See also: Where to stay in Jeju
Lying in the Korean Strait, Jeju Island is a volcanic island formed approximately two million years ago. Possessing mountains, waterfalls, beaches, volcanic cones, historical sights, temples, walking trails and forests, this South Korean island boasts of having unmatchable natural wonders and romantic sights. In fact Jeju Island was declared as one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of Nature’ in 2011. Often referred as the Island of Gods by the local people owing to old legends and mythical beliefs stating that demi-Gods once inhabited here, this isolated piece of land has its own culture which is quite different from that of the mainland of South Korea. Already being one of the popular vacationing and honeymooning destinations of the Asians, it is also emerging as a desirable tourist destination for the West. If you want to tour this island, here is a to-do list for you.
Plan a day-hike to Mt Hallasan
The highest mountain peak of South Korea, Mount Hallasan, is a dormant volcano and a UNESCO Biosphere reserve having unparalleled scenic beauty. There’s a Korean saying that "Jeju Island is Hallasan, and Hallasan is Jeju” because being situated at the centre, this mountain forms the bulk of the island and can be seen from anywhere. Although its height is 1953 metre above the sea level, it is not very difficult to hike up to its peak and come back on the same day. Two trail entrances Eorimok and Seongpanak leading to Hallasan National Park are the starting point of the 9.5 km hike to the mountain’s summit where the most beautiful Crater Lake Baekrokdam is located. Mt Hallasan homes a Buddhist temple, 360 parasitic volcanoes, colourful tropical flora covers, alpine plants, peculiar wild animals, 160 bird species and more than 3000 insect species. It’s better to avoid going there in summer as it rains heavily. In winter it’s covered with snow and, in spring and autumn it’s all the more colourful. However, it may be very windy while hiking.
Walk through the Manjanggul Lava Tube
Being one of the longest lava tube tunes in the world, the Manjanggul cave is another UNESCO world heritage site. This eight kilometre long lava tube formed by cooling lava about 2.5 million years ago is illuminated by soft coloured lights but it’s still eerie and dark. It’s a bit cold and the passage is extremely slippery. Inside it you can take a 1 km walk but it might make you feel claustrophobic as it is quite narrow. You’ll also find 70cm long lava stalagmites there. Outside there are also a few restaurants and a manmade maze. Arrive here by taxi or bus.
See sunrise at Seongsan Ilchulbong
Seongsan Ilchulbong is known as the sunrise peak of Jeju Island. A series of volcanic eruptions under the ocean led to its formation some 100,000 years ago. Situated in the island’s eastern end, this extinct volcanic cone stands 128 metre high above the sea level and is surrounded by 99 chiselled rocks with a huge green cater at the top. The sunrise there is so beautiful that it leaves the spectators awestruck. Designated as a natural monument in the year 2000, this picturesque place has been a filming location of many Korean dramas. In spring, it gets covered by yellow rapeseed flowers and becomes all the more beautiful. The bridge connecting it to Seongsan Village is used for horse-riding and walking.
Run away from crowd at Jungmun beach
Jungmun Saekdal Beach, commonly referred as Jungmun beach, is the most popular beach of Jeju Island. Located in Seogwipo, the second-largest city on the island, this beach serves as the venue for the Jeju International Surfing Competition. Consequently surfers frequently visit this place. Despite its popularity, it is quite peaceful. Being one of its kind, this 560 metre long beach has vast stretches of white sand contrasted with black Hyeonmuam stones and a few patches of different shades of black, red and grey sand here and there. The natural sea cave to its right is a popular filming locale.
Fill yourself with wonder at Jusangjeolli Cliff
The eruption of Mt Halassan into Jungmun Sea led to the formation of the seemingly manmade but actually natural hexagonal stone pillars constituting the Jusangjeoli Cliff. Designated as a natural monument and lining the southern coast of Jeju island, it strangely looks similar to Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland and when the high white waves of Jungnum Sea hits these dark volcanic stones, the view that’s created is worth watching. While watching the waves from the cliff tops, you will feel the gentle sea breeze caressing you.
Look astonishingly at Jeongbang Waterfall
Jeju Island has many waterfalls but Jeongbang waterfall is a must-see spot. Considered as the only waterfall in Asia that falls straight into the ocean, this waterfall located near Seogwipo and originating from the Donghong-chun stream is 23 metre high. A legend states that a man named Seobul, a servant of the Chinese emperor Jin, who was sent to bring the magical herbs of eternal youth from Mount Hallan, stopped at this spot to inscribe “Seobul Gwaji” meaning "Seobul was here" on one of the cliff walls which no longer exists. But you will find there another inscription, “Seobulgwacha” which means Seobul's journey. Another legend claims that the water here can heal ailments and cause rainfall in times of drought as it contains the holy spirit of a dragon that once lived beneath it. Legends apart, this place is also mystically fascinating.
Dive into the sea with Seogwipo Submarine
Irrespective of whether you are a child or an adult, you’ll surely have a great time exploring the world under the ocean. This submarine tour delving to a depth of 40 metre in the sea, shows shipwreck, colourful fishes, corals, insects and various kinds of sea urchins and plants that not many get to see in one’s lifetime. In summer this underwater submarine trip starts as early as 7:45 a.m. and ends at 6:15 p.m. with an interval of 35 minutes and in winter the trip goes on from 09.20 a.m. to 04.00 p.m. with an interval of 40 minutes. And the best thing is you will get to see all that the underwater life has to offer without getting wet or taking any risk.
Stand on the Seonimgyo Bridge and look around
Seonimgyo Bridge’s significance lies not only in the way it is positioned to render a panoramic view of Cheonjeyeon waterfall over which it stands but also in its symbolic significance. Its other name Seven Nymphs Bridge was given because there are carvings of seven nymphs playing instruments on either side of it. This gives it its symbolic value, as according to a legend the seven beautiful nymphs descend here from heaven at night. Even now, the coming of the nymphs is celebrated through Chilseonyeo Festival that occurs here in the month of May. Built in 1984, it is till the first arch bridge in the region, and is open for walking.
Take a bath in Cheonjeyeon Waterfall
Although Seonimgyo Bridge and Cheonjeyeon Waterfall are in the same location, both offer different views of the same place. Originating from a cave ceiling, this waterfall comprises three sections, the first one dividing into the second and third ones. Sitting on the pond rocks and watching above will provide a bottom to top view of the third section of the waterfall falling from the cliffs into the pond. It is often referred to as the Pond of God because the word “Cheonjeyeon” literally means “Pond of the Emperor of Heaven”. An old myth asserts that the nymphs descending from heaven used to bathe in this pond. Now, any confirmation regarding this cannot be made, but what can be surely confirmed is you can bathe in this pond. The sight is eerily enchanting as the temperate subtropical forest having rare plant species like solipnan plants surrounds the entire waterfall in a gigantic way.
Go for walks through Olle walking trails
Not all islands with mountains and beaches have walking trails but Jeju Island has. Olle walking trails are found in most of the island and these trails mostly run along the coastline. These long footpaths having derived their name from jeju’s local dialect word Olle, meaning pathway joining the street and the front door of a house, take pedestrians to some “oreums” or parasitic volcanic sites, Gotjawal forest, mountains, beachfronts, green tea fields and some famous historical sights. There are about more than twenty such trails. Out of all the trails you shouldn’t miss walking through the Olle Trail on Chuja Island and one on the south coast route that’ll take you close to the sea caves dug by the islanders where the Japanese invaders used to hide their weapons and where the historical drama "Jewel in the Palace" was filmed.
Reach Udo Island by a ferry
The name Udo meaning "Cow Island" has been given to this island because it has the shape of a cow lying down. This little island which is basically a lava plateau having fertile lands where crops like sweet potatoes, garlic, and peanuts are grown, can make you feel like you’re standing on an Irish or Scottish island. In fact, Udo Island is a smaller and a more compact version of Jeju Island which will give you all the privacy you need while presenting all kinds of beautiful landscapes and seascapes that the latter boasts of. Visit Seobin Baeksa which is a peaceful white sand beach embracing the greenish white waves of the ocean and the Geommeolle Beach in the east of the island which is a short beach having black sand that ends where rock caves behind big boulders lie. However, you will not find any big hotels or malls here.
Get to know about Jeju’s myths and legends at Stone Park
Jeju has many parks but this is a park with a difference. It says a lot about the island’s culture. It has many rocks representing Jeju’s folklore that generations after generations have been propagating. The Grandfather rocks were outpourings of lava shaped into massive phallic statues by masons in 1750 to ward off evils and invaders are present here. These stones known as “dolharubang” have a strange resemblance with Easter Island's Moai. Presently 45 such stones exist as a symbol of ancient gods and legends.
Relax at Hamdeok Beach
Located to the east of Jeju City, Hamdeok Beach is the best beach for relaxing, especially in summer. The beach appears only when the tide is low and it disappears at the time of high tide. The shining turquoise sea waves crashing against the shoreline and then retreating back, is what you will love watching from a deckchair. The water here is shallow, so it’s quite safe. The beach offers all sorts of facilities like changing rooms, deckchairs, and nearby restaurants, cafes and hotels. You can walk along the beach or the coastal hikes while observing the natural splendour of the surrounding rocks and cliffs towering the calm ocean. Apart from chilling, Kayaking, snorkelling, water skiing, paddling in its waters or swimming are also facilitated here.
Shop at Dongmun Market
This is the most famous market of Jeju Island. It sells everything that one can think of. From stalls and shops selling glistening fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, meat, and more to vendors selling clothes and souvenirs, this market has everything for tourists as well as locals. In the evening the market gets flooded with local shops selling amazing street food like dumplings. Even if you don’t want to buy anything you can just roam around in the market to know more about the islanders’ life.
Indulge in Jeju’s delicacies
Fresh seafood like seaweed and sea urchin soup are Jeju’s specialities. Vegetarian food items aren’t preferred much but they are still available. Yeonoonae near Halla Arboretum serves good and perilla-seed soup and potato pancakes. Barbecued pork is another famous delicacy of Jeju. Tangerines could be a bit costly but it’s very delicious. Pheasant, whole grilled mackerel in sea salt are other special delicacies of Jeju.
React to the themes of Jeju’s Theme Parks
The island has many theme parks. Loveland Park is an adult-theme park having erotic statue and sculptures. Gimnyeong Maze Park is a big maze made up of trimmed plants. Psyche World features butterflies and there are many more like Sex & Health Museum, World Eros Museum, Mini Mini Land, Pony and Alligator Town.
Head to O’Sulloc Museum
That Korean love tea is known to all. But what you might not know is, an entire museum in the Jeju Island is dedicated to tea. Are you wondering why the museum is named so? To be precise ‘O’ implies “to appreciate and enjoy” and ‘Sulloc’ refers to a variety of green tea. Divided into six separate sections, each of which deals with a particular aspect related to tea, the museum as a whole forms the shape of a tea cup. A visit to this museum is going to brush up on your knowledge of the history of tea and teach you how to identify different types of tea leaves. The sight of the immensely big green tea field located nearby will leave you surprised and its smell will tempt you to have a cup of tea inside the museum.
Find yourself in the 19th century rural setting at Jeju Folk Village Museum
Containing more than 100 traditional houses and 8000 folklore artefacts and comprising four villages namely Mountain Village, Hill-country Village, Fishing Village and Shamanism Village, Jeju Folk Village Museum is a unique museum that transports all its visitors to the 19th century rural setting of Jeju villages. Hosting different events throughout the year like making patjuk (red bean porridge) during Winter Solstice and dubu (tofu), fortune telling at the Fortune Teller’s house and folk performances, it also exhibits traditional fishing and farming artefacts as well as folk performances.
Meet the Haenyeo Divers
Popularly known as the Korean mermaids, Jeju’s world famous haenyeo divers are women who go down into the sea as deep as 10 to 20 metre without carrying any breathing apparatus. These divers are mostly elderly women above the age of 50. Many years ago when the island’s men went fishing and didn’t come back for a very long time, the women had to go into the sea to catch fishes, urchins, octopus, abalone, clams, squid and insects to feed their family. Since then, they have been working till date. In almost all of Jeju’s beaches you will see elderly women doing this job. To know better watch a haenyeo dive show at Haenyeo restaurant where these women divers serve specially prepared seafood.
If you are planning for a short vacation, this list will suffice. But if a long vacation is in your mind, you can further visit the island’s malls or museums like Teddy Bear Museum, Jeju Haenyeo Museum, Shinyeong Cinema Museum and others. You may also walk through all the Olle trails and relax at beaches.