Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes

Flower on HallaVisited: July 2011, July 2013

Site Type: Natural

Inscribed: 2007

Background and Opinion:

Jeju Island is a dreamland for many Koreans. It has a mythical feeling like nothing else on the mainland, and its fame alone is the reason that Seoul to Jeju is, by a large margin, the most traveled air route world with entire airlines dedicated to cheap airfare to the island. All this begs the question: Is Jeju Island all it’s cracked up to be? I firmly say, there is nothing else like it in South Korea.* (but with a huge asterisk)

[For more information on South Korea, check out the free South Korea Travel Guide!]

 

The Volcano

Jeju is a volcanic island that was created with the formation of the highest peak in South Korea – Mt. Halla. It is no longer active as the lava tubes that fed it dried up with the last eruption over 1000 years ago. One of the coolest things to do on the island is scale Hallasan to view the lake at the top.

Jeju Island - Hallasan
At the top of Hallasan

Halla National Park has waterfalls, lots of mist, deer, reptiles, and (depending on where you are in your hike) real space to feel the nature around you.

Misty - Jeju

 

 

The Beaches

The beaches in Jeju are fantastic, but the best ones are not the ones locals frequent. I don’t know if it is in the culture or what, but there is a general Korean belief that if many people go there, it MUST be good with the opposite also being true. I made the mistake of going to the recommended beaches first, and found them to be nice but unbearably crowded. For the best results, take a scooter or car out and drive along the coast until you find a good beach.

Jungmun Beach is pretty, but during the summer, too crowded to do anything.

Jungmun Beach has many cool sandbars.
Jungmun Beach has many cool sandbars.

Hamdeok Beach is much closer to the airport and has an amazing color. It is also not very crowded, and doesn’t have very strong waves. This is by far my favorite beach in Jeju-do.

Hamdeok Beach

Samyang Black Sand Beach is interesting if you have never seen a dark black sand beach. It is said that the sand is good for the skin, too.

Samyang Beach

 

Lava Tubes

As part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, how could you skip this. The lava tubes are sets of underground caves where lava used to flow and directly feed Halla Mountain.

Lava Tubes

 

Sunrise Peak Ilchulbong

This volcanic cone sits on the eastern part of the island. I’ll be real and say that the top looks NOTHING like the pictures. It is definitely not as green or even grassy for that matter. Nevertheless, it is a great hike that takes about an hour. You can get great views of the village below from the top.

Ilchulbong - Jeju

 

From the top of the sunrise peak.
At the top of the sunrise peak.

 

Looking down from the top.
Looking down from the top.

 

Olles

There is a network of hiking trails around most of the island known as Olles. The hikes are mostly good and are not as crowded as you might expect. There are more than 10 total trails that start immediately after the previous one ends, giving you the freedom to hike as much or as little as you’d like.

 

Waterfalls

There are three main waterfalls on the Southern part of the island: Cheonjeyeon, Cheonjiyeon, and Jeongbang.

Cheonjeyeon is near Jungmun beach and is by far the best one. It is a deep blue and you are allowed to dip your feet in the water to refresh yourself.

Cheonjeyeon

 

Cheonjeyeon 2

Cheonjiyeon is absolute garbage. Okay, maybe I exaggerate, but it is paved all the way from the entrance giving it a completely unnatural look. There is also a ridiculous amount of lights, it is incredibly crowded, and you don’t even get that close to the actual fall. You will see crowds of people making a line to pose next to it from a distance. This is another one of those “if its crowded, it must be good” moments.

Cheonjiyeon

Jeongbang is a waterfall that drains straight into the ocean. It is very tall and not crowded at all. It is definitely worth the short hike down.

Jeongbang

 

 

The Tourist Traps (That pesky asterisk!***)

It is time to talk about that asterisk in the beginning of this review. Jeju is pretty awesome, but is filled with ridiculous places, too. The Teddy Bear Museum, Chocolate Museum, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Miniature Land (or something to that effect), Love Land, Trick Art Museum, you name it, Jeju has tons of what we call in the west, a “tourist trap.” Given all of the natural beauty around, it is like placing one of these in Yellowstone National Park…WHYYY!!! Before going to Jeju, locals recommended all of these and if you did that, you might have a negative perception of Jeju as well.

I do shamefully have one tourist trap that I love though, and that is the Maze Park. It looks like it is straight out of Harry Potter 4 as you have to find your way out or be lost forever!

Maze Park

 

Maze - Jeju

 

The first time took me a while since I decided to do it without a map.
The first time took me a while since I decided to do it without a map.

 

Evaluation

1) Completeness / Preservation (13/15): It is remarkably clean and Halla Mountain had no trash whatsoever. There is recent development, however, that could negatively impact its natural beauty.

Animal on Halla mountain

2) Extensiveness of the Site (12/15): It is big quite big, but you can see most things in about three days if you rent a car or scooter.

3) Natural Significance (13/25):

Hallasan 3

4) Personal Impact (9.5/15):

5) Logistics (6.5/10):  Jeju is probably the only place in Korea where public transportation is not the way to go. The buses are not very frequent, and don’t go everywhere. It is best to rent a car or scooter and explore the island on your own terms.

6) Uniqueness (8.5/20): Realistically, volcanoes and volcanic islands are a dime a dozen.

Lake in Jeju

Combined Score: 62.5/100

Is this a good score? Find out how it compares in our rankings.

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Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
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6 thoughts on “Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes

  • April 5, 2014 at 7:42 pm
    Permalink

    You are correct that volcanic islands are not particularly rare. However, the Lava Tube system in Jeju-do is considered one of the most important scientifically in the world. Unfortunately for travelers, (but better for the ecosystem) only one small part of the caves system on Jeju is open to the public. Indeed, one even has a subterranean lake!! I would love to explore more of these lava tubes, but only scientists/researchers are allowed.

    Reply
    • April 7, 2014 at 6:14 pm
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      I knew only a small piece of the whole thing is open but I had no idea there was a lake! I haven’t been able to find pictures online. Do you know of some places where I can see this?

      Reply
  • April 7, 2014 at 6:31 pm
    Permalink

    I have never heard of this place before, but it looks and sounds like a paradise on Earth. Look at these waterfalls – something incredible! Definitely adding it to my bucket list!

    Reply
    • April 7, 2014 at 8:13 pm
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      Agness, one tip would be to go in the week. The flight from Seoul to Jeju is the most common route in the world and flights are as cheap as $50 round-trip during the week.
      Definitely worth a look if you are in the area!

      Reply
    • April 7, 2014 at 8:16 pm
      Permalink

      Wow,
      I didn’t know half of these!!! That is one amazing lake and islets. I will try to swing by again in a month or so! Thanks so much for this link.

      Reply

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