Victoria Falls

A trip to the magnificent Victoria Falls

One of the great natural wonders of the world, this majestic waterfall is a must-see if you are in the area. Whether you’re in Zimbabwe, Zambia, or Botswana, this is a place you must visit.

Victoria Falls from Zimbabwe

When to go?

The falls are at their greatest at the end of the rainy season, from March to May. That said, due to the enormous water displacement most viewing points are covered by a permanent water curtain, so taking a good picture can be hard. So, at the beginning of the raining season and at the start of the dry season condition or somewhat better, with still lots of water but better chance of seeing the whole waterfall. The end of the dry season will turn this majestic waterfall into a trickling stream so unless that’s what you want to see avoid this time.

Where to go?

The Victoria Falls lie on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and can be seen from both countries. But the best views are definitely from the Zimbabwe side of the falls. Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe has some nice paths along the falls with various viewing spots to get a complete picture of the grandness of the falls. So, if time allows it, go to the Zimbabwean side of the falls. You can cross the Victoria Falls bridge to reach Zambia and vice versa, there are organized tours to visit both sides. On the Zambian side you can go to the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park for views of the falls.

Bridge over the Zambezi

Visit the Victoria falls from Botswana

The easiest way to visit the Victoria Falls from Botswana is from Kasane, there are many organized day trips available for a reasonable price. This is easier than drive their yourself since you don’t have to deal with all the custom declarations for your car. You still must pay over 50 euro/dollar in cash for a one-day visa. Bring hard currencies because they won’t accept any local currencies or (credit) cards.

Botswana safari

Stunning two-week safari in Botswana

Why choose Botswana for your safari?

It’s a beautiful country, the longest stable democracy in southern Africa and it has the biggest population of elephants on the planet. It has a good road network, and it focuses on sustainable tourism. These are just some of the reasons to go here.

Where to start your Botswana safari?

There are several options to start your Botswana safari from. We choose Johannesburg as our starting point, so we could also visit some South-African parks and since renting a 4×4 was significantly cheaper there at the time. Other starting options are Gaborone, Francistown, or Maun, all in Botswana. Depending on your starting point your itinerary will look slightly different.


Khama Rhino sanctuary is a good place to start your safari from, it’s 2 hours from the South African border, 3 hours from Francistown and 4 hours from Gaborone. If you start in Maun you can probably skip the sanctuary depending on your luck with spotting some rhinos in the national parks.

Khama Rhino Sanctuary

Khama Rhino Sanctuary

Khama Rhino Sanctuary is a great place to see some rhinos, there are both white and black rhinos there. Since it’s relatively small it won’t be difficult to find all the different animals by yourself but it’s still large enough to give you the reward of finding the animals. It also gives you the opportunity the practice your off-road skills without the danger of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Ntewetwe salt pans

The salt pans provide an unreal mirror world in the dry season, where it’s easy to lose your sense of direction in the seemingly endless salt plane. A beautiful place to experience the full beauty of this place is Khubu island. This baobab filled island surrounded by the pans provides magical sunrises and sunsets.

Khubu island


Maun is the gateway to the Okavango delta and a good place to stock up on food, gas, and supplies. It’s also the place to get in an airplane and see the Delta from above. Some people say this is the highlight of their travel experience in Botswana, I wouldn’t go that far, but it certainly is a great addition to any safari.

Moreni National Park

From Maun it’s just a short drive to the south gate of Moreni NP, a good first camp site to explore the park from is Third bridge camp site.

Drive east to Khwai North gate camp site. From there it’s easy to explore both sides of the Khwai part. The Eastern part of Khwai offers great opportunities to watch hippo’s and crocodiles as you ride along the Khwai river.


Savuti National Park (Chobe National Park)

Exit the park through the north gate and head towards Savuti. It’s a long day’s drive to Savuti camp site at the northern edge of the park. Take the marsh road during the dry season since it crosses more interesting places. Savuti offers a wide array of animals, we saw elephants, jackals, hyenas, lions, giraffes, zebras and many more. Go to Bushman hill for some ancient rock art.

Chobe riverfront

Chobe riverfront is your best chance to see any animal, it’s packed to the brim with animals as all come the drink and feed on the banks of the Chobe river. Expect to see lions, leopards, etc. Best place to stay is Ilaha camp site as it’s situated inside the gates, giving you the freedom to go out whenever you want. But you’ll have to be lucky to get a place here, as places are booked well over a year in advance. The other option is to stay in nearby Kasane, and which is just a 15 min drive away. It’s said that the park doesn’t open for people not staying inside before 9am but we arrived at the gate well before sunrise (6am) and could drive through without any problem.



Kasane is a great base both for river excursions on the Chobe river, a great way to get up close and personal with the different animals.  It’s also the place to book a day trip to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

Nata bird sanctuary

For a change of scenery and the opportunity to spot some birds instead of mammals visit the Nata bird sanctuary. What to expect? Tens of thousands of flamingos and the accompanying smell. Also, ostriches and packs of wildebeest.


Iceland Round Trip in only 4 days

Don’t let the others dissuade you, it is possible to encircle the whole of Iceland in only four days. We present you four days filled with endless sightseeing, a wealth of nature and even some whales and puffins. You will see the whole ring road of Iceland, all its highlights, and we promise you’ll be back in Reykjavik within four days. We advise you to go in June though, as you can continue travelling under the midnight sun. Are you ready for a spectacular trip?


Day one

Rent a car in Reykjavik and leave the capital city straight away. Reykjavik is a nice city, filled with nice bars and shops, but the nature outside this city is what it’s all about. We’ll start by exploring the Golden Circle, Thingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir, three key attractions close to Reykjavik.



Drive straight to the UNESCO world heritage listed Thingvellir National park, only 50 kilometres from Reykjavik. It’s a 6 km broad and 40 km long rift. The rift marks the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. If you walk the rift, starting from the visitor’s centre, you can see the world’s first parliament, the Althing, on your right. Sessions were established in 930 CE and held there until 1798. There are several hiking trails or you can go scuba diving, and see the rift from above.



Continue the drive to Gullfoss: one of the most impressive compact waterfalls in the world. It is an enormous double cascade, with a total height of 32 meters. The haze of the falling water creates beautiful rainbows when it’s sunny. Therefore, it’s called Gullfoss: golden waterfall.



Next stop is Geysir. The English word ‘geyser’ derives from this geyser. Geysir is not very active at the moment, due to human interferences. But Strokkur, about 50 metres next to Geysir, is. Strokkur erupts every 6-10 minutes, with a height of about 15-20 metres.

Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss and Dyrhólaey natural reserve

When you’ve finished the Golden Circle, you can drive back to the ring way, heading to Vík, the final destination of today. Along the way, you will see more spectacular waterfalls. The first one is Seljalandsfoss. A 65 Meter high waterfall. You can even walk behind the falling water. Seljalandsfoss is the only waterfall that is lighted during the night. 15 Km further away lies Skógafoss, another waterfall where the water falls over what once was the coastline of Iceland. You can walk a small lane, 1 KM to the east, to reach the smaller Kvernufoss waterfall. Finish the day in Vík. Just before you’ll enter the small fishing village lies the last sight of the day: Dyrhólaey natural reserve. It’s home to one of the largest seabird colonies of Iceland, during summer you should definitely see some puffins. And you can see a massive arch that the sea has eroded.
Stay the night in Vík

Day 2

Reynisfjara Beach

Basalt cliffs at Reyniisfjara beach

Start your day at Reyniisfjara Beach. It is a famous black sand beach, with some impressive symmetrical basalt columns that look like a staircase, a cave, and some basalt cliffs that rise from the sea. A great place to see the sunrise. Just watch out for the unpredictable waves which can suddenly engulf the beach.

Eldhraum, Skaftafell and the Glacier Lagoon

Glacier Lagoon

Heading East, you will cross Eldhraum moss-covered lava fields and Skaftafell. At the border of Skaftafell lies the Glacier Lagoon. It is a lake filled with floating ice chunks, some say this is Iceland’s Crown Jewel. It’s difficult to stop watching all the different shapes of the icebergs, one even bigger than the other. In the end, they all have to pass the small river, to enter the sea. Don’t forget to visit the nearby Diamond Beach, where the ice lies on the black sand, glistening in the sun. Nearby the Glacier Lagoon lies a glacier tongue, which is also a recommended spot to visit. Both the Glacier Lagoon and the glacier tongue will look different each and every time you go.

Litlanesfoss and Hengifoss


Enjoy the drive along the cliffs of Iceland’s East coast when you’re heading north. When you pass Vatternes, you can make a stop-over to visit Petra’s stone collection, if you like stones. Otherwise, continue the drive inland, towards Litlanesfoss and Hengifoss. It’s a 2-hour walk from the parking lot to Hengifoss. You will pass Litlanesfoss halfway. They are magnificent waterfalls, surrounded by colourful and geometric rocks. Hengifoss is one of Iceland’s highest waterfalls, with 118 meter.
After this nice hike, drive back north, towards Egilsstadir to sleep. We can really recommend the cute, wooden tiny houses at Vinland Camping Pot.

Day 3

Drive towards Mývatn. The ring way does not follow the coastline, for a change, but takes you inland. You will pass abandoned farms and desolate land. But don’t forget to look out for waterfalls along the road, there are many.


Another day another waterfall? Detifoss is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. So take your raincoat with you. The waterfall is over 100 metres wide, and have a drop of over 44 metres, causing heavy mist. Per second an average of 193 m³ water falls down.

Krafla Caldera


Take your mosquito hat with you, when visiting the Krafla Caldera. Not only mosquitoes, but also the smell announces this piece of living earth from afar. It’s a collapsed, but still active volcanic area. The highlights are Leirbotn (the geothermal power station), Víti Maar (a volcanic crater with a green lake) and Leirhnjúkur (steaming sulphuric terrain and multi-coloured lava field).

Mývatn Nature Baths


After seeing the hot water from the outside, it’s time to take a bath. Just on the other side of the mountains lies Mývatn Nature Baths. This bath offers a completely natural experience while enjoying the rocky sceneries surrounding the baths. It has several baths, showers, saunas and a restaurant. What else do you need for your body and mind?

Hverfjall Crater

Near the eastern shore of Late Myvatn lies Hverfjall, a 396-meter high tephra explosion crater. You can walk up the slopes and around the crater’s rim and enjoy the view of the surrounding landscape. The crater has a diameter of 1 KM.



Dimmunorgir lies just next to Hverffjall. It’s a park of unusually shaped lava fields because the lava pooled over a small lake. The water started to boil and formed lava pillars up to several meters in diameter.
Then it’s about time to head north to Iceland’s second largest city Akureyri. Here we’ll have some dinner and a good night of sleep.

Day 4

Whales on backboard!

Humpback whale

Akureyri is one of the world’s best places to watch whales. So rise and shine early, and make your way to the harbour or the towns a bit north to get on a boat and do some whale watching. Nature is always unpredictable, but during summer, and when it’s not too windy, it’s the best time to spot some giant whales, and also some dolphins.

Driving along the Westfhords

The Icelandic Wesfjords are spectacular. In the most remote location of Iceland, you’ll find gorgeous fjords. It’s also the perfect place to photograph some sheep or horses that live along the road. So enjoy the ride back West.

Hraunfossar and Barnafoss


Do stop over at the waterfalls. Although you might think you’ve seen most waterfalls, Hraunfossar and Barnafoss are stunning in their own way. Hraunfossar trickles down directly from underneath a lava field.



Enjoy a nice dinner in Iceland’s capital Reykjavík. It’s filled with hipster restaurants, cafés, galleries and shops. Make use of the happy hour (just before dinner time), to enjoy an affordable beer and say cheers to making it back to Reykjavík!


To do this itinerary, the only thing you need to prepare, next to booking your flight, is to rent a car, book a visit to Myvatn Nature Baths on your third day, book whale watching in Akureyri on your third day, and book hotels in Vík, Egilsstadir, Akureyri and Reykjavik.


Top 3 Japanese Gardens

Most list of Japanese gardens list the same three gardens in no particular order, the so-called three Great Japanese gardens. After visiting dozens of different Japanese gardens, we came to a different conclusion. Continue reading to broaden your horizon.

Nr. 3 Ritsurin-koen

Ritsurin-koen is not on many other lists, but undeservingly so. Maybe because the garden is in Takamatsu. Which is on the island of Shikoku and not part of most tourist itineraries. Yet, this garden is worth the detour. Ritsurin-koen is Japan’s largest garden with over 750,000 square meters.

Work on this garden started in 1625 by Ikoma Takatoshi, making this the oldest garden on the list. Takatoshi began with the development of Nan-ko, the southern lake and used the beautiful vegetation of Mount Shiun as a background. Further improvements and enlargement of the garden would take another 100 years. Construction of the garden finished in 1745. After the requisitioning by the Meiji government the garden opened to the public in 1875. The Japanese government designated Ritsurin-koen as a ‘Special Place of Scenic Beauty’ in 1953.

There are different ways to enjoy this garden: Take a boat ride on Nan-ko to take in the views from the water. Or go for a cup of tea in the teahouse which overlooks the lake. From the hill in the garden, you have a complete view of all its beauty. Japanese come to this garden to get a quintessential view of Japan, so did we and so should you.

If you decide to make the trip, also visit the nearby open-air museum of Shikoku village. Here, you can experience the way people used to live in this area and view some great art.

Nr. 2 Korakuen

Construction of Okayama Korakuen started in 1687 and finished in 1700. Apart from some small changes, the garden looks the same today as it did back then. We know this because there are many period paintings and records describing the garden. The garden opened to the public in 1884. It was heavily damaged during floods in 1934 and bombing in 1945. But has since been restored with the help of the before mentioned paintings and records. Korakuen garden was designated as a ‘Special Place of Scenic Beauty’ in 1952.


The garden has great open spaces which allows for these great views. Streams of water cut through those open spaces to add depth. Rice fields seemingly transfer into the grass and rows of trees line the paths. The garden has a different palette of colours every season because of all the different blossoms, foliage and flowers. The beautiful backdrop of Okayama castle enhances the scenic beauty of the garden. This is also the best way to view Okayama castle since it’s not so good looking up close. And as in any garden, there always is a teahouse nearby to relax and take in the views.

Okayama lies on the route from Kyoto to Hiroshima and the island of Kyusu. It also is an ideal base for visiting the islands of the inland sea, like Naoshima. Or the Ritsurin-koen in Takamatsu, which is just 1.5 hours away by train.

Nr. 1 Kenroku-en


This is our favourite Japanese Garden as it combines all the characteristics perfectly. Great views as far as the distant sea. Big and small streams of water. Hidden views, solitary trees and the famous bound pine trees that can handle the snow and provide the idyllic winter pictures. There is even scientific research done to explain why people like this garden so much.

Maeda Tsunanori developed the first garden on this site in the second half of the 17th century. The garden was called “Renchi-tei garden” and was used for banquets and moon viewing. It burned down in 1759, but Maeda Harunaga restored it. He added the Midori-taki waterfall and the tea houses and in 1776 the garden had its current form. Kenroku-en opened to the public in 1874.

Kanazawa lies along the shore of the Japanese Sea on the other side of the Japanese Alps. Therefore, it isn’t on everybody’s itinerary. But it should be, not only is this garden worth the trip, the city of Kanazawa has an outstanding modern art museum, geisha’s and old samurai houses to enjoy. If that’s not enough to convince you, let us tell you that the trip there crossing the Alps is a great adventure on its own.

Other gardens worth mentioning

Kairaku-en in Mito

Kairaku-en is usually included in the list of the three great gardens of Japan. We found it the least interesting of the three and prefer Ritsurin-koen to this garden. That said, it is famous for its plum blossoms and of all the gardens listed here it lies closest to Tokyo so it makes for an easy day trip. Read our article about a day trip to Mito for more information.

Adachi museum of art

The private Adachi museum of art has a stunning garden and the views from the museum are breath taking. Although you can’t really wander in this garden, viewing this garden is certainly rewarding. The museum itself also houses great works of art, so make the detour and stay in nearby Matsue and visit this beautiful museum and garden.

Top 3 Gardens

Five days in Tokyo | Nature in the city

This day in Tokyo is one of nature, this may seem surprising in one of the biggest cities of the world, but there are a lot of green spaces in Tokyo when you look for it. We will also visit the Mori art Museum for some great contemporary Japanese art and the best panoramic view of Tokyo. The neighbourhoods were visiting this day are also excellent for shopping, so if this is something you like, make sure to bring enough excess baggage space.

Shinjuku Gyoen

Shinjuku Gyoen

We start the day in Shinjuku Gyoen. The great size of Shinjuku Gyoen makes it a great place to escape the bustling city scape. It interestingly combines three forms of gardens. One part is dedicated to the traditional Japanese Garden. Another to the French formal garden. Elements of this style are a geometric plan, constrained and trimmed vegetation to demonstrate the mastery of man over nature. Another element is a terrace overlooking the garden, so you can get an overview of the design. The third part is dedicated to the English landscape garden, this style is known for its rolling grounds and big patches of grass against a woodland background with some big centrepiece trees. When you’re done exploring the garden, you can either head over to nearby Shinjuku for some shopping or continue straight to the Meiji shrine.

Shinjuku shopping

Shinjuku ward is huge and you can shop for days if you would like. The area around Shinjuku station has a cluster of many brands and shops and is a good option for a short, focused shopping trip. If you want your shopping to be more of an experience head over to Harajuku station and go down Takeshita-dori. It’s as much a shopping as a people watching experience. Just around the corner lies Jingumae where all the top brands have their flagship stores. Go there for more a more exclusive shopping experience or to watch the beautiful modern architecture of the exclusive shops.

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu
Meiji Jingu

Harujaku station is also the starting point for a trip to Meji Jingu, the great imperial shrine in Tokyo. The shrine was completed in 1920 to commemorate emperor Meiji and his wife empress Shōken, whose return to power is marked as the Meiji Restoration. Under his leadership Japan opened towards the outer world and started on a path of rapid industrialisation and modernisation.

You enter the shrine through a huge torii. The shrine is a favourite spot for traditional Japanese weddings. So, head over there in the weekend to catch a glimpse of a Japanese bride and groom. The shrine lies in a big forest with trees donated by the Japanese people. If you’re still up for more parks, head over to the next-door Yoyogi Park. On Sunday, it’s the always busy with groups of people engaging in their different hobbies like martial arts, cosplay and Japanese rock.

Mori Art Museum

Tokyo by night

For the perfect panoramic view of Tokyo and some great contemporary art, head over to the Mori Art Museum. This art museum has a collection of contemporary art from Japan and Asia. It also hosts many exhibitions of other contemporary art. The museum has long opening hours, it’s open until 22h every day except Tuesdays, so it’s also ideal as an evening activity. When you arrive at the building where the museum is housed, you’re greeted by a huge spider created by Louise Bourgeois.

Tokyo City View

Via the top floor of the building you can gain access to the outdoor panorama deck of Tokyo City View. Here you have the best unhindered views of Tokyo since you’re not behind glass.

More articles about Tokyo

5 days in Tokyo

Kamakura | a day with trees, shrines and temples

To get a break from the big city of Tokyo, a day trip to Kamakura – just an hour away by train – is the ideal destination. In hindsight, we consider this one of the highlights of our journey to Japan as it perfectly summarizes its extensive culture and offers a nice hike in the woods. Are you ready for some temples and Buddha’s? Kamakura is also being called ‘Small Kyoto’ and it surely lives up to this name.

As Kamakura has a lot to offer, we take an early train from Tokyo, right in the middle of the morning peak hour. With our backpacks filled with bento boxes, we head for our train to Kamakura. Only after leaving Yokohama station there are finally enough seats for all passengers. Although Yokohama is a city of more than 3.7 million inhabitants, it feels like we never left the never-ending suburbs of Tokyo. Only after a while the cityscape is finally replaced with a more rural setting. When we get off at Kita-Kamakura station the speed of life seems to have slowed down a couple of gears.


Even though it’s September, Kamakura is still lushly green and tropically hot. Luckily the omnipresent trees provide sufficient shade. As we climb the stairs towards Engaku-ji, it’s clear that our bodies have yet to adjust to the climate. The advantage of rising early is made clear again when we reach the entrance of the complex and are admitted as the first visitors of the day. This gives us the opportunity to enjoy the place in silence and contemplation.

Sanmon Engaku-ji

Engaku-ji was built in 1282 in honour of the victims of the two Mongolian invasions some time earlier. It lies beautifully on the slope of a hill surrounded by ancient cedar trees. The first building we pass is the Sanmon, the big entrance gate. The rest of the buildings lay scattered around the hill, housing relics, hidden gardens and ponds. On our way out, we climb some steep stairs to the highest point to look at Ōgane, the biggest bell in Kamakura and a national treasure. The bell is 2.5 meters tall and more than 700 years old. Through the overgrowth, we have a nice view of the surrounding area and the neighbouring temple.

Daibutsu hiking trail

We skip the neighbouring temple and start our hike on the Daibutsu hiking trail to Hase and the giant Buddha statue. The paths are mostly well kept, but it’s still advisable to wear good hiking shoes. The path starts out as a road but quickly turns into an unpaved path going ever steeper upwards and through thick groves of trees and bushes. It’s hard work in the head and humidity, but overcoming this now will hasten our adjustment to the tropical circumstances.


As we reach the top of the first hill we come upon Kuzuharaoka shrine. Our first Shinto shrine of the day. Pictures explain us how to wash our hands before approaching the shrine and how to pay our proper respects. The turtles swimming in a little pond, a bench and a soda machine make this a good place for our first break to regain our breath.

Zeniarai Benzaiten

Reenergized, we continue our walk, but only for a short time. Because we have already arrived at our next stop. Hidden behind a small long tunnel lies Zeniarai Benzaiten, one of the most charming Shinto shrines. The shrine lies in pit-like area surrounded by natural walls on all sides with a waterfall flowing into a pond. The main attraction is a cave with a little stream inside. This is the shrine of Zeniarai Benzaiten, the money washing goddess of luck and fortune. It is said that all money which is washed in the stream will be doubled. We’re always in need of some extra pocket money, so we put our bills and coins in a basket and wash them copying the ritual from the Japanese.

Sasuke Inari shrine

Satisfied with this turn of our fortune, we leave via the back exit to visit another Shinto shrine. After some steep climbing, we come upon a path of red torii and banners which guide us ever upwards toward Sasuke Inari shrine. This is also the site of the hidden village of Kamakura, from where the predecessors of the Ninjas worked to eliminate the enemies of the Kamakura Shogunate.

Sasuke Inari shrine
Sasuke Inari shrine

Inari is the ‘kami’ of foxes, rice and agriculture. Which is made obvious since we’re surrounded by thousands of little statues of white foxes. Many of them covered in moss. Because this shrine is off the beaten path it retains its reclusive nature and feels in touch with its natural surroundings. We continue into the dark forest and further up the hill on our way to the Daibutsu. As we clear the forest and the hill we have a splendid view of the sea in the distance and know that our destination lies somewhere in-between.

As we say goodbye to the forest, we walk toward the rural town of Hase. Coming from the opposite direction than most tourist, we are harshly reminded of the fact that we’re not alone in wanting to see the Buddha as we come upon the stream of tourist making their way to the entrance.

Kamakura Daibutsu

Kamakura Daibutsu

As we enter the Kōtoku-in temple complex, we already see the grand Buddha in the distance. Work on the construction of the statue known as Kamakura Daibutsu began in 1252 and has since been repaired many times. It has been hit by Typhoons, earthquakes, fire and tsunami’s, but it still survives. It’s slightly smaller than the Daibutsu in Nara, but it packs more of a visual punch. Mainly because it’s out in the open and visible from all sides. There is no temple building surrounding it since they kept being destroyed and thereby damaging and endangering the statue itself.


On our way to the train station of Hase, we visit Hase-dera, another temple complex with a big statue. This temple is known for its biggest wooden Kannon statue. Legend tells that it was carved in the original town of Hase near Nara, together with another statue from the same tree. The statue was then pushed into the sea and washed ashore here. After which a temple was built on that site to house the statue. The main building is on a platform overlooking Kamakura and its bay.


After our fair share of walking, we took the train from Hase station back to the central station of Kamakura to make our way to Hachimangū from there. Next to the main approach of the temple is Komachi street, lined with shops and eateries, so we took that street instead to enjoy some local ice-cream.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangū

Tsurugaoka Hachimangū is the Miamoto’s clan guardian shrine and dates back to 1063. As we walk in we cross Genpei pond, filled with water lilies. It’s a favourite spot for romantic pictures. The complex also houses the Kamakura Museum of National Treasures which has some altering National treasures from its collection on display.


Zen garden

We take the side exit towards Kenchō-ji, our last temple of the day. Kenchō-ji is the headquarter of the Buddhist Rinzai sect and the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. There are several nice buildings in the complex. We go into the Hōjō hall and walk the outer balconies on our socks. This brings us to the backend Zen garden, the oldest remaining in Japan. At the far end of the complex lies Hansōbō, a gold guilded shrine. This is a nice place to end this busy temple and shrine tour.

As we walk back towards the station we are joined by hundreds of uniformed Japanese high school students who have also finished their day. Time for us to get back to Tokyo! Read the rest of our series for more tips on what to do in Tokyo.

Kamakura day trip

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route

Crossing the Japanese Alps gives you a great overview of the impressive nature Japan has to offer. Following the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route is a convenient and easy way to achieve this in one or two days.

Take at least a full day for the crossing. If you want to get away from the crowds, stay the night at Hotel Tateyama in Murodoro-daira (2,450m) or the hotel at Midagahara (1930m). This way you can explore the area before the crowds arrive. It also gives you more overall time for the different stages of the crossing, allowing you to go on longer walks. Once you’re off the beaten track, you’ll soon find yourself alone in the wilderness.

This journey is also a good opportunity to experience different kind of transportation vehicles. On offer are busses, trains, boats, cable cars and a ropeway. You can start your journey on both ends, the best option for you depends on your travel schedule. Ending at Tateyama gives you the option to spend the night in Kanazawa at the west coast. Here you can visit one of the best Japanese gardens. At the other end, Ogizawa provides you with the option to go to Matsumoto or Nagano. We start our journey from Ogizawa.

Ogizawa (1433m)

The eastern start of the route is accessible by bus from Omachi train station. At Shinano-Omachi station you can forward your luggage to Toyama or Tateyama and vice versa. The first leg of the crossing will be by trolley bus, going through the mountain to Kurobe Dam.

Kurobe Dam (1470m)

Kurobe dam
Kurobe dam

The dam provides you with some stunning views of the lake, the dam itself and the surrounding mountains. Fans of the anime show Kuromukuro will recognize the Dam from the series. You can go for a boat ride on the lake, which is the highest boat tour in Japan. Or continue the crossing by cable car to Kurobedaira.

Kurobedaira (1828m)

The cable car ride is through a tunnel so no nice views here. When you arrive at Kurobedaira go straight to the waiting line for the ropeway. There isn’t much to do at this station, only an Alpine garden. You have the same views from the ropeway car and the next station anyway.

Tateyama ropeway
Kurobedaira ropeway

Daikanbo (2316m)

At Daikanbo you’ll have a last opportunity to get a spectacular view across the eastern ranges of the Japanese Alps and the Kurobe dam lake. When you’re finished admiring the mountain views, take the trolley bus through Mt. Tateyama. This is the highest mountain of the crossing with 3.015m. At Murodo there are climbing trails to the top.

Murodo (2450m)


This is the highest station on the crossing. From here you can go on different hiking trips. Go and explore the volcanic area, see the earth steaming, smell the sulphur, enjoy the blood red ponds or climb a mountain. If you’re here before the snow has melted, you can admire the snow wall.

Midagahara (1930m)

Far fewer visitors get off at this station of the crossing. This allows for more peaceful walks through these high wetlands. Wooden walkways provide easy access to the area. From this station, there is also a quick walk to a viewpoint of the Tateyama Caldera. The walk itself is less impressive then the walk to the other Caldera viewpoint from Murodo station. So, decide on time and effort, but don’t miss the Caldera viewpoint. Forests fill the ancient crater and clouds race through it, making it a truly breath-taking place.

Bijodaira (977m)

Bear warning
Black Bear

While descending to Bijodaira station our bus drove into the clouds. Obscuring the views of the ancient cedar trees but at the same time adding more mystery to the forest. We arrived here at the end of the day with the crowds gone and the forest abandoned. Eerie silence surrounded us and the continuous bear warnings kept us on edge. The cedar trees are more than 1,000 year olds and reach to the sky. Depending on the time left, you can make some great walks here.


Descend by cable car to Tateyama. Mountains slowly make way for hills and trees make room for more open spaces. An epic journey had sadly come to its last stop. From here the train brought us to our luggage in Toyama where we collected it and continued to Kanazawa. Meanwhile the sun was setting on the rice fields.

Japanese Alps

Religious Japan

There are two big religious traditions in Japan, Shintoism and Buddhism. Shinto is Japan’s traditional religion. Buddhism came to Japan in the 6th century from Korea. A majority of the Japanese doesn’t belong to any of the organised versions of these religions. But over 80% do partake in religious traditions and ceremonies. Travelling to Koyasan provides a better understanding of the organised side of religion in Japan. Walking the Kumano Kodo is a more individual experience.


Koyasan is the center of Shingon Buddhism. Kobo Daishi introduced this Buddhist sect in 805. In 826, Kobo Daishi started to build his temple headquarters in Koyasan. Since then the mountain has been filled with temples. This makes Koyasan the ideal place to sleep in a temple and experience the morning rituals of the monks.

Travelling to Koyasan

While travelling from Osaka to Koyasan, the landscape slowly transforms around us. From the urban and suburban sprawls of Osaka, to the surrounding country side with its rice fields. In turn the flat landscape is almost instantly replaced, this time by the rising hills and mountains. The train crosses rivers and gorges and starts to climb more and more until we arrive at Gokuraku-bashi. Koyasan is now a dramatic climb by cable car away. The climb provides ever wider vistas of the surrounding area. Then the trees start closing us in and we have arrived at the mountain.

A bus brings us to the temples in the town. The temples lay scattered along the main road through the village. Staying the night in one of them is a great way to explore the religious side of Japan. The young Buddhist monks in training will tend to our needs. They are quite well versed in English and willing to converse about their training and Buddhism in general. As we settle into our room, the young monk serves our tea. We enjoy it with open screen doors looking out over the inner garden.

Okunoin cemetery

Our temple is at the edge of the town and a short walk away from Okunoin cemetery. As we walk along the path the sun rays shine through the forest roof lighting singular tombstones. Moss covers most tombstones which enhances the ancient feeling of the place. Silently we make our way to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi.

It’s said that Kobo Daishi is in eternal meditation in this place. He will return as Miroku, the Future Buddha at which time he will lead the faithful to salvation. This is the reason why this is the biggest cemetery in Japan. As we make our way back to our temple, we marvel at all the different tombstones. Some are for people others are for entire companies. Those tombstones are in the shape of the logo or product of the company, for example a big rocket.

Temple lodging
Diner in a temple

Back in the temple, we’re served a great vegan meal, tofu has never tasted this good before. It’s a good opportunity to taste some completely different flavours since the meal is also prepared without garlic. After dinner, we head back to Okunoin cemetery to experience it in the darkness. Lanterns light the path and the tombstones closest to it. The eerie silence combined with the darkness makes the place far spookier than during the day. You can go on a guided tour, which gives more information about the different tombstones and myths surrounding the cemetery. But it takes away from the solemn feeling when exploring on your own.

Konpon Daitō
Konpon Daitō

Morning ceremony

At six a.m., we join the monks in their morning ceremony together with the other guests. The head monk leads us in prayer. A younger monk plays the drum and cymbals to guide the prayer and help us reach a trance-like state. At the end, the head monk asks us to light some incense and ring a bell to honour our ancestors. After the ceremony, he guides us to another part of the temple for a fire ceremony. This purification ritual is more spectacular and explains why many temples have burned down. Our stay in the temple ends with a vegan breakfast and we head to the centre of town to visit the main temple complexes. We head up to the top of the mountain to get some spectacular views. We see the sea in the distance and say our goodbyes to this special place.

Kumano Kodo

A good starting base for the Kumano Kodo is Tanabe at the coast. This sleepy provincial town has affordable accommodation and plenty of good food options. Buses leave from the JR station to different stages of the walking route.

Walking in the rain

If you are pressed for time and have only a day to walk, Yunomine Onsen is a great place to start your walk from. It has the only UNESCO World Heritage onsen. Get a ticket at the nearby shop if you want to take a unique soak in this natural hot spring.

Our walk

Our walk started across the road and immediately devolved into a steep climb. We were there when the front of a tropical storm was passing the peninsula, so the paths turned into rivers and the views were misty and moody. The forest was alive with amphibious lifeforms. Hundreds of tiny land crabs were crawling on the ground and frogs were jumping around. Soon we were completely soaked, our shoes splashing with every step. Suddenly a giant toad blocked our path. It’s these kinds of meetings that gives understanding to the origins of fairy tales and fables.

Tim on trail
Hiking in the rain

We continued climbing the hills through the dark forest and felt the silence and emptiness around us. It’s at these moments that you can easily imagine a world without men. Which in turn gives a certain perspective to man’s place in the universe. As we came upon the main route, the path became wider and the forest receded and made place for some open spaces. The cloudy misty views over the hilltops and the valleys made us appreciate skies which aren’t clear blue all the time. After a good day’s walk, we reached Kumano Hongu Taisha. This is one of the three Kumano Grand Shrines and the end of our little pilgrimage.

Hongu Taisha
Hongu Taisha

Hongu Taisha

Cliches like “it’s the route, not the destination” come to mind when talking about travel. Kumano Hongu Taisha isn’t an impressive complex. But getting there with all the other pilgrims still provided us with a human connection and a sense of achievement. So, in the end there certainly is value in the destination.

Religious Jaopan