Grab a mask and snorkel: Explore Okinawa’s marvelous water world
If you are on the island of Okinawa, you have the opportunity to see world-class reefs in crystal clear water. And you can explore this marvelous water world with a mask, fins and snorkel. Once you learn how to snorkel properly, it could become your favorite hobby during your stay on Okinawa. I guarantee that your encounters with all the marine species will be a lifetime experience.
I’ve had opportunities to dive and snorkel in Hawaii, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, La Paz, Baja Calif. and some islands in Thailand and Indonesia. But honestly, Okinawa is my most favorite place to snorkel because of the amazing colorful coral and countless tropical fish. There are many easy entry spots with shallow reef areas (5 to 30 feet) and dynamic drop offs. Water visibility is extremely high and on any given day, the sky is as clear as the water.
And if you’re lucky, you’ll also have the opportunity to swim along with turtles, manta ray and various types of reef sharks. You can literally spend hours floating over Okinawa’s endless coral heaven.
Here are a couple places I recommend for snorkeling while on Okinawa Island:
- Cape Maeda, in the center of Okinawa, is the most popular snorkeling spot on island. Many diving shops offer snorkeling tours to this area. There is a wide variety of marine life, but one of the best parts is a cave you can swim into. If you’re new to snorkeling, this is a great place to start. It also has good facilities – bathrooms, places to eat - at the site.
- Odo Kaigan, also known as John Man Beach, near the southern tip of Okinawa Island, also offers good snorkeling and is less crowded than Cape Maeda. But note that there are a limited number of free parking spots.
Here are some of the recommended spots in the Okinawa Island chain.
- Yonehara Beach, Ishigaki Island: This place has an amazing drop off at the outer edge of the reef. Please note the current is extremely strong at times, so snorkelers and divers should know what they are doing if they venture out a long way from shore. But if you do, you’ll really enjoy the drop off. In this spot I once saw 10 sea turtles in less than an hour. This beach also has a shallow inner reef area for beginner snorkelers, but there are no lifeguards or jellyfish nets to protect swimmers. A camping site is located right behind the beach, which attracts many backpackers from not only Japan but around the world. It is not family oriented beach, but if you are looking for some wild beach life, this is the place.
- Nishihama Beach, Hateruma Island: Hateruma Island is the most southern island in Japan. There are so many amazing snorkel spots around this island, which makes it very popular with both single backpackers and families. The water here is a beautiful emerald green. The beach offers a large inner reef for both beginners to experienced snorkelers. There is also a 10–15 feet drop off outside the reef for expert snorkelers to enjoy. Don’t miss watching the sunset from this beach because it will be the best sunset of your life.
It takes practice and experience to be a good snorkeler. The key is being relaxed, which only comes if you spend a lot of time in water. I recommend practicing in a pool, especially if you are bringing along children. You can all practice clearing your mask when water comes into it, controling your fins in the water and breathing through a snorkel properly.
Listen, if you are not an experienced snorkeler, I highly recommend taking a snorkeling tour from a local diving shop, which will provide step-by-step instructions. Even if you are an experienced snorkeler, it is good to use local snorkeling tours because guides will brief you on the local fish, landscapes and condition of the area.
When I travel to Okinawa to snorkel and dive, I will always make sure I’m aware of the high/low tides, wind conditions and currents. Respect the ocean before entering it.
Now, go grab your gear and hit the water.
- Don’t snorkel alone.
- Wear a life jacket if you are not confident in the water.
- Check the current and times of tides before entering.
- Always remember the entry spot and look back often to check your location. This will help you to recognize if the current is pushing you.
- If you are caught up by the current, swim parallel with the beach calmly until the current settles.
- Respect the reef. One of the main threats Okinawa reefs face is damage caused by humans. Avoiding direct contact with the reef is the first rule of snorkeling.
- Watch out for habu jellyfish and its poisonous tentacles.
- Make sure to put on lots of sunscreen.
- Drink a lot of water before and after snorkeling to prevent dehydration.
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