The Kumano Kodō is actually a rubric for the network of four pilgrimage routes; the Imperial Nakahechi route, the mountainous Kohechi route, the coastal Ohechi route and the eastern Iseji route. The Kohechi and Iseji routes link up Kumano with Kōya-san and Ise-jingū, respectively.
The Nakahechi is the most popular route to the Grand Shrines. Beginning in Tanabe, it traverses the mountains eastwards towards Hongū, where it splits into a river route to Shingu and a mountain route to Nachi. The Nakahechi passes through some remote villages but has excellent accommodation facilities for multi-day walks. This route has many oji, small roadside shrines for worshipping various deities, hence many of the villages are named accordingly. Most pilgrims take a bus from Kii-Tanabe station to Takijiri-oji, a major trailhead, and walk to Chikatsuyu (6hr) on the first day, stopping at Takahara Kumano-jinja to see the wonderful vista of clouds and mountains. The second full-day walk leads to Hongū and its onsen. Many pilgrims continue on the trail for another few days, also taking in Kumano Nachi Taisha and its amazing waterfall, before arriving at the final destination in Shingū. It is also possible to use a combination of buses and selected trail walks to experience the Nakahechi route – either way, it takes in some of the most tranquil natural scenes in Western Japan, and is a great way to visit the Kumano Sanzan Grand Shrines. Remember, however, that this is a mountainous area and the weather can change quickly, so it’s important to be prepared for different temperatures. Detailed information on all the routes, as well as suggested itineraries, are available in English.