If you watch Korean music videos or dramas, chances are you’ve seen vistas from the island of Jeju – black rock beaches, fields of green grass, crystalline water, and jagged volcanoes. Popular among Korean and international tourists alike, this picturesque locale sits just south of the tip of Korea. Traveling in Jeju is a unique experience compared to Seoul, so if you’re looking for a few tips, read on!
I visited Jeju for three nights and had two full days to spend exploring. A number of my Korean friends strongly recommended that I rent a car, as it can be difficult and time-consuming to try to get around Jeju by public transit, and I now pass on the same advice to you. If it is possible for you, renting a car is relatively inexpensive and will allow you to enjoy the full experience of the island. Just keep in mind that you will need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) before you travel; it’s a pretty simple process that is offered by select registry offices across Canada.
Jeju has two main cities – Jeju City in the north, and Seogwipo in the south. If you’re there briefly, it’s best to pick one city as a base and then explore from there. We settled on Jeju City, staying in the newer downtown area, and were happy with our choice. The island is accessed by flying into Jeju International Airport, which is small but efficient, and there are many options for flights from mainland Korea.
Two days wasn’t quite enough to hit all the highlights – my group decided not to go to the famous volcano Hallasan, for example – so if you can spare a few more days, do. For us, we decided to take day one to go along the northern and eastern coastline, and then to head south towards Seogwipo for day two. Here are some of the sights that we visited!
Beaches are plentiful in Jeju, and it’s hard to go wrong with any of them, as the bright colors and refreshing breezes create the perfect healing atmosphere. We liked Hamdeok Beach in particular, as it is relatively close to Jeju City and has plenty of free parking, but still feels spacious and peaceful. You can join the many young families playing in the pale sand or walk along the path that winds further up the coast. If you find yourself chilly or peckish, loop back around on the street side and drop by Audrant Bakery & Café for dessert and a hot drink. (If you’re a fan of The Boyz, you can see them visiting this bakery in their Jeju Island special, around the 19-minute mark.)
Gimnyeong Maze Park
There are not one but two hedge mazes in Jeju, but since we were in the area we opted for Gimnyeong Maze Park. This delightful park opens with a garden of flowers, water features, a children’s play area, and dozens of cats, making it feel like an oversized family backyard. Beyond the cozy front lies the labyrinth of green hedges, where you can use the (vague) map provided or strike out on your own to try to make it through to the end and ring the bell. The maze is a good balance of difficulty and fun, and is full of playful signs with phrases like “be happy” and “try again!” scattered throughout. Don’t forget to stop at the gift shop on the way out, where they will give you a free postcard if you made it through successfully.
Right next door to the Maze Park is Manjanggul Cave, a lava tube that stretches for almost 9 kilometres (though visitors can only walk through 1 km of that distance). This UNESCO World Heritage site feels like a movie set for a classic archeological adventure, with the descending staircase wreathed in leafy vegetation and leading you down to a dim, dripping tunnel. While it may not sound appealing, the lava tube is delightfully cool compared to the warmth aboveground, and often opens up into broad caverns with fascinating molten-edged patterns. We walked all the way to the end and back with ease, stepping along the many tiles, bridges, and varied stones that lead you along. Be sure to wear a sturdy pair of shoes and you’ll certainly enjoy your time.
Found at the far eastern edge of the island, Seongsan Ilchulbong is a volcanic crater with an impressive façade. After parking you can pay a small fee for admission and then it’s time to ascend to the peak. A long pathway stretches up the base of the hill to lead you forward, and then splits off into two paths for those ascending and descending. After that it’s all stairs to the top, so if you’re not a fan of climbing you may want to stay at one of the rest areas near the base. It takes about twenty or thirty minutes to reach the cone, depending on your fitness level, but the view at the top will reward you for your efforts. Make sure to keep your eyes open on the way down as there is an area where traditional female divers called haenyeo do demonstrations twice daily.
Daepo Jusangjeolli Cliff
If the highlight of your vacation is obtaining enviable Instagram photos, Daepo Jusangjeolli Cliff should be on your destination hit list. South of Hallasan and west of Seogwipo, this cliff is tucked along the water’s edge and winds back and forth, conveniently giving you a clear angle of the uniquely patterned cliff face from the site’s main viewing platform. Unfortunately, this area was under construction when we were there, so it felt a smidge crowded, but you can also walk along the upper path to enjoy more ocean views and an array of palm trees, or take a picture with an iconic Jeju island statue (called a dol hareubang or “stone grandfather”).
Also located near Seogwipo are the Jeongbang Falls, a waterfall that empties right into the ocean. Again, there are a number of stairs leading you down to the falls, but once there you can freely roam around the rocky beach. Wear a pair of comfortable shoes and climb your way over to the falls for gorgeous pictures, and as a bonus, you’ll feel like a kid again as you hop from stone to stone. If you’re not able to traverse the rocks, you can easily stick to the boardwalk and appreciate the view from there. Back up at the entrance you’ll find some small vendors selling fresh fruit juice (highly recommended!), hats, and toys.
Although not technically a landmark, I couldn’t leave Rich Mango off of this list. This modest Jeju City smoothie shop is a local favorite, and after our first visit, it became a favorite of ours too! While the storefront is fairly tiny, its bold colors and island décor give it life and vibrancy, and on sunny days they remove the front panels for an open-air experience. The mango special is divine, but they also offer other varieties of fruit-flavored milk shakes, juices, and hot drinks. If it’s busy they’ll give you a tag while you wait, and each tag has the name of a Jeju-born celebrity (such as Gong Yoo, Song Hye Kyo, or Lee Jong Suk). I loved flipping through the extra tags on the counter to see who I could find!
There are so many awe-inspiring places in Jeju, and I can’t wait to go back and see the ones that I missed. If you have any recommendations, please share them in the comments!
Categories: KOREA-CANADA BLOG 2018