For years, I've heard South Korean friends swoon on the mention of Jeju Island, a semi-tropical island south of the Korean peninsula. It's a volcanic island, and although none of the volcanoes have been active in a long time, the previous volcanic activity has left behind a wonderful, lush and fertile landscape.


Jeju is also popular as a honeymoon destinations for Koreans who can't afford a holiday abroad, and is becoming increasingly popular with Chinese holidaymakers (and shoppers - many Koreans are terrified how they are building shopping centres with the popular Korean cosmetics brands opposite the major landmarks).

As the island is all geared up for tourism with all kind of commercial kitsch, I had heard mixed reviews. Many Western visitors seemed disappointed by the touristyness, while Koreans simply proclaimed "If you rent a car, you can easily get off the beatren path and experience a quiet and peaceful island". Renting a car wasn't going to be an option for us, as Koreans have... well, an interesting driving style, which ranges from passive aggressive to lethally aggressive.

We did figure out a way to make it work and see a lot of the island. The strategy: Split our week in Jeju between the two main cities and transport hubs and use public transport as well as taxis to walk some of the Jeju Olle Trails. "Olle" is Jeju dialect for the mud path that would traditionally lead from the country road to somebody's house. A few years ago, Jeju's tourism agency decided to set up a few dozen walking trails along the island, mainly along the coast, that allow a more sustainable kind of tourism and exploration of the island.

a temple along the trail
While the Olle website is quite good (and this being South Korea, many parts of the trails have wifi coverage), make sure to stop by at the Olle counter at airport (or other main tourist informations, I assume), where you can get a free booklet detailing all the walks. We were thoroughly impressed with the map, booklet and paths in any regard. The book details how to get to any starting point of the trail, how to get back to the main cities from the end point, points out which parts of the trail are more difficult than others and even shows toilets as well as restaurants. The trails themselves are marked on the floor, with sign posts as well as ribbons tied to trees and various objects. They are maintained very well and it's really impossible to get lost!

Not a hiker? Neither are we - I'm pretty terrified of any elevation over 300 metres! Luckily, most Olle trails are more like long walking routes rather than hiking trails that require alpine level gear and fitness. The trails are also rated from "easy" to "medium" and "difficult" to "very difficult. Most trails are between 12 - 20 km long, which makes them ideal for a day hike.

trail markers as inspired by Jeju's own tiny ponies
We spent 3 days in Seogwipo, the main "tourist town" in the south of the island. From here, we hiked Olle trail 6 and 7-1. The last three days were spent in Jeju city, from where we took on trail 17 and 18. The Olle booklet provides information on how to get to the starting and end points with buses, which do exist and are easy to use in Jeju, but we just used the plentyful taxis and showed the drivers the hiking map. All of them easily understood where we wanted to go and what we were up. We found the drivers in Jeju extremely kind and honest. Even though we speak zero Korean, it was easy to get where we wanted to go by just hailing any taxi off the street. Taxis are cheap, too - we usually paid around $7-8 for a distance of around 10 km to get to the beginning of the walking trails - a price that makes waiting for the semi-hourly bus redundant if you ask me! Returning to our accommodation at the end point was easy, too - two paths actually ended in the city where we stayed. Other times we took a bus or another taxi home (make sure to have a business card or the address written down, although most drivers know the island much better than in other Korean cities - they always knew exactly where we wanted to go to, even when it was a random apartment block where our Air BnB studion was located).

Considering the trails are promoted so heavily, we barely saw any other hikers - in any case, we were the only non-Koreans hiking them. We did take an organised tour one day and none of the other foreign tourists had even heard of this option (and some thought that walking 15 km sounded like torture... oh well).

My favourite walk turned out to be 7-1, the first one we took, as it hugs the coastline. Overall, I preferred the southern side of the island, as the areas around Jeju City are pretty built up and 1/3 of the Olle 17 trail ran parallel to the main tourist resort street. Apart from that part though, we meandered through quiet villages, oreums (volcano craters!), past endless tangerines, black beaches (due to the volcanic rock everywhere on the island) and met many friendly and cute farm dogs that randomly followed us along the trails, demanding our love.

Now when Koreans sigh at the mention of Jeju, I understand what they mean - the island is a world away from the rest of frenetic, built up South Korea. I will definitely be back - there are many other routes to explore, which can also be easily accessed from other villages and towns on the island.



BONUS Puppies we met along the trails:








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