Iriomote Activity Guide
Iriomote has been referred to as both the Galapagos and Amazon of the east, and it is easy to see why it attracts nature lovers and adventure seekers. You can enjoy jungle trekking to massive waterfalls, camping in the rainforest, kayaking among tranquil, vast mangrove forests, snorkeling and diving with manta rays in crystal clear waters and enjoying stretches of white sandy beaches.
Iriomote is also the only place in the world where you can find the Iriomote yamaneko (mountain cat), a wild cat endemic to the island. This cat is a subspecies of the leopard, but no larger than a domestic cat. It is characterized by white spots behind its round ears, white fur around its eyes, a large flat nose and a fat tail. Read more about these critically endangered wildcats here.
When to Visit Iriomote?
There are several recommended times to visit Iriomote. The weather is sunny and tropical between September and November. The island gets cooler December to March, which makes it perfect for hiking. As summer approaches in late April and May, manta rays appear. However this is also when the rainy season starts.
Hiking in Iriomote
Iriomote is famous for its beautiful waterfall hikes, which are best enjoyed between November to March when the volume of water increases. In summer, most local tour operators recommend caving, canyoning, easy canyoning or shower climbing as the weather is hot and muggy.
Wear proper hiking shoes and bring rainwear as the jungle trails can get slippery and muddy from sudden downpours. There are also mosquitoes and leeches during the rainy season in May and June. Be careful to stay on the trail as there are venomous habu, a species of pit viper.
It’s highly recommended to go with a guide especially during heavy rainfall as the trails can be confusing. There are several waterfalls like Pinaisara and Mayagusuku which can only be accessed by kayak or boat.
This is Okinawa’s tallest waterfall at 55 meters high. It can only be accessed by kayak through mangrove forests on the Mare and Hinai Rivers. It is a 15 to 20-minute walk from the shore to the waterfall. You can swim at the base of the waterfall and hike to the top. It is is one of Iriomote’s most visited spots especially with families as it is relatively easy to access with a tour guide and only takes half a day. Note it can get crowded during peak season.
This is Iriomote’s biggest waterfall: what it lacks in height, it makes up for in its 25-meter-wide cascades. As it is located deep in the jungle, it used to be only known by few locals and didn’t even have a name until recently (maya means cat in Okinawan—a nod to the yamaneko—and gusuku means castle). To access Mayagusuku Falls, take a 30-minute boat ride to the upper reaches of the Urauchi River, Okinawa’s longest river. From there it’s a 25-kilometer trek (around two hours) to the falls. On the way you’ll also be treated to two other falls, the two-tiered Mariyudu and Kanbire Falls. This hike is physically strenuous so it’s recommended to stay in Iriomote for a night or two.
This three-tiered waterfall is a must visit for landscape photographers. The trek takes a little less than two hours to the falls and is another 20 minutes to the top of the waterfall where you can overlook the Yutsun River leading to the ocean. On your way back to the trailhead, cool down at Maya Rock, a small waterfall with a pleasant swimming hole. There are pink ribbons tied to trees to mark the trail, but it’s highly recommended to go with a guide as the trail involves crossing riverbeds and walking on slippery rock slabs smoothened by decades of water flow.
If you’re feeling up to it, continue along the Yutsun Falls trail to Mt. Komi, Iriomote’s highest peak at almost 470 meters. Individual hikers must report to the local police that they are going to climb Mt. Komi if they are not hiking with a tour.
Kayaking in Iriomote
Mangrove forests are unique to subtropical climates and thrive in brackish water (mixing of fresh and sea water). The Nakama River in southern Iriomote runs through Japan’s largest mangrove swamp where you can see six types of mangroves. You may also see Iriomote’s wildlife such as the crested serpent eagle.
Aside from kayaking, you can also enjoy a leisurely boat cruise or SUP on Urauchi River in the north. This river is also lined with mangroves. There’s a rest station halfway at 1,500-meters that overlooks Mariyudu and Kanbire Falls.
Swimming in Iriomote
The name hoshisuna literally means “star sand.” You can find small star-shaped sand, which are actually exoskeletons of small foraminifera that have washed ashore. The shallow waters make it an ideal place for snorkeling, although there is not much coral here.
This beach is characterized by its almost-powder-like sand. While it does not have coral reefs, it is an excellent place for swimming and catching the sunset.
Haemida Beach in the south is at the end of the main road. It is the longest stretch of white sand beach on Iriomote.
This secluded beach located behind the isolated settlement of Funauki can only be reached by boat as it is located on the other side of the island. There are four or five daily boats (¥500) from Shirahama Port located on western Iriomote on the end of the main road. Funauki is surrounded by mountains and home to less than 50 people, plus travelers who can enjoy the rainforest and coral reef’s abundant nature.
This coral shell “island” off the coast of northern Iriomote is nearly too small to be called an island. It almost disappears at high tide and is an excellent spot for snorkeling and sunset watching. There are several snorkeling tours to Barasu from Iriomote and Ishigaki.
Diving in Iriomote
Nakano-ogan Island is located 16 kilometers southwest of Iriomote Island and features ten dive sites. Swim with schools of pelagic fish including the dogtooth tuna, bluefin trevally and rainbow runner. If you’re lucky, you might even encounter tiger sharks, whale sharks or false killer whales at San-no-ne and Higashi-no-ne dive spots.
This channel in between Iriomote and Kohama attracts manta rays and garden eels. Mantas are often seen from April to June. This is a drift dive at depths of nine to 30 meters with a constant and sometimes strong current. In addition to manta rays, you may also see cod rays, catfish shark and sea turtles.
English-speaking staff and instructors available.
English-speaking dive tours. Optional mangrove river, sunrise, evening and night dives available.
Cozy dive shop run by a friendly couple.
Culture in Iriomote
This tiny island off western Iriomote is only about 500 meters away and can be crossed by foot during low tide. The most popular attraction here is the traditional water buffalo carriage that you can ride to and from Yubu Island. The scenic 15-minute ride transports you to old Okinawa as the driver sings along while playing his sanshin, a traditional Okinawan instrument.
Most tour operators and hiking guides on Iriomote are quite flexible and will recommend activities suited to your fitness level as well as the ever-changing island weather.
English-guided hiking tours to Mayagusuku and Yutsun Falls and overnight camping and trekking tours. Shower climbing, river trekking, canyoning and caving tours also available.
Iriomote Osanpo Kibun
English-guided kayaking, trekking, canyoning and snorkeling tours to Barasu Island. Good for families with younger children.
English-guided kayaking and hiking tours to mangrove forests, Pinaisara Falls and Yutsun Falls. Canyoning experiences also available.
Full-day kayaking, hiking, snorkeling, canyoning and caving tours. Website in Japanese only.
Full-day, customized hiking and canyoning tours. No English-speaking services.
Tour company based out of Ishigaki Ferry Terminal. All-inclusive tours and customized tours including kayaking, water buffalo carriage riding in Yubu Island, snorkeling at Barasu Island, canyoning and light hiking.
Ishigaki Dream Tours
Tour company based out of Ishigaki Ferry Terminal. All-inclusive tours including kayaking, water buffalo carriage riding in Yubu Island, visiting Funauki, canyoning, hiking and snorkeling.
Where to Stay in Iriomote
Hoshino Resorts Iriomote Hotel
Luxurious jungle resort located in northern Iriomote near Hoshisuna Beach. The hotel features spacious rooms, a spa, pool and restaurant serving local ingredients. Nature, hiking, SUP, kayaking and snorkeling tours available through the resort.
Immerse yourself in the rainforest at this romantic boutique hotel. There are only four rooms, all of which overlook the ocean. Restaurants available within walking distance.
Iriomote Jungle Hotel Painumaya
This resort nestled in the rainforest offers various nature hikes and night tours for travelers wanting to get close to wildlife.
Eco Village Iriomote
Located in northeastern Iriomote, this beachfront villa features a swimming pool and on-site restaurant.
Stay in the idyllic, peaceful Funauki, which is only accessible by boat from Shirahama Port. Meals available upon request.
Unfussy tatami rooms with a shared bathroom and breakfast; dinner included for ¥6,500 per person per night.
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Iriomote Activity Guide