For some, setting out on a pilgrimage is a spiritual journey; for others, it’s a physical feat of reaching a goal. No matter the reason, the tradition of walking a pilgrimage or historic path allows travelers to slow down and reconnect with those around them and reflect on personal experiences. Our philosophy at Wilderness Travel has always been to create meaningful travel experiences, and the itineraries we designed around these pilgrimages and historic paths are no exception. Whether it’s marking a transition in life, celebrating a moment of mindfulness, or just simply unplugging from the daily grind and reveling in the present, these journeys are as much a balm for the mind and heart as they are for the body.
1. Camino de Santiago
Perhaps the world’s best-known pilgrimage, and one that holds World Heritage status, is the legendary El Camino de Santiago. It is believed that the holy relics of St. James rest in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, and pilgrims have made their way here on foot since the 9th century. We designed our Pilgrim’s Way itinerary to hike the most beautiful and historic sections of this trail, avoiding the sections where development has encroached, and we’ve created a unique and superb journey that is both active and reflective. We take part in the pilgrim tradition by bringing a stone from our hometown to leave at the end of our walk, marking the conclusion of the pilgrimage. One of our WT Adventurers captured the essence of walking “El Camino“ in a beautiful photo blog. You can read it here.
2. Shikoku Pilgrimage
Shikoku, the smallest of the main islands in Japan, seems to exist in another time altogether—and it’s the ideal setting for a pilgrimage. The great 8th century Buddhist saint Kobo Daishi, the most revered figure in Japanese Shingon Buddhism, was born on Shikoku, and built temples across the island after establishing his school for Buddhism. O-henro san (pilgrims) follow in his footsteps, retracing the journey from temple to temple around the beautiful island. On our Hiker’s Journey to Shikoku, we hike to 10 temples on Kobo Daishi’s pilgrimage path, including the first and last temples on the 88-temple route. We’ll also enjoy a nice soak at Dogo Onsen, the oldest hot spring in all of Japan, overnights at a shukubo (temple lodge), and relaxing ryokans with a charming and decidedly traditional Japanese culture. One tradition you’ll often see is pilgrims donning a sedge straw hat, a white outfit (originally a burial outfit because pilgrimages were often dangerous and pilgrims needed to be ready to die along the route), and a “kongō-jō” wooden staff signifying Kobo Daishi.
3. England Coast to Coast
Created by British hiker and writer Alfred Wainwright in 1973, the “coast-to-coast” path arcs across England through storied landscapes including the ethereal Lake District, inspiration to William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge. Travelers on our England Coast to Coast journey first christen their boots in the Irish Sea (a coast-to-coast tradition), before setting out through Lake District, then the Yorkshire Dales, and finally through North York Moors of Bronte sisters’ fame, ending on the North Sea. Our celebratory final hike leads us to Robin Hood’s bay on the east coast of England, where we dip our boots in the North Sea.
4. Via Francigena
Known as the “Road from France,” the pilgrim paths of the Via Francigena begin in medieval times in Canterbury, England, and wove through France to bring pilgrims to St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, where the bones of St. Peter are said to lie. Our version, Italy’s Pilgrim Trail, picks up the Via Francigena outside of picturesque Siena and brings us through the quintessential Tuscan countryside on wonderful trails, with visits to wineries and Roman amphitheaters en route, and ends as we walk right into St. Peter’s Square, joining other pilgrims in the heart of Rome.
5. Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail is the perfect combination of a great mountain hike and an amazing way to see Inca ruins in mystical valleys that only hikers can reach. Our Inca Trail to Machu Picchu route gives us five days on the historic trail, paced so we avoid other hikers, and the finest camp amenities on the trail. There is nothing quite like hiking into this sacred Inca citadel on foot, and entering it on foot through Intipunku, the “Gate of the Sun,” as the Incas once did.
6. Dolpo Trek
Author Peter Matthiessen put this remote region of Nepal on the map with his acclaimed book The Snow Leopard. Dolpo is a vision of Old Tibet, accessible only on foot. Our epic trek brings you into this rare world on ancient trails to high-altitude villages where people live as their Tibetan ancestors did. No WiFi exists here, no lodges, just soaring peaks, dark blue lakes, and the ancient monastery of Shey Gompa below Crystal Mountain, Dolpo’s sacred peak. Our Dolpo: Expedition to the Crystal Mountain is a celebration of this region and its remote wonders, where we’ll cross high passes, hike trails with no other trekkers around, and can join Tibetan buddhists during their kora (circuit walk) near the Crystal Mountain.