45,000 of the Yaeyama Islands' 50,000 inhabitants live on Ishigaki Island, which is thus the political, economic and transport hub of the region. Most people on the island live in central Ishigaki, known for lack of a better name in Japanese as shigaichi (市街地 "town area"), chushin (中心 "center") or just machi (町 "town"). The central districts are Ōkawa (大川), Ishigaki (石垣), Tonoshiro (登野城), and Misakichō (美崎町) and the main roads are Sanbashi-dōri (桟橋通り), leading north from the port, Shiyakusho-dōri (市役所通り), running west-east along the coast, and Yui Road (ゆいロード), running parallel a few blocks north.
Other (though much smaller) population centers on Ishigaki are Kabira (川平), by the bay of the same name on the northwest coast, and Shiraho (白保), at the southeast corner. Much of the island, particularly the central mountains and the scenic northeastern peninsula, is quite sparsely settled.
Ishigaki Airport (ISG) is the largest airport in the Yaeyama Islands. In March 2013 the old airport was closed and a new airport - farther out of town and with a longer runway - was taken into service. As a result there have been major changes to the flight connections: in addition to regular connections to Naha and Miyako, an increased number of direct flights from/to various airports in Japan has become available, and between April and October there are also direct flights from/to Taiwan's international airport at Taoyuan, near Taipei (2 airlines with 2 flights a week each). The new airport can accommodate larger airplanes than the old airport, and therefore two additional domestic carriers (Skymark and Peach) have joined the original two carriers (JTA and ANA) - as a consequence, air fares are now substantially lower than before (for example, outside of the peak travel times a return ticket to Naha can be had for less than 10000 Yen). The bus connection from the airport to the bus terminal at the center of town (next to the ferry terminal) costs about ¥550, and the trip takes about 40-50 minutes. Multi-Day Passes for the bus system are also available (see Get around). A taxi trip to town will cost you about ¥3000.
There is currently no scheduled passenger ferry connection to Ishigaki Island: Ryukyu Kaiun discontinued passenger service in September 2007, and Arimura Sangyou went out of business in May 2008. Star Cruises  operates luxury cruises from Keelung (near Taipei) between late April and the end of October. Although this is not a ferry service, rumour has it that relatively cheap passage can be bought at the last minute on trips that are not fully booked.
There are extensive services (daytime only) to the other islands in the Yaeyama group:
Prices and times above are one-ways on fast ferries and may vary slightly from company to company. Return fares are usually 10% cheaper. Slower service with regular ships is somewhat cheaper but connections are less frequent:
Ishigaki Port (石垣港) is located at the center of the city near the bus terminal. There are two parts: the central Ritō-sanbashi (離島さんばし), for services to nearby islands, and a second unnamed pier at the southeast corner of the port for long-distance services to Yonaguni and Hateruma. The port information office is next to Ritō-sanbashi pier 1.
Azuma Bus operates services throughout the island radiating from the bus terminal on Sanbashi-dōri, just across the street from the port. The most useful services connect to the airport (¥540) and Kabira (¥700).
Two multi-day passes are available for frequent bus users: a 5-day pass ("Michikusa Free Pass"; whereby "free" in Japanese means "can be used freely" and not "free of charge") for ¥2000 and a 1-day pass for ¥1000. Both passes can be used on all scheduled buses.
Note that while bus service from the city center to the airport and along the southeast coast of the island (as far as Shiraho), is regular and quite frequent (it starts at 6:30am, and then there is a bus leaving every 15 minutes between 7am and 9pm), service on the other lines is not really geared toward tourists, and if you are staying outside the urban part of Ishigaki you may want to rent a scooter or car for the duration of your stay. With careful planning, however, the bus will get you around the whole of the island and let you visit Kabira Bay or the famous snorkeling area at Yonehara Beach for a few hours' stay. At the bus terminal you can get a detailed bus schedule in English that covers all bus lines except the recently established loop line in the downtown area (staff at your hotel or guest house should be able to tell you whic hstops to use and at what time). The downtown loop line has been in service since October, 2013. At least once every hour a bus leaves the terminal to service the downtown area and the adjacent areas to the west (Arakawa, Makira) and the east (Hirae, Maezato). The flat fare is ¥200 per trip. (Fares may possibly go up, since the sales tax was increased on April 1, 2014.)
Taxis are available at the airport, at the ferry terminal, and in front of some of the larger hotels. For other locations, the best way to get one is to make a call to the radio dispatch system that most companies are part of. The dispatchers usually do not speak English, so you may need to ask someone at your hotel or guest house to make a call for you. Flagging a taxi down in the street is perfectly OK but rather unreliable - most taxis that pass by, especially on minor roads, are on the way to an appointment. The only exception is in the late evening hours in the downtown area, because at that time you can see many taxis slowly cruising the streets around the drinking establishments looking for passengers. Flag fall is around ¥450 (it varies depending on the type of car), and the meter ticks at alarming speed after 2 kilometers. (Fares may possibly go up, since the sales tax was increased on April 1, 2014.)
There are many car rental companies in the island and many hotels offer car rental at a discounted price from ¥2000 to ¥4000 per day. Inquire at your accommodation. A drive between Ishigaki and the furthermost point of the island is about an hour and a half. A note of caution: the recent increase in tourist numbers, following the opening of the new airport, means that even outside of the peak season there are days when no car can be had - if it is important that you have a car you may want to book one in advance.
Many hotels offer bicycle rental at about ¥500 per day. Bicycles can be taken in most ferries to the islands at an additional price.
The town area can be comfortably covered on foot, but you'll need another means of transport for the rest of the island.
Ishigaki is a little low on must-see attractions and somewhat tamer in terms of scenery than Iriomote. Most visitors hit the beaches of the northern coast and stay there.
Ishigaki's beaches are among the most spectacular in Japan.
High visibility water around the island is full of coral reefs and marine life, making scuba diving the most popular activity for tourists in Ishigaki. The island has been ranked the number one Japanese diving destination for more than 16 consecutive years. In particular, Manta Scramble and Manta City, just off the island's northwest coast, is known to have one of the highest encounter rate of manta rays, and large number of divers visit the island during April-November, when the dive area is accessible. There are a large number of dive operators and rates are more or less standardized at around ¥12000-14000 for two boat dives (not including gear rental).
Souvenir shops abound, particularly around the port. On the more standard items (such as beni-imo tarts) prices appear to have been standardized, with the same prices offered at the supermarket, downtown, or even at the airport. The exception is Ayapani Mall (あやぱにモール), a covered shopping arcade just west of the post office, at which certain stores offer a store-wide 10% discount.
There are plenty of eating options in central Ishigaki, although many of the fancier places are open only for dinner. The stretch of Sanbashi-dori between the piers and the bus terminal has a good selection of reasonably priced Okinawan places, most of which offer affordable set lunches.
Ishigaki's beef (石垣牛 Ishigaki-gyū) is meltingly smooth and well worth the splurge for meat lovers, although you'll generally be looking at around ¥5000 for something approximating a decent-sized steak. Sampling strips served as yakiniku or even raw sashimi is somewhat more affordable, but if the price seems too good, double-check that it's real Ishigaki beef, not a cheaper import.
Ishigaki has a surprisingly vibrant nightlife, mostly centered around izakayas offering the ubiquitous local firewater awamori. Also be sure to sample the local Ishigakijima Beer (石垣島地ビール) microbrew, now available in "marine" (lager), "kuro" (dark) and three other versions.
Misakichō Center-Dōri (美崎町センター通り) and nearby streets have a range of karaoke lounges and nightclubs of varying degrees of respectability. Outside the city, however, there is little to no nightlife of any kind and you'll be hard pressed to find even a restaurant open after 6.
Ishigaki has a wide range of accommodation, ranging from expensive resorts for ¥10000+ to backpacker-oriented minshukus that can go as low as ¥2500 for your own room or ¥900 for dormitory-type accommodation. The dormitory style accommodation (one type of "guest house") offers the greatest likelihood of making friends with other travelers, in the common spaces (even among the Japanese travalers there are almost always some who can speak English).
Camping: The campsite on Yonehara beach charges roughly ￥600 per person per day (as of June 2009). The campsite owner does not provide tents,and although some of Ishigaki's official tourism websites tell you that a camping licence is required, the owner of the campsite has actually bought the licences himself and provides them when you pay to camp. Camping on Yonehara beach is a very cost effective option for staying on Ishigaki. Some camping equipment is available at the 100 Yen Shop (upstairs at Maxvalu on Sanbashi Dori) and the 5 day bus pass is definitely recommended if you're going to be camping for a long time, since there aren't many shops near to Yonehara beach and the best supermarkets are on the other side of the island.
There is free Wi-Fi access in the Euglena Mall (aka Ayapani Mall), the covered arcade a few blocks away from the bus terminal, and preparations are under way to establlish similar internet coverage for the whole Misaki-chō area.
There is also free internet in the public library, though it's only available from one terminal (the library is closed on Mondays)
An internet and game center further to the west along Nigousen (#2 Rd., open 24h), across the street from the temple (Tourinji), is open 24 hours.
Vanilla Deli, directly across from City Hall has free internet for patrons.
The Ishigaki City Hall Tourism Division (市役所観光課) as well as the Ishigaki City Hall International Section (国際交流係) have good information in English for tourists. The business hours for the city hall are 8:30am-4:30pm Monday thru Friday (excepting holidays). The tourism division is located on the second floor, and you can pick up a free comprehensive English language guide (magazine) there. The International Section is on the first floor, in the back of the building, and employs a coordinator of international relations, fluent in both Japanese and English, who is at times available to assist non-Japanese tourists.
The Hirata tourist company located inside the ferry terminal also has English information and can arrange English tour guides. Native level English information and tour guiding can be arranged through Ishigaki Hanalee Eco Tour. You may also want to pick up copies of the free Ishigaki Town Guide or Yaeyama Navi pamphlets, both useful packs of information with lots of maps to show you around (note that both are in Japanese only and any listings inside are essentially paid ads, so not everything is listed). You can get these free pamphlets at City Hall and in many restaurants, shops and lodgings.
The only foreigner-friendly ATMs on the island are in the Ishigaki and Kabira post offices, open daily from 9 AM to 7 PM only and not open on national holidays.
The "Habu" box jellyfish, which is highly venomous and can be dangerous to humans, can be found in the waters surrounding Ishigaki, including the beaches and bays. Some beaches are enclosed by nets inside which swimmers can frolic jellyfish-free, but snorkeling areas or many of the unofficial beach areas do not have nets.
Unlike other species of jellyfish, Habu jellyfish can swim consciously rather than simply drift. Habu jellyfish are attracted to warm, relatively calm water, which surrounds most of Ishigaki's coastline inside the barrier reef. They are clear in color and therefore difficult to spot unless you are paying close attention.
The best method of protection is to wear a rash guard, sleeves, or pantyhose so that the stingers cannot make direct contact with the skin.
Ishigaki and the surrounding islands also have other dangerous aquatic creatures, such as crown-of-thorns starfish, stonefish, etc. Please read up separately on this, and try not to touch any creatures or step on anything in the water other than sand.