Location

Departs Kyoto

Difficulty

4

Length

12

Trip Cost

from $3390
twin share

Overview

  • Follow in the footsteps of former emperors and over 1000 years of history by challenging yourself on one of the world’s great historical trails
  • Explore Kyoto, the ancient capital full of thousands of classical Buddhist temples, gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses
  • Plan your trip with a Kumano Kodo expert who will design a flexible and tailor made trip just for you
  • Be guided by the RAW Travel guidebook to the Kumano Kodo, provided exclusively to our clients

The trails of Kumano Kodo are a series of ancient pilgrimage routes, dating back over 1000 years, in Japan’s beautiful Kii Peninsula, an area also strongly associated with nature worship. At one time Japan’s imperial family and former emperors made the pilgrimage trips from Kyoto to the shrines of Kumano, one of Japan’s most sacred sites. We also combine the Kumano Kodo with time in the ancient capital Kyoto and a visit to Koyasan, home to 115 temples on a venerated Buddhist mountain and a chance to stay in an active Buddhist monastery.

The Kumano Kodo is a journey through a thousand years of Buddhist history and offers a window into traditional Japan that contrasts strongly with its hyper-modern cities. The Kumano Kodo’s rugged, forested mountains, quiet rural valleys, rivers and waterfalls provide a spectacular backdrop for hikers. The seasonal contrasts of cherry blossom in the spring and rich autumn foliage inject wonderful colour along the hiking route. Arriving at your destination each day the traditional local guesthouses offer reviving onsens and wonderful local food.

Extend Your Holiday – City Breaks

Read more about our city breaks

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Kyoto

This is your arrival day into Kyoto. Kyoto was originally known as Heian-kyo, the capital of peace and tranquility and remained the home of the imperial court for eleven centuries before it was removed to Tokyo in the late 19th century. In its 1100 years as the imperial home, Kyoto justly became one of the great cities of the world and the cultural heartland of Japan.

Days 2-3: Free Days in Kyoto

There are an astonishing 2000 temples and shrines in Kyoto, seventeen of which are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. Together with many gardens and other sites of interest these make for an overwhelming number of places to visit in Kyoto.

We suggest you start with a walk up through the vermilion torii gates of the Fushimi Inari shrine, a stunning visual experience. Afterwards perhaps visit the Nishiki Market, which is truly remarkable for the intricate and myriad foods on display, many of which you will have never seen before. Be sure to also visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – there is nothing quite like the feeling of standing amidst these towering stalks of bamboo. If you feel like stretching your legs, the Philosopher’s Path is a beautiful stroll running alongside a cherry tree lined canal, connecting three of Kyoto’s great temples.

The Gion entertainment district is a must for an evening stroll and a delicious meal in one of the many small and atmospheric restaurants and bars that line the narrow alleyways. Don’t be afraid to go inside as you’ll find a warm welcome and great service.

Meals: B

Day 4: Train Kyoto to Koyasan

After breakfast, you travel by train to the temple mountain of Koya-san, a complete contrast to Kyoto. This secluded town is surrounded by the eight peaks of Mt Koya and said to resemble a lotus flower. You take a funicular railway up the steep sides of Koyasan and then a short bus ride which will drop you near your temple lodging (please note the last section of the train ride to Koyasan is part of a private railway line and not covered by the regional rail pass provided).

In Koyasan you will have a unique opportunity to stay in a Japanese Buddhist temple and be part of the daily rituals and spiritual life of Koyasan. You will have a comfortable room and be served vegetarian Buddhist cuisine, Shojin Ryori. ‘Shojin’ is a Buddhist term that refers to asceticism in pursuit of enlightenment, and ‘ryori’ means cooking. There are surprising tastes and not only is it delicious but good karma too!

Meals: B D

Day 5: Free Day in Koyasan

This morning you will have a unique opportunity to take part in a Buddhist morning ceremony – the rich colors, smells of incense and rhythmical chants of the monks are enchanting. Afterwards, a walk around Koyasan with its 115 temples is a must. Be sure to visit Kongobuji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism, the stunning vermilion Konpon Daito and Daimon, the majestic entrance gate to this mountain complex.

Perhaps the most interesting of them all is Okunoin, which has at its centre the mausoleum to Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect and one of Japan’s most significant religious figures. This is set in a giant cypress forest surrounded by 300,000 graves of his followers and is an awesome sight especially if you walk it at night time when the lonesome paths are lit by stone lanterns – very eerie! There are also beautiful day walks around Koyasan if you feel like stretching your legs.

Meals: B D

Day 6: Train Koyasan to Kii-Tanabe

After the morning ceremony and breakfast, you will have time to continue exploring the village of Koyasan or perhaps join the monks for a meditation session. You will leave Mt Koya around midday and travel by a series of short train journeys across the peninsula southwards to Kii-Tanabe (please note the first section of the train ride from Koyasan is part of a private railway line and not covered by the regional rail pass provided). The railway line here parallels the coast and avoids the steep mountainous interior.

Kii-Tanabe is the gateway town to the Imperial Route of the Kumano Kodo and a city surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side and mountains on the other. The town is also home to the Tanabe Tourist Information Center – your tour orientation will be scheduled with the staff here. This evening is free for you to explore the town – enjoy great atmosphere at the Ajikoji Restaurant and Entertainment District, and perhaps stroll down to the Ogigahama Beach for sunset views.

Meals: B

Day 7: Walk Takijiri-oji to Tsugizakura-oji (18km)

It is an early morning start today and after checking out and picking up your lunch box, you will take a 40-minute bus ride to Takijiri (paid locally), start of the walk. The first section of today’s walk will be a climb up to Takahara, a rural hamlet on a ridge, noted for its ancient shrine and a spectacular view over the surrounding Hatenashi Mountain Ranges. Reminders of the past, including Buddhist statues and oji shrines, line the route along the ancient highway as you climb upwards.

Leaving Takahara behind, you head further into the mountains along the old trail, past bamboo forest and then into the pencil pine. You continue to pass by reminders of the old highway, including an ichirizuka distance marker and the sites of old former tea houses, which provided rest and shelter to pilgrims up until the early 20th century. Continuing on you crest the Hashiori-Toge pass after a short climb. The trail then descends past the Three-Fold Moon viewing area from where it is a short climb to the small but famous Gyuba-doji statue. Your descent takes you along a cobbled path and staircase to Chikatsuyu, a small village and one of the few places where you can get limited supplies or drinks.

Your final stretch of the day takes you on a climb to Tsugizakura-oji and your accommodation for the evening. Nearby is a grove of giant cedar trees, some of which are reputed to be 800 years old. If Tsugizakura accommodation is full on your chosen dates or if you are travelling with a larger group, you may stay in Chikatsuyu instead on this night.

9 hours walking

Meals: B L D

Day 8: Walk Tsugizakura-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha (21km)

Today’s walk will bring you along many forest paths and eventually some mountain top villages before descending to Hongu. The walks starts with climbs over a number of passes and there is a permanent detour in place due to landslides on the main path. There are few facilities on the first part of today’s route which is through the forest before eventually leading you to the shrine at Hosshinmon-oji. You will continue through small settlements and get your first glimpse of the great Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine and the giant torii gate in the valley below.

Kumano Hongu Taisha is the main shrine in the area, to which all roads in the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage lead. A long stone staircase leads to the sacred grounds of the shrine, located on a ridge and surrounded by giant cedar and cypress trees. After looking around the impressive shrine you will jump on a local bus (paid locally) to our evening destination at nearby Yunomine Onsen or Kawayu Onsen, charming little hot spring villages.

Arriving at your overnight location is a treat for tired walkers as the steam billows from the thermal rivers and there is the promise of a relaxing onsen after your exertions. The onsen thermal hot spring baths are an important part of the Kumano Kodo traditions with pilgrims performing hot water purification rituals in preparation for visiting the shrine. For us it will be more a preparation for a delicious Japanese meal in your accommodation.

9 hours walking

Meals: B L D

Day 9: Rest Day in Hongu Area

Today you can either completely relax and take in the local onsens or perhaps return to Hongu village for further explorations. If you wish to stretch your legs a little then walk back to Hongu on the Dainichi-goe route from Yunomine Onsen – this is a steep but delightful walk, passing some remarkable old carved statues at Hanakake Jizo, overgrown by tree roots.

Hongu village is home to the Kumano Hongu Taisha, one of the Kumano Sanzan, three grand shrines of Kumano, and head shrine of over 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan. Kumano was said to be the entrance gateway to the land of Yomi, the ‘other world’, which spirits travelled to in Japanese mythology. Across the Kumano Hongu Shrine is the Kumano Hongu Heritage Centre, featuring a diversity of exhibitions on the Kumano Kodo – all permanent exhibitions and videos include English translations. Just nearby the centre you will find Oyunohara, the largest torii shrine gate in the world at 34 meters tall, signifying the division of the secular and the spiritual worlds.

Be sure to also visit the tiny Tsuboyu onsen in a wooden cabin at the centre of town in Yunomine Onsen, which is the only UNESCO world heritage listed spa and the oldest in Japan at 1200 years old! The bath can be booked for a 30-minute private bathing and works on a first come first serve basis.

Meals: B D

Day 10: Walk Hongu area to Koguchi (13km)

This morning you will take a short bus ride (paid locally) to Ukegawa to begin your walk. The Kogumotori-goe section is a fairly gentle trek with a climb and descent over a pass, and is mostly in the forested mountains with some nice ridge-walking sections.

The highlight of today’s walk is the Hyakken-gura pass, where a beautifully positioned Buddhist statue on a hilltop has a backdrop of the most spectacular views of the trip. The impressive Hyakken-gura look out surprises walkers with a lovely panoramic view of the 3600 peaks of Kumano. Take a moment to enjoy this stunning view, as pilgrims have been doing for over 1000 years.

The trail continues to rise and fall, sometimes gradual and the off time steeper when you continue towards the Sakura-jaya teahouse remains. The views from the Sakura-jaya teahouse remains down to the valley and across the mountains are impressive. It is said that when the owners of teahouses saw pilgrims approaching from far off in the distance, they would start to cook mochi rice cakes and boil water for tea, to have things ready to serve just as the pilgrims would arrive at the teahouse. From here the trail continues on a forest track and eventually descends into Koguchi, a small and isolated village surrounded by mountains and rivers.

6 hours walking

Meals: B L D

Day 11: Walk Koguchi to Kumano Nachi Taisha (14.5km)

The Ogumotori-goe is the second day of a two-day trek from the Hongu area to Kumano Nachi Taisha. It is one of the toughest sections of the Nakahechi section and a big day’s walk so we recommend an early start as you begin with a 2.5-hour uphill climb up the Dogiri-zaka slope. Dogiri-zaka can be directly translated as “Body Breaking Slope”, and is an appropriate name for this 5km uphill section that rises 800 metres to the Echizen-toge Pass.

Afterwards you pass the Jizo-jaya teahouse remains to the Moja-no-Deai, ‘Abode of the Dead’. It is believed that the souls of the dead gravitate to these higher mountains, where spirits inhabit this section of the trail. The walk continues through forest and along ridges, the path ascending and descending, until at Funami Toge pass the Pacific Ocean spreads out before you.

From here the trail descends to the Nachisan sanctuary and the brightly colored Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine, another of the three grand shrines of Kumano. Also nearby is the wonderful wooden Seiganto-ji temple and the spectacular Nachi-no-Otaki waterfall, which is the highest in Japan and can be seen from far out on the Pacific Ocean. Tonight you will either overnight in Nachisan near the Kumano Nachi shrine or Kii Katsuura, a small fishing village approximately 20 minute bus ride from Nachisan. Relax and enjoy the completion of your extraordinary Kumano Kodo walk!

7 hours walking

Meals: B L D

Day 12: Depart Kii-Katsuura

Today enjoy a leisurely breakfast and then transfer by train to your onwards destination. Train tickets are not included and can be purchased locally at the Kii-Katsuura train station.

Meals: B

Important Note: The Kumano Kodo is a popular walk and at certain times of year and guesthouses/hotels sometimes get fully booked. This itinerary is a guide to a possible route. Details may change and the actual accommodations booked may vary from what is written here, dependent on client numbers, wishes and availability. This adjustment with accommodations may alter the exact distance walked in a day so the above itinerary should be used as an indication only to overnight stops/distances.

Dates

Self-guided trips offer flexibility, independence and choice. Set your own agenda while someone else worries about the logistics. Our self-guided walking holidays are fully flexible which means you can normally start your walk on any day during the season and customise by adding extra days for resting or sightseeing. As you’re walking independently, you’re free to follow the trail at your own pace. You set your own speed as you are not limited by the constraints of group travel.

Note that if booking for a start date of less than 30 days from the time of booking we cannot guarantee that your trip is possible unless you have contacted us first and your trip details have been confirmed.

Start date
01 Oct 2017
End date
30 Jun 2018
Price
$3390
Availability
Availability on Request

Inclusions

  • 3 nights in a centrally located hotel in Kyoto (twin share, ensuite)
  • 2 nights in a Buddhist monastery on Koyasan (twin share, shared bathroom)
  • 1 night in Kii-Tanabe (twin share, ensuite)
  • 5 nights in traditional Japanese guesthouses (twin share, shared bathroom)
  • Regional Rail Pass (Kansai Wide Area Pass 5 Days)
  • Daily meals included as listed in the itinerary
  • Luggage transfers on the Kumano Kodo on all trekking days
  • Briefing in Kii-Tanabe at the start of your walk
  • Pre-departure pack including track notes, maps and a Japanese phrasebook (1 pack per 2 clients travelling together)

Not Included

  • Local bus tickets
  • Train tickets not covered by the regional rail pass provided
  • Flights to/from destination
  • Travel insurance
  • Single supplement AUD500
  • Beverages other than water at meals
  • Expenses and items of a personal nature

Add-Ons

  • Flights, tours, rail passes, other extras/packages

Map & Guide

Reviews

Annette Tsindos, Hawthorn, VIC – July 2017
Such an incredible experience and a real privilege to be exposed to both contemporary Japan and traditional Japanese culture – often in a very intimate way when invited into the family home. The RAW Travel itinerary was perfectly paced – like a slow immersion taking us further from everyday reality…everything a holiday should be. The trekking was breathtaking, challenging and very satisfying. Thank you Leanne for the thought and care which obviously went into the planning of this special experience.

Suzanne Robin, Christchurch, NZ – July 2017
Excellent service from every aspect, from the day the trip was booked to every single person that was relied upon.

Kathleen Cleary, NSW – April 2017
I enjoyed having all the “hard work” organising done for me. The notes were great and places we stayed were all good. Information and tips were all extremely helpful. The places we went to on this trip were wonderful; we would never have experienced such places on our own.

Alexander Denniston, VIC – April 2017
All the personnel who we dealt with at RAW Travel had walked the Kumano Kodo, which gave us the confidence that our questions would be answered with the background of experience. As fit 70+ year olds, but novices to bushwalking, we were concerned that we might have been exceeding our abilities. In reality, every bit of advice was relevant and accurate.

Phillip Coppleman, NSW – April 2017
I loved the whole trip: the trekking, the culture, the people, and the challenge of navigating the trail, the rail systems, the cuisine.

Barbara Madden, WA – April 2017
I loved it all. To experience such an ancient tradition as the Kumano Kodo trek was a privilege, with the local cuisine a bonus. Koyasan was an absolute gem – who would think that half a day in a cemetery could be so engrossing! And the temple cuisine – absolutely stunning. Kyoto at peak cherry blossom time was stunning and I loved the way the Japanese people enjoyed this special time. I loved the Japanese people – so kind, courteous and helpful.

Frances Diver & Gaye McCulloch, VIC – April 2017
We had a great time in Japan. Everything worked perfectly. We had a transit night in Osaka followed by two days in Hiroshima to hang out at the peace park and a day trip to the island and walk up Mt Misen. Then to Kyoto – we loved it. Koyasan was a highlight. We got a local guide to take us on a 3-hour hike around the hills and we did the evening cemetery tour. Then off on the walk – got mostly good weather and really enjoyed both the walk and the rest day. All the accommodation was fine – each different and very welcoming. Final night at an odd but I suspect very Japanese huge hotel in Ki Katsura – it had a great onsen outside overlooking the sea and nice coffee shop near the ferry. Everywhere we stayed we had great food and I mean really great. The lunches for the walk were also really good. A great holiday and we would not have found those places and had those experiences ourselves. Thanks for your help.

May Tompson, Dunbible, NSW – March 2017
We have just enjoyed the Kumano Kodo walk and found that the organisation that RAW Travel put in place was top notch, not a single hiccup. The travel notes for the public transport were very helpful, and the public transport was an art form. The Japanese people were the ultimate helpful and charming hosts (we had not learnt Japanese prior to going, but  we will rectify this next time). The walk was heaven: early spring when the maple trees are bare and the plum and cherry blossoms are just beginning along the way – perfect. We were glad we spent 2 nights in Koyasan prior to the walk – there was so much to see, and it was snowing and beautiful there; warmer further south where the walk began.

Lindsay Lauder, VIC – October 2016
I loved the scenery. Kyoto was very historic. Great food. Koyasan incredibly beautiful. The walk challenging incredible scenery.the first nights accommodation and food could not be faulted. The chef got a standing ovation. The breakfast was also great and fantastic bento box.

James Lloyd, TAS – October 2016
I loved how all of our accommodation, train trips, food and baggage transfers were all organised prior to the start of our walk. It allowed us the concentrate on the experience of our walk.

Heidi Auman, TAS – October 2016
My husband and I adored every moment of the trip: from cultural Kyoto to meditative Koyasan to the sacred Kumano Kodo. All aspects of the trip, from accommodation, meals, JR passes and the detailed maps and track notes made an action-packed trip to Japan very enjoyable. Many thanks to the RAW Travel team for your diligent research and clear directions!

Prudence Plowman, Barwon Head, VIC – September 2016
I enjoyed the trip…food people places accommodation..However would suggest that your notes are put in to a book form…much too much paper and sorting each day.. book form daily is so much easier…with a place to put notes after each day.

Gillian Godfrey, June 2016
This trip was challenging, beautiful, rewarding and overall amazing. Leanne (and Heini while Leanne was trekking herself) went above and beyond to make sure/explain in detail what to expect. Still pinching myself that I have seen this part of Japan.

Michelle Hawes – March 2016
We have now returned from our trip to Japan. We had the best time &  loved the Kumano trek. The accomodation, food, transporting of our bags, maps…everything was fantastic & really well organised. Oh the food…the food…the lovely  food!!!! Thank you for your help organising this trip. I would definitely use Raw Travel again!!!

Mary Howell – April 2016
A big thank you for organising a terrific trip! I think most of us are back now and all really had a wonderful experience. What an amazing place! Thanks again for all your trouble.

Tony and Jennifer Waters, Kingscliff, NSW – July 2015
We had a lovely time in Japan. Thank you very much for the arrangements you made for us. All of the accommodations were very good. Luggage transfers went without a hiccup. Variations to our itinerary due to an accident ahead on the trail in one instance and then the typhoon were expertly handled during our travel. We loved the Japanese guesthouses and our hosts at each were delightful.  The Kumano Kodo walk was fantastic. There were very few other pilgrims, so we had the trail pretty much to ourselves most of the time, apart from the odd snake. We were very very happy with the service we have received from RAW Travel and would not hesitate to recommend your to other travellers.

Peta Fitzgibbon, Canberra – March 2015
Wonderful country, culture and everything worked like clockwork – especially important for a self-guided tour. Heini did a great job and gave advice to us, prior to our departure as we had some unexpected health issues to deal with.

William Filson & Lilian Chan, Sydney – March 2015
The Kumano Kodo walk you organised for us was excellent. The walk itself was at times difficult and steep but we were fit and had no problems. We were mainly alone on the track only once meeting a large group of “real pilgrims” dressed in traditional Buddhist clothing.  At that point we had been enjoying walking in 1000 year old footprints and steps worn to glide under our feet, the Buddhist group made us feel that we had actually gone back 1000 years in time.

What our Clients Say

The itinerary was perfectly paced. The trekking was breathtaking, challenging and very satisfying. Thank you Leanne for planning of this special experience.

Annette Tsindos, Hawthorn, VIC - July 2017

I enjoyed having all the "hard work" organising done for me. The information and tips were all extremely helpful. We would never have experienced such places on our own.

Kathleen Cleary, NSW - April 2017

The personnel at RAW Travel had walked the Kumano Kodo, which gave us confidence. As fit 70+ year olds, but novices to bushwalking, we thought we might have been exceeding our abilities. In reality, every bit of advice was relevant and accurate.

Alexander Denniston, April 2017

I loved the whole trip: the trekking, the culture, the people, and the challenge of navigating the trail, the rail systems, the cuisine.

Phillip Coppleman, April 2017

I loved it all. To experience such an ancient tradition as the Kumano Kodo trek was a privilege. Koyasan was an absolute gem. Kyoto at peak cherry blossom time was stunning. I loved the Japanese people - so kind, courteous and helpful.

Barbara Madden, Albany (WA), April 2017

We had the best time and loved the Kumano trek. The accommodation, food, transporting of our bags, maps...everything was fantastic & really well organised. Oh the food...the lovely food!!!! Thank you for your help organising this trip. I would definitely use Raw Travel again!!!

Michelle Hawes - March 2016

Everything worked perfectly. Everywhere we stayed we had great food and I mean really great. The lunches for the walk were also really good. A great holiday! We would not have found those places and had those experiences ourselves.

Frances Diver & Gaye Mcculloch, Melbourne - April 2017

The organisation that RAW Travel put in place was top notch, not a single hiccup. The Japanese people were the ultimate helpful and charming hosts. The walk was heaven: early spring when the maple trees are bare and the plum and cherry blossoms are just beginning – perfect.

May Tompson, NSW, March 2017

My husband and I adored every moment of the trip: from cultural Kyoto to meditative Koyasan to the sacred Kumano Kodo.

Heidi Auman, Tasmania - Oct 2016

A big thank you for organising a terrific trip! I think most of us are back now and all really had a wonderful experience. What an amazing place! Thanks again for all your trouble.

Mary Howell - April 2016

Wonderful country, culture and everything worked like clockwork - especially important for a self-guided tour. Heini did a great job and gave advice to us, prior to our departure as we had some unexpected health issues to deal with.

Peta Fitzgibbon - Mar 2015

This trip was challenging, beautiful, rewarding and overall amazing. Leanne and Heini went above and beyond to make sure/explain in detail what to expect. Still pinching myself that I have seen this part of Japan.

Gillian Godfrey, June 2016

Excellent service from every aspect, from the day the trip was booked to every single person that was relied upon.

Suzanne Robin, Christchurch, NZ - July 2017

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Kumano Kodo Expert

Chris Kavanagh

(03) 5976 3763

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