Adventure tourism is booming, as one of the fastest-growing segments in tourism with hiking, biking and even caving or skydiving becoming a stranded in travel planning. But why not go one step further and combine adventure and nature with a spiritual experience that will stay with you long after you are back in the office? Pilgrim trails are just that, and it’s not reserved for those of religious belief. Churchgoer or not, you will feel the excitement build as you get closer to the Cathedral in Santiago, joining pilgrims from all over the world on a trail that has been in existence for more than 1000 years.
Here are 4 pilgrim trails we recommend for your travel itineraries:
#1 Camino del Norte, Spain
The Camino de Santiago needs no introductions as the most hiked trail in the world leading pilgrims to the city of Santiago. Fewer people know that the Camino is not a single trail but a system of trails all leading to the Cathedral of Santigo. While the French Camino, also known as the Camino Francés, is the most famous one of all, the Camino de Norte will take you off the beaten track without lacking the social experience of the hike.
The Camino del Norte travels deep into villages and town still speaking more Basque (a language spoken in the Basque country), than Spanish. The trail goes alongside the Atlantic Coast, via sidewalks through old worldly farms that take you back in time. While hiking this 825km trail, you can find accommodation at shelters specifically hosting pilgrims – a chance to meet the people who will become your family for the next month or so. As you get closer to Santigo, many more hikers will join from all directions as you meet at the big Cathedral, a moment not to be forgotten.
#2 Jesus trail, Israel
Walking at the footprint of Jesus is more than a slogan. This four day, 64km hike follows the ancient trail from the Church of the Annunciation in the city of Nazareth down to the Sea of Galilee. It was along this path a young Jesus walked as the Gospels tell us. On this trail, you will discover where old meets new and four religions rest side by side. Churches alongside mosques and sites of significance to Judaism.
The trail is a journey back in time to where it all began; a peaceful experience in a place you might not expect to find peace. The beautiful landscape of the Holyland, outstanding food and welcoming people from all backgrounds will make you want to revisit this place time and time again. As Israel is a small country, it’s the perfect destination to combine hikes with a relaxing sea and sun holiday in the vibrant nonstop city of Tel Aviv. And for those seeking a more spiritual collection, Jerusalem and the ancient city of Safed will fill the gap for sure.
Don’t miss out on these 2 great pilgrim trails
#3 Gangotri Glacier Trek, Himalayas
Pilgrim hiking trails often travel through villages, along dirt roads on easy to navigate paths. But the Gangotri Glacier is in a world of its own. Resting at the heart of the Himalayas, the highest mountain ranges in the world, trekkers will face Alpine terrain, snow, and high altitude – just a few of the challenges awaiting hikers who will join locals on their way to the sources of the Ganges River, the holiest river in India. The challenging trek has a few options, depending on your time and energy. On the ascent, you will meet believers who have saved their entire life for this experience – one that can be overwhelming at times, with no shortcuts, but an immersion in India’s rich history and fascinating culture.
#4 Shikoku Pilgrimage, Japan
On this pilgrim trail, you will encounter 88 Buddhist temples dating as far back as 1000 AD. The 1200km trail is 1200km can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days, depending on how much you want to discover. Today, it is possible to combine the hike with bus and taxi rides, so that you can experience the trail in its entirely, even if you are short on time.
The story of the trail starts with monk Kūkai, an important figure in Japan’s Buddhism, who went into solitary on Shikoku Island. From the 17th Century, the only legal way to hike in Japan was on a pilgrim, and since then, thousands walk from temple to temple every year, along a region considered to be one of the most beautiful in Japan. Like many other pilgrimages, most hikers are locals which presents a unique cultural experience for a truly authentic trek in this spectacular country.