Jeju Island‘s white sand beaches, giant waterfalls and amazing swimming holes give it the nickname “Korea’s Hawaii.” Jeju is a 4 hour ferry ride south of mainland South Korea putting it in sub-tropical waters. Its a large island so be sure to give yourself a few days to explore Jeju. I joined my old SHG friend Johnny’s group Bangawoyo Tours for a 5-day “kick-in” it on Jeju Island over Chuseok and it was simply fantastic!
This guide will take you around Jeju following our route on a group tour. It will tell you everything you need to know about this Korean paradise. I highly recommend joining a group tour for Jeju but plenty of travelers do it solo by renting a car.
Getting to Jeju Island
Ferries are how most tour groups get to Jeju and take about 4 hours from the mainland at Wando Port or 5 hours from Mokpo port. They are large boats with plenty of room to relax. Depending on the size of your vessel it will have everything from a convenience store to full restaurants and karaoke rooms!
Prices range from 20,000 – 50,000won depending on the ferry and type of ticket.
Most solo travelers go off-peak and get a cheap round trip flight for less than 100,000won.
After an overnight bus ride and a morning ferry we were happy to relax at Gwakji Beach. Black lava rocks line Gwakji’s sandy cove and sunsets illuminate the westward sky. Its a great spot to enjoy local rice wines, play in the sands and dip in the cool water. At high tide public baths fill up with sea water and the beach is perfect for a swim at any time.
Driving around Jeju you’ll see massive mountains litter an unusually flat landscape. Korea typically has dozens of high mountains with buildings lining the hills in between but Jeju is much more rural & laid back. Palm trees were imported years ago and now thrive along roadsides and coastlines. Native trees have overgrown and envelop some roads with green tunnels as you drive past dozens of museums between other spectacular sights.
Things to do in Jeju Island
Loveland is a popular stop for just about anyone visiting Jeju Island. Most of us living in Korea have seen raunchy photos of raunchy sculptures from this crazy art museum. This is about the tamest photo I snapped at Loveland and its certainly worth stopping by for a few laughs or perhaps even to get some ideas.
It was actually our first stop but I thought the naked lady might scare off some of my readers. For a more in depth look at Loveland read my post here!
The cliffs at Jusangjeollidae are made of beautiful lava columns. These 5 & 6 sided cylinders formed between 150-250 thousand years ago as lava cooled in the ocean. On a calm day the turquoise waters glow beneath the black rocks but when we arrived on our first morning massive waves washed over the lava towers.
The occasional wave crashed into the cliffs creating a faux geyser and eliciting ooo’s and ah’s from onlookers. You don’t need long at Jusangjeollidae but its well worth stopping by. An hour should give you enough time to stroll along the promenade and even grab a local snack.
Jeju Island is famous for its uniquely flavored chocolates with everything from tangerine & green tea to cactus. Most Koreans bring boxes back as souvenirs to share with friends, family and teachers. Its sold everywhere and should cost 10,000won for 6 boxes. I recommend buying it on your LAST day so you don’t have to carry it everywhere. I bought some in the ferry terminal just before leaving Jeju.
Hwanguji Rock Pools
Head to Hwanguji for an adventurous swim in a beautiful ocean-fed rock pool! Be sure to give yourself enough time to swim and relax in this beautiful landscape.
We spent 2 hours swimming in 2 pools, climbing rocks and singing our hearts out in the shallows.
The deeper pool is heavily effected by the tides and acts as a small wave pool so be careful. It’s incredibly refreshing and we had a blast but enter at your own risk because there are no lifeguards anywhere nearby.
Places to visit in Jeju Island
Jeongbang waterfall is one of only 4 Asian waterfalls that empty into the ocean. The 23m deluge sits on Jeju’s southern shore and is a must see on your trip! From the parking lot you have to walk down a few flights of stairs to the coast where you’ll immediately see the waterfall and feel the mist on your face.
The water is chilly even in the summer so its not a big deal that you aren’t allowed to swim here. Pause in front for a photo or wade through the shallows to use the rocks as a tripod like I did. Head to any of Jeju’s beautiful beaches if you want to take a dip afterwards. (Hwanguji, Gimnyeong Sonsegi & Udo were our favorite beaches)
Udo Island is another must see stop and can only be accessed by boat from Jeju’s easetern edge. Its a short 30 minute ferry ride or you can even take a submarine across for a premium. The island is pristine and reminds me of Ulleungdo’s rural farmland with a crystal coastline. A solitary mountain stands watch over this tiny islet littered with peanut farms. We rented bikes and took a 19km loop around Udo stopping at beaches, lighthouses and viewpoints along the way.
Make sure you bring your bathing suit to Udo! Swimming is the perfect way to chill out after biking up a sweat. If you bring an international driver’s liscense you can rent a cute little 3 wheeled car or stand up scooter instead.
Jesu Island South Korea
Don’t miss Geomeolle Beach! It’s a stunning scene that epitomizes #Earthporn and photos don’t come close to doing it justice. Geommeolle is a black sand beach that leads into a cave along the lower coast while giant striated cliffs grab your attention. A green rooftop houses a stoic lighthouse to keep sailors safe as waves crash through this gorgeous landscape
Seongsan Ilchulbang – Sunrise Peak a UNESCO World Heritage Site
1 Hour Round Trip Hike
On a clear day you can see a gorgeous sunrise from the bottom or top of Seongsan Ilchulbang. We were blessed with rainclouds for most of the trip which meant I was happy to sleep in and ‘hike’ the summit a little later in the morning. The hike is really just a series of staircases but about halway up it feels like you’ve entered the Junglebook!
The trail gives you an awesome panoramic view of Jeju and Udo and when you reach the top you get another amazing view. Ilchulbang’s crater is a long dormant shield volcano now looks like a bowl covered in grasslands. The unique landscape falls sharply into the ocean behind it.
On the way back down take a right for a cool coastal view and a chance to see Haenyeo, Jeju’s Female Divers, performing 2 shows daily. The divers are a huge part of Jeju culture and a point of pride for the island. Learn more about them at the Haenyo Museum.
Where to go in Jeju Island
The Haenyeo Museum gives foreigners and mainland Koreans a glimpse into Jeju culture and helps us understand the significance of these women. Jeju Haenyeo are freediving women who would feed their families by diving as deep as 20 meters to hunt seafood while holding their breath!
Its a role that most women didn’t choose but were forced to undertake as teenagers when Jeju men were sent off to wars or endured long trips on the dangerous high seas. Historically Jeju has had a larger female population and these strong women took charge of the household and provided for their family with centuries of free diving Jeju’s coastal waters. They are a dying cultural gem on Jeju and if you get the chance to meet a Haenyeo definitely take it!
Manjanggul Lava Tubes
The Manjanggul Lava Cave is a staggering 7.4 kilometers long. Its huge on the inside and has slight hints of the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doong in Vietnam. Its surprisingly COLD inside the cave so make sure you bring an extra layer!
Walking along the pathway you’ll see various lava rock formations along a well lit path. If you really want to take a good photo I recommend bringing a tripod into this underground wonder. Even though the cave is over 7 kilometers long the section you’re allowed in will only take about 30 minutes to walk each way. At the end is a giant lava stalagmite perfect for a photo!
Gimnyeong Seonsegi Beach
Jeju’s most beautiful beach is without a doubt Gimneyong Seonsegi Beach. The white sand blends into shades of aqua in the water and green algaes along the lava rocks creating a picturesque scene that reminds me of tropical beaches in the Philippines and Thailand. When we were there storm clouds threatened the island but held off long enough to create a masterpiece above and below.
Windmills in the distance power the local villages while fishermen and Haenyeo stock the restaurants. Our sunset on this last night was just a tease but still beautiful. On a clear day be sure to snap a photo and share it with me in a comment below!
Tourism in South Korea
After 5 days of buses, beaches and boats Bangawoyo Tours helped us all explore Jeju’s marvels while making new friends and great memories. I want to say a huge thank you to Johnny Seo, aka So Man, aka Johnny Fishcakes for organizing this masterpiece. Be sure to check his group out on Facebook and join us for our next adventure!
My Jeju Wishlist
We didn’t make it to Hallasan this trip but I hear its an absolutely amazing view at the top of this volcano. Hallasan is South Korea’s highest peak eclipsing Jirisan by about 35 meters at 1950 meters tall. Since I didn’t get to see it you should check out fellow blogger, Television of Nomad’s Ultimate guide to Hallasan!
Jeju Olle Trail
Fellow blogger, Inspired By Maps, showed me the Jeju Olle Trail in her 5 great ideas about Jeju Island post. now I wish I’d gone there too. Maybe I should just head back in the winter and see it all snow covered!
Thankfully my Jeju experience was awesome but beware of the weather! This Toronto Seoulcialite got caught off-guard by the typhoon and ended up having to fake her way through it on Instagram.
Disclaimer: All information is accurate as of September 2016.