Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture was registered as Japan's first World Natural Heritage Site in 1993. It is a small, round island with a circumference of about 132 km and a total area of about 540 square kilometers. In the center of the island is the highest peak of Kyushu, Mt. Miyanoura with an altitude of about 1,936 m. Yakushima mystical woodland is full of truly breathtaking natural wonders, and it is known as an inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s director Hayao Miyazaki to create the mega-hit anime Princess Mononoke in 1997.
About 90% of the island is a forest inhabited by various animals and plants, and it is a popular remote island often visited by many travelers in search of abundant and beautiful nature. With its thick ancient forests, valleys with clean water, a highly transparent sea, onsens on the sea rock, it truly is a magical natural setting. There are so many options to get active in Yakushima. Still, it is important to be realistic about your fitness level in order to choose a suitable action to enjoy fully. Additionally, I recommend having a local guide for your stay in Yakushima, as the weather there can be dramatic, and it is not easy to decide the best route for hiking or best-suited activity in advance.
You can fly directly from Osaka to Yakushima; however, if you have time, I recommend flying from this major city of Japan to Kagoshima and then taking a boat trip to the island. The view from Kagoshima port when the boat departs is picturesque - you can spot a historically famous Sakurajima volcano in the background. There are two options for reaching Yakushima by sea from Kagoshima port. The fast boat is called Trippy & Rocket and takes around 2-3 hours to get to the magical world heritage island. A one-way ticket is about 9000 yen, but there are discounts for early bookings and return trips. You can also choose a ferry ride which takes 6 hours, but the ticket is half of the price of the fast boat option. It is more convenient to go by air, but going by sea definitely increases the excitement gradually, and it is a fantastic slow way to shift your mind to Yakushima’s beautiful island vibe.
Many visitors concern which activity to choose in Yakushima during the limited time of their stay. One of the visitors’ favourite options is definitely mountain climbing and hiking. For beginners, a good choice would be a 1-hour hike at Yakusugi Land. For experienced adventurers, during the 2-day camping in the mountains, there will be many different areas to climb and explore in order to soak up Yakushima’s natural beauty. Make sure to choose a suitable option for your fitness level. Climbing, hiking, and camping equipment are available at the rental shop on the island. A key to enjoying the mountain of Yakushima is to choose the suitable option for your convenience and have the right gear.
Not only the mountains but also water activities are very popular. Marine sports in Yakushima can be enjoyed all year round if you have the necessary equipment. Luckily, you don't have to drag them from the mainland as there are rental shops available on the island. From the end of May to the end of summer, everyone can enjoy sea sports such as kayaking, snorkelling and scuba diving. Moreover, there are river activities such as kayaking, canyoning and supping. In addition, from May to August, you can observe turtle spawning and hatching on the beach.
I’ve never travelled anywhere and asked for a tour guide before, but throughout my 5-night stay in Yakushima, I relied on a local nature guide from Bigtrip Yakushima and learned how great option it was. Kenjiro was a friendly and super fit guide with great local knowledge, a real passion for nature, and numerous local connections. As Yakushima offers so many adventures and dramatic whether, I would strongly recommend having a local guide, especially if you are staying for a short time.
We were a group of four with different interests and fitness levels. Kenjiro chose activities to suits our individual fitness levels and interest perfectly. With his help, we were able to pick the best destination of the day suited for the weather and explore Yakushima’s hidden gems. He recommended some of the local’s favourite restaurants, as well as onsens on the rocks near the sea where it's really hard to get without local insight. More insightful than any handbook, our guide even showed us hidden souvenir shops with typical natural products.
Yakushima is great destination for any adventurous traveller out there. It is an island, so it doesn’t offer ultra-modern Japan, but its natural wonders will overwhelm you with so many activities. Hiking in the thick ancient forest, advanced mountain climbing, exploring rivers and hidden beaches, snorkelling and scuba diving - it's all possible there. You won’t have time to get bored in Yakushima. Go and feel the ancient mystical woodland and experience first-hand why anime director Miyazaki found inspiration for the world-famous Princess Mononoke right here.
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