What is Jeju Island?
Jeju Island or (Jeju-do) is a temperate volcanic isle which lies about 120 km off of the Southern coast of the South Korean mainland. The island is divided in half by two main cities; the provincial capital of Jeju City to the North and Seogwipo City to the South. It has a small population of 600,000 people and caters to roughly 12,000,000 tourist a year. The island’s main source of income generation is from the tourism industry and it is gaining in popularity with travelers looking for unique travel experiences in Asia.
Why Visit Jeju?
Jeju is unlike any other place on earth, and the experience of the Island of “Wind, Women and Stone” cannot be had anywhere else in the world. It has little resemblance to “Hawaii” aside from being a volcanic island, but it is often likened to it (In the summertime). It has 4 seasons and each one brings treasures which can only be experienced during that time.
Jeju is home to a pristine natural environment, friendly locals and hundreds of activities and attractions for travelers to experience. The volcanic isle also has the tallest mountain in South Korea named Halla San. Hiking is very popular and trekking up the mountain or along the various Olle trails is a grand adventure. It is also an amazing way to get a feel for the island’s unique natural characteristics and culture.
UNESCO designated the island and its lava tubes as being “Natural Heritage Sites” in 2007. It was then designated a Global Geopark in 2010. Jeju’s culture is also distinct from that of mainland Korea and its matriarchal society is also makes it distinct from that of the mainland. The influence of the diving women (Haenyeo) on society is still apparent today.
Jeju has something everyone can enjoy. It may be lazing around a pool at one of the large resorts, or sampling the fresh seafood. There are also many activities for the family to engage in. You will not be bored, and probably won’t be able to experience everything Jeju has to offer on your visit.
What is Jeju Famous For?
Jeju Island is said to have 3 things in abundance. Those 3 things are wind, women and stone. Wind is always present and there is stone everywhere due to the island being made of volcanic rock. Though ratio or men to women is roughly 50/50. The island has become famous for other reasons and here they are.
Haenyeo or Women Divers
These women freedivers harvest the ocean’s bounty and have provided for their families for the last century and took up the role as main familial providers. They would often make more money than the men and this in turn has contributed to the matriarchal society on Jeju-do.
These women dive for abalone, octopus and other shellfish. You can see their bright orange catch bags floating on the surface around the island. They can hold their breath for over two minutes, and dive to depths of over 20 meters.
The profession is on the decline and there are efforts being made to preserve the traditional methods of harvesting seafood and the haenyeo themselves as cultural treasures.
The black pig is just as it sounds, a pig with black hair. This pig isn’t famous for its hair color but more for its delicious taste and its unique diet. It is looked upon as a delicacy by mainlanders and many who travel to Jeju Island visit the various black pig restaurants as a must before they leave.
Hallabongs are oranges which have been cross bred, and are natively grown on the island. They look like they have a bump on their tops. These oranges are sweet and delicious and many people consider them a indigenous to the island. They can be purchased at specialty shops or at various local attractions.
Dol Harubang or Stone Grandfathers
These statues are phallic looking and carved to look like men with large noses and a hat. They can be found in many places throughout the island and have become synonymous with Jeju Island’s image. These stone statues are carved out of the island’s lava stone and there are ample opportunities to take pictures of them all over the island.
There are many types of lava stone formations on the island of Jeju. These formations are so precious and unique that the government has banned any transport or shipping of the stone from leaving the island.
How to Get To Jeju?
Traveling to Jeju is getting easier and cheaper. The Jeju International Airport has been expanded and more international air routes have been added to the increasing list of direct flights. Flying from mainland Korea is the cheapest option as international flights are still expensive and can be lengthy when transfers are included.
“Interesting Fact: Jeju to Seoul is the busiest air route in the world!”
International Direct Flights
Many Airlines have started international travel to Jeju Island. Flights can now be taken from many cities in China, Japan and Hong Kong. Flights are also offered multiple times per week.
“TIP: You do not need a visa to visit Jeju, but if travelling to mainland Korea, you will need to obtain one. Check with your local Korean consulate for details before travel.”
Domestic Flights to Jeju Island
If visiting mainland Korea, travelers can easily get to Jeju Island via many cities and carriers. Discount airlines are plentiful and fly hourly from Busan, Seoul and many other cities in South Korea. Korean air also has direct flights from Incheon to Jeju Island once per day.
Ferry to Jeju Island
Travelers also have the option of travelling to the island via ferry. There are many ferries from mainland Korea with service to Jeju-do. Most ships run overnight and have very good facilities to enjoy your trip to the island. Car ferries are also available to travelers with a car but prices start at 260,000 for this and depends on the size of the car. Many of these ferries have restaurants, single rooms, casinos and karaoke like experiences for everyone to enjoy. These ferries will not travel if weather conditions are unsuitable for safe transit, so keep this in mind depending on the time of year you are travelling. Have a backup plan ready, just in case.
What Jeju Isn’t
Jeju-do (Jeju Island) is not a tropical paradise which is warm year round. The island is definitely beautiful in the warmer months of the year and the beaches are incredible, but it isn’t Hawaii nor should it be compared to it. There are activities and attractions to be visited year round and these experiences change with the seasons.
The island doesn’t have a big city feel to the downtown core, but it is a city. Michelin rated restaurants do not exist (though I wish they would) but there are some very good places to eat on the island. The winner of Master Chef Korea is from Jeju, but has moved to Seoul to run his new Japanese restaurant. He has yet to receive a Michelin Star.
Traveling on the island is still developing and becoming increasingly easier for non-Korean speaking tourists to get around. With that being said it may be difficult to order from the menus as they may be completely in Korean and without images. I have noticed an increase in menu items with pictures being added so you can point to what you want.
With the influx of tourists to the island, services are improving for travelers to go out on their own and explore. Start your adventure today and visit one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the world.
When to Visit
Jeju is alluring during all months of the year. Many hikers and mainlanders opt to travel to the island during the spring and fall as temperatures aren’t especially hot and humid and the rainfall is not particularly heavy. Whenever you do decide to visit, the isle will give you a distinct taste of its many attractions, rain or sunshine.
The summer is very hot and humid and depending when the rainy season hits (usually the end of June) this could affect your sightseeing options. There are many things to do indoors so finding something of interest is not a problem. This is the perfect time to hit the beach, snorkel, windsurf and do all of the watersports Jeju has on offer.
Visiting in the fall is the perfect match for hiking, climbing Halla San, touring the coastal roads or meandering along the Olle trails. One can even bike around the entire island and camp along the many sites along the ocean. This can also be a rainy time of year and the wind begins to get stronger. If you would like more detailed information please read our guide on when to visit Jeju Island.
“Tip: Bring a waterproof rain and wind jacket as the weather on the island can change in a minute. We like to say it is always sunny somewhere on Jeju.”
Getting Around The Isle
Traveling on Jeju is very reasonable and the public transport system is easy to navigate and cost effective. Even renting a car can be within everyone’s budget. The airport has over 30 rental car agencies for you to select from and they are located in one building outside of the arrivals level. Taxis are plentiful and very cheap when compared to other developed nations. Bike rentals are also available and the city has installed bicycle rental ports all around Jeju City.
Getting around Jeju by taxi is a great way to visit attractions and just jump around the city. fares start at 2,200 won for the first kilometer and then increases by 800 won per km. These fares increase after midnight.
“Tipping in Korea is not a socially accepted mainstream practice. That being said, if you have had a good safe trip, you can try!”
Many drivers will not know the locations of restaurants or hotels by their name, but the area they are located in. It is best to have a map of the location you are going, or the phone number so the driver can enter it into their gps. Pronunciation may also be a factor in getting the name right for your destination.
Renting a Taxi
Yes, visitors can rent a taxi for a day to drive them around the island. The drivers you can hire may even speak English and take you to the best restaurants along the way. Prices range from 120,000 – 150,000 per day. Lunch and dinner is often expected by the driver so be prepared to pay for this as well.
“Traveling by taxi with a group of 4 people is the best way to get around the island. Taking the bus is cheaper but takes a lot more time and limits your destinations.”
Bikes can be rented from many bicycle shops on the island for an hourly rate or per day. People often explore the seaside towns on bicycles and it is a great way to see everything. Just make sure to be careful of cars and scooters, which can be aggressive and they do not always follow roads signs.
Jeju City has also installed many bicycle rental portsin select areas of Jeju. One can enter their credit card into the machine unlock the bike and then when finished, return the bike to the port. Bike helmets are not included with this kind of rental so use extreme caution. Add rates
Scooters can be rented on the island for a day or at weekly discounted rates. In order to rent one needs an international license or Korean drivers license. Many shops will state that you cannot ride over the mountain passes and insurance often rests in the hands of the renter. Helmets are included with the rental fees. If you want insurance with your rental make sure you expressly state this. Insurance is often not covered with renting cars and bikes in Korea and it is an extra fee.
A list of scooter rental shops on Jeju.
“If you do not have a motorcycle license, you can still rent a scooter or bicycle legally in Korea. As long as it is under 250cc and you have a regular car license.”
Renting a car on Jeju is definitely the safest and best way to explore the island. The fees associated are very low and one can rent a car for roughly 38,000 won per day which also includes insurance (for a small car). Though services are increasing they remain limited to people who cannot speak Korean. Some rental agencies will not rent to travelers who cannot speak Korean. If you are renting with a Korean speaking person this issue can be negated.
Here is a list of rental car companies that are tourist friendly
All rental car companies on Jeju have a presence at the airport and their lots are a short shuttle bus ride away from the airport. Located outside the arrivals level is a rental car office which houses over 30 rental companies. You may even be able to get the car delivered to the airport lot. If this does occur, you will need to pay a parking fee for however long the car has been there. This is a minimal charge.
You will need an international license, must be 21 and over and also need to have had your license for over 1 year.
Included in the rental price is a gps (ask to program the gps into English), roadside service, and gas. The fuel used in the rental cars is LPG (liquefied propane) and you should keep your eye out for these stations on the island as it may be difficult to find them if low on gas. When returning the vehicle, you must add the same amount of gasoline as when you left the lot, or you will be charged extra.
Ferries to Jeju’s Outlying Islands
The Ferries servicing the outlying isles on Jeju are safe and run frequently. Swimming isn’t an option really. Trips to these islands offer a different perspective of Jeju-do and on clear days can provide incredible photo opportunities. Many islands are inhabited and offer an interesting experience.
If there is bad weather the ferries will not run to the islands as the sea can be very rough on the open ocean around Jeju.
Where to Stay
Jeju has many options for accommodations. These range from luxury resorts to the local hostel. Staying at a 5 star to a 1 star is easy and there are many options to suit everyone’s style and budget. If you are looking for a more natural environment it would be best to stay in Seogwipo as it is less developed and certainly has a different feel than Jeju City. If you are looking for ease of access and travel options, Jeju City is the better selection. Though Jeju City and Seogwipo City are not that far, travelers looking for more dining options are best to stay in Jeju City.
Travelers even have the option of staying the Korean traditional way in large hotels and sleep on the floor. These types of accommodations are called “Ondol”. This can be a great experience as the heating comes up from the floors and keeps everything warm.
Hostel / Guesthouse
Many travelers visiting on a budget look to stay in hostel like accommodations on Jeju. These places are often called guesthouses in Korea due to licensing regulations put on the owners. The services here are usually quite good for the dollar value and the owners strive to provide a good experience for all their guests. The island has over 100 Guesthouses and hostels scattered across the island and it is easy to find a place to stay. Make sure you book your stay in advance as many places are full throughout the season.
A pension is known locally as a hotel styled accommodation with a guesthouse like experience. The owner is usually on premise and will be available to help with travel plans, calling a taxi or ordering food etc. Many owners speak English so be sure to inquire if this is a mandatory feature to your stay. Pensions are generally located out of the major city centers and cater to people wanting a more relaxing and private experience. Most pensions are filled with tour groups visiting the island and reservations should be made well in advance.
Hotels in Jeju can range from cheap to the more expensive boutique styled accommodations which are beginning to sprout in Jeju City (New Town). These places offer many services such as swimming pools, casinos restaurants and more. Some of the larger hotels also have shuttles to their premises, which may even be located on the South side of the island in Seogwipo. All services reflect the prices for the hotels and you really do get what you pay for.
The island also offers resort like accommodations with multiple dining options, shuttle buses, and improved features for the more refined style of guest. Services and service are very good and guests are truly taken care of. The majority of these resorts are located in Jungmun, and are a quick 45 minute bus ride from the airport. Many also have casinos, golf courses and more. The prices for these places drop considerably in the winter time but are very high during the summer months due to their great locations and services.
What to See?
Jeju’s natural environment is beautiful and basically untouched by large developments and pollution. It is the main draw for many people looking to experience something new and finding it on Jeju. From the many forests of the interior to the beautiful coastlines strewn with volcanic rock formations, one can drive around the island and look out on Jeju’s beauty without any guide.
The beaches of Jeju are also a large draw for many tourists that come from the mainland to enjoy the warm shallow waters. The beaches are not crowded and the waters are somewhat calm, with Jungmun Beach being the exclusion. They also have many amenities such as showers and restrooms and also provide campgrounds for free. Lifeguards are also on duty for the swimming season which is from July to the end of August.
Food is also a large draw for people arriving on the island. Fresh seafood is abundant and Jeju has its own unique dishes for people to sample. The Jeju mandarins, galchi (a long kind of fish) and black pork are all distinguishing foods of the island. Raw seafood is also a large draw as fish and mollusks are caught and held in tanks outside of restaurants, so it is always fresh.
There are many places to visit on Jeju. One can visit modern museums and also experience the many strange and weird attractions the Island has to offer. There are 3 love and sex museums and exhibits for those of age to visit. Jeju has many odd places to visit and it is becoming part of the tourism complex as to create places that do not exist anywhere else in the world.
Jungmun Tourist Complex
What to do?
Activities abound on the island. Hiking the Olle Trails are a great way to experience the life and culture of the land. The landscapes are incredible and the scenery changes depending on what part of the island you are walking. There is something for everyone here to experience and enjoy. Click here for a list of things to do.
If you like to live life a little faster than most Jeju has things for you to do. Kite surfing and windsurfing paragliding and scuba diving are all gaining more attention and services are also increasing. The island has a lot of wind year round, thus making it an amazing area for wind sports.
Scuba on the island is an interesting experience as soft and hard corals can be seen and there are a mix of cold water and warm water fish which migrate North from the Philippines in the summer months. Snorkeling is also an option as any part along the rocky coastline is a fun experience on a calm day.
There are also kayaking tours which run from various parts of the island. One can go out with a guide or rent the kayak on their own. This is not suggested for the inexperienced as conditions can be rough and the currents strong.
Kite surfing can also be done along the shallow waters of the many beaches on the island. There aren’t any stores on the island as of yet as the popularity has not reached a demand for it. There are some services to rent and get lessons from.
Golfing has been a large part of the island’s success in the tourism industry. There are over 15 courses on the island, 2 of which were rated by “Golf” magazine in the “Top 100 Courses in the World”. That being said, one can expect to pay for the experience. There are some lower priced courses on the island which are also great courses. Many are located around the 400 M above sea level zone and offer incredible views of Jeju Island. The courses on the South of the island are generally around sea level and provide ocean views.
Hitting the beach is also a great summer experience. The waters are often calm and protected which allow for good swimming conditions for those who are not good swimmers. Lifeguards are on duty at the beaches during the summer season and often limit the amount of swimming one can do. If you are interested in rougher and larger surf, head to Jungmun Beach as the swells and currents can be quite strong. Surfers can often be seen in these waters and the beach is unique in that it is surrounded by large cliffs.
Fishing is also a good past-time as boats can be rented and will ferry anglers to offshore perches to catch their dinner. Please be advised of all local fishing laws. Rods, and fishing gear can be rented from places on the island and boats can also be hired from various ports in many locales.
What to Eat
The dining culture on Jeju is very unique to the island. Most pork restaurants only serve black pig which is a local delicacy which many people swear tastes better than regular pig. There is a black pork street in Jeju City which caters to this one particular dish. Get more information on the best black pork restaurants on Jeju.
“Hallasan soju has a distinct taste and is only served on Jeju Island. Be careful as it is stronger than regular soju.”
Seafood on Jeju is also abundant and therefore fresh. Raw fish is a sought after meal as daily deliveries are supplied to restaurants across the island from local fisherman. “Hway” as it is called in Korean is served with soy sauce and wasabi and is often had with soju. One can also sample abalone and other shellfish raw. Not to worry as these are also alive and still moving when eaten. Get more information on the best seafood restaurants on Jeju.
If you really don’t like Korean food are less adventurous there are places for you to eat. Local restaurants serving Western styled food are ever increasing. The dishes are on the sweet end of the spectrum but still tasty. Click on the following for more a list of the best Western restaurants on Jeju.
Shopping on Jeju
There are many places to get great deals and shop around for local Jeju items for souvenirs. Jeju produces it’s own chocolate, made from citrus and cactus grown on the island. There are many traditional and local products which can be purchased from shops in shopping centers and souvenir shops.
Jeju-do also has traditional markets which sell fresh produce and traditional goods grown and made by the locals. These markets change locations and are not open on a daily basis. Sampling some traditional street food is also a good experience. Different seasons offer different pastries filled with red bean paste, or you can even have a Korean styled pancake called “Hodeok”.
“Bartering is possible at all markets, just don’t be too cheap!”
Malls do not exist but department type establishments do. Lotte Mart and Emart are two large stores which sell food and offer a range of other goods for sale. One can buy electronics and clothing as well as food. These places can be considered grocery stores mainly and also have plenty of parking. These large type stores are closed on the 2nd Friday of the month and the 4th Saturday of the month.
If you are looking for duty free high-end designer goods you have come to a shopping paradise. Visitors from anywhere, including residents from the mainland enjoy tax free purchases at many locations on Jeju. Small stores at Chusangro underground shopping mall also offer tax free purchases as do the large department stores in the city centers.
“You will need to keep all receipts and then submit them for a refund at a later date.”
Nightlife on Jeju
Going out on the town is a large part of the culture of Jeju-do. Many people choose eat out and party during the week. Thursday seems to be a busy night in most places, with people eating and enjoying each others’ company. Friday nights are when the crowds gather in bars, and nightclubs but it is never extremely busy and lineups are non-existent. There are many options for everyone’s style and the nightlife here can cater to your style.
“New smoking regulations have been placed into effect in Korea. If the place is over a certain size, then smoking is not allowed.”
Bars on the island are often a mix of different styles and prices. Generally beer, and cocktails are served and regular seating is provided. Prices for import beers are high roughly 8,000 – 10,000 won. Local beers are priced roughly at 4,000-5,000 won a bottle. Mix drinks and cocktails are around 8,000 won. Soju at local restaurants is priced around 4,000 won per bottle. Wine is becoming more and more popular and the prices for this good are also decreasing across the island.
Hoffs on the isle are a mix between restaurant and bar. If you do choose to visit this type of establishment you must order food. These restaurants generally make their money from food orders and not the beer. Expect to pay less for the beer in these establishments. They can be found everywhere and in every town and city.
“Don’t hesitate to push the order bell on your table. It may not be part of your culture, but it is perfectly normal to call the server.”
Singing rooms or Karaoke in Korea is extremely popular and can be found all over. They are often located below street level in the basements of buildings. There are 3 kinds of singing rooms in Korea. Non-alcoholic smoke free rooms, regular singing rooms and singing rooms which you can select a woman to sing with you. Prices for all types of places vary and depending on what you would like, and order.
There aren’t many nightclubs on Jeju. There is one very big nightclub called Aroma Dome, which is very Korean style. Patrons must pay sitting fees and order a minimum amount of drinks to have a table and this covers your entry fee. 3 beers and a fruit platter will cost 50,000 won. If you would like whiskey the price for a bottle is 100,000. this club also offers booking services where the waiters wil bring shy young women to meet other people in the club.
There are also more modern styled nightclubs on Jeju. These are generally located in Gu Jeju and are frequented by university students. Prices for drinks are average and some places charge a cover fee which includes a drink at the bar. Bottle service is also available at these places.
View nightclubs in Jeju
The expat community is continually growing as the popularity of Jeju is increasing. Foreign friendly bars have begun to market exclusively to the foreign community. These bars often hold special events, servers speak English and have a different feel from bars catering to the locals. You can find open-mic performances, drink specials, darts and other Western type games in these places.