Back to CNN
Discover Wakayama logo

Kumano Kodo:
Walk Through History

Hike an ancient pilgrimage and unearth a World Heritage site

In Japan’s Kii Peninsula, the ancient trails of the Kumano Kodo weave through forested mountains and crisscross ancient villages. Millions have traveled this sacred pilgrimage over the centuries, using the same moss-covered pathways taken by samurai warriors and Japanese emperors. Legend has it that the trees, waterfalls, and mountains are endowed with spirits, making the Kumano Kodo a moving journey that replenishes the soul.

Pilgrims take these rugged mountain trails to visit Kumano Sanzan, the three Grand Shrines of Hongu Taisha, and Hayatama Taisha, the Nachi Taisha Waterfall, and Wakayama’s iconic multi-floored Nachisan Seiganto-Ji Temple. With no official start or endpoint, you can select a route that best suits your ability and availability. 

Millions have traveled this sacred pilgrimage over the centuries, using the same moss-covered pathways taken by samurai warriors and Japanese emperors.

The Nakahechi route offers well-preserved tracks that wind through lush forests and local villages. The trail linking Takijiri Oji with Hongu Taisha is a leisurely 30km journey divided across two days with an overnight stay in Chikatsuyu Oji. A bus network connects shorter trails with accommodation spots, allowing for half-day hikes followed by an evening soak in the onsen.

Delve further into the region

Venture further into the region and explore the diverse landscapes of Yoshino-Kumano National Park. Climb aboard a river raft and power through the Doro-Kyo Gorge, a section of the Kitayama-gawa River that boasts turquoise waters flanked by jungled cliffs. Walk along the dramatic Sandanbeki Rock Cliff, taking in panoramic views of the ocean. Scuba dive in the cool waters of Kushimoto, home to one of Japan’s premier dive spots. Snorkel above coral formations and tropical fish along the coast of the Kii Peninsula. And send postcards to loved ones from the world’s deepest underwater postbox at Susami.

If you’re looking for adventure, scenic ribbons of road stretching for almost 800km connect the mountains with the coastline. Hire a car or rent a bicycle and cruise along the road on two wheels, passing coiling mountain roads, white-sand beaches, rugged outcrops, local villages, and parts of the Kumano Kodo. Soak up the diverse scenery that the region is famous for, including crashing waterfalls and towering cliffs.

A delicious reward awaits at every part of your journey. Indulge in regional delicacies at the local izakaya. Enjoy a bowl of piping hot Wakayama ramen, noodles abundant with Japan’s favorite seafood. 

Feast on Japan’s freshest tempura, sushi, and sashimi, including fresh tuna sourced from Katsuura. For something extra special, seek out a traditional Koyasan shojin-ryori meal, sustenance for Buddhist monks prepared only with the freshest vegetarian ingredients.

Experience the magic of Koyasan by walking the mystical pilgrimage trail to Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum at Okuno-in. Discover the 117 mountain temples, almost half of which allow overnight stays. Sample Buddhist vegetarian cuisine and start the new day with early morning prayer and meditation. Journey by bus to Hongu Taishamae and join the Kumano Kodo at the Dainichi-goe route from Yunomine onsen. From there, it is a short stroll to the Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine.

These ancient pilgrimage routes and sacred sites are central to the region’s UNESCO designation. The Kumano Kodo is one of only two pilgrimages granted World Heritage status – the other being the journey across Spain to Santiago de Compostela. Click here for more information.

Route 1: Tokyo – Kumano Kodo (by plane and bus)

JAL (Japan Airlines) operates three daily round trips from Haneda (Tokyo) to Nanki-Shirahama Airport. One-way flight time is 75 minutes. There are Airport Limousine buses and local buses that can take you towards Kumano Kodo from the airport. Click here for more information.


Route 2: Tokyo – Kyoto – Koyasan – Kumano Kodo (by train and bus)

First, take a JR Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. Then, for direct access to Koyasan from Kyoto by bus, take the Kyoto-Koyasan Direct Highway Bus. Note that it operates seasonally. From Koyasan to Kumano Kodo you can take the Koyasan-Kumano Discovery Bus, which is available seasonally. Click here for more information.