My 5 Day 4 Night Okinawa Itinerary
Before visiting Okinawa, all I knew about it was that it is called the “Hawaii of Japan”. It has a strong mix of Chinese and American influences, and friends who’d been there told me it is nothing like Tokyo. They also warned that going around Okinawa without a car is difficult.
Guess who can’t drive? Yours truly. But I also can’t turn down cheap flights. Hence, I found myself travelling to Okinawa in September.
Spoiler alert: I ended up being pleasantly surprised by Japan’s southernmost prefecture, from its food to the culture and attractions. Here is my 5 Day 4 Night Okinawa itinerary for solo travellers and everyone who can’t drive.
Day 1: Makishi Public Market and Tsuboya Pottery Street
Cheap flights = unearthly travelling hours. My flight departed Singapore at 2am, and I arrived in Okinawa at 8.10am.
Getting from Naha Airport to the city is easy and affordable with the Okinawa Monorail (Yui Rail). My hotel was near Makishi Station, which is 9 stops from the airport. The ride cost ¥300 (~S$3.75).
Makishi Public Market
I left my bags with the concierge and went looking for sustenance. My hotel was right next to Makishi Public Market and I had one thing in mind for the first stop of my Okinawa itinerary: Pork Tamago Onigiri Honten.
The kiosk is located across a popular brunch spot, C & C Breakfast. I joined the short queue and placed my order of a Spam, fried egg and mustard greens onigiri for ¥250 (~S$3.15). It was the perfect welcome meal.
Inside Makishi Public Market (left) and Okinawan-themed Hello Kitty merchandise (right)
The rest of the market consists mostly of stalls selling Okinawan souvenirs ranging from clothes to snacks and even soap. You can’t go wrong with Okinawan sweet potatoes, known as beni imo, or umi-budo aka sea grapes.
Tsuboya Pottery Street
Okinawan pottery dates back to the 17th century, and Tsuboya Pottery Street is where it all happened. While its heyday is long over, many stores and galleries remain in this historic district, filled with pottery in traditional Okinawan designs as well as more modern ones.
Lunch (left) and buku buku tea (right) at Nuchigafu
Lunch at nearby Nuchigafu beckoned. I opted for one of the summer special lunch sets (¥1,200, ~S$15.05), a cold noodle soup that came with mozuku, a seaweed unique to Okinawa, and sprigs of sea grapes. It included a side of jimami tofu, an Okinawan-style tofu made from peanuts and potato starch.
Nuchigafu is one of the few places that serves traditional Okinawan bubble tea, buku buku, between 2pm to 5pm. At ¥1,000 (~S$12.55), it’s not cheap. It turned out to be a theatrical tableside experience, culminating in a frothy bowl of white rice, brown rice and jasmine tea with a mountain of foam on top.
By this time, I was ready to check in. I spent the rest of the day in bed, catching up on Terrace House episodes on Netflix that had yet to be released in Singapore.
Day 2: Shuri Castle and American Village
My plans for day 2 consisted of 2 vastly different but very significant aspects of Okinawan history.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shuri Castle was the largest palace in the Ryukyu Kingdom (1429 – 1879) and also where all the administrative matters took place. I was fortunate enough to set my eyes upon the castle proper, resplendent in its vermillion lacquered glory.
Shuri Castle when I visited in September
Sadly, a devastating fire in late October destroyed the main structures of the castle. However, it is reported that fundraising campaigns are already underway, with “a task force dedicated to drafting a restoration plan by 2022”, according to The Japan Times.
American Village is about 16.5km from Naha city, which is where most tourists will be based while visiting Okinawa.
I took the monorail to Asahibashi Station, which is connected to Naha Bus Terminal. From there, I could take bus number 28, 29 or 120. Buses depart about once every hour and the ride would cost about ¥700 (~$8.80).
Here’s a quick guide to taking a bus in Okinawa: Upon boarding, you’ll have to take a ticket issued from a machine in front of the driver. The number on the ticket represents the stop you got on at. You will only need to pay the bus fare when you’ve arrived at your destination. To know how much to pay, refer to the screen at the front of the bus and check it against the number on your ticket. The fare is displayed under the number, and it increases as the trip moves along. The largest note accepted is ¥1,000, so prepare smaller notes.
There is another screen on the right displaying the names of approaching stops in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean. After about an hour, I arrived at my stop, Kuwae. From there, it is about a 5-minute walk to the American Village.
The ferris wheel at American Village and American Depot
You will know you’re at the right place once you see the ferris wheel. Post-World War II, Okinawa has played host to many American military bases. It felt like time had stopped here, with multiple shops hawking vintage clothing, toys and accessories reminiscent of what you will find in the US. However, things are not cheap—the average price of a t-shirt is about ¥3,200 (~S$40).
A must-do on any Okinawa itinerary is to try taco rice. Taco Rice Cafe Kijimuna has about 14 variations, from taco rice to omutaco and avocado. Next, pick a flavour of meat: mild meat, spicy meat, curry meat and chili beans for vegetarians. An omutaco (¥730, ~S$9.15) and a pint of Orion draft beer (¥500, ~S$6.30) made for a hearty dinner.
Day 3: Soba + Sefa-utaki and Kokusaidori
Upon a friend’s recommendation, I went to Okinawa Soba Eibun for lunch. The quirky murals on the exterior and treehouse-like interior were already a good sign. The menu is in Japanese but there are cute illustrations of the dishes to help with ordering. I settled on beef soba served with a mountain of bean sprouts and a wedge of lemon (¥980, ~S$12.30). It was peppery, tangy and delicious.
Around the corner from Okinawa Soba Eibun lies Mahou Coffee. It seats 13 at the counter and is known for its hand-dripped coffee and espresso. It’s also known for the fact that kids under 12, the use of laptops and photography—the picture I took above was in the name of research, clearly—are not allowed, all so you can focus on your cuppa. I downed my espresso (¥350, ~S$4.40) and made my way to Naha Bus Terminal once again.
My agenda for the day was to visit Sefa-utaki, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Considered the most sacred site of the Ryukyu Kingdom, many ancient religious rituals took place here.
To get there, I took bus 38 to the Sefa Utaki-mae bus stop. The entire ride took about an hour and cost ¥830 (~S$10.40). After purchasing a ticket for ¥300 (~S$3.75) right behind the bus stop, I crossed 2 short roads and walked straight down another road for 10 minutes before reaching the site.
When you get to the entrance, you’ll have to watch a short video about the history of Sefa-utaki, and the rules to abide by while in the sacred space. Be sure to pick up an English brochure so you can make sense of what you are about to take in.
An air of stillness and peacefulness emanates through the sacred space. To get to the different places of worship, follow the walking trail surrounded by trees and lush vegetation.
Sangui and the view of Kadaka Island from Sangui
The last stop, Sangui, is a triangular opening created by the meeting of two gigantic rock formations. Standing in a space so rich in history, it was one of those awe-inspiring moments that invites reflection and contemplation.
Disclaimer: It takes about 20 minutes to walk around the grounds of Sefa-utaki. I personally felt the 1-hour bus rides to and from there were worth it, but I’m aware that not everyone will feel the same way.
Back in Naha city, I walked along Kokusaidori, Okinawa’s main shopping street. The 1.6km-long stretch is lined with shops selling mostly the same food and souvenirs. Pro tip: Wander off into the side streets to find more interesting boutiques and even streetwear stores.
The best part about dining alone is that it’s easier to get a seat at popular restaurants. Ranked high on Tripadvisor is Yunangi, which had a line when I arrived. I managed to get a seat at the counter of the izakaya after about 10 minutes.
Goya on the counter at Yanangi (left) and goya champuru (right)
I ordered mozuku tempura (¥590, ~S$7.40) and goya champuru (¥650, ~S$8.15). Okinawa’s most famous dish consists of goya (a bitter gourd-like vegetable) stir fried with egg, tofu and pork belly. The slices of goya were thin, crisp and fried perfectly.
To wash it all down, I got Orion draft beer (¥630, ~S$7.90) followed by awamori (¥700, ~S$8.80); a local liquor distilled from rice typically served with water and ice.
Day 4: Daisekirinzan + Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
I’d booked a Hip Hop Bus One Day Tour (S$78.85) for my last full day. Our first stop was Cape Hedo, the northernmost tip of Okinawa, which is a 2.5-hour drive from Naha. The cape offers stunning views of where the East China Sea and Pacific Ocean meet from the top of a cliff.
Next up, the reason why I’d booked this tour in the first place as part of my Okinawa itinerary: Daisekirinzan in Yanbaru National Park. Geography recap: A karst is formed by the erosion of soluble rock such as limestone. Daisekirinzan—its literal translation is “Big Stone Forest Mountain”—is a karst that has hiking trails where you can see limestone formations and giant banyan trees.
One of the many “strange rocks”: can you spot the “Lion King”?
I had a blast walking through the 4 trails, especially the “Strange and Big Rocks Course”, dotted with, well, strange-shaped rocks of various sizes. The labels accompanying them will keep you entertained as you try to make out the shapes, ranging from animals such as a gecko to more abstract ones like Picasso’s The Kiss.
The final stop was Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. It is widely considered Japan’s best aquarium and is probably the top tourist destination on the island. The must-see for most visitors is The Kuroshio Sea exhibit, a massive tank where you can find 2 whale sharks and a giant oceanic manta ray.
Day 5: Naha Airport
My flight the next day was at 9.10am. Imagine my joy when I realised there is an outpost of Pork Tamago Onigiri Honten at the departure section of the domestic terminal. This time, as a newfound fan of goya, I had the goya tempura onigiri (¥430, ~S$5.40).
Total expenditure for 5D4N Okinawa Itinerary
Shopping and miscellaneous: ~S$190.50
Total: ~S$501.05 (Excluding flights and accommodation)
While I’d been warned it would be difficult to sightsee around Okinawa without a car, I managed to visit most of the attractions I was keen on via public transport. Granted, the long waiting times for the bus are not for the faint-hearted. However, I was happy to take my time and soak in the chill Okinawan vibes.
As with the rest of Japan, food is delicious everywhere. Whether it’s an egg sandwich from Family Mart or a meal at an izakaya, good food can be had for as little or as much as you want. Shopping-wise, unlike in Tokyo where it’s easy to blow your life inheritance, I didn’t buy much other than at Muji and the supermarket.
My 5D4N Okinawa Itinerary As A Solo Traveller
I didn’t know what to expect from Okinawa, and was worried about getting around without a car. Thankfully, the delicious cuisine, rich culture and history, and warm locals made it a wonderfully memorable trip. Hopefully, this Okinawa itinerary will come in handy to those looking to make the most of their trip, regardless of whether you can drive.
Photography by Annabelle Fernandez