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    Okinawa Prefecture is made up of more than 150 islands located in the East China Sea, including Okinawa Island, Miyako Island and Ishigaki Island. If this is your first visit to Okinawa, it’s a good idea to start by heading to the main island. Okinawa Island is full of historical and cultural spots such as Shuri Castle, a magnificent building from the Ryukyu Dynasty era; Ryukyu Village, where you can experience Okinawa culture; and Gangala Valley, an archaeological excavation site from the Palaeolithic age. 

    At places like Gyokusendo and Manzamo you can admire stunning views that have been shaped by nature. It’s also well worth taking a boat to visit some of the outlying islands such as Kudaka Island (the island of gods) and the croissant-shaped Minna Island. For superb views, take a drive across the Kouri Ohashi bridge or cycle through the Fukugi Tree Tunnel. Okinawa is such a chilled-out place that the people are never in a rush, so when in Okinawa… take it easy as you explore its beautiful sights.

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    Kouri Ohashi Bridge

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    Kouri Ohashi Bridge was opened in 2005 and is 1,960 metres long, connecting Okinawa Island to Kouri Island. Kouri Island is famous as a remote island with some of the most beautiful seas in Okinawa that can easily be accessed by car thanks to the bridge. Before crossing the bridge, it’s a good idea to park your car in the car park at the front of the bridge and take pictures of the superb view of the island: greenery, blue sea, and the impressive bridge itself. 

    When you arrive at Kouri Island, take a walk past the traditional Okinawan houses and sugar cane fields to enjoy the peaceful, relaxed atmosphere. You can walk barefoot on the beach at the base of the bridge and lose yourself while picking up coral and seashells, or you can go snorkelling to enjoy the sea creatures living just offshore. Look out for Heart Rock at Teinu Beach in the northern part of the island, it's a pilgrimage for lovers and is a popular selfie spot.

    Locatie: Kouri, Nakijin, Kunigami District, Okinawa 905-0406, Japan

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    Shurijo Castle Park

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    Shurijo Castle was the political, diplomatic and cultural centre of the Ryukyu Kingdom. This is a must-see landmark when visiting Okinawa. Just 15 minutes up the hill from Shurijō Station on the Yui Rail line is the Shureimon Gate with its elegant Ryukyuan red tiles. Passing through the majestic castle gates, you'll see the largest structure from the Ryukyu Kingdom: the Seiden. 

    This World Cultural Heritage site was built with a unique architectural style and stone masonry technique, fusing Chinese and Japanese castle-construction cultures. No visit to Okinawa is complete without a tour of this enchanting vermilion-coloured building, decorated throughout with engravings of the dragon, a symbol of the king, and featuring the gorgeous Usasuka throne. Head to the Agari no Azana (Lookout of the East), which stands at 140 metres above sea level, for unbeatable views of the castle town landscape. If you visit after sunset, you can also enjoy the castle illuminations.

    Locatie: 1-2 Shurikinjōchō, Naha, Okinawa 903-0814, Japan

    Open: Hours vary by season, and some areas are free to access while others charge admission fees.

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    Minnajima Island

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    Located off the west coast of the main island of Okinawa, Minnajima Island is a remote island famous for its sea bathing and marine activities. It's affectionately known as "Croissant Island" because of its shape. Jump on a high-speed boat from the Port of Toguchi to Minnajima Island. It takes only 15 minutes. Just next to the pier is the popular Minna Beach. 

    The sea is so clear that you can see the bottom, and the white sandy beach is perfect for swimming. There are lifeguards too, so it's safe even for small children. There are plenty of activities to enjoy, including banana boats, snorkelling and diving experiences. See the colourful coral reefs and fish that surround the island up close and experience mysterious underwater worlds.

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    Fukugi Tree Tunnel in Bise

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    Located near Churaumi Aquarium in the northern part of Okinawa Island, Fukugi Tree Tunnel in Bise is a must-visit for walking and cycling, spectacularly lined with as many as 20,000 Fukugi trees. These trees form windbreaks that have protected the village from typhoons for as long as anyone can remember. Some of the trees are now more than 300 years old. Take a leisurely walk through the trees in the dappled sunshine and take in the views of the village inside the Fukugi Tree Tunnel and relaxing in a cafe.  

    Alternatively, you can rent a bicycle and take a ride through the tunnel – another great way to enjoy this unique place. Don’t go too fast, though – riding slowly is the best way to appreciate the beauty of the deep blue sea in front of you. You can see Iejima Island on your left and ride your bicycle to the tip of the cape, arriving at Cape Bisezaki. Right there between the cape and the small island in front of you is the best snorkelling site where you can see incredibly colourful fish.

    Locatie: 389 Bise, Motobu, Kunigami District, Okinawa 905-0207, Japan

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    Valley of Gangala

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    About a 30-minute drive southeast from Naha Airport, the Valley of Gangala is across from the entrance to the Okinawa World tourist facility. Here, a former limestone cave that collapsed several hundreds of thousands of years ago has become a valley with a subtropical forest. Take a guided walk along the valley, where the river flows through the ancient forest and you can be at one with Okinawan plants and insects. 

    You really get the sense here of being an explorer, scaling the mysterious limestone cave with a lamp in your hand, looking up at a huge banyan tree, and seeing the horizon from the tree-lined terrace. The tour, which lasts 1 hour and 20 minutes, finishes at Bugeido Cave, where you can see a wide range of earthenware and fossils of the Palaeolithic Minatogawa people. In fact, excavations are still ongoing in the Valley of Gangala. Entrance to the Valley of Gangala is only available for tours, and reservation is essential.

    Locatie: 202 Maekawa, Tamagusuku, Nanjo, Okinawa 901-1400, Japan

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm

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    Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

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    Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is located in the Ocean Expo Park in Motobu Town, a 2-hour drive from Naha Airport. The world's largest fish, the whale shark that swims gracefully here in the large “Kuroshio Sea", is the aquarium's mascot. The sight of whale sharks eating is impressive, to say the least. In the "Coral Sea" tank, flurries of colourful fish swim about through around 70 kinds of corals. In the “Deep Sea World” area you can get a glimpse of the enchanting world that exists in Okinawa’s waters, while outside you can watch a pretty dynamic show of dolphins in the "Okichan Theatre" zone. 

    The park area has many attractions to enjoy throughout the day, including the "Oceanic Culture Hall", where you can see crafts from Southeast Asia and the Pacific region, the "Tropical Dream Centre" where you can check out more than 2,000 orchids; and "Sunset Square" with its perfect views of the sun setting in the East China Sea.

    Locatie: 424 Azaishikawa, Motobu, Kunigami District, Okinawa 905-0206, Japan

    Open: March–September: daily from 8.30 am to 8 pm (Last entry at 7 pm), October–February: daily from 8.30 am to 6.30 pm (Last entry at 5.30 pm),cClosed on first Wednesday of December and the following day.

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    Kudaka Island

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    Kudaka Island is an island of gods according to Ryukyuan mythology and a special place for the people of Okinawa. Take a boat from Azama Port on Okinawa Island to the mystical Kudaka Island. A good way to see the sights the island has to offer is to rent a bicycle near the port and ride from there. Ishiki Beach is said to be a sacred beach where a boat carrying deities arrived. Given its status, it’s no surprise that swimming is prohibited here. Look out for star-shaped sand at Uppama Beach on the east side of the island. 

    The sandy Megi Beach is next to the sea snake fishing grounds. Here, you can enjoy swimming in crystal-clear ocean waters. There's a mysterious cave to be found at Cape Cabale, which is said to be where the god called Amamakiyo descended. The ocean view from Yaguruga is superb. Recharge your mind and body by tasting Okinawan soba noodles and sea snake (irabu) soup at restaurants on the island.

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    RyukyuMura

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    Head to RyukyuMura theme park to enjoy the culture and history of Okinawa. It's about 1 hour by car from Naha Airport. There are various themed experiences to take part in here, such as making Okinawan doughnuts (Sata Andagi), a local delicacy, making hand-kneaded Okinawan lion statues (shisa), and lessons in playing the Sanshin, a traditional Okinawan 3-stringed instrument.

    Many visitors enjoy the experience of wearing the traditional costumes that the nobles of the Ryukyu Dynasty once wore. Other must-see attractions include the traditional Eisa dance performance to the sound of drums and sanshin. The Michijune attraction introduces Okinawan traditions such as the lion dance and Okinawan karate. The park is dotted with typical old Okinawan-style houses with their distinctive red-tiled roofs. Some of these houses are designated as Important Cultural Properties and are more than 100 years old. If you get hungry, you can try some Okinawan dishes such as Soki soba and taco rice at the cafeteria.

    Locatie: 1130 Yamada, Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa 904-0416, Japan

    Open: July–September: daily from 9 am to 6 pm (Last entry at 5.30 pm), October–June: daily from 9 am to 5.30 pm (Last entry at 5 pm)

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    Gyokusendo Cave

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    Gyokusendo Cave, a natural monument, is a 5,000-metre-long limestone cave with upwards of 1 million stalactites, making it the largest cave of its kind in Japan. This cave has existed for 300,000 years and is still growing at a rate of 1 millimetre every 3 years. Passing through the narrow entrance and into the limestone cave itself, you will find a vast space called Toyo Ichido. The ceiling here is tightly packed with stalactites that look as if they are about to fall. It’s not for the faint-hearted! 

    Stalagmites stick out from the ground like bamboo shoots. A river runs through the cave, and at the Blue Fountain (Ao no Izumi) the puddles are lit up in green, creating an emerald world of magical light. On the way, there's also the impressive Golden Cup (Ogon no Sakazuki) limestone dam, which is 2.5 metres tall and has a circumference of 31 metres. It’s a good idea to join one of the limited summer tours where you can explore the unopened area of the limestone cave.

    Locatie: 1336 Maekawa, Tamagusuku, Nanjo, Okinawa 901-0616, Japan

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm

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    Cape Manzamo

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    Cape Manzamo is a scenic spot in Onna-son Village, a resort area on the west coast of Okinawa Island. Ryukyu Sekkaigan is a steep limestone plateau that was formed by coral and seashells accumulating in the sea tens of thousands of years ago, its shape resembling that of an elephant’s trunk. From the cape, you can see the cobalt blue sea and Iejima Island in the distance, and coral reefs in the clear sea just below. 

    The origin of the name of Manzamo is the idea of there being enough grassland for 10,000 people to sit. There are few better ways to chill out than lying back on the natural grasslands of the plateau and feeling the refreshing sea breeze. On the coastline promenade, you can look for native Okinawan plants such as Okinawan purple and Kanakomi-kanboku while taking a leisurely stroll.

    Locatie: 2870-1 Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa 904-0411, Japan

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