What to do on Zamami Island/How to spot sea turtles while snorkeling

Zamami island, a paradise escape from the hustle and bustle of mainland Okinawa. Let’s talk about how to get to Zamami, where to stay in Zamami, and how to get around Zamami.

How to get there

You will have to take a ferry from Naha’s Tomari Terminal. From here, you have two options: high speed ferry (Queen Zamami) which takes just 50 min (One way, 3140 yen; round trip, 5970 yen) or the slower ferry (Ferry Zamami) which takes nearly 2 hours (one way, 2120 yen; round trip 4030 yen). It all depends on what you want. The slow boat leaves earlier from Tomari and allows you to take your car. The high speed ferry of course gets you there faster and departs Zamai later in the day allowing you more time to explore. A downside to the Queen Zamami, though, is that it can cancel short notice for high waves.

Something to note with the ferries is that you should call ahead to reserve your seats. This is recommended especially during the summer and holidays like Golden Week, but I reserved our tickets in early October just to be safe. You can use this Japanese number here: 098-868-4567. They only have English speaking staff sometimes, so be sure to ask if they speak English by asking “Eigo o hanasemasu ka?” (pronounced: eh-goh oh hah-nah-say-mahs kah?) They will let you know if they do and if they do, you can proceed to ask to book ferries. Know what time you want and if you want the Queen Zamami or Ferry Zamami (find the time tables here). If they don’t know English, they will let you know what time to call back. Be sure to write down your times, dates, and reservation numbers!

I scheduled our boat about a week in advance, but if you travel during busier times, you might want to book a few weeks in advance. When you show up to get your tickets, arrive at least 30 minutes before your scheduled departure. The port is located here and you can park underneath in the parking garage or the parking garage more towards the water. We took the right turn off 58 and parked in that garage and it was about 3000 yen for about 36 hours or so. If you want to save money, there is a free parking garage here and it is only a 20 minute walk to the port.

After parking/arriving, it is very easy to navigate the port. Find the desk for “Zamami” and fill out the visitor paper at the desk in front of the window. They have English options, too. Make sure to put your reservation number. Then, take this to the window and pay. I think they take card, but we pulled out a bunch of yen for this trip and paid with that. They will give you your tickets and then you make your way to the ferry! The Zamami boats are the ones with the big orange “Z”-like logo on them. The Ferry Zamami comes first and the Queen Zamami is around the corner.

Once you board, you are free to sit wherever. The Ferry Zamami is equipped with bathrooms and even pet rooms. We sat on the top to enjoy the nice weather. The Queen Zamami has less room up top and no seats up there, but we still enjoyed standing up there and experiencing the 50kph boat ride.

Where to stay in Zamami

This is entirely dependent upon you, your price range, and your comfort level, but there are quite a few options. There are several hotels, but they can be quite pricey. You can also bring your own tent and camping supplies with you and camp throughout the island. There is a lot of space on and near the beaches for that. But, we decided to get something in between and chose one of the few guesthouses. We stayed at Iyonchi Guesthouse only about a 5 minute walk from the port and near a lot of gas stations and the grocery store. This guesthouse was great because they have (small) rooms to accomodate singles, couples, and even families. Plus, they also offer very cheap bicycle rental which we couldn’t turn down!

Guesthouse Iyonchi was only 8800 yen (about $80) for the both of us for one night. The Izakaya below the guesthouse offered 800 yen breakfast per person (which is great because there are little to no cafes on the island for other breakfast options) and he even accommodated our vegan diet. We had tofu, miso soup, veggies, and rice. The meal normally comes with fish, too. We also spent just 2000 yen (less than $20) for the both of us to rent bikes for 6 hour each day.

I used booking.com but you can also search on Airbnb or even on Google maps to find accomodation for you.

How to get around Zamami

Thankfully, Zamami is small so a car isn’t necessary. We got around on our bikes (almost) just fine. The only issue is that Zamami is hilly. If you’re up for the challenge and don’t go in the dead of summer, it’s easy to walk the uphills and coast the downhills. The bikes do make for quicker trips than walking though, but walking would even be feasible!

There is a bus, but I couldn’t find a schedule, so it’s probably sporadic and only goes to a handful of places.

You can also bring your car. Like I mentioned above, you can bring cars, motorcycles, and motorized bicycles on the Ferry Zamami for a small fee. You can check fees here. The roads are big enough to accommodate cars and cars are great for carrying extra luggage like tents, coolers, snorkel gear, and so forth.

Renting bikes/mopeds is also an option at a few locations near the port. Mopeds might require a Japanese drivers license or an international driving permit, but cost only around $30 for 9 hour. Bikes are anywhere from $10-20 per day as well.

What to do in Zamami

Zamami is most known for their snorkeling/diving in their crystal blue tropical waters. There are two best known snorkeling beaches: Furuzamami Beach (best known for colorful corals and walking access to Amuro Island) and Ama Beach (best known for spotting sea turtles but also great views of the corals).

Tips for spotting sea turtles

Go at high tide. Turtles feed in the sandy/rocky waters during high tide. If you make it out to the corals, you’ve gone too far as the turtles don’t feed there (from my experience at least).

Don’t swarm them. Keep your distance, don’t shove cameras in their faces, don’t tread water near them and kick up the dirt. Observe them from a distance so that they keep coming back for other people to interact with.

Observation decks

Zamami being as hilly as she is offers some stunning views. The most spectacular thing for me was that Zamami is pretty center of Kerama National Park meaning you get breathtaking views of not only the turquoise water but also the other islands. These observation decks can be great for sunrise or sunset depending on the area you are in, too. Here are the ones we went to:

Mirador Kaminohama

One just up the road from that, known for whale watching in the winter

Nita Observation Deck

Mirador Inazaki

Chishi Observation Deck

Takatsuki-Yama Observation Deck (the highest one)

Not to mention, you can see amazing views on all the roads leading to these observation points. Every hill/mountain on this island offers stunning views! Bring a camera for sure!

Go camping

Another great outdoorsy activity if you’re into it. There are a few campgrounds but honestly their beaches/woods next to the beaches are great to pitch a tent. Be sure to bring bug spray and watch out for snakes!

Surfing and other water sports

There are a few places to rent items on the island, but you can also bring your own gear. A family we saw brought their own surfboards on the boat. We also saw lots of people renting kayaks and stand-up paddleboards (often just sailed “SUP” in Japan). There were also jet ski rentals, too!

Thank you so much for reading along! If you wanna check out the two-video series, be sure to check them out on our NEW channel Emma and Dan, our sustainable travel channel where we can capture beautiful places like this without distracting the real message from my main channel.

Zamami is my new favorite place I've ever been, a true happy place. Enjoy more photos because I couldn't just stop with the few I had room to chose. AND, don't forget to check out my instagram and our instagram for more photos!

As always, remember that the small changes you make have a big impact in the long run :)