The Ishigaki and the Yaeyama area have different characteristics throughout the year, but there are also corresponding problems that need attention.
Diving in Yonaguni: December – March
Firefly in Ishigaki: April – May
Stargazing Cruise in Ishigaki – Southern Cross: Late December – Early June
Stargazing Cruise in Ishigaki – Galaxy Center: June – September
No featured items are covered in this article. Diving needs additional stays in Yonaguni. Other items can be arranged in Ishigaki Island. The stargazing cruise is starting at night and does not affect the day trip. For attending sea stargazing, you can make an appointment for a local tour group on websites, or buy it directly at the travel agency counter in the ferry port. You could also booking service from Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory, which is located in the southwest of Ishigaki.
Climate Related Issue
Typhoon season: May – October, frequent around August. A typhoon crossing will rune your trip for 3-5 days. If the planned schedule encounters a typhoon, maybe the best choice is cancel the whole trip. Introduced by the local, the best months to be here is June and September.
Strong wind season: November – December. Continuous strong north wind will block ferries for some islands like Iriomotejima (Uehara port), Hateruma, Hatoma and Yonaguni. Planning in strong wind season, you need to adjust your trip daily by the status of ferries.
The main bus service in Ishigaki is provided East Transportation Co., Ltd., 東運輸株式会社 in Japanese. Bus terminus is located near the ferry terminal (marked with red square in the map below). Printed schedules, in English and Japanese, are available at the terminus. Japanese version is also provided on the website (click text of each line under “主な経由地” to get). Passengers can purchase a single-day ticket (effective for 24 hours from purchase, 1,000 yen) and a 5-day ticket (effective for 120 hours from purchase, 2000 yen) at the terminus or from bus driver, and half price for children. These coupons can be used for all routes of the company except the sightseeing bus. In addition, passengers can purchase tickets from the airport to the ferry terminal when they board the bus, 540 yen for one way, 1,000 yen for round trips, and half price for children. There is no validity period for round-trip tickets. This company provides sightseeing bus lines also.
In addition, Ishigaki City also has a Karry Kanko bus to provide bus service between the airport and the ferry terminal. This bus does not stop midway. The location of the station in the ferry port is marked by green arrow below. If you happen to need to travel to and from the airport and the ferry terminal, this bus is faster, more convenient and cheaper than the one above. Tickets are sold at the time of boarding, 500 yen for one way, 900 yen for round trips, and half price for children. There is no validity period for round-trip tickets either.
The bus of Iriomotejima is provided by Iriomotejima Transportation Co., Ltd. 西表島交通株式会社 in Japanese. Similarly, the company offers one-way tickets, one-day tickets, and three-day tickets. However, due to the low density of bus service in Iriomotejima, tourists rarely need to board. This company also provides taxi service.
Bus of Yonaguni is running by government, free of charge. Route schedule can be obtained from this site.
Most ferry services are provided by two companies. Every morning and afternoon, the ferry company’s web site will be announced the ferry service situation.
Yaeyama Sightseeing Co., Ltd. “八重山観光フェリー株式会社” provides ticket booking service through web. If you book a ferry ticket 3 days in advance, you can get a discount. The company’s ticket can be used for any time period on the same day. Credit cards are support when purchasing tickets at the counter located in ferry port of Ishigaki.
Anei Sightseeing Co., Ltd. “（有）安栄観光” provides ferry services among most islands, including Hateruma. Note: It is required to booking in advanced for the ferry service between Hateruma and Iriomotejima (Ohara port). Booking can be done by website (Japanese only) as well as at counter.
Both companies above are sharing services. You can buy ferry ticket from any company and enjoy the one provided by another in the same time slot. Both companies run outlying island tour business. Please purchase tickets at least 20 minutes in advance.
Small high speed ferry ships contain front cabin and rear cabin. The front one is quieter and more comfortable, but the swing is large. The rear one is suitable for passengers who are afraid of seasickness, but the noise is high.
If you are departing from Hong Kong, you can choose the Hong Kong Express route. The main advantages are:
1 Direct flight route. This is a rare international flight that can fly directly to Ishigaki. Most routes need to transit in Naha, which will cost a lot if there is no travel plan on Okinawa’s main island.
2 The time slot is fit. There are only flights on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and arrival at Ishigaki is in morning. Without diving plan, you can schedule all trips in a week. Or you can extend 3-4 days to the next flight according to diving plan or due to weather condition. And,
3 LCC line. Considering that the flight is short, no onboard service is required. LCC is a better choice.
Since most days of the trip require a bus or to the outlying islands, and the bus terminal is very close to the ferry port, for easier daily trip, you should choose a hotel near the ferry port, which is best within 10 minutes on foot.
The one I chosen is Hotel WBF Marche, ホテルWBFマルシェ石垣島 in Japanese, which is near the 730 Monument. One or two person per room is suitable.
The pros are:
- Near to the port. 5-10 mins on foot is enough.
- Many attendants are proficient in Chinese, seems come from Taiwan, and also can use English.
- Price is fair.
- Soups provided as breakfast are delicious.
- Free hand coffee are available for member.
- Laundry room is presented and there is almost no need to line up. Laundry charges 200 yen (30 min), drying 100 yen every 30 minutes. Washing powder is available free of charge from the 5F reception.
- There are a large number of restaurants near. There is a Shamisen performance every night in the restaurants named “一魚一会” opposite the hotel. It is very lively.
- Close to the Ishigaki Island public market. Passing FamilyMart on the way to the port.
Also, the cons are:
- For environmental protection, room is not cleaned daily by default. When hanging the plastic label on door handle, only the towel will be replaced and the trash bin will be cleaned. Full room cleaning needs to be booked at the front desk on the 5th floor. I stayed for 7 days and the front desk informed that room cleaning can be reserved up to two times. But if you do not perform a room cleaning, the bathrobe will not be replaced and the toothpaste will not be replenished. Obviously the hotel has not considered the needs of long-term residence, I hope the hotel can directly provide convenient services for toothpaste supplement.
- Breakfast is only available after 7am. Someday that needs to leave early, you can solve the breakfast problem at FamilyMart.
- A free coffee coupon will be provided to member only every day, which can be used at the 5F front desk 24hr a day. If you book more than one room, it is recommended to book them separately. After all, member registration is free.
When I was there, I found that a large number of hotels were being built near the ferry port. There may be more choices after the Tokyo Olympics.
Car Rental / Taxi / Bike
Since the trips are scattered around the islands and most of the them are small, in most cases there is no need to rent a car. For the case where you can rent a car, I will write it in the daily trip description. For those who are not able to rent a car, they can also choose a taxi charter (TAXI貸切 in Japanese). The price is more expensive than renting a car, but it is relatively more secure and the service is very good. However, on the outlying islands, whether you rent a car or a TAXI chartered car, you need to make an appointment a few days in advance.
Although most islands offer bicycle rental services, most islands (except Kuroshima and Taketomi Island) are not suitable for bike because of the terrain. And the area of Taketomi Island is small, and if you follow the tour group, you don’t need a bicycle there.
In addition, you can use the DiDi, a Chinese provided taxi service app on mobile, to call a taxi in Ishigaki.
Because I was there in strong wind season, I planed my trips divided into days or half days, and will be arranged dynamically according to the ferry situation of the day.
|Trip||Length||Free / Package||Walking Distance||Reservation||Bus Ticket (*)||Other|
|Arrival||Required. Can be processed separately.|
|Kuroshima Half-day||Half day||Free||15 km. Bicycle rental is available.||Recommended for ferry tickets.||Not required||Recommended in the first day afternoon.|
|Iriomotejima Half-day||Half day||Free with taxi charter or car rental||Negligible||Required for taxi charter or car rental, 2 weeks in advanced.||Not required||Recommended to be on the same day. Iriomotejima in the morning and Hateruma in the afternoon. Post office will not be opened on Sunday. Depends on ferry status.|
|Hateruma Package Tour Half-day||Half day||Package||Negligible||Not required but recommended for package trip.||Not required|
|Southwest of Ishigaki Half-day||Half day||Free||7 km. Bicycle rental and taxi is available but not required IMHO.||Not required||Not required||Recommended in morning other than Monday.|
|Ishigaki Half-round Sightseeing Package Tour Afternoon||Half day, only in afternoon||Package||1 km.||Not required||Required only when beach visiting is planned.|
|East of Ishigaki Full-day||Full day||Free with taxi charter||8 km. Taxi is available but not required IMHO (not covered by taxi charter).||Required for taxi charter, 3 days in advanced.||Required||Not on Sunday.|
|Yonaguni Full-day||Full day||Free with taxi charter||7 km.||Required for taxi charter. And buy flight tickets in advanced.||Required. Can be processed separately without shopping plan.||Post office will not be opened on Sunday.|
|Iriomotejima, Yubu Island and Kohama Island Package Tour Full-day||Full day||Package||Negligible||Not required but recommended for package trip.||Not required|
|Taketomi Package Tour Half-day||Half day||Package||2 km||Not required but recommended for package trip.||Not required||Can be extended. Recommended in morning.|
|Sunset||Free||2 km||Not required||Not required|
|Leaving||Required. Can be processed separately.|
(*): Bus ticket in Ishigaki. Only considered when you stay near the ferry port. It is recommended to arrange all trips with bus ticket required, except arrival and leaving, in consecutive 5 days to be covered by this 5-day ticket. You can buy this ticket at the terminus or from bus driver.
Except the public market near 730 Monument, the most welcomed shopping place for traveler is Don Quixote (ドン・キホーテ). Take the bus “系統①/③/④/⑥/⑩/石垣空港線” and get off at “ドン・キホーテ前”. The store is open until late, but please pay attention to the time of the last bus. This store has an electronic coupon of 30000-2000, 10000-500 for each day, which can be presented to the clerk while checking out. Tax-free (refund) is available for foreign tourists who purchase over 5000 yen after payment.
There are many AEONs on Ishigaki Island, and I personally recommend MaxValu Yaima Store. Because it is next to the Drug Eleven Ishigaki Store large drug store, including high-end brands such as SKII, and can be tax-free. EDON is also located not far from the east side. Take the bus “系統①/③/④/⑥/⑩/石垣空港線” and get off at “サンエー前”. At AEON, foreign visitors can enjoy a 5% discount, but this AEON store doesn’t support tax-free.
Shopping activities can be arranged freely every night.