Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links to carefully selected partners, including tours, outfitters and booking sites. If you click on or buy something through one of them, you may receive a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you and allows this site to continue to operate.
South Korea’s highest mountain, the dormant Hallasan volcano, sits in the center of its largest island south of the mainland, Jeju-do. Of all the things to do on Jeju Island, admiring the places that have placed it on the list of the 7 new wonders of nature of the world is where your attention will be most focused.
Surrounding the volcanic massif are coves and waterfalls, crater formations, volcanic rock forests, and lava tubes in caves, all connected by hiking trails, elevated viewpoints, and pockets of isolation.
Jeju is often skipped on a first visit for reasons of time and logistics. However, being easily accessible from popular Busan, it is a perfect complement to exploring Korea’s southern coast, and a facet of South Korea that attracts a different kind of appreciation outside of city trips.
READ MORE: South Korea Travel Guide.
Here are the highlights of Jeju Island and how you can revel in the nature of the Korean archipelago in this volcanic enclave nestled in the seas of the Korea Strait.
Things to do in Jeju Island related to nature.
Jeju circular cycling route and Jeju Olle trails
I’m an advocate of exploring by bike, and Jeju makes it easy with the blue signed circular bike path that winds around the entire parameter of the island, next to the ocean. The bike path starts and ends at Yongduam in Jeju City, and the entire route is about 234 kilometers long, made up of 10 different coastal stops that make for a sightseeing loop.
You can walk the loop in a full day, or you can break it up into manageable sections for a leisurely pace over a couple of days, especially if you want to include visits to the main attractions. There is approximately 20km of walking between each stop.
Those who want to set themselves a challenge can collect stamps at each stop and get a certificate of completion at the Jeju Provincial Tourist Information Center, Jeju Airport or Jeju Port.
There are plenty of bike rental shops in Jeju to encourage you to explore, or you can rent them from your hostel or hotel, as I did. Bicycle rentals start at about 10 euros per day, and more if you want a mountain bike for a long ride.
Circular bike path route: Yongduam – Darakswimteo – Haegeoreum Village Park – Songaksan – Beophwanbadang – Soesokkak – Pyoseon Beach – Seongsan Sunrise Peak – Gimnyeong Seongsegi Beach – Hamdeok Seou Beach – Yongduam.
If you want to combine cycling with hiking, look out for the 26 Olle Trails which also circumnavigate the island’s coastline. They are divided into similar loops, crossing from farm to beach to forest.
Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak – Sunrise Mountain
This monolith rising nearly 200 m from the sea in the east of Jeju Island’s Seongsan Peninsula is the result of an underwater eruption 5,000 years ago. Today, the Seongsan Ilchulbong Volcanic Crater, accessible via wooden platform walkways, is a Natural Monument, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a UNESCO Global Geopark, recognized for its extraordinary beauty.
It’s a scenic half-day hike, and climbing the peak rewards you with clear views of the entire island, which as the name suggests are most noticeable at sunrise. The hike up Seongsan Ilchulbong Mountain is not too demanding, taking about two hours to climb to the top on an 8.3 km trail. I visited in the early afternoon as part of a day trip to various locations, and it was still a perfect platform for views of the park-filled island, considered one of Korea’s best scenic destinations.
You can join a small group on a Sunrise Peak hiking tour. This combines the hike with a visit to Manjang Cave and the ancient houses of Songeup Folk Village for a full-day tour of the island’s highlights.
Hallasan National Park – The Dormant Volcano
Volcanic mountains are fascinating, having shaped the current appearance of a destination in their past eruptions and nature’s erosion over time. Hallasan Mountain is no exception. This dormant volcano rises in the middle of Jeju Island, and is not to be missed. It is so important to the composition of Jeju Island that the mountain was declared a National Park in 1970. It later became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2002.
To get a closer look at this mighty volcanic cone, many take to the hiking trails that climb it. The Yeongsil trail, nearly 6 km and three hours long, is the most popular and leads to the elevation of the mountain’s vast crater lake, Baekrokdam, which covers the 1,950 m summit.
If you want the camaraderie of a group, consider booking a hike up Mount Hallasan on the Eoseungsaengak trail with a local guide. A full-day hike that includes Cheonjiyeon Falls and a seafood lunch.
Udo Maritime Park and the legacy of the Haenyo women divers.
As Udo Maritime Park is opposite Seongsan’s Ilchulbong Peak, it was easy to combine the two into a day trip. In addition to climbing another of Jeju’s mighty volcanic elevations – the 132-meter-high Udobong Peak – to visit Udo Maritime Park is to see the epicenter of the unique culture of the Jeju Islands, the Haenyo.
The Haenyo (“women of the sea”) are the famed female divers who have always fished with nothing but a wetsuit and goggles, and a technique for holding their breath for long periods. Very much in line with the “free diving” technique we see today. It was a ritual and tradition that defined the island’s economy built on the fishing villages. If you can see the Haenyo in action while on the island, you’ll be lucky enough to better understand the spectacle: the tradition is dying out as the divers’ daughters move to live and work in the big cities.
So deeply rooted in the history of the island, UNESCO included this culture in its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Stone statues in remembrance of this culture can be seen on the coast of Haenyo, which are now on display at the Jeju Haenyo Museum. Also known as the “Jeju Mermaids,” other statues appear in the Jeju Haenyo formation.
Manjanggul Cave Lava Tube
The highlight of Jeju, and certainly one of my favorite things to do on Jeju Island, is to take the trip to the Geomunoreum Manjanggul Lava Tube Geomunoreum cave system, 7.4 km long, 18 meters wide and over 20 meters high.
This natural phenomenon was created thousands of years ago, when Hallasan rumbled and was still active, producing the rocky cylindrical network, illuminated with a blue hue, in Jeju’s volcanic core. It is considered one of the largest and best preserved lava tubes in the world.
On a walking tour of this underground cavern, you’ll explore a 1km stretch of the main tunnel. Although it’s a scratch of the total length, it’s enough to marvel at the lava stalactites and stalagmites and learn the science behind the formation of the lava tubes, and the other ripples, patterns and flow lines that have shaped the lava. The centerpiece of the cave system is the lava column, which awaits you at the end. At 7.6 m high, it is the tallest lava column in the world.
Gotjawal volcanic rock forests.
Another natural attraction on Jeju Island, though it’s something for my next visit, are the forests formed by volcanic rock, which is said to be where people get shade on scorching summer days. There are patches of Gotjawal forests all over the island, but the main areas are:
North Jeju, beyond Hallasan Mountain, is a recreational area known as Eco Land and home to forest meditation retreats.
East of Jeju, in the designated Wetland Conservation Area, is the forested region of Seunheul-ri Gotjawal.
Southwest Jeju, where the 1.5-square-kilometer Jeju Gotjawal Provincial Park has five hiking trails of no more than 2-3 hours in length. An observation deck offers an elevated perspective of the volcanic mounds that have formed all over the island.
Jeju Island’s trio of waterfalls.
Jeju’s south coast is home to the island’s iconic waterfalls, of which there are three you should visit if you have the time.
Jeongbang Falls stands out because it is the only waterfall on Jeju Island (and in all of Korea) that falls directly into the sea. It is 23 meters in scale from the depths of a pine forest and runs down the face of a black cliff through two streams that plunge into the sea with a thunderous sound and a sensational view.
Sojeongbang Falls blends perfectly with Jeongbang Falls, just 300 meters to the east. Although it may be one-fifth the size, at 5 meters, the sight to behold here is a rocky cove with ten streams. This waterfall site is best known for its beautiful views of the coastline at sunset.
Cheonjiyeon Falls is found when you continue even further east and follow the Engai-sen River inland. Its location snuggled away from the ocean gives it the name meaning “heaven connected to earth,” and its drop into the 22-meter-high rock cliff produces a resounding roar, captured by the plants of the surrounding Natural Monument and forest.
Protected by the Dol Hareubang stone statues.
One peculiar thing to look for all over Jeju Island are the Dol Hareubang, stone statues with large thimble-shaped eyes and haters that stand, often in rows, with their hands placed in front, on their stomachs. The figures are considered gods who offer protection; guardians of the island, carved into the volcanic rock from which the island rose, was built and continues to thrive.
Traditionally, these gods protect evil spirits, but they are also found at most tourist sites, protecting visitors and locals alike.
How to get to Jeju Island
Taking the ferry to Jeju Island
I took the ferry to Jeju Island because it was the cheapest option available to me at the time. I have no aversion to ferry travel, but it was a very bumpy and often bumpy ride. If you’re prone to seasickness, it’s not the best option for you.
Depending on the port where you embark, the journey from the South Korean mainland to Jeju Island can take up to four hours. There are several ports on the southern periphery of mainland Korea with ferries to Jeju Island, each operating through different cruise lines.
Mokpo Port (via Seaworld Express Ferry).
Port of Usuyeong (via Seaworld Express Ferry)
Wando Port (via Hanil Express)
Yeosu Port (via Hanil Express)
Port of Busan (via MS Ferry)
Nokdong Port (via Namhae Gosok Ferry)
Check and book ferry tickets from mainland port to Jeju port here.
Starting your trip in Seoul?
I was already on the south coast of Korea in Yeosu before traveling to Jeju, but if you are coming directly from the capital, there is now a KTX bullet train from Seoul to Mokpo which takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes, where you can then catch the ferry. The next fastest train is the one to Busan, which takes about 3 hours.
There is no direct train to Usuyeong. The train from Seoul to Yeosu takes about 3.5 hours, from Nokdong about 4 hours, and from Wando about 5 hours.
Research and book train tickets from Seoul to the ferry port here.
Fly to Jeju
Jeju Island has an airport, and is about an hour’s flight from Seoul to Jeju International Airport. Flights with Jeju Air and Korean Air cost about $40.
Compare and book airline tickets from Seoul to Jeju-do here.
Book a private transfer between Jeju airport and your accommodation.
How to get around Jeju Island?
Jeju Island is well served by local buses. Buses 820-1 (clockwise loop) and 820-2 (counterclockwise loop) act as a sort of tourist shuttle bus, as they pass by all the attractions and highlights. You can buy a day pass, which is an economical way to get around.
Hiring a driver or booking day trips.
You can hire a driver or book day trips with transport included where you can find a good deal for a full or half day.
Where to stay on Jeju Island
Most of the hotels and value offerings are in the north, in and around Jeju City and the surrounding sandy shores.
Jeju Marevo Beach Hotel is located on the north coast, east of Jeju City. It is a mid-range option with ocean and sunset views.
Prices from €80 per night.
Utop Ubless Hotel, on Hamdeok Beach on the north coast, is located west of Jeju City. The hotel has Western and Korean style rooms and is close to the Gotjawal forest Eco Land theme park.
Prices from €70 per night.
The Sirius Hotel is a newly opened (2018) four-star hotel at a mid-range price. Right in the heart of Juju City, it’s certainly one for media geeks, as there’s even a view of the Jeju Airport runway.
Prices from €60 per night.
Mir Guesthouse is a modern hostel with dorms and private rooms. Minimalist decor and a sleek, uncluttered style keep costs low without compromising on comfort. The communal kitchen, rooftop terrace, library area and briefcase ensure a sociable atmosphere.
Prices from €17 per night for one bedroom and €40 per night for a private one.
Although I visited South Korea independently a few years ago, this post is in collaboration with the Korea Tourism Organization to highlight the best of Korea for when we can visit again in 2021. The opinions and highlights of Jeju Island are my own and are based on my time spent exploring the island.
The last time Kati and I were in Finland, we were standing in 5 feet of snow looking for the Nort...
Machu Picchu is the most visited place in Peru, and they welcome thousands of people every year. ...
Belgium is famous for three things. Its first-class chocolates, its delicious waffles and its fan...
The journey is an opportunity to see things you have never seen before, to meet people whose lives...