While just a ferry ride from bustling mainland South Korea, the island paradise of Jeju feels worlds away. Blanketed in think pine forests, breathtaking rock formations and stunning beaches, Jeju is a famous escape for adventurers and beach-sitting folk alike. From the most popular shores to the tallest of peaks, here are the top seven spots that make this island special.
Rising 1,950m (6,400 ft.) above Jeju Island is Hallasan Mountain, the tallest peak in all of South Korea. The dormant volcano, now registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands just as much a geological treasure and cultural landmark, as it does an athletic feat. Home to over 1,800 species of plants, an oft-told tale of the gods and 368 parasitic volcanoes, this mother of all Korean peaks is not to be missed.
While hiking this beast is allowed year-round, it is confined to day hiking, since the weather at the summit can get a bit testy. If you’re looking to climb to the highest peak, leave in the early morning because the ascent is often closed before noon, no matter the season. Pack your sturdiest hiking boots, some hearty snacks and warm clothes. To reach Dongneung Peak, you can take Seongpanak Trail (9.6km, or 6 mi.—four and a half hours one-way) to the east or Gwaneumsa Trail (8.7 km, or 5.4 mi.—five hours one-way) to the north.
Once you’ve cleared that last step at the peak, stay a while, because you’ll be in the presence of the holiest ground on Jeju-do. Gawk at the mystical White Deer Lake, nuzzled in the volcanic crater, and breathe in the clear mountain air, soaring above the clouds.
For those looking for a lighter hike, try either Eorimok Trail (6.8km, or 4 mi.–three hours one-way), Eoseungsaengak Trail (1.3km, or 0.8 mi.–30 minutes one-way) or Yeongsil Trail (5.8km, 3.6 mi.–two and a half hours one-way). While these paths don’t quite get you to the peak, they do give you a glimpse into the myriad of climates and ecosystems that make this geographical giant home.
From Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal, take 781 or 781-1 to Seongpanak
Just to the east of Jeju is the little island of Udo, home to diving ajummas, golden peanuts and the freshest seafood. Once you step off the ferry, rent a normal bike (₩10,000, or US$9 for five hours) or an electric bike (₩15,000, US$13 for two hours) from one of the port-side vendors and hop on the 13km (8 mi.) seaside road. Route 1-1 circumnavigates the whole island and only takes about two hours non-stop. If you’re the picture-taking sort, there are plenty of perfect photo-worthy stops along the way, such as Hagosudong Beach, Sanho Beach or Someori Oreum Peak. Besides the geological gems, white sand beaches and clear blue waters, the culinary musts such as seafood ramen at 섬소나아 or peanut ice cream, make this island an essential day-trip from Jeju.
From Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal, take bus 701 or 710 to Seongsan Port Entrance
Walk 5 minutes to Seongsan Port Passenger Terminal and take the ferry to Udo Island
Seongsan Illchulbong Peak
If you’re hoping to add a sunrise spectacular to your visit, Seongsan Illchulbong Peak has got you covered. The now-dormant tuff cone, located on the east side of Jeju island, is the perfect spot for an early-morning hike. The result of a series of hydrovolcanic eruptions near the shallow seabed, Illchulbong looks like a plateau from afar and a giant crown from below. While the trek up to the peak’s crater takes about 50 minutes, the views of Jeju island are breathtakingly worth it. This famous sunrise peak, just minutes from Seongsan Port, can be visited on the same day as Udo Island.
From Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal, take a direct bus (Dongilju bus bound for Seongsan) to Seongsalliipgu
From Seogwipo Intercity Bus Terminal, take a direct bus (Dongilju bus bound for Seongsan) to Seongsalliipgu
Jungmun Lava Columns
The hexagonal and pentagonal stone pillars of Jusangjeolli Cliff are a geological phenomenon you have to see to believe. Resembling the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, these impressive columns were formed thousands of years ago when lava from Hallasan contracted and cooled when mixed with the water in the Jungmun Sea. Today, the lava columns can be seen from a series of wooden landings, expertly built into the side of the cliff above. If you’re feeling adventurous, follow the small path by the main entrance to a secluded beach with a quieter viewing spot.
From Jeju International Airport, take airport limousine bus 600 to International Convention Center
In Seogwipo: From Jungang Rotary, take bus 710 to Jungmun Elementary School and take a taxi the rest of the way
With its white sand and cyan blue water, Hamdeok Beach often tops the list of South Korea’s best beaches. Whether you prefer snuggling up with a good book, rolling up your pant legs and wading out in the crystal clear water, or hopping between charcoal black rocks, this beach has something for everyone. There are bike paths galore, an even bigger beach on the other side of the jetty and a fabulous oceanfront cafe called Café Delmoondo.
From Jeju City Intercity Bus Terminal, take bus 701 to Hamdeok Seoubong Beach
Home to one of the top 10 lava tubes in the world, Manjanggul Cave is a guaranteed addition to any best of Jeju list. The cave spans 5km (3 mi.), with only 1km (0.62 mi.) open to the public. Along the uneven path are educational plaques, both in Korean and English, outlining the formation process of each lava-formed stalagmite, stalactite or tube. Make sure to bring a jacket and a good pair of walking shoes because the cave is cold, dark and wet. And don’t miss the “stone turtle” said to resemble the shape of Jeju island itself.
From Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal, take bus 990 to Manjanggul Cave
One of three waterfalls on the island, Jeongbang stands out as the only waterfall in Asia that flows directly into the ocean. Flowing from Donghong-chun stream, the water cascades 23m (75 ft.) to the shore below. Descend the flight of stairs from the entrance and carefully maneouver over the slick rocks to get up close to the magnificent falls. On your way out, grab some mid-afternoon snacks from the auntie selling shellfish under the tent on the rocks.
From Jeju Airport take, Limousine Bus 600 to Paradise Hotel