Best Things to Do in Yakushima in autumn
Yakushima has been one of our highlights in Japan! In many things it is similar to Hokkaido (see this post for best things in Hokkaido), both being a remote island that are not the first thing people think of when visiting Japan. However, these two places are a wonder of nature in Japan and they have the best public free hot springs (onsens) we have seen in our lives. One of them being on a super beautiful lake and one of them being directly in front of the sea!
Moreover, both islands have a sense of remoteness and tranquility and have therefore many wild animals that you have a high chance of seeing such as bears, monkeys, deer, salmon or eagles!
But Yakushima has something really special, which is a huge collection of sacred cedar trees, which happen to be some of the oldest and biggest trees in the world. We've seen one that is more than 3000 years old and is just impressive!
Moreover, if you like Ghibli studio (the Japanese "Disney") it's awesome to know that the setting for Miyazaki's animation Princess Mononoke was inspired by the natural scenes found on Yakushima. We have spent 4 nights in this beautiful magic island and we would like to tell you about the best things to do in Yakushima.
How to get there
You can get there by plane or by ferry. The plane is usually very expensive (between 400 and 700€ both ways), while the ferry costs about 120€ per person from Kagoshima port and takes between 2h and 2h45 minutes. It's one of this big ferries, so you can even bring your car. However, bringing the car is quite expensive. So, if you're renting the car it's much better to rent one in Kyushu and one again in the island Yakushima.
How to move around
Best: renting a car. It gives you a lot of flexibility and it will cost you about 40€ per day with a good insurance that covers everything except 150 to 300€. You are independent of the timetables and you can enjoy the island at your pace. It's important to know that most of the cars are fully booked. So if you want to get this option you will have to book at least one month in advance. If you're spontaneous, you might still be able to get a car for 6 hours at one of the Suzuki shop in Miyoura, where the port is. This shop is about 15 minutes walking from the harbor, so many people don't rent there, despite being a good place to do so. We did the 6h spontaneous renting for one extra day and everything was fine!
Cheapest: buying a bus pass. There are bus passes for 1 day (2000 yen), 2 days, 3 days or 4 days (4000 yen). The problem with that is that you need to plan your trip very well to get to everywhere you want on time and back.
Hiring a taxi: there are no normal taxis in the island but you can actually hire a driver that will bring you to some of the best spots. This is however, the most expensive and also quite dependent option so we would not recommend it.
Let's go to the Best Things to Do in Yakushima in autumn
1. Do some of the cedar Hikes.
We will do a separate post with the hikes, since there are several of them and all of them are very nice and with some differences that are worth checking out. However, the main hikes to consider are: the Shiratani hike, which has a beautiful gorge and many cedar trees, the Yakusugi Land, which has shorter hikes that have some of the most beautiful landscapes we have seen in a jungle ever, and the Jomonsugi cedar hike, which is the longest of them (10h) but where you can see the oldest cedar tree in the world aging 7200 years old!
2. Go to one of the best open air hot springs in Japan
We've been to many open air or free hot springs (onsens) in Japan but Yakushima's onsen in front of the volcanic rocks by the sea has been the best together with Hokkaido's onsen at the lake. Moreover, we were alone there at low tide and it was just so romantic and beautiful.
There are actually two onsens next to each other. One is accessible 24h but has women and men separated
and the other one is just very natural and has also men and women together. It was very cool to have a bath there hearing the noise of the sea water waves splashing against the volcanic rocks of the onsen where we were bathing at about 38 to 40 degrees. There are actually 4 different pools so you can even decide how warm you want to bathe in. The important thing to know is that you should get there between 2h before the low tide and 2h after the low tide. Otherwise, the sea is so high up that you cannot bathe in the hot springs ^^ You can donate 200 (about 1.2€) yen to enter
3. Visit 2 very beautiful waterfalls with no tourists
We went to the most famous waterfall of Yakushima in the morning about 9:30 AM and there was no one apart from us. This is the Ohko-no-Taki waterfall at the west part of the island. The way in which the water falls on top of the rocks is very beautiful. You can go by car without need to pay for the parking and from there it's just 5 minutes walking.
Then we visited as well the Senpiro no-Taki Waterfall, which are two waterfalls together and you can park at the viewing point to see it from above. Or at the bottom of the waterfall. It's also free of charge and we encountered a couple of people on the way as well but we were almost alone again. It's probably one of the advantages of going in autumn
4. Explore the remote roads ruled by wild monkeys and deer
Whenever you go a bit close to the most dense part of the ancient jungle of Yakushima you will encounter wild animals that are just living there. You can see many monkeys and deer doing their things in the middle of the road. Since there are so little people on the island you will have to be careful with the animals and dodge them.
We encountered also animals that were not that cute such as big snakes (of more than 1.5 m) and spiders
5. Visit the Kigensugi cedar tree, second biggest cedar tree in Yakushima reachable by car
If you don't have enough time or cannot do a hike of 10h for any reason, you can still go by car to one of the oldest cedar tree in the world with an age of more than 3000 years old! You can see how big it is in comparison to us! This is reachable by car and it's about 1h from Anbo. Moreover, you have a high chance to see monkeys and deer on the way since it's in a quite remote place.
6. Visit a hidden shrine built in a cave by the sea
One of my Japanese-American colleagues, Hiroshi, recommended me many of the things to visit in Yakushima, including this hidden shrine that is built in a cave directly by the sea. This is not super known at the tourist information shops or at the maps that they provide so it was a very nice secret ^^ Here is the place.
7. Try the flying fish, a local specialty
Of course, we couldn't leave Yakushima without having tried their culinary specialty. They actually eat smoked flying fish as one of their delicacies. It was great to try it out. The taste was good with a strong taste of fish but it has a lots of fish bones inside so you should be careful when eating it haha
8. A hidden food truck
Another place that we found by chance was a really nice Hawaiian style food truck with a tasty and very economic menu.
9. Enjoy nice cakes at the Smiley café
Hiroshi not only recommended us what to visit in the island but also some nice places to eat such as this café with views at the sea and amazing cakes!
10. Discover the wild hanging bridges of Yakushima
The hikes of Yakushima not only have cedars and beautiful gorges but also hanging bridges that are bouncing following a sinusoidal wave with every step you make. Being alone in such places is a very nice feeling of integrating in the wild.
11. Feel like home at an Airbnb with views at the sea and 5 min walking from the best open air hot spring
One of the things we loved the most of Yakushima was our stay at this Airbnb. It's super well taken care of, with a traditional Japanese house (with even a room for a tea ceremony), very close to the best open air hot spring and with a very nice kitchen. We were missing cooking so much after 2 months of travelling. It's not trivial to find western food in the supermarket but luckily enough, potatoes, eggs and onions to make a "truita de patates" are everywhere in the world ^^
We hope you enjoyed this post! Let us know what you think about it and whether you would like to see more pictures or have more often small posts or these larger ones summarizing everything.