Iriomote Island, of which around 90% is covered in subtropical jungle, is a veritable treasure trove of precious wildlife, including species like the Iriomote cat. Above all else, the mangroves that spread their roots in the island's estuaries, where freshwater mixes with ocean water, are symbolic of Iriomote Island's nature. The biggest mangrove forest in Japan, Iriomote's mangroves are part of the Nakama River Natural Protected Area. From the living things raised in the island's jungle rivers, waterfalls, caves, and lush forests, to the bountiful ocean that surrounds it, a natural environment that can only be seen here awaits you.
Iriomote Island proudly ranks as the 10th biggest island in Japan. Just one side of the island's community roads are bordered by coastline - a massive unexplored subtropical jungle spreads out across the heart of the island. For that reason, countless species of rare plants and animals are able to exist there. But the most prominent species are without a doubt the Iriomote cat and the crested serpent eagle. There are around 10 species of animal designated as Special Natural Monuments in Japan. Two of those exist on Iriomote Island. On top of all that, it's also considered to be the best place in Japan for butterflies, shijimi clams, lizards, snakes, plus loads more! And one more extra special feature of Iriomote Island is its mangroves. It's the only place that is home to all 6 varieties of mangrove that exist in Japan. The tour that lets you meet these incredibly rare plants and animals is the most popular tour on the island!
A countless number of rivers flow through the Iriomote Island jungle. To get to the upper reaches of these rivers, you have to make your own path by pushing your way through the thickets and bushes of the jungle. The only other way is rowing upstream by canoe. Or you can try wading through the river itself... And once you finally make it upstream, you'll find all kinds of uniquely shaped waterfalls. The area surrounding the waterfalls is the only part of the jungle that isn't covered by undergrowth, so if you turn around you can experience picturesque views across the southern sea! After getting all sweaty while trekking through the jungle you can enjoy a shower in a waterfall, or jumping into a waterfall plunge pool is awesome too! As you think to yourself "Huh?! Could this be one of those uninhabited islands in the south??" you can spend the entire tour in a state of excitement.
Iriomote Island is surrounded by coral reefs, and there's not a single road that leads into the heart of the island. Canoes are vital for getting around. In June, the Barringtonia flowers (sagaribana in Japanese) which bloom in the evening and fall by the next morning are definitely a sight worth seeing. Set off in a canoe at daybreak, under a perfect starry sky. Amid the morning glow a mysterious scene spreads out before you. As morning turns into day and the sun pours down on this southern island, the sea is extraordinarily clear! The coral reefs are within arm's reach, affording an incredible view. It feels almost like you're floating on the coral. As you head upstream along the mangroves you'll come across different varieties of mangrove. To have different varieties of mangrove existing within such a small area is truly remarkable, even on a global scale. On the tidal flats you can come face to face with huge groups of tens of thousands of sand bubbler crabs (kometsukigani in Japanese)!
Barasu Island is made of fragments of tree coral, deposited into a pile by the waves. Its appearance is changed every time a typhoon comes. Occasionally during high tide, it becomes completely submerged. The most distinctive feature of the island are the coral reefs that spread out a few metres before it! Barasu Island certainly seems like paradise, but since there aren't even any trees to provide you with shade, you have to make sure you take all possible measures to protect against sunburn. The population of Iriomote Island is small, there are few tourists around, and means of transportation around the island are limited. But there are beautiful sandy beaches all over the place. And that's why these kinds of experiences are possible. I spent a day on a beach that a local told me about, and as I got ready to leave I realised, "Woah! I didn't see a single other person". Yep, I had that beach entirely to myself for a whole day. That's the kind of experience you can enjoy on Iriomote Island.
I settled down on Iriomote Island because I love the sea, I love snorkelling, and I love Okinawa. But the forest immediately captured my heart. The jungle, home to ferns and cranes, the mangrove forests, the waterfalls and their plunge pools. Places like that are just a 10 minute car journey away. But whatever you do, please don't venture out without a guide. Unlike other places, the trails of Iriomote aren't maintained at all. Accidents occur every year, involving people who find themselves injured or lost. Make sure you take part on a guided tour. The best kind of trip is a safe one, without any accidents or injuries.