Been on safari in South Africa? Explored the Australian outback? Here's where you should go for your next wildlife fix: Japan's Iriomote, the second-largest island in the Okinawa prefecture, which is still 90% covered by dense jungle and mangrove forests brimming with wildlife.
With fewer than 3,000 inhabitants, Iriomote is unlike anywhere else in Japan, and, at a four-hour journey from Tokyo – two and a half hours by plane, followed by a one-hour boat journey – it's about as far off the beaten track as you can get. As you'd expect for a place so remote, Iriomote is home to rich and diverse fauna, including the Iriomote yamaneko, a seriously endangered species of wildcat unique to the island.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the island is the perfect place to go hiking through the jungle, take to the sea or river in a kayak, or get below the water's surface with scuba diving. The Manta Way is a particular highlight – a strait between Iriomote and Kohama Island, it's a diving hotspot where schools of manta rays come to hang out in spring and summer.
Or, if you fancy something a little less active, try a river cruise down the island's two longest rivers, Urauchi and Nakama, which provide the easiest and most impressive route through the dense jungle.
What's more, Iriomote is also home to stunning beaches that are ideal for swimming and snorkelling, many of them only accessible by boat – which means you can explore the swathes of perfect sand almost all by yourself.
Aside from the incredible nature, there's another thing that makes Iriomote so special: its culture. Head out on a hunt with the locals and sample freshly cooked wild boar, or plan your visit around the Setsu festival to experience a 500-year-old celebration of Iriomote's unique way of life.
Whether you're exploring the preserved jungle wilderness or soaking up the sun on an untouched beach, Iriomote is bound to to be one of the most unusual and captivating places you'll ever visit.
Wondertrunk & Co's goal is to bring lesser-known parts of Japan into the global spotlight. They combine local voices with those of foreign travelers to transform these regions into destinations the whole world can enjoy. Head to wondertrunk.co for more info.