Site Type: Natural
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!]
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 It is no longer active as the lava tubes that fed it dried up with the last eruption over 1000 years ago.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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):
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.
Combined Score: 62.5/100
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