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Ishigaki Travel Guide: Discover Japan’s Most Beautiful Tropical Paradise

Ishigaki is a beautiful Japanese island with white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and lush landscapes. If you love escaping into nature and spending time outside, this island is a must-visit.

Ishigaki is one of the southernmost islands in Japan and is geographically close to Taiwan. I visited the island for a week and while it’s only a 3 hour flight from Tokyo, I felt like I was worlds away. One of my favorite things about Japan is how diverse its nature is and Ishigaki is the perfect example of that. The island offers amazing opportunities for hiking, swimming, scuba diving, and more, all within a very tight radius.

In this travel guide, I’ll share my recommendations about how to best enjoy Ishigaki, the tropical jewel of Japan.

How can you plan the ideal trip to Ishigaki?

How To Get There

Tropical flower in Ishigaki

Ishigaki is full of tropical flowers


The best way to arrive in Ishigaki is via the Painushima Ishigaki Airport. There are regular flights to the airport from Tokyo, Okinawa (Naha), and other domestic airports in Japan.

I strongly recommend renting a car while on the island. The island’s public transportation isn’t well-developed and the best parts of the island are the beaches and hiking spots, which require driving to get to. It takes roughly 30-45 minutes to drive across the island.

Where To Stay

Ishigaki Sunset Cove Hotel

The view from Ishigaki Sunset Cove Hotel


When visiting Ishigaki, you can stay either in the downtown area or out in the less developed rest of the island. The downtown area has most of the restaurants and bars, but the countryside has more scenic nature and easy access to fantastic beaches. Since it takes about 30-45 minutes to drive across the island, if you stay away from downtown you can still drive in for a meal if you’d like.

I stayed in two places during my trip to Ishigaki: Ishigaki Sunset Cove Hotel and Nature Lodge.

Ishigaki Sunset Cove Hotel is a simple hotel on the beach and as its name suggests, has incredible views of the sunset. The hotel has a great breakfast buffet and central pool area.

Nature Lodge is a rustic collection of huts in the middle of the jungle. You can shower outside and feel completely connected to the surrounding nature – the place really feels like an escape from the modern world.

Nature Lodge in Ishigaki

The grounds at Nature Lodge in Ishigaki


In addition to the places where I stayed, here are some recommendations for accommodations:

What To Do

You can easily fill a week in Ishigaki exploring the many activities the island offers. From scuba diving, snorkeling, and hiking to yoga, paddleboarding, bicycling, and pottery, the island has something for everyone.

Scuba Diving / Snorkeling

Snorkeling in Ishigaki

I saw so many fish while scuba diving in Ishigaki!


Ishigaki is one of the most famous places in Japan for scuba diving and snorkeling. There are many dive shops on the island, but I went with Viking Scuba Kabira. In the summer and early fall, you may see the island’s famous manta rays swimming through the waters. Year round, the surrounding ocean is home to many different types of fish and sea turtles.

If you have it, bring your own snorkeling gear on your trip so that you can snorkel directly from one of the island’s many white sand beaches. Yonehara Beach and Nosokoniaru Beach are two local favorites that I recommend.

Yoneko-yaki Pottery Sculpture Garden

Yoneko-yaki Pottery garden

The sculpture garden at Yoneko-yaki Pottery



Yoneko-yaki Pottery is a unique pottery studio on Ishigaki known for its sculpture garden and the small Shisa figurines it creates. Shisa are the mythical “guardian lions” of Okinawa that watch over and protect the local people.

Wander through the sculpture garden to see larger-than-life interpretations of Shisa and pick up a smaller piece as a souvenir to bring home with you.

Ishigaki Yaima Village

Monkey on arm

A squirrel monkey at Ishigaki Yaima Village


Ishigaki Yaima Village is a park created in the design of a traditional Okinawan village. The main attraction is the playful squirrel monkeys that you can see in very close proximity. The squirrel monkeys are originally from South America, but now call this tropical Japanese island home.

While adorable, these monkeys have a penchant for snatching bags and searching for food, so keep a close watch of your belongings.

Taketomi Island

Yak pulling tourists

A yak pulling tourists on Taketomi Island


Taketomi Island is a small, serene island about 20 minutes by boat from Ishigaki Port. I recommend renting a bicycle as an easy way to explore the area. A highlight of my trip was leisurely cycling through the small dirt roads on Taketomi Island.

This little island makes for a great day trip as it has a number of peaceful beaches and delicious restaurants.

Hiking

Ishigaki has several hiking trails that are a great option to explore before taking an ocean dip from a nearby beach. Popular hiking routes include Mount Omoto, Oiwa, and my personal favorite, Yarabudake.

Based on my experience, the Mount Omoto and Oiwa trails can become overgrown in the summer months, so I suggest wearing clothes with ample skin coverage to minimize scratches.

Yoga

Ishigaki is one of the most popular yoga destinations in Japan (see my article about the best yoga retreats in Japan for more). In addition to yoga retreats, there are several great studios offering regular classes on the island:

  1. ヨガ体験 Yoga&Activity nadiblue石垣島

  2. STUDIO UTARI

  3. Yoga Retreat Village, kSaNa

What To Eat

Ishigaki has a number of excellent restaurants that offer a unique blend of Japanese and tropical island cuisines. Most of the restaurants are clustered in the downtown area, but there are some dotted throughout the island, particularly near popular beaches.

I suggest trying:

  1. Cafe Kanoa ($) – coffee shop

  2. KLATCH COFFEE ($) – coffee shop

  3. Sushi Jimbei ($$) – sushi

  4. Kabira Tei ($$) – steakhouse

  5. Hitoshi Ishiganto ($$) – Izakaya, Japanese pub food

  6. Pizzeria il Trecorde ($$) – pizza

  7. 茶房 草BoBo ($$) – Japanese curry

  8. カフェボン・ボア ($$) – cafe

  9. ALOALO CAFE ($$) – Japanese curry

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