South Korea is well known for many things, but mostly for its technology, heritage and steady economy. People may not typically think of Korea in matters of mountains, volcanoes and caves, but this major Asian country definitely has a lot more to offer. South Korea is proud to host three UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites, all found within the Jeju volcanic island and lava tubes.
The UNESCO citation points to natural treasures around the world that deserve to be viewed, preserved and protected by all peoples for years without end. Host countries are made responsible to the sites’ preservation, protection and promotion. Many countries around the world desire to have at least one heritage site, but South Korea has three just within the island of Jeju.
The three most important natural sites in this volcanic island are Mount Halla, Seongsan Ilchulbong and the Manjanggul lava tube. Mount Halla or Halla-san used to be an active volcano in the center of the island. The island is teeming with spectacular lava formations, thanks to the volcanic activities of Halla-san eons ago. There are hundreds of lava tubes and rocky outgrowths that attract tourists from all over South Korea and around the world. Jeju volcanic island or Jeju-do is found in the Korean Strait, south of the Korean Peninsula. Tourists come in every day on leading airlines from most of the major cities in the world through the Jeju International airport or ferry ports in Jeju City, the island’s capital. Today, Mount Halla-san is the top tourist draw in Jeju-do for its rich flora and fauna and the spectacular view on top.
Seongsan Ilchulbong, on the other hand, is a spectacular volcanic peak with 99 sharp rocks rising vertically from the ground. The site looks like a gigantic rock crown, and at its center is a crater that is 600 meters in diameter. The peak’s main attraction is a stunning sunrise view, which is why it is popularly called “Sunrise Peak”. Tourists also come here to hike, stroll and ride on horseback along the peak’s ridge. Seongsan Ilchulbong is located in the town of Songsan-ri in the eastern part of the island.
The third UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site is Manjanggul lava tube. It is an 8-km deep cave that is popular for many eerie and unique lava formations including the “Stone Turtle”, a stone formation that interestingly resembles Jeju Island. The most popular attraction among spelunkers is the 23-meter high lava column, the largest known lava column in the world. In addition to the UNESCO citation, in 1962, this lava tube was also designated as a National Nature Monument. Only a kilometer of the cave is open to the public for a 40-minute long tour.
These are just three of the many rare and exotic natural attractions on Jeju volcanic island and lava tubes. There are also cliffs, springs, waterfalls and more than 100 lava tubes in the island, although not all are open for tourism. This unique island is truly a treat for tourists and a wide open laboratory for researchers, scholars, and scientists.