The volcanic island of Jeju in the southern tip of South Korea is popular for its extremely attractive lava and rock formations. One of these exotic places of interest is the Sangumburi Crater, an extinct volcanic crater that is supposed to exude death and barrenness but instead it is now teeming with lush vegetation. It is just one of the hundreds of proofs that Jeju-do used to be a fiery and violent volcanic island that rose in the Korean Strait. Today, Sangumburi Crater and the rest of Jeju-do attract local and foreign tourists without end, earning the island the title “Island of the Gods”. (Others call it “Little Hawaii of Korea”.) Sangumburi Crater is Korea’s Natural Monument No. 263.
Among the many craters and peaks in Jeju-do, Sangumburi Crater is the easiest to access and enjoy. It only takes five minutes to climb up the slope on wide and well-maintained steps. The short hike leads to the main viewing platform that offers a spectacular view of the wide ocean below, Mount Halla, other Jeju volcanoes and of course, Sangumburi’s enormous crater. First-time visitors will be surprised with the size and beauty of the crater, which many describe as a natural stadium shaped by the gods. With a diameter of 2,070 meters, width of 650 meters and depth of 130 meters, Sangumburi’s crater is larger than Mount Halla’s well known crater. (Mount Halla or Halla-san, Korea’s highest peak, is Jeju-do’s main mountain located at the center of the island.) “Sangumburi” actually means “crater mountain”.
The stunning view from the platform allows visitors to see the dense trees, shrubs, magnolias, pine trees, maples, red-thorn trees, evergreens, mountain strawberries and rare winter strawberries. There are also resident Jeju Roe deer and other animals within and around the crater. Tourists are not allowed to go down since the crater’s vegetation is strictly protected. Only researchers and scientists may descend. The scientific world is baffled by how such a small area can be teeming with so many varieties of trees and plants.
There is a popular legend about Sangumburi. Locals believe that two young, star-crossed lovers lived within the crater. The father of the young lady, Maljatddal, did not approve of their love and so the young lovers decided to run away and stayed inside the crater. The couple was very happy but for some reason Maljatddal decided to live her lover, Hangam. Hangam stayed behind and took care of the animals living within the crater, and eventually became the crater’s guardian. Jeju-do hunters used to pray to Hangam for a bountiful hunt.
The crater is open for public viewing from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in summer and only until 5:30 p.m. in winter. Admission is definitely worth it at 3,000 won for adults and 1,500 for children with group discounts. Parking is free. There are also restaurants, snack corners and souvenir shops in the surrounding area. To get to Sangumburi Crater from the capital city of Jeju, the Beonnyeong-ro-bound inter-city bus leaves Jeju Bus Terminal every hour and passes by Sangumburi Station. The ride is 30 to 40 minutes. From Seogwipo, travel time is an hour and 40 minutes on board an inter-city bus that goes to Pyoseon-ri Samuso from where passengers can get on the Beonnyeong-ro inter-city bus.