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Your Guide to Yakushima With No Car
Transportation in Yakushima
Getting around Yakushima can be difficult without a car. The bus only runs about once an hour and stops making return trips at around 5:00-6:00 p.m. to get back to the port. Your best option is a tour guide from YES!Yakushima or a tour through the tour bus company on the island.
However, if you don't have that option you will want to get up early for the bus, wear comfortable walking/climbing shoes, and bring a lightweight backpack with some water and snacks.
Yakushima: a Hidden Paradise
Yakushima is a hidden paradise that can rival Hawaii if you know where to look. It has hiking trails; a gorgeous forest that inspired the enchanted forest of Princess Mononoke; waterfalls galore; natural hot springs; a beautiful river; loggerhead turtles during nesting season; and even Yaku deer that are slightly smaller than the deer on the mainland.
The island can be a bit difficult to navigate without your own car, but there are a couple of different ways to get where you want to go that I will cover here. The main method of transportation that I will cover is the buses on the island.
Yakushima Island Port
Transportation on the Island
The island doesn't have much in the way of transportation. There is a bus that goes around the outer edges of the island.
The bus is very convenient for visiting sites like the Anbo river, Toro no Taki waterfall, Senpiro falls and it's smaller counterpart called Ryujin no taki, and Okono falls, and the botanical garden near Senpiro falls.
The bus schedule tends to be a bit inconvenient, so plan to do a lot of walking to get from one place to another. You will want to pack light and wear comfortable shoes.
Online, I was able to find an excellent resource for a bus schedule which you can view here. This is the main bus that goes around the island.
If you want to see as many of the tourist spots as possible, you'll see on the schedule they have tours available starting from 2000 yen for the shortest tour.
I would highly recommend doing the bus tour if you do not have that much time to spend on the island as navigating Yakushima can be difficult with the spotty cellular service on the island.
The bus routes are not on google maps, so sometimes it can be difficult to know when to get off the bus and which bus stops have the most tourist destinations within walking distance.
Additionally, the sun sets early so to ensure you are able to get back to your hotel before it gets dangerous. To make sure you don't miss the bus, you will probably want to start heading back to the hotel around 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. depending on how far from the bus stop you plan to go.
Most of the buses heading back towards the port city stop around 5:30 p.m. and in some places like Oko-no-taki waterfall the last bus leaves for the port at 3:30 p.m.
Yakushima mapClick thumbnail to view full-size
Getting around in Yakushima
Finally, some resources for Yakushima. The main two websites I stumbled across are Yaku Monkey which covers videos of Yakushima, information on different hotels, and even some hiking information. They also have a convenient bus timetable so you know when to go and wait for the bus.
YES!Yakushima covers everything from getting to Yakushima to tours. They have a place on the island where you can even book tours through them. They also have information about the history of the island, rental services, and even places to eat. It's an amazing resource for when you're going to Yakushima.
Video Tour of Yakushima
As far as accommodations go, I recommend choosing a hotel close to a bus stop to allow for an easier time making your way around the island.Personally, I chose to stay at a hotel closer to the port called Minshuku Iwakawa.
However, Guest House Yakushima or Iwasaki hotel may be better for exploring the island if you want to go by foot or bus and do not plan to do the bus tour as they are closer to some of the waterfalls and other natural wonders on the island.
The main benefits of staying near Miyanoura port are that you are a little closer to some of the hiking trails and forests. You are also closer to a city, so you have the post office nearby for ATM withdrawals as well as many restaurants, a grocery store, and even a convenience store if you don't mind a short walk.
There are more people living near the port so you can socialize a little bit more than in some of the remote parts of the island, and you won't have to worry about catching the bus to the port because most of the hotels in town are a 15-20 minute walk from the port.
There are also many benefits of staying further away from the port. You can choose to be closer to the airport and still be near the action. You can be closer to some of the big tourist attractions like waterfalls and botanical gardens and still be near a bus stop.
You can choose to be closer to one of the rivers or beaches for easier access than a hotel near Miyanoura port, and the buses run later going away from town than they do going back from town.
Some buses leave as late as 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. to go away from the port, and you will most likely spend less time on the bus because you'll be closer to so many of the tourist attractions. That means you'll have more time to spend at each location.
My Hotel Room Near the PortClick thumbnail to view full-size
Beautiful Sights Close to the Bus Stops
Next, I will cover some beautiful places to see that are close to the bus stops. Aside from the obvious option of Oko-no-taki waterfall there are also some other excellent places to see.
The Ando river is fairly close to the bus stop for Ando port; Ryujin no taki water and Senpiro falls are about 15 minutes and an hour by foot from the botanical garden bus stop, and Torohki-no-taki waterfall is just a 10-15 minute walk from the botanical garden.
My first stop was for Ryujin no taki waterfall. Because I was a little short on time on my vacation I did not go all the way to Senpiro falls, but Ryujiin-no-taki is only about a 15 minute hike by foot and it's a gorgeous view.
The next stop I made was for Oko-no-taki waterfall. It's only about a 5 minute walk from the bus stop and there are some small stalls selling souvenirs for the occasion. The waterfall is huge and my favorite part is there is an outcropping of rocks near the waterfall that you can climb on to get up close and personal with the waterfall.
However, be cautious if you're taking the regular bus and not the tour bus. If you take the regular bus there are only two times that the bus will take you back towards the port otherwise you will have to walk, hitchhike, or call a cab.
The latest bus that leaves Oko-no-Taki is at about 3:30 p.m. That means if you take the later bus to get you there you'll only have about 30 minutes to see the waterfall.
Finally, on the way back I visited Torohki-no-taki waterfall. You can't get close to the waterfall at all, but the view you get is amazing with the view of the waterfall leading out into the ocean and the mountains shining through the horizon tinted brilliant kaleidoscopes of colors from the sun.
Along the path you'll also see some tiny crabs scuttling along. They're pretty shy, but if you're lucky you might have one of these adorable creatures come close to you.
Thankfully, the latest bus from the Botanical Garden leaves at a fairly reasonable time. At around 5:40 p.m.
My Tour of YakushimaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Kagoshima to Yakushima
While I was deciding what to do in Yakushima, I found some excellent resources for getting there without a car and how to get around once you're there.
First off, getting there isn't too bad. You can either take the Shinkansen or you can take the bus from Hakata.
If you want to take the bus, you'll want to book in advance here or go to Hakata bus station and buy the bus tickets in advance. The tickets for the bus can and will sell out.
By Shinkansen it only takes about 2 hours to Kagoshima. The cost is expensive it's about 10,700 yen for a one-way trip by Shinkansen.
The bus takes about 5 hours or so and they make frequent stops for the bathroom and snacks. There is also typically a place to charge your phone. The cost is much less at about 5500 yen one way.
Once you get to Kagoshima if you're taking the bus it should stop at the ferry port for Toppy, the fast ferry. If you take the Shinkansen, there's a bus from Kagoshima-chuo to the ferry port for roughly 200 yen one way. You can use cash or if you're lucky your Nimoca card (electronic charge card for buses and trains).
You can view some information on the different ferry options to Yakushima here. I took Toppy for the sake of convenience. It's the most expensive option at 15,000 yen round trip or roughly $150 USD.