Valley of Gangala & Cave Cafe

An underground secret garden of Eden

By Bonson Lam    - 3 min read

One of the life’s unexpected charms is serendipity. Like strolling at night and being delighted by the fragrance of jasmine flowers, long before the corner of your eyes detects the silhouette of the shrub on the sidewalk. In the dark, it can be a little otherworldly when certain senses turns on before others.

Being in a cave gives a similar sensation. Day is turned into night, tree shaped sculptures grow from above, not below. The light and shadow plays tricks on your eyes and your perceptions on what a landscape looks like. Of course, in the absence of cognition, your mind will naturally fill in the gaps with its own imagination.

There is a story behind the name Gangala. On top of a hill there was a hole. If you threw a rock from there it would make a gan, gara, gara sound. While the name has such a nice sound to it, maybe I would be more enchanted if I was left in the dark about its origins.

Origins is what this cave is about. Archaeologists have discovered remains of the Minatogawa Man from the Palaeolithic Era from 20,000 years ago. Even now, you can see active digs, uncovering fishhooks, shell jewellery and red beads from that period, though most remains have been taken for preservation at the Okinawa Museum.

So, what is it about caves in Okinawa? The nearby Hyakuna Garan in the local language means a hundred beautiful monasteries or cathedrals, where “things outside of nature cannot be seen, sounds outside of nature cannot be heard.” It is said that in outer space, sounds cannot be heard, but could it be the same in a cave, where the sounds and stresses of urban life are so far away, I may as well be in another galaxy. These hundred cathedrals may also refer to the underground caves, some large enough to feel like a cathedral, but until recently were off limits to visitors, until now with Valley of Gangala and Gyokusendo Cave revealing its secrets to the outside world.

Since the Stone Age, caves have been sanctuaries, whether to cellar fermented tofu or awamori until your child comes of age, or bomb shelters during the Battle of Okinawa.

In the other direction is Sefa Utaki, a mystic place filled with spiritual splendour. You can really feel the connection between Okinawan people and nature. These days scientists are discovering that being in nature helps us to reduce anxiety, increases our ability to pay attention and to connect with other people.

To truly uncover the secrets of the Valley of Gangala, you must take a guided tour, which operates every 2 hours from 10am. Online reservations are also recommended. You are to rendezvous at the Cave Café 15 minutes before the tour, which serves the famous Sango coffee and various tropical drinks and snacks. The Cave Café can be booked for private parties and is a popular spot for concerts.

Getting there

From Naha bus terminal next to Asahibashi Monorail Station, take bus No. 54 (Maekawa line) or No. 83 (Gyokusendo line) departing approximately every 60 mins and disembark at Gyokusendo-mae bus stop. If you are visiting a few places here, driving or a taxi could be more convenient. It is 30 min. from Naha Airport, or 10 min. from Okinawa Expressway Haebaru Minami Interchange. There is an electric vehicle charging station on the other side of Route 17, opposite the taxi rank near Gyokusendo Cave (see map for more details).

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Bonson Lam

Bonson Lam @bonson.lam

I knew my future was destined to be with Japan the moment I flew from Sydney to experience the atmospheric lane ways of Kyoto last century. From the skies above Sapporo to the old charm of Naha's alleyways, I have been enchanted by the beauty and variety on every island. I am humbled to have met many distinguished people in my role as Regional Partner, especially the national living treasures of Japan, such as the doll maker to the Imperial Family. From sushi cooking classes to Ninja training grounds I welcome your ideas on what you like from JapanTravel.com. Please visit us in Kyoto or Osaka and have some green tea or sake with us. 

Join the discussion

Susan Tumanon 4 days ago
I love that they have a cafe underneath the cave. Looks like a great sightseeing spot to visit in Okinawa!
Bonson Lam Author 3 days ago
This is a great way to experience the ambience of the cave, having a drink, while being surrounded by the majesty of the cave.
Justin Velgus a week ago
Any experience that transports travelers to another world is sure to be memorable. That can be caves, scuba diving, or even theme parks and themed restaurants. It seems Okinawa is a world of new realms to explore, many which you show in this article.
Bonson Lam Author 6 days ago
At a tourism conference I was told that Adventure tourism was the fastest growing reason for travel, so much so I interviewed a Ph.D candidate who was trying to distil how different cultures and nationalities defined what 'adventure' was. To me, travel is about finding something new within yourself, with others, with the world. Finding that you can be brave, discover joy in new places and environments, discover something you thought you never had. This is what a true adventure is. You have to "venture out" and discover that for yourself, something Okinawa has in abundance, with experiences and people that take you out of your everyday life.
Kim a week ago
Beautiful! Can't wait to get back to Okinawa at some point!
Bonson Lam Author 6 days ago
Someone once said, "We overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in a decade.” It reminds me of this cave, where time appears to stands still, but in the decades since the Stone Age, it has grown to its magnificence today. Imagine standing in the same grounds as Minato-gawa Man, looking around the same cave as they did, imagining the conversations they had.
Elena Lisina a week ago
Fantastic place!
Bonson Lam Author yesterday
By the way, there could be dead skeletons from 7500 or from 75 years ago. Of course you rather see a dead skeleton than a live one, right? Maybe there are reasons why the people of Okinawa guard their caves with a passion or with secrecy.