South Korea’s largest island was always destined to be exciting. Jeju exploded onto the scene two million years ago, when volcanic Mount Hallasan rose up from the sea, bringing with it a fertile isle marked with unique geographical features. A waterfall dropping straight into the sea? Check. The country’s highest peak? Check. Volcanic lakes? Tropical lagoons? Check and check.
The showstopper, though, is Manjanggul Cave: a five-mile-long UNESCO World Heritage Site, deep underneath Jeju City. Less than a mile of it is open to the public, its ceiling heavy with stalactites and lava blisters. It may not be great for claustrophobics or nyctophobics — those scared of the dark — but this lava tube is a bingo card of geological formations, including the world’s tallest lava column. And if holing up underground isn’t your cup of (ginseng) tea, there are plenty of other adventures to be had.
Jeju’s natural wind patterns and thermals mean there’s consistently good weather for paragliding. Run off one of the island’s hundreds of hills for views of farmland studded with blue roofs, pine forests, and Mount Hallasan rising up from the centre.
For the gentler adventurer, there’s the Olle walking trail network criss-crossing the isle, while for hardier types there’s Mount Hallasan. It’s catnip for serious hikers, who haul themselves up to silvery-blue Baengnokdam, the crater lake at the top, 6,388ft above sea level.
Good news: the 145mile-long bike route ringing the coastline of Jeju is almost totally flat. And it offers a snapshot of the island: the crashing waves of Jungmun Beach, the yolky sunset over the Korean Strait, and photogenic volcanic landscapes.
Did you know?
Jeju is home to 5,000 haenyeo divers; women — some in their 80s — who pluck seafood from the ocean floor without air cylinders.
Published in the South Korea guide, distributed with the November issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)