Jeju Island is an oval-shaped island about 80 kilometers east to west, and 50 kilometers north to south. The airport is located on the northern coast of the island next to Jeju City. However, most of the sightseeing locations are located on the southern coast of the island, so it is necessary to rent a car and drive to a location on the southern coast and book a hotel there to use as your base for day trips for sightseeing.
I chose to stay in a hotel near the downtown harbor for the City of Seogwipo, a fairly large fishing port. It is a one-hour winding drive through the mountains from Jeju City on the north coast to Seogwipo on the south coast. I was very lucky to be on Jeju Island during 5 beautiful, sunny, rain-free, wind-free, and mist-free days. Jeju is often very windy and overcast. The air was fresh, crisp, and clean. Daytime highs were about 70 degrees F, and nighttime lows were about 45 degrees F.
The big draws for Jeju Island are the nature-oriented sightseeing locations. Jeju is a volcanic island with many landforms, including beautiful cliffside coastal areas, dormant volcanic craters, and high central mountainous areas reaching over 3,000 meters above sea level. In fact, Jeju Island has the highest mountain peak (Mt. Hallasan) in all of South Korea. When driving across Jeju Island, at times I felt like I was driving through the mountains of central Pennsylvania or West Virginia, as Jeju mountainous areas are just as high and dramatic.
As a result, the weather at different locations across this small island often varies dramatically on the same day. For example, during the winter, it can be snowing on Mt. Hallasan while, only 20 kilometers away, farmers are harvesting oranges in the groves along the southern coast. The climate of the southern coast of the island is subtropical due to warm ocean currents in the Straight of Korea. I find this to be remarkable because Jeju Island is the same latitude as New York City!!
There are eight very popular sightseeing locations on Jeju Island – I visited all of them during a leisurely five day visit – five days on Jeju allows for a relaxed pace for seeing all the popular locations. Four days is acceptable. Less than four days will put you in a rush.
Seongsan Ilchubong is a volcanic crater rising out of the sea along the west coast of Jeju Island, and is reachable by car due to a narrow spit of land that connects the crater to the coastline of the island. Visitors can walk to the rim and look into the crater via paved “hiking” trails and stairs. It is a steep climb.
Located next to Seongsan Ilchubong is the station and restaurant for the elderly female divers who free dive up to 20 meters into the frigid waters to hand catch octopus and gather a variety of shellfish and other creatures. You pick the live seafood you would like to eat and it is prepared onsite in their restaurant or right there in the open where it is caught. Originally, men used to perform this work long ago, but stopped doing so because it was too difficult for them.
Seokjikoji is a coastal area along the southwest coast that is famous for seaside cliffs composed of beautiful volcanic rock formations ranging in color from black to reddish to amber to white.
Seogwipo Harbor is located below the bluffs on which the city of Seogwipo is located. The harbor is filled with colorful fishing boats that are docked during the day because most of the commercial fishing in the area is conducted at night with bright lights projected from the boats to attract the variety of seafood that is harvested.
CheonJiyeon Falls is an area of several waterfalls that are about 40 meters high. They empty into a small tidal river less than a kilometer for the harbor for the City of Seogwipo. The pool at the bottom of the falls is 60 meters deep.
Jeongbang Falls are also located near Seogwipo and, unlike Cheonjiyeon Falls, Jeongbang Falls empty directly into the ocean. They are only about 15 meters high, but quite a pretty sight.
Mt. Sanbangsan is a very large mountain peak that rises above the ocean along the southwest coast. It is an interesting volcanic formation that is a stand-alone peak along the flat coastal area of this part of the island. It looks as though it just doesn’t belong there, as though it fell from the sky and landed on this coastal plain.
Jungmun, on the south coast, is an area with a number of swimming beaches and interesting coastal rock formations. Korean movies are often filmed in the Jungman area due to the coastal beauty.
As I mentioned, Mt. Hallasan is located at the center of Jeju Island and is the highest mountain peak in South Korea. The mountainous central part of the island, and the northern coast, have a temperate climate. In contrast, the climate of the southern coast, only a few kilometers away, is subtropical. Mt. Hallasan is a hugely popular hiking destination for Koreans, and they go there in full hiking gear, literally by the busloads. There are hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails. When I was there, I counted more than 30 full-size tourist buses in the parking lot for the main trailhead.
I loved Jeju and would not hesitate to return over and over again. Also, I should mention that Jeju in part has its own seafood-oriented cuisine that differs substantially from mainland Korean food. Be sure to browse the image gallery below.
Click on any image in the below gallery to trigger a “lightbox” presentation — doing so really brings the photos to life.