Itinerary: Four Days in Jeju Island, South Korea
Jeju is South Korea’s island gem. Nicknamed “Island of the Gods” and the “Hawaii of Korea,” Jeju is a top destination for honeymooners and vacationers from all over Asia. It’s the largest and southernmost island in the country – home to Hallasan, the highest mountain in Korea, wild waterfalls, volcanic craters, and beaches. There are also themed parks and museums. Lots of them. They range from the aquatic to erotic and teddy bears to Greek mythology. We visited in early spring and decided to forego the kitsch and focus on Jeju’s natural beauty by taking mini road trip adventures through different parts of the island.Admission to most of Jeju’s natural parks costs around 2000 won (less than $2 USD).
Where to Stay
Set up base on the southern side of the island, outside of Jungmun or Seogwipo. They’re less populated than Jeju City and more central to ecological sites and major landmarks. Though these areas are geared towards tourists, sprinkled with mega hotels and resorts, there are still many personal pension and guesthouse options. We recommend Jejueco Suites, a friendly boutique hotel located in a tranquil tangerine orchard between Jungmun Beach and Mt. Hallasan. The rooms are modern and spacious, equipped with kitchenettes and Wifi, and the rates include a daily continental breakfast.
Day 1: Arrive and Explore the West Coast
- If you’re flying, you will arrive at Jeju International Airport which is located on the northern side of the island. For convenience, we recommend exploring the island with a rental car. Sixt is a good choice: the company offers a shuttle service from the airport, Korean navigation systems in the car, and helpful service. Check Priceline for discounted rates.
- Instead of cutting across the island to the hotel, take the longer but scenic route (1.5-2 hours) on the rocky shore road between Hagwi and Aewol. There are many cafés littered along the coast to grab refreshments while soaking in the lava seascapes.
- After settling into the hotel, head to Jungmun to spend an hour touring the Cheonjeyeon Waterfalls. There are actually three waterfalls located within the park, as well as the ornate ivory and salmon colored Sonim-Gyo Bridge. If you’re visiting during the winter or a dry spell, don’t be surprised to encounter a dried up wall of rock instead of a waterfall at the first stop.
- After viewing the falls, head across the street to the local grocery store to stock up on snacks and food. There are several Korean restaurants here to find dinner.
Day 2: Discover the Northeast Coast
- Head out early for a 90-minute drive to Seongsan Ilchulbong Crater. In early spring, you’ll encounter fields of golden canola flowers en route to the park. This popular volcanic crater, referred to as Sunrise Peak, juts into the sea and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (one of many on the island). It’s about a 20-minute hike up to the crater via paved paths and stairs, though we’d allot more time to enjoy the overlooks. There is also access to Umutgae, a pretty, little black-sand beach that lines the isthmus between the village and crater. This is where many of Jeju’s haenyo, famous sea diving women, gather in the early afternoon to embark on their catch.
- After refueling at one of the many cafés surrounding the park, drive north for a quick rest at the white sands of Woljeong Beach. You’ll see the island’s giant windmills in the background and there’s free access to an a rusty, public outdoor exercise park that’s mostly used by Korean seniors seeking to stay in shape. There are a couple small public parking lots across the street from it by the restaurants and shops.
- Follow the shore drive north along the coast for invigorating views of rugged, lava outcroppings slapped by vibrant turquoise lagoons.
- Return inland at Manjanggul for a self-guided, hour-long underground tour of the island’s magnificent lava tube.
- Finish your busy day with a solemn stroll through Jeju Stone Park, a tranquil space with conceptual rock displays inspired by local mythology and geology. The main draw is the outdoor stone sculptures and cultural village, complemented by a couple of indoor museums exhibits. Highlights include the tomb guardian children and grandfatherly, basalt dolhareubang figures.
Day 3: Hike Mt Hallasan and Watch the Sun Set Over the Beach
- Hallasan National Park, a shielded dormant volcano that lies in the island’s center, is one of Jeju’s most spectacular natural treasures. Seongpanak and Gwaneumsa trails are longer six to eight hour hikes that lead to the summit while the connected Eorimok and Yeongsil trails offer shorter treks, three to five hours long, that wander through grand, panoramic landscapes.
- Important note: An early start and weather check is required before tackling one of these four major trails. Depending on the time of year, access to the trails are denied to visitors who arrive between 1:00-3:00 pm since it’s not enough time to complete them safely before dark. We chanced hiking Yeongsil on a cloudy March day and the higher we climbed, the more we were faced with fierce winds and near 0% visibility – we eventually had to turn back. Despite our fog-filled situation, we loved the eerie effect of the mist descending upon the slopes of slender trees.
- If you’re not too tired after the hike, migrate south to watch the surfers hang ten as the sun sets over the sandy shore of Jungmun Saekdal Beach. There’s free parking and access to the beach and bathroom facilities from the public lot next to Pacific Land Marine Park. Once night falls, find a bite to eat at one of Jungmun’s many restaurants.
Hallasan’s Yeongsil Trail
Jungmun Saekdal Beach
Day 4: Visit Jeju’s Cliffs & Waterfalls Before Leaving
- Book a mid- or late-afternoon flight to spend the first half of your day squeezing in some last-minute sightseeing. Start in Jungmun and work your way east to Seogwipo before cutting across the island to return to the airport.
- The first stop: the national monument, Daepo Jusangjeolli Cliffs. A good 45 minutes can be spent here gawking at the geometric volcanic pillars that form these majestic bluffs. Prepare to encounter an onslaught of tourists armed with selfie sticks. You can evade them by following the side path that wraps around the coast and overlooks the back side of the cliff.
- Continue on the highway for half-an-hour to Seogwipo and experience Jeongbang Falls, our favorite and wildest of the bunch. This waterfall only requires a 15-30 minute visit and is slightly less frequented than others. It’s the only the only one in Asia that cascades directly into the ocean and it does a magnificent job of doing so. Wear sturdy shoes, the beach surrounding Jeongbang is composed of large rocks and boulders that are tricky to maneuver.
- It’s only a short drive now to Cheonjiyeon Falls Falls (not to be confused with the similar-sounding Cheonjeyeon in Jungmun). The main parking lot is filled with food options that range from street vendors to chain restaurants. The grounds here are very accessible and well developed. It takes 10-15 minute to meander along the stream and the pleasant gardens that lead to the large waterfall named for connecting the sky to the land.
- Time to bid Jeju adieu! Cut across the island to return your rental. Use Sixt’s shutt to return to the airport, just a few minutes away.
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Lara was instilled with the travel bug at an early age and has visited over 25 countries. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of discovering the world. She recently relocated to Seoul, South Korea, where she hopes to explore some of Asia for the next couple of years. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as a freelance Art Director in graphic design. In her spare time, she contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, instructs Zumba, practices yoga, dabbles in photography and, of course, travels as much as possible.