Itineraries

Drive Wakayama—from KIX to the coast

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Touch down at Kansai International Airport (KIX) and be driving down Wakayama's beautiful coastline within a couple of hours. Hiring a car gives you the freedom to travel across the prefecture, from the spiritual heartland of Koyasan to the retro fishing village of Katsuura.

Flowers

Japanese Maple

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

Drive

Take a drive deep into the mountains

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

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

Spiritual

Visit ancient spots of deep spiritual significance

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

Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine

Flowers

A brand new cherry blossom

Look out for Kumano Sakura, the first new variety of cherry blossom to be discovered for 100 years.

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.

Renting a car from Kansai International Airport (KIX) is easy, and the drive to Wakayama City is only 45 minutes depending on the traffic. From Wakayama City, drive down the scenic coastline passing by Wakaura Bay and arriving in the beach and onsen resort town of Shirahama in just under two hours. It is a further two hours on the coast road to Shingu. The prefecture is connected by a network of expressways, highways and regional roads with plenty of full-service rest stops (michi-no-eki).

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 Amanosato

Amanosato is a 90-minute drive from Kansai International Airport (KIX) and is an excellent spot for lunch. The beautiful wooden buildings of this modern lodging facility are minimally decorated and have high ceilings. The restaurant serves Japanese-French fusion dishes using locally sourced rice and vegetables, and everything is immaculately presented. Last order for lunch is at 13:30.

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10 min ~

2 Niutsuhime Jinja (Niutsuhime Shrine)

Niutsuhime Jinja was founded more than 1700 years ago and is a registered World Heritage venue. The deities enshrined here are the guardians of Koyasan, the Buddhist mountaintop temple complex. Fans of shrine architecture will appreciate the four main shrine buildings: Japan's largest kasuga-style structures.

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VIEW ON MAP
30 min ~

3 Sightseeing in Koyasan

Find out why Wakayama is thought to be the spiritual heart of Japan by exploring the ancient temple complex of Koyasan. Visit the Danjo Garan Sacred Temple Complex in the centre of Koyasan and see the beautiful vermillion pagoda. Head to the Koyasan Reihokan Museum to view the many religious works of art in permanent and temporary exhibitions, or wander through Okuno-in—an atmospheric graveyard with over 200,000 tombstones and commemorative monuments.

4 Overnight in Koyasan

For a unique lodging experience in Koyasan, stay the night in one of the temples offering bed-and-breakfast along with voluntary ascetic training and meditation. The Koyasan Shukubo Association provides all necessary information in English. Alternatively, stay in one of the traditional riverside ryokan hotels in Ryujin Onsen and bathe in the high-quality hot springs thought to make bathers more beautiful.

For more information:
Ryujin Onsen

Option: Kiri-no-Sato Takahara Lodge

Relax and unwind with a hot bath and cold beer (other beverages available) in this lodging facility in the mountains. Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and take in panoramic views of the forested mountain ridges. Also known as the Organic Hotel, the food served is locally sourced providing you with healthy dinners and breakfasts.

5 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.

6 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.

7 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.

30 min ~

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 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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12 Morning tuna auction

More tuna is landed in Katsuura than anywhere else in Japan. At the local fish market, you can watch from designated observation areas as 150kg specimens are lined up and sold off during the lively early morning auctions, then sample the goods at restaurants throughout the town.

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VIEW ON MAP
40 min ~

13 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.

1 hr ~

14 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.

15 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.

16 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.

17 Lunch and dinner 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.