Self-Guided Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Tour

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  • Start Takijiri
  • End Kii Katsuura / Nachi
  • DateMarch to November
  • Duration 6 nights
  • DistanceUpwards of 56 km
  • GradeModerate with Challenging Parts

A Hiking Tour to Grand Shrines of the Kumano Region

Nakahechi: The Imperial Route to Kumano…

Set off on the adventure of a lifetime with our Kumano Kodo itinerary, which encompasses all three Grand Shrines of the revered Kumano region. Our package includes round-trip rail travel from either Kyoto or Osaka to the starting point of the Kumano Kodo trail.

Guests will enjoy accommodations on a half-board basis in traditional lodgings, with convenient inn-to-inn baggage transfers. While some short transfers between the trail and accommodations are necessary, we ensure a seamless experience. Our daily walks range from easy to strenuous, offering flexibility to adjust your walking distance and employing local bus services when needed (a common practice among pilgrims).

The journey begins at Takijiri, the gateway to the Kumano territories, where visitors can explore the Kumano Kodo visitor centre for last-minute insights and arrange for baggage transfer. Those who have completed the Camino de Santiago and possess a Compostela or credencial are eligible for dual pilgrim status, thanks to links between these distinguished UNESCO World Heritage pilgrimages.

From Takijiri, embark on a leisurely 2-hour walk to your first overnight stop in either Takahara or Kurisugawa.

Visit the Hongu Kumano Shrine and Traditional Japanese Hot Springs

The initial two treks traverse the communities of Takahara and Chikatsuyu, leading to a more challenging third day towards the Hongu Kumano Shrine. Tailor this day’s length to your needs by utilising the local bus service, aligning with common Kumano Kodo practices.

After visiting the Hongu shrine, enjoy a brief transfer to Yunomine Onsen for a rejuvenating two-night stay. Here, indulge in the world-renowned hot springs, partake in local circular walks, or engage in cultural activities such as ancient pilgrim boat sails, washi-paper workshops, or monk-led forest walks.

Given the limited accommodation options in Koguchi, you may return to Yunomine Onsen for the fifth night. The following day starts with a taxi ride to Koguchi, setting the stage for a rigorous hike over the “Ogumotori-goe” mountain pass, culminating in breathtaking Pacific Ocean views.

Complete Your Pilgrimage at the Shingu Grand Shrine

After descending to the second Grand Shrine at Nachi, a short transfer brings you to Kii Katsuura for a two-night stay, perfectly positioning you for a visit to Shingu, home of the third Grand Shrine. Your journey concludes with included rail tickets back to Osaka or Kyoto.

Achieving Dual Pilgrim status on the Kumano Kodo requires completion of designated routes on foot and collection of stamps along the way:


  • Takijiri-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha (approximately 38 km)
  • Kumano Nachi Taisha to/from Kumano Hongu Taisha (approximately 30 km)
  • Hosshinmon-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha (approximately 7 km) plus visits to both Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha.

The final stamp awaits at Kumano Hongu Taisha, where you can claim your Dual Pilgrim certificate from the Kumano Hongu Heritage Center.

Our self-guided walking options are designed to meet these requirements, enabling you to collect the necessary stamps and earn your Dual Pilgrim certificate, should you qualify.

Any questions? Please get in touch.

(Travellers interested in this Japanese pilgrimage route may also wish to consider our Shikoku Pilgrimage Tour.)

Price

  • £ 2040.00per person sharing twin/double/triple (NB triples very limited)
  • £2670single occupancy

Price Includes

  • 6 Nights Accommodation
  • 2 Meals / day
  • Inn to Inn baggage transfers from Takijiri (the trailhead)
  • Return train tickets from/to Osaka or Kyoto
  • Travel Pack sent out to you in advance with guidebook
  • PDF route documents will be emailed in advance
  • Welcome pack at your Osaka/Kyoto hotel (travel tickets included)
  • Local support from the Kumano Kodo Oku office

Price Excludes

  • Flights
  • Accommodation in Kyoto/Osaka
  • Airport transfers
  • Lunches
  • Any local buses you take
  • Additional Onsen experiences
  • Extra nights

Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Tour Highlights

Yunomine Onsen

A nationally famous hot spring village with one of Japan’s oldest hot springs – classified as World Heritage by UNESCO), was founded over 250 years ago by a Shinto priest to serve those travelling to the Kumano region. The 1,800-year-old Tsuboyu is considered by many to be Japan’s oldest hot spring. There are many opportunities to enjoy hot thermal springs. A wide array of in-house hot spring baths, including private 1-2 person baths, outdoor baths, and a hot spring-powered steam room.

Torii Gate at Oyunohara

The Grand Shrine at Hongu was originally located at Oyunohara at the confluence of the Kumano and Otonashi Rivers. All of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes lead to this sacred site.

At the entrance to Oyunohara stands “Otorii” – the largest Torii shrine gate in the world at 33.9m tall and 42m wide). It’s a formalized gateway to this sacred area. Otorri was built in 2000 and weighs 172 tons. It is the focus for the Kumano Hongu Taisha Spring Festival, the Yata-no-Hi Matsuri Fire Festival, and during the New Year holiday.

Kii-Katsuura

This coastal town located on the southern tip of the Kii peninsula has some of Japan’s freshest seafood (the nearby bay prides itself on having the most delicious tuna in Japan). It’s easy to find fresh tuna sashimi for dinner. Soak up the sun from the in-house, open-air, ocean-view hot spring. Great views of the ocean & mountains. Attend the early morning tuna auction at the port.

Spring and Fall

May and October / November are the best times to visit the Kumano Kodo when the climate is most suitable for walking. Summer is possible too but the weather tends to be fairly sticky and humid.

The second half of May, just after the Sakura cherry blossom festival, is when the forests and countryside are at their best. Fresh new life bursts forth as new leaves emerge in a vivid array of brilliant, lush greens.

Autumn or Fall is made glorious with rich reds, golds, and mauves of the Japanese maple trees. Mid-October into November is the recommended travel period.

Koyasan

This is a globally famous Buddhist retreat village established in 819 by the famous monk Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi), who brought Buddhism from China. It remains a spiritual retreat and one of the holiest places in Japan.

Despite being a little bit off the beaten path (and missed by most visitors to Japan), Koya-san is fairly easy to access from Osaka and Kyoto and is an essential destination for travellers interested in Buddhism, history, traditional culture, and nature, and in line with tradition, you can stay in an active monastery when on the group tour.

In certain temples, you will find the monks are very friendly and invite guests to participate in daily activities such as meditation, the Goma fire ceremony, and lantern-lit tours of Okunoin cemetery.

Food & Drink on the Kumano Kodo

Enjoy the delicious traditional cuisine of the Japanese countryside, both from the sea and from the mountains.

The rich Kuroshio ocean current sweeps across the southern tip of the Kii Peninsula bringing with it a plethora of fresh seafood.

The surrounding lush mountainside has a long culinary history of cooking with wild plants and livestock. Delicious local food, including Wagyu beef raised in the Kumano region and farm-fresh vegetables.

One of the great joys of travelling is to dine on local foods. But this can be an intimidating experience to decipher the menu.

We are working on a menu translation project to allow our clients to experience the joys of eating fresh, delicious, rural Japanese cuisine in a relaxed, authentic environment.

A selection of delightful and welcoming traditional accommodations features bedrooms with tatami flooring and comfortable futons. Evening meals feature an extensive array of traditional Japanese dishes. It’s not possible to cater to all dietary needs, for example, ingredients such as fish sauce are present in many dishes presented as vegetarian. This is an opportunity to get acquainted with Japanese country cuisine.

(If you’re passionate about food and normally based in Europe, you will love our Luxury Escorted Camino Experience, featuring out-of-this-world wine and cuisine.)

Your Kumano Kodo Tour Itinerary

Day 1 - Rail transfer to Tanabe & Hike Takijiri to Takahara, 4.5 km / 2.8 miles 

  • Travel by train from Osaka or Kyoto
  • Short bus ride to the trailhead & welcome office of Kumano Kodo at Takijiri
  • 2 hour hike to the hill village of Takahara.
  • Half Board lodgings in Takahara or Kurisugawa. 

Day 2 - Takahara to Chikatsuyu, 10 km / 6.5 miles

  • You will be following a mountain trail that winds through remote villages and mountainous countryside.
  • Oji shrines and some traditional flagstone paths make it easier to negotiate the hillsides.
  • A steady descent to the village of Chikatsuyu which has riverside thermal baths.
  • Half board lodging in Chikatsuyu or Nonaka.

Day 3 - Chikatsuku to Hongu Taisha Shrine, optional walk distances up to 25 km / 14.9 miles

  • Walk on a mix of paved trail and forested mountain trail with isolated mountain-top villages with panoramic viewpoints.
  • Shorten this walk easily to 5 km/9 miles or 7 km/4 miles, using the local bus service from your hotel in Chikatsuku.
  • Hosshinmon-oji shrine marks the entrance to Kumano Hongu Taisha’s sacred precinct.
  • The trail enters the forest at Mizunomi-oji, with tea plantations and terraced fields.
  • Descend through the forest past Sangen-jaya to the Hongu Shrine. Following your visit to the
  • Shrine and visitors centre, it’s a short transfer to your lodgings in the famous hot spring town of Yunomine Onsen or Kawayu Onsen, which has a crystal-clear river flowing through it, fed by thermal waters. A restorative thermal soak awaits.

Day 4 - Yunomine Onsen / Kawaya Onsen

A chance for a pause with a second night in an Onsen (hot spring) town. On your second day you have the following choices: –

  • Hike the Akagigoe Trail 9 km / 5.5 miles plus 7 km / 4 miles. These two sections of the trail can be combined if you wish a longer walk to finish in Hongu and catch the bus back.
  • Hike the Dainichigoe Trail (3 km / 2 miles). This is the short trail direct to Hongu. Either walk there and back, or catch the bus back.
  • Combine walks to make a full day circular walk of 19 km / 12.5 miles starting and finishing in Yunomine Onsen and with a visit to Hongu and catch the bus back.
  • Pilgrim Boat trip along the Kumano River – certain dates of the year at additional cost
  • Walk with a Yamaboshi ascetic priest – book in advance at additional cost     
  • Traditional Washi Paper making workshop – lasts just 1 hour. Book in advance/additional cost. 

Day 5 - Koguchi to Nachi Grand Shrine, 15 km 9.3 miles

  • You begin with a short transfer to Koguchi, if accommodation is not available in Koguchi you have a third night in your Onsen town with a taxi in the morning.
  • There’s a 980 m of ascent, to the Ogumotorigoe Pass, some of it on rock-hewn steps.
  • No facilities along this path, so you need to pack water and a lunch.
  • At Funami-toge pass, you may see the rugged Pacific coastline and the fishing port of Kii Katsuura, your evening destination which is also famous for its hot springs.
  • The trail descends to Nachi-san, through typical cedar and cypress forest. Stone staircases increase and trees become larger as you get closer to Nachi.
  • Arrive at Kumano Nachi Taisha, your second Grand Shrines of Kumano.
  • Short transfer to Kii Katsuura for two nights.

Day 5 - Alternative Itinerary to Nachi, easy walking

If the challenging walk from Koguchi to Nachi is not for you, fear not! You can transfer from Koguchi to Kii Katsuura then take the short walking trail of 2.5 km to Nachi. Spend the rest of the day exploring the trails, temples and the waterfall. The Nachi waterfall is 133m high and 13 meters wide, as the tallest in Japan. It has been protected since ancient times and is used for ascetic training by mountain monks who practice Shugendo, a mixed religion of foreign and indigenous beliefs. You can walk down to near the base of the waterfall, past the three-storied pagoda after visiting the shrine grounds. Also located here is the wonderful wooden Seiganto-ji, Tendai Buddhist temple founded in the early 5th century. The paved Daimonzaka staircase runs 1 km from the base of the valley to the Nachi Shrine, Seiganto-ji and Nachi waterfall. It is lined with centuries-old Japanese cedars, camphor trees and bamboo groves. The actual staircase is 600 meters long with 267 stairs. At the end of the slope is the impressive Meitosugi – “husband and wife” ancient cedar trees. Near the top, you can catch a glimpse of the awe-inspiring Nachi falls.

Day 6 - Hayatama Grand Shrine at Shingu

  • Train from Kii Katsuura to Shingu 
  • Visit the Hayatama Shrine, just a 15-minute walk from the railway station. 
  • Giant Nagi tree is over 1000 years of age. Nagi dolls made with the seeds of this tree are meant to bring lucky encounters with the opposite sex and happy married life to couples.
  • Atmospheric Kamikura Shrine is a large rock worshipped as a god. 
  • Back to Kii-Katsuura on the coast for the second and final night, to enjoy fresh tuna sashimi and a dip in a hot spring to celebrate.

Day 7 - Onward Rail Travel

After breakfast why not attend the tuna auction in the early morning before onward travel by train to Osaka or Kyoto. Your return rail tickets are included.

Map

Accommodation

Lodgings on the Trail
Baggage Transfers

On the Kumano Kodo you stay at comfortable Japanese Ryokan inns that have been serving aristocrats and pilgrims for hundreds of years, and sometimes in smaller traditional Minshuku guesthouses.

Lodging is based on twin occupancy (shared rooms with separate futons), with breakfast and dinner.

You can order picnic lunches or shop locally – we provide advice on this.

A Note about Sleeping on Futons

Accommodations are chosen for their service and authenticity in providing a true Japanese experience.

This means the beds usually available are Japanese-style futons on tatami mats. But don’t worry, they are both comfortable and cosy.

Sleeping on a bed is sometimes possible subject to availability and a bed-supplement charge.

If you would like to have your overnight baggage transferred within the Kumano Kodo area, there is a baggage shuttle service incurring an additional charge. Please ask us for a quote.

As for baggage forwarding, we can help with transferring luggage from hotel to hotel between the big cities and over large distances, so you can just carry the essentials necessary for the hiking part of the trip.

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Self-Guided Kumano Kodo
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