Kushimoto in Wakayama Prefecture Photo: iStock/ Sean Pavone
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5 overlooked destinations in Wakayama Prefecture

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By Fergus Gregg

There is so much more to Japan than just the typical tourist hot spots. Wakayama, the mountainous prefecture on Honshu Island, epitomizes this. Located in southern Kansai, Wakayama is celebrated for its historic shrines and as the birthplace of Shingon Buddhism

Most domestic and foreign tourists travel there to trek the famous Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route—known for its hiking trails and temples. But if you follow the unbeaten path, Wakayama can yield some truly unique and breathtaking sights that most visitors will never experience.

From hidden pirate bases to hot water rivers, here are five of the most overlooked locations in Wakayama Prefecture.

1. Sandanbeki Cliff and Dokutsu Cave

Sandanbeki-Rock-Cliffs-in-Shirahama-istock-thanyarat07.jpg
A very pretty pirate cave. Photo: iStock/ Thanyarat07

Shirahama is a well-known Japanese domestic tourism hotspot. Its beaches and restaurants attract huge crowds of locals every summer. However, for those looking for a change of pace from the beach, a quick trip up the road will reward travelers with the scenic Sandanbeki cliffs and caves.

The Sandanbeki cliffs stretch for two kilometers around the headland, providing excellent views of Osaka Bay and the Pacific Ocean. On calm days, turtles, sharks and marine animals will take a peek at the surface, making for entertaining “i-Spy” subjects for picnickers. The smooth limestone is warm but cools slowly as the day progresses. Only pleasant breezes will disturb anyone looking for a lazy afternoon away from the bustling beach, thanks to the relatively mild winds. Hidden at the bottom of these cliffs is Sandanbeki Dokutsu, a secret, Heian-era pirate hideaway.

You’ll be transported through the solid rock via elevator from the ticket counter to an underground labyrinth of passages. While the entry fee (¥1,300) may feel expensive, it ensures that the caves are never overcrowded with tourists. It’s great for amateur explorers looking to enjoy preserved artifacts, limestone mazes and hidden shrines connected to the history of Wakayama.

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I went to Yunomine Onsen back in 2019. There was virtually no-one else there. I love Wakayama prefecture, and would gladly go there again.

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