“Post-pandemic vacation destinations” are everywhere.
Photo courtesy of the Korea Tourism Organization
As the pandemic drags on, more and more city dwellers are longing to swap their homes for something … more distant. Maybe it’s a drive along the coast with a psychedelic landscape or up winding mountain passes for a leisurely escape to a small town. For South Koreans who want the best of both worlds, all that is required is a fast domestic flight to Jeju Island.
This tropical island lies just behind the southwesternmost tip of South Korea and is known for its swaying palm trees and next-level beaches (both white and black sand), bubbling waterfalls and charming villages, imposing mountains and trippy volcanic rock information.
Though it’s long been a popular honeymoon spot, tourism to Jeju actually picked up this summer when pandemic-weary locals fled Seoul for a relaxing break in nature. Although Jeju is currently inaccessible to Americans, “post-pandemic vacation destinations” are on the agenda everywhere – especially when the island’s festivals and tourist attractions are fully reopened.
From the high-key walking tours and adventure sports to the low-key meditation retreats and museums, there is a lot to discover in Jeju. Once it’s safe to visit, here are the must-dos and must-sees.
Jeju’s massive Seongsan Ilchubong crater is also known as Sunrise Peak. | Adnan Ami / Unsplash
How do I get to Jeju Island?
From Seoul, the easiest way to get to Jeju-do (“do” means island in Korean) is a 70-minute flight. Fun fact, this is the busiest domestic route in the world (yes, really) with over 100 flights a day. While it is possible to pack the highlights into a weekend (and many Koreans do), the island is best experienced slowly. So aim for at least three days, if not much longer.
You can get around Jeju by bus or taxi, but renting a car is infinitely more convenient. The island consists of two municipalities, the capital Jeju-si (“Si” means city) in the north and Seogwipo-si to the south. Each has its own city center (or “Shinae”) with the top of Hallasan In between rises the mountain – the highest in the country.
Explore the brilliant blue pond under the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall. | Hitsujikumo33 / iStock / Getty Images
The best beaches and waterfalls on Jeju Island
Water babies flock to Jeju Island to go kayaking, surfing, diving, parasailing, windsurfing, water skiing, rafting. A popular place to go on the water is that Soesokkak Estuary where the Hyodoncheon freshwater current meets the ocean. You can paddle down this wide, slow-flowing river on a kayak, water bike, or traditional Jeju raft (called a “tewoo”).
Jeju is also known for its spectacular waterfalls (or “Pokpo”). Two of the most famous are Cheonjiyeonpokpo Falls and Jeongbangpokpo Falls, the tallest waterfall in Asia that falls straight into the ocean.
If you prefer to take it easy on the beach, you’ve come to the right place. The best beach near Jeju is Shinae Hamdeok Seoubong Beach, Kayaks can be rented here and there are delicious fish restaurants on the shore. This stretch of coast also features incredibly cool black lava pools.
On the way east it goes without saying why Woljeongri Beach, with its striking white sand and numerous beach cafes, attracts the crowd. But take a look Gimnyeong Seonsegi for something a little milder – you might even see a dolphin. There are also Pyoseon Haevichi Beach, a little to the south-east, a huge area known for its lighthouse of the same name.
In the south, Jungmun Saekdal offers four different colors of sand, plus cliffs and a cave to explore nearby. And in Andeok, Hwasun Golden Sand Beach is thrown back from the stunning Mount Sanbangsan. Finally, HyeopjaeTo the west is a white sand beach with access to a campsite, temples, a lava tube and views of Biyangdo– a tiny volcanic island off the coast.
The Yeongsil Trail in Hallasan National Park | Pichit Tongma / Shutterstock
Attack one of Jeju’s majestic hiking trails
Hallasan Mountain, mentioned above, is the island’s great volcanic gem: a 6,388-foot-high mountain that is also designated a national park and, according to Korean folklore, is the home of the spirits. Six different paths climb the mountain, but only two – the longer Seongpanak and steeper Gwaneumsa– Go all the way up. (Note that both are currently closed due to the pandemic).
Another popular trekking option is that Olle path, a long distance hiking trail that surrounds the island in a series of 26 numbered sections. Route No. 7 is particularly beautiful and leads west along picturesque coastal cliffs to the famous Oedolgae rock formation.
Hikers can lend a hand in the east Seongsan Ilchulbong Tuff Cone, an absolutely massive crater that was created when hot lava mixed with cold water. In the same area is Seopjikoji, a cool coastal hiking trail with views of donkeys, Seonbawi Rock jutting out of the sea, and other rock formations at low tide. Other low-intensity walks include Yongnunioreum volcanic conewhere horses grazing in the pasture keep you company or through one of Jeju’s many Gotjawal forests.
Sweet Hallabong mandarins are sold to street vendors and are found around the island. | insung yoon / unsplash
Eat and drink your heart out
The culinary scene in Jeju is dominated by both the long-standing local favorites – including the massive hallabong tangerines and of course the seafood – as well as a recent infusion of international restaurants like the Middle East Wardah is located in Tapdong.
If pork is your thing, be sure to try Jeju’s very own Heuk Dwaeji – a black type of pork from Samgyeopsal-Barbecue known for its thicker marbling and softer texture (there’s an entire street in Tapdong dedicated to it). Also try momguk, a Jeju specialty that mixes gulf herb with a broth made from pork bones and intestines, which, according to the custom, goes well with a cup of makgeolli (rice wine). And if pork is definitely not your thing, vegans will love Hallim’s And Yu Cafe.
Other Jeju dishes include Gogiguksu (pork noodles), Kkwong Memil Kalguksu (knife-cut buckwheat noodle soup with pheasant) and lots and lots of seafood stews like abalone porridge, hairtail, sea urchin and cold raw squid soups. For one of the freshest meals you will ever eat, go to one nearby Haenyeoui Jip (Haenyeo’s House), the restaurants of the island’s famous female freedivers who harvest seafood.
Don’t forget Jeju’s traditional spirits, including the extra strong Hallasan soju and the special Hallabong makgeolli. But you can also confuse things with Jeju beer, the island’s original craft brewery, made in partnership with Brooklyn Brewery. The other brewery is magpiewho also runs a pizza and beer joint called Bluebird in downtown Jeju-si.
Stroll through the extensive green tea fields next to the O’sulloc Tea Museum. | EQRoy / Shutterstock
Stop at a museum or two
From glass art and lighted picture galleries to over-the-top Hello Kitty and teddy bear collections, there is no shortage of museums in Jeju. To the north, take a stroll through Jeju Stone Park, an outdoor and indoor exhibition that shows visitors the history of Jeju through the myth of its creator, Grandmother Seolmundae.
Modern art lovers can visit Arario in the Tapdong area. In the southwest of Andeok, tea lovers can learn about the Korean tea tradition, watch a tea master and visit the extensive green tea fields at the Jeju O’sulloc Tea Museum. Some of the best teas in the world come from here.
Finally, and most importantly, anyone visiting Jeju should know something about the Jeju Uprising – also known as the 4.3 Incident as it happened on April 3, 1948 – when the Korean government massacred 30,000 demonstrators, roughly a tenth of the population Jejus. For more information, please visit Jeju 4.3 Peace Park in Bonggae-dong.
More psychedelic volcanic rock formations at Yeongmori Beach. | Douglas MacDonald / Moment / Getty Images
Overnight accommodation on Jeju Island
If you’re on a tight schedule, Jeju Shinae is a convenient base from which to visit Jeju. Restaurants, bars, shopping and entertainment are just a short walk or taxi ride away. In addition, the intercity terminal is the central hub for buses traveling to other parts of the island.
But the island’s real beauty lies in the east, south and west. If you can swing it, rent a car or take a taxi (the Kakao T app makes it easy to call one) and work your way around Jeju.
There are some salient points in the east Woljeong-ri (“Ri” means village), Seongsan-ri, and You are doing, a tiny island accessible by ferry, known for its peanut farms and signature peanut makgeolli. If you want to spend the night, book a room in a villa like Robin & Blue. gas, a mountain village in southeast Jeju, is a bright yellow shock in April when the annual rapeseed flower festival takes place here. It’s also one of the best places to get to know Jeju’s art scene and ranch culture.
Take a traditional resort vacation like the honeymooners and head to the island’s south coast. But be sure to explore the more rural areas of Pyoseon (where you can stay in a log cabin), Namwon, Jungmun, and Andeok. There, Sun & Moon offers rooms with ocean views, a rooftop pool and an outdoor grill. In the west, check out Hyeopjae and Hallimwhere a nice hotel option is built in garage.
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Supported by the Korea Tourism Organization