Touring Komodo Island and Swimming with Manta Rays

A fearless Komodo Dragon basks in the sunlight on the beaches of Komodo National Park in Indonesia.

After spending four days in central Ubud and seeing temples and beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites, I decided to fly to Komodo Island so I could see these majestic dragons in their natural habitat. Komodo Dragons are native to Indonesia and prefer extremely dry climates. They are found on four islands including Komodo, Rinca, Flores, and Gili Montang. Komodo Dragons are capable of running very fast and are highly venomous, so if you want to see them it’s always recommended to go with a local guide or on a tour. I booked a day tour that stopped at the highlights of Padar Island and Komodo National Park through EventBrite for $84. This tour included hiking, swimming at a Pink Beach, a tour through Komodo National Park, and snorkeling with Manta Rays so I think it was extremely worth the price. I was absolutely exhausted at the end of the tour, but grateful that I had the chance to see so many rare sites.

Getting to Komodo Island

From Denpasar Airport in central Bali, I booked a roundtrip ticket to Labuan Bajo Airport on Komodo Island through Lion Air for $115. This is the average price of tickets to the island from Bali so it wasn’t a bad deal.

You can also take a multiple day boat tour here from Lombok, but some of the tours have mixed reviews due to the quality of the accommodations on the ship. These tours allow you to see more locations where Komodo Dragons live, however, and can sometimes be a better bargain.

Expect to stay on Komodo Island for at least 3 days since hotel pickup for the Komodo National Park tours start before 6am and end in the evening. I found my stay to be extremely relaxing and loved how gorgeous the island was. I would highly recommend coming here if you love adventure!

Trekking through Padar Island

My guide picked me up around 6am and took me to the pier where I met up with my tour group on a speedboat. Our first stop of the tour was Padar Island, which is a rocky island in the Komodo archipelago with beautiful mountains and lush scenery. Hiking to the top of the hills gives you a beautiful view of the ocean and surrounding islands. What’s unique about Padar Island is that although there is wildlife there, no people live on the island which is why its nature is so pristine and clear. Though hiking to the top definitely left me in a sweat, the view was worth it!

Swimming at Pink Beach

The next stop of the tour was Pink Beach, which had been on my bucket list for the longest time. Though many people argue if the sand on the beach is actually pink or edited in photos, I can confirm that it here really did look pink here! You can especially see the bright pink color when the waves soak the sand.

But how do pink beaches get their color? According to The World Travel Guy:

Pink beaches apparently get their color from foraminifera, which are microscopic red organisms that live in the coral reefs and get washed up on the beach.

The World Travel Guy

Not only was the pink color visible on the beach, but you can also see traces of it when you go snorkeling in the water. I would highly recommend coming here even if you don’t want to go on the full tour, because traveling to a pink beach is a once in a lifetime experience!

Touring Komodo National Park

Our next stop was the main event: Komodo National Park. There are around 3000 Komodo Dragons residing on this island, but unfortunately during our tour we only saw a few of them lounging on the beach. The tour featured two main locations: the beachfront near the pier and a trek on a paved path through the jungle. Though Komodo Dragons are usually active during the day, many of them hide away in the jungle of this island because they do not particularly like humans. But rest assured, this tour is not invasive to their home and the guide will help you safely approach and interact with the dragons. During the trek we saw one Komodo nest which looked like a huge hill on the ground. We learned that Komodo dragons sometimes eat their young which just adds to their infamous legend. Though I was a bit sad we didn’t see more of them, I was happy to see the ones on the beach because they are such rare reptiles.

There are other multiple day trips that you can book online that specifically focus on seeing the dragons, but I liked this tour the best because it stopped at so many different locations in one day.

Swimming with Manta Rays

The last two activities on our tour were snorkeling at Kanawa Island and a dive spot where several giant Manta Rays live. I have swam with smaller Manta Rays on the Big Island of Hawaii, but this was my first time swimming with them in Asia. I actually liked this dive spot better than the Hawaii one because they were much bigger and there was more room to swim. Seeing them up close is an experience that I will never forget! Manta Rays make great snorkeling buddies because they are so friendly. Your guide will help you take pictures and videos if you have an underwater camera.

Recommended Food & Drink

The first place I tried was Happy Banana Komodo, which is a sushi place with vegan options downtown. This was my first time trying sushi in Indonesia so I was very excited to go! I tried two of their rolls that featured avocado and mayo, and also their vegan tofu katsu nigiri. Overall the taste of the sushi was similar to American sushi, but the texture of the wasabi and ginger was a bit off compared to Japan. Despite that, this is one of the best restaurants on the island due to their variety of dishes so I would recommend it.

Komodough is a cute little bakery downtown that had the best pun on the island. Here you can buy fresh loaves of bread to take with you on your travels, coffee, and adorable little pastries. I enjoyed drinking avocado coffee (not pictured because I drank it so fast) and also trying some of their bread. This is a great place to come in the morning for a light breakfast and also at night for a small snack. Overall, I love the business they are doing here and how accommodating they are being open during the morning through the evening.

A new restaurant and cocktail bar had just opened when I arrived on the island, so I decided to check it out. Copper Bonnet Bistro & Bar features fancy craft cocktails and entrees, and was definitely one of the most upscale places that I found on the island. I ordered two cocktails; one that simulated the salty taste of sushi with a piece of nori pinned to the glass, and one that tasted likely bubbly rose and cream. Both were the most original cocktails that I tried in Indonesia, so I highly recommend this place to all who love fine drinks.

Accommodation

I stayed at Bayview Gardens Hotel which had free breakfast and an infinity pool with astonishing views of the bay! Rooms are around $60 per night, but the stay includes breakfast and is in a central location so you can walk to bars and other places easily. Komodo Island has a lot of wonderful accommodations for travelers, but I liked this one because it was extremely quiet and the rooms were top quality. Absolutely perfect for resting after a long day.

Thank you for reading the last article in my Indonesia series! My next big trip will be to Europe in April, but until then I hope to keep writing about fun attractions in Japan. Happy holidays and thank you for keeping up with my travels.

Visiting the top UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bali and Nusa Penida

Waves crash against the rocks of Tanah Lot—the most beautiful seaside temple in Bali.

After exploring central Ubud and Canggu, I planned to see the most beautiful temples, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and sightseeing spots of Bali (such as the rice terraces and jungle swings) over the next three days. I also took a day trip to Nusa Penida for hiking and photography during this time. This article will review three different tours I booked for the purpose of covering as much ground as possible. Of course you can go to all of these places without a guide, but with heavy traffic and wait times, it’s best to go with someone local because they can help you avoid these things and also teach you more about the historythe locations that you’re seeing. I would recommend staying at least three – five days in central Bali so you have enough time to see all of these beautiful places. Depending on how adventurous you are, there are a number of things you can try on your trip.

Bali Instagram Highlights Tour

Perhaps the #1 tour I was looking forward to was the Full-Day Instagram Highlights Tour from GetYourGuide! This tour was around $50 and takes you to Tegallalang Rice Terrace, Tukad Cepung Waterfall, Tirta Gangga, and Lempuyang Temple (also known as the “Gates of Heaven”). I enjoyed seeing the main highlights of Bali and learning about the history of them with a local guide. The group consisted of just me and one other person so I really lucked out!

Tegallalang Rice Terrace is in north Bali and features beautifully arranged paddies with zip lines, jungle swings, and human-sized bird’s nests that you can pose in. I enjoyed hiking around this area and taking pictures of the luscious greenery here. Afterwards, we stopped at a roastery where you can try interesting flavors like avocado and coconut coffee. We also learned about the Asian palm civet, which is an animal that eats ripe coffee cherries and poops coffee beans that can be turned into luxurious coffee. What a wonderous place that Bali is!

The next destination was Tukad Cepung Waterfall. There are actually multiple waterfalls that you can see here which makes it a pretty exciting hike. I enjoyed getting in the water and being up close to them because it made me feel one with nature.

After traveling into the mountains a bit, we stopped at a restaurant that had a giant jungle swing and had lunch (I was full from my floating breakfast so I just had an avocado smoothie). Swinging on the jungle swing was a thrilling experience that felt a bit like riding on a roller coaster. I enjoyed the thrill of soaring over the surrounding rice terraces! The swing can reach quite high heights so the staff will strap you in safely in order to keep your balance and not fall off. Though a bit frightening, I definitely enjoyed the thrill of the ride!

After lunch we went to Tirta Gangga, which is a water palace with stepping stones, large fountains, and plenty of hungry koi fish. Our guide bought us fish feed so we could help satisfy their hunger. Though it was very crowded here, I loved walking around the maze of beautiful pools here. We also saw a fruit bat hanging from a tree around the entrance of this area. I was surprised to see one around during the day, but it seemed like it was used to people here.

Our final destination was the Gates of Heaven, which is one of Bali’s oldest temples near Mt. Agung. Though it was not an overly popular tourist destination at first according to our guide, it became popular over the years due to its magical “reflection” over what seems like a body of water in various photography. However, upon arriving at this temple I realized that this reflection is produced by cameramen at the temple holding a piece of glass under your phone while taking the photo—the temple actually doesn’t have any reflective properties around it.

In order to get your picture taken at the gates, you need to queue in a line for about 3-5 hours, but you can sit under a shaded area until your number is called. Some bloggers have criticized this tourist attraction for being a waste of time due to the illusion, but I still think the Gates of Heaven are worth seeing. The architecture and the scenery of the surrounding mountains is breathtaking, and I was very happy with how my photo turned out.

Overall this tour was a great intro to all of Bali’s main highlights and I am very happy with all of the photography I got to do.

Nusa Penida Tour

Gazing at the cliffs of the giant T-Rex rock formation at Kelingking Beach.

On my second day in Ubud, I decided to take a day trip to Nusa Penida which is a nearby island that has a lot of interesting natural rock formations and beaches. I booked my Nusa Penida tour through GetYourGuide with hotel pickup for around $85. After taking an hour long ferry ride to the island, you will first stop at the T-Rex rock formation at Kelingking Beach. I really enjoyed seeing this rock formation because you get to climb down stairs on the T-Rex’s back that lead to a hidden beach.

Next we stopped at Broken Beach and Angel’s Billabong, which you can also go for a swim at. Broken Beach has a picturesque arch that leads to the ocean, so it’s a popular spot for photography. Angel’s Billabong is a natural infinity pool with emerald waters between rock cliffs which makes it another popular place for photography. If you decide to go swimming here, please be careful of the tides because there have been numerous causalities here. Our group did not go swimming here, but we did marvel at how beautiful the water was.

Our final destination was Crystal Bay Beach, where I spent two hours swimming in its beautiful blue waters and also grabbed lunch. I had a spicy type of noodle soup with eggs and vegetables. Crystal Bay Beach was nice, but I wish we could have spent a bit of more time at the other destinations. However, Nusa Penida is always scorching hot so it was nice to be in the water. Hiking here was a bit difficult due to the extreme heat but I still enjoyed the island.

Though this tour mostly focused on the beach, I had a ton of fun seeing all of the cool landmarks here. Due to the narrow and bumpy roads of Nusa Penida, I highly recommend going with a guide instead of going by yourself. Your guide can also tell you what places are best to swim at on the day you visit based on the tides.

UNESCO World Heritage Tour

On my final full day in Bali, I decided to book the Bali UNESCO World Heritage Sites tour through GetYouGuide so I could see some more temples and beautiful places. This tour costs around $25 which is truly a steal for everything you can see. The tour first stops at Pura Taman Ayun, which is a gorgeous temple with a moat, distinctive gates, and several barong that you can see up close. The barong is a mythological creatures that resembles a panther with beady eyes and is said to bring good luck. I enjoyed seeing how cute they were!

We next stopped at the Jatiluwih rice terraces where we went for a short hike. These rice terraces are actually the largest in Bali which were awesome to see. Then we went to the nearby Ulun Danu Beratan Temple which is a huge temple complex near the lake. I loved seeing the bright flowers that grew here, the winding paths, and all of the unique floating structures of the temple. There is also mini petting zoo that is part of the complex which I found to be amusing. It truly was surreal being in such a beautiful place in Bali.

The final destination of the tour was Tanah Lot, which is a beautiful seaside temple that has the perfect backdrop for photography. Surrounding the temple up the way are a number of shops restaurants where you can relax and watch the picture-perfect sunset. Unlike the Gates of Heaven, this image is no illusion! What I enjoyed the most is I didn’t feel rushed at all on this tour which is why I’d highly recommend it to those looking to experience Bali’s most historical sites. I’ll remember the burning image of this sunset for the rest of my life.

Recommended Food

Here are my top food recommendations in Ubud. The majority of cafes and restaurants have vegan options, so I was able to try a lot of food!

Since I am a lover of all things avocado, I decided to search for the most unique avocado dishes in Ubud. The first place I found was a cafe called Mudra where I ordered avocado, tomato, and beet hummus arranged beautifully on a breakfast entrée, and an avocado affogato to drink. Some people are confused at the idea of avocado and coffee together, but when blended into juice avocado actually goes well with it. I really loved the originality of all of the menu items here and would love to come back and try some more delicious food here again some time!

The avocado waffles with dried tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese are from a lovely vegan spot called Alchemy. This was my first time trying a non-dessert waffle, but I have to say I highly recommend it! Not only was it very healthy and filling, but I really enjoyed the was it was seasoned with a salad dressing that suited all of the ingredients. This place is open late so you can eat these waffles during any time of the day!

If you like Greek food, then I recommend stopping by OIA for some quality tapas. I ordered a Greek salad and pita bread with yogurt dip for dinner after one of my tours and it really hit the spot. For breakfast, I recommend going to Pukako Bisma because they have a lot of really good open sandwiches and coffee. I ordered mushrooms, tomatoes, and cheese on a piece of sourdough bread and was very satisfied with the quality of ingredients. For desert, I recommend Tukies Coconut Shop which is a chain all over Ubud. The coconut ice cream here tastes amazing and you can customize it with wafers and several different toppings.

The best spot that I found for drinking was called No Mas Bar. I ordered several fruity cocktails with with foam made from egg whites. The seasonal one with grapefruit liquor was probably my favorite, but honestly every craft cocktail on the menu looked like it was worth trying. The lemongrass sour was also pretty satisfying after all the sightseeing I did on this trip!

Thank you for reading my article on some of the most aesthetic places to visit in central Bali. In my next article, I will be talking about my trip to Komodo Island! Please look forward to it.

Cebu City Highlights & Bohol Island (Part 2)

A tiny Bohol Tarsier clings to a tree at the conservation area.

After an adventurous day of getting acquainted with all of the major sights of Cebu City, I decided to take a ferry from Cebu Port to Bohol Island so I could see the precious Tarsiers and the Chocolate Hills. Bohol is a popular tourist destination because it has a lot of unique wildlife and geographical features. There are many lush forests, beaches, and conservation centers for animals too. I would highly recommend visiting this island in person because it will leave a lasting impression on you.

Getting to Bohol

One-way tickets to Bohol are around $9 for a high-speed ferry and the journey only takes around two hours (I booked mine in advance through 12goAsia). Though you can stay overnight on the island, a day trip is usually sufficient.

Since I wanted to know more about the history of the island, I decided to book a private tour with a local through Wow Bohol Tours. The tour was $50 and included the following things:

  • Blood Compact Shrine
  • Baclayon Church Ruins                                    
  • Python Viewing
  • Tarsier Viewing
  • Man-made Forest
  • Butterfly Garden
  • Chocolate Hills
  • Souvenir Shop

Overall I had an amazing experience day tripping to Bohol and doing photography, so I encourage my friends to do the same.

The Chocolate Hills

The Chocolate Hills are Bohol’s most famous nature attraction because they have a unique color and shape. During the dry season they turn completely brown and resemble Hershey’s Kisses, but I came during the wet season in November when they were completely green. I think they look beautiful during all seasons regardless of color. You can see them best from viewpoints at Chocolate Hills Complex (where I visited) and Sagbayan Peak.

According to an article I read, the hills got their shape through a rare type of weathering:

Geologists believe that the hills were formed through weathering carving marine limestone on top of a clay layer. Its color is the main reason it’s called Bohol Chocolate Hills.

Unfolding the Majestic Beauty of Chocolate Hills in Bohol by Cielo Fernando

I would love to come back during the dry season and see them in their chocolate form too!

Tarsier Conservation Area

The second place we stopped was the Tarsier Conservation Area which is safe haven to the world’s smallest primates. The Bohol Tarsier is an endangered species due to having many predators in the wild so they protected here. Another interesting fact is that they can only have one offspring per year making it hard for them to keep their numbers up. Tarsiers are very shy but safe to approach them as long as you do not disturb them. Unfortunately you cannot hold or get super close to them, but the staff will take amazing photos from a safe distance if you lend them your camera. I was pleased with the quality of this conservatory and so happy that I got to see them. Hopefully they can continue to thrive in this jungle area and live a peaceful life.

Butterfly Garden

After the cute Tarsier overload, my driver took me to a small butterfly garden/conservatory. There were quite a lot of them fluttering around and some of them even landed on my head! The garden had an overhead net which protected the butterflies from bad weather conditions. I was informed by one of the butterfly keeps that sometimes the heavy rain damages their wings so they are unable to fly. This information made me sad, but fortunately they are able to reproduce enough so their livelihood can survive.

There were pythons you could hold here, but some had just eaten and looked sleepy so I opted not to hold them. Sometimes it’s better just to watch!

Lunch on a Floating Restaurant

After all of these exciting activities, my driver took me to an all-you-can-eat buffet at a boat restaurant called Rio Verde! The experience was fun because the turtle-shaped boat sailed down the river and there was live music that really brightened the atmosphere. I had a lot of fun trying different Filippino foods, especially the curry and fish. I was happy to see that they had vegetarian options as well.

The price was around $14 which was worth it for the amount of food you can eat.

Blood Compact Shrine

Our last stops were the Blood Compact Shrine and the Baclayon Church Ruins before returning to the Bohol ferry terminal. I was expecting the Blood Compact Shrine to have an altar, but actually it’s just a monument. This monument symbolizes the old ritual of cutting hands with an ally and mixing the blood in a cup with wine to drink as the sign of a treaty or close friendship. Many tribes in Bohol performed this ritual in the olden days, but it is not used anymore.

I sadly couldn’t go inside the Baclayon Church Ruins due to time constraints, but seeing the outside of them was sufficient enough for me. Additionally, I didn’t take many pictures of the man-made forest because there was a paved road for vehicles going through it, but it was fun to drive through. The trees were planted there as a reforestation project making the scenery look more green and I was happy to see them growing. Overall I was extremely satisfied with this tour, especially that I got to see the Chocolate Hills and the Tarsiers! My guide was very kind and let me wander freely around all of these attractions. If you are interested in seeing beaches or islands during your time on Bohol, there are other tours that you can choose from.

In my next article, I will be writing about the two best diving spots in Cebu. Please look forward to it, and thank you for your support as always!

Spending a day in Morioka City, Iwate

The quiet shopping streets of Morioka City in Iwate Prefecture.

After spending the night at a hot springs resort on the lake in Akita Prefecture, we decided to take a road trip to the very last of the 47 prefectures of Japan on my travel list: Iwate Prefecture. Iwate actually has the lowest population density of all prefectures on the main island of Japan (Honshu), so you’ll definitely feel like you’re in the countryside if you travel here. Taking advantage of the country roads, we decided to stop at a farm and one of Iwate’s nicest museums, Ishigami-no-Oka, before spending the night in the largest city named Morioka. Traveling to all 47 prefectures of Japan has been extremely rewarding, and though Iwate felt a bit less exciting than other cities I’ve been to, I’m very happy that I had the opportunity to visit.

Koiwai Farm

Koiwai Farm is a very tranquil ranch with animals, various dairy products for sale, and a fantastic view of Mt. Iwate. This farm is located between Akita and Morioka City, so we decided to stop here first because it was on the way to our hotel. Before even checking out any of the attractions, we bought some creamy vanilla ice cream because it was fresh and delicious. We mostly spent our time walking around the fields and gazing at the mountain in the distance, but it was fun to see all of the activities you could do here. One of the most interesting nature spots of Koiwai is a sole cherry blossom tree in it that’s ideal for photography in the spring, but unfortunately it wasn’t in bloom this season. What’s also interesting is that you can sign up for lessons on how to milk a cow! During certain times of the year there are festivals and illuminations, so be sure to see what’s in season when you visit.

Address: 36-1 Maruyachi, Shizukuishi, Iwate District, Iwate 020-0507
Entrance Fee: 800 yen

Ishigami-no-Oka Museum

Since I love art and nature, Ishigami-no-Oka Museum was the perfect destination in Iwate for me. Boasting a huge flower garden and abstract sculptures of animals with aerial views, this is a great place to enjoy a stroll and do photography. My favorite piece of art was the seahorse-like creature that looked like it was eating grass from a funny angle. I also liked the bear that was seated at the observatory point. What makes these kind of open air museums so unique is how the light and shadows hit the sculptures, and also how the surroundings change as the seasons change. I would love to come back and visit this museum again during another time of year if given the chance.

Address: Dai 10 Chiwari-121-21 Itsukaichi, Iwate, Iwate District, Iwate 028-4307
Entrance Fee: 500 yen

Exploring Morioka

Morioka is much smaller and more rural than what I initially imagined it to be, but here are some of my favorite recommendations in the city. Please remember that some businesses and attractions may close early since this is the countryside. One of my biggest regrets was not having enough time to make it to Jodogahama Beach because it was over two hours away from the museum, but I’ve also seen a lot of pretty beaches in Okinawa!

Morioka Castle Site Park

Since Morioka’s Castle Site Park was walking distance from our hotel, we decided to check it out before dinner. However, unlike Akita’s Senshu Park, there was sadly no castle here anymore because it was demolished in 1874 with the end of the samurai area. But the area that remains is quite lovely and you can see a nice pond and views of Morioka City by ascending the stairs here.

Food & Drink Recommendations

About 10 minutes walking from the park, I found an amazing vegan restaurant called Karakoma. I ordered a vegan teishoku set served with beet soup, brown rice, and an assortment of vegetable dishes and it tasted beyond amazing! They also have organic wine and vegan desserts. If I was more hungry at the time, I would have ordered more dishes, but what I had was filling enough!

Before calling it a night, we decided to head to a cocktail bar called esprit for some sweet drinks. I ordered a tiramisu cocktail and a White Russian. As you can expect from a bar like this, the quality was top notch and the drinks were just as good as the vegan meal I ate before. I really hope this bar gets more recognition because it clearly deserves it!

Accommodation

We stayed in Hotel Ace Morioka because it was centrally located and around 5000 yen per night, but I would not recommend it because the rooms were tiny and smoky. I would look at non-business hotels for a better stay because this one landed a bit below my standards.

This ends my adventure of exploring all 47 prefectures of Japan, but fear not! I have plans to still stay in the country and explore various culture festivals and other things I have yet to experience. I will likely be revisiting many of my favorite prefectures, like Kyoto and Osaka, again this year and look forward to what the future brings. My next trip is coming up in about a week and will be in the Philippines! Please continue to look forward to more exciting adventures from yours truly.

Staying in a Lodge Surrounded by Wild Deer in Nara Park

A mob of wild deer come to greet me as I exit my lodge.

Continuing on from my expedition to two of Nara’s most aesthetic temples, I next decided to stay at a lodge named Deer Park Inn surrounded by wild deer in Nara Park. Nara Park is not only famous for its temples and lovely scenery, but also its friendly deer who beg visitors for rice crackers (called “shika senbei”). This is a great place to start your morning because there are a number of hiking spots and gardens to visit. You will also see many deer mobs grazing in the grass and waiting for humans to awake so they can feast on their delicious rice crackers. Deer are a sacred animal of Nara because they were once seen as messengers of the gods. For their high social status, these fellows never seem to get enough food! Fortunately you can buy crackers all over Nara for the mere price of 200 yen. Where I’m from in the United States, deer are extremely shy so having them approach me and behave like dogs was quite the experience:

Getting to Nara Park

From Nara Station, you can take the 62 bus to the Todaiji Bus Stop and arrive at the park in 10 mins for 220 yen. You can also take a short and inexpensive taxi ride here too. Nara Park is open 24 hours, but restaurants close early so it is advised you buy snacks from convenience stores if you want to eat at night.

Single rooms at the Deer Park in go for around 4000 yen but you can book a dormitory room with other people for a cheaper price. The advantage of staying in the park versus the city is that you can see the temples and gardens in the morning with fewer people. You can also feed deer from the balcony of your room! I had so much fun waking up and watching them from my window. It was a one of a kind experience that you can only get here in Nara!

Places I recommend checking out in Nara Park are:

  • Ukimudo (a bridge that leads to a gazebo in a pond)
  • Todaiji (a famous temple with a giant golden Buddha statue)
  • Kasuga Taisha (a bright shrine with a deer statue)
  • Kasuga Taisha Manyo Botanical Gardens
  • Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest

Overall I spent about 3 hours in Nara Park before taking a short bus ride back to the main part of the city. All of the places I listed are very accessible and you can easily reach them on foot. Nara Park is free to enter, but some temples and gardens have a 300-700 yen entrance fee. I think the price is worth it because many of these places are historical landmarks that are surrounded by luscious nature. Plus you can interact with as many deer as you like if you carry their favorite food!

Running to Ukimudo

Since Ukimudo is surrounded by a beautiful pond and is in a forest with several sakura trees, this is where I decided to start my morning. Due to the lack of tourists, there have been reports of the deer acting more aggressive toward people for food, but if you open your hands and show them that you are not carrying any rice crackers, they will not attack you. When I went running this morning near Ukimudo, the grazing deer pretty much ignored me after giving me a few curious side glances since I wasn’t carrying any bags or food. However, when I returned with several rice crackers it was a different story! I was circled by groups of deer, and the more aggressive ones would bite at my skirt when I wasn’t feeding them. Fortunately it is easy to run away from them, and they will not trample or bite you. Just be prepared to be lightly head-butted at times and always protect your belongings!

Also, there are signs posted not to feed them any food other than the crackers because it can be harmful to them.

Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha

When I first studied abroad in Japan, I was completely awestruck by the giant golden Buddha statue that I saw at Todaiji Temple in Nara Park. Roughly 9 years later I had the opportunity to see this Buddha again during sakura season, and it took me back to the fond memories I had when I first visited Japan. The street that paves the path to Todaiji is lined with vendors, food stalls, and souvenir shops full of good luck charms and stuffed deer mascots so it’s quite enthralling when you first visit. Another thing I love is how the deer just make this part of the city their own—they have learned to live in harmony with humans and nature. Nara certainly wouldn’t be the same without their sacred messengers, and the people here have come to love them.

Kasuga Taisha is just a short walk from Todaiji. It’s not as impressive as the giant halls of Buddha but it’s worth checking out for the beautiful forest and gardens that surround it. The flowers naturally change year round which make it feel like a magical place. Be sure to lookout for sakura trees too, as they are scattered throughout these temple grounds.

Sakura Season is also Deer Mating Season

I didn’t realize this before, but sakura season in Nara is actually during the mating season of the deer. That explains why some of the bigger deer were trying to bite my skirt—it all makes sense now! In all seriousness, please be on the lookout for aggressive deer. There are many kind Japanese shop owners and also rangers in Nara Park that will help you if the deer come too close for comfort. One Japanese vendor helped me by clapping their hands firmly near the deer to catch their attention. This is a safe way to keep them from attacking you. For the most part, most deer are friendly and know that even when you run out of food, other visitors will eventually come to feed them more. They obviously won natural selection!

Top Food Recommendations

Like its surrounding cities Kyoto and Osaka, Nara is also full of delicious food! Stop by for deer macarons at OVER MACARON before heading to the park. They have a large selection of flavors including chocolate, strawberry cheesecake, and creme brulee. If you like Japanese desserts, you can also get strawberry daifuku with deer-shaped cookies in them Daibutsu Ichigo. This shop is also located near the entrance of the park and is impossible to miss because it always draws a crowd. For breakfast, I highly recommend Mizuya Chaya which is located inside of Nara Park. This is a teahouse that serves wonderful beverages, desserts. and breakfast sets. I ordered rice porridge that had a beautiful floral design in it, and it tasted amazing! My final recommendation is a vegan restaurant named KURURU located slightly outside of the park where I had creamy mushroom vegan pasta. Once again, I was blown away by the taste and it really filled me up! Whatever local eatery you visit here will surely satisfy you.

For those who are interested, I made a reel of my video footage here. My next article will be the final of this series, and will focus on a trippy aquarium I found in Nara City and some more highlights of Kyoto’s sakura season. Thank you to all who have kept up with my crazy journeys! I am excited to announce my next trip very soon!

Exploring one of Japan’s Most Rural Prefectures: Yamaguchi

Motonosumi Shrine in Northern Yamaguchi along the Sea of Japan.

After an eventful day in Fukuoka paying my respects to the frog gods and eating delicious food, I decided to take the bullet train to Yamaguchi the next morning because it was one of the few prefectures I had yet to explore in Japan. Yamaguchi is most famous for Akiyoshido Cave, which is the largest limestone cave in Japan. It is also famous for its blowfish and has delicious seafood you can try.

Other points of interest include Hagi, the old castle town, Beppu Benten Pond, and various bridges and shrines. Though renowned for its scenery, Yamaguchi does not have the best public transport. I would recommend seeing all of the prefectures in Kyushu before coming here because there is much more to do and the beaches and onsen are of much higher quality. That being said, Yamaguchi does have some interesting points that I will be highlighting in this article, and I am grateful I had the opportunity to finally see it!

Getting to Yamaguchi from Fukuoka

From Hakata Station, traveling to Shin Yamaguchi Station on the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen takes around 35 mins and costs 6000 yen. From Shin Yamaguchi Station, you can take a bus or local train to various locations but I would recommend renting a car or taxi to get your time’s worth out of this prefecture.

Yamaguchi also has an airport (Yamaguchi Ube Airport) but it is cheaper to fly to Fukuoka and take the bullet train to reach the station. Once again, I would definitely recommend spending at least a day in Fukuoka and other parts of Kyushu because the atmosphere is better.

When I arrived at Shin Yamaguchi Station, I was actually surprised at how modern it was. I was expecting it to be an extremely rural station and pretty empty, but it had signs that clearly marked the area and I saw a decent number of people commuting here. The most disappointing part was that almost all the shops in the station were closed minus 7-Eleven and a tiny udon shop by the waiting room. I really wanted to try more of the local food but ended up settling for convenience store options because I was on a tight schedule.

I went to the tourist information center a grabbed a map so I wouldn’t get lost. Fortunately there is a cheap bus that goes from Shin Yamaguchi Station to Akiyoshido Cave so it is the best place to explore first. The workers at the information center also informed me that there are a number of taxis you can take from the caves to other locations in Yamaguchi, so that saved me the trouble of trying to call or book one in advance. Though I was initially expecting this to be a challenging day, fortunately everything I wanted to see was accessible even though I did not have a car.

Akiyoshido Cave

Akiyoshido is the largest limestone cave in Japan that’s existence can be traced back to 300 million years ago. It is part of the Akiyoshidai Plateau Quasi-National Park that has a number of phenomenal hiking spots and places to see. Inside of the cave you will notice formations that resemble various parts of Japan such as the Thousand Rice Fields, the Goddess of Mercy, and the “Big Mushroom”. The accessible part of the cave for tourists spans about one mile, and when you exit you will walk through a fluorescent tunnel that takes you through the essence of time. I thought this cave was well laid out, but I recommend Miyakojima’s Pumpkin Cave and Okayama’s Rainbow Cave because they are more interesting to see. However, there are additional places you can explore at this national park if you keep hiking after the exit. I did not have the time or energy to see them all, but please reference the Akiyoshidai Website for more information.

Address: 3506-2 Shuhocho Akiyoshi, Mine, Yamaguchi 754-0511
Entrance Fee: 1200 yen

After exiting the cave, I cut a deal with a taxi driver to take me to the following locations for 20,000 yen. Though this was expensive, this was the most cost efficient way for me to see all of Yamaguchi in one day and I don’t regret it.

Beppu Benten Pond

Beppu Benten Pond is a strikingly clear blue pond near the limestone caves in the small town of Mine. On sunny days that pond appears crystal clear like glass, reminding me of Monet’s Pond that I saw in Gifu. There is a legend that drinking Beppu’s water will extend your lifespan for a year, but since it was raining I did not try it out! There are a number of trout that live in this pond so I decided to leave the magical life-extending water to them. What’s also amazing is this pond’s temperature stays at 14 degrees Celsius all year. On the day that I went, the sunlight made a heart-shaped shadow on the pond which I thought was very special! If you go to Akiyoshido then I would definitely recommend checking this out because it is extremely nearby.

Address: 1578 Shuhocho Beppu, Mine, Yamaguchi 754-0603
Entrance Fee: Free

Motonosumi Shrine

From the pond, I had my taxi driver take me to Motonosumi Shrine which was all the way north next. This was about a 45 minute drive but was extremely worth it because the layout of this seaside shrine was gorgeous. Motonosumi Shrine is an Inari shrine which means it has fox deities and a large number of tori that lead to the offering box. Instead of being on the ground, the offering box is attached to one of the upper beams of the main tori making it extremely unique. It is said that good luck comes to whomever can toss their coins successfully into the box. I would recommend this shrine as the #1 sightseeing spot in Yamaguchi because there are not many others like it!

Address: 498 Yuyatsuo, Nagato, Yamaguchi 759-4712
Entrance Fee: Free

After fully exploring the shrine by the coast (it really only takes 25 mins to see), I had my taxi driver drop me off at Hagi Bus Center where I drank by myself and waited 2 hours for the Hello Kitty bus to pick me up and return me to Shin Yamaguchi Station so I could reach my next destination. Not complaining though, because I was riding in style! Do be mindful of the bus schedules here because buses are truly infrequent in this prefecture even when they connect to the major stations.

Other Recommendations

Other popular destinations in Yamaguchi include Tsunoshima Ohashi Bridge, which connects to a small island called Tsunoshima. If I had a rental car, I probably would had tried to go here, but the island is very rural and does not contain many points of interest outside of one of the oldest Western-styled lighthouses. Kintaikyo bridge near the airport is also very famous for its architecture, but since it was out of the way and I have already seen so many bridges in Japan I decided to skip it. I did not fully see the castle town but I did walk around Hagi while waiting for my Hello Kitty bus and it was interesting enough. Sadly it was raining else I would have taken more photos.

Most articles recommend staying 2 days in Yamaguchi to fully experience it, but I was able to see everything that I wanted in a single day trip. If you are doing a day trip like myself I would recommend choosing 3 spots that most interest you and sticking close to them. Though Yamaguchi is a place that I wouldn’t recommend to people because other rural prefectures like Gunma and Saga have far more to see, I was grateful for what I experience and was even more ecstatic to finally cross this place off my bucket list! When I was done sightseeing I returned to Shin Yamaguchi Station and rode the bullet train to Hiroshima Station because that is where my next adventure was about to begin.

In my next article, I will be exploring a small art island of Hiroshima and also re-visiting Kurashiki. The adventures truly never seem to end and I have been living life to the fullest this year. I cannot wait to see what other wonderful things are in store!

Flying to the Fisherman’s Town of Kushiro for Birdwatching and Hiking Expeditions (Part 2)

Hiking to the base of Mt. Io where volcanic gases spew from vents.

After a lovely first evening of exploring the central streets of Kushiro and having a whole rental apartment complex to myself, the next I departed on a full day bus tour to all of the major sightseeing points of this area. The White Pirika Bus I selected for this trip runs from January – March and will take you on a journey to see rare species of birds, famous lakes and mountains, and hot springs too! I really recommend this tour because I was able to see everything I wanted and it was cheaper than renting a car. The guides only speak Japanese, but will show you the best spots for birdwatching and hiking so you know exactly where to go without wasting any time. As someone who loves photography and listening to guides to practice Japanese, this was the optimal tour for me. I would advise booking this tour at least a week in advance online because it has limited availability.

The major spots that are covered in this tour are: Tsurumidai (for viewing the cranes), Sunayu (for viewing the swans), Mt. Io, Lake Mashu, and Lake Akan Hot Springs

Afterwards you can request to be dropped of at Kushiro Station, Kushiro Airport, or your accommodation.

If you come during the warmer seasons to Kushiro, you can reserve similar buses on the Akan Bus website, but the swans and cranes rarely appear. I recommend coming here during the winter because you can do and see the most!

Tsurumidai

The very first place we stopped on our tour was Tsurumidai, which is a popular lookout spot for the Japanese Red-crowned Crane (also known as the “Japanese Tanchou”). The Red-crowned Crane is one of the largest East Asian cranes and one of the rarest species of crane in the world. This bird is said to bring good luck and is a prominent symbol in many folklore and legends. It also appears in Japan Airlines’ logo! I enjoyed watching these cranes spread their wings and honk at one another. They seemed completely unbaffled by the presence of so many humans watching them from the other side of the fence. They were a lot bigger than I had initially anticipated, and that made watching them all the more fun. After March they usually migrate to other countries such as Russia and China. I was extremely lucky to catch sight of them this year!

Sunayu

The next stop of this tour was at Sunayu, which is a hot spring that oozes out of the sand for both humans and birds! Sunayu is located on the east side of Lake Kussharo, and is a popular campsite during the warmer months. During the winter, whooper swans flock to the warm waters for comfort and a number of people come to watch them. A few years ago, a group of my Japanese friends came here for photography and one of them created this melodic track called “Whooper Song” that was inspired by the sight of the whooper swan. Since then I wanted to come to Kushiro and see the bird for myself, so I’m extremely grateful I had this opportunity!

Here are more photos I took of the beautiful whooper swans. They truly are serene:

Mt. Io

Our third and perhaps most adventurous stop was at Mt. Io, which is an active volcano in Kushiro. It is famous for erupting sulfur and volcanic gases from its vents, and has a lot of characteristic geological formations. Climbing is prohibited, but you can hike up to the fenced area and get extremely close to the vents. I watched a Japanese couple stick their hands into the fumes and was concerned they were going to get burned, but it is safe to do this at the base! I tried it myself and found that the temperature was comfortably warm; kind of like a steam sauna. You can buy eggs cooked by the steam at the souvenir shop which I highly recommend, because they are healthy and delicious!

Lake Mashu

Our next destination was a brief stop at Lake Mashu, which is a caldera lake formed by an active volcano in Akan Mashu National Park. It has been called “the clearest lake in the world” and is considered Japan’s post beautiful lake. It is also one of the deepest lakes in this country. Visitors are not allowed to go down to the lake, but can view it from multiple observatories. I was thankful to have the tour guide here to point me in the right direction of to where to take the best pictures. Its waters truly were beautiful and reflected the surrounding winter scenery.

Lake Akan Hot Springs (and Lunch)

Our last stop was at Lake Akan Hot Springs where we were given an hour of free time to do whatever we wanted. Here you can choose to ride a banana boat, rent winter sports equipment, go shopping, or bathe in a hot spring bath. If you know me, you know I love hot springs so I naturally went to the nearest one at a hotel adjacent to the bus stop. The entrance fee was only 1000 yen and it included a towel and shampoo. I had the whole outdoor bath to myself so that was a plus! It felt so good to clean up after all the hiking I did this day. I also walked around the hot spring town and looked at the little shops. I enjoyed seeing all of the wood carving places and cafes, but unfortunately not a lot of things were open. I did enjoy how private this area was though; there was hardly anyone here except for our tour group and that was nice!

Right before this stop we were given a delicious bento lunch that contained fish or meat (I chose fish), and I ordered hojicha gelato for dessert. All of the food in Hokkaido is cheap and tastes amazing so you really can’t go wrong with what you eat here!

Final Thoughts

Overall this was one of the best tours I’ve ever been on in Japan because not only did it include lunch and entrance fees to all of the parks, but it also took me to every single place I wanted to see in Kushiro! I had a fantastic time seeing the birds, active volcanoes, and lakes this part of Hokkaido had to offer⁠—not to mention the hot springs! I feel extremely fulfilled to cross yet another dream destination off my list. I would recommend Kushiro to travelers who have already seen all of the major cities of Hokkaido and are looking for something more secluded and unique. I hope to come back to Hokkaido again during the summer for some more photography, because this island has a lot of untouched nature and exciting places to see. I feel so relaxed after getting out of the city for a while too!

Thank you for reading my Kushiro article series. I plan on going to Nara this year to see the cherry blossoms, and possibly Shimane and Yamaguchi too if I have time. Please expect more exciting articles from me!

Chasing Sunsets on Sakurajima, Kagoshima’s Volcanic Island

View of Sakurajima from the Arimura Lava Observatory.

Right before my expedition to Ogawa Falls in the remote city of Kanoya, I decided to make a brief pitstop at the island of Sakurajima and spend the night at a Japanese ryokan by the ocean. Sakurajima is a volcanic island that has been on my bucket list for quite a while, but I was waiting for the perfect time of year to go which is late summer. While I was here I rented a bike and rode around to various viewpoints, took a bus to the Arimura Lava Observatory, and walked around the magma sand beach on the way back to my hot spring resort. The best part was watching the sunset from my private onsen by the sea. I will never forget the beautiful shades of the pink and orange sky that surround the active volcano. The volcano gently erupts ash every day but is safe to view from the marked viewpoints and observatories. Since Sakurajima doesn’t have much of a nightlife at all, you can really focus on appreciating nature when the sky turns dark.

Getting to Sakurajima

From the Kagoshima Ferry Port that is easily accessible by bus from the airport, Sakurajima is just a simple 15 minute ferry ride away. The ferry runs 24 hours and costs only 200 yen per passenger. Please see the ferry timetable for more information.

There are a number of bus tours you can choose from the Sakurajima Tourism Website, but you can also rent bikes and use a combination of public transport to get the most out of your experience. Here is my recommended itinerary for Sakurajima:

Exploring the West Side of the Island by Bike

As soon as I reached the Sakurajima ferry port, I calculated it would be faster to see the attractions on the west side of the island by bike, so I rented a cheap bike from a rental shop near Tsukiyomi Shrine. I decided I would see the shrine first, then bike to the Yogam Nagisa Footbath area so I could soak my feet in the water and gaze at the sparkling sea. The footbaths are completely free to use and are very relaxing for weary travelers. After snapping a few photos, I rode my bike to the Karasujima Observatory which gave me yet another beautiful view of the ocean. I then rode my bike to the “Portrait of a Shout” monument which is definitely worth seeing. This was my favorite piece of art on the island because it was so random but gladly welcomed. Seeing all these things took around 45 mins by bike which is way easier than walking or waiting for a bus, so I would recommend because it lets you get acquainted with the island.

Biking around the entire island is about 36km and is doable in a day, but since some places on the north side are shut due to the pandemic I would not recommend it unless you are dead-set on seeing all of the island by bike. Please note that most bike rental places want their bikes returned by 5pm too.

Taking a Bus to the Arimura Lava Observatory

After returning my bike, I took a local bus from the ferry port to the Arimura Lava Observatory which was very close to the beach and my ryokan. This was my favorite part of the trip because unlike other observatories, the Arimura one has the most walkways and mini tunnels you can walk through with the best view of the volcano. You can also see the ash from the volcano that looks like black sand around this area. This was the most photogenic spot of the island that I discovered and it was so fun seeing the volcano from multiple heights. If you enjoy hiking and are only here on a day trip, definitely come here first because you’ll enjoy it the most!

If you cross the street from the observatory and walk west toward the hotels, you will be able to see Arimura Beach that has black sand stained from the ash. Fortunately the ash is already dry when it lands on the sand and it is safe to walk on. This was my first time seeing a volcanic beach and I was truly amazed!

Address: 952 Arimuracho, Kagoshima, 891-1545

Staying Overnight at Sakurajima Seaside Hotel

While looking at places on the island, I wanted to stay somewhere close to the ocean with a natural hot spring included. Sakurajima Seaside Hotel fit that description perfectly and was in a great location on Arimura Beach so I booked it without hesitation. This hotel has ryokan style rooms with the option of having meals included. It also has public and private onsen naturally heated by the magma of Sakurajima. The best time to use the hot springs is when the sun starts to set because then it won’t be as hot. When I first got in, the water was extremely warm so it took some getting used to. However, the next day my muscles felt completely relaxed so I decided to go in again before checking out. When you get out of the bath you may notice some orange residue on your skin from the natural ingredients in the water but this is extremely healthy for it!

Taking a Bus or Taxi to Kurokami Buried Shrine Gate

In the morning before catching my ferry back to mainland, I decided to take a taxi to the Kurokami Buried Shrine Gate on the east side of the island. My taxi driver was very talkative and gave me the full history on its destruction that was caused by an eruption in 1914. I have never seen a tori submerged in the earth before, so this was yet another incredibly rare sight that is unique to Sakurajima. You can also come here by local bus—I just decided to use a taxi because I was short on time.

I this area there is also the Kurokami Observation Point, but it was closed due to the pandemic. I wasn’t disappointed because my pictures from the Arimura Lava Observatory turned out very well.

Address: 647 Kurokamicho, Kagoshima, 891-1401
Admission: Free

Trying Sakurajima Food

There are a number of restaurants scattered throughout the island, but I opted to get breakfast at my ryokan which included fresh fish, rice, salad, and miso soup. Food on the island is somewhat limited, but a lot of care went into preparing this breakfast and I enjoyed the variety. At the ferry terminal there is a cafe that sells volcanic ash ice cream cones and I can’t recommend them enough! The “volcanic ash” tastes suspiciously like crushed Oreo, but I will live its taste up to your imagination. I would just try whatever food that strikes you fancy here!

Final Thoughts

I am really glad I solo tripped and stayed overnight on Sakurajima because watching the sunset on this island was absolutely breathtaking! The majority of travelers that I have talked to usually day trip here to save time, but I feel very fortunate I had enough time to experience the volcano at night too. The staff at my ryokan were extremely kind and really took care of me. I also enjoyed having a lot of alone time to myself which is something that I don’t always get in Tokyo. Having a car would have been nice, but I managed to spontaneously figure out the public transport system and rent a bike which I am proud of myself for. Overall this was another 10/10 trip to Kyushu and I cannot wait to come back in the future.

This marks the end of my Kyushu article series, but I will be traveling to Kobe and Awaji this weekend and starting my next article series next week! Please look forward to it and thank you for reading as always!

Hiking to Mt. Aso’s Nakadake Crater

We finally made it, Totoro!

Roughly a year ago, Mt. Aso’s Nakadate Crater became safe enough to re-open for viewing after the earthquake in 2016 that destroyed the ropeway and made it inaccessible for years. I first visited Mt. Aso in 2017 during Golden Week, but unfortunately there was not a lot I could do besides visit the surrounding parks and zoos. However, after my vacation to Amami Island, I decided I would fly to Kyushu and visit Kagoshima, Kumamoto, and Fukuoka before flying back to Tokyo.

Each day at 8:30am the official Aso Crater website updates listing the restricted areas of the crater. On days where it rains and the fog is heavy, or when the volcanic gases reach a certain level of intensity, entry will be restricted. However if the weather cooperates, usually no zones are restricted and you can see one of the world’s largest calderas! At one time there was a lake in the crater, but unfortunately now it has dried up. Scientists predict it may reform in the future, however. If you look at old pictures, the color of the blue water looks similar to an onsen with an extremely high temperature.

Here is some footage that I caught on my GoPro of Mt. Aso’s Nakadate Crater:

Getting to Mt. Aso’s Nakadate Crater

From Kumamoto Station, the trip to Mt. Aso take about 2.5 hours by train and bus and costs around 3000-3500 yen one way. You can also rent a car and drive here because the area before the crater has a parking lot. Getting to the crater is a bit of the gamble because there is a slight chance that the gases could change and make some areas restricted as you’re traveling there, but I like to take calculated risks. I thought the trip was worth it because I got to see an extremely rare and beautiful area of Japan. I rode the Hohi Line to Aso Station and then stopped for vegetable udon on the station. It was a hearty and delicious meal.

From the station there are two buses that will take you up to the crater. On your way up you will pass many fields filled with roaming cows and see how beautifully green the mountain is. The first bus will stop at a gift shop where you can buy some interesting souvenirs. My favorite were the oppai sake cups and the Kumamon ice cream, but the rocks from the crater were pretty neat too. You can choose to walk to the crater from here which takes around 30 mins, or take another bus which is just a short 10-15 minute ride. Seeing the Kumamon-themed bus was definitely a perk of using public transport.

On average, viewing the crater of Mt. Aso takes roughly 30-45 mins depending on how many photos you wish to take. There are 5 different zones that you can walk around and see it the crater emitting volcanic gases from. Entry into Zone A is always prohibited, but entering the other 4 zones (B1-D) will give you some amazing views. The experience was extraordinary and very memorable to me. I am happy that I made it all the way up here this time because I crossed another item off of my Japan bucket list!

Other Activities in Aso

Getting to Mt. Aso’s crater and back takes almost a full day, but there are other activities around the mountain that you can do if you’re interested. I took a bath at Aso Bochu Onsen while I was waiting for my train back to Kumamoto which felt amazing after all the distance I traveled to reach the crater. There is also Aso Cuddly Dominion for those who enjoy seeing bears. I visited during 2017 and unfortunately don’t have many good pictures but I had a fun time. I also passed by a horseback riding farm on my way up to the crater. If I would have had more time I would have definitely stopped by!

Thank you for reading about my expedition to Mt. Aso. The article series is officially halfway done! In my next article I will be talking about some activities that I did in Kagoshima. Please look forward to it!

Sailing through the Skies of Amami Island – First Paragliding Experience

Seeing northern Yo Beach from a new perspective via paragliding!

On my second day on Amami Island, I decided to knock out paragliding on my bucket list because it’s something I had wanted to do for years and it felt like the ideal time. Out of all the locations you can try it in Japan, Okinawa and Kagoshima are the most recommended due to their stunning ocean views. I first tried to go paragliding on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa 5 years ago on my birthday, but unfortunately the winds were too strong and my reservation was cancelled. This time the opposite problem occurred—the winds were initially too weak but picked up after an hour of waiting. Paragliding is simple in the fact that all that you need to do is run and jump in time with when you’re instructed to and the motor will do the rest. Before you know it you’ll be up in the sky staring down at the distant scenery below you. In case you fall there is a soft cushion of sand beneath you which is why I highly recommend paragliding on the beach. The beautiful hues of the ocean below my feet glittered in the shining sun and I felt as if I was truly alive!

Here is some footage from my GoPro over Amami Island’s most northern beach (Yo Beach). I originally thought the white building was a lighthouse, but it is actually a government office!

I booked my paragliding experience through パラグライダーハッピースカイ (Paragliding Happy Sky) online for 10,500 yen and had an incredible experience. Though this might be a bit more expensive compared to other countries like Thailand or the Philippines, Japan is probably the safest country to learn in as their instructors are very cautious and well-trained. I appreciated how they waited an hour with me for the winds to pick up an even offered to show me around the island so I could see the stars at night. The experience lasts for around 15 minutes and you can freely use your camera equipment while a license professional controls the motor and direction. The company will contact you with the best meeting point the night before and fortunately all of the paragliding locations are easy to reach by taxi.

To me it was an extremely exhilarating experience that increased my love for the ocean so I can’t recommend it enough—if you’re an adventurous person then you need to try paragliding!

Kayaking through Amami Mangrove Forest

Immediately after kayaking, I set off for the Amami Mangrove Forest via local bus because I really wanted to try kayaking there. This is one of the top destinations in Amami and the second largest mangrove in Japan. The waterways will take you deep through the forest so you can see various wildlife and the experience was very relaxing to me after paragliding. Renting a kayak is 1500 yen for an hour, but I noticed they were pretty lax on time. I had the opportunity to explore a lot of canals and was very satisfied with the experience despite the long 2 hour bus ride. If you rent a car then you can get around Amami Island much faster, but this mangrove is still somewhat remote from the main resort area. However, I passed through the downtown area on my way back and stopped for delicious Indian food at Durga Dining before heading back to relax at my resort!

Chasing Sunsets

Another fun activity I enjoyed was waking up with the sun and falling asleep with the moon. Every day and night I would watch the sun fall over the ocean and the landscape magically change color. As the land of the rising sun, Japan has a lot of neat places where you can chase sunsets but I definitely prefer it at the beach!

Other Activities

Snorkeling and diving is also extremely popular on Amami Island, but since I did this in Okinawa earlier this year I opted to try new things mentioned in this article. When it all comes down to it, appreciating nature and wildlife and relaxing is really the best thing you can do on this island. All of the resorts are extremely affordable and you can bike around to a number of attractions easily so Amami is a great destination for people who have already been to Okinawa and are looking for something more. I can proudly say that booking my trip here was my best decision of the year because I got the chance to see and experience so many things. Three days was the perfect amount of time to spend here too.

Though this was my last day on Amami Island, my adventure through Kyushu still continues! In my next article, I will talk about exploring the volcanic island, Sakurajima, in Kagoshima. Please look forward to it!