If a remote tropical paradise appeals to you, Zamami Island is a place you’ll love. It’s located in the East China Sea off the Naha coast of Okinawa, Japan, and is known for its pristine sand beaches, clear waters, great water sports, and whale watching.
Zamami Island (sometimes called Zamamijima) is the second largest of the four inhabited Kerama Islands. The Kerama Islands, along with the many uninhabited islands around them, make up a Japanese national park called Keramashoto National Park.
The clear waters around Zamami Island are home to coral reefs which make for great snorkeling and diving. You can take a diving or snorkeling tour to explore these “Kerama blue” waters up close (imagine, waters so blue and clear that they get their own adjective).
Hiking on Zamami Island offers expansive views of golden sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs, and neighboring islands. The island’s observatories (observation towers) make it easy to find great lookout points for incredible views of the water and neighboring islands. Seasonally, in winter (January to April), humpback whales migrate south from the Arctic to this area to swim, play, and breed in the calm and temperate waters.
My husband Dean and I visited Okinawa for three weeks, enjoying time with our military son who was stationed there, trying new foods, and relishing many adventures like river hiking to Ta-Taki Falls and our day trip to Zamami Island.
Here are seven reasons I think you’ll love this remote tropical paradise as much as we did.
1. The Queen Zamami 3 High-Speed Ferry
The Queen Zamami 3 is a high-speed ferry to Zamami Island. You can purchase tickets for Queen Zamami 3 at Tomari Port in the Naha Harbor. The ferry had plenty of seating; you might want to grab a seat next to the windows to maximize the views as you pass other Kerama Islands on the 45-minute ride from Naha to Zamami Island.
Pro Tip: Be sure to check the ferry schedule in advance since the ferry operates in the East China Sea where storms may arise quickly.
When you arrive at Zamami Harbor and depart the ferry, you’ll see a picturesque view of a small town called Zamami Village, a variety of boats in the harbor, and ascending hills that take you deeper into the island.
2. Hike Or Bike The Island
There are many ways to enjoy the island. You can rent a car or rent a bike in Zamami Village if you want to cover the entire island. You could also set out on foot.
The hiking is mainly on (rural) roads. It is hilly but I would say it’s more rolling hills than steep. From the harbor, you have your choice of different ways to hike around the island. If you are feeling ambitious, head northeast from the harbor and hike the entire western half of the island counterclockwise to enjoy three of the islands’ observatories (that’s what we did) and end up at a beautiful beach (always a good place to end up).
Pro Tip: Depending on the time of year you visit, don’t forget to wear a hat, bring sunscreen, and drink plenty of water.
3. Takatsuki-Yama Observatory
If you choose to hike the western half of the island, you can start at the Zamami Village Tourist Information Center and walk uphill for about half an hour on rural roads through forests and past flowering bushes to get to the Takatsuki-Yama Observatory.
This observatory is a great place to look east and south and soak in views of Agonoura Bay and the many smaller islands that dot the view. One look here and it’s obvious where the term “Kerama Blue” comes from and why it is so named.
4. Inazaki Observatory
Zamami is known for migrating whales (in season) and that becomes abundantly clear at the Inazaki Observatory. Typical of all the observatories, this one features great views, but it also offers signage about the 250 whales that have been individually identified in these waters.
You can read about three whales who are named and described in detail, like this one: “The Mayor is a guy who loves to sing. Once the Mayor takes a dive, he stays underwater for nearly 30 minutes and spends the whole time singing his songs.”
Pro Tip: If you’re there when the whales are, be sure to bring binoculars for easier spotting.
5. Unajinosachi Observatory
Both the approach and departure from the western Unajinosachi Observatory (my favorite) are as beautiful as the views from it. The rolling path out to the observation tower, along with the striated rock and tropical vegetation, make it an exceptional experience.
In winter, when the whales swim in the waters around Zamami, another popular activity is a whale-watching cruise. At the Unajinosachi Observatory, you might see tour boat employees with binoculars, communicating with a whale-watching boat in the harbor to help them locate whales so the customers on their boat can be assured of whale sighting(s).
Pro Tip: If you are on the island at dusk, this is the place to be. This observatory is nicknamed “The Sunset Observatory.”
6. Statue Tribute To A Canine Love Story
Along a path on the western side of the island, a local story comes to life when you see the statue of Marilyn, a dog.
As the story goes, a couple moved from Zamami to the nearby, smaller Aka Island. Their dog, Shiro, apparently had a girlfriend (Marilyn) back on Zamami and swam almost two miles between islands every day to visit her. The statue is a tribute to this canine love story: Marilyn’s statue faces Aka Island, and a corresponding statue of Shiro on Aka faces Zamami.
7. Beautiful Ama Beach
Ama Beach features a beautiful contrast of the dark black rocks with the “Kerama blue” water. The sand is golden and clean. It’s a great place to relax. This beach is also known for green sea turtles who lay their eggs here in season.
Although we didn’t get to the eastern side of the island, the more popular Furuzamami Beach features shallow waters that are clear and full of fish that live among the coral reef, making it a favorite location for those who like to snorkel.
If you are there to relax and see the beach, walk the shoreline west from the harbor to Ama Beach and enjoy the clear waters and views.
If you like the beach but want some activity, you can rent snorkeling or diving gear in the shops at the harbor.
Pro Tip: I’ve read that the road to Furuzamami Beach is very hilly, so keep that in mind if you go there.
These are some of the reasons to visit Zamami Island, a remote tropical island paradise off the coast of Okinawa. The high-speed ferry minimizes the travel time to the island from Naha, the observatories are unique, you have so many choices of how to enjoy the island, there’s a bit of folklore to be found in the Marilyn statue, and the beaches are beautiful. When you go, I’m sure you’ll find many reasons to love it, too.
Pro Tip: If you have time, eat at Marumiya, located near the harbor. It’s a no-frills place with good food and a pleasant atmosphere. We liked their Japanese fried rice, soup, and fresh-squeezed juices.