An easy ferry ride from Okinawa’s main island, the Kerama Shoto National Park, or ‘The Keramas’ as they are commonly called, are a collection of more than 30 islands. Only four of them are inhabited by humans, who share these tiny jewels with turtles, whales, deer, massive hermit crabs and flying foxes. The pristine waters surrounding these remote islands is such an incredible shade of blue that they had to give it its own name—Kerama Blue.
Highlights of the Kerama Isalands: Whale watching, scuba diving, snorkeling, and drinking cold awamori while watching the sunset.
The Keramas offer a completely different experience from staying on the main island. The smallest of the inhabited islands, Aka Jima, has only 400 residents, one ATM, and none of the conveniences that you’ll find elsewhere (i.e. no FamilyMarts or 7-11s). While the main island has no shortage of beaches, if you want a truly quiet experience, far away from huge resorts and tourist traps, then you’ll love the Keramas.
When to visit the Kerama Islands
The best time to visit the Keramas is from May to October, when the ocean is warm enough to swim and you can fully enjoy the gorgeous beaches. Golden Week is especially busy, as are the peak summer holidays. It is best to make a reservation well in advance for the guest houses. Though it is possible to go in winter, rough waters can cause ferry cancellations, and some guest houses on the islands close during the season. Winter, however, is the best time to go whale watching as a day trip from Naha.
Getting to the Kerama Islands
All ferries to the Kerama Islands leave from Tomarin Port in Naha City. One ferry is designated for Tokashiki, and one is designated for Zamami and Aka.
You can also buy ferry tickets at the Tomarin Port on the day of your travel. However, this is risky in peak season, as the seats may sell out. Alternatively, you can call the Zamami ticket office at 098-868-4567, or the Tokashiki ticket office at 098-868-7541 to make a reservation by phone, and pay when you go to collect your tickets at Tomarin.
Which Kerama Island to visit?
It is certainly possible to go to one of the islands as a day trip, but really you should dedicate at least two nights for the best experience. Each island has its own personality and attractions, so read on to decide which one you’d like to go to. When it comes to staying overnight, note that these remote islands offer low-key, laid-back accommodation, often in traditional Okinawan-style houses and buildings, so don’t expect swimming pools, buffets and fluffy slippers.
The biggest of the Keramas, Tokashiki has two main villages, one at the Tokashiki port, and the other at Arahen, on the south east side. Guest houses will typically arrange to pick you up from the port if it’s too far to walk, or if you’re staying in Arahen. There is a local bus which goes between the two villages. Tokashiki is known for its many observatories, which fabulous views of the coast. The two main beaches to enjoy are Tokashiku Beach and Arahen Beach.
The most popular Kerama island, Zamami has a bit more hustle and bustle than Tokashiki in terms of cafes, souvenir shops and guest houses. Furuzamami Beach is the busiest, with beach huts where you can rent snorkels to explore the coral reefs, and buy food and drinks. One of the top activities here is swimming with sea turtles, which frequent Ama Beach in the warmer months. Beach guards on SUPs patrol the waters, making sure that tourists do not chase or harass the turtles. There are local buses which go between these two main beach areas.
The smallest of the inhabited Keramas, Aka is a true escape from the outside world. A small string of guest houses line the tiny alleys behind the beach, and all roads leads to the water. You’re guaranteed to spot the shy Kerama Sika (deer) that live around this area, as well as the turtles which nibble seaweed on the beach next to the port. Nishibama Beach has lifeguards and facilities, but to have the place all to yourself, get dropped off at Kushibaru Beach, on the other side of the island. Aka is connected by bridge to Geruma Island, which has a little village and world-class diving.
So which island to choose? You’re really spoilt for choice and can’t go wrong with any of the islands. Enjoy a little piece of paradise!