The Top 3 Pilgrimages for the Modern-Day Traveler

Pilgrimages are a great way to discover more about a particular country. They often involve traveling specific journeys to religious destinations. In the case of a pilgrimage, the journey really is as important as the destination itself, if not more so, as you’ll likely be traveling the same route to a holy site that a particular people have been taking for hundreds of years. The ancientness of this particular cultural act brings the traveler’s surroundings into historical context, and provides unique insight into a nation’s people, history, and values. Although you’ll be walking along more or less the same path as true pilgrims did to deepen their spiritual connection hundreds of years ago, now a modern tourism infrastructure exists to provide travelers with a variety of lodging and transportation conveniences on their journey. Sit back and enjoy the top 3 pilgrimages for the modern-day traveler.

Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago is probably the most famous pilgrimage modern-day travelers can take. It’s a network of four Christian pilgrimage routes in Northern Spain that lead to the shrine of Saint James in the Santiago Compostela Cathedral in Galicia, where supposedly the remains of the saint are buried. Some of the trails date back at least eleven centuries. As it did then, the pilgrimage continues to foster cultural exchange between travelers and the communities they pass. Additionally, the beautiful landscapes and Spanish architecture attract thousands of modern-day pilgrims every year. There are plenty of hostels, known as albergues, specifically designed to shelter Camino walkers along the 900-plus mile journey. If this number scares you, traveling by foot isn’t the only option. You can also drive, cycle, or even travel by donkey.

Kumano Kodo

We’re happy to tell you the Kumano Kodo is one of Japan’s best-kept secrets. It’s the only other pilgrimage, besides the Camino de Santiago, that UNESCO has declared a world heritage site. That designation alone should make it a worthwhile visit. Visitors will encounter a stunning network of lush forest trails, originally developed to help pilgrims traverse religious areas along the Kii Peninsula, the largest on the Japanese island of Honshu. These trails have been in use for this purpose for at least 1,000 years. Seeing the beautiful Kumano Sanzan shrines is a highlight of the journey. While the paths vary in difficulty, the array of natural hot springs and inns along each of the trails should provide great comfort and convenience. Hikers can even send ahead their luggage while traveling.   

Inca Trail

This pilgrimage ends at Macchu Picchu, the iconic citadel of the Inca built in the 15th century. This experience provides modern-day pilgrims with unparalleled access to the civilization’s architecture, as well as the biodiversity that shaped their way of life. On every trail, visitors are sure to pass ancient settlements, tunnels and other Incan ruins, all while trekking through the cloud forests and alpine tundra of the Andes mountains experts suggest the 27-mile trail was created to prepare visitors and locals for the majesty of Macchu Picchu itself, and today the hike is normally completed within four or five days. Peru has sought to preserve the beauty and history of the Inca Trail’s surroundings by only allowing a limited number of visits per season, and only issuing travel permits to touring companies. Therefore, visitors will only be able to travel the Inca trail in this fashion. With this guidance, travelers won’t have to worry about food or lodging as they enjoy the natural beauty and historical value of this one-of-a-kind pilgrimage

Contemporary Tours offers carefully curated academic and cultural experiences in all of the countries mentioned above. Contact us today for more information. 


By Dana Silverman

Dana credits her passion for travel to Girl Scouts, which provided her with amazing opportunities to attend summer camps throughout the United States during her childhood.  She’s lived in Australia and New Zealand, and she’s planning a trip to Japan around her appreciation for the country’s cuisine and temples.