Taking up a large chunk of the Kii Peninsula, Wakayama Prefecture remains one of Japan's hidden gems.
The capital of the prefecture, also called Wakayama, is a thriving castle city that’s only an hour from Osaka by train. Elsewhere in Wakayama Prefecture you’ll find mile after mile of gorgeous coastline and stunning mountain scenery. Many of the ancient pilgrimage routes called the Kumano Kodo weave through Wakayama. These trails form part of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Working out where to stay in Wakayama Prefecture will depend on what you plan to see and do in this beautiful and diverse corner of Japan. To help you decide, we've picked out five of the best places to stay in Wakayama Prefecture whether you’re looking to stay in the city, hit the beach or get stuck into a hike deep into the mountains.
Main image: PIXTA
How to decide where to stay in Wakayama Prefecture
Wakayama is a large and very mountainous prefecture, and huge areas are accessible only by car on relatively narrow country roads.
From Wakayama City, a somewhat limited rail network winds along the prefecture’s coastline. However, there are several key sights in Wakayama Prefecture that can be considered to be its main attractions.
All of the locations we suggest as the best places to stay in Wakayama Prefecture are close to the region’s most popular spots and are all easily reached by public transport.
The best places to stay in Wakayama Prefecture
1. Stay in Wakayama City
The capital of Wakayama Prefecture, Wakayama is rich in history and culture. Wakayama’s most famous landmark, Wakayama Castle, towers over the city and was first built in 1585. Most of the current castle is made up of reconstructed replicas of the original buildings, but Wakayama Castle remains the city’s symbol.
There are mesmerizing views from the castle’s top floor, while the 600 sakura trees on the castle grounds make this a perfect place to enjoy the cherry blossoms in the spring.
You’ll also find plenty of historic temples in Wakayama, too. A climb of over 200 steps leads to Kimii-dera Temple, another of Wakayama’s famous cherry blossom viewing spots, which also enjoys beautiful views over Wakayama Bay.
At Awashima-jinja, you can see the shrine’s huge display of dolls, tanuki, daruma, and waving cats. In March each year, the dolls are sent out on boats into the sea as part of the shrine’s Hina Nagashi festival.
Where to stay in Wakayama City
a. Near JR Wakayama Station
Wakayama City has two major stations, each served by trains operated by different companies. Wakayama Station is close to the city’s center, just under two kilometers to the east of Wakayama Castle. Several JR lines pass through Wakayama JR Station, calling at local stations across the city and other parts of the prefecture.
Trains from Wakayama JR Station also connect with destinations further afield, such as Tennoji in Osaka and Oji in Nara Prefecture. The Kishigawa Line, famous for Kishi Station’s cat stationmaster, also departs from Wakayama JR Station. You can reach Wakayama Station from Kansai International Airport in around 50 minutes, with one change needed at Hineno Station.
Recommended hotels near Wakayama JR Station
b. Near Wakayamashi Station
Wakayamashi Station is Wakayama’s second major train station, a little over a kilometer to the north of Wakayama Castle. Five train lines pass through Wakayamashi Station, mostly operated by Nankai, alongside JR’s Kisei Line.
One benefit of being near Wakayamashi Station is that it has a slightly quicker connection with Kansai International Airport via the Nankai Railway, with the fastest route taking around only 40 minutes with one change required at Izumisano Station. There are also direct trains between Wakayamashi Station and Osaka’s Namba Station, with the journey taking one hour.
Recommended Hotels near Wakayamashi Station:
2. Stay near Mt. Koya/Koyasan
Koyasan, also known as Mount Koya, is an ancient temple town hidden high in the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture. Koyasan is one of the most sacred towns in Japan, being the place where a monk by the name of Kobo Daishi established a sect of Buddhism called Shingon in the 9th Century. Today, Koyasan has less than 3,000 residents and is home to hundreds of ancient temples and shrines as well as a huge Daimon gate that stands at the entrance to the town.
Koyasan is also famous for the beautiful Okunoin cemetery, situated at the eastern end of the town. This is where Kobo Daishi’s body is entombed alongside over 200,000 graves amongst the forests of the Wakayama mountains. Koyasan is a key part of the famous Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail that passes through the surrounding mountains, with Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum having been a destination for pilgrims for centuries.
Where to Stay in Koyasan
a. Temple Stays in Koyasan
The vast majority of the accommodation available in Koyasan is traditional temple stays, called shukubo in Japanese. As Koyasan has been a stopping point for pilgrims for hundreds of years, temples here have long offered lodging to those looking to rest their weary bones on their way through the town.
A considerable number of temples offer accommodation to both pilgrims and tourists. If you’re looking for an authentic insight into the life of a Buddhist monk, there’s no better place than at a temple stay in Koyasan.
Temple stays vary depending on which temple you stay at, though typically, they will include traditional forms of accommodation, such as a private tatami room with futon beds. Beautifully prepared meals of home-cooked vegetarian cuisine are served for dinner and breakfast, and you will most likely be offered the chance to join or observe the temple monk’s morning prayers. Bathroom facilities are often shared, and most temples do provide free WiFi.
Recommended temple stays in Koyasan
b. Guesthouses in Koyasan
If you’d prefer a more typical style of accommodation then there are a handful of homely guesthouses in Koyasan too. If you choose to stay in a guesthouse you’ll find a warm welcome and the kind of friendly service that you’d expect to find in small-town rural Japan.
Recommended guesthouses in Koyasan
3. Stay in Shirahama
Shirahama is a major beach resort area on the southwest coast of Wakayama Prefecture. Shirahama’s glistening 600-meter-long beach is just one of the town’s many attractions, especially during Wakayama’s typically hot summers. Shirahama is also famous for its hot springs, and is one of the oldest onsen resorts in Japan. Today there are countless bathhouses, hotels, and inns throughout the town where you can take advantage of Shirahama’s healing hot spring waters. You can also find free public foot baths along Shirahama’s beach.
Another hugely popular attraction in Shirahama is Adventure World, an enormous theme park, zoo, and aquarium. Adventure World’s zoo features a huge range of animals and is particularly famous for its pandas. Several pandas have been born at Adventure World over the past as part of a very successful breeding program. The zoo is currently home to five pandas, with the youngest, called Fuhin, born in November 2020.
Where to stay in Shirahama
As a seaside resort town the vast majority of hotels in Shirahama are located close to the coastline. While there are a number of hotels right on Shirahama beach there’s also plenty of options elsewhere around the town, including dozens of hotels with public and private onsens.
Recommended hotels in Shirahama:
4. Stay in Nachikatsuura
The area of Nachikatsuura is situated in the far eastern corner of Wakayama Prefecture, close to the border with neighboring Mie Prefecture. Nachikatsuura’s Kii-Katsuura Station can be reached by direct trains from Osaka’s Tennoji Station, Wakayama JR Station, and even from as far away as Nagoya Station.
A laid-back fishing town that faces out onto the Pacific Ocean, Nachikatsuura is famous for its succulent fresh tuna as well as for its natural hot springs. Between March and September each year, whale-watching tours depart from the waters just off the town.
Perhaps Nachikatsuura’s biggest selling point is its proximity to Nachi Falls. Arguably the most famous waterfall in Japan, the iconic view of Nachi Falls alongside the elegant three-story pagoda of Seiganto-ji temple is one of Wakayama Prefecture’s most recognizable sights. Nachi Falls is only a 30-minute bus ride from Kii-Katsuura Station.
Nachikatsuura also makes a great rest stop for those hiking the historic Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route that passes through this part of Wakayama Prefecture.
Where to stay in Nachikatsuura
There are several large hot spring resorts dotted around Nachikatsuura’s shoreline that are the perfect place to indulge in a spot of rest and relaxation. There is also a good choice of smaller guesthouses for those looking for something a little more simple and wallet-friendly.
Recommended hotels in Nachikatsuura:
Types of accommodations around Wakayama
1. Hostels & guest houses
These inexpensive accommodations are basic, budget-friendly, and often cultural stays. Hostel-style guesthouses have dorm beds & others offer shared housing. Both include access to a shared kitchen, where you can whip a quick meal.
These are Japanese inns with tatami mats, soothing beige walls, and often with access to an onsen hot spring. Unique to Japan, this kind of stay tends to be pricier than hotels, but also tends to include excellent meals as well. Guests who splurge will be rewarded with an intimate insight into extraordinary Japanese hospitality.
Glamorous hotels offering high-end amenities in Shirahama and other areas in Wakayama are abundant. They focus on providing their guests with ultimate comfort during their time in the area.
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*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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