For those people who’ve travel around Japan and are used to using the urban train and high-speed train systems around the archipelago, traveling around Okinawa Prefecture takes some adjustment. In the case of planning an island hopping vacation, it not only takes some adapting but also some preparation to coordinate trips between the islands.
Before going around Okinawa, you need to get there. The fastest way to get to Okinawa Prefecture is flying. You can also make the journey via ferry from Osaka and Kagoshima, but that is an adventure all in itself. Flights to Naha Airport are serviced by Jetstar, Vanilla Air, Skymark, JAL, and ANA. They all offer comparable services, with the latter two offering the shortest flights but at higher prices. Traveling between the main three islands, Honto, Miyakojima, and Ishigaki is also done by plane and these flights are serviced by JAL and ANA, with both airlines flying from Miyako and Ishigaki Airports at various times during the day. Although prices vary significantly between seasons, on average, it is possible to find flights within the prefecture below 10,000 yen.
Once on the land of the former Ryukyu Kingdom, the best way to get around the islands, hands down, is driving. The rental car industry in Okinawa is geared specifically for the tourism industry and their infrastructure is set to provide a convenient service from the moment you get out of the airport. Most of the car rental companies and certainly the bigger ones, offer shuttle buses from the all three airports to their rental locations, so all you need to do is find the rental car signs and let the rental staff take care of the rest. At Naha Airport, look out for gate 11 which is where the shuttle buses pick up their customers. It is safe to say that you need to make a reservation way in advance of your travel plans. Because it is the most convenient means of transportation, cars get rented out quickly and it is near impossible to just drop in and find an available vehicle. If you do decide to drive, you are in for a treat; the long bridges, the scenic views of ocean and mountains, and the ease of stopping at any random little beach along the way make Okinawa one of the best places to drive in.
Ferries are another common method of travel in Okinawa especially for travelers looking to explore the smallest islands of the prefecture. The main port in Okinawa is Tomari Port which covers the route to Zamami Island and the Kerama Archipelago. On the northern end of Honto, Motobu Port is the most important one and connects the north with Naha Port. It is also the point of departure if you want to visit the magical beaches of Yoron in Kagoshima.
As for the archipelagos of Miyako and Yaeyama (Ishigaki Island), they have the Hirara Port and the Ishigaki Rito Terminal respectively, which are the departure points for traveling around those areas. At the Rito Terminal, Anei Kanko provides an excellent service between Ishigaki and Iriomote Island (3,910 yen roundtrip) and Ishigaki and Taketomi Island (1,150 roundtrip). For more information on ferry and bus services visit http://www.kotsu-okinawa.org/en/index_ferry.html
For the travelers without a license or on a tight budget, there is always public transportation, which although not that convenient, it is still available in all of the main islands in Okinawa, with varying frequency. In Naha, you will have access to the Yui Rail Line which does the job well, but it is limited to the central and more touristy part of town. Beyond this central area, you’ll need to hop on the Ryukyu Bus Kotsu which travels around most of Honto. For detailed information on bus schedules, fees, and operators around the prefecture visit