Pilgrimages are no longer only associated with religious destinations. Many travellers today are looking for a more fulfilling travel experience. Many want to create meaning for and through travel, looking for something more than escape or diversion. They want renewal and even transformation and they want it to last longer than that tan they picked up on their last vacation.
Secular and sacred pilgrimages have similarities and some distinct differences. Sacred pilgrimages have a clear religious motivation where secular pilgrims focus more on the experience of the journey. Secular pilgrims may still experience a sense of awe but it’s different from the devout believer going to a site, specific to their faith. Secular and sacred pilgrims often share the same trails with different motivations for the journey.
If the idea of going on a pilgrimage intrigues you there are a few things you should be ready for. You should love the outdoors, be up for a challenge, be prepared to live a minimalist lifestyle for however long your journey is, enjoy walking, love being exposed to new cultures, be able to go without electronic devices for periods (gasp) and be ready to encounter travellers from around the globe along the trail. It’ll be a cosmopolitan experience.
Here’s some popular pilgrimages you might be interested in learning more about:
Pacific Crest Trail - Canada, US, Mexico
We thought we’d start off with a secular walk and it’s a long one at 2600 miles. You don’t have to do the whole thing but if you’ve got six months to walk, this could be for you. The trail borders the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains and runs from Manning Park in B.C. to the Mexican border. It runs through 27 national forests and 7 national parks. The scenery is spectacular. Water is scarce at some points so you’ll need to carry it.
Kumano Ancient Trail, Japan
You can walk for days or weeks on this trail. It’s located in the Kii mountains, south of Osaka. The whole pilgrimage takes about six weeks. The trail leads to three sacred shrines and tea houses. The trail has several hot spring hotels along the way to repair the muscles of aching travellers. A difficult trail was deliberately designed to be part of the experience of getting to the shrines.
The Lagoon of the Huaringas, Peru
This area is made up of 14 ponds and lakes and has become a popular pilgrimage for those seeking spiritual healing from witch doctors and shamans. Believers claim that treatment here can cure everything from a common cold to addiction and other mental health issues. If you go you’ll be bathing in cold mountain lakes and participating in healing ceremonies with shamans.
Mount Kailash, Tibet
This is a demanding 52 km route, which takes most travellers about three days. Pilgrims circumnavigate the mountain, part of the Himalayan range, but the summit is forbidden to climb. Thousands of people of all faiths hit this trail every year. The average altitude is 5000m which makes the hike challenging. You’ll pass through lush valleys, view snowcapped peaks and beautiful lakes, some of which are considered sacred.
Are you a veteran or emerging pilgrim? We’d love to hear about your experiences or your plans. And don’t forget, we’ve got all the clothing and gear you’ll need for your Long Walk.