Must-Visit Destination: Exploring Jeju Island In South Korea

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


Location — Jeju-do (‘do’ means island) is a large, subtropical volcanic island located 85km off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. 

Population — This small island has a population of 540,000 permanent residents, though this can as much as double during the summer.

Claim To Fame — Considered by Koreans to be Paradise, Hawaii, and Disneyland combined, this is THE honeymoon location for newlyweds. The island contains South Korea’s highest mountain — a 2,000m high extinct volcano — long sandy beaches, impressive waterfalls, extremely rare lave-tube caves, and delicious oranges. 

Female divers, or haenyeo, are found on many of Korea’s islands, but are the most famous on Jeju. These divers use NO scuba gear and are able to hold their breath for a full 2 minutes to allow them to reach a depth of 20 meters! At their peak in the 1950s, there were over 30,000 haenyeo, but now there are only around 3000 of these impressive women left.

Orientation — The island is about 200km around and is divided into four quadrants with the lush Hallasan National Park in the centre. The southern side is where most of the attractions, and resort-like hotels are located and so is the most tourist-friendly. 

Getting Around — There are buses that can take you to all of the major tourist sites, and  renting a taxi for the day is relatively affordable.

Your best bet (especially in the off-season when taxis and buses aren’t as numerous) would be to rent a car from one of the rental agencies at the airport. Just MAKE SURE YOU DON”T SPEED!! There are speed traps EVERYWHERE — trust me, I got a ticket. 

Getting There and Away — There is a small airport on the island, but you can only fly in from one of South Korea’s major cities. Busan or Seoul would be your best points of departure. You can also reach the island by ferry, but the sea between the mainland and the island tends to be really rough, so unless you have an iron stomach, I suggest flying. 

Where To Stay — Because Jeju is a major tourist destination, there is no lack of hotels, guesthouses, hostels, and resorts. Whatever your price point, ensure that you book ahead of time, and count on prices raising on weekends and in the summer months.  

What To Do — By far, the most unique thing to do on the island is exploring the world’s longest system of lava-tube caves. The system in 13.4km long with a height and width anywhere from 3m to 20m. It is damp, incredibly humid, rocky, cold, and dark in the tubes, but what makes them so unique is the fact that they are relatively unregulated. Unlike attractions similar to these found in the Western world, the tubes don’t have roped-off areas, walkways, no-go zones, or park rangers that keep tourists from going somewhere they shouldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT advocating doing something to risk your safety, all I am saying is take advantage of an experience that will let you feel like an adventurer, discovering something for the first time.

There are shrines and museums throughout the island, and no visit to Jeju could be complete without hiking up to one of the 360 volcanic craters that can be found throughout. These craters are incredibly lush and give hikers an amazing view of the surrounding ocean.

How I Found It — When I was living in South Korea, my brother and sister came to visit me for a week. While they were there, we decided to check out this amazing island that everyone kept telling me about. 

We took a flight from Seoul (it was only about $60 each) and spent 3 days exploring the island. I was there in the off-season (it was not yet bathing suit weather) and, though I wouldn’t call it Hawaii, it was beautiful, interesting, and well-worth the visit!