Destinations / South Korea

Udo Island: Paradise Between Heaven and Sea

Udo, located in Jeju-do province, is one of the most beautiful places I have visited in the world. It is a small island that may not seem impressive, and outside of Koreans, few people visit it because it is a tiny island off another island: Jeju. But it’s home to some breathtaking natural treasures.

To get to Udo, you have to take the ferry from Sunrise Peak (Seongsan Ichulbong) on the northeast of Jeju, which is already a beautiful place where a mountain with a remarkable shape rises in the sea. It seems to me that it was formerly a crater, as there are many of these remnants of the volcanic past on Jeju, which have marked the history and geology of Jeju.

Udo island from Seongsan Ichulbong
Udo island from Seongsan Ichulbong, Jeju.

Udo, a secret mysterious paradise island

Arriving at Udo means setting foot on a tiny island that can be circled by bike in less than an hour. But it’s also the beginning of discovering a different world, lost between sky and sea. Forget the frenzy of South Korea and leave behind the civilization of Jeju City! Udo is something else entirely. I was even told that the island is governed by an old woman who decides who can or cannot live on this remote island… Anybody cannot become an inhabitant of this special island.

Upon arriving, the first thing I did was rent a bike to go around the island. This allows you to explore every corner, from the coast to the top of Udo, and to cross – among other things – the rice fields that cover the isle’s back slopes, potentially catching a glimpse of cows grazing peacefully (“udo” means “cow” in Korean). I loved watching the wind shaking the rice fields, creating a carpet of green ripples… Straight out of a Miyazaki animation film!

Udo island
Udo island’s lighthouse

Udo’s beaches and sea caves

I also stopped at a few beaches before heading to what interested me the most: the sea caves. Since I was a child, I have been dreaming of entering caves where the sea rushes in. And in Udo, they were rather easy to access at the time, and open to visitors… on foot. So all I had to do was descend to the beaches and climb a few rocks to access the belly of the island.

There was only one sea cave accessible when I was there during the low season: Dongan Gyeong-gul (동안경굴) – which was actually a great thing, as I was able to spend a long time admiring the sea rushing on the cliff walls. Apparently, it’s possible to view this sea cave only by boat now, so make sure you get the right information from locals at the ferry dock before heading there.

In the first cavity, many small stone towers had been erected, a sign of the sacredness of the place. This helps the spirits to cross over to the afterlife (a similar belief as the one I described for the Jizo buddhas in Japan). At high tide, the first cave fills with water and it is almost impossible to cross without getting wet.

Beyond the first cavity, one enters a cave of a completely different shape, which resembles a stone chapel and where the waves that crash create an impressive echo. In fact, there have already been symphonic orchestra concerts in this incredible cave!

Sea cave at Udo island.
Sea cave at Udo island.

Sunrise and sunset at Udo

When I visited Udo Island, I was obsessed with sunsets and sunrises. I was ready to wake up early, drive, bike, hike, or anything! And honestly… at Udo, I witnessed what’s probably the most beautiful cycle of the sun I’ve seen. I remember the wind beating against the sides of the island during the sunset. The sea was rough that week (and that’s also why the other marine caves on Udo were not accessible at the time.) But that certainly didn’t stop the sun from setting on the powerful waves that were licking the coasts of Jeju island, visible in the background. The sun was like a ball of fire descending directly into the sea. The winds were swallowing its flamboyant colors that evening.

Sunset at Udo island
Sunset at Udo island

As it was the low season (I recommend to all travelers to visit South Korea at such a time, not only for the low prices but also because you often have accommodations all to yourself!), I had an 8-bed dormitory room to myself, and I could come and go as I pleased. On the first day, I spotted an incredible place to watch the sunrise on the east coast of the island.

I had to get up early because I had to bike across the whole island to get to the right place at the right time. I chose to pedal as fast as possible at 5 in the morning and cut through the hills. I crossed paths with the early morning residents of the island, who I think were wondering what had gotten into me. And I have no regrets! Even today, if someone asked me where the most beautiful sunrise of my life was, I would talk about Udo.

Sunrise at Udo island
Sunrise at Udo island

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