There’s something that a lot of first-time travelers to Jeju don’t realize: the island is huge.
Most people think they can fly in to Jeju in the morning, hike Hallasan mountain, visit 3 or 4 museums, spend an afternoon at the beach, maybe do a little shopping in Lotte Duty Free, before getting on the last flight out back to Seoul or Busan.
Even allotting two days in the island is not enough, not even for fast-paced travelers.
But if you only have two days and you want to experience Jeju’s beautiful natural landscape, you should go to Udo Island.
Udo Island – Jeju’s mini-me
Jeju is home to a variety of natural landscapes unique to the subtropics. But its sheer vastness will take a while to explore – even when driving a rental car, getting from one location to the next can mean hours of driving.
Udo, an island located 3.5 kilometers off the eastern coast, is a compact version of Jeju. With its variety of beaches (white sand, black sand, rock formations), scenic peaks, romantic lighthouses, and fields of flowers, it’s a quicker and more relaxing way to experience Jeju.
It’s also far less commercialized than the main island. While you will find tourist-friendly infrastructure and amenities, and you can encounter a bit of traffic, you won’t find giant malls and hotel chains in this island.
Here’s how a day trip to Udo Island looks like.
(If you need more information about driving in South Korea, read this guide. To get to Udo via public transportation, read all the way down to the essential information section.)
A day in Udo Island
(UPDATE: Since August 2017, rental cars are banned from Udo Island (news clip here). You can go around the island by renting ATVs, bikes, and scooters – you’ll need a license and a passport to do so. We made this trip around the island with a rental car before the ban was enforced.)
8:30 AM – an early start from Seogwipo
From Seogwipo City, we began our adventure with a drive to Seongsan port on the eastern side of Jeju island, where ferries to Udo depart every hour. It was a gorgeous drive through the island’s eastern countryside, peppered by late-blooming canola fields and long stretches of “silver zones” – crossings for senior citizens where CCTVs check if you are driving at 50-kph. Set your GPS’s volume to audible – you’ll thank it for all the traffic warning signs.
Set your GPS to go to Seongsan Port. If you’re using a Korean GPS, you can enter the phone number: +64 782 5671. (Learn how to use the Korean GPS here.)
9:30 AM – chaos at the port
We arrived at the port filled with people and cars. It was a Saturday so there were a lot of local tourists with us.
First challenge of the day: getting a car ferry ticket to Udo.
We parked our car and walked to the ticket station, a busy building right by the pier. Inside was a confusing scene – there must have been a hundred people and a dozen lines, all with Korean labels.
In the center of the room was a long table, where groups of people were huddled and writing on pieces of paper.
I glance warily at the pile of paper – yes! Some were in English. We filled up our names, passport numbers, our car’s details (always handy to have a photo of your car on your phone, including license plates), and then walked to the window with the shortest line.
We didn’t even get a chance to use our Google translate app. The friendly, albeit a little harassed, woman behind the window took our slip with a smile and confirmed in perfect English: “Two persons, one car?”
“Yes!” we answered. In a matter of seconds, the woman computed our fare, we handed our payment, and became the proud owners of round-trip ferry tickets for two persons and one car to Udo.
“That was easy,” my friend and I said, almost in unison. The woman behind the window cracked a smile as she handed our tickets and wished us a great day.
9:50 AM – light, light!
We made our way to the back of the long line of cars waiting to get on board the ferry. Information online said ferries leave the port every hour but probably because it was a busy Saturday, a ferry left loaded with cars and passengers almost every 15 minutes.
We watched how the cars went it, turning around near the edge of the port so they could go into the ferry in reverse.
When it was my turn, I coolly drove to the edge of the port, turned around, started to drive into the ferry in reverse, expertly checking my mirrors and watching the attendant, waiting for instructions. And then –
Attendant: Light, light!
I turned on my light.
Attendant: No!!! Don’t touch!
He lost his cool and stomped over to the driver side, putting his hand through my open window. He then started turning the steering wheel to the right, which left me pressing on the gas and laughing with my friend.
I have to say, this modified valet parking service was pretty interesting.
10:15 AM – touchdown, Udo
The ferry was a quick 15-minute ride and by this time, my friend and I were giddy school girls. We watched the island getting bigger on the horizon, trying to figure out how exactly it was cow-shaped (as the name Udo is apparently derived from the Chinese word for cow; which is how the island looks like), and what it was about lighthouses that was so romantically melancholic. Was it their solitude amidst the vast emptiness of the sea? Was it their unconditional commitment to be a beacon of light to passing ships that never stop by?
Our philosophizing was interrupted by the arrival of the ferry to Cheonjin Port – and now it was time for brunch.
10:30 AM – a taste of black pork and island hospitality
From Cheonjin port, we drove to the left. (Most of the people were driving to the right, and we wanted to escape the crowd.) A few minutes later, we saw a poster of a burger – the best advertising at this point.
We stopped by Bongkkeurang (phone number for GPS: +64 784 8899) for their specialty: coffee and homemade burgers.
As we were in Jeju, the black pork burger was a must. Made from the Jeju black domestic pig, black pork was a staple of restaurants both in the main island of Jeju and in Udo, and a must-try when in the region.
At some point after taking a dozen photos of our black pork burger and coffee, the shop’s ajumma (auntie) saw our un-ladylike attempts to bite off the huge burger. She chuckled and gave us knives, and then proceeded to speak to us in Korean.
Using one the few Korean words I’ve picked up from watching dramas, I gestured at my burger and said: “Mashisoyo.” (맛있어요 / It’s delicious.) This earned us a huge smile from the nice lady and, minutes later, a plate of complimentary peanut bread – another of Udo’s specialties.
11:40 AM – Seobin Baeksa the white
After brunch, we drove further north to Seobin Baeksa (also known as Udo Sanho Beach; phone number for GPS: +64 728 3393).
The turquoise and emerald hues of the sea took all of the attention from the fine white sand. We spent a while splashing up to our ankles in the cool water (it was mid-May) and then walked across the street to get a giant cup of peanut ice cream.
Right before it was our turn on the line, dance music started blasting and laser lights transformed the ice cream stall into a day rave party. The ice cream man puts on a headset and starts getting requests from the crowd, churning out fancy ice cream cups after another.
In an attempt to burn the thousands of calories we’ve ingested since setting foot on Udo, we walked up and down the beach, looking at matching couple bikes in envy, wondering if we should have left the car back at Seongsan Port instead. At the northern tip of the beach, we saw the long winding road further north of Udo, and promptly congratulated ourselves for bringing the car.
1:40 PM – Geommeolle the black
We continued our counterclockwise drive around the island, stopping at various viewpoints along the road, until we reached the Geommeolle Beach along the eastern side of Udo (+64 728 3394).
Geommeolle’s claim to fame is its short black-sand beach, which culminates in a cave behind big boulders. Along its short coast, you’ll also find the catch of the women divers served fresh. (Read about the divers here.)
2:15 PM – up the Udobong peak
We continued southward and reached the entrance to the Udobong Peak (+64 728 2742). This is the highest spot on the island, offering great views of Udo and Jeju.
At mid-May, only few patches of canola remain, but if you happen to visit from late March to April, you will be treated to a field of yellow flowers in this park.
Despite the overcast day, the view was undoubtedly breathtaking – and not just because of the steep hike. The vast green fields punctuated by yellow and violet flowers against the tranquil blues of the sea gave us an affinity for the lying cow, to which the island was named. This was definitely a place for rest – a holiday within a holiday.
We took our snaps at the peak, then headed back down and drove back to the port. In less than an hour, we were back in Jeju.
4 PM – chasing the sunset at Seongsan Ilchulbong
Back in Jeju, we headed to Seongsan Ilchulbong (+64 783 0959), the volcano that we saw from the Udobong peak.
Seongsan (“castle hill”, as its form resembles a grand castle) Ilchulbong (“sunrise”) is a geological star, described in Wikipedia as an “archetypal tuff cone formed by hydrovolcanic eruptions upon a shallow seabed 5 thousand years ago.” Apart from providing geologists with a plethora of information on hydromagmatic volcanoes, Seongsan Ilchulbong’s location and elevation has provided gorgeous sunrises (and even sunsets for the night owls) to countless travelers to Jeju Island, worthy of its World Natural Heritage status.
We hiked up to the peak, taking an hour with plenty of rests in between. The thick clouds blocked any hint of a sunset, but the calming views of the sea and vast green spaces more than made up for it. The round-trip trek took us about 90 minutes.
Back in our car, we drove an hour back to Seogwipo and straight to Chilsimni Food Street (+64 733 9934), where we had our fill of seafood.
Essential information – How to visit Udo Island
From Jeju, you can reach Udo Island via a 15-minute ferry ride from the Seongsan Port. You can go around the island in a day, either by driving around, renting a bike, joining a tour bus group, or hiking the Jeju Olle Trail. A day trip to Udo Island can be coupled with a trip to Seongsan Ilchulbong.
Getting there and around
- Get your rental car from Jeju City (good to book online in advance here)
- Drive to Seongsan Port – from Jeju airport or within Jeju City, it will take you about 90 minutes to get to Seongsan Port; from Seogwipo City, it will take you about 45-60 minutes to get to Seongsan Port
- At Seongsan Port, purchase a round-trip ferry ticket for the car and all visitors
Useful GPS phone numbers for driving to Udo Island
- Notes: You can find more information on driving in South Korea here and how to use the Korean GPS using phone numbers here. Always verify your destination before beginning your drive. If you note any inaccuracies, please send me an email so I can update the guides – your input will be much appreciated!
- Jeju area code: +64
- Seongsan Port – 782-5671
- Bongkkeurang Café and Bakery – 784-8899
- Seobin Baeksa / Udo Sanho Beach – 728-3393
- Geommeolle Beach – 728-3394
- Udobong Peak – 728-2742
- Seongsan Ilchulbong – 783-0959
- From the Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal, take Bus no. 701 or 710 to Seongsanhang Port Bus Stop. Walk to the Ferry terminal then ride a ferry to Udo Island.
- Once in Udo, you can join a tour bus or rent a bike or scooter. Take note that if you are renting any motorized vehicle (ATV, scooter), you will need a driving license. For foreign travelers, you need your international driving permit.
Things to see and do
- See descriptions and photos above: Seobin Baeksa, Geommeolle Beach, Udobong Peak
- Check out the Jeju Olle Trail – the course in Udo (route 1-1) runs for 11.3 KM and takes about 4-5 hours. Take note of the emergency contact number for Jeju Olle trails – +64 762 2190. Read more about the Jeju Olle Trails here.
- Food specialties: black pork, peanut ice cream, and abalones
- Combine with a trip to Seongsan Ilchulbong
Where to stay
- Udo Island accommodations: You can easily visit Udo as a day trip from Jeju, but during the summer months, you may want to stay a bit longer to enjoy the beautiful beaches. You can stay at Udo Story – beds start at USD 20.
- Seongsan Ilchulbong accommodations: You can also stay near the Seongsan Ilchulbong, especially if you’re keen on seeing the sunrise from the peak. Stay at Preun Jeju Pension (double rooms start at USD 45) or at Seongsanpo Love Pension (studios start at USD 80).
- Seogwipo accommodations: Seogwipo City is a great base for traveling around the southern part of Jeju island. You’ll also have access to plenty of restaurants, cafés, and convenience stores, as well as many of Jeju’s attractions in the south area. Check out these accommodations: Good day Pension (studios start at USD 70), Hostel Strawberry Field (twin rooms start at USD 40), and Mimong (double rooms start at USD 35).
Map – Udo Island
Find out the best hotels and spots to stay in Jeju Island in this comprehensive guide.
Want to see more of South Korea? Check out these other Little Holidays guides!
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I hope this guide helps you have a fun day trip to Udo Island! There is much more to see in South Korea, so be sure to check out the rest of my guides here.
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