Most of us know Seoul and other metropolitan cities in South Korea, but many don’t know about the hidden gem, Jeju Island. It has been the country’s favorite domestic holiday destination for years now and it is only an hour’s flight from Seoul. It has Korea’s highest mountain, lava tubes, women divers and a lot more to offer.
Jeju is a volcanic island only an hour’s flight from Seoul. Jeju is 73 kilometers long and 31 kilometers wide so it is possible to go around the whole island in just couple of days. We would recommend having more time though, as there are many attractions that take a lot of time to explore properly. Many tourists go straight to the southern parts of the island from the airport as most of the attractions are easy to reach from there. The cheapest way to explore the island is to do it using public transportation which mainly consists of buses. It is also possible to rent a car, with or without a driver, or book a guided tour.
The island is dominated by Hallasan: the tallest mountain of South Korea which is also the most visited attraction in Jeju. On the top of the mountain, you can find a beautiful crater lake. There are several hiking routes with different lengths and difficulties up the mountain. Two of the trails take you to the top of the mountain to 1 950 meters above the sea level. The hike itself is not that difficult as the trails are well maintained but the changing weather conditions may complicate it.
For many tourists, visiting the Sunrise Peak is the highlight of their trip to Jeju. As the name says, it is an especially popular place to be during sunrise in the early morning. Before heading to the top, you should check the weather forecast because when it’s foggy, the view won’t be as impressive and it might be cold at the top as it is 180 meters above sea level! The walk is relatively easy and the trails are well maintained. If you want to be on the top when the sun rises you should spend the night in Seongsan-ri, a quiet village next to the Sunrise Peak.
From Jeju you can do a day trip to its neighboring island called Udo. The ferry ride doesn’t take long and the island itself is very small, therefore it is easy to explore it in just a couple of hours. Udo is a lot similar to Jeju, but it is not as crowded and touristy. It is known for black sand, stone tombs and especially for its women divers. There are bus tours available in Udo but as the island is so small we recommend renting a bike to explore it independently.
One of the most interesting things Jeju and Udo are known for are the women divers “Haenyeo”. They have been diving without any breathing equipment for hundreds of years to catch seafood from the bottom of the sea. They can dive up to 30 meters and stay under water for several minutes. In the beginning, they could stay in the water for only couple of hours per day, but nowadays with wetsuits, they are able to dive up to 8 hours per day. There used to be over 20 000 women divers in Jeju, but the number have dropped rapidly, and the prediction is that the current generation of sea divers might be the last one.