Okinawa World and the Gyokusendo Cave
Normally I am not a fan of theme parks without thrilling rides, but I did have a good time in Okinawa World. This theme park is located in the southern part of Okinawa Main Island. The park boasts one of the world’s most beautiful caves, the Gyokusendo cave. But there is more to experience in this island-themed park!
The Gyokusendo Cave
The first attraction you will probably do after entering the park is the Gyokusendo cave. You will take a long staircase down, and the first viewpoint in this limestone cave is a large cavern filled with stalagmites and stalactites. Many of the natural formations look like sculptures, and if you look around closely you might see bats hanging around. You will then continue onto a smaller pathway while looking at this otherworldly underground cavern.
There is a very obvious walkway, so you won’t get lost. The walkway is lined by railings, and at the very end of it, you will even use an escalator to go back up. I thought it is a bit of a shame that the path is quite unnatural, it gives a bit less sense of an adventure. But it’s safe, and the light-up they’ve done, although unnatural, gives the cave a fairytale-like feeling. My favorite spot was the place that looks like a fairy pond of Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda games. The water is so clear and the shape of the pond with the waterfalls looks man-made, so perfect.
It took us around 25 minutes to walk through the cave, and the route is around 850 meters long. They also take your photo at the entrance of the cave and there’s a photobooth halfway through. This photo will be offered to you after you exit the cave, and the small version is free.
Okinawa World Traditional Village
Once you get out of the cave, you will enter the rest of the park. First, you will pass through a lush garden with all kinds of tropical plants, many of them which bear fruits. Luckily, you can taste these delicious fruits here as well. There is an airy cafe with fruit smoothies or freshly cut fruit right next to the garden.
I also loved the buku buku tea that they served in the traditional village. It looks a bit crazy with a large amount of foam on top of the tea, but I thought it tasted very good. Tasting just like foamy tea, the drink goes very well with the sweet they serve with it. Sitting in this traditional environment with a typical Okinawan drink was a nice experience.
Other experiences to try out are dressing up in traditional clothes and having tiny fish clean your feet. The latter is not for the ticklish, but very fun to try out if you can stand the feeling. After getting our feet tidied up, we looked around the large souvenir shop near the entrance of the park. Pretty much anything you can think of relating to Okinawa, they have it here. Typical Okinawa omiyage souvenirs are also for sale here.
Other Attractions in Okinawa World
One of the most popular things to do in Okinawa World is their handicraft workshops. You can try crafting cups or plates from colorful Ryukyu glass, textile dyeing, textile weaving, or paper-making. Please note that these activities come at an additional fee. We made a small blue plate which cost around 2500 yen plus 1500 yen for shipping. It’s cool to have a unique plate for snacks at home!
Throughout the day they hold traditional performances in the arena area. You can see the Eisa dance, the Lion dance, and other traditional dances accompanied by Okinawan music. And finally, there is the Habu Museum Park, which is part of Okinawa World. The habu is Okinawa’s famous venomous snake. Most people in Japan are quite scared of them, and you see many signs all over Okinawa warning of the habu. This museum is a good place to see snakes including the habu and other reptiles up close.
The museum also holds a show a few times per day. They used to let mongooses and habu snakes fight each other, but because this was too cruel they changed their show. Now, you can see a mongoose racing a sea snake in the water, and a cobra ‘fight’ a human. The highlight of the show is when the habu snake attacks a warm balloon. The habu’s speed is amazing! If you don’t understand Japanese, they have free earphone sets with translations.
Planning Your Trip to Okinawa World
We easily spent a half-day here, and also did an evening jungle tour, so it is good to budget time accordingly. We arrived around 2 pm, spent around 30 minutes in the cave, 15 minutes on the glass-making activity, and 1 hour on having drinks in the village and walking around. If you also want to catch a performance and take your time buying souvenirs, you should add another hour. The Habu Museum plus show took another 40 minutes.
We had around 1.5 hours to kill between leaving the park and coming back for the evening tour. In that time, we took a 10-minute drive to the tiny Ojima island down south to have dinner. There seem to be a few nice places to eat around the area, and we chose a seafood restaurant called Ojima Kaisanbutsu Shokudo. That was a great choice, as the food was delicious and not even that expensive. The sashimi I had there was some of the best I have ever had!
After dinner, we went back for our night tour, which lasted for another 1.5 hours in total. I would recommend buying the all-in value ticket that includes entrance to the cave, the snake museum, the park itself, and 1000 yen to spend on food, activities, or souvenirs in the park. For current prices, you can check the park’s website.
Uwaga Jungle Night Tour
Have you always wondered what lives in the jungle in Okinawa? And do you like nature walks when it’s dark? Then you will love the night tour Okinawa World offers in their on-site jungle. For around 3000 yen per person, you will be taken on an adventure in the dark by a guide.
You’re taken to the start of the trail by jeep, a very short but exciting ride. The path is natural but quite clear, and because everyone has a pocket light, it is not too difficult to walk. But you do have to watch your step, as you are really in the middle of the jungle. We saw fireflies, an owl, small spiders, lizards, and shrimps. I think that this tour is especially cool for kids aged 4-12. At the end of the tour, they brought out one of their bats. He was quite wild, but inside a cage so it was safe to see him up close. The kids on the tour were very excited to see a cute bat!
If you want to book this tour, you should make a reservation on their website. The guides can speak simple English, enough to explain the basics during the tour.
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