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World's Sacred Travel, Pilgrimage Sites and Spiritual Journeys destinations.
Varanasi in India: pilgrimage journeys and tour destinations.
Varanasi on the banks of India's holy Ganges River is believed by those of the Hindu faith to be the first city created on the Earth, making it an active pilgrimage center.   Peter Langer

Story by Robert Scheer
Photos researched by Helen Tomei, Sacred Earth Journeys

Check out Sacred Travel tour specialists at the end of this article!

In ancient Greece, sages built an Earth Goddess shrine at Delphi because of the abundance of plenum, an energy they believed bubbled out of the slopes of Mount Parnassus. In the Chinese tradition there is a similar life force called chi. Sufis call it baraka and Hindus know it as prana. If this invisible energy seems fanciful to you, don't forget that is how people felt about radio waves a mere 100 years ago. Perhaps 21st century establishment scientists will verify earth energies, but regardless of official endorsement, many travelers are creating their vacations around visiting places of power and spirituality.

Stonehenge in England is a destination for spiritual pilgrimage vacations.
England's Stonehenge is visited by 800,000 people a year.  Visit Britain

From ancient stone circles and jungle-tangled pyramids to gothic cathedrals and mountaintop shrines, sacred places attract us with a mysterious power. Since the beginning of time, people have visited sacred sites for healing, inspiration and guidance. Mainstream western scientists may scoff at suggestions that water from holy wells can cure illnesses or that ancient megaliths can deliver messages from the spirit world, but the concept of powerful places has been known to many cultures for thousands of years.

The oldest known pilgrimage site is Mount Kailash in Tibet, which has been a holy travel destination for an incomprehensible 15,000 years. Walking the 32-mile trail around Kailash takes about three days, at altitudes as high as 18,000 feet. Buddhists say the ritual circumambulation erases the sins of one lifetime, and 108 times around the mountain will enable you to reach Nirvana.

The first Christian pilgrim was Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, who toured the Holy Land in 326 C.E. and identified (not necessarily accurately) many of the sites associated with Jesus. In medieval times, the tradition of Christian pilgrimages really took hold, with Jerusalem the ultimate destination. Pilgrims who couldn't manage or afford the long voyage could still do penance or seek cures by visiting European shrines devoted to various saints.

Northern Spain's Santiago de Compostela is a pilgrimage vacation for millions of visitors.

Canterbury Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Thomas, was England's most popular pilgrimage site, as described in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, written in the 14th century. In northern Spain, Santiago de Compostela, with the cathedral said to contain the bones of Jesus' disciple St. James, was second in popularity only to Rome as Europe's most-visited pilgrimage destination of the Middle Ages. See our magazine's richly-illustrated collection of FOUR feature articles documenting in personal detail both the small-group walking tour option and the independent pilgrim option along the Route to Santiago.

The well-preserved medieval town center of Santiago de Compostela remains a heavily visited sacred travel destination whether pilgrims travel on foot or horseback, by bicycle, car or bus. Alison Gardner

South America's most famous sacred site, Machu Picchu, is a mountaintop citadel about 60 miles northwest of Cusco, Peru. There are several hundred stone buildings, built on terraces and connected by a maze of stone steps and pathways.

Enhanced by the dramatic natural surroundings, the atmosphere of Machu Picchu is as holy and inspirational as any cathedral. Some buildings, such as the Temple of Three Windows, are made from enormous stone blocks weighing up to thirty tons and fitted together without mortar. It is utterly mind-boggling to consider how such construction could have been accomplished by a supposedly "primitive" culture, many believe to be pre-Incan by thousands of years.

Peru's Machu Picchu is one of the world's top spiritual travel destinations.S
The surroundings and atmosphere of Machu Picchu are as holy and inspirational as any cathedral. Magical Journey

Today you don't have to leave North America to find places known for miracles. In Chimayó, New Mexico there is an adobe chapel where 2,000 believers congregate each Good Friday, and 300,000 pilgrims are drawn annually. In a small room at the back of the chapel, known as the "Room of Miracles," is a hole in the floor through which people scoop out sand, said to have curative properties. The walls of the room are lined with hundreds of letters and pictures from visitors thankful for the healing they say they received.

Red Rock Crossing, Sedona, Arizona. Tobias Lars

Sedona, Arizona has also been a pilgrimage destination from prehistoric times to the present day. Not only the local Hopi and Navajo, but natives from as far as Canada and Central America journeyed there for healing and learning long before Europeans invaded North America. The area's dramatically-shaped red sandstone rocks are said to emit powerful energy partly because of their high concentration of magnetic iron.

Sedona was settled by aboriginals from the four sacred directions: Apache from the East, the ancestors of the Hopi from the South, Yavapai from the West and Athabascans from the North. This seems to be the way with many pilgrimage sites. They are first identified as places of natural earth energy, then, in time, the land is developed by adding monoliths, stone circles, shrines, cathedrals etc. Over the centuries, as people gathered to celebrate or worship at the places, they add their own human energies.
Spiritual travel and pilgrimage vacations require preparation.

For every bizarre story you hear about unusual happenings at sacred places, there are thousands of disappointed souls who go on pilgrimages hoping for miracles and personal experiences that never happen. One reason why so many pilgrimages fizzle out may be lack of preparation.

Egypt's pyramids have great spiritual significance for travelers from around the world.
The ancient civilization of Egypt and its landmark pyramids in particular continue to hold a strong appeal for spiritual vacationers. Peter Langer
Tibetan monasteries are popular spiritual travel destinations.
Ancient Buddhist monasteries in the Tibetan Himalayas make spectacular travel destinations where a warm welcome awaits. Peter Langer

Native youth would spend weeks or months getting ready for their vision quests. They'd study, pray, fast, chant and sometimes use hallucinogenic herbs to encourage their visions. In the European Middle Ages, most pilgrims to Canterbury, Santiago de Compostela and other Christian sites went there on foot which allows one plenty of time to prepare mentally. Travel to sacred sites required planning, persistence and often great sacrifices. No wonder arrival created such excitement!

Glastonbury Abbey in England.
Is the Holy Grail buried near this still-imposing abbey at Glastonbury, England? 
Visit Britain

Without going overboard, there are several practical steps to take to make any sacred travel experience more meaningful. First, do some homework. Learn about the history and folklore associated with a place. One reason I was moved to tears in Canterbury Cathedral is because I had first read Becket. Next, approach sacred places with humility. Instead of barging into a stone circle, stop outside and ask the genus loci for permission before you enter.

Know your reason for going. If some entity were to ask "Why have you come here?" how would you answer? Open your mind and heart to the spirit of a place. Meditate, or at least take time to absorb whatever energies might be there.

American folklorist and mythology expert, Joseph Campbell once met a woman going to Greece to discover the spirit of the Goddess. After she showed him her elaborate, highly-detailed itinerary, Campbell said, "Dear lady, I sincerely hope that all does not go as planned." He explained, "Unless you leave room for serendipity, how can the divine enter in? The beginning of the adventure of finding yourself is to lose your way."

Delphi, Greece is a spiritual travel center for wellness vacations.
One hundred miles northwest of Athens, Delphi and its famous oracle have been a magnet of spiritual influence since the Bronze Age. Alison Gardner

Self-discovery is, of course, the ultimate goal of any spiritual pursuit. All transformation must come from within, and pilgrimage is just one of many routes you can take to get there. In the end, all spiritual roads lead to the same destination, an idea beautifully summarized by T.S. Eliot in his Four Quartets:

T.S. Eliot poem, Four Quartets.

Robert Scheer is a travel writer based in Canada who specializes in sacred sites and power places. He is also Communication Director of the spiritual tourism company, Body Mind Spirit Journeys.

Peter Langer
, www.peterlanger.com, has contributed several images to this article. His professional photography is widely used by publishers, governments, international airlines and tour operators. Having visited 120+ countries, he is actively engaged in the international educational, arts and travel & tourism communities.

Spiritual Travel and Pilgrimage Vacation Tour Operators.

Journeys of the Spirit logo.Journeys of the Spirit® brings forth experiences that transform lives, open doors to new ideas, feelings and personal connections while offering spiritual journeys and retreats to many inspiring destinations. www.journeysofthespirit.com

Sacred Earth Journeys logo.

SACRED EARTH JOURNEYS specializes in transformative small-group and customized trips [Sacred Travel Explorations, Wellness Travel, and Yoga Tours & Retreats] to explore hidden mysteries and unique features of sacred sites, and to achieve a better understanding of spiritual teachings around the globe. www.sacredearthjourneys.ca

BodyMindSpiritJourneys logo.Body Mind Spirit Journeys offers small groups of discerning travelers expert-guided tours that powerfully connect to the world's most important sacred sites. Some of their popular spiritual tourism destinations include Machu Pichu, Stonehenge and Chichen Itza. Many itineraries include ceremonies, meditation, wellness retreats and connections with local shamans or healers. www.BodyMindSpiritJourneys.com

Marly Tours logo. Experience Spain's Camino de Santiago with Marly Tours! We offer walking and cycling options, VIP style or on a budget for individuals and private groups. Nature, freedom, Spain and the most important medieval pilgrimage route in Europe. Try our new Mystic Camino tour for an enriched wellness and spiritual dimension. www.marlycamino.com

Sedona Nature Spirit Walks, Arizona, wellness and spiritual vacations.
Enjoy Sedona Nature Spirit Walks in the magnificent Red Rock Vistas of Sedona, Arizona. Walks and hikes are customized from slow and gentle elevation changes to more rigorous hikes and ‘mini vision quests’ that open to the spirits of nature. www.SpiriTravel.com.

Logo for Journeying pilgrim tours of Celtic Britain and Ireland.

Established in 1987, Journeying offers Christian journeys in small informal groups, through Celtic Britain and Ireland. Hiking, island-hopping and worshipping in out-of-the-way places are all part of the experience. Our walking itineraries allow all who take part to deepen and enrich their Christian life, as well as to enjoy a refreshing break. www.journeying.co.uk.

This feature article is part of the path-breaking Travel with a Challenge website, a senior travel magazine hosting timely articles and advice about educational adventure travel, and unique destinations for planning stimulating journeys worldwide. Explore the website via the navigation menu below. See our Privacy Policy.
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