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Travel

The Ryukyu Islands Are This Year's Most Magical Piece Of Paradise

This destination is gaining fame, for good reason.
Off the coast of Zamami, one of the Kerama Islands
Off the coast of Zamami, one of the Kerama Islands

There’s a wonderland off the coast of Japan where the water is gloriously turquoise, the sand is perfectly white and you can lie on a beach with few neighbors besides the friendly sea turtles beneath the surface.

Behold the Ryukyu Islands, an archipelago that stretches from the southwestern tip of Japan to Taiwan. You may hear buzz about them soon, because they just landed a spot on the New York Times’s famous annual roundup of 52 places to go this year. While they’re last on that list, the Ryukyus are certainly first on ours:

Aharen Beach on Tokashiki, one of the Kerama Islands
Aharen Beach on Tokashiki, one of the Kerama Islands
Zamami, one of the Kerama Islands
Zamami, one of the Kerama Islands
Kume Island, one of the Okinawa Islands
Kume Island, one of the Okinawa Islands

The Ryukus are made up of multiple island groups. One of the most majestic is the Kerama Island group, where whales roam from January to March and a slow pace of life comes with top-notch diving and quaint villages that earn an impressive amount of rave reviews from visitors.

The Okinawa Islands are studied for their unusually high population of centenarians, who thrive thanks to healthy island diets and a vibrant community life that’s well worth a look. Inns, dive shops and traditional gastropubs known as izakayas are just a few of the archipelago’s other offerings.

And then, of course, there are the beaches. The Ryukyus are home to some of best diving and whitest sand in the world. The ideal time to visit is in spring or fall, and you could very well have the beaches to yourself if you go in winter, though of course the water will be cooler.

To get there, your best bet is probably to fly from Tokyo to Okinawa Island, from which you can ferry or fly between the other islands and beach hop as you please. Or opt for a cruise by ship, kayak or water buffalo taxi. Sea you there!

Miyako Island, the biggest of the Miyako Islands
Miyako Island, the biggest of the Miyako Islands
Nagannu Island, one of the Kerama Islands
Nagannu Island, one of the Kerama Islands
Hijuishi Beach on Tokashiki Island, one of the Kerama Islands
Hijuishi Beach on Tokashiki Island, one of the Kerama Islands
Zamami, one of the Kerama Islands
Zamami, one of the Kerama Islands