How To Book Accommodation For The Kumano Kodo (With Kumano Travel)

Tristan Balme How to book kumano kodo accomodation with Kumano Travel

Securing the right accommodation is a crucial part of your Kumano Kodo experience, however, the booking process is a bit of a nightmare..

Staying in traditional inns and guesthouses, known as ‘ryokan’ or ‘minshuku’, was the highlight of my pilgrimage, but they often have limited capacity and are only offered through the official local tourism bureau, Kumano Travel

They aim to simplify the booking process for international travelers by providing services in English and by directly partnering with accommodation providers along the routes. This eliminates the uncertainties that can come with self-planning or using multiple booking channels.

You need to book well in advance and communication is poor, so there a bit of a knack to it if this is your first time.

In this article I’ll share my experience booking with Kumano Travel and give some tips on making your experience a lot less stressful!

Key Takeaways

  • Book your ‘On Trail’ accommodation with Kumano Travel. This gives you access to the best guest houses, right in the villages you walk through, and staying in this traditional accommodation was the highlight of my trip.
  • For accommodation either side of the hike, use Since you’re staying in larger towns there are more options and the booking process is waaay less of a headache with
  • You’ll want to book well in advance, at least 2 months before you plan to do your hike. It’s also a good idea to book the accom first, before locking in flights or other accommodation as these booking are not very flexible!
  • The Kumano Kodo Planning facebook page is a good resource to checkout and see what others are experiencing.
  • Check out my recommendations for Tanabe, Nachi Katsuura, and along the Nakahechi Trail in these articles.

My Experience With Kumano Travel

Tristan Balme Kumano Kodo Accommodation 1

OK, lets not be coy here. Booking with Kumano Travel is a massive pain in ass!

But its the best/only option, so you just gotta get your head around it.

When I booked I applied for 5 guest houses for my trip. We then waited for 4 weeks in radio silence, not knowing whether the accommodation was approved or not. This was 2 months out! Flights were already booked. Week 5 they replied saying 4 have accepted but 1 has been declined.. so it was a scramble to quickly find an alternative and resubmit. 2 weeks before flying out our bookings were confirmed and paid for! Phewww.

It’s bizarre that you have to sit on your hands for a month with no correspondence (reading on the facebook group this is completely typical!)

.. Its a bad user experience.. but somehow the team there seems to make it work and most people seem to get their booking confirmed in time..

So have faith. Trust the process. But be aware its just stressful I guess?

How Far In Advance Should You Book

Due to the popularity of the trail and the limited availability of accommodations, it is recommended to book as far in advance as possible, especially during peak seasons.

  • Peak Seasons (March to May and September to November) Book at least 3-6 months in advance.
  • Off-Peak Season: Recommend booking at least 2 months in advance
  • DO NOT leave it till the last minute. You’ll likely miss out if you don’t book at least a month before you embark.

These recommendations are even more critical during festivals or local holidays when the region sees a surge in visitors. Travelers should also consider securing their bookings ahead of any special meal requests or desired amenities to ensure they get the full experience of the accommodations.

If you do want to wrangle a last minute trip, or the Kumano Travel accommodation is fully booked out, don’t worry, you can still do the hike, but you’ll have slightly different experience.

In this case, book hotels off trail through a standard hotel booking platform like You’ll just need to bus in and out of the trail every day (where otherwise you could literally walk to the door of you Ryokan).

Start By Looking At The ‘Complete Intenary’ On The Kumano Travel Website.

This is a great place to start if you’re not sure what to do and where to stay. Kumano Travel have a bunch of pre-poulated itenaries you can select from

The only problem is there are so many it’s hard to tell which is best.

I’d recommend looking at this one to start:

From the Kumano Travel website

This is very similar to what I ended up doing (although I booked all the accommodation separately)

The link above is the ‘classic Nakahechi route, where you start in Tanabe, but to the trailhead in Takajiri Oji and then spend 4 days hiking through to Hongu and then out to Nachi.

Now, the model itenaries are a good starting point, but include things like daily luggage transfer, a guide, so I opted to book my accommodation separately instead of taking one of these pre-set itenaries.

A Warning For Solo Travellers

Unfortunatly you’re not going to have an easy time as a solo traveller on the kumano kodo.

It’s totally do-able! But accommodation is a little harder to find, and a little more expensive.

Most guest houses require a minimum of 2 people, as you are booking the entire room, and they adjust the number of shikibuton (floor mattresses) based on how many book.

So your options are;

  • Book guest houses through kumano but be wary some won;t host solo travellers
  • Book a hotel off trail on or similar and bus in
  • Camp at one of the many campsites along the way (but you’ll need to carry a tent and camping equipment))

Finding the Right Place to Stay

Next, go to the ‘Accomodation‘ page on the Kumano Travel site and navigate to the town or location you’re looking at.

You’ll be presented with the properties in that area BUT this doesn’t indicate availability (which is very annoying!)

image 1

When you find a property you like the look of, then click on details and scroll down to select a Price Plan you want to request. This basically just adjusts the number of meals you want to purchase – the room stays the same.

TIP: I’d highly recommend opting into ALL the meals. The food was the highlight of the trip for me.. and while it may be tempting to save some money, its not worth it. And food options along the trail are limited.

image 2

Finally you’ll be presented with the real pricing, which usually varies based on the number of guests requested.

You’ll see this Guest House has both a Japanese Style room and a Western Style room. Because it’s a Minshuka, regardless of which one you select you’re booking the whole property.

You’ll also note they do offer options for solo travelers BUT it’s 50% more expensive. Again, because you’re booking the whole property.

image 4
Screenshot of Guest House AGAE from the Kumano Travel website (We stayed here!)

Now you can click ‘Select’ and once all your accommodation is selected ‘Submit Your Reservation Request’.

Note, this doesn’t actually book the properties. It just tells Kumano Travel that you’re interested in these places and they’ll reach out to them to try and confirm your spot.

There is a HIGH chance you won’t get all your requests, so Kumano Travel will get back to you and offer alternatives.

Understanding Accommodation Types

Accommodations along the Kumano Kodo come in various forms, each providing a different experience. A ryokan is a traditional inn offering Japanese-style rooms, complete with tatami flooring and futon bedding. Minshukus, on the other hand, are family-operated and provide a cozy, homelike atmosphere. Modern hotels and guesthouses offer Western-style beds and amenities, which some travelers may find more comfortable.

Both Minshuka and Ryokans are fabulous and I’d recommend staying at a mixture of both during your trip!

Tristan Balme japanese ryokans booked with Kumano Travel

How Long To Wait For A Response

After submitting a booking request via Kumano Travel, it is reasonable to expect a response within a few days. During peak seasons or for accommodations with limited availability, it might take longer. Patience is essential, as the providers along the Kumano Kodo are often small, family-run businesses that can be busy attending to guests. If you require luggage transfer services, it’s advisable to secure these in advance as well.

Join The Kumano Kodo Planning Facebook group.

A little bonus tip here, but check out this Facebook Group. It’s full of like-minded people who are planning to do or just completed the journey and there’s a heap of useful info if you use the search function.

Booking Through Kumano Travel vs Other Providers (Like

TLDR; just book through Kumano Travel.

It’s the official agent for the Kumano Kodo for a reason

Kumano Travel is the primary reservation system specifically designed for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes. They offer a variety of services that cater to the needs of pilgrims and hikers.

Advantages of Booking with Kumano Travel:

  • Local Expertise: They have deep knowledge of the area and provide detailed information about the routes and accommodations.
  • Integration: Offers a streamlined booking process, combining accommodation, luggage shuttle, and guide services.
  • Support: Provides customer support in multiple languages.
Kumano TravelOther Providers
✔️ Specialized for Kumano Kodo❌ Generally further off trail (You might need to bus there and back)
✔️ Local accommodations available❌ More western ‘Hotel Style’ accom
✔️ Detailed trail information❌ Prices are generally the same or more expensive.
✔️ Direct community support❌ You’re money doesn’t go the to the community and support the trails.
❌ Quick to sell out✔️More availability, especially for solo travelers
❌ Complicated and slow booking system✔️Easy to book via or Agoda
❌ Don’t cater for last minute bookings✔️ Last minute booking might be available

This will make a bit more sense when you check out my accommodation recommendation guide here , but in general, I recommend the following strategy;

  1. Book your ‘On Trail’ accommodation with Kumano Travel. This gives you access to the best guest houses, right in the villages you walk through, and staying in this traditional accommodation was the highlight of my trip.
  2. For accommodation either side of the hike, use Since you’re staying in larger towns there are more options and the booking process is waaay less of a headache with
Tristan Balme a pile of documents and maps for hiking the kumano kodo along with a passport and some japanese yen coins
Tristan Balme typical dinner at our kumano kodo ryokan

Some Other Practical Information

When planning a trip to the Kumano Kodo, it’s important to consider practicalities like transportation, staying connected, and health and safety. These key points can greatly enhance a traveler’s experience.

Transportation Tips

Arriving from major cities: Visitors can access the Kumano Kodo trail from cities like Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. From Osaka, one could take a train to Kii-Tanabe in Wakayama Prefecture, the gateway to the trail. Train services are frequent, but it’s advisable to reserve seats in advance during peak travel seasons.

  • Luggage transfer services are available and can be booked through Kumano Travel. This service allows hikers to transport their luggage to their next accommodation, allowing for a lighter daypack on the trail.
  • Cash and cards: While larger transport hubs and accommodations accept credit cards, smaller local businesses along the trail may only accept cash. It’s wise to carry a sufficient amount of cash for unforeseen expenses.

Staying Connected

  • Wi-Fi access may be limited in remote areas along the Kumano Kodo. Travelers are advised to plan ahead if they need a constant connection for navigation or communication.
  • Local SIM cards or pocket Wi-Fi devices can be rented at the airport upon arrival in cities like Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto. These devices provide a more reliable internet connection throughout the journey.

Health and Safety

  • Trail conditions can vary, so hikers should check the weather forecast and trail updates before setting out. Kumano Travel provides information on trail conditions and closures.
  • Medical facilities are scarce in remote areas, so carrying a basic first-aid kit is recommended. For emergencies, visitors should know the location of the nearest clinic or hospital from their accommodation.

Kumano Kodo Travel Planning Cheatsheet

(This list contains affiliate links which may earn me a small comission if you decide to puchase something - thank you!)

🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Japan?

100% YES! — Japan has “free” healthcare but it’s only for citizens! Tourists need travel insurance in case anything happens on your visit. Also be aware many policies won't cover hiking as it's a high risk activity! (that's right, check the t&c's on your complimentary credit card insurance

I highly recommend World Nomads as you can get specific add-ons for the crazy activities you're doing – and starts at just $7 a day!

🏩 What’s the best way to book my Kumano Kodo accommodation?

Your only realy two options here are Kumano Travel and Its a complicated process so I wrote this guide here on the best kumano kodo accomodation options

If you don't want to figure it all out (it's meant to be a holiday after all) you can book a package tour. Here are my recommendations for both guided and self-guided.

💸How do you pay for things in Japan?

Japan may have flying robots.. but they also still use cash! So you'll want to get some folding tender out from an ATM when you land. EFTPOS / Debit / Credit Card and Paywave (contactless payments) is common at bigger businesses but small bars, and street vendors want cash.

I personally use a Wise debit card for all my international money needs as they only convert the funds when you make payment, plus they offer a much better spread (margin on the true exhange rate) than the banks do. They work in all Japanese ATMs I tried. 

🚙 Do you need to rent a car in Japan?

I wouldn't reccommend it — Transport in Japan is expensive whatever mode you chose, but fortunalty the publc transport system is out of this world in terms of both freqency and coverage. If you are heading to a lot of off the beaten track places, then you may want a rental. I use Discover Cars to find the cheapest rates on rentals cars and remember you can save money if you avoid picking up at the airport.

🚆 What about the JR Rail Pass?

We didn't - but it depends on the length and itenirary of your trip. The JR Pass is expensive (and just went up in price again!) and if you're walking the Kumano Kodo you wont need it for probably 6 days straight anyway. 

Do the math, but in most cases buying the train fares you need, when you need it will work out more afforably overall - and give you more flexibility (as the JR Pass doesn't cover all lines)

📲 How do I get internet/data/wifi in Japan and on the trail?

This one needs a whole nother article, but the short version is local SIM cards are cheaper but generally require a fixed term contract. Tourist 'short stay' SIMs are a bit more expensive but will give you plenty of data while your visiting and are best for solo travelllers or purchase a international SIM before you leave (I reccommend Airalo for Japan) . If you're travelling as 2 or more people, renting a pocket WIFI unit from the airport is the most economical option.

✈️ What’s the best site to buy flights to Japan?

For finding cheap flights, I recommend Skyscanner. Once you find the flight you're looking for, I'd then suggest booking directly with the carrier (even if it costs a few $$ more than with one of the agreggators/agencies).

💧Can you drink the water on the Kumano Kodo?

Yes — Japan is very clean. In all townships you'll pass through and stay along the Kumano Kodo the tap water is drinkable. If you want to drink water from the rivers and streams you generally can but should do so at your own risk. ALWAYS follow best practice and drink from fast flowing water as far up stream as possible. I drank the water and was fine.. but i'd generally recommend a Brita Water Bottle for rehydrating on the trail safely. 

🎫 Do I need a visa for Japan?

Likely Not — Japan now recognises 70 countries as 'visa exempt' for short term stay. So if you're a US, UK, NZ, AU and EU passport holder you don’t need a Japansese visas. However, some other countries do (check here!). And if you plan to stay for more than 90 days (an average tourist visa length), you will need to look into the Japanese working holiday visa scheme, or the new Digital Nomad visa scheme. 

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