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Okinawa is made up of a chain of over 160 islands in Japan's most southern prefecture. Dotted across the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, the region is filled with lush forests, crystal-clear seas and wildlife. Once the independent kingdom of Ryukyu, the main island features the ruins of sacred temples and rebuilt castles of ancient kings. Explore the Miyako, Yaeyama and Kerama Islands to dive into azure waters and swim among busy coral reefs, tropical fish and native turtles.
Hostels in Okinawa are dotted across the main island. You can stay in one that's a two-minute walk from the sea or be at the heart of the action at a hostel in vibrant Naha – there's even one with futuristic capsule rooms. For a comfortable stay, choose an Okinawa hostel with air con and handy extras like free shampoo and Wi-Fi or a free breakfast. Many Okinawa hostels have common rooms or bars where you can mix with other travellers.
The main island's neighbourhoods have their own different personalities. In the north, the island is rich with tropical mangroves, while the south is home to historical Ryukyu sites and the lively capital, Naha City. Here, you'll find the bustling 2km-long Kokusaidori Street, lined with shops, street performers and izakayas (bars) playing Okinawan folk songs and serving local awamori liquor. Experience Chanpuru culture in centrally located seaside town Chatan, where continents merge with an East-coast-America vibe – complete with Sunset Beach and a Ferris wheel.
You'll find some of the world's clearest waters around the 20-odd Kerama Islands. Explore Cave Nita in the idyllic waters surrounding Zamami Island or head to Gina on Aka island to swim among corals, shimmering fish and turtles. On Iriomote Island, there's dense jungle to trek through, and Naha has a huge Makishi market to get lost in while shopping for colourful souvenirs and munching on fresh tempura. Naha's brightly painted Shurijo Castle – once the Ryukyu kingdom's political centre – is also well worth a visit.
To reach Okinawa's Naha Airport, you can fly in from mainland Japan (mainly Tokyo or Osaka) or get a direct flight from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea or Taiwan. Naha is a 10-minute drive from the airport, or you can jump on one of the local buses to Naha City Terminal. The main island has a monorail, buses and taxis, while on the smaller islands, you can get around by renting a car, motorbike or bicycle.