Chasing Sunsets in Puerto Princesa and El Nido

A timeless sunset at Nactan Beach in El Nido, Palawan.

After spending a lovely four days at the Philippines’s #1 party destination, Boracay Island, I took a plane to to Palawan Island, which was the final destination on my itinerary before heading back to Tokyo. I decided to stay one night in Puerto Princesa and two nights in El Nido so I could explore some of the best beaches on the island. I expected Palawan to be somewhat similar to Boracay with a vibrant part atmosphere, but it is actually much more remote and private. There is a lot of farmland and lagoons in this area making it an interesting place to see. There are some good parties around the Nactan area at night, but during the day it’s quite peaceful. Nactan Beach was my favorite beach to go swimming at because the water was so crystal clear. Getting there is a bit of a journey, but you won’t regret seeing the beautiful sunsets there every night. Not to mention the happy hour specials on the beach are amazing!

Getting to Puerto Princesa & El Nido

From Boracay’s Godofredo Airport, I took a plane to Puerto Princesa Airport which had a short layover in Manila. The one-way flight was about $80 through Air Asia which was fair for the distance.

Getting from Puerto Princesa to El Nido is a bit of a long haul because it takes 5-6 hours by bus or van. I booked a van through 12goAsia for around $12. Fortunately there are a few rest stops and the van is air conditioned so it wasn’t a bad ride at all. Please note that El Nido has an airport too, but it is currently not possible to fly there from Puerto Princesa—everyone in Palawan travels there by bus. However, it is possible to fly to El Nido from other islands in the Philippines so that’s something to keep in mine while planning your itineraray.

I recommend spending at least 4-6 days in Palawan if you want to see both Puerto Princesa and El Nido. If you are short on cash or aren’t up for the long ride between the two, then I recommend choosing the one you like the most. El Nido was my favorite because it had better beaches and parties, but I’m happy that I had the chance to see both!

Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour in Puerto Princesa

I booked a Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour through KKday so I could see some of the loveliest beaches in Puerto Princesa. This group tour was around $30 and included lunch so it was a great deal. The island hopping tour explored 3 islands in Honda Bay which were all about 30-45 minutes away from one another, so it was an easier journey than to my favorite diving spots in Cebu. I would recommend this tour because it is cheap and my guide was super friendly. You get roughly 45 minutes – 1 hour at each beach so you can relax and fully explore them. These islands are quite tiny but have a lot of interesting characteristics.

Please note that the lifeguards are strict about where you swim in Palawan, so there are designated swimming areas on each island. This did not bother me because I was able to cover a lot of ground on each island even with the limitations in place.

Honda Bay’s Starfish Island

Seeing Starfish Island was actually my #1 reason for coming to Puerto Princesa. I’ve been to a lot of tropical countries in Asia, but have never seen so many starfish in the wild before! The tides on this island are usually pretty low so they are easy to spot both on the beach and in the water. Snorkeling equipment was provided on this tour, so I used my GoPro to swim underwater and take their photographs while having the time of my life. These starfish are known as Protoreaster nodosus, but are nicknamed chocolate chip starfish due to pointed projections on their bodies that resemble chocolate chips. I will forever treasure my memory with the chocolate chip starfish on Honda Bay!

Luili Island

Our next stop was Luili Island, which is another small island with beautiful waters and many tropical fish. The swimming area here was deeper than the shallow waters of Starfish Island, so I enjoyed wading in it and seeing all of the aquatic wildlife beneath the sea. One funny thing I noticed here was a starfish with four legs. At first I was a bit concerned for it, but I later I learned that starfish have the ability to grow their limbs back. I sure wish I could do that too! After swimming for a bit, I relaxed in a hammock before we went to our final destination: Cowrie Island.

Cowrie Island

Cowrie Island was the biggest of the three islands that we explored and had the largest swimming area of them all. This island also has a mini bar that serves frozen cocktails and shakes, so I immediately ordered a Long Island. By this time I was pretty exhausted from swimming, but I did go in the water for a little bit to feed the fish some bread I had bought for them. Watching them scramble to eat it was a fun experience. After the tour was over, I had the tour van drop me off at the bus terminal so I could catch my night bus to El Nido. I recommend buying some drinks for the ride because it’ll make the trip much easier.

Living it up on Nacpan Beach

I arrived to Nacpan Beach around 11pm and checked into my accommodation so I could drop off my things. As I was walking around the beach area at night, I heard dance music blaring down the street so I decided to go check it out. Turns out there is a free dance party in El Nido every Saturday where the locals gather and share drinks with one another. I was invited by a friendly group of Filippinos to join their table so I did and had a fun time talking with them. They even gave me free drinks which was too kind of them. The music the DJ played was a mixture of Filippino songs and western dance music. I heard Eminem at one point and cracked up. One Filippino girl invited me to dance with her and ended up introducing me to her entire family. I really think Palawan has some of the nicest people!

The next day I spent nearly all day swimming on Nactan Beach. This ended up being my favorite beach in the Philippines because it was such a pretty shade of blue and very fun to swim in. In the evening I partook in the happy hour specials and watched the sunset with one of my local friends who rode up to see me off. I was only in El Nido for two nights, but between the dance party and the beach I feel like I got the chance to experience a lot.

Recommended Food & Drink

Since Nacpan Beach is so remote, there are limited restaurants but almost all of the resorts have places you can eat. Since my hotel didn’t include breakfast, I had some cheap toast and eggs at Mad Monkey Hostel which was a good deal. I also had vegan goulash and buy one get one free banana daquiris at Sunmai Sunset Restaurant which was the best meal I had in El Nido. The tropical cocktail I had in an owl-shaped glass was also refreshing. I was impressed with the variety of drinks they had here. On my final day, I had cookies and cream ice cream from a stand located next to Sunmai Sunset. I really wish I could have tried every restaurant on the beach because everything I ate on this trip was satisfying.

Accommodation

While in El Nido, I rented a green cottage at Valine Grace Cottages which is a place that I’ve been looking forward to staying at since I first planned my trip to the Philippines in 2020. Prices start at $25 per night which is extremely affordable. The perks of staying here is it’s right on the beach and very quiet. I was actually the only person staying here and I couldn’t believe that I had the entire place to myself! The downside is there is no wi-fi here and sometimes the roosters and wild dogs barking will wake you up in the morning. However, you can ask for free wi-fi from the Mad Monkey Hostel around the corner from this place so don’t worry.

Final Thoughts

Overall two weeks was the perfect amount of time to explore four islands in the Philippines. I really covered a lot of ground on this trip and am proud of myself for accomplishing it. The weather in November was mostly sunny with minimal rain so it was the perfect time to come. The food was inexpensive and delicious, and I was happy to see there were so many vegan options around. My biggest regret was not seeing the lagoons in El Nido due to the distance from where I was staying. If I come to the Philippines again, I definitely want to see the lagoons and the Coron area because they have beautiful waters. I also wish to explore more culture festivals and music events so I can make more local friends. I am grateful for all of the Filippino friends I made because they showed me amazing hospitality and I will not forget their kindness.

Overall, the Philippines is a great destination if you enjoy warm weather and being on the beach! If you are unsure if you’ll like it, then I recommend traveling to Phuket in Thailand first to see what you think. Thailand has more sightseeing than the Philippines so it is a great place to start if you’re new to Asia.

Thank you for reading the final article in my Philippines article series! This two week trip was a blast and I hope to continue traveling like this so long as I can. My next article will be about going to an Autumn festival in Japan. Please look forward to it!

Finding Paradise on Boracay Island

After spending a relaxing weekending in Manila, I decided to fly to the Philippines’s #1 getaway and party destination: Boracay Island. Boracay is a small island located in the Western Visayas that boasts beautiful beaches and and arguably the best night life in the country. The majority of travelers stay on the main beach strip, known as White Beach, that is lined with restaurants, bars, and shopping centers and is always bumping. Most accommodations on White Beach are fairly priced, and the shore is just a few minutes by foot away. However, if you would like to book a more private accommodation, you can look into hotels further north of White Beach where less tourists flock. I decided to stay on White Beach to get the most out of the party life!

Getting to Boracay

Please note that getting to Boracay is a bit of a journey and there are no airports on the island. You need to fly to either Godofredo or Kalibo Airport, then take a taxi to the northern ferry port to sail to Boracay. Fortunately most hotels will offer a travel package that includes the taxi and ferry fare from the airport. I recommend flying to Godofredo since it is much closer than Kalibo (fortunately most roundtrip Air Asia tickets from Manila are under $50). Either way, the trip is worth it because Boracay is one of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines and it’s very easy to make friends there.

During my first night in Boracay, I mostly went swimming on White Beach and drank Long Islands under the sunset. My top recommendations for bars with a club atmosphere are Epic and OM. Some locals invited me to a place called Exit Bar where all of the drinks were under a dollar. The liquor quality wasn’t the best but it sure was a great place to drink cheap! Most bars are open from 10am – 3am or later, so no matter what time you feel like going out there is something to do. This is by far the best party island I have been to in Asia, besides Koh Phangan in Thailand. I liked Boracay better because the beaches were prettier and there were less tourists here. I would definitely come back here to try more drinks if I had the chance!

Island Hopping

On my second day in Boracay, I decided to book an island hopping tour through KKday. This group tour was only $12 which was a killer deal. Please note that you can book tours from various agencies on the island when you arrive, but they may be more expensive than if you reserve online in advance.

The tour included the following points of interest plus a free lunch:

  • Puka Beach
  • Balinghai Beach
  • Snorkel at Coral Garden
  • Crystal Cove Island
  • Lunch at Tambisaan Beach

Besides White Beach, Puka Beach was the best beach I went swimming at. Since it is located at the northern tip of the island, the waves are much stronger, but I loved how remote and private it was. The coral garden we went snorkeling at was also beautiful and I was happy to see that it was in healthy state. We only had 30 minutes to snorkel there, but I enjoyed seeing all of the aquatic wildlife because the visibility underwater was amazing.

Crystal Cove Island was also a treasure because it had two beautiful caves you can explore. I enjoyed taking a break from the sun and wading in the cool water there. Getting around the island is a bit of a hike, but I enjoyed working up an appetite before lunch!

The lunch at Tambisaan Beach was a bit disappointing because they only had prawns as a pescatarian option, so I mostly ate prawns and rice. Fortunately after this we headed back to central Borcay so I could eat some vegan food on the beach! Overall I highly recommend this tour, just be aware that your lunch options are pretty limited if you don’t eat meat.

Mermaid Swimming

A popular activity/photo opp on Boracay Island is mermaid swimming with a rentable tail. The tail has two flippers inside which makes it possible to swim in deep waters. When I arrived earlier this month, there were two shops that offered it. One was a small Korean-themed cafe on White Beach that offers fin rentals for photos only. The price was around $13 dollars for this activity. The place that I booked was the Mermaid Swimming Academy in D’Mall which was further up the main road. This shop offers both photos and a private swimming lesson that I wanted to try. The price was $35 dollars for this class, but I was able to wear the fins for much longer. My instructor, Megan, was very kind and taught me different strokes. I ended up hanging out with her later that night because she works at Epic too. If you have never tried this activity and are interested, then Boracay is the perfect place because it’s so relaxed!

Food Recommendations

Due to its tropical atmosphere by the ocean, there is no shortage of fresh fruit and fish on Boracay, plus the restaurants on White Beach have cocktails galore! I was delighted to see that a number of restaurants included vegan options too. Please note that some of the food here is pricey due to it being located in a resort area. To find the best deals, I would walk up and down White Beach in the morning and read the chalkboards that list happy hour specials in front of the shops you want to try. I was able to find some killer deals, like buy one get one free drinks before 8pm and rainy season specials. If you befriend the locals, they can help you find great places too.

Nonie’s

Out of all of the restaurants in Boracay, Nonie’s was by far my favorite! The cocktails and entrees here are to die for. The first time I went here, I had a tempeh bowl with banana pancakes and their award winning ube liquor cocktail. This was hands down the best meal I had in the Philippines because all of the ingredients were on point. I came back here another day and tried a tuna quinoa bowl with some vegetarian siopao and the taste was out of this world. The cocktail I had with coconut shavings in it really complimented my meal too I really wish I would have had time to try everything on the menu, because everything I ate blew my mind. Vegan restaurants in tropical locations rarely disappoint.

Café Maruja

Café Maruja is a mermaid-themed coffee shop and restaurant located on White Beach with amazing décor. I loved the boat-shaped bar table, the neon lights, and the floral seat designs, not to mention the mermaid-themed cups and silverware. I had rose coffee and an acai bowl here for breakfast one morning, and also tried a poke bowl one of the nights after I went swimming. Though a bit pricey, the food here has generous serving sizes and is pretty good. I would still say that Nonie’s is better, but this was my second favorite spot and a great spot to people watch.

Ice Cream & Yogurt

While walking back from the island hopping tour, I found a coconut ice cream place called Coco Mama’s that served coconut ice cream out of a shell. I really liked how refreshing it was. I also found an avocado ice cream shop near Nonie’s and had to try it out. Just like the place I went to in Manila, this stand had absolutely delicious avocado frozen yogurt topped with fresh pieces of the fruit. On my last day, I found a shop on White Beach that serves smoothies in a bottle! You really can’t go wrong with any dessert you order here because all of it is worth trying.

Accommodation

Since I love little island huts, I decided to book one with a single room at Roy’s Rendezvous. I loved this place because it was 5 mins away from White Beach by foot and had hammocks on the balconies of the huts. The average price of these rooms are $40 per night which I think is pretty fair because it includes breakfast too. I stayed for 4 days and 3 nights which was more than enough to see the entire island. The staff was extremely accommodating and helped me book my taxi and ferry ticket back to the airport in advance. I would highly recommend this place because it’s quiet at night too.

Overall I had a fantastic stay with sunny weather and minimal rain. The only thing that was annoying was all of the vendors that tried to sell me things while I was walking from the beach to my hotel, but I expected as much here. It’s important to note that in 2018 that Boracay was closed due to the destruction of ecosystems by tourists, but it reopened the same year with an entry restriction. The island has a capacity of only 55,000 people (and over half are residents) so I would recommend booking your stay here at least a month in advance, especially if you go during the high season.

Thank you for reading my Borcay article. I hope you have the chance to go here and enjoy the nightlife too! My next article will be the last of my Philippines article series and will detail my experience in El Nido. Please look forward to it!

Spending the Weekend in Manila

After seeing Bohol and exploring two of Cebu’s best diving spots, I decided to kick back and take it slow in Manila for a weekend. I’ve heard both good and bad things about this city which is why I wanted to experience it for myself. I booked a nice hotel on Adriatico Street near the Baywalk so I could relax. The main reasons I wanted to come to this city is to see the Dessert Museum and try delicious food. Fortunately both missions were easily accomplished. Though Manila was a bit more dirty and lackluster than what I had hoped, I stilled enjoyed getting some R&R here.

If you have to choose between Cebu and Manila due to time constraints, I would definitely choose Cebu because there is much more nature to be seen. Manila has some interesting history, but isn’t as pretty as Hanoi or flashy as Kuala Lumpur. However, I did the best to enjoy and make the most of my time here. Two days was definitely enough for me.

Here are my top recommendations in Manila. Fortunately there is good food to be found everywhere no matter what your diet is.

Dessert Museum

The Dessert Museum is located next to the Mall of Asia south from where I was staying, and is perfect for spontaneous photography. There are several rooms that resemble foods such as donuts, marshmallows, and bananas, as well as piñatas! I also saw the human claw machine in the tapioca room but decided not to try it because it didn’t have many prizes. If you come alone, there are workers that will help you take your pictures, but you can bring in your own tripod too. The entrance fee is $14 and includes a stamp card so you can collect free desserts in certain area. I went on a Friday afternoon and there were barely any visitors present so I had the chance to take many memorable pictures. Overall I would recommend this place because it’s fun and in a cool part of town.

Manila Baywalk

When first reading about the Manila Baywalk online, I pictured it to be a festive place with a long beachfront and many street vendors around. In reality, it’s a tiny beach with brittle sand littered with plastic waste and the food vendors are limited. To me it wasn’t very clean or fun to be at, but it’s a popular place where locals gather to watch the sunset. If you’re nearby you can check it out to see what you think, but if your accommodation is far from here I would say skip it altogether. There are far more interesting spots in town you can check out, even the malls!

Fort Santiago

Fort Santiago is a large outdoor museum of ruins and monuments that represent the Spanish power in Manila. It served as a powerful fortress in the 1500s and now serves as an important reminder of Manila’s history today. Since Fort Santiago was located roughly 4km from my hotel, I decided to go running there in the morning. The entrance fee is less than $2 and you can easily spend a lot of time exploring the sprawling ruins. I thought the area near the Pasig River was the most beautiful, and that this area had a lot more interesting things to see compared to the Baywalk. Definitely don’t skip this place if you’re in the area!

Food Recommendations

The very first restaurant I tried was a vegan place called iVegan because it had high ratings. Their black bean jalapeno sandwich was to die for and their acai bowls were very refreshing too. I liked this place because it had a mixture of Asian and Western dishes and had great service too. I wish I would have had more time to try their other dishes because they all looked absolutely amazing!

While exploring the Robinsons Mall near my hotel, I found an amazing stand that serves a large variety of avocado desserts. Being a huge avocado lover, I decided to order two different versions of avocado ice cream. One dessert was avocado-flavored frozen yogurt topped with fresh avocado pieces, coconut, and chia seeds which I highly recommend, as it is their best seller. The other dessert was avocado ice cream molded in a pericarp (real avocado shell) with custard used as the mesocarp (center of the avocado). I thought both were insanely creative and also very inexpensive too. If you come to the Philippines, definitely try avocado ice cream or an avocado shake for the experience!

The next day I tried another vegan dish, which was vegan ramen, at a restaurant called Cosmic Poblacion just to see how it compared to ramen in Japan. The ingredients were a bit bland but the noodles and broth were delicious. For dinner I tried pita bread and hummus from a halal restaurant called الشام للمأكولات العربية across from my hotel. It’s been forever since I had authentic pita bread and boy did it hit the spot. One thing Manila has over Cebu is the amazing variety of food you can find. Cebu has mostly local foods that can get tiring after a while.

Accommodation

I stayed at 1775 Adriatico Suites for two nights which included a clean room with basic amenities, breakfast, and one of the fanciest pools I have ever seen in Metro Manila. The room prices start around $43 dollars per night depending on which dates you book. I enjoyed taking it easy and going for a relaxing swim every day during my stay. The hotel was very secure and had a guard on duty at all times so you can feel safe here. I’ve heard stories about pickpockets and gang violence in Manila, but you don’t need to worry about that around here. I felt safe going out at night even though I was a solo traveler and overall had a good experience here though it wasn’t as cool as other cities in Asia I had visited.

Thank you for reading my Manila article! In my next article I will be writing about my getaway to Boracay Island. Please look forward to it!

Spending a Sunburned Day at Strata Naha

Last night in Naha, gotta do it big!

After successfully freediving on Aka Island and Zamami Island, I sailed back to Naha via ferry for a final day of adventure in the tropical city before returning to Tokyo. I had already seen most of what I wanted here before, but there were a few new places that I wanted to check out. Namely Umikaji Terrace that is conveniently located near the airport, which contains a number of little shops and restaurants, and also a resort with a pool I had never stayed at before called Strata Naha. Since I was sunburned from not wearing a wetsuit the day before, there wasn’t a lot I could do during the day so I took it leisurely. Consider this a guide of what to do in Naha if you are sunburned, or if you are just looking to take the day easy too! And please check out my Naha Cafe Guide if you are looking for more food recommendations.

Exploring Umikaji Terrace

Umikaji Terrace is a oceanfront hodgepodge of bars, shops, and restaurants with patio and outdoor seating. It is conveniently located near Naha Airport and is a great place to watch the sunset in the city while knocking back a drink. I was impressed with the variety of food and desserts here—they had quite the international selection. I was mainly here to try the drop soda at Gallirallus (see below), but I ended up ordering a avocado salmon toast from a Hawaiian eatery nearby. I ended up killing a lot of time here by watching the ocean from the shade. I loved the bright blue design of the tables outside that matched the color of the sea, not to mention all of the Okinawan décor. One thing that really amused me here was meat taiyaki. I had never seen a taiyaki with a weiner in it before but I guess they think of every food crossover in Okinawa. There was also a really interesting ice bar on one of the terraces that I would really like to check out next time I visit. I look forward to seeing what kind of food trends become popular here!

Address: 〒901-0233 Okinawa, Tomigusuku, Senaga, 174−6

Trying Drop Soda at Gallirallus

Here it is—the main event! One of the things I was most looking forward to trying in Okinawa was the ball drop soda because in all of my time trying aesthetic food, I had never seen anything like it before. You can choose from a variety of fruity flavors for the soda base (I chose strawberry), and also decide if you want a scoop of ice cream in the drink or not. The balls in this soda are very unique because they contain edible flowers and pieces of fruits. I thought the strawberry and pineapple balls were the most delicious and was very pleased with the quality of this drink. Compared to tapioca pearls, these flower and fruit balls just pack so much more flavor. If you get the chance, definitely hit Gallirallus up because I haven’t seen any other shop in the world serve drop soda before. You saw it here first.

Accommodation: Strata Naha

Since I am adventurous and enjoy staying in different types of accommodations, I figured this time I would stay in a new resort with a pool so I could relax before my flight the next morning. I found a centrally located resort called Strata Naha with rooms priced around 7000 yen per night online so I decided to try it out. Compared to where I had stayed before at Aqua Citta, this resort was much quieter and I had the pool to myself even though there were other guests around in the garden area. Since I didn’t feel like socializing much, I really enjoyed the atmosphere here, although I would normally recommend Aqua Citta to my friends because it is slightly cheaper and had a better happy hour deal. However, Strata is better for those who want a more private and mature atmosphere. I enjoy both resorts for different reasons and will definitely be back again!

Recommended Food Spots

I wanted to eat something healthy for dinner after swimming so I looked up vegan restaurants that were open at night and found a really nice one called Rakuen Cafe. Rakuen serves a variety of dishes including rice bowls, vegan taco rice, and green smoothies. I really enjoyed my power bowl because it had star fruit in it that reminds me of the paopu fruit from Kingdom Hearts. I also ordered a side of sweet potato fries here because I had never seen fries so purple! They really tasted better than traditional french fries so I was so happy I tried them. Though I had already tried Blue Seal ice cream on multiple trips, there’s a really huge shop with a bright neon sign at night right down the street from Rakuen so I took a picture of it. If you’ve never tried Blue Seal, you definitely need to once in your life because it’s Okinawa’s pride! The final place I recommend for breakfast is Lestel Cafe, because it has delicious banana and honey bread and indoor disco décor. Honestly I dig the disco breakfastcore vibe here and I think more restaurants should embrace it. Naha restaurants and cafes are unmatched in style when it comes to Japan.

Final Thoughts

Despite the sunburn at the end, this was yet another successful trip where I checked off everything that I had planned on my itinerary. Revisiting old places, traveling to new islands and getting better at freediving, and ending my trip at this beautiful resort just made the experience all the more memorable. I plan on coming back to Okinawa in the fall because I have a sponsor here, and I think next time I will visit Ishigaki and Iriomote so I can continue to practice swimming and diving on different islands. Thank you to everyone that has kept up with my 2022 Okinawa article series, because this article is the final one (for now)!

Before I go to America this summer, I have one final place that I want to write about which is Aomori! Please look forward to my Aomori article series which will be in the works very soon!

Freediving at the Kerama Islands: Aka Island and Zamami Island Edition (Part 2)

Furuzamami Beach on Zamami Island. The overcast weather was actually ideal!

After a successful day of freediving and seeing turtles in Aka Island, I decided to spend the next day on Zamami Island, which is also famous for its coral reefs and is just a short ferry ride away! Zamami is bigger than Aka Island but has a very similar feeling to it. There is a whale monument near the port and also the Marilyn dog statue on the way to Ama Beach which I really wanted to see. Though I thought about spending the night here, I found the resorts on Aka Island to be more charming so I stayed there. However, unlike Aka, Zamami is more famous for whale watching and even has a an entire music festival devoted to it! So if you’re into whales, then this is definitely your kind of island. I decided to skip the whale watching and focus on freediving, but I may come back here in the future for the whale music festival because that just screams awesome!

Getting to Zamami Island

From Aka Island Port to Zamami Island Port, tickets are only 300 yen and the ride only takes 15 minutes which is why you should see more than one Kerama Island—they are very close together and easy to reach! Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip. You can buy tickets on the day of your trip because there is usually always space on the ferries.

I decided to only do a day trip to Zamami Island and take the last ferry back to Naha at 5:45pm because I was able to see everything I wanted to in one day. However, there are a number of great accommodations available on Zamami for those who are interested! At the Zamami Island Visitor Center across from the port, there is a great coffee shop and also a cute Kumamon painted buoy. I love how Kumamon (the Kumamoto mascot) is literally all over Japan!

Renting a Bike

My favorite part of the Kerama Islands is that none of the rental bikes have locks or keys. Either everyone here trusts one another a lot, or likely it would be impossible to smuggle these rental bikes back on a ferry because they are too distinctive and everyone on the island knows one another so any thief would definitely be ratted out. Anyway, like Aka Island everything I wanted to see on Zamami Island was accessible by bike so I rented one at a 24 hour self-service bicycle shop called Rental Miyamura. This concept would not fly in almost any other part of the world, but it fits here perfectly here in the wholesome Kerama Islands.

Address: 156 Zamami, Shimajiri District, Okinawa 901-3402
Price: Depends on how many hours, but cheap.

Freediving on Zamami Island

Zamami Island has two main beaches for swimming and freediving that you can easily reach by bike: Ama Beach and Furuzamami Beach. Ama Beach is more designed for sunbathing than it is for swimming, but I did get some good practice in there. Like the smaller beaches on Aka Island, it still was filled with gorgeous coral reefs that were worth checking out. I asked a tanned man that looked like a local there where the best place to dive was, and he said it was Furuzamami Beach so I rode there after about 40 minutes of swimming at Ama.

I really liked the vibe of Furuzamami Beach more because it had a fantastic beachfront and a shack with food vendors and rental gear in it. I stayed here for about and hour and a half diving and seeing all kinds of tropical fish, then ended my day by eating Blue Seal sweet potato ice cream. Another day well spent! One mistake I made this day was not renting a wetsuit though. I wanted to practice freediving without one, but it was an amateur mistake. My back was badly sunburned (and still is) but fortunately it is getting better with the help of Aloe Vera gel. When I go to Hawaii, I will sure to wear a wetsuit at all times. I am glad I learned this now so I have time to recover!

Here is a video of the the coral reef at Furuzamami that I took with my GoPro:

Because I had a hearty breakfast, I didn’t eat much on this island but if you’re hungry I recommend stopping at sabaidee cafe near the port because they have delicious sandwiches and smoothies. I had one smoothie which I didn’t take a picture of, but I very much enjoyed it!

At around 5pm, I returned my bicycle to the rental place and waited at the port for the ferry to pull up at 5:45pm. I had a smooth ride back to Naha where I checked into my hotel and decided to call it a night. I was satisfied with everything I had seen on both Aka and Zamami Island and was ready for my final day in Naha before heading back to Tokyo. I will never forget the beautiful turtles and aquatic life I saw on the Kerama Islands.

The next article will be the final one in my 2022 Okinawa series where I talk about exploring Umikaji Terrace and my resort at Strata Naha. Please look forward to it!

Freediving at the Kerama Islands: Aka Island and Zamami Island Edition (Part 1)

Free diving with a turtle at Hizushi Beach on Aka Island.

After an amazing two days of dining and chasing sunsets in Naha and Okinawa City, I decided to take a ferry to the Kerama Islands and spend my next two days there focusing on freediving. The Kerama Islands consists of a cluster of 20 big and small islands, but the main 3 that people travel to are Aka Island, Zamami Island, and Tokashiki Island. I chose to go to Aka Island and Zamami Island because they have 2 dog statues that have quite a famous love story together; Shiro and Marilyn. Shiro (found on Aka Island) and Marilyn (found on Zamami Island) are known as “the Hachiko of the sea” and inspired the Japanese movie I want to see Marilyn. Hiking to the statues is a fun experience as outside of Shibuya’s famous Hachiko statue, I have not seen many other statues that are similar in Japan. Funny how these two dogs ended up in Okinawa!

On top of that, the coral reefs on Aka Island are said to be the most beautiful of Kerama so that’s where I decided to start. I was not disappointed because I got the chance to swim with turtle on my very first day there! I also enjoyed getting acquainted with the culture of the Kerama Islands because they are very small and the people that live there friendly and wholesome. Since I came here right before Golden Week, the islands were peaceful and quiet too. I will never forget the two days I spent here!

Getting to the Kerama Islands

From Naha’s Tomari Port, I took a high speed ferry that reached Aka Island in about one hour. Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip and see the ticket cost. Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day of your trip but they may sell out.

Tomari Port Address: 3 Chome-25-1 Maejima, Naha, Okinawa 900-0016

From Aka Island’s Port, I was able to walk to my hotel in under 5 mins and rent a bike to get around the island. All of the best beaches on Aka Island and Zamami Island are accessible by bike so there is no need to rent a car. You can even walk or run to some of the main sightseeing spots too.

Please note that the Kerama Islands are mostly for swimming and aquatic sports. There are not many restaurants or bars on the island, so you will probably want to eat at your accommodation (most hotels include meals). If you are interested in beaches with more of a nightlife, the main island of Okinawa is better to stay at (you can still day trip to one of the main Kerama Islands and have enough time for sightseeing). However, if you wish to see multiple Kerama Islands then it is best to stay there. I think Aka Island has the best selection of hotels so that is where I decided to stay. Please keep reading for more details.

Freediving on Aka Island

I arrived to Aka Island around 10am, checked into my accommodation (see details further below), rented a wetsuit and bike from my hotel for 2000 yen total, then decided to explore the 3 best beaches for swimming and diving which are: Aka Beach, Nishibama Beach, and Hizushi Beach. These beaches are within 10 – 15 mins of biking from each other and you can visit all of them in the day if you start around 1pm. Aka Beach is where I started since it was near my hotel, but the swimming area is roped off so you can only see a small portion of the coral reefs. I stayed here for about an 40 minutes and was able to see some tropical fish, but after that I decided to pack up my gear and bike to Hizushi Beach where I had the best luck because it is not roped off. After about 10 minutes of swimming, I found not only multiple schools of colorful fish, but also a sea turtle!

Here is a video I took on my GoPro of me swimming above the turtle:

This experience was absolutely magical given that the waters were so crystal clear and I felt comfortable swimming at this depth. The beaches of the Kerama Islands are so beautiful and pristine that they are often referred to as the “Kerama Blue” because they are some of the clearest in the world visited by many tourists who love the ocean. As I was diving, I felt like my vision was enhanced because I was able to see so many different shades I would never be able to see anywhere else other than underwater. Diving is an experience that will definitely change your perspective, so I recommend trying it or snorkeling at least to get a feel for it so you can experience the “Kerama Blue” as well.

Swimming and diving at the Kerama Beaches is typically safe, but do be careful of black and white branded sea snakes because they are extremely venomous. I saw 4 of them during my 2 days here, but they mostly stick to the bottom of the reef and only one came near me. Fortunately I was wearing a wetsuit and was able to swim away. I am guessing that the snake was coming up for air and was pulled by the current towards me, but you never know—it’s better to be safe than sorry! Despite this, I did not feel scared and continue to dive after waiting 15 minutes. Fortunately there were no more close encounters with snakes. Unlike land snakes, sea snakes slither much more slowly through the water so they are easier to avoid from my personal experience.

After about and hour and a half of swimming and diving at Hizushi Beach, I rode my bike to Nishibama Beach. This is more of an aesthetic beach for photography and sunbathing and has several cafes as well, but the coral reefs here are beautiful. I did not see any turtles here, but I did see a lot of unique fish and enjoyed the atmosphere. I spent about an hour here, but not all of it was spent diving. I spent time doing photography on the shore and also found a shell here that I took home as a souvenir so I could remember this day forever. This day felt completely and I was extremely satisfied with everything I saw here.

Please note that the peak turtle season is May – August but you can see them year round.

Staying at Hanamuro Inn

Out of all of the accommodations that I looked at on Aka Island, Hanamuro Inn was without a doubt the most fun and unique one to stay at! With its cheap rental gear (including snorkeling gear and bikes) it had a great system that was more of a deal than other rental shops on the island. It also had rooms with both and air conditioner and a fan, “hot tubs”, and delicious meals, so I think it was well worth the experience. The “hot tubs” were little bath tubs that you could wade and sun bathe in at any time of the day. They were ideal for relaxing in before and after the beach. The dinner I was served was a Japanese/American styled bento box with curry and french fries—the perfect combo. I loved how accommodating the staff was throughout my entire visit.

Please note that there are two Hanamuro Hotels on the island. There is a fancier one with a pool for those who are interested! Please see their website for more information as prices can change with the season. I paid around 12,000 yen for one night but it was worth it for the experience I had.

Hanamuro Inn is very close Maehama Beach where you can see wild deer roaming around the island! Unlike the deer in Nara, these deer are a little more timid but mostly seem to be calm around humans. Instead of senbei, they eat green grass on the island and it is advised that you do not feed them. The statue of Shiro the dog is very easy to find because it is directly north Aka Island’s Port. I think Shiro was the very first picture I took on this island, and I will hold it as a fond memory. At night you can see the stars shine brightly in the sky so I highly recommend staying overnight here if you can.

Other Dining Options

Since my hotel only served dinner and breakfast, I decided to have lunch at Hahna Cafe, which was just a short walk away from my hotel. They had delicious seafood pasta served with bread which I found to taste amazing because island food does not disappoint. They also have Okinawan soba and frozen cocktails and smoothies here. For dessert, I found a tiny cafe around the corner called guu guu that served some rice dishes, cakes, and desserts. I ordered no sugar coconut ice cream with azuki beans as the topping, and as expected it really hit the spot! I think since there are not very many restaurants on Aka Island, each one has a special charm.

Running to Geruma Island

Aka Island has a bridge that connects to Geruma Island where the Kerama Airport and elementary school is so I decided to explore this small and rural island before going to Zamami. Flying to Kerama Airport is typically more expensive, but perhaps is you wanted to come to the Kerama Islands directly without taking a ferry from Naha it would be to your advantage. Geruma was about 3.5 km from my hotel so I decided to run here. Walking here would take around 35-40 mins but if you run you can easily get here in 20 mins. Geruma has the lowest population of there Kerama Islands so there is not a lot to see here besides the main road that connects to the bridge, more coral reefs, and residential housing. The scenery did make it an interesting run though. My only complaint was that there seemed to be now vending machines to buy water at around, so be sure to stay hydrated if you come here! The beaches on this side appeared to have some washed up plastic on the shores so I would recommend not swimming here. Geruma is just something to check out if you are very curious like myself!

Thank you for reading my first article on the Kerama Islands! In my next article, I will talk about my experience exploring the next island I went to; which is Zamami. Look forward to reading more about my tropical adventures later this week!

Revisiting the Tropical Cities of Naha and Okinawa-shi

Though it’s called “Moon Beach”, you can definitely soak up the rays here!

Exactly one year ago before the Golden Week rush, I decided to fly to Okinawa to visit Naha and Miyakojima for the purpose of practicing underwater photography and traveling to newly opened dream destinations such as the Sanrio Hotel. The trip was a total blast and later helped me discover my love for free diving while I was in Hawaii this winter. Since I am planning another trip to Hawaii this month and am going to be diving with an experienced friend, I decided to book a spontaneous trip from Tokyo to Naha, Okinawa, last week so I could get some practice in. I am happy to say that this year’s trip was also a success and I saw a lot of aquatic wildlife all by myself! It’s fantastic to see such an improvement in my diving ability in just a year while travel was extremely limited. I am excited to dive in other Asian countries in the future as the world starts to open up!

If you live in Japan, then Okinawa is hands down the best place to enjoy beaches, surf, and dive. Last year I flew to Miyakojima during my trip so I could go scuba diving tour in a pumpkin-shaped limestone cave. This year I decided to focus on the Kerema Islands that are just a short ferry ride away from Naha’s central Tomari Port. They have beautiful beaches that are easily accessible and great for seeing turtles. Like last year, I decided to stay in Okinawa for 6 days so I could both practice diving and spend time with friends. Roundtrip tickets from Tokyo to Naha are between 15,000 – 20,000 yen this time of year. Please read my previous Naha article on how to best travel to Okinawa from Tokyo. This year due to there being no state of emergency, I noticed more travelers than last year, but the weekdays were still pretty quiet.

Exploring New Cafes in Naha

I arrived to Naha Airport around 12:00pm and was hungry so I decided to hunt for the most aesthetic food on the main island. Since I wanted my first day to be relaxing, this article will mostly focus on cafes, beaches, and restaurants I explored in the major cities before setting sail to the Kerama Islands. Here are my top discoveries for 2022:

DAISY

Like the name implies, DAISY encompasses all food that is aesthetic and floral. I loved the pastel walls and hanging lightbulbs from the ceiling because they definitely added a flair to the dining experience. My very first meal in Okinawa was flowery pizza topped with lemon and lime, a flowery grapefruit drink, and flowery ice cream for dessert! This cafe popped up in my recommendations on Instagram and in all my days I have never seen a pizza in Japan that looked this crazy. It tasted like naan topped with melted cheese and a hint of fruity flavor (and yes, the flowers on top are edible too). Would I recommend this to my friends? Oh, absolutely! If you love cheesy bread then this is the perfect starter for you. The grapefruit drink complimented its tropical taste too. And let me tell you, ordering the ice cream for dessert was a very satisfying way to end this meal. It was a combination of vanilla and raspberry flavors that really hit the spot on a sunny day. After this I had all the energy I needed to set off to my next destination!

Address: 2 Chome-28-24-103 Ameku, Naha, Okinawa 900-0005

LaLa Zorba

Another wonderful restaurant I recommend is LaLa Zorba, which serves ethnic food that is 100% vegan. The shop is owned by a female chef who cooks everything from scratch. I went here as soon as it opened on my second day in Naha and ordered the curry platter which included soy meat curry, rice, vegetables, fruit, and tofu. I could tell all of the food was organic because I felt very clean and healthy after eating it. They also have vegan desserts available for purchase that change daily, though I was too full to eat anything else! I am happy to see that more high quality vegan restaurants have opened here since my initial visit to Okinawa in 2016!

Address: 〒900-0014 Okinawa, Naha, Matsuo, 2 Chome−2−32 2階

Heading to Moon Beach & Toguchi Beach for the Sunset

Moon Beach is a popular resort area near Onna Village that a lot of travelers rave about, so I decided to drive there with a friend for a private photoshoot. Fortunately even if you are not staying at the resort, you can still visit the beach and use the facilities. I was mostly here to catch the aesthetic sunset because I have already seen the beaches in southern Okinawa, and I think the ones to the north are much more beautiful. Though the beach is small and not ideal for swimming or diving, the surrounding scenery is luscious and ideal for photography. We spent around 45 minutes here and decided to drive south to Toguchi Beach after.

Toguchi Beach is rockier and sometimes has low tides during this time of year, but has an amazing arch rock fromation and private areas where you can swim and take photos. The reflection of the clouds on the water was absolutely breathtaking and I had never seen such a beautiful sunset in Okinawa before. I think the scenery here is unrivaled and this was a fantastic place to end the night (though we planned to go barhopping afterwards).

Address: 1203 Maeganeku, Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa 904-0414

Though we had a car for this trip, you can take a city bus towards Matsuo from central Kokusai Street in Naha to reach the Moon Beach Bus Stop. This trip takes about 1.5 hours and costs 1200 yen but is worth the price.

Moon Beach Sushi

After witnessing arguably one of the best sunsets on the island, we decided to stop at Chinuman for some mouthwatering sushi. This is a wonderful izakaya-styled restaurant with high quality fish that is perfect to relax at with your friends. I ordered a California Roll with a traditional Japanese 10 piece nigiri set, then some extra octopus and eel sushi because I love Okinawan sushi. The fish here hit differently than back in Tokyo. To understand you’ll just have to travel here and try it for yourself! Whatever fish you order here, you really can’t go wrong.

Address: 〒904-0414 Okinawa, Kunigami District, Onna, Maeganeku, 73

Barhopping in Okinawa-shi

Since one of my good photography friends was leaving Japan this week, we decided to go hard by pregaming then barhopping in Okinawa-shi (also known as Okinawa City). This area is more north from Naha and close to the beach resort areas of the central island, but you can still find accommodations here that are cheap. Since I am a lover of fancy cocktails, I decided to order an alcoholic avocado smoothie with a side of sweet azuki beans and a blue cheese Kahlua milk drink at a high-end bar called Bobby’s. Like the cafes I listed earlier, these cocktails were right up my ally because not only were they extremely aesthetic, but the quality was top notch too. We next wandered to an Italian Gyoza restaurant a little ways down the street that had just opened. They had a lot of unique entrees like mozzarella gyoza, Spanish omelettes, and herb fries. By this time we were pretty lit so we just ordered a ton of food and drinks and enjoyed the atmosphere. I can’t stress enough how much I love Okinawan restaurants because the owners here are never afraid to try new things. Italian Gyoza is definitely something that shouldn’t be slept on!

Accommodation

This year I mostly stayed with friends living near Moon Beach, but I highly recommend staying at Hotel Aqua Citta Naha like I did last year because it has free drinks during certain times and a beautiful infinity pool on the top floor. A standard room is around 6000 yen and this hotel is located near Tomari Port so you can reach other islands easily. Naha Airport is also close to this area as well as many bars and clubs. I will be detailing other hotels in my next articles where I visit the Kerama Islands. Please look forward to more island adventures from yours truly!

Cruising through the Whirlpools of Naruto City

View from a whirlpool cruise in Naruto City during the strongest tidal current.

After completing my ninja training at the Naruto x Boruto Theme Park, I decided the next logical thing to do on this vacation was set off on a whirlpool cruise in Naruto city. The Naruto Whirlpools are located underneath the bridge that connects Awaji Island to Shikoku. I used to live in this area nearly 6 years ago when I first moved to Japan. Though it was only for a short time, it felt nostalgic coming back here after all these years where my journey first began. You can see the whirlpools from the bridge but the best way to photograph them is on a whirlpool cruise. The tidal current can change depending on the time of year, so be sure to look at what is recommend from the booking website before you make a reservation. We decided to book a tour at 11:15 on an Aqua Eddy boat from Uzusio because it has an upper and lower deck where you can see the whirlpools from underneath the water. The cruise lasts for about 30 minutes and costs 2400 which was suitable for me.

Using my GoPro I managed to catch some pretty neat footage of the Naruto Whirlpools:

Being on this cruise was fantastic because the weather was perfect and I could feel the coolness of the ocean breeze. I reflected on my life a lot and thought about how much I had changed since I last saw these whirlpools. They really are something else! They definitely looked best from the top deck but it was fun to see the fish from the windows underneath the boat too. Be sure to make a reservation in advance because this cruise is quite popular.

Address: 264-1 Oge, Tosadomariura, Naruto-cho, Naruto- City, Tokushima 772-0053

Izanagi Shrine

One of the most famous shrines in Awaji is Izanagi, which is the oldest shinto shrine in Japan that houses Izanagi and Izamami. If you have played the Persona series then you may already be slightly familiar with the mythology. Izanagi is said to be a god of creation so this shrine is very sacred and is beautiful to see. There is a red bridge and miniature garden that make it very scenic. The ema here are shaped like peaches which I thought was pretty unique. I am grateful to have had the chance to finally visit!

Address: 740 Taga, Awaji, Hyogo 656-1521
Entrance Fee: Free

Swimming at Tsushi Beach

Before heading back to our ryokan, we decided to take a quick swim at Tsushi Beach which was walking distance from where we were staying. This beach was really unique because there were so many fish jumping out of the water! I had a couple close encounters with them but they were completely harmless. We were later told that this beach was designated for fishing by someone who spotted us from the shore, but we still had an amazing time here seeing the sunset and I got a really good workout in.

Staying at Yodoso

While I was looking at hotels close to the beach, I found a ryokan called Yodoso that was only 4000 yen per night. On an island famous for its fancy and upscale resorts which get to be pretty pricey, this felt like that ultimate deal. Score! Unfortunately my room was extremely simple and did not contain a private bathroom or shower, but it was okay for what it was; especially since we were only staying here for one night. The seafood breakfast we had was absolutely amazing here and was only 1000 yen extra. I definitely recommend trying the fish here! 1-2 night in Awaji is enough to experience the island.

Yumebutai Gardens

The Yumebutai Gardens of Awaji were designed by Tadao Ando, whose work I had previously seen on Naoshima Island. I was very interested in these gardens due to their unique square shape. This area was previously destroyed in 1998 by a huge earthquake, so it’s amazing to see how much was reconstructed. While we were here we ran into a photoshoot for a wedding and it was fun to see! The architecture here is breathtaking and it is completely surrounded by flower gardens that you can visit. For me the square one was by far the most aesthetic.

Address: 656-2306 Hyogo, Awaji, Yumebutai, 2−番地
Entrance Fee: Free

Final Meal

Before driving 6 hours back to Yamanashi where I would catch a local train to Tokyo, we decided to have our last meal on the island at a restaurant called Kitora located inside of the gardens. I decided to order a seafood platter and really appreciated how they put a cherry on top of the salmon roe. Not only did this look beautiful, but the taste was out of this world. I will never forget how much fun I had on this island! Fortunately I was able to 100% complete everything on my itinerary so I was satisfied.

My next trip is currently undecided as I will be temporarily leaving Japan to visit my home country next month now that I have my vaccine passport. However, I have my sight set on Fukui and would really like to sneak a trip in before I leave. Fingers crossed! When I return to Japan I will likely go to Sapporo in the winter so I can take pictures of the snow. I am very excited to see how the rest of this year unfolds.

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!

Exploring Amami Island: The Rich Paradise of Goats & Pristine Beaches

A warm welcome from Kurasaki Beach!

After raving in the mountains of Gunma for three days, I realized the end of summer would soon be upon us so the first week of September would be the ideal time to knock of a few places on my Kyushu bucket list—mainly Amami Island, Sakurajima, and the first crater of Mt. Aso. Since I already had a phenomenal vacation in Okinawa just before Golden week, I was craving one more long beach trip before it became too cold to swim. Fortunately for me, I found a number of discount one-way airline tickets and was able to string them together to create the ultimate bargain vacation throughout Kyushu. A number of my friends and coworkers asked me how I did it so I will try to explain my itinerary as thoroughly as possible. If you fly during certain times through Peach and Skymark airlines from Narita airport, you can find discount flights for almost 1/3 of the price all year round in Japan! It just takes some time analyzing Google Flights but really anyone can create the perfect vacation if they put enough heart and research into it.

The dates I chose to travel were 8/30 – 9/5. My completed itinerary was:

Tokyo (NRT Airport) → Amami → Kagoshima → Sakurajima (via ferry) → Kagoshima → Kanoya (for Ogawa Falls) → Fukuoka → Kumamoto → Mt. Aso → Kumamoto → Fukuoka Airport ↺ Tokyo

Since I don’t have an international driver’s license, I relied completely on buses, local trains, taxis, ferries, and even rented bikes too! I spent a lot of time on the road but I listened to music, played my Switch, and did a lot of GoPro editing on my phone too. This was my first time traveling in quite a long time due to the pandemic and the typhoons that hit Japan during Obon season, but I’m happy to say it was another huge success! I learned a lot about the rural life of Kyushu, swam in onsen and oceans, and made many friends along the way (both human and goat). It’s been a while since I last updated Resurface to Reality so I hope you enjoy reading all about my latest Kyushu adventures in this latest article series.

Getting to Amami Island

I chose Amami Island as my first destination because it is one of the most popular remote islands for water activities in Kagoshima. It is not technically part of Okinawa, but it is extremely close to some of its island chains and the weather is almost exactly the same. Amami is a place you go to getaway from the crowds and doesn’t have nearly as many people as Naha, but it does have a bustling downtown shopping area where you can interact freely with the islanders. I spent most of my time swimming at my resort and biking around beaches, but there are a number of wonderful things you can see here!

The easiest way to get to Amami Island is by plane, and fortunately all of the best resorts and beaches are near the airport too! You can also travel by ferry from Kagoshima and Okinawa, but these trips can take up to 11 hours which you could be using to relax during your Kyushu vacation. I departed from Narita Airport around 10am on a Monday and my ticket was only 7040 yen, which beats the long 9000 yen ferry! The plane ride was only 2.5 hours and I slept for over half of it. When I reached the airport, I could already feel the tropical breeze and the bright rays from the sun as soon as I went outside. A free shuttle bus was waiting for me outside too, and driver smiled at me and said “Let’s gooooo!” in English. The adventure was about to begin!

Accommodation: Caretta Resort Amami

While looking for accommodations in Amami, I wanted something on the beach preferably with a pool or a hot tub for the ultimate relaxation. Fortunately I found my ideal hotel match at Caretta Resort! Not only did this hotel have a gigantic pool, inflatables, and a hot tub, but it also had friendly goats and was located directly on Kurasaki Beach. This was the closest resort I found in Japan that resembled Koh Samui, one of my favorite islands in Thailand due to the proximity of the ocean and the huge pool. The hospitality was truly amazing and the people were so kind. There were a bunch of kids in the pool roleplaying Pokemon which really brought me back to my childhood too. The view from inside of the rooms is really beautiful too. If you book far enough in advance, you can get a room for under 10000 which truly is a steal for a resort of this quality. I splurged a bit but treating myself was truly worth it! This hotel has everything you need, including free bike rentals too.

I recommend staying in Amami for at least 3 days like I did so you can fully enjoy the beaches and also choose to go snorkeling, kayaking, or paragliding which I will get into in my next article!

Eating a Heart-shaped Donut at Heart Rock

After checking in at my lovely resort and greeting the goat that lives outside of it, I decided to rent a bike from my hotel and bike to the famous Heart Rock that was just 10 mins away. This heart-shaped pool appears most visible during low tides, but you can see it year-round. It is said to have some kind of healing property so it attracts a number of visitors each day.

Before going to Heart Rock, you can stop at Healthy Island Cafe and buy heart-shaped donuts that come in different flavors and also try goat milk ice cream! I enjoyed how creamy it was plus meeting all of the goats outside that had helped make it. You can purchase other products like goat soap, cheese, and mascots as well. The goat culture on Amami Island is truly amazing and everyone loves them!

I really enjoyed walking through the mini jungle area on the path to the beach and met a stray cat on my way to the rock. A lot of Amami is completely untouched making it the perfect place for adventurers to explore!

Heart Rock Address: 1346-1 Akaogi, Tatsugo, Oshima District, Kagoshima 894-0411

Trying Amami Foods & Sake

Amami Island is famous not only for its goat milk ice cream, but also its seafood and black sugar shochu! Due to the pandemic, a number of restaurants were closed so I just kept calling random ones near the beach until I found out that one named Restaurant AMAnesia was open until 7pm. I got extremely lucky because this restaurant was near a famous hotel and had a huge selection of seafood!

I decided to go with the mini steamed lobster set that came with local island specialties, rice, and vegetables. I also ordered a mini assortment of black sugar shochu. To my surprise it was very strong and not very sweet at all, but I still enjoyed it! After enjoying this delicious meal, I went outside to the beach to enjoy the ocean breeze. Boy this sure beat Tokyo!

AMAnesia Address: 1246-1 Kasaricho Oaza Yoan, Amami, Kagoshima 894-0508

I really enjoyed the privateness of Amami Island this day and reflected on my thoughts. This was an incredible first day with perfect weather and I was very excited for the rest of the week!

In my next article, I will be going into detail about various activities you can do on Amami such as paragliding and kayaking through the mangrove. Please look forward to my next article!