Generally speaking, areas on the main island are placed in three categories: Southern Part (南部 Nanbu), Middle Part (中部 Chubu), and Northern Part (北部 Hokubu). The northern part is also referred to as Yanbaru, and together with Tokunoshima, Iriomote and Amami Oshima it was listed as a natural world heritage site by UNESCO in 2021.
- 1 Naha — the capital city of the prefecture and by far the largest city
- 2 Nago — former Expo site known for its aquarium
- 3 Okinawa City - east of Chatan, largest populated city, besides Naha.
- 4 Itoman
- 5 Nanjo
- 6 Kitanakagusuku
- 7 Yomitan
- 1 Buckner Bay
- 2 Chatan - Home of the Mihama, American Village, and the Ferris Wheel.
- 3 Okuma - an Air Force Resort, great for weekend trips to the beach.
All Okinawans speak Japanese but many, especially older citizens, also speak Okinawan. Many mainland Japanese regard Okinawan to be a dialect of Japanese, but it is a separate language, part of the Ryukyuan branch of the Japonic language family, making it distinct from but related to Japanese.
Naha International Airport is the primary way to get into Okinawa Island, and is only 2 km from downtown Naha. The easiest way to Okinawa is from elsewhere in Japan: Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways fly widebodies in every hour from Tokyo Haneda and other major domestic airports. There is only one daily flight from Narita, the main international airport in Tokyo, operated by ANA. Direct international service to Okinawa is limited to flights from Seoul, Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Bangkok.
Ferry services to Okinawa suffer from long travel times, bumpy seas, frequent cancellations in the fall typhoon season and prices that aren't any cheaper than flying, it's easy to see why this isn't too popular anymore.
As of 2014, A-Line Ferry, aka Maru-A (マルエー), runs twice a week from Kagoshima (25 hours, ¥16,000 2nd class one-way) and once a week from Osaka/Kobe and Tokyo (44 hours, ¥28,000) to Naha, and Marix Line runs between Kagoshima and Naha only. All ferries call at various minor islands including Yoron and Amami Oshima along the way. If you don't speak Japanese, you will find it easier to book through a travel agent.
Most travel is by car, bus or taxi, although there is a monorail in Naha that runs from the Airport to the city centre and Shuri Castle. The main road is Route 58 which runs from southern Okinawa to Nago in northern Okinawa. Route 58 is on the East China Sea side of the island. During the summer months, the volume of rental cars can make traffic very heavy on Route 58.
Cycling around Okinawa island is possible but not very practical. The island is very densely populated and car traffic is heavy almost everywhere. In Japan it's customary to ride your bike on the sidewalk instead of the road (supposedly due to the unsafety of doing the latter), but the sidewalk has the disadvantage of having to evade other pedestrians, overgrowth, the occasional antisocially parked car, and cars pulling out of driveways. Japanese drivers are polite and not aggressive, but have a habit of often not looking where they are going when pulling out of driveways or taking corners. The terrain is very hilly and becomes more challenging the further you move away from the coast. If you find yourself on the east side of the island and want to go to the west side or vice versa, you will have to cross the range of steep hills that runs along the length of Okinawa. A moped or motorcycle helps to overcome this, but it's still very important to stay alert and avoid obstacles or cars.
Several buses travel routes around the island.
About the easiest way to get around the island though is by taking public transport. There is a large bus terminal in Naha right near Kokusai-dori which can get you to any part of the island without too much hassle. There are no signs in English; however, if you do your research on which busses you need to take, you should be fine. Even in the busy summer months you'll usually be one of 2-3 people riding the buses.
A word of warning though, some of the farther-travelling buses tend to be fewer and further between with waits up to 2 hours for the next bus not uncommon and is particularly the case when going to the aquarium or Peace Museum. However these buses tend to be more common on the weekends (as opposed to their mainland counterparts).
Lastly, there is a monorail system within Naha starting from the airport leading all the way to Shuri Castle. Tickets are cheap and the ride is comfortable. May be crowded during rush hour though.
- Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. The UNESCO World Heritage is composed of nine sites around the island; in Naha the Shuri castle with its Shikinaen garden, Tamadun mausoleum and Sonohyan-utaki grove. Other sites are the castle sites of Nakijin (in Nakijin), Zakimi (in Yomitan), Katsuren (in Uruma) and Nakagusuku (in Nakagusuku) plus the Sefa-utaki place of worship in Utaki.
- 1 Mihama American Village, 2 Chome-4-2 Mihama, Chatan-chō, Nakagami-gun. An Americanized shopping and dining complex made to resemble an American beach such as Venice Beach, Santa Monica, etc. Popular among U.S. military members due to its close proximity to many U.S. Marine bases. The area has a ferris wheel, a few hotels, many clothing and souvenir stores and restaurants of various cuisine, and Sunset Beach. Plus there is live entertainment almost nightly.
- 2 Seifa-utaki, 知念久手堅 Nanjo. In Nanjo, rock formations including a natural corridor through a giant boulder leading to a point overlooking Kudaka Island (久高島), was once worshipped as the "island of the gods".
- 3 Peace Memorial Park and Himeyuri Monument, Ihara, Itoman. Where the Battle of Okinawa ended in World War II. The Peace Memorial Park includes the Peace Memorial Hall and the Cornerstone of Peace.
- 4 Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. This aquarium has a 7,500-m³ water tank with whale sharks and manta rays and is home to the world's largest living coral exhibit.
- 5 Cape Zanpa, 1861 Uza, Yomitan-son, Nakagami-gun. Peninsula on the western side of the island near Yomitan Village. Has a lighthouse and a beautiful beach. Also is where the famous sweet potato-flavored cookies are made.
- 6 Cape Kyan. The southern most point of Okinawa Island.
- 7 Cape Hedo. Northern-most point of Okinawa Island, beautiful views from high cliffs.
- 8 Nago Bay. Mid-island on the Western side.
- 9 Haneji Inland Sea (羽地内海 Hanejinaikai). Enclosed by Yayagi Island and the western peninsula. Beautiful especially at sunset.
- 10 Hamahiga Island (浜比嘉島 hamahiga-jima). East of Okinawa Island accessible by the Sea Road (a sight in itself). Hamahiga Island has many rock formations, many shaped like mushrooms.
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- 11 Hiji Falls (比地大滝). In the northern part of the island, a 45-minute hike from the visitors center taking you by a river dam, over a suspension bridge, and finally to the falls itself.
- 12 Okinawa World (おきなわワールド), 1336, Tamagusuku Maekawa, Nanjo-city (30-minute drive from Naha Airport; 8-minute drive from Okinawa Expressway, Haebaru Minami Interchange; 1 minute walk from Gyokusendo-mae (玉泉洞前) bus stop on bus routes 51, 54, 81, 82 & 83), ☏ . 09:00-18:00. Theme park based on Okinawa wildlife and culture, built alongside a stunning natural cavern. Walk for nearly 1 km underground and gape at the limestone formations; see snake handlers abusing habu (the local poisonous reptile) for your amusement; admire the skill and energy of the folk dancers and musicians; try your hand at folk craft; enjoy the local beer and liquor; and a few other fun attractions. ¥1100-1600 for adults, ½ price for children.
- Kokusaidori Street. Naha's main street filled with shops, restaurants, and nightlife.
- 13 Shuri Castle Park. Castle of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Also nearby is the 14 Shikina Gardens.
Being an island, there are plenty of beaches to choose from. The most highly recommended include:
- 15 Emerald Beach (エメラルドビーチ) (A short walk from Churaumi Aquarium).
- 16 Zanpa Beach (残波ビーチ).
- 17 Renaissance Beach (ルネッサンスビーチ).
- 18 Manzamo Beach (万座ビーチ).
- 19 Ikei Beach (伊計ビーチ).
With the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom which once ruled Okinawa, there were many castles around the island.
- 20 Shuri Castle (首里城, shuri-jō) (Accessible by monorail within the city.). An icon of Naha and home to Shureimon.
- 21 Katsuren Castle (勝連城, katsuren gusuku) (on the eastern side near the Sea Road).
- 22 Zakimi Castle (座喜味城 Zakimi jō) (on the western side in Yomitan Village).
- 23 Nakijin Castle (今帰仁城 nakijin gusuku) (on the western side in Nakijin Village on the large peninsula).
- 24 Nakagusuku Castle (中城城 nakagusuku-jō) (on the eastern side in Nakagusuku Village).
- Go to the island's many beaches.
- Scuba diving is one of the most popular activities on the island with an abundance of dive shops across the island. Chatan and Kadena have ports leaving for the Kerama Islands. Bluefield  and Reef Encounters  offer diving service in English. In addition the English speaking staff at Onna Sensui Diving Shop cover the Cape Manza area in Onna.
- Spear fishing is another popular activity on the island.
- Take a glass bottom boat tour, offering views of corals and fishes.
- Ocean Expo Park— Will give you a better idea of the creatures native to the waters surrounding Okinawa Island.
Kokusaidori Street in Naha and Mihama American Village have plenty of shops. One of the popular items to buy is an Okinawan shirt, similar to Hawaiian shirts, at the Mango House, which have various locations throughout the island, but most of them in Naha.
In Okinawa, pork is very popular. A must eat is the tebichi soba, which is pig's feet with noodles. Various other Okinawan pork products are popular there.
For sushi, Yoshi's is an excellent restaurant. It is in Chatan off Hwy 22. The Yoshi Roll is definitely worth a try! CoCo Curry House is a great cheap alternative. Try it with cheese, it's great. Yoshi's sushi is geared more to American's tastes than traditional Japanese sushi. For more traditional Okinawan sushi, Fenutin in the Mihama American Village is an excellent choice. Try the sea grapes there. They also play traditional Okinawan music there which is worth listening to, and CDs are available for purchase.
American fast food is available, including A&W.
For dessert, have Blue Seal ice cream. Many flavors are available, including sweet potato (beni-imo), the local flavor in Okinawa. Also, sweet potato-flavored cookies are popular and can be found just about anywhere.
Orion Beer is brewed locally in Okinawa. Available in just about all stores, restaurants, bars, and many vending machines. Aside from beer, a local favorite is awamori, or aged rice wine, similar to Japanese sake. Awamori differs from sake in that the former is brewed using rice from Thailand and black yeast, while the latter typically uses locally produced rice and white yeast. Most available awamori is aged at least five years, with more expensive brews being aged fifteen. Locals consume awamori with ice and water.