Ready for your next big slow-travel adventure? Try these pilgrimages on for size. These ancient routes are a literal trek through history and cultural heritage, with stunning natural and architectural wonders along the way. And don’t worry: You won’t need a month of vacation time or marathon-level fitness to tackle these famous paths, either.
Mystical Healing and Sacred Lagoons
Lagunas de las Huaringas, Peru
Hidden in the misty mountains near Huancabamba, this complex of 14 sacred lagoons sits at an altitude of over 13,000 feet above sea level. Too far from Lima or Cusco to be on the beaten path for most visitors to Peru, locals come here to be healed in the holy but ice-cold lagoons with the help of curanderos, or medicine men. Start your route in Salalá.
From there, it’s a two- to three-hour hike to Laguna Negra, the first of the two lagoons where healing rituals take place, and approximately another two hours from there to Laguna Shimbe. Want a longer hike? Wild camping is allowed but you’ll need gear for wet, cold, and high altitudes. Inexperienced hikers may want to opt for a day hike or hire a guide instead of going it alone.
Make it happen: Fly to Piura, take a taxi to the city center, and then hop the bus to Huancabamba and get another taxi to Salalá, where you’ll begin your hike.
Pro tip: To book a full-fledged curandero healing experience at Las Huaringas, speak with the tourist office in Huancabamba or a trusted local who can direct you to a reputable medicine man and help you negotiate an all-in-one price for transportation, guided hike, and ceremony. Just be ready to take it really easy the next day—especially if you decide to sip the hallucinogenic ayahuasca you’ll be offered at the end of the ceremony.
The Way to Canterbury
Murdered in the cathedral he presided over in 1170, Thomas Becket was buried where he worked and canonized shortly thereafter. Since then, pilgrims have flocked to Canterbury Cathedral to pay their respects at his shrine. While most of the original route has been paved over to make way for faster-moving traffic, there’s a handy Pilgrim’s Way cycle path (also good for walkers) between Rochester (home to the second-oldest U.K. cathedral) and Canterbury. At only 40 miles and a relatively low altitude, this is one of the lower-key circuits on this list—easily hiked in four to five days, or biked in one or two.
Make it happen: Fly to London, take the tube to London Paddington. From there get the train from London to Rochester and head to the cathedral to start your trek.
Pro tip: Stop for beer (and grub) at Robin Hood Pub on Blue Bell Hill— at 700 years old, it’s one of the oldest in the United Kingdom.
Abraham’s Ancient Trails
The Abraham Path, The Middle East
This route links ancient sites in the Middle East to the life of Abraham, a biblical figure remembered for his hospitality and kindness to strangers and a key figure in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
Unfortunately, political instability in the region means parts of the path aren’t currently recommended for visitors. For a few days’ hike, follow the Jordan Trail section of the path through mountains peppered with Bedouin villages all the way to Petra. Seasoned outdoorsy types can pack food, water, and shelter for the whole trip and wild camp. As for everyone else, the hike can (and probably should) be done with a guide and vehicle support. Another good option? An organized tour of the Israeli Path ending in Hebron, at Abraham’s tomb.
Make it happen: Fly to Amman and then hop a bus to Dana for a walking tour of sites in Jordan or head to Tel Aviv to explore the Israeli Path.
Pro tip: Don’t go it alone unless you’re an expert. You can book a local guide or a tour with one of the operators recommended by the official Abraham Path website, here.
All Roads Lead to Rome
Via Francigena, Italy
Sure, you can start this trip in Canterbury (a 90-day walking or 30-day cycling tour) or slightly nearer-by France. But why not keep things short and sweet and start your route in the medieval village of Viterbo? From there you can walk or bike the last 70 miles through the Lazio countryside to Rome over the course of a week. If you opt to go on foot, this is just enough to get the perfect souvenir: the Francigena Testimonium, a certificate for walking the path to Rome for cultural and religious reasons.
Make it happen: Fly to Rome, take the train to Roma Trastevere, and then grab the train to Viterbo.
Pro tip: For the best weather and fewer crowds, late spring or early fall are preferable.
An Apostle Found
El Camino de Santiago, Spain
One of Europe’s earliest tourist destinations, St. James Way is the only pilgrimage route in Europe recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It ends in Santiago, Spain, where believers have traveled over land and sea for centuries to kiss the mantle draped around the apostle James—his relics disappeared for around 300 years when they were hidden for safekeeping and lost.
Spare your feet a few miles and start in northern Spain, instead of more popular routes to Santiago from England, Portugal, and France. Walkers should head to Sarria for a one-week 100-kilometer route (about 62 miles) that complies with the minimum distance for a completion certificate, and bikers should start in Leon to complete the 200 kilometers required for a cyclist’s certificate.
Make it happen: Cyclists, fly to Leon. Walkers, fly to Lugo and get a train to Sarria.
Pro tip: Visit the cathedral’s museum and treasury while you’re there—there’s an excellent collection of tapestries, and it’s where the botafumeiro (a massive incense burner) is kept when it’s not being hoisted and swung from the eaves in the main nave during feast days.
One of the Best Treks in Asia
Kumano Kodo, Japan
Sweeping views, shrines, and hot springs along the way make this pilgrimage one of the most pleasant on this list. Rarely frequented by visitors to Japan, Kumano Kodo’s seven trails winding through the Kii Mountains have been popular among locals for more than 1,000 years. Recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage, sections of the traditional trails to the three Buddhist shrines can be completed in a little over a week; folks with fewer days to spare can combine their walking with transit to hike as much or as little as they like.
Make it happen: Fly to Kansai. Take the train to Kii-Tanabe rail station, then local bus to Takijri-oji.
Pro tip: For self-guided trekking, take the Nakahechi pilgrimage route. Once used by emperors and nobles, it has the best signage, transportation, and amenities for travelers who don’t speak Japanese.
Old King’s Road
St. Olav Ways, Norway
Since King Olav was canonized in 1031 for bringing Christianity to Norway, the site of his tomb at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim has been a pilgrimage site ever since, even when the shrine was just a wooden chapel over his grave. Start in Skaun for an easy two-day hike along the path or map out a longer circuit at St. Olav Ways’ official site. Just remember to circle the cathedral three times before you go in—it’s tradition.
Make it happen: Fly to Trondheim and take the train to Skaun.
Pro tip: Try to time your arrival at the cathedral to coincide with the St. Olav Festival in Trondheim. Just remember to book accommodations in advance.