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Unbeknownst to many, it is possible to have a blissful desert island experience in Japan, just head to the remote Yaeyama islands. Maddy Rodell and her husband discovered the archipelago’s serene side on their honeymoon.
Honeymoon on the Yaeyama Islands
I have lived and travelled extensively in Japan, whilst my now-husband, Joe, had never been to Japan before last May, where we had a fantastic two weeks doing all the typical sightseeing in Japan – and we got engaged! I was delighted that Joe fell in love with the country and he’s now probably more Japan-obsessed than I am! So, when we started thinking about our honeymoon, there was only one country that would cut it.
We were keen to explore new places, so we based our trip around the Yaeyama islands: Ishigaki, Iriomote and Taketomi.
If you are looking for four-poster beds in villas with sea views, or candle-lit dinners on the beach, the Yaeyama islands will not be for you. But to dive head first into real Japanese culture where you’ll see just a handful of westerners, eat like kings and queens and have some proper adventures, you can’t go wrong with the Yaeyama islands.
1. Sea kayaking, trekking and waterfall swimming on Iriomote
We had an incredible day sea kayaking 8km from the island’s shore up the Nakara river. When the river got too narrow to navigate, we tied up the kayaks and trekked for 40 minutes towards Nakara waterfall. Hot and tired, we cooled off in the beautiful waterfall and cool natural pools whilst our guide rustled up the most fantastic noodles we’d ever eaten!
2. Cycling on Taketomi
Iriomote is huge and sparely populated with only one public bus, so our next stop on Taketomi was the perfect antidote. Taketomi is tiny! We hired bikes on arrival at the port and you can easily navigate the whole island in a day, stopping off in a bar or two and checking out the beaches (don’t miss the star-shaped sand beach).
Most people visit Taketomi as a day trip from Ishigaki, and after the day trippers left, we had a wonderful homemade dinner in our family-run B&B whilst the children played, and the father practised his English with us. On our after-dinner stroll, we felt more like locals than tourists.
3. Kabira beach
The stunning Kabira beach is the best beach on the Yaeyama islands. There are shops and bars on the way down, so we grabbed an ice cream and some beers and spent a fantastic afternoon sunbathing and watching small tour boats come and go.
4. Unexpected adventures!
One of my favourite things about travelling is happening upon fun, different or just downright surreal events that you didn’t plan. Japan is perfect for this because it is so safe, and if you ever find yourself a little lost there is always someone to help.
So, when we were walking through Ishigaki town looking for an izakaya for dinner and heard some loud music, we followed it and came across a huge beer and music festival. People had dressed up in traditional Japanese summer yukata, and children were running around in jinbei. We had some fantastic street food and danced the night away.
(Ok, this is not technically on the Yaeyama islands but I think it deserves an honourable mention!). You can’t fly straight to Ishigaki from outside Asia, so you’re likely to fly to Osaka first. Whilst Osaka is a great city and absolutely deserves a stay for it’s big-city Japanese craziness, we would recommend a night in Kobe.
Just over an hour by airport bus from Osaka Kansai airport, Kobe is a port city with lots of personality. We loved exploring near the station with its warrens of food stalls and we had a trip to a sake brewery. In the evening, we went to Kobe Harborland for dinner and spent a wonderful couple of hours on the promenade, people watching and taking in the views. We saw a wedding photo shoot, a man cycling while wearing rollerblades, a cruise ship and much more!
Fancy exploring the Yaeyama islands? Take a look at our Japan Island-Hopping Self-Guided Adventure or contact our team of Japan experts to find out more.
Read more: 18 great Japanese beach destinations