UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the Kumano Kodo Trail: Exploring Japan’s Rich Cultural Heritage

The Kumano Kodo Trail is one of those rare places that harmoniously combines natural beauty with profound historical and cultural significance. This ancient pilgrimage trail on Japan’s Kii Peninsula isn’t just a walk; it’s an immersion into a sacred tradition that stretches back over a thousand years. Partner that experience with the seasoned expertise of Auswalk Walking Company, and you’re in for an unforgettable, spiritually enriching journey. This blog aims to shed light on some of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites you’ll encounter on the Kumano Kodo Trail and how Auswalk elevates your expedition into a true pilgrimage.

The Significance of Kumano Kodo

The Kumano Kodo is much more than just a scenic hiking trail. It’s a sacred path leading to the Kumano Sanzan — the three grand Shinto shrines of Kumano: Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha, and Nachi Taisha. These trails were historically walked by emperors and commoners alike, crossing mountains and valleys to reach the revered shrines. It’s one of only two pilgrimage routes in the world recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the other being the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Kumano Sanzan: The Three Grand Shrines

Kumano Hongu Taisha

Located in Tanabe City, the Kumano Hongu Taisha is the head shrine of over 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan. The shrine is best known for its massive Torii gate, which is the largest in the world. The surrounding area also offers hot springs and traditional ryokan (inns) where you can rest after a long day’s walk.

Kumano Hayatama Taisha

Situated near the mouth of the Kumano River, Hayatama Taisha is famous for its lush sacred grove of ancient trees. The trees here are believed to be divine messengers and are treated with great reverence. Don’t miss the chance to see the Nagi Tree, estimated to be over 1,000 years old.

Kumano Nachi Taisha

The third of the grand shrines, Kumano Nachi Taisha, is particularly famous for the nearby Nachi waterfall — the tallest waterfall in Japan. This shrine is also unique because it is adjacent to Seiganto-ji, a Buddhist temple, symbolizing the historical blend of Shinto and Buddhist religious practices in Japan.

The Dual Pilgrim Credential

If you’ve also done the Camino de Santiago, you’re eligible for a special Dual Pilgrim credential, acknowledging you’ve completed both UNESCO-listed pilgrimage routes. A truly unique and humbling honor that reflects the international significance of these spiritual journeys.

Other Heritage Sites Along the Way


Founded by the monk Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi, in the early 9th century, Koyasan is a plateau filled with over a hundred temples. Consider staying overnight at a temple lodging (shukubo) for a full monastic experience, including traditional vegetarian meals and morning prayers.


The original site of Kumano Hongu Taisha before it was relocated, Oyunohara is marked by the Otorii gate, standing solemnly amidst a wide, open space. Pilgrims usually perform a ritual here to cleanse themselves before moving on to the main shrine.


Exploring the Kumano Kodo Trail is not just about hiking; it’s a pilgrimage that takes you through the pages of Japan’s rich cultural and spiritual history. And there’s no better way to experience this ancient journey than with Auswalk Walking Company. Their expert guides offer unparalleled insights into the traditions and history of the sites you’ll visit. Coupled with customized itineraries and all-inclusive packages, Auswalk ensures that your experience is not just comfortable but profoundly enriching.

When you walk the Kumano Kodo with Auswalk, you’re not merely a tourist. You become part of a lineage that goes back over a thousand years, a modern pilgrim in an age-old journey towards spiritual enlightenment. You don’t just visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites; you come to understand them, to engage with them, and to be transformed by them. It’s not just a walk; it’s a journey of a lifetime. So, lace up those walking boots, and let Auswalk guide you through this incredible pilgrimage. Cheers to a life-changing experience!