Diving Jeju Island
Korea is not somewhere that immediately springs to mind as a diving destination, but for those who venture this way, a fantastic experience awaits. While there are several locations on the mainland, the best diving is to be found a hundred miles south, on unique Jeju Island. Here the water temperature is more welcoming and you can experience some fascinating sealife. In the spring you can swim among the giant kelp forests, and at any time there’s some amazing soft coral to see, thickly lining the reef walls. Just as special are the places you dive from, which help to make diving in Jeju a truly remarkable experience.
The island itself has a long history of free diving, where generations of women have descended to gather shellfish. It’s a fascinating part of the island’s culture that you can learn about and still witness today, all around Jeju’s 400km coastline.
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Where To Dive?
The best place to dive on the island is off the coast of Seogwipo, Jeju’s second city.
It’s here you’ll find the only English speaking dive operator, Big Blue 33. The tall, broad shouldered, no-nonsense German, Ralf Deutsch, has been running his dive shop in Seogwipo for around twenty years. He’s fluent in English and Korean, as well as his native German, and has a wealth of knowledge about the underwater landscape, and the creatures who inhabit it. A big, serious man who runs the show with cool expertise, Ralf is no light-hearted joker. But get him talking about some of the fascinating things under the water and you’ll see the twinkle in his eye.
*Update – This dive shop still exists, but Ralf has now moved on and it’s under new ownership*
The Dive Sites
The dive sites are unique – we’ve certainly not experienced anything quite like it. There are a few different sites but the set up is the same. Arrive at the shop for 9:00, sort out your gear, quick drive to the port, load up the fishing boat, short trip to a rocky island, unload everything and get ready to dive. Then it’s a giant stride off the rocky shelf and down into the depths you go.
Loading up the fishing boat at Seogwipo port
After the first dive you rest back on the island for an hour with water, tea and snacks, then it’s back in for the second dive. When everyone’s done and the gear is packed, Ralf calls the boatman and the process is repeated in reverse. You’re usually back and finished by 2:30-3:00.
Hanging out between dives at Munsom Bay
Our last trip there was during a harvest supermoon, and we had an interesting experience at the dive site. The tide was so high that the rock shelf was under a couple feet of water. We had to unload the gear, stack it high against the wall above the tide line, and get ready with the water lapping round our legs. The island was pretty busy that day too with lots of dive groups vying for space, but it was really good-natured, a party atmosphere. On that day and others, we found that the location of the dive sites really added to the experience, making it as enjoyable as the diving itself.
Under The Water
The three different locations we’ve dived at with Ralf have all been a little different, the underwater geography ranging from sharp drop offs to gentle slopes. Common to them all is the lush purple and orange soft coral, waving and bouncing in the current, a cross between giant cauliflower and broccoli.
Diving at Little Munsom
Among it all there are many sea creatures to look out for, from moray eels and octopuses to giant schools of squid and dancing camelback shrimps. It’s a dark, dim, greeny-blue world, seeming more mysterious and secretive than the bright blue tropical waters elsewhere. A genuinely fascinating diving experience.
Safety Stop at Munsom Bay
How Much Is It?
You can do anything from a two dive day to a three day package, and it’s also possible to do diving courses, certifications and even a Try Scuba if you’re a newbie. Prices start at 100,000 for a two dive day, with an extra 30,000 for full gear rental. For a full price list, all the details, and some excellent underwater photography to whet your appetite, head over to the dive shop’s website.
We’ve stayed at the Gudeok Guesthouse on two separate trips to Seogwipo and love it! It’s a family run place and Mr. Kim is super helpful and friendly. He speaks enough English to talk you through options for just about anything you want to do on Jeju. The common areas have been recently renovated and it has an awesome rooftop terrace with sofas, a small kitchen, tables, etc. Self-service breakfast is included in the new open plan kitchen on the ground floor. This guesthouse has both private rooms and dorms rooms and is a great budget option in a central location, an easy ten minute walk to the dive shop.
If that’s not your style, there are plenty of options to choose from to suit your tastes and budget.
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Jeju Island is easily accessible by air from Seoul, Busan and other major cities on the mainland. A plethora of flights depart and arrive each day at Jeju International Airport in Jeju City.
If you’re heading straight for Seogwipo, the best option is the airport limousine bus. It picks up and drops off at all the south coast resorts before arriving in Seogwipo. It takes between an hour and an hour and a half.
Otherwise, if you’re coming from Jeju City itself or elsewhere on the island, the public bus system is extremely easy to use. Check out this website for up to date bus routes and schedules, as well as live tracking. Also, visitjeju.net gives you up to date bus information on an excellent English language version site, with a downloadable PDF of all the bus routes.
Download Kakao Maps (Android/iOS) or Naver Maps (Android/iOS) too for easy to use live bus tracking, and to find your nearest bus stop. Since the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, Naver maps is now available in English and Kakao Maps translates a lot into English as well (try both to see which one works best for you). A word of warning though, the English translations may be different from the ones that appear on the bus screens. Keep an eye on the screens behind the bus driver – they tell the name of the upcoming stop and the next one.
Buy a T-money card for 3,000₩ at any convenience store, put 10,000₩ on it to get you started and top it up anytime. Then you can just tap on and off any bus in Jeju, or any bus or subway in Korea. It’s the easiest way to pay, your balance pops up each time and if you change buses or lines within 30 minutes, you won’t pay for the second journey.
START PLANNING YOUR DIVING JEJU TRIP
Diving in Jeju Island is a great experience, especially around Seogwipo. And it’s not just the diving itself, but the trip to the dive sites and the unique conditions there that all combine to make it particularly special.
What’s more, Seogwipo is a cool place to hang out. There are lots of amazing restaurants and cafes, and some stunning walks and waterfalls in and around town.
It’s a the perfect Jeju Island base. From here you can hike Hallasan, South Korea’s highest mountain, and explore the island’s beautifully varied coastline on the Jeju Olle Trail. It’s easy to combine a few days diving with all these other great outdoor activities, making it the perfect destination for a week, or even longer.
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