Zamami Jima and Aka Jima, from Okinawa

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
8
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
4
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
8
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
9
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
2
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
7
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
80 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Asia
country
Japan
Length of time
3-4 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 300
Time of year visited
August
Primary Tags
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RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
40th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 20% SUMMARY RATING: World Class

Summary

Less than an hour ferry ride away from the bustling Naha, the islands of Zamami-jima and Aki-jima feel a world away.  The crystal clear waters, white sand beaches and access to such wonderful wildlife make the trip worth it on their own, but it is the distinctly Japanese style of this tropical environment that makes it so idyllic, intriguing and pleasantly odd at times.  If visiting Okinawa, I would suggest that this is the highlight.  Great little adventure

highlights

#1 The wonderful island views that seem to be just about everywhere in this quiet part of the Japan

#2 Heading off for a cycle across the hills and small inlets of Zamami-Jima. Perfect size for cycling

#3 Snorkelling off the gorgeous Furuzamami Beach with its stunning white sands

#4 Taking the super easy boat rides between the islands for a bit of adventure and great views

#5 Finding hidden coves and sharp cliff drops as you explore all around the islands

#6 The customary Orion beer on tap wherever you stop off at

Travel Tips

  • Which islands – there are a range of islands within less than a 3 hour ferry ride from Naha.  The ones you want are those that sit within the Keramashoto National Park, and in particular Aki-jima and Zamami-jima (“jima” just means “island” in Japanese).   Mainly because, whilst all the islands are beautiful, Aki and Zamami are a bit easier to get to and allow you to get short ferries between them (something the others don’t offer)
  • The islands are tiny – Aki is only 2km across and Zamami not much bigger, and both very basic, although Zamami-jima has the slightly more developed village and probably a bit more to see.   We stayed on Aki-jima (which slightly confusingly has its main village called Zamami-mura) mainly because it was the only place we could find accommodation at relatively short notice, but really enjoyed our time there.  Nishihama Beach is worth checking out on the East of the island, and so is wandering over to Geruma and Fukaji Islands – a very nice feeling doing so while not having to worry about traffic
  • Zamami-jima has more things to see and a bigger selection of restaurants etc.  The gorgeous Furuzamami Beach is only 1km from the main village (over a hill) and is a beautiful 700m white sand beach, which also has some good coral to snorkel around
  • Slightly odd – at times it feels like a parallel universe and nothing highlights this more than the walk over the bizarrely large and modern bridge from Aki-jima to the small village on Geruma-jima, which has maybe 10 houses, yet is complete with a large school, athletics track and nearby airport.  All within  a tropical paradise – all a bit odd, which makes it so worth the trip!
  • Main highlight was renting a bike to go exploring around Zamami-jima.  You can easily rent the bikes from the main village and just head off around the simple loop of the island.  Whilst you could do this on Aki-jima, Zamami-jima makes more sense as there is a loop, better views and easier to get to some of the cool spots.  The route we took was a relatively standard one – picked the bikes up in the village and then headed to the various observations decks – Kam-no-hama in the west; Inazaki in the north, Takatsuki-Yama in the east and then to the Furuzamami Beach in the South East before heading back to the village.  Total distance was 10.5km / 6.5miles and with a total elevation of 210m / 700ft.  Whilst not too far, some of the uphills can be a little steep and a bit of a slog on the basic bikes – best just to jump off and walk these bits, but well worth it for the views and sense of adventure
  • Getting between the islands of Aki and Zamami is super easy and, considering how small the islands are, hard to get wrong!  There are 3 ferries a day that do the Naha – Zamami-jima route which stop off at Aki-jima; plus a motor boat that makes 4 trips a day between the two.  If any confusion, just pop to the little ports and ask there – people working there will be more than happy to help
  • BIGGEST TIP – just try to chill out when there.  There are some wonderful beaches to see, and some great hikes / short cycling trips.  But the highlight here is really being able to just take advantage of the extremely peaceful atmosphere.  May even be worth paying attention to how the locals live – Okinawans manage to live to some of the oldest ages anywhere in the world
  • For the evenings, make sure to either find a restaurant that you know will be open or agree with your hotel that you’ll be having dinner – most things shut down quite early on the islands
  • Getting to the islands from Naha is super easy and can take as little as 50mins with one of the fast ferries (around USD40 for the round trip).  Head to Tomari Port and there are a range of departure options.  For tips on Naha and the main island, see the travel entry – A weekend in Okinawa for Naha and the Aquarium
  • Booking accommodation is a bit tricky – give the likes of booking.com and Lonely Planet a try, but you may have to do a bit of googling.  We stayed at an exceedingly random spot called simply Housei (on Aki) which was a bit like a garage on the beach.  Lovely staff, but was a bit pricey at USD250 for 2 nights so maybe have a look around
  • 2 nights felt about right for the 2 islands, but you could easily spend more if you combined with scuba diving (wish I’d done some here) and tried to make your way to come of the other islands

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone