definitely recommend staying in Kabira Bay because whilst there aren’t too many places to eat, it is a much scenic area and actually feels like a holiday spot. You’re closer to the sightseeing and if you need to go to the port, you can just drive there. Plus, there are still a few restaurants scattered about and you can always eat at your hotel too. After visiting Ishigaki Town/Port twice, I would say it definitely has a more city feel and I’m not sure if you would have the same island paradise kind of experience if you stayed there, as you are far from all the attractions.
THINGS TO SEE & DO
Kabira Bay is possibly the most popular tourist spot on the island, famed for its beautiful blue water, white boats and small islands near the shore. From here, there are various lookout points to catch a glimpse of the view. Note that you can’t swim in the water here, it’s just for sightseeing only.
When you get here, you’ll need to park at the carpark (and not on the street, which is apparently not allowed in Japan!) – it’ll cost around 200-300Y for 1-2 hours. Allow possibly 1 hour to visit the area. it’s not too big but you might spend a while walking around!
There are quite a few sunflower fields scattered around the Kabira Bay area and we found out right outside Club Med Kabira. Super beautiful here, allow an hour to wander around and take pictures!
Arakawa Falls is a small waterfall just off the roadside of the main road. There is a parking lot here that fits 4-5 cars. Park here and then instead of walking from the path that starts at the parking lot, walk back towards the Kabira direction past a bridge, until you see a small staircase going down on your left. This will lead you directly to the falls, whereas the path starting from the carpark is a little more longwinded and through the rainforest.
There is a small rope swing here for any adventurous folks! I gave it a go and then didn’t wanna let go HAHA. You can also swim in the waterfall here and lots of tourist groups often stop by for a swing and swim as well. So it’s plenty safe.
Yonekoyaki Craft Center
We came across this place by chance after seeing cute Shisa statues scattered along the road out front. Here you can find the most adorable park filled with Shisa statues dotted around a pond. Lots of photo opportunities here and it’s super beautiful and fun. Allow an hour!
Ibaruma Sabichi Cave
This beautiful limestone cave start inland but leads you out to two beautiful areas which I thought was so pretty. After walking through the cave, you will come at a junction. If you head left, you will find yourself at a secluded bleach that is so beautiful. On the right side takes you to a staircase going down towards the water – a beautiful view and photo spot! Entry here is 1250Y per person. Allow 1-2 hours here, especially if you want to relax a bit at the beach.
Yaeyama-yashi Palm Grove, Yonehara
If you are heading to Yonehara Beach (a popular beach in Ishigaki which unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to see!) then a side-stop would be this palm grove. You can find it on the other side of the road from Yonehara beach at the end of a dead-end road. Take a short 10 minute stroll through the rainforest setting to see the famous palm trees in this area. A nice break from the sun!
There is free parking out the front and a little shop next to the carpark where you can buy freshly squeezed juice.
If you drive all the way up to the most northern most tip of Ishigaki Island, you can visit the Cape Hirakubozaki area. This area reminds me a little of Byron Bay Lighthouse with its stunning vista of endless blue ocean. The lighthouse itself is a lot smaller though! It’s a nice photo opportunity and beautiful for sunset.