One of the things I was dreaming about before I got to Ulleungdo was swimming in the sea. I love to swim and unfortunately Seongju did not really have a close or readily available place to swim. My dreams of just being able to walk down to the ocean for a swim were a little dashed when we arrived but all was not lost! There are several swimming spots a short bus drive away from our home and as the days keep getting warmer, Monique and I will take full advantage of those on our weekends to go snorkeling.
The water around the island is normally crystal clear and has always looked ideal for snorkeling, so we ordered snorkeling equipment on Gmarket. On a side note, Gmarket and Coupang are fantastic on the island, despite being accessible only by a 3 hour ferry ride, delivery only adds about 5000 Won and maybe 1 extra day.
There does not seem to be any restrictions on where you can swim on Ulleungdo, if you find a spot that looks great, hop in! Just be warned that there will be nobody looking out for you and the ocean can get incredibly deep incredibly quickly. Add unknown currents on to that and it can get very dangerous, so just be careful!
Snorkeling at 동구미 (Tongumi)
Our first adventure was to the sandy beach of 동구미 (Tongumi). The wind was chilly but the sun was up and we decided to try break in our snorkeling gear. Waves were up a bit with the wind but the swimming area is quite protected. When we got there we set up on a sunny pier away from the touristy Turtle Rock and I went to try the water. It was cold. Nay it was bloody freezing! I don’t mind a cold swim but this was something else! I soldiered on though and managed to swim out a little bit. Because of the waves and the sandy beach visibility was zero and I lost interest very quickly! It was still a great day out and felt like a mini-holiday in the middle of the school term.
Snorkeling at 학포 (Hakpo)
The next weekend the weather was the warmest it has been since we got here and we decided to try our luck out at 학포 (Hakpo). It takes about 40 minutes by bus and then another 15 minute walk down to the beach but oh my it was worth it. We we pretty much on our own and it was glorious out there! The sea was sparkling blue and clear as glass. There was a small shelter above the beach for us to leave our things and as a slight respite from the sun.
It is a small struggle down to the water as the staircase ends early and you’re left to find your own way across the rocks. Getting into the water can also be a tough; the rocks are pretty slippery. But the water gets deep nice and quickly and the swimming was great. The water was cold but we didn’t die and we spent nearly an hour floating around and having fun filming! As the water has been getting warmer we are seeing more and more fish turn up. There are also a lot of Aplysia Kurodai for sea slug fans out there, not the most beautiful but fun to watch.
Some of my students recommended Hakpo as the best swimming location. There are lots of advertisements for glass bottom boats and diving around so our isolation probably won’t last. For now though we will probably be there every weekend having a unwind!
Snorkeling at 천부 (Cheonbu)
Our goal was to go for a swim around the 3 Angels near Gwaneumdo (a small island accessible by bridge). Unfortunately the sea was a little too rough so we slowly made our way back along the coastline to Cheonbu. If the sea had been calmer there are lots of places that would have been ideal for a snorkel, so keep your eyes open for good spots!
Cheonbu has a “swimming pool”; basically just an area in the ocean that they have cordoned off with the big concrete blocks. It is near the underwater observatory, you can’t miss it. The great thing about this area though was that despite the sea being rough, the waves were muted in the “pool”.
From the shore it only looks knee deep but as you swim out it drops several metres almost immediately. There wasn’t much sea-life when we were there but it is a great place for a swim, probably one of my favourite on Ulleungdo.
Snorkeling at 몽돌 (Mongdol)
Mongdol beach is just past Jeodong. If you get on the Joedong bus that isn’t to the Bongnae waterfall you can get driven right to the entrance road down to the beach. For more information on the Ulleungdo buses check out our post on Ulleungdo Hacks.
It is a beautiful area and we were really excited to get into the water. Like Hakpo beach, there are lots of water activities going on at this beach. There is also a restaurant overlooking the beach.
Mongdol beach has been a bit of mixed bag with swimming experiences. The first time we went to swim there, when we got into the water we realised that there was a type of oil in the water. It was really strange and I’m not sure exactly what it was. I the water had a really strange taste and there was almost no life in the water. The jet skiing and other water activities were also taking over the water and it was just unpleasant.
We happened to give the place another chance a few weeks later. When we arrived there was no one else and we had the beach to ourselves. The water was clear and actually had a lot of life. I even saw a squid! There is also a strange, fluorescent algae that I saw growing on some rocks, it was beautiful.
So Mongdol beach could be great or it could be terrible. Give it a try if you’re in the area because when it’s been good, it has been great. There is also a scuba company in a pension that overlooks the beach. If scuba is your thing, give them a visit, but they book up fast!
Snorkeling at 저동 (Jeodong)
I found this spot quite by chance! I found a video of some tourists doing a really high bridge jump on Ulleungdo and decided I wanted to do the same. So I found the spot on the old Jeodong Sea Walkway (out of use now), and jumped off the bridge. You can watch the video here:
Before I jumped off the bridge I wanted to make sure the water was deep enough so I went for a snorkel around there. I had expected a similar experience to the other beaches we had been swimming at, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Firstly you need to climb down on to the rocks next to the water, the pathway doesn not lead there. Secondly you have to jump in, you cannot walk as the rock just drops off into the water. Finally, the world disappears as you jump in. The ocean on there is exceptionally deep and the ground just disappears off into the blue.
It scared the crap out of me when I first jumped in and I could just imagine some monster of the deep swimming out of the blue. Other than that it was an incredible snorkeling experience. The water was really warm and the area had the best marine life I have seen so far around Ulleungdo.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous I would highly recommend swimming around here and maybe jumping off the bridge. Just be careful, it is very much the open ocean!
Snorkeling at 현포 (Hyeonpo)
Near Hyeonpo there is a black pebble beach. If you head out of Hyeonpo back towards Dodong you will see the road split, the main road goes up the hill but the road you want to take carries on along the shore.
Follow this road until you reach a large, marine research centre. You may recognise this area as it is visible from the viewing area at the top of the Taeha monorail. Being quite far off the main road this beach is quiet. There aren’t any water activities like at Hakpo and Mongdol but if you want to snorkel it is ideal.
There was a fair amount of sea life and there is a very large area to explore. This beach was great but it was a little far out so getting there can be a little inconvenient. On the plus side you are near Hyeonpo which has the best Jjangmyeon on Ulleungdo! If you don’t know what that is check out our post on Korean food.
Final thoughts on snorkeling around Ulleungdo
Ulleungdo is a great place to snorkel. The water is exceptionally clear and it gets deep very quickly. The water can be very cold, especially around April and May but you shouldn’t need an exposure suit.
Almost all the beaches are rocky and lack shade so come prepared for sun and spending time to find an appropriate sitting spot.
My best advice would be to find a area that looks great and hop in! I can’t wait for my next swim.
For a complete overview of Ulleungdo, what to see and what to do, make sure to read the most comprehensive English guide to Ulleungdo Island online, with a free, downloadable pdf guide.
Safe travels and blue skies!
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