We recently had the opportunity to add a quick trip to Jeju Island to our South Korea visit. Jeju Island is a volcanic island directly south of mainland South Korea and is accessible by a quick and inexpensive flight from Seoul in about an hour.
We only had three days on Jeju Island, but it would have been nice to have had a full week to really explore. Summer is also the rainy season so it was quite foggy the entire time, but honestly, the clouds gave us a little reprieve from the hot sun. Here are just a few things that Jeju Island is famous for and my recommended stops!
Jeju Island is home to a variety of stunning natural features, including Hallasan Mountain, the world’s largest lava dome; Seongsan Ilchulbong, a volcanic crater; and the many beaches and waterfalls on the island.
We stayed at the Hotel Lotte Jeju because it was on the southernmost side and there were lots of things that we could walk to from the hotel, which was important to us. The hotel is large and beautifully landscaped with a green, jungle feel. They have unique windmills perched on the beach cliffs behind the pool area that lends to the exotic vibe. If you’re a Hello Kitty fan, make sure to book a night in a Hello Kitty Suite! It’s geared for children and they even have childcare services on the Hello Kitty floor, but as a lifelong fan, I could not resist a stay in this adorable room! Although we loved the rooms, grounds, and service, it is quite expensive to eat here. Thankfully there is a little 7-Eleven at the edge of the property offering inexpensive drinks and snacks. There are also tons of restaurants of every variety across the street. We had a lovely breakfast at Bake Make Roast and the little ocean view cafe Badabara is a must for fresh breads and pastries! It’s a little walk away, but you can get there through hotel paths. I also wished there was an iron in our room because our clothing was quite wrinkled from traveling and it would have been nice to bang a few creases out while there.
When exploring our local area, we visited the Yeomiji Botanical Garden and the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, which is a 100-foot waterfall that is surrounded by lush greenery. The admittance price for both places is inexpensive and definitely worth it. I would plan on at least 1/2 day to do both.
The Daepo Jusangjeolli Cliff is a quick taxi ride away and worth a visit. The cliff is made up of hexagonal basalt columns that were formed by volcanic activity. It is a popular spot for photography and hiking.
Jeju Island has a unique culture that is distinct from the rest of South Korea. This is due to its isolation and its history as a penal colony. Some of the things that make Jeju Island’s culture unique include its traditional food, its folktales, and its handicrafts. As you explore the Island, you will see many ‘man statues’ called Dol Hareubang, which means “grandfather made of stone” in the Jeju dialect. They are large stone statues that can be found all around the island, and they are considered to be symbols of Jeju Island. The origins of Dol Hareubang are mysterious, but they are often attributed to the island’s shamanic traditions. Some believe that they were originally placed outside of gates to ward off demons, while others believe that they were fertility gods. There are also many Buddhist temples on Jeju Island that you can visit.
Despite the rain, we made a quick trip to Sanbanggulsa Temple, which is a smaller temple located in the Seogwipo area of Jeju Island. It is known for its unique rock formations, which are said to resemble Buddha statues. The stairs up to the top are NO JOKE! Make sure to bring your running shoes and watch your step on the steep climb, but what a view! Also, please be quiet and keep voices low. There will be people praying at the top of the mountain and photos are not allowed inside the temple cave.
Jeju Island is known for its delicious food, which is often made with fresh, local ingredients. Some of the most popular dishes on Jeju Island include haenyeo seafood, black pig barbecue, and Jeju tangerines.
The best way to experience Jeju food is to go to a local market and eat street food.
There are so many delicious things to eat and everything is so fresh and inexpensive. Many booths will even have a small seating area for you to enjoy your snack. We shared a kimchi pancake and spicy rice cake Tteokbokki. When it’s citrus season (winter), make sure to grab some famous Jeju tangerine oranges. Orange themed items area ALL over the island as the Jeju Orange is special and treasured.
As we visited in the summer, there were no fresh oranges to sample, but they offered these adorable juices in a little Dol Hareumbang-shaped bottle! I had to clean one out and bring it home.
By the way, the recycling program in South Korea is STRICT. Make sure to properly dispose of your trash in the correct bins!
The other thing to try when in Jeju is abalone. As a Native Californian, it’s extremely hard or expensive to get fresh abalone as they no longer are plentiful on our coastline.
However, Jeju cultivates abalone and divers (mostly women) still get them fresh daily, with the divers being honored with almost celebrity status. The abalone are small (like a couple of inches long) and is as fresh as can be. My daughter was really excited to try abalone and you can have it prepared in many different ways from raw, grilled, or in porridge. If you’re a meat eater, ‘black pork’ is also very popular here and is available just about everywhere, but you can grab a sampler plate at any night market.
If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll still be able to find plenty to eat on Jeju Island, especially since they cater to tourists.
As Jeju Island was formed by volcanic activity, and its landscape is still shaped by volcanoes today. There are over 360 volcanic cones on the island, including Hallasan Mountain. We didn’t have time to visit a volcanic cave (or lava tube), but I do recommend that as an activity if you have time.
Finally, I recommend visiting the O’Sulloc Tea Plantation: This is the largest and most famous green tea farm on Jeju Island. It offers a variety of activities, including tea picking, tea tasting, and visits to the O’Sulloc Tea Museum. Next door to the museum is the Innisfree Jeju House.
This is a green tea farm owned by the Korean beauty brand Innisfree. It offers a variety of activities, including tea picking, tea tasting, and visits to the Innisfree Jeju House Museum.
The desserts a the little cafe are ridiculously cute! The Volcano cake, Volcanic Jeju House cake & fruit teas are a must-try! Then load up on Innisfree beauty products. The sunscreens and night creams are my favorites, however, they have a nice selection of body creams and men’s products as well. Make sure to bring your Passport so you can get duty-free funds back from your purchase.
We hired a car service for the day to visit everything that was too far to walk to. I recommend getting a private driver for 6-8 hours so you can really explore the island at your own pace. Our driver did not know a lot of English, so we found the Papago App to be very useful, and it didn’t hurt that our daughter has been studying Korean for the past 2 years! Whew!
THINGS TO BUY ON JEJU ISLAND
A Jeju Orange Hat
Green Tea from the O’Sulloc Tea Plantation
K-Beauty from Innisfree Jeju House
A stone Dol Hareubang man statue
Other local treats: Local honey, Peanut Cookies & the Starbucks in Seogwipo is visually very interesting with a Grimms Fairytale theme and they sell items that are ONLY available at this location! I picked up an adorable little Jeju orange-shaped mug with a stem top.