Okinawa: Yaeyama Islands

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Okinawa’s Yaeyama islands

Forget everything you think you know about Okinawa; we’re talking about the archipelago’s southern most islands, known as the Yaeyamas. Home to untamed tropical jungles and luxury resorts, unspoiled beaches and phenomenal cuisine, the islands are well worth a visit to see a rarely explored part of Japan.

Three of the Yaeyama islands capture the lion’s share of annual visitors: Ishigaki, Iriomote and Taketomi. And while they may share a physical proximity, each island has its own unique charms and attractions, and travelers should make time for all three.

Ishigaki, thanks to its modern new airport, is the main point of access. Yet despite its convenience, the island remains unspoiled, even as far as Kabira Bay, a designated place of scenic beauty and the 2009 recipient of three Michelin stars. It’s a 45-minute ferry ride over to Iriomote, the largest of the three islands. Nearly covered with virgin subtropical jungle, it’s home to Japan’s few remaining mangrove swamps—ideal for exploring by kayak or river cruise. It’s not for nothing Iriomote has been called the “Galapagos of the Pacific

Last, but far from least, is tiny Taketomi, a 10-minute ferry ride from Ishigaki. At around 5 square kilometers, it’s one of Okinawa’s smallest islands, yet it has much to offer. Above all is the island’s adherence to ancient customs and traditions.

Regardless of where you stay or how long you’re there, the Yaeyamas offer something for everyone and are an excellent way to experience another culture while never quite leaving Japan.

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