10 Reasons Why You Should Visit Jeju
The largest island off the Korean Peninsula, Jeju is a paradise boasting white sand beaches, waterfalls, and lush nature. It’s no surprise that the island is a favorite with honeymooners, nor that it’s known as the ‘Hawaii of South Korea’. From stunning architectural design to volcanic craters, an adult-only theme park to a museum dedicated to tea, Jeju has it all. With hundreds of reason to visit, we’ve narrowed down the top 10.
Towering at 6,397 ft, Hallasan Mountain is South Korea’s highest mountain and a dormant volcano. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the abundant mountain landscape is home to over 1,800 plant species and four thousand animals. Travelers from around the world flock to Hallasan throughout the year, undertaking the challenge to climb to the summit—which on a cloudless day, boasts view across the entire island. Baengnok-dam is the name of the crater at the mountain’s peak, and is a true spectacle. It's considered to be a holy site by Koreans.
The hike up can be completed in one day, with signposts marking the routes, and shelters along the way to rest, buy snacks and use the bathroom. Do as the locals do and enjoy a bowl of ramen while admiring the scenic views. Strict hours are enforced to allow walkers to descend the mountain before daylight fades. The terrain is very rocky, so wear strong shoes. Additionally, the weather at the top will be significantly colder than at the base so remember to bring warm layers with you. Aim to climb in the springtime, when the azaleas bloom and sprinkle the mountain greenery with streams of the bright pink flower.
This community of women are unique to the island of Jeju. For 90 days of the year, they go diving in the sea without oxygen masks, holding their breath for up to two minutes. The women dive for seven hours at a time and their substantial knowledge of marine life means they gather impressive amounts of shellfish which they then sell. Most of the women are over 60, and today there are roughly 2,500 divers on the island, a dwindling number compared to the 22,000 in the 1960s. To sample a taste of the women’s catch, head to Haenyeo Jip, the chain of restaurants supplied and owned by the Haeneyo.
The dive is very much rooted in ritual, with prayers said beforehand to Jamsugut—the goddess of the sea—and experience passed down to prospective divers. These incredible women are a significant part of Jeju’s character and strength. Their standing in the community has dramatically furthered women’s status in society, along with championing sustainable methods of fishing.
Discover the fascinating network of lava tunnels underneath Jeju, formed from ancient lava flows and rock formations. Based in a UNESCO Global Geopark, Manjanggul is the largest of the caves, stretching over 5 miles with a height of 98 ft. Marvel at the natural patterns and eerie vastness of the cave, which contains various stalagmites, columns, flowstones and stalactites. It's the perfect adventure for any budding geologist. The cave has three entrances and all the walking routes are guided with dim lights. Bats are also common in the caves, so expect sudden wing movements above your head. Don’t miss the ‘Stone Turtle’ towards the tunnel exit. The mound of lava mirrors the shape of Jeju island is a closing reminder of the wondrous nature of the caves.
The journey through the cave takes about an hour and is suitable for all ages. Temperatures stay comfortably in the lows 80s and there’s no risk of volcanic activity.
With a range of specialty foods guaranteed to make anyone salivate, over time Jeju has established its own blend of flavors and cooking methods, separate to those of mainland Korea.
Head to Dongmun Market for a flurry of colors and smells. The busy collection of vendors is based near the international airport and is a favorite with locals for ingredients and snacks. Originally opening in 1945, the market was destroyed in a fire nine years later and rebuilt in the same location. Today it serves as the main center of commerce for the island.
Notable food on the island includes Heuk-dwaeji, perhaps the most famous dish, made from black pigs native to Jeju. The succulent grilled pork belly is a little more expensive than regular pink pork, but is a must-try. Another upscale choice worth sinking your teeth into is Jeonbokjuk, a type of porridge made out of abalone and rice. The complementary blend of textures and flavors is delicious. Meanwhile, Hanchi Mulhwae is a cold, refreshing soup, packed with thin slices of raw cuttlefish, vegetables, soybean and red pepper paste, and vinegar—ideal for clammy days sitting in the sunshine.
The Seonimgyo Bridge spans east to west across the stream of Cheonjiyeon Falls. Approximately 420 ft long and 13 ft high, the bridge provides fantastic views of the water below and the surrounding postcard-worthy area. Visit at night when the 34 stone lanterns light up the suspended pathway, making the architecture seem even more magical when illuminated. Only pedestrians can access the bridge, and there is a small charge for tourists who wish to cross.
The bridge is also known as Chilseonyeogyo, translating to ‘seven nymphs bridge’ due to the red and white depiction of nymphs playing musical instruments on either side. The nymphs represent a Korean legend which tells of the beautiful maidens descending from heaven at night.
The literal translation of ‘Cheonjiyeon’ is ‘God’s pond’ referencing the majestic nature of this 72 ft drop waterfall. Nestled among cliffs in the Jungman Resort area, Cheonjiyeon Falls’ crystal clear waters, Koi fish, and abundance of vegetation is what draws crowds of nature-lovers every day. Arrive as night falls, when the rushing water is lit up by soft lighting, making the scene appear mystical. Once you’ve snapped a photo of the falls, wander along the path to stumble upon rapids, Chinese lemon trees and the small statues of dol hareubang. The stone carvings are historic symbols on Jeju island, believed to bring protection against demons.
Parking is free or there are buses that regularly run to Cheonjiyeon Falls. If you find yourself in need of more aquatic beauty, two other famous waterfalls are in Jeju: Cheonjeyeon Waterfall (not to get confused with Cheonjiyeon as there’s only one letter difference in the name) and Jeongbang Waterfall.
Cherry blossoms bloom in Jeju before any other part of Korea, meaning flora-fanatics on the island can be the first to see the streets covered with the delicate flower. With King Cherry Trees all over, the peak blossom only lasts 2-3 days, but the picturesque treetop lining remains for a few weeks longer.
An annual cherry blossom festival takes place from late March up until the second week of April. Based in different locations, Jeju National University, Jeonnong-ro in Jeju City and Noksan-ro are some of the best spots to view the blossom; Noksan-ro is particularly spectacular as the pale pink color contrasts with the striking yellow from canola flowers. Traditional Jeju food is served at the festival, as well as entertainment depending on the weather.
The adult-only sculpture park is perfect for couples looking to appreciate erotic art (or more realistically, giggle and take photos to show friends back home). Loveland was constructed by students of Hongik University who established the park in 2004—the first of its kind. The large park is fun to walk around, dotted with colorful and somewhat compromising depictions of people and objects. The general theme of sex is explored in a humorous manner, using art that doesn’t take itself too seriously and isn’t for the prudish. Everything has a cheeky take, as you’ll discover when you first reach for the bathroom door handles.
The history behind the park is supposedly based on Jeju’s reputation as a honeymoon destination. Arranged marriages have been common in Korea and the hospitality industry on the island would show erotic films as an icebreaker for the newlywed couples.
Guests must be over 18 to enter the park. If you’re traveling with children there’s a separate play area to keep the kids entertained while the adults soak up the culture.
The museums in Jeju are not just for the rainy days—a whole spectrum of cool and quirky centers add to the island’s distinct charm and make for a very fun day out. O’Sulloc Tea Museum is ideal for those obsessed with the hot drink. Opened in 2001, the museum is the first to educate visitors about the history of Korean tea and traditions. The modern building is recognizable for its display of two large mugs made out of tea leaves, as well as its indoor garden and teacup gallery. Stroll through the glass corridors, take in the streams of tea fields, and remember to buy a sample of the product before you leave! Admission is free.
If you’re traveling with children (or if you want to embrace your inner child) the Teddy Bear Museum is home to life-sized versions of the stuffed toy, teddy tea parties, and other detailed play-scenarios. Don’t miss the exhibit of famous paintings using teddies in place of the subject, (‘The Vitruvian Teddy’ is a favorite) and if you’re heading for the gift shop, be prepared to spend hours reminiscing about your childhood.
Jeju Folk Village
A restored version of a Jeju village in the 1890s, the folk village in Pyoseon-ri has 117 houses on display across over 40 acres of land. Based on extensive research, the carefully reconstructed homes are made of bamboo, porcelain, iron, wax and other earthy materials. Walk around the village to get a feel for the traditional culture of Jeju, including a fishing village, marketplace, botanical garden and government building. Folk artifacts are available for viewing, providing a window into life in 19th century, while typical music and dances are held in the performance hall twice a day. Try to catch one of the craft demonstrations, where experienced employees demonstrate their manual skills or once you’re feeling hungry, venture to the marketplace to sample traditional treats.
The folk village is roughly 50 minutes by bus from the central Jeju terminal.
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Grace Brennan is a writer and copywriter from the U.K. She's had the pleasure of living in 5 countries, combining her two loves: language and travel. She currently lives in Medellín, Colombia.