*This information was originally shared through the KBS World broadcast: Explore Korea, where Moon Bear Travel is a regular guest. It has been summarized into this post.
All Korea travelers, old or new, have heard of Jeju Island. Many of them have been lucky enough to see the crystal blue waters and towering (inactive) volcanos, while others are busily preparing for their future trip. Whatever your interest, Jeju seems to have it all. From hiking and cuisine, to stunning resorts and the best water sports… there’s no shortage of anything on Jeju. One culture you can’t miss is the Jeju beach scene. With so many options to choose from, how does one know where to start?
Before looking at the island’s top three beaches, it would be foolish not to learn more about Jeju’s famous sea divers – the Haenyo. Let’s dive in!
The Mermaids of Jeju
When one thinks of Jeju waters, it’s almost impossible not to think of Haenyo (해녀). Haenyo literally translates to ‘sea women’, although locals affectionately call these incredible divers ‘the mermaids of Jeju’. You can easily spot their orange buoys and black wetsuits when exploring the shores of Jeju. Their history is so rich that UNESCO marked them as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2016 – a title they couldn’t be more worthy of.
Jeju has always been known for its rich seafood. In the past, particularly after the Korean War when money was short, Jeju men sailed out in search of fresh food. However, waters are dangerous off the coast. Towering waves easily shipwrecked these fishing boats. With each sailor’s farewell, their survival was never guaranteed. As the island began to lose a sizable amount of its men, women started to collect food and subsequently their income.
You may be wondering, “Why not just start a farm like the rest of Korea“? With its volcanic and mountainous terrain, farming was not an option. So, the female sea divers stuck around the coasts with no equipment or oxygen, a tradition that continues until this day. In fact, most of these women can hold their breath for up to two minutes.
One particularly unique aspect of Jeju culture is ‘Sumbisori 숨비소리‘. This is a whistle released after holding one’s breath for an extended period of time; as the Haenyo comes up for air, this magical and serene sound echoes far into the distance.
In modern Jeju, overfishing and commercialization due to the popularity of the island as a tourist attraction have meant that better food is further out of reach. Being a Haenyo was always dangerous, but now even more so. Many of these women have drowned on the hunt for fresh seafood – it would be nearly impossible to meet a Haenyo who has not lost a family member or friend. Because of the dangerous nature of this job, young women are not lining up to become Jeju mermaids. This means that the current Haenyo population averages 60 years or old, with many of them well into their 80s.
Where can I meet a Haenyo?
The most popular and commercial spot to meet a Haenyo is the beach located directly beneath Sunrise Peak (성산 일출봉). This is because they host a regular, almost daily performance of traditional Jeju fishing songs and dances. If you’re unable to attend the show, Haenyo women work all along the coast and often chat with interested parties.
Top 3 Beaches on Jeju
1. Hyeopjae Beach | 협재해변
If you’re looking for a lively place to lay in the sun, Hyeopjae is the perfect spot. Located just an hour outside of Jeju City, this is the beach first-time tourists rush to. They’re not wrong – there’s a lot to see and do on this beach that makes it worthwhile despite the crowds.
Firstly, visitors can go camping along the shoreline or in nearby campsites. There are numerous restaurants along the shore as well, including a popular Instagram spot: a shipping container village! If you want to immerse yourself in this unique area, you can check out one of the AirBnBs located inside.
One of the reasons I love this beach in particular is because of what’s across the street: Hallim Park. Hallim Park is a lush, botanical garden with plants from around the world and natural lava caves.
With so much to see and do, Hyeopjae Beach has to be at the top of your Jeju vacation list.
Address: 2497-1 Hyeopjae-ri, Hallim-eub, Jeju-si, Jeju-do | 제주도 제주시 한림읍 협재리 2497-1
Opening Times: 24/7
Amenities: Restrooms, Convenience Store, Information Center, Evacuation Facility
Parking: Available (177 Spaces)
2. Gwakji Beach | 곽지해수욕장
Looking to get away from the crowds? Come to this underdeveloped beach of Gwakji Gameul Beach. Although that might sound unappealing to some, this beach is anything but boring. The biggest draw of Gwakji Gameul Beach is its camping culture. This is a hot spot for BBQs and there is a nearby pavilion and bathhouse to help you cool off.
One famous dish nearby is the fish n’ chips from Cafe TaeHee (카페태희). If that’s not enough of a reason to convince you to go, I’m not sure what else will!
3. Pyoseon Haevichi Beach | 표선해비치해변
If you’re one of those people who really appreciate a view, you’ll need to take a trip to one of the biggest beaches on Jeju Island. Pyoseon Haevichi Beach is named after the Haevichi Resort that calls it home. Although you would suspect a resort beach would be busy all year round, this is not the case. There’s always a place to sit here, and it’s particularly beautiful at low tide when the beach stretches out even further.
One of the best reasons to visit Pyoseon Haevichi Beach is for its water sports reputation. Jeju’s eleven beaches are all suitable for surfing, but it’s here where people come to try water ski, kite surfing, jet skiing, and other sports. Don’t miss this incredibly beautiful beach and all it has to offer.
With so much to see and do on Jeju Island, these 3 beaches are only the beginning. I’m sure there are many of you who were disappointed to not see your favorite beach on our list. Please leave a comment on our social media or in the post below telling us where visitors HAVE to go! As always, keep learning!