Jeju Island, south of mainland South Korea, is a natural wonderland that draws visitors looking for a peaceful escape.
Ancient geological activity has shaped the face of the island. Hike around the dormant Hallasan volcano where you will be surrounded by azaleas in the spring and a fresh dusting of snow in the winter. The UNESCO Biosphere reserve features a crater lake and plenty of butterflies. Even the homes are made from black lava rock. In 1750 masons carved lava rock into “grandfather stones”—massive statues built to ward off invaders and bad spirits. You will see these structures dotted throughout Jeju Island.
Go underground into the Manjanggul Caves formed by cooling magma. High lava stalagmites and hanging bats are the feature down below. Its dark and damp, but wonderfully cool on a hot day.
Watch the sunrise over the Seongsan Ilchulbong crater with the glistening sea as your backdrop. Look down and see the eels swimming below the crashing Cheonjiyeon Falls, tucked within lush vegetation.
Surf, swim, and go for strolls on a windswept, sandy beach. Craggy cliffs meet crashing waves. Local women (some of them up to 80-years-old) have been diving for octopus, clams, squid, and seaweed since the 17th century. Remarkably, these divers can stay under water for two minutes, going several feet deep. UNESCO has even listed this as a wonder of Korea’s intangible cultural heritage. Learn about this history at the Haenyeo Museum or spot the divers as they descend into the sea.
And if the idea of jumping into chilly water gives you goosebumps, then warm up with a bowl of seaweed and sea urchin soup, a plate of potato pancakes, and a cup of green tea.
Tea is a staple drink in Korea. Tea enthusiasts won’t want to miss the museum dedicated to the nation’s leaves and the culture surrounding it. Taste some of the varieties and try a sweet treat infused with the brew’s flavors.
The spas on the island offer another way to relax. Soak in a herb sauna fed by thermal springs and feel your worries melt away.