Explore Jeju Island travel itinerary + the best snorkeling spots!
Jeju Island was at the top of my itinerary during my trip to South Korea. I had been told by a friend of mine back in Brisbane that Jeju Island was the number one destination for Korean honeymooners & it was a beautiful island getaway. So in the early weeks of June I took a ferry from Mokpo to Jeju Island & laid eyes upon some of the most breathtaking landscapes, snorkeled in the clearest waters & ate some of the best food. In this post I want to share with you my top things to do on Jeju Island, where to stay in Seogwipo & how to get around this beautiful place.
GETTING TO JEJU ISLAND
Getting to Jeju Island is quite simple from South Korea, Japan & even China, as it is a popular holiday destination amongst these countries. Flights from Seoul go daily & cost as little as (AUD)$50. When booking cheap flights Skyscanner is you best bet. You can also catch a ferry from Busan or Mokpo. The ferry from Busan takes considerably longer than Mokpo. Onboard the ferry they have arcade rooms, dining, massage chairs & even a mini cinema so you won’t be bored.
HOW TO GET AROUND JEJU ISLAND
Jeju Island is bigger than it looks & for people with a tight time frame, renting a car would be the best option. This component of the trip was the most costly but it allows you to see everything you needed to see with no hassle. There is a public transportation system but I don’t think it is very comprehensive & you would probably waste time waiting & trying to line up your itinerary with the logistics. Getting from one end of the island to the other (width ways) can take up to 90 minutes depending on traffic & weather conditions.
We rented a car from a company called Sixt rental right near the airport/Jeju Island port & for a week it cost (AUD)$352. Keep in mind that in Korea they drive on the right hand side. Not only this but the driving style can be described as “reckless”. We were angrily honked at numerous times prompting us to run red lights thus, we realised red lights are merely a suggestion, getting cut off on a round-a-bout 3 times is a right of passage & sometimes the traffic lights just blink orange, which means it’s anyone’s game.
Remember to have your international drivers license & to check whether your’s is valid in the country you are visiting. There are many jurisdictions & conventions that fall under the International Driving Permit umbrella. Some countries do not recognise International Driving Permits from countries whom are not parties of the 1949 Geneva Convention
WHERE TO STAY ON JEJU ISLAND
Jeju Island has two main cities, the first being Jeju City & the other being Seogwipo. Jeju city is where the airport & ferry terminal is located & is quite touristy. Seogwipo is located on the other side of the island & is a bit more slow paced. I stayed in Seogwipo for a number of reasons.
Most of the main attractions of Jeju Island are located on this end of the island
Seogwipo is renowned for its snorkeling spots
There is a lot of nature on this side of the island
It is a lot calmer than Jeju City (especially for driving)
It is a bit cheaper than staying in Jeju City
I used Agoda to book my accomodation in Seogwipo & saved almost 70% on my booking. I grabbed a great deal at a 3 star hotel called The First 70. It was in a great location, surrounded by lots of food options & a popular market. The hotel had on site parking and a rooftop with a beautiful view of the ocean & mountains. The room itself was very stylish & with ample space. Every morning there was a buffet breakfast (paid for separately) which had a great selection of food. The staff were super friendly & helpful & if I were to return to Jeju Island I would definitely stay here again.
WHAT TO DO ON JEJU ISLAND
As I stated previously, most of the activities I wanted to partake in were on the Seogwipo side of Jeju Island. Here is my top list of things to do on Jeju Island. If you want to save any of these locations I suggest you save them on the app called “Kakao Maps” as Google maps does not work in South Korea. Using the Korean name also increases the chances of being able to find these locations. I will do my best to supply the Korean names. For more information about the must have apps to download for your trip to Korea click here.
FRESHWATER RIVER MEETS THE SALTY OCEAN at Soesokkak Estuary (쇠소깍) SNorkeling
This location was an absolute beauty. The valley in which the fresh water river flows was created by the cooling of lava some hundreds of thousands of years ago . The natural formations are absolutely stunning. We parked parallel to the running stream, eager to find a good place to dive in. We walked down the adjacent wooden walkway & finally made our way to the mouth of the river where it met the ocean. The ocean itself crashed against the black sand & stones where locals & tourists were taking photos. No one dared enter the water for it was freezing, but we were on a mission to snorkel.
We jumped over a few rock formations and found ourselves in a tiny enclave where we could rest our belongings. We spent a good half an hour putting around the mouth of the river, looking at the fish & rock formations. I even found a shovel deep beneath the water. Not half an hour after retrieving the relic, there was an older man using it to shovel sand. The clarity of the water was not ideal & it had a cordial like consistency thus, we decided to hop out & find a place to jump in from further up the river.
We had pretty much walked all the way back to the car before we found a ledge to safely jump off from(picture above). Truth be told it was still a good 2m drop into the water but the alternative was a bit more hairy. I still had to jump a fair way out into the water to avoid some rocks, but once I was in the water it was totally worth it. Snorkeling down the river was super easy; the slow moving current was enough to push us along as we gazed at the many fish (some were huge) & rock formations. The water was way clearer in the river & it took us about half an hour to get to the mouth of the ocean. I’m not going to lie, I was slightly scared due to how deep the water was plus I had no idea what could be lurking in the water; but aside from that it was a pretty amazing experience.
Grabbing a delicious cup of joe at one of the many cafes was a great way to fill time between locations. I have written an extensive guide to the many specialty coffee cafes located around Jeju Island. To read more about these beautiful & unique locations click here.
JEONGBANG POKPO FALLS 정방폭포
Jeongbang is the most famous waterfall on Jeju Island & one of the only waterfalls in Asia that falls directly into the Ocean. The view walking towards the waterfall is truly stunning & the waterfall itself a scenic wonder. The water drops from 23 meters above the ocean & when it rains the breadth of the fall can be as big as 8m. There is an entrance fee of about 2000 Korean won & the stairs to the waterfall are only open from 9AM to 7PM (last admission is at 6PM).
Once you’re done at Jeongbang waterfall you can take a leisurely stroll towards Sogeongbang Pokpo Falls. Once you have climbed the stairs back to the car park look towards the cliff on your right hand side. You will see a small footpath. Follow the wooden footpath all the way along. You will eventually end up at the famous Castle of Shell. This house has a very interesting architectural history & a unique style. Just around the corner from this house you will find another small but beautiful waterfall called Songeongbang Pokpo Falls.
cheongjeyeon Waterfall (천제연 폭포)
If you are a true waterfall chaser like myself you’ll never be one for want on Jeju Island. There are so many waterfalls on Jeju Island, some of them don’t even have names because they are just transitionary streams that flow into more & more falls. Cheonjeyeon Falls has three sections. I will put a warning here; these waterfalls are not for the faint of heart. There are ALOT of stairs to climb that are very steep in some sections. Bring plenty of water as you will work up a sweat. The valley is like a tropical rainforest; with a thick lush canopy of trees. It is a tranquil & calm environment for all. At the end of the hike you will end up near a bridge known as Seonimgyo Bridge or “The Seven Nymphs Bridge”. From here you can either go across the bridge to a temple or continue to the last waterfall. And yes the water really is that weird blue colour! One of the signs even said it was “fairy bath water” & I can see why. It was amazing!
THE GATES OF JEJU ISLAND & THEIR MEANINGS
After spending a few days cruising around Jeju Island you may have noticed the wooden gates that many homes have. You may be thinking to yourself; Why do some gates have one cross pole & other’s have three? Who do these gates keep out; they seem highly ineffective against thieves or trespassers? Well you’re not alone.
The gates of Jeju have a very unique story & even more unique symbolism. These gates were used as a communication device amongst neighbours. In the early days of Jeju Island, it is said that surviving on the island boiled down to good community values. Neighbours helped one another keep track of each other’s properties & they worked together towards the common good. In fact the motto of Jeju Island can be put simply as this; “No beggars, No thieves, No gates.”
Here is the breakdown of the symbolism of each gate.
One pole across the entry way is the equivalent of a “back in 5” sign. The owner has stepped out but is in the area & will return shortly.
When all three poles or two poles are laid across the entry way this means anyone can enter because the owner is home.
When two poles are in their designated stone holes this means the owner is out but should return by the end of the day
When all three poles are in their designated stone holes this means the owner is out of town & will not be returning for some time.
This could be considered the ultimate neighbourhood watch.
Hwangwoo-ji is a beautiful enclosed rock pool that is perfect for snorkeling & is a popular spot amongst locals & tourists alike. There is a parking space at the top of the cliff; however, during peak season & times it is very crowded. There is about an 500m walk down to the pools that includes a very steep set of stairs. If snorkeling is not your thing I advise you to take the wooden path along the coast for a very scenic view of the ocean & cliffs. Despite this recommendation the pool itself is quite beautiful & worth a look in even if you aren’t swimming.
Snorkeling in this rock pool is a little bit tricky as you are constantly being washed in & out by the tide. Although it is sheltered by the brunt of the tide you still need to be a strong swimmer or at least have a life jacket on ( hire available on site). I also recommend wearing reef shoes as the climb down into the pool is quite jagged & there are some rocks in the pool of the same texture. If you snorkel during low season you will have a wonderful time gazing at the unique eco-systems & fish.
If you’re up for a precarious climb there is a look out spot where you can look directly down on the rockpool & see the ocean from the other side. It is indicated by a set of rustic concrete stairs twining around a rock face. Be careful & please don’t jump into the pool from here. It is very dangerous!
Sanbanggulsa Grotto (산방굴사)
The giant gold Buddha is truly a magnificent sight. We drove past it on our way somewhere & I was totally awestruck. The temple is located at the base of Hallasan Mountain & has a magnificent view of the ocean. The temple itself is beautiful & the Buddha….just WOW. You can take a hike further up to one of the caves to visit another temple. The climb is pretty sweaty so pack some water & take your time. There are a lot of information signs about the ecological history of Hallasan mountain & the caves. It was a very interesting experience.
SEONGSAN ILCHUL MARINE PROVINCIAL PARK
The main attraction at Seongsan Ilchul is the huge mountain climb. It truly is a spectacular sight however I was more focused on snorkeling in the waters beside it. Around this area there are some really amazing rock pools & there is a snorkeling school that takes off from the port located in the small harbour. I stuck to this harbour & putted around the calm waters looking at all the different types of fish & picking up lures, knives, cell phone batteries & anything else I could find in the waters. If you’re up to the hike I recommend doing it!
Udo island is located only a short drive from Seongsang Ilchul & is only accessible by ferry. Udo Island has coined the term Mini Jeju & once you go you’ll see why. You can easily walk around Udo Island in a couple of hours or you can rent an electric “Reliant Robin” . We took our car & thankfully we filled up before going to Udo as there are no fuel stations on the Island. Taking a car was a little overkill but we did travel round the island a bit faster than everyone else.
Udo Island is renowned for its peanuts. Almost everything you could eat or drink contains peanuts so PEANUT ALLERGIES BEWARE. Udo Island was super beautiful & the ocean was crystal clear. We took a dive but soon spotted some jellyfish & came running out of the water. Despite this encounter we worked up the courage (against the jelly fish & the frostbite waters) & took another dive at the famous popcorn beach. We saw so many amazingly colourful fish, but we had to retreat due to the extreme temperatures.
Popcorn beach you may be wondering? Well, the sand has clumped together into popcorn like formations. Its quite the novelty & is certainly unique! Another unique aspect of life on Udo Island are the famous Haenyeo (women divers). There is a very interesting history behind these powerful & independent women. You can see them on the coast drying off or assessing their catch. Some of these women have been free diving to depths of 30m for almost 68 years.
WHERE TO EAT IN SEOGWIPO
Around the area of Seogwipo there are many awesome places to eat. If you’re after fresh street food or fried chicken you can try the Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market (서귀포매일올레시장 ). We had some delicious garlic fried chicken from one of the vendors located near the wet market.
We also had some of the best fish & chips of our lives at a store called Sol Fish. It resides in a pink building & the inside is only big enough for half a dozen people to eat. The owner was super friendly & boy could he make an awesome sandwich. There are only a few options on the menu but everything is freshly caught that day & cooked to perfection. Sol Fish also has a sister store a little further up the road called Mama’s Pick. They serve up delicious plates of meatballs daily.
Next-door to Sol Fish is a little bistro called B.Pork (비포크비스트로 ). Again, they only have room for a few patrons & take away is no issue. They serve up many dishes with the famous black pork of Jeju Island. Black pork comes from a specific breed of pigs that are domestic to Jeju Island. You will see many restaurants advertising their selection of black pork. The pasta that I ate was the most delicious pasta I have ever had that I almost had a second bowl!
Another favourite place of mine was Bonjour Madame. They made the best pastries! The croissants were so crispy & light. Perfect for breakfast or a snack for on the road.
JEJU ISLAND RECAP
Jeju Island was definitely the highlight of my trip to South Korea. This Island was so unique & absolutely breathtaking. I spent a week cruising around the Island & still didn’t see everything. Although a trip to Jeju Island could become costly I would recommend staying for at least 2 weeks. There are so many activities to partake in, including hiking up Mount Hallasan , swimming, snorkeling, cave walking, art museums, orange picking & much, much more! Honourable mention to the Osulloc tea farm as well as the Jeju Island Innis Free store. The Island was also in full bloom with many different flowers. It was a magical paradise to say the very least. I highly recommend putting Jeju Island at the top of your South Korean travel itinerary.