Itineraries

Drive Wakayama—from traditional Tanabe

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Tanabe is the gateway to the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route and Ajikoji—a densely packed area of bars where visitors can enjoy local Japanese night-life. Travel on the Limited Express Kuroshio from Shin-Osaka and arrive in Tanabe in around two and a half hours.

Flowers and Fungi

Mycena lux-coeli

This small mushroom glows a mysterious pale green after nightfall. It is best spotted during the rainy season between June and September.

Spiritual

Visit ancient spots of deep spiritual significance

Drive into Wakayama's spiritual heartland and set foot on some very holy ground

Kamikura Shrine

Onsen

Relax in caves or under the stars

Spend the night in one of Wakayama’s historical hot-spring hamlets and enjoy some real relaxation

Drive

Take a drive deep into the mountains

Hire a car and be free to explore Wakayama's mountain and coastal roads

Flowers

Japanese Maple

Spot these tiny but perfectly formed maple leaves that blaze bright red in November.

Useful Information

JAL Japan Explorer Pass

Fly to Nanki-Shirahama airport to begin your exploration of Wakayama. Japan Airlines offers affordable domestic fares with the JAL Japan Explorer Pass. The easy-to-use English website makes booking flights very easy.

Nanki-Shirahama Airport

There are three direct flights a day from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Wakayama’s Nanki-Shirahama Airport. Booking flights is easy and flying into the area is a time-efficient and cost-effective option.

Rail and bus services in Wakayama operate infrequently compared to Japan’s urban centres, so if you are travelling in a group, with lots of luggage, or would simply like more freedom to travel, consider renting a car.

There are a number of car rental shops in Tanabe, and most of them have English websites making reservations straightforward. Consider arriving the night before to spend a night out in the Ajikoji Food Entertainment District. Start your road trip the next morning and enjoy driving the winding mountain roads that lead into the heart of Wakayama prefecture.

Make sure you have the all the right paperwork to rent a car. Research all the necessary requirements regarding driving in Japan, including international driving permits.

1 Adventure World

Adventure World is an expansive wildlife park, home to the mascots of Shirahama—the pandas. Many of the enclosures are free-roaming, meaning you can wander around with a diverse range of wildlife from flamingoes to toucans, to capybaras. The play zone has roller coasters and go-karts for children, and the Safari World section can be explored on foot, by sightseeing train or by rental jeep.

2 Lunch in Shirahama

The Shirahama area offers some great lunch options to suit everyone. Head to the lively Toretore Market to taste some very fresh fish and sour-pickled plums—a local speciality. There are also barbecue areas for you to grill your purchases. Shirahama’s dining options are not just limited to Japanese cuisine however, as many of the cafés and restaurants serve Italian and other western-style fare. Enjoy lunch or dinner with a view at one of the ocean-facing restaurants.

3 Sightseeing in Shirahama

Shirahama is one of Japan’s oldest onsen resorts, has one of the most beautiful beaches in the country, and provides a home to a large family of pandas. Many of the hot springs in the area face the ocean—including Saki-no-yu Onsen where you can feel the ocean spray. Shirarahama Beach is 800 metres of white sand and sparkling water and Adventure World is an expansive animal park where the star attractions are the pandas.

4 Overnight in Shirahama

There are many accommodation options in Shirahama from traditional ryokan hotels to luxury lodgings overlooking the ocean. Most hotels have hot spring onsen facilities and restaurants that serve local and seasonal fare. Take the chance to relax and fill up on good food.

5 Lunch in Kiri-no-Sato Takahara Lodge

Take a drive into the heart of the prefecture. The mountain roads are winding but generally wide and well-kept. Enjoy the scenery as you climb up to the Organic Hotel—Kirinosato Takahara Inn—for a healthy lunch with a mountain view.

6 Sightseeing in Hongu

The Hongu area is ideal for outdoor lovers and anyone interested in Japanese spiritual history. The Kawayu Campground is situated next to the river and is an excellent place for the family to stay. Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine—one of the three grand shrines of Kumano—is located here, and the original site of the shrine, Oyunohara, is nearby. Walk along a section of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route to find Tsukimigaoka-jinja Shrine in the dense forest.

7 Overnight in Hongu

There are clusters of small hotels, guesthouses and other places to stay near and around Kumano Hongu Taisha. Alternatively, book a stay in the onsen resorts of Yunomine and Kawayu for an authentic Japanese hot spring experience. If travelling in a group, be sure to book well in advance.

Kawayu Onsen is a hot spring hamlet located close to the Kumano Kodo trails. There are several hot spring hotels and ryokan with a variety of different baths in the area, but it is Senninburo, a large open-air bath in the middle of the Oto-gawa river that is the main attraction.

Yunomine is an atmospheric hot spring hamlet with a long history. Take a dip in Tsubo-yu, a legendary hot spring bath with healing properties. You can even boil eggs in the hot water— head down to the special boiling area below the bridge.

8 Daimon-zaka slope

The 600-meter long Daimon-zaka slope leads up to the grand shrine of Kumano Nachi Taisha. Dense Japanese cedar trees create a natural canopy, sheltering you from the elements. Rent Heian period (794-1185) kimonos to enhance your experience and arrive at the shrine in style.

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9 Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine

Kumano Nachi Taisha is one of the three grand shrines of Kumano, and its origins lie in the ancient worship of Nachi Waterfall. The expansive complex houses other religious sites including Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple. The temple is located next to the shrine, highlighting the harmonious relationship that Buddhism and Shintoism shared centuries ago.

10 Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple

Located adjacent to Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine, Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple is the place to get picture-postcard shots of Nachi Waterfall. With the temple's iconic three-tiered pagoda in the foreground and the falls in the background, everything is set up for a snap straight out of a travel guide.

11 Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine

Kumano Hayatama Taisha is one of the three Kumano Grand Shrines. The striking vermillion red shrine houses a treasure hall packed with over a thousand items of historical, artistic and spiritual significance. The grounds host the natural god of an 800-year-old Nagi-no-Ki tree.

12 Overnight in Hongu

Kawayu: The Oto-gawa River is the focal point of the Kawayu Onsen town. Geothermal water bubbles up to the surface of the river providing one big river-sized hot spring.

Yunomine: A tiny hamlet tucked up in the Kumano mountains, Yunomine Onsen is home to one of the oldest hot spring resorts in all of Japan.

Wataze: Large outdoor baths are the star attraction in the hot spring area of Wataze Onsen.

13 Kushimoto Marine Park

The Kushimoto Marine Park offers glass-bottom boat tours, an aquarium and undersea observation tower and the restaurants serve very fresh fish, straight from the ocean.

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14 Sightseeing in Kushimoto

Kushimoto is a great spot to discover the mysteries under the sea—and eat them too. For divers, head to the Kushimoto Diving Park to explore warm waters filled with coral and tropical fish. The Kushimoto Marine Park offers glass-bottom boat tours, an aquarium and undersea observation tower and the restaurants in the area serve very fresh fish, straight from the ocean.

15 Maguro Ryori (Katsuura tuna)

The tuna hauls in Katsuura are the largest in Japan, and this ultra-fresh fish can be enjoyed around the town in many different ways. The freshest way is a mouthwatering bite of sushi or sashimi, but you can also find the fish served as cutlets—covered in breadcrumbs and flash-fried.

16 Overnight in Katsuura

The retro fishing town of Katsuura is known for its hot springs offering you the chance to unwind after your day of spiritual adventure. A number of large hotels with onsen located in unique natural settings are available, along with smaller hostels and guesthouses. Be sure to taste the local speciality—very fresh tuna.

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