Pilgrimages mean different things to different people. Whilst the majority of participants are typically religious and want to follow in the footsteps of iconic personalities according to their faith, other people go for the scenery, connect with nature and tick an iconic walk off their bucket list.
According to National Geographic, pilgrimage walks are tipped to be the next post-Covid travel trend. And why not. After two years of lockdown, restrictions on movement and uncertainty, people are looking for purpose and meaning in their life.
Pilgrimages provide people of all ages with an opportunity to reconnect with the inner self – regardless of whether you have religious beliefs or not. To put you in touch with pilgrimage walking opportunities around the world, we’ve put a shortlist together for you.
The Camino de Santiago
Naming the top pilgrimage walks is obviously an objective list, but with upwards of 200,000 participants a year, there is little doubt that the Camino de Santiago is the most popular.
Also known as the Way of Saint James, this famous pilgrimage takes you on a 500-mile (780km) journey through France or Portugal (depending on which route you take) to the scallop shell in Santiago de Compostela where it is said the remains of Saint James were laid to rest.
The Abraham Path, Turkey
This route roughly traces the 1,243-mile (2000km) journey Abraham is said to have taken when God called to him to leave his home and a family to build a new nation.
Again there are several routes so it’s not a precise following in the footsteps experience, but you will get to explore and experience the breathtaking scenery of the near east.
Starting in Harran the epic trail takes you through Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan and Israel. Walking over 1000-miles is obviously going to take up a fair amount of your time, but you can cherry-pick your routes in each country and only walk part of the trail. Even that will take you about 10 days.
Mount Kailash, Tibet
Perched in the centre of the ‘six mountains ranges’ Mount Kailash has been regarded as the “pillar of the world” since ancient times. Its peculiar symmetrical shape which makes it a natural anomaly, prompted myth writers to deem the Kailash to be the home of the gods.
The region sits on the border of China, Nepal and India. Not surprisingly, it’s considered to be one of the holiest regions on earth. The distance of the trail depends on which of the many routes you take, but the relatively easy 32-mile from Tibet is a popular choice. It takes three days and is said by locals to bring you good luck.
Kumano Kodo, Japan
The Kumano Kodo along the Kii Peninsula, south of Osaka in Japan, is not so much a trail but a network of paths that link Buddhist and Shinto Shrines. The most popular Nakahechi route is 42-miles (68km).
Kii Peninsula has been revered since ancient times and remains a central part of Japanese folklore today. As you traverse through mystical pine forests, tea plantations and quaint farming villages, you will encounter hundreds of meditation logs.
As you might imagine from a predominantly Buddhist community living in the countryside, this glorious part of the world is the epitome of peacefulness. If you want to zen out, take the Nakahechi route until you reach the Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple under Japan’s tallest waterfall, Nachi-no-Otaki.
Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka
If you enjoy trekking in the mountains, the best walk on this list is Adam’s Peak in southwestern Sri Lanka. Standing at 2,243m (7,360ft), the summit features a sacred footprint. Who the footprint actually belongs to depends on which faith you follow; Buddha, Shiva, St. Thomas or Adam. Sri Lanka is predominantly Christian so Adam claimed the name of the mountain.
Although this pilgrimage walk is a hefty trek up a mountain, there are, fortunately, steps to climb. You don’t have to be a mountaineer to ascend the sides of the mountains, although if you do you could use the heavy chains said to have been used by Alexander the Great.
It’s customary to walk the trail by night along a lamp-lit path and watch the sunrise from the summit. Together with the treelined mountainscape providing absolutely stunning views, it’s impossible not to be moved by the entire experience.