Home to pristine nature, Jeju has long been South Korea’s most favorite domestic holiday destination. A natural wonder just off the southern coast of the country – the island offers a stark contrast to the concrete jungle in Seoul or Busan, with fresh air, lush green landscapes, and exquisite beaches.
Jeju-do (or Jeju Island) was created approximately two million years ago as a result of a series of volcanic eruptions. The island was formed around Hallasan, an extinct volcano and South Korea’s highest mountain peak (1950m). Along with Jirisan in Gyeongnam and Seoraksan in Gangwon, Hallasan was believed to be the mountain of the gods. In terms of weather, Jeju-do boasts a subtropical climate, with hot humid summer and mild winter. It’s generally warmer than the rest of Korea, with an average temperature of about 16°C. That’s why it’s an all-time favorite destination for holidaymakers and honeymooners.
Due to its distance to the Korean Peninsula, Jeju Island had little contact with the Kingdoms of Korea for most of its history. The island only became a part of Korea in the 12th century, when it was placed under the protection of Goryeo. Even so, Jeju-do was largely neglected by the central government, and Jeju residents were seemingly isolated from the rest of the country. This kind of isolation has, however, contributed to the development of a culture distinct from that of the mainland (and much of Asia). One typical example is the existence of the matriarchal system in which the women are the head of the household.
The Areas of Jeju Island
Being the largest island in South Korea (1846 km²), it might take at least a week to explore Jeju-do thoroughly. The island can be roughly divided into the northern and southern coast, with Jeju City and Seowigpo as administrative centers, respectively. While much of the northern coast is densely built up, and (from my point of view) not particularly interesting, the southern zone has been more developed as a tourist hub, with a lot of hotels, resorts, and museums. The most attractive beaches are, however, located in the western part. The eastern coast, on the other hand, features marvelous rock formations. Last but not least, the Hallasan dominating the center of the island offers a great challenge for any ambitious traveler.
Jeju Food Scene
When it comes to food, Jeju Island has a lot to offer. Its tangerine is considered the most aromatic and sweetest in the entire Korean peninsula. It’s so good that President Moon of South Korea even gifted tons of them to his northern counterpart, in return for the North’s mushrooms. Jeju is also famous for its fresh seafood. From sea urchins, abalones to king crabs, there are abundant sea-borne delicacies on this beautiful island. Another Jeju specialty is the Jeju black pork which is believed to have a distinctive taste and flavor.
Tips for visiting Jeju Island
- Jeju Island is conveniently accessible by aeroplane from most of South Korea’s major cities, including Busan, Daegu, and in particular, Seoul. There are about 178 flights shuttle between South Korean capital and the volcanic island every day, making it the world’s busiest air route. Aside from domestic destinations, Jeju-do is also connected to several international airports in Japan, China and Taiwan.
- Despite the island’s popularity, only those working in the tourism sector are fluent in foreign languages. The vast majority of Jeju people is monolingual and they understand only a handful of English words or sentences. Thus, it’s recommended to keep a paper (a smartphone works as well) that contains your hotel’s information and the address of the destinations written in Korean characters. Most restaurants have English menus so you won’t have problems placing an order.
How to get around Jeju Island
- Having your own vehicle would be the most convenient way to explore Jeju-do as the attractions are scattered around the island. Despite looking pretty small on the map, travelling between Jeju’s different parts is time-consuming. It takes more than one hour from north to south and two hours from east to west.
- If you can’t drive, a taxi is a great alternative. For a fixed price of 150.000₩ per day (8 hours), your driver will swiftly bring you to your desired destinations. You might choose up to five attractions in either the west or the east side of the island.
- The Jeju Bus is the most economical option. Although it does take times, you can virtually reach most sightseeing spots by buses. It costs from 1.200₩ to 4.000₩, depends on the kind of bus you choose. T-Money Card is valid on all Jeju buses. Basically, there are three types of bus:
- The Express Bus (red color, number 1xx). Only stop at transit stations.
- The Trunkline Bus (blue color, number 2xx). Stop at every station.
- The Shuttle Bus (number 600) which runs between the airport and the hotels in Jeju City, Jungmun Resort and Seowigpo.