My Magical & Magnificent Mini-Vacation
With travel outside Japan being difficult, few options that didn’t involve a great deal of fuss AND muss, and the knowledge that travel is the thing that makes me feel alive, this girl needed some travel ASAP. I decided to do what I had sworn I was going to do when I first got to Okinawa 16 years ago – start discovering more of the Ryuku island chain. Apparently there are more than 150 islands in the Okinawa prefecture so I’m way behind the power curve on this one (I’ve been to fewer than 10 so far). I realized I wanted, no actually make that NEEDED, to start island hopping immediately to begin crossing this mission off my bucket list. The bonus to doing this now, as opposed to waiting another 16 years, is that while Japan is mostly still closed to foreigners, I’m a foreigner on the inside so I can do all the things in this country with minimal crowds (a VERY rare thing). One of the places I’d been hearing about since the beginning of my stay in Okinawa was Miyako island, one of the Okinawa islands, and part of Miyakojima which includes 6 islands.
Miyako island is the largest of these islands at 61.34 square miles. If you could run a 7 minute mile you could get from one side of the island to the other in 42 minutes… If you can’t run a 7 minute mile, or want to save your energy for other things, I suggest renting a car. Car rental is very affordable here and less sweat inducing than jogging in the summer heat, though if you don’t reserve in advance you may want to bring those running shoes because they sometimes do run out of rentals. When I went in the beginning of June (2022) a small rental car was only about $100 for 3 days. Miyako is surrounded by the East China Sea and has a population of about 46,000. A plus to visiting Miyako from Okinawa mainland is that the plane ride is only 50 minutes and when I booked it, it cost less than $150 for a round trip ticket.
The Miyako airport is tiny, which makes it easy to find your baggage carousel (there’s one) and most of the rental car people stand right outside the baggage area so they are easy to spot when you come out. Mine were NOT standing outside but when I called they directed me to the shuttle stop just outside the front doors of the airport. Once I was in my rental car I set out for the Miyakojima Tokyu Hotel & Resorts (the cost for 3 nights over the weekend at this 4 star luxury resort was only about $400 because of the amazing yen rate).
I was not disappointed by this place and it lived up to the glowing reviews it got online. I got there very early (10 am) and because it was my birthday and I had joined their membership club (note: ALWAYS join the hotel membership clubs for the extra perks) they not only let me check in early but also upgraded my room!
The rooms face the East China Sea and my room was beautiful with two full size beds and a lounge area. There was a tea and coffee station with an electric kettle and a Keurig type coffeemaker, a fridge, a decent closet with a safe, drawers for clothes, hotel pajamas (very cute and comfy white cotton), a sink with a view of the room and the ocean (can be closed with a sliding shutter for privacy if you don’t want your partner watching you brush your teeth), a big bathtub, and all the toiletries you might need to include a rather nice mini hair brush and bright red hibiscus bath salts (which made the bath look like a crime scene instead of a chill relaxation zone).
The best part was the balcony which faced the ocean and the pool. I could sit and watch the sunset from my room if I was feeling lazy, but there were so many other stunning locations to watch the sunset too!
My first mission was to get a lay of the land and check out the famous beach that butted right up to the hotel property. The pool was lovely but when the water in the ocean is such a gorgeous shade of turquoise it’s hard to imagine settling for a dip in the pool.
PICS OF POOL
The grounds were beautifully manicured and the gorgeous trees and flowers made me feel like I was in a tropical paradise (ummm maybe because I was!). There were 5 restaurants on the property, some of which required reservations. One of the restaurants specialized in sushi and another teppanyaki. There was a soothing spa where I received an amazing 90 minute massage before bed that helped me sleep more soundly than I’ve slept in years. The hotel has a little gift shop, with beach gear, clothes, trinkets, postcards, snacks, and even some local crafts (Okinawa blown glass, bingata style purses, etc.). There are 2 outdoor tennis courts, a covered terrace to lounge about or just generally chill in, water features, miniature golf, and free parking and free wifi.
The first beach on my list was the beach behind the hotel, rated as one of the top beaches in Miyako, and it definitely lived up to the hype. Yonaha Beach features a long stretch of white sand and views of a long bridge leading to Kurima island across the water. The hotel’s umbrellas and chairs were surprisingly underwhelming, more like the cheap metal and woven nylon folding beach loungers from when I was a kid (in the 80’s, if you must know) and felt more 2 star than 4 star… but honestly who cares when you are on such a stunning beach?
I walked down the beach towards the bridge and found several companies renting water toys for various fun activities (jet skis, banana boats, etc.). There was a volleyball tournament going on when I was there with multiple matches going on at once and some people making some impressive sand sculptures. The water was just the right temperature, cool enough to be refreshing and to keep you wanting to float there all day.
I had beaches to discover and adventures to go on so I cut my floating short and checked Yonaha off my list.
I hopped in my car and headed across the Kurima bridge to the island across the way (yep, you guessed it Kurima island).
My first stop was the Ryuuguujo Observation Deck, where a mermaid greeted me with lovely views of the sparkling tropical sea and bridge stretching from one island to the next. She wanted to tell me a secret but I don’t speak mermaid and my translator app didn’t either.
As I was searching for the next beach on the nearby island of Irabu, I found another observation deck and being a keen observer, I stopped to check out the view from the architecturally unique Makiyama Observatory where I took in the lush tropical jungle below, rocks blanketed by green, and the beautiful sea below.
All that driving and exploring was kicking up my appetite and one of the places that had both great reviews and healthy food was the Dining Café & Bar Coral Island Miyakojima.
I’ve been eating healthier and wanted some fuel that would give me energy for my beach adventures and not bog me down and force me into nap mode (that means no French toast for me today).
The views from this restaurant were magnificent and there was a large outdoor deck where I could sit and relax while I enjoyed a simply prepared Miyako beef steak (apparently it is incredibly rare and is a must try) with roasted vegetables, wasabi sauce, toasted garlic chips, sea salt, and a small shot glass filled with pickled veggies for 6000 yen. I gave it 2 thumbs up and felt healthy and happily satiated.
Next beach stop was Toguchi no hama which was beautiful but maybe because it was on the verge of pouring down rain I didn’t find as enchanting as some of the other beaches. There was an arch of white sand beach flanked by palm trees and azure water, as well as rocky outcroppings along the shore on the side opposite the beach. Showers and bathrooms are available and there’s a little store with limited hours at the entrance to the beach.
It began raining and I made my way back to get some solid sleep and start off early for the next day’s adventures.
Top of my list for the next day was Sunayama Beach, home of the famous rock arch.
I pulled into a large parking lot, with some shady areas, vending machines, bathrooms, and a map of the area and trekked over a sandy pathway, through tropical bushes and plants, to a stunning view of my now favorite beach.
White sand, flanked by a tall limestone rock face on one side and a rock arch with a view of the sea on the other.
Between the two was the most stunning blue water. It was so inviting I dove right in and floated and floated until the tips of my fingers wrinkled and my bliss meter was maxed out.
The rock arch apparently has seen better days and was roped off and had ropes wrapped around it to keep it from collapsing.
After my float I begrudgingly packed my towel up and set off for the next beach, because despite my FOMO, I knew that there was not going to be a better beach than this. The beach afficionado in me knew this, but the adventurer in me knew it wouldn’t hurt to check the other beaches, just in case.
My belly was starting to demand fuel so I decided to make a stop to fuel up where I could also enjoy stunning views of the ocean. I headed north to Cape Nishihennazaki where just past 2 giant wind turbines, I found the most magical school bus I’ve ever seen… Harry’s Shrimp Truck is actually a school bus converted into a kitchen and serves garlic shrimp and rice that is 5/5 oishi (that’s tasty to all you non-Japanese speakers).
They have a covered seating area and a rooftop seating area and a nearby restroom and of course, the ever present Japanese vending machines. After devouring 2 plates of shrimp (hey I didn’t get the rice so I deserved to helpings of the shrimp – why you gotta be so judgy???) I wandered around the walkway along the edge of the ocean, climbed the observation deck and was mesmerized and hypnotized by the waves crashing against the rocks.
Happily this was not the kind of hypnosis that caused me to cluck like a chicken and instead was the sort that calmed my mind and soothed my soul.
Next stop Ikema island, where I found a beach marked by a yellow buoy painted with kanji and tiny buoys hanging from this one painted like Japanese sumo heads.
This beach was beautiful and I had it all to myself. In this day and age this is such a rarity that it completely freaked me out. Wondering what was wrong with this beach, instead of reveling in the solitude and the private beach vibe, I became weirdly paranoid and nervous. Were there sharks here and that’s why no one was here? Was this the serial killer beach? Was it haunted by ghosts? Sigh. Note to self. ENJOY THE RARE GIFT of a deserted beach. Floated for 5 minutes and then bailed. Yep, silly move but sometimes, luckily very rarely, solo travel can bring on a bit of anxiety…
Shaking off the haunted beach vibes, I headed to Funakusu Beach a white sand beach that gently curved between green topped boulders. Despite a junky looking entrance with sandbags piled along a cement wall, the beach was straight out of a travel brochure, beckoning to SUP lovers, snorkelers, sunbathers, and swimmers.
Prior to heading back over the Ikema Ohashi Bridge I pulled over at a little tourist stop where you can park, grab a bite, a drink, or some souvenirs, just prior to the crossing to get some pictures and an ice cold bottle of water. A pink structure in the parking lot is the perfect vantage to snap some photos of the bridge (just under a mile long) connecting Miyako and Ikema islands.
My final stop for this trip was Imugya Marine Garden with a safe little cove to snorkel (sadly I didn’t bring my snorkeling gear on this trip but will for certain bring it next time) and an easy walking path along and above the sea.
Easily visible under the aquamarine water on the far side of the path were spectacular rock and coral formations.
The Marine garden included bridges, stairs, a scenic overlook, stone paths, covered rest areas, and a grumpy looking Miyako cow sculpture.
On my way back to the hotel I passed one of the peculiar life sized statues I’d been driving by throughout my entire stay and decided it was time to pull over and capture this oddity on film. Standing on the corner of busy intersections in Miyako you will often see a very pale man with a white helmet, wearing a blue Michael Jackson style jacket, blue pants, white spats, white gloves, and a white belt standing on a yellow cement block with his hands by his side.
This is the famed Mamoru-kun police mascot on Miyakojima. He is there to inspire (or scare) you into obeying the traffic laws and was first put up in 1991.
There are 20 of these vaguely creepy statues, 17 who live on miyakojima. Each time I spotted a statue my foot eased up on the accelerator and my heart sped up a bit so I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of this strange traffic cop sculpture.
There is, of course, Mamoru-kun merchandise sold across the island (especially at the airport) with a variety of products to include cookies, liquor, keychains, and of course a guidebook to help you locate all of the statues.
Miyako island far exceeded my expectations (and trust me I’m not a low expectations kind of girl) and I will absolutely return.
The beauty of this spot is that you can stay in luxury at a resort or on the cheap in a condo and either way you have access to all the stunning beaches. Thus far it is my favorite of the Ryuku island but I still have more to explore and will keep you posted.