If you are hiking the Kumano Kodo and looking for something close by then why not make a short trip to the Shirahama – the beachside town famous for its white sandy beaches and onsens.
The coastline in this part of Japan is very rocky, so it’s a nice change to come across a white sandy beach, and if the weather is good its a great spot for a swim.
There are lots of traditional onsens in the town; some are even built into the rockface near the beach.
As is the tradition in Japan, men and women are segregated in onsens, and you cannot wear any clothing. If this is not your cup of tea, Shirahama also has an outdoor public onsen right near the main beach (it’s mixed gender and you can wear your bathers, so it’s great for couples.)
There are also free public footbaths around town, which are a welcome sight if you have weary feet after walking all day.
The town itself is very small and has a relaxed atmosphere and a number of restaurants. As it is down on the coast there are mostly seafood and traditional Japanese restaurants, although I did come across a great boutique restaurant that offered delicious wood fire pizzas.
Shirahama is also home to a theme park called Adventure World, which has lots of animals on display including pandas.
Accommodation in Shirahama is a mix of big Western-style hotels and the more traditional Japanese inns.
When to visit
You could visit Shirahama before embarking on the Kumano Kodo, but to give you the best experience I suggest a visit to Shirahama after the walk. What better way to treat yourself after a hike then by relaxing your feet in the onsen foot baths in the main street, going for a swim in the beach and soaking in the public onsen that overlooks the beach.
How to get there after walking the Kumano Kodo
From Kii-Katsuura it takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to get to Shirahama Station, then it’s a short bus or taxi ride into town.
How to get there before walking the Kumano Kodo
From Kyoto: 3 hours by train to Shirahama Station
From Osaka: 2.5 hours by train to Shirahama Station
From Tokyo: 5.5 hours by train or a 1-hour flight from Haneda Airport with Japan Airlines
Then a bus or taxi to the town.
If you go to Shirahama before doing the Kumano Kodo it is a 10-minute train ride from Shirahama to Kii-Tanabe or 30 minutes by taxi.