If you’re a fan of Korean TV shows, then you’ve likely set eyes on the splendor of Jeju Island, South Korea’s go-to holiday destination. Touted as the “Hawaii of South Korea”, Jeju is a haven for those who love outdoor activities, thanks to its mild climate all year around.
Depending on the activities and sights you’ve got planned, some of the best times to visit the island are:
- Spring for cherry blossom season (early to Mid-April)
- Summer for sunny days perfect for hiking; however, it’s also the wettest season (June to August)
- Fall for gorgeous autumn foliage (October)
Jeju is unofficially known as the country’s capital of theme parks and offbeat tourist attractions, but its crowning glory is its natural wonders, from verdant forests and soaring volcanic peaks to majestic cliffs and crashing waves that you won’t soon forget.
How to get there
The quickest way to get to Jeju is via airplane to Jeju International Airport, set on the northern part of the island. A flight from Seoul usually takes just over an hour, while from the southern coastal city of Busan, it’s less than an hour.
If you’re on a tight budget or have more time on your hands, then you can try taking the ferry. Ferry services currently run from five locations to Jeju:
- Mokpo (Mokpo Port)
- Haenam (Usuyong Port)
- Wando (Wando Port)
- Goheung (Nokdong Port)
- Yeosu (Yeosu EXPO Cruise Terminal)
Though it depends on which port you board your ferry and which route it takes, it can take between 2 to 4 hours to reach Jeju. So you may want to avoid this if you easily get seasick, as the seas can get choppy!
There’s also an overnight ferry from Busan operated by SeoKyung Ferry, which takes approximately 12 hours, but is cheap and comfortable. However, the ferry doesn’t run to and from Jeju on a daily basis, so check the schedule and plan accordingly.
How to get around
A decent public transportation system does exist on the island, but if you want to make the most of your time there, it’s best to rent a car. Per day, it can cost as low as USD 15 (≈16,000 Korean Won) for a compact two-passenger car or USD 20 (≈21,000 Korean Won) for a four-passenger car.
In order to rent a car in South Korea, you’re required to have a valid driver’s licence issued by your country of residence, as well as a valid International Driving Permit that you must obtain before your trip.
Do note that an International Driving License will NOT be accepted. You should also have a credit card on hand, of course.
For more detailed information on renting a car, visit the Korea Tourism Organization’s page.
Koreans drive on the right side of the road, so if you’re from a country that drives on the opposite side, it’s perfectly normal to feel a bit awkward, but don’t panic – stick to the slower right-most lane until you’ve gotten used to it.
As for figuring your way around the island’s roads, don’t worry – all rental cars come equipped with a handy voice navigation system and GPS.
If you’re going there during peak tourist periods, such as the summer, it’s best to book your rental car online ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
Top 10 things to do at Jeju
1. Catch a beautiful sunrise at Seongsan Ilchulbong
Wake up in the early hours just before dawn and clamber up the dormant volcano to reach its peak right on time to catch the sun peeking above the horizon. The hike is a short, but steep one – most people take about 30 minutes to reach the top.
2. Hike the Olle Trails
Get to know Jeju’s every nook and cranny by tramping the Olle Trails, which criss-cross all over the island. The trail network consists of 26 well-marked hiking paths of varying difficulty.
3. Conquer Mount Halla
Rising from the very center of the island, Mount Halla is South Korea’s highest mountain and can be seen from most vantage points around the island. It’ll take half a day to make it to the summit and back – Gwaneumsa Trail and Seongpanak Trail are the only two trails that will take you to the very top, though the latter is recommended for beginners.
4. Watch the hardy ‘haenyeo’ bring in their daily catch
The haenyeo (or “sea women”) are unique to Jeju – they’re female free-divers that make a living off whatever fruits of the sea they can catch, going back generations.
The majority of haenyeo living today are over the age of 50, but they’re all as tough as nails. Rain or shine, you’ll see them out at sea, with bright orange buoys marking their location while they’re diving underwater.
5. Sample Jeju’s fine cuisine
Seafood is at its freshest when you eat it someplace by the sea, and Jeju is no different. Stop by a local establishment to get a taste of seafood cooked Korean-style, complete with side dishes (known as banchan) and kimchi. Try a hearty bowl of abalone porridge or seafood stew.
Besides that, Jeju is known for its locally-grown fruits, especially of the citrus variety. Bite into a juicy Hallabong orange or the sweet Cheonhaehyang orange.
6. Travel back in time at a traditional folk village
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in ancient Korea? Well, you can experience it for yourself at a traditional folk village on Jeju! There are two located on the island – Jeju Folk Village and Seongeup Folk Village – where you can learn more about the island’s history, with carefully reconstructed buildings and preserved artifacts.
7. Explore Asia’s longest lava tube at Manjanggul Cave
Manjanggul Cave is Asia’s longest lava tube, extending underground for about 8.3 miles (13.4 kilometers). However, only around one kilometer is open to the public, though there’s plenty to see, including unique geological formations such as towering lava columns and the star attraction – the Stone Turtle, which is said to be shaped like Jeju island.
8. Take a detour to Udo Island
To the northeast of Jeju is its smaller sister, Udo Island, which translates to “Cow Island” in Chinese, as it’s thought to resemble a resting cow. The island is decidedly less touristy, but still manages to draw many visitors due to its rugged natural beauty.
You can even take your car to the island, as there’s a car ferry from Seongsan port to Udo’s Cheonjin port in the south or Haumokdong port in the west. You can also opt to rent a bicycle, scooter, or quad bike to get around the island, though you’ll need to have a valid International Driver’s Permit to operate any motorized vehicle.
9. Visit an unusual theme park or museum
Let the inner child in you roam free by visiting any of Jeju’s unconventional theme parks or museums. Take your pick from Love Land, an outdoor sculpture park featuring risque figures meant to titillate, or the Teddy Bear Museum, with an impressive display of teddy bears from around the world and different time periods.
10. Appreciate Jeju’s natural marvels
The island is blessed with many wonders of nature, from Samyang Black Sand Beach to the stunning honeycomb-shaped Jusangjeolli Cliff, which reminds us of Ireland’s famous Giant’s Causeway.
Jeju is also home to three spectacular waterfalls, all located near Seogwipo: Jeongbang Waterfall, Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, and Cheongjeyeon Waterfall (nope, that’s not a typo – the last two are separate waterfalls).
Where to stay
Due to their proximity to all the tourist hotspots, most hotels are concentrated in Jeju City in the north and Seogwipo in the south.
However, if you’ve got your own set of wheels, you can easily stay at alternative locations along the windswept coast or in the charming countryside for a quieter stay away from the crowds.
If you’re getting cross-eyed from the wide selection of hotels to choose from, here are a few options for you, which you can choose from based on your budget:
Budget (RM50 – RM199 per night)
Mid-range (RM200 – RM300 per night)
Luxury (RM350 – RM550 per night)