Surrounded by vibrant coral reefs, blue waters and white sand beaches, Okinawa is to Japan what the Mediterranean is to Europe – a laid-back destination where nationals swap the cultural rigours of the mainland for sand, surfing and sun.
Okinawa prefecture, which spans two thirds of the hundreds of Ryukyu islands, has its own distinct architectural and cultural vibe established through centuries of trade with China, Japan, Korea and other Southeast Asian countries during the Ryukyu era, particularly the 15th and 16th centuries.
Step back in time at nine UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage sites that pay testimony to this thriving kingdom, including the 15th century Zakimi Castle, Sonohyan Utaki Stone Gate and Shikina-en Gardens, the southern residence of the Ryukyuan kings.
PERFECT FOR COUPLES WHO:
Are looking for a cultural wildcard.
MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACH:
Okuma beach on Okinawa's main island. Venture to Akajima or Miyako for sun-drenched seclusion.
January through March sees humpback whales swimming, jumping and playing in the warm coastal waters as they gather to breed. Reeffers and Tropico are just two companies running tours from capital Naha City, also the jumping-off point for snorkelling or diving the popular Kerama islands.