Kii Peninsula Voted Best in Travel 2018

Kumano Kodo_HB

Japan’s Kii Peninsula in central Wakayama prefecture has been voted no.5 in the ten Top Regions to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018!

The Top Regions category pinpoints ten up-and-coming regions working their way up Lonely Planet’s must-visit travel bucket list. This year’s list was headed by Northern Ireland’s Belfast and the Causeway Coast, with Alaska (USA), the Julian Alps (Slovenia), the Languedoc-Roussillon region (France), and Japan’s Kii Peninsula following closely behind. Together with India, the Kii Peninsula is the only Asian destination to feature on this year’s list.
 

With Japan’s status as a “red-hot” travel destination - the number of visitors has doubled over the past three years, and is only expected to rise - Lonely Planet suggests the Kii Peninsula as an ideal place for visitors looking to “dig a little deeper” into the thrilling country of Japan.

Dipping down into the Pacific Ocean south of major tourist honeypots Kyoto and Osaka, the Kii Peninsula offers prime examples of many of Japan’s most lauded attractions. There are Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, sublime natural scenery and steaming hot springs, traditional culture and modern convenience, but all without the crowds you are likely to find in nearby big cities - so far, that is!

According to Lonely Planet, the Kii Peninsula is starting to get noticed, in part because “travelling here is remarkably hassle-free.” Given its proximity to local transport hubs Osaka and Kyoto, travelling to the peninsula is also a no-brainer - the entrance to the peninsula is just 2 hours’ drive south of Osaka or Kyoto, with the tip around 3.5 hours further south. It's also possible to get around by train, via the Kisei Line which runsaround the peninsula along its scenic coastline.
 
But what to do once you get there? Lonely Planet highlights the Kumano Kodo, once an ancient pilgrimage route and now a network of hiking trails weaving through the nature-rich, mountainous peninsula. Once reserved only for emperors and samurai, today the old road is open to all modern-day seekers and wanderers. Lonely Planet describes a trek on the trail as “one of Japan’s most remote and rewarding journeys”.
 
Here are a few more ideas for things to do once you’ve ditched the crowds and got firmly off the beaten tourist track in the Kii Peninsula...
 

Top Places To Visit in the Kii Peninsula

Hike the Kumano Kodo - Sacred Pilgrimage Trail

Kumano Kodo

The Kumano Kodo, a network of ages-old walking trails, has been used by pilgrims and visitors to the peninsula for over a millennium. It is one of only two pilgrimage routes in the world that has been decreed a UNESCO World Heritage site, in 2004. Explore the trails’ atmospheric moss-covered, tree-lined paths under your own steam, or join a guided tour by one an expert tour company such as Walk Japan or Oku Japan.

Nearest station: Shingu station

Kumano Sanzan - Sacred Shrines and Waterfall

Nachi no Ogi, Kumano Taisha
 
Venture deep into Japan’s spiritual heartland and discover Kumano Sanzan, a trio of sacred shrines tucked away in thickly forested hills on the peninsula’s southern tip. Of the three shrines, Nachi Taisha - home to a dramatic waterfall which is the tallest in Japan at 133 metres - is the most scenic and also the most easily accessible by public transport. Time your visit for mid-July to witness the breathtaking Nachi-no-Ogi fire festival (find out more here).


Nearest station: Shingu station

Shirahama - Beaches and Onsen

Shirahama Beach

Offering the unusual but heavenly combination of sandy beaches and bubbling hot springs, onsen-cum-beach-resort Shirahama has everything  you need to kick back and relax. Shirahama means “white sand” in Japanese, and as the name suggests, the area is home to 500-metre long white sand beach. Many of the resort's hotels will see you bunking down just a few steps from the water’s edge. Shirahama is also one of Japan’s three oldest onsen, with six bathhouses open to day guests. Head to coastal Sakinoyu or Shirasuna on the sandy beach for outdoor views while you bathe.

Nearest station: Shirahama station

Mount Koya - Temple Lodgings

Dano Garan, Mt Koya
 
Take a detour to this sacred mountain-top temple complex at the top of the peninsula near Osaka. Mt. Koya is home to over 100 temples, but the most important are Kongobuji Temple and Okunoin mausoleum. To really appreciate the esoteric vibe, make sure you stay overnight in a shukubo (temple lodging), where you’ll get a taster of life as a Buddhist monk, sleeping on a futon, eating shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine), and trying out monkish activities such as calligraphy, Zen meditation and morning prayers.

Nearest station: Gokurabashi station
 

Ise Jingu - Japan’s Most Sacred Shrine

Ise Jingu Shrine
 
Located on the eastern “thumb” of the peninsula between Osaka and Nagoya, Ise is home to the Ise Jingu shrines, Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrines. Ise Jingu consists of two major shrines standing several kilometres apart from each other: the Inner Shrine (Naiku) and the Outer Shrine (Geku). The Inner Shrine, dedicated to Shinto’s most important deity, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, is arresting in its simplicity. Featuring little more than gravel-strewn pathways linking a series of barely painted wooden shrines in a serene forest, the unworldly atmosphere defies words and must be experienced to be understood.

Nearest station: Isuzugawa station
 

Yoshino - Cherry Blossoms

Mt Yoshino ©Yasufumi Nishi 

Yoshino is one of Japan’s most famous and spectacular cherry blossom spots. The slopes of Mt. Yoshino are covered by over 30,000 cherry blossom trees which burst into bloom every year in spring, lending the mountains the appearance of being wrapped in vibrant candy floss. Visitors can admire the breath-taking sight as they walk the many trails crisscrossing the mountain’s hills and slopes, while those who don’t fancy the climb can hop on the Yoshino Ropeway.

Nearest station: Yoshino
 
If this has piqued your interest you can find out more about the Kii Peninsula and the other nine up-and-coming regions that made it onto Lonely Planet's list this year here: www.lonelyplanet.com/best-in-travel/ 

Alternatively, find out more about hiking the Kumano Kodo here: www.lonelyplanet.com/hiking-the-kumano-kodo/ 
 
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