Shirahama, on the southwest coast of the Kii Peninsula, is Kansai's leading beach resort and has all the trappings of a major Japanese tourist attraction – huge resort hotels, aquariums, amusement parks etc. It also has several good onsen, a great white-sand beach and rugged coastal scenery.
Yunomine, Watarase & Kawa-yu Onsen
These three onsen are among Kansai's best, each with its own distinct character (worth doing a circuit). There are ryokan and minshuku in the area, but if you are on a tight budget it's possible to camp on the riverbanks around Kumano Hongū Taisha. It's possible to walk among the three onsen.
Kushimoto, Shiono-misaki & Kii-Ōshima
The southern tip of the Kii Peninsula (and southernmost point on Honshu) has some stunning coastal scenery. The amazing natural rock formation Hashigui-iwa is a line of about a dozen spire-like boulders extending into the water like the supports of a bridge.
A Unesco World Heritage Site, Hongū is a good starting point for visiting the onsen nearby. The spiffy Kumano Hongū Heritage Centre has detailed information in English about the sacred Kumano region. Amid rice paddies behind the heritage centre is Japan's largest torii (39.9m tall), made out of steel and painted dramatic black.
The authentic, isolated village of Yunomine is nestled around a narrow river in a wooded valley. Most of the town's onsen are inside ryokan or minshuku but charming little Tsubo-yu Onsen is open to all. It's right in the middle of town, inside a tiny wooden shack built on an island in the river.
The small city of Shingū on the east coast of Wakayama is a useful transport hub for access to the Kumano Kodō pilgrimage route and the onsen village of Hongū. There's a helpful information office at the station. The end of the pilgrimage route is here, at Kumano Hayatama Taisha, which dates from prehistory.
Tanabe, a small city on the west coast of Wakayama, is the main gateway to the Kumano Kodō. The government of this friendly town has made huge efforts to welcome foreign tourists. By the train station, the excellent Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau offers useful maps and detailed info on of the region as well as a 'gourmet map' of local restaurants with English menus.