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Pilgrimages are an important part of many religions, and pilgrimage sites are scattered across holy lands around the globe. Whether you subscribe to a particular religion or not, pilgrimage routes are amazing travel destinations that can really impact your perspective and worldview. Pilgrimage journeys offer travelers history lessons, spiritual renewal, and opportunities to meet interesting people from diverse cultures. These are some of the most amazing historical and spiritual pilgrimage journeys around the world to consider for your next big trip.
One of the most well-known pilgrimage sites in the world is Jerusalem. According to the Hebrew Bible, all Jewish followers should to make this pilgrimage during their lifetimes. But this isn’t just a pilgrimage trip for the Jewish faith. This place has significant historical and spiritual references in Christianity and Islam as well. Visitors often see Mount Zion, the Old City, the Christian Corner, picturesque local neighborhoods, and hire a tour operator.
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
The other big pilgrimage site that most people have heard of is the holy city of Mecca, which is located in present-day Saudi Arabia. Followers of Islam are required to make the Hajj at least once during their lifetimes, which is an annual pilgrimage that starts and ends in Mecca. This is the holiest place in Islam, and the pilgrimage is a religious duty. This route is significant because it retraces the steps of Muhammad as he returned home to lead the religion. However, it should be noted that only Muslims are allowed to participate in the Hajj, which typically takes place in September or October.
Mount Kailash, Tibet
The oldest pilgrimage site on the planet is thought to be Mount Kailash in Tibet. For over 15,000 years, people have believed that circling the mountain along a 52-kilometer trek will bring them good fortune. Most people take about a month to complete this pilgrimage on foot. However, some people have taken this journey by yak and pony, which reduces the travel time to less than a week. Buddhist teachings say that circling the mountain 108 times will lead you to Nirvana, and May through September is the best time to visit the mountain.
The Sanctuary of Atotonilco has been referred to as the Sistine Chapel of Mexico because it’s a beautiful church that’s become a popular pilgrimage site. The ceiling of this church is absolutely stunning and it took the artist, Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre, more than 30 years to finish. The Christian images depict the brutality inflicted on Jesus before he was crucified. Most people come to Guanajuato between August and November to see the church and renew their spirituality. However, thousands of people visit the Atotonilco every week of the year.
Located in southwestern France, Lourdes has become one of the most prominent pilgrimage sites for Catholics. A peasant girl claimed to have over a dozen encounters with the Virgin Mary here in the mid-1800s, and the site is known for its healing waters. The International Military Pilgrimage is a popular week-long event that draws soldiers in search of healing.
Shikoku is an island of Japan that is important in the Buddhist faith. A Buddhist teacher named Kobo-Daishi was born here and is credited for bringing the religion from China to Japan. The most popular pilgrimage route spans 750 miles and stops at temples that are connected to this Buddhist master. The various stages of this pilgrimage represent aspects of the Buddhist faith itself.
Peruvian Shaman and Witch Doctors perform spiritual healing ceremonies at the Lagoons of Huaringas. A hallucinogenic drink known as Ayahuasca is often used to cure common ailments in these ceremonies. They also often involve taking ice baths in the nearby lakes. Many pilgrims choose to make logistical arrangements through a local tour operator between July and September.
There are numerous spiritual sites and journeys in India, but one of the most important is the Kumbh Mela. This pilgrimage is important to the Hindu faith and takes place every 12 years in Allahbad by the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers. It’s an enormous pilgrimage event that brings people of all ages to the rivers to bathe and renew their spirits.
Camino de Santiago, Spain
The Camino de Santiago is also known as the Way of St. James and starts from St. Jean Pied de Port. After a 780-kilometer trek, pilgrims will reach the Santiago de Compostela cathedral in northern Spain. St. James, Jesus’ apostle, is believed to be buried here. Part of this trail is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the journey can take a few weeks or months, depending upon the route. July and August are the busiest months for trekkers on this route, so May, June, and September are preferred by travelers with flexible schedules. For some tips, check out this article from a pilgrim who walked it.
As part of an indigenous Yoruba religious tradition, the festival of Osun-Osogbo takes place in Nigeria each year to enrich the faith of believers. There are an estimated 100 million followers of this religion, so the spiritual festival is a huge event. It takes place in August each year at the Sacred Grove for two weeks, starting with a traditional cleansing and lighting a 500-year-old lamp called Ina Olojumerindinlogun.
Glastonbury Tor and Stonehenge, England
Glastonbury Tor and Stonehenge are popular pilgrimage sites for pagans, history buffs, and curious travelers. Glastonbury Tor is a hill that is home to St. Michael’s Tower and offers lovely views of the English countryside over Somerset. Stonehenge is a bizarre and fascinating World Heritage Site that is thought to date back as early as 2,600 BC. It has been the site for many ceremonies and rituals of diverse spiritual groups over the course of history. Early-to-mid summer is the most popular time to visit this region of the UK.
In the Himalayan mountain range and in the Uttaranchal state, there are four pilgrimage sites collectively known as Char Dham and it takes most people a couple weeks to visit all of them. They are particularly important to Hindus, who attempt to visit the sites at least once during a lifetime. However, this journey also offers a wonderful way to learn about local Indian culture and traditions. There are several options for starting points on this pilgrimage, which draws hundreds of thousands of people each year.