Zamami Island: Okinawa tropical paradise

Yes, the sea around Zamami really is this blue. Underwater visibility is also amazing.

Zamami Island pretty much defines laid back. The days just seem to pass more slowly here, which is a good thing because it gives you that much more time to enjoy the warm hospitality and amazingly clear, blue ocean. Being just 50 minutes from Naha by ferry, you would expect more tourists but thankfully local people seem to like things the way they are and aren’t in any rush – at all – to develop the island.

Before I get too poetic, please note this is no glitzy Club Med. The initial view from the dock is basically sun-baked 1970s, 1980s Japanese government big-pour concrete. But if you spend much time in Okinawa, you’ll see this is more an economic reality than style choice. Beyond the dock, it’s all seaside village: grannies on the stoop outside the market, shisa lion dogs on the gate posts and tropical greenery pretty much everywhere.

Recommended tours and activities
For a small place, Zamami offers a surprising amount to do. It’s probably best known for scuba diving and whale watching (in season) but we had a great time with snorkeling and kayaking and other marine stuff – plus lots of eating and lying about. You can also explore the interior and more secluded beaches around the island (bicycle and scooter rental available), get in a little camping or even venture across the water to other nearby spots.

We divided our time between three main activities: a night boat tour, full day snorkeling and kayak tour and beach day with more snorkeling and swimming. I’ll outline the first and last here and put up a separate article for the day tour. Many thanks to local teacher Dave Clumpner and his Zamami English Guide (link below) for all the info. The site is an excellent resource for planning your trip.

Kerama Blue phosphorescence tour

Phosphorescence Night Tour with Kerama Blue
The tour is actually timed to start just before sunset so you are out on the water just as the sun is going down. We were lucky to catch what was apparently one of the best sunsets for a while. It was a spectacular sight as the whole sky lit up in radiant orange and yellow before turning almost black. After that, the boat made its way slowly around the bay as we (the only passengers) checked out the coral and occasional fish (fewer at night), illuminated through the glass bottom of the boat.

We had a full commentary from the guide and captain – both really friendly – who were also quite excited when we came across a rare coral spawning. Zamami’s coral is still recovering from a major starfish attack so spawning is a big deal. We were also lucky for a third time a bit later when the cloud cleared, revealing the kind of star-studded sky you never see in the city. What you get will completely depend on the conditions but we had a great time. Thanks again to the staff.

Snorkeling and kicking back on Furuzamami Beach
Furuzamami is the most popular beach on the island and draws large crowds in the Summer. Fortunately, we were there earlier in the season and actually managed to catch a bit of sleep in our beach chairs between snorkeling and swimming. Yes, beach chairs. I was a little resistant to the idea at first but they were actually really good. We went full decadence and even hired beach umbrellas.

For such a well known place, the snorkeling at Furuzamami is surprisingly good though there is some damage to the coral. There are also plenty of very friendly fish that come right up and swim alongside you but their numbers may decrease when the Summer crowds turn up. You can hire everything you need right on the beach and there are also a couple of eateries and changing rooms with showers.

Other details and resources
Zamami English Guide: As far as I could see, this is currently the most comprehensive English guide to Zamami and the surrounding islands.
Kerama Blue Tours: If the graphics on the English site are not displaying properly, click through to the Japanese site using the link at the top right.
Magiy Sea Club: We booked our gear for Furuzamami in advance through these guys. They don’t seem to have an English site but it should be easy enough to organize rentals once you get to the beach.
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