Adored by Koreans and tourists alike, Jeju Island is a must-visit spot for every outdoor enthusiast. Located off the southwestern coast of South Korea, Jeju Island is widely known for its pristine beaches, resorts, and geological wonders. Exuding natural beauty from the coastlines to the mountaintops, Jeju Island is home to South Korea’s highest mountain and has been hailed as one of the best places to watch the sunrise in the entire country.
Originally formed as a result of volcano activity, everything from the climate to the culture to the environmental surroundings on Jeju Island has been influenced by its eruptive history. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll along the coast or an arduous trek to the top of South Korea’s tallest mountain, Jeju Island has something for everyone.
Things to remember before traveling to Jeju Island, South Korea:
Language – Jejueo is the primary language spoken on the island of Jeju. While it’s considered to be a dialect of standard Korean, it’s quite different. Most locals will be able to understand standard Korean and the majority of tourist areas offer English translations.
Etiquette – Following Korean etiquette, locals on Jeju Island are very respectful and quiet. Bowing when you meet someone or before you leave and removing shoes before entering a home, temple or restaurant is common. When eating and drinking, be sure not to leave your utensils in the food and receive/pour drinks with two hands.
Currency Exchange – The currency is the Korean won and can be exchanged at the airport and at larger hotels. There are also ATMs scattered throughout the island.
Getting around – The airport limousine will take you to the two major cities (Jungmun and Seogwipo) for under 5 USD. You can also rent a car at two of the rental car facilities at the airport. The Jeju City Tour Bus offers affordable fares to 19 destinations throughout the island. The bus departs the terminal in the city center and tickets can be purchased from the driver. Taxis are also available, but they will be the most expensive option for transportation.
Where to stay – There is an array of accommodations options on the island. From 5-star resorts to quaint Airbnb’s, there’s something for every budget.
Hotels to consider in Jeju Island:
Safety and security – In the event of an emergency, dial 119; and the local police can be reached by dialing 112. Most major medical centers have English speaking doctors on staff. As always, be sure to check your country’s current travel advisories for up-to-date information on travel alerts.
A four-day hiking itinerary for Jeju Island, South Korea
Day 1 – Sunrise Peak
Known as Seongsan Ilchulbong to the locals, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was recently named one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature. Sitting at 597 ft above sea level, this stunning peak offers breathtaking views of the East China Sea. Formed by a volcanic eruption around 5,000 years ago, this steep, but rather short ascent is the perfect place to begin a hiking adventure on Jeju Island. After the 20-minute climb to the top, there is plenty of room to have a seat and take in the view.
Appropriately named Sunrise Peak, this landmark is an ideal way to begin your day. While it’s beautiful year-round, it’s best to avoid winter if possible. The low hanging clouds often disturb the amazing view. If you do end up there in the winter, it’s still worth it, though! If you’re not up for the hike to the top, head to the beach for equally amazing sunrise views.
Sunrise Peak is a relatively painless hike, so take a relaxing break after watching the sun rise over the horizon and then head to Mt. Sanbangsan. Sanbangsan, which translates to “cave inside a mountain”, is another geographic marvel that boasts beautiful ocean views and rigid rock formations. Rising to about 1300 ft, Sangbangsan Mountain is also home to two temples: Sanbagsa Temple and Bomunsa Temple, the ladder of which contains Buddhist relics. Be sure to hike up between the two temples for a view of the Yeondale Signal, which was historically used to send warnings across the island. There is free parking at the base of the mountain, but a small admission fee to climb.
Day 2 – Hallasan
Also known as Halla Mountain, Mt. Hallason is the highest mountain in South Korea soaring to 6,398 ft. Considered to be one of South Korea’s most sacred mountains, this volcano was single-handedly responsible for the formation of Jeju Island, which is why locals have such a deep connection to it.
There are two main trails that will take you to the summit. Seongpanak is roughly 6 miles one way and the trail-head can be reached by public transportation. The other trail, Gwanemsa, is steeper but offers better views along the way. Some people choose to climb one and descend the other, but it’s important to note that Gwanemsa is often closed and the trailhead is not reachable by public transportation.
The park strictly enforces opening and closing times, so be sure to arrive before the start time cutoff, which varies by season. There are two shelters on the way to the top; the first one offering bathrooms while the second one offers bathrooms and small snacks. Be sure to dress according to the season and take note that regardless of what time of year it is, it tends to be very chilly at the summit.
The view of Jeju Island, the ocean in the distance, and the crater lake at the top is breathtaking, but the ascent is just as aesthetically pleasing. The dense woodland, pine forests volcanic rock, and purple azaleas are bound to keep your head on a swivel as you rise to the summit.
Day 3 – Olle Hiking Trails
After a full day trek up Hallasan Mountain, a relaxing walk along the coast is exactly what you’ll need. With over 260 miles of accessible trails, the Olle Hiking Trails follow the entire coastline on Jeju Island. Made up mostly of beaches and fish farms, the trails also weave through forests and hills. The 26 trails that comprise the Olle Trail system also intersect villages, which is great for getting a glimpse into local culture. Be sure to be on the lookout for the Haenyea divers, which are local women who dive for fish along the coastline each day.
Day 4 – Geomun Oreum
Translating to black forest or holy forest, the Geomun Oreum is a small component that makes up the 368 volcanic cones on Jeju Island. This UNESCO World Natural Heritage site is a lush area known for its thick, black trees, local plants, and animals. The Ministry of the Environment named it as one of the six top ecological tourist destinations within the last decade due to its unique terrain and vegetation. In order to preserve this region, only 400 people are permitted to take a tour per day. Reservations are required at least two days in advance if booking on the phone or five days ahead if booking online.
Featured image: Hallasan mountain volcanic crater, Jeju island, South Korea (tupikov / Bigstockphoto)