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Essential information

When to go and weather

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Getting to Okinawa & the Southwest Islands

Getting around Okinawa & the Southwest Islands

While regular ferry and hydrofoil services are the most common way to island-hop, air travel is becoming a more popular and affordable way to get between islands. Most inter-island services are operated by JTA/JAC – subsidiaries of Japan Airlines – and to a lesser extent, ANA.

JTA offers the Okinawa Island Pass, an inter-island air-pass that must be purchased outside Japan and with proof of onward travel – sorry, expats. It offers up to five inter-island flights (between Okinawa-hontō, Miyako-jima, Ishigaki-jima and Kume-jima only), representing substantial savings from standard domestic airfares purchased within Japan. Fares are route specific, have limited availability and must be issued by a travel agency or Japan Airlines branch office, outside Japan, at least 72 hours prior to departure.

While most islands have public bus systems, there are usually not more than a few buses per day on each route. We recommend bringing an International Driving Permit and renting a car or scooter, particularly on Ishigaki, Miyako, Kume and Yakushima.

On Okinawa-hontō, driving in Naha can be a real drag, with horrible traffic congestion and slow speed limits. If you're only planning on exploring the city itself, you'll find local public transport – although not as widespread and user-friendly as many other Japanese cities – is often the best option.

Renting a car is advised for exploration of the island beyond the city itself.

Health and safety

Insurance

  • Comprehensive travel insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems is highly recommended.
  • Some policies specifically exclude dangerous activities such as scuba diving, motorcycling, skiing and even trekking: read the fine print.
  • Check that the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home.
  • Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.
  • If you have to claim later, make sure you keep all documentation.
  • Paying for your airline ticket with a credit card often provides limited travel accident insurance – ask your credit card company what it is prepared to cover.
  • Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.

Dangers and annoyances

Every swimming beach you visit on any of the main islands will alert you to the potential dangers of marine stingers, the likes of box jellyfish (ハブくらげ; habu kurage) and venomous snakes – also called habu – the latter, being...

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