Iriomote: Fun on and off shore

Photo by Alena Eckelmann
Photo by Alena Eckelmann

Iriomote: Fun on and off shore

by Alena Eckelmann
Japan Travel

Iriomote Island seems rather empty and it is nature pure. It is covered in sub-tropical jungle said to be the last remaining rain forest in Japan. Approaching by ferry from neighboring Ishigaki Island, it seems that you are about to set foot on Jurassic Park island.

Don’t be scared, this is a great place for adventure tourism on-shore offering many kayaking and trekking opportunities, as well as being every diver’s dream off-shore. What’s more, Iriomote spots the most southern hot spring of Japan.

In fact, Iriomote Island is 200 kilometers closer to Taiwan than to Naha in Okinawa. About 2,200 residents share the 289 square kilometer island with about the same number of cows and the only road runs along the coast connecting most villages along the way.

Iriomote’s sub-tropical jungle forest is protected by the Iriomote National Park, designated in 1972. The mountainous terrain is covered in dense vegetation making it almost impossible to penetrate. Some larger rivers, Urauchi-kawa and Nakama-kawa, cut deep into the lush green serving as gateways to the jungle paradise should you dare to venture further into the island’s interior.

Kayaking is the best way to discover the rivers’ biodiversity and to see some mangroves close up.

The Manta Way runs along the island’s eastern coast making it a good place for manta ray spotting (April to June only). Even if you come during other times of the year, the rich coral reefs in the area make diving here an unforgettable experience.

The sandy beaches of Iriomote are also well-worth a visit to kick back and relax. Try Shirahama or Funauki for some special time in the sun.

Iriomote’s “Star Sand Beach” is a tourist attraction as its sand consists of tens of millions of tiny corals in the shape of stars. Visitors fill little bottles with the sand to take them back home as original souvenirs.

At Painu Maya Resort, Iriomote’s hot spring resort, you can enjoy a soak in the hot water, both indoors and outdoors, go to a steam sauna or have a swim in the outdoor pool. Of course, there are also the usual massage services and eating outlets. (Noon to 10 pm, Yen 1,500).

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