Kumano Kodo is the “ancient road” or “ancient trail” of Kumano.
One of the most popular Kumano Kodo walking routes is the Nakahechi Route.
And one of the most traditional ways to do the Kumano Kodo is by doing mostly full-day hikes every day walking the Kumano Kodo.
Most popular is doing the Nakahechi Route as a 4-day or 5-day Kumano Kodo hike.
Well, I did not do this.
I was not interested in full-day hikes or multi-day hikes like that.
There were days I did do a lot of walking (including on the Kumano Kodo!), but I also took the bus to get around Kumano Kodo.
So, there are ways to experience the Kumano Kodo without hiking as much. (You should still expect to walk a lot – it is Japan after all!)
So below I will show you what I saw by utilizing the bus to get between long distances.
What about a more traditional Kumano Kodo experience?
You can have an even more epic Kumano Kodo experience by staying in traditional Japanese inns along the way… if you plan in advance. (And yes, you must plan in advance!)
The best way to plan this sort of Kumano Kodo experience as an English speaker is by using the Kumano Kodo tourism website.
I saw one page on their website say to give 2 weeks, although now I cannot find that specific page that says that. 😜
I met foreigners (Americans) on a Kumano Kodo bus, and they did use the website to book accommodation well in advance, and they said it worked out well.
I met another foreigner (UK / Australian?) who attempted to use the website within 10 days of his trip, and it didn’t work out for him.
I met a Japanese-speaking foreigner (Australian) who said he didn’t start planning his Kumano Kodo trip until last minute. He did go through the list of accommodation on the tourism website and tried looking up places and making phone calls on his own in Japanese. Even then, it was an effort, and I think it may have allowed him to find one place to stay along the Kumano Kodo?
So basically, your best bet if you do want a traditional experience is to use the Kumano Kodo tourism website by planning in advance!
Otherwise, don’t worry, you can still have a good Kumano Kodo experience!
My trip was planned pretty last minute (a few days prior I decided I was going), and I thought my Kumano Kodo experience was perfect!
Again I was not interested in full-day hikes.
So while there were days I did do a lot of walking, but it wasn’t the full “pilgrimage” experience that you can get by walking along the Kumano Kodo pretty much the whole time from Takijiri-oji to Hongu. (This is a popular Kumano Kodo route, which would be the Nakahechi Route.)
The other quick note is that there is luggage forwarding available on the Kumano Kodo. So you don’t need to hike with all of your luggage.
And finally, there are many different ways to plan your epic Kumano Kodo trip!
Consider this below a starting point to give you ideas on how to do the Kumano Kodo!
While I did this as a 5-day trip from Kyoto, it’s possible for you to shorten it. (It can work just as easily from Osaka.)
So if you want to spend less time on the Kumano Kodo, you could just focus on these 2 areas.
The ultimate Japan experience #1: You can read the reviews for watching sumo training!
The ultimate Japan experience #2: You can read the reviews for the samurai lesson at a dojo!
The ultimate Japan experience #3: You can read the reviews for the tea ceremony!
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👆 You can make Nachi Falls a part of your Kumano Kodo trip! This is one of the iconic places to visit in Japan!
👆 Private outdoor onsen mineral hot springs bath near the Kumano Kodo in Yunomine Onsen.
👆 Small Kumano Kodo town of Yunomine Onsen.
Onsen = hot springs.
More of the Kumano Kodo: Another one of the popular Kumano Kodo areas that you may want to look into is Koya-san. It is a thing to do an overnight mountain temple stay at Koysan complete with traditional Japanese meals. This is not included below.
20+ things to do near the Kumano Kodo in the Nakahechi Route area
I did the Kumano Kodo in October 2022.
1. Takijiri-oji (Kumano Kodo start)
Now, if you aren’t planning on hiking the Kumano Kodo, there isn’t anything significant about the Takijiri-oji.
But, I stopped by because the Takijiri-oji can be the start of the Kumano Kodo when you are hiking the Nakahechi Route!
Takijiri-oji is a popular starting point for a multi-day Kumano Kodo hike.
If you have your accommodation lined up, you can hike from Takijiri-oji to Hongu and beyond.
There’s also a little welcome center / visitor center. If you have luggage and want to walk around for just a bit, the visitor center will hold your luggage for free as you do so.
If you want to do luggage forwarding, there’s a little shop near the start of the Kumano Kodo for that too.
If you want to pick up a Kumano Kodo stamp book, stop by the visitor center!
There is a bus stop near Takijiri-oji.
2. Tsuboyu onsen (private onsen hot springs)
The Tsuboyu onsen can be a destination on its own.
It is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Tsuboyu is said to be the only UNESCO world heritage site that’s a hot spring that you can bathe in!
It can be found right along the Kumano Kodo trail.
If you are hiking the Kumano Kodo through Yunomine Onsen, you will pass right by it.
You can do a mineral hot springs soak in private.
There is only one Tsuboyu onsen which means it’s possible (and common) that you will have to wait your turn for it to open up.
It’s first-come first-serve, with each person (or couple) being requested to limit their time to 30 minutes.
👆 The Tsuboyu onsen is the shack on the stream. You can have a private onsen hot springs experience along the Kumano Kodo in Yunomine Onsen.
👆 The bridge is a part of the Kumano Kodo trail. Just ahead of the bridge is the waiting area for the Tsuboyu onsen. You’ll take stairs down to the Tsuboyu shack for the hot springs.
👆 The stairs down to the private Tsuboyu onsen that is a UNESCO world heritage hot springs.
👆 Recognize this Japanese writing so you know what you’re looking for! It says “tsuboyu”
👆 Rinse off your body before you get in the onsen!
You will buy a ticket for the Tsuboyu onsen at the Yunomine Onsen public bath area.
Bring a towel if you want to do this!
3. Yunomine Onsen eggs (hot spring eggs)
Cooking eggs using the heat of the hot springs is a thing in onsen towns, and you can see one way people do this in Yunomine Onsen.
Right near the Yunomine Onsen bus stop, if you look down at the river, you might see a bag of eggs being placed in the water.
They are making onsen eggs!
You can even make your own onsen eggs! There is a small shop nearby that sells eggs.
4. Yunomine Onsen public bath (public hot springs)
If you want a traditional Japanese experience, then Yunomine Onsen also has a public onsen too.
There is a women’s bath and men’s bath.
👆 You will see this in front of the Yunomine Onsen bus stop. Straight ahead is the Yunomine Onsen public bath. You’ll see a ticket machine to buy tickets for the onsen. This is where you will buy a ticket for the private Tsuboyu onsen also. This is also staffed in case you have any questions.
5. Yunomine Onsen foot bath
Many places in Japan that have hot springs have specific spots designated as a foot bath.
I did not see any official foot bath spot, but you can go down by the river for your own hot springs foot bath!
Well, the water was lukewarm when I went, but maybe it will be hotter when you go!
Bring a towel to wipe off your feet if you want to do this!
6. Tsugizakura-oji trees
I saw these Kumano Kodo trees in pictures, and my mission was to see it… and I did! 😄
You can take a bus to Nonaka.
It will be the Nonaka-ipposugi bus stop.
Then, you can follow the signs for the Kumano Kodo. There will be a sign on the main road near the bus stop too.
If you’re traveling without luggage or do luggage forwarding, you can take a bus from Tanabe to Nonaka or from Takijiri-oji to Nonaka.
And then you can further take the bus from Nonaka to Yunomine Onsen or from Nonanka to Hongu.
This can save you a day compared to how I did it.
I went to Yunomine Onsen first, and then on the following day went from Yunomine Onsen to Nonaka to Hongu to Yunomine Onsen. (Bus from Yunomine Onsen to Nonaka. Bus from Nonaka to Hongu. Hike from Hongu to Yunomine Onsen!)
The Nonaka bus timings are limited so you’ll want to plan carefully.
7. Toganokijaya tea house
Also near the big Kumano Kodo trees is a replica of an ancient tea house.
This is really just a quiet area to walk around on the Kumano Kodo.
And, there are bamboo trees along the Kumano Kodo in Nonaka!
You can say that there’s nothing “must-visit” about Nonaka, but it can give you a quiet peaceful feeling of visiting a rural area of Japan.
It can give you a sense of what you’ll the Kumano Kodo is about.
8. Nonaka-no-shimizu spring
Walking back down from the big trees and tea house, you can stop by the Nonaka spring.
You can fill up your water bottle with fresh water from the mountains!
9. Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine (world heritage site + one of the “big 3” Kumano grand shrines)
11. Dainichi-goe (Kumano Kodo: Hongu to Yunomine Onsen hike)
The Dainichi-goe is one of the iconic sections of the Kumano Kodo.
And you can get to this section of the Kumano Kodo by doing it as a day hike from Hongu!
You can even take a bus to Hongu, and then hike from Hongu to Yunomine Onsen.
And this way, your “destination” can be “home”! (Because you will be staying in Yunomine Onsen, right?!)
And, if you don’t want to hike as much, then the Dainichi-goe section of Kumano Kodo is closer to Hongu.
The Kumano Kodo goes through Yunomine Onsen.
You can think of this as a solid day hike! You’ll want to give yourself a few hours for it.
12. Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine (world heritage site + one of the “big 3” Kumano grand shrines)
13. Kamikura Jinja Shrine (world heritage site)
14. Tankaku Castle ruins
15. Kumano Kodo Daimonzaka Slope
Hike to Nachi Falls
16. 800-year-old Meoto Sugi trees (Daimonzaka)
Hike to Nachi Falls
17. Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine
Hike to Nachi Falls
18. Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple
Hike to Nachi Falls
19. Nachi Falls pagoda lookout
This spot along the Kumano Kodo is one of the most iconic places to visit in Japan!
It’s not an official Nachi Falls lookout or overlook.
If you follow the walking route to Nachi Falls as it’s listed here, you will see this as you are walking down the stairs from the Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine!
20. Laughing Buddha
Hike to Nachi Falls
👆 Spot the Laughing Buddha! Spot Nachi Falls! (Hint: left!)
21. Nachisan Pagoda
Hike to Nachi Falls
22. Hiro-jinja Shrine
23. Nachi Falls (Hiro-jinja Shrine)
And those are some things that you can see if you go to Kumano Kodo in the Nakahechi Route area!
How to do all of these things?!
Kumano Kodo itinerary (bus)
As I (mostly) did it!
- Day 1: Kyoto Station to Kii-Tanabe Station train
- Overnight in Tanabe (Django hostel – private rooms available with shared bathroom)
- Day 2: Tanabe to Yunomine Onsen
- Tanabe to Takijiri-oji bus (See the start of the epic Kumano Kodo! Well, there isn’t anything that noteworthy except for knowing that it’s the start of it!)
- Things to do in Yunomine Onsen
- Overnight in Yunomine Onsen (J-Hoppers guesthouse / hostel – private rooms available with shared bathroom + private onsen available for all!)
- Day 3: Nonaka and Hongu
- Yunomine Onsen to Nonaka bus
- Things to do in Nonaka
- Nonaka to Hongu bus
- Things to do in Hongu
- Hike the Kumano Kodo from Hongu to Yunomine Onsen!
- Overnight in Yunomine Onsen
- Day 4: Shingu and Nachi Falls
- Day 5: Ise
- Things to do in Ise
- Iseshi Station to Kyoto Station train
Where to stay along the Kumano Kodo
I spent a total of 3 nights in the Kumano Kodo area:
- 1 night at Django hostel in Tanabe near Kii-Tanabe Station and a Kumano Kodo bus stop
- 2 nights at J Hoppers guesthouse / hostel in Yunomine Onsen near a Kumano Kodo bus stop
- And then leaving the Kumano Kodo area, I stayed 1 night at Ise Guesthouse Kazami hostel in Ise City, on the way back to Kyoto
I arrived to the Kumano Kodo area at the Kii-Tanabe Station. This is a train station. There is a Kumano Kodo tourist information center near this train station that you should definitely stop by during normal business hours! (It’s the Tanabe tourist information center.)
On the day of arrival, I stayed at the Django hostel that’s within walking distance of the Kii-Tanabe Station. There is also a Kumano Kodo bus stop near the Kii-Tanabe Station, so this was a convenient place to stay to take the bus the next morning.
It did have limited check-in hours. I had to wait until the check-in time (maybe 4pm?) and there was no lobby of any sort to wait around. The Kii-Tanabe Station does have a waiting area that you can be.
The downstairs of the hostel also serves as a bar, so it was a bit noisy and smoky until like 11pm. As long as I kept the door of my room closed I did not notice the smoke, but I did notice it when I opened the door to go to the bathroom. The noise subsided and didn’t last overnight, but if you are looking to catch a bus early the next morning, you might want to bring earplugs!
Overall the convenience of the location near the train station and bus stop did make it worth it staying here despite these things. (And I did have earplugs.)
If you want an onsen experience in Japan while doing the Kumano Kodo, the backpacker’s guesthouse of J-Hoppers Yunomine can be a perfect place to stay in Yunomine Onsen!
There are dorm beds (aka this is a hostel) and there are private rooms available.
The private rooms aren’t traditional hotel rooms. It is basically a room for you to sleep.
There’s a common area, including a living space and kitchen.
Everyone shares a bathroom, whether you’re staying in the dorm or in a private room.
You also share the shower and bath.
Most importantly, the bath is not like your bathtub at home.
It’s a mineral hot springs bath!
THE reason to stay in Yunomine Onsen at J-Hoppers is for the private onsen.
You can privately take a mineral hot springs bath available for your use 24/7!
You can take an outdoor mineral bath or an indoor mineral bath.
There are instructions for how to take an onsen.
The most important things to know for an onsen is to clean yourself before entering and you shouldn’t be wearing anything. (No swimsuit.)
It’s around 3800 yen for a dorm bed (less than $35), 10,000 yen for a private room for 2 people (less than US$100), 13,800 yen for a private room for 3 people (less than $130).
You’ll pay like an extra $1 for an onsen charge when you check-in, and this covers unlimited private onsen use.
The guesthouse is a few minutes walk from the Yunomine Onsen bus stop, and it’s also a few minutes walk from access to the Kumano Kodo trail that goes right through Yunomine Onsen.
A note on Japanese yen to USD conversion: For a quick and easy conversion in my head, I had always done 100 yen = US$1. But, the reality of late 2022 is that 100 yen is much less than $1. When I did this trip to Hongu in October 2022, it had hit 150 yen = US$1. 😱 So the approximate USD is actually much less than the above listed approximate USD figures! Of course, the amount you will pay will depend on what the exchange rate is when you go, but this can start to give you an idea. For easy conversion, you can simply type into google “8500 yen to usd” for example. When I checked just now on this October 2022 day, it said 8500 yen was less than US$60.
How to get around Kumano Kodo
You can get around Kumano Kodo by bus!
The official Kumano Kodo tourism website has bus schedules, but it’s best to verify locally to make sure you get the most up-to-date schedule.
It’s a good idea to plan for making a stop at a tourism information center.
If you will be arriving at Kii-Tanabe Station, you can walk out the train station and go to the Tanabe tourist information center. There you can get bus schedules and Kumano Kodo maps.
When I did use google maps, it did seem to have correct timings, so you can use that for basic planning too.
Although when it comes to small towns, I would also get the local bus schedule too, to be certain!
Kumano Kodo bus: General tips for taking the local bus around Kumano Kodo (and most local buses in Japan)
Once you are in the Kumano Kodo area, you can take the bus!
You can consult google maps to guide your way! It makes knowing where to get on the bus and where to get off the bus super easy!
You pay for the bus as you get off the bus. You don’t need to buy a ticket ahead of time.
You will get on the bus from the back door, not the front. As you get on the bus, you need to look for a little ticket to grab. This will have a number on it, and it will allow you to determine how much you need to pay when you get off the bus.
Once your bus stop is the next bus stop, you will press a little button to signify to the bus driver to get off next. There will be an announcement, and there is a display sign at the front of the bus that will tell you the next bus stop.
Then, you will also look at the front of the bus to find out how much the bus fare costs. You will look for the number that’s on the ticket that you grabbed as you got on the bus, and that is how much you need to pay for the bus fare.
Once the bus arrives at your bus stop, you’ll go to the front of the bus. You’ll put exact change into the fare box. There will be no change given to you.
If you need smaller change, it is also possible to break a 1,000 yen bill in the coin machine at the front of the bus. You can do this as you get off the bus. You cannot break a 5,000 yen bill, so be sure to have coins and/or 1,000 yen bills for the Kumano Kodo bus.
More about how to take the local bus around Kumano Kodo
For the visual: here is how to take the local bus in Kyoto, which is similar to how to take the local bus around Kumano Kodo and other local buses in Japan.
HAPPY HIKING THE KUMANO KODO!
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Is a JR pass worth it?!
- Google maps can make it easy to figure out whether or not you should get a JR pass!
- In google maps, type in your departure and arrival city, and choose the transit icon. The route will come up, and so will the estimated cost at the bottom!
- Here is an example of a train route with cost on google maps.
- So do that for all of your long distance routes to figure out how much it might cost.
- Next, go here to see how much a JR pass costs from an official JR pass vendor (and partner of this website).
- And compare!
- Not all forms of public transportation are JR, but long distance shinkansen bullet trains are, and that's where the most cost savings will come.
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