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South Korea may not (yet) be best known for wildlife, but it actually has a variety of amazing animals. For example, 172 species of migratory birds (an estimated 1.37 million individuals) visited the south of the peninsula last winter. About 90% of the world’s water deer population is found here, while the country is home to a wide range of carnivores from the government-led moon bear reintroduction to raccoon dogs in the heart of Seoul.
So, it’s clear South Korea can be an exciting destination for wildlife watching… with some good research (hunting for SNS photos/videos and blog posts like this one!), time and a bit of luck. I say a bit of luck, as a lot of Korean wildlife remains shy around humans.
Where can we see wildlife in South Korea? Josh and I have had the same question over the years, and Eocheongdo Island is one of our latest findings! Eocheongdo (어청도) is about 70km off Gunsan, which makes it the most westerly island in Jeollabuk-do Province.
Wildlife on Eocheongdo Island
If you’re an extremely keen bird watcher, you might already be familiar with Eocheongdo Island. Eocheongdo island became noticed from 2002 for wildlife tourism, when South Korean resident and British conservationist Nial Moores discovered 228 species of birds on this island, including bluethroat, kingfisher and hoopoe. Although quite a large chunk of the island is inaccessible to the public as a military base, there’s still plenty to see as a bird watcher in the right season.
The sole reason for our trip to Eocheongdo Island was to see a mammal though, the Siberian weasel. Siberian weasels do live on the mainland of the peninsula, but Eocheongdo Island seemed to have a higher chance of spotting.
We saw possible clues in the afternoon when we arrived and were lucky to see an individual the next morning! This article in Korean features a lot of amazing wildlife photos of Siberian weasels and other birds found on Eocheongdo Island.
When to visit Eocheongdo Island for wildlife watching
We visited mid/late May in 2021 for wildlife watching but if your main purpose is to see migratory birds, try a little bit earlier as we just missed the peak. It’s usually recommended to visit between early April and mid-May and September to October. (It wasn’t a disaster for us as we wanted to see the Siberian weasel).
How to get to Eocheongdo Island for wildlife watching
You can reach Eocheongdo Island by ferry from Gunsan Coastal Ferry Terminal (군산항 연안여객터미널) in 2~2.5 hours. As the island isn’t one of the biggest and most touristy destinations, finding ferry information might not be the easiest task if you don’t speak Korean. Of course, you can head to the ferry terminal in Gusan and find out the relevant information in person; but if you wanted to plan your Eocheongdo Island trip in advance, check the sources below.
The ferry operator (대원종합선기) posts timetables for a subsequent month around the end of each month on the Band app. This is where you can find the most accurate and up-to-date information on their ferry services. You can also find timetables for Yeondo (연도), Gaeyado (개야도), Jangjado (장자도), Gwanrido (관리도), Bangchukdo (방축도), Myeongdo (명도) and Maldo (말도) if you fancy visiting other islands in this area. If you happen to use Band, you can search ‘대원종합선기’ and join the operator’s group. Otherwise, this link should also work to access the posts without signing up. FYI, their content is only in Korean.
As the operator’s Band page only provides monthly ferry timetables, it doesn’t tell you if any ferry is allowed to run on a particular day or not. The Jeollabuk-do branch of the Korea Maritime Transportation Safety Authority (KOMSA) has a separate Band page called 한국해양교통안전공단 여객선 운항 정보(전북운항관리센터). Here, you can find if the ferry/route of your interest will have any issues with the service. Unlike the ferry operator’s Band page, on this one, you do need to join the group to access the information.
Alternatively, try these landline numbers if you prefer to find out the information by giving them a call. There may or may not be a language barrier:
- Ferry operator ((유)대원종합선기): (+82)(0)63-471-8772
- Gunsan Coastal Ferry Terminal (연안여객터미널): (+82)(0)63-472-2711 or ending with 2712
Where to stay on Eocheongdo Island
We stayed at one of the places Naver search results showed with the keyword “어청도 숙박” (translated to Eocheongdo Accommodation). We did so to prevent a situation where we had nowhere to stay, because either there wasn’t enough accommodation or so many people visited the island. It turned out, however, that there were actually a lot more properties available. They just hadn’t been registered online or somehow not been picked up by the search bot. The island has a lot of ‘minbak’ (민박) options for its size. These are typically no-frills but reasonable.
I have listed several minbak options below, including those which I only found out about after we visited the island. I might have still missed some but I hope these give you a good start!
- 항구식당·민박: (+82)(0)10-4618-0801 / (+82)(0)63-464-0801
- 양지식당·민박: (+82)(0)63-466-0607 / (+82)(0)10-4623-0607
- 신흥상회 게스트하우스: (+82)(0)63-466-7117
- 은하수 펜션: (+82)(0)10-7322-2477
- 명진식당·민박: (+82)(0)10-4487-6652 / (+82)(0)63-471-0119
- 어청도민박: (+82)(0)63-465-3575 / (+82)(0)507-1490-3575
- 군산식당민박: (+82)(0)63-466-1845 / (+82)(0)10-9963-1845
- 이조식당·민박: (+82)(0)10-8453-4123 / (+82)(0)10-8452-4123
- 서해장여관: (+82)(0)63-466-1845
- 창신호식당·민박: (+82)(0)10-9982-9510
- 펜션·한아름슈퍼: (+82)(0)63-466-7938
When it comes to the room availability or price, we couldn’t find much online so I had to call them to enquire. As of May 2021, the average price range was 50,000~60,000 Korean Won per night for two people.
Accommodation recommendation for wildlife watchers in Eocheongdo Island
Typical overnight visitors to Eocheongdo Island seemed to be anglers or bird watchers. We were ‘mammal’ watchers (i.e. Siberian weasels in this specific case), but similar enough to be in the same group as bird watchers haha…
I suspect certain minbaks might attract one group more than the other, as these kinds of groups tend to have online communities to share information on their interest. For example, we happened to have picked one where most customers were anglers, while some other visitors who were bird watchers, stayed at a different one.
If you’re interested in interacting with other like-minded wildlife watchers, 양지식당·민박 or 신흥상회 게스트하우스 might suit you the best.
신흥상회(shin-heung-sang-hoe) is one of the first things you’ll see on Eocheongdo Island as you arrive. This place performs as a ticket office for your return journey, (super)market, fishing shop, bakery and guesthouse! I would’ve liked to stay here, had I discovered it when I searched online. During our visit, I chatted to the owner about the island’s wildlife and tips for spotting Siberian weasels, and he was very kind and helpful.
As you take a path to the left, you’ll see 양지민박(yang-ji minbak). I had inquired about the availability for our trip (without realising this), but unfortunately they didn’t have a spare room. This place also runs a restaurant, which could be nice and easy to sort out your meals if you stay with them. (Food options on the island are limited).
Although we stayed on the island just for a night, where our trip heavily focused on spotting a Siberian weasel(s), we had a nice getaway from Seoul, with beautiful views and roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing before our expedition. I hope this helped you plan your trip to Eocheongdo Island, and feel free to leave a comment below to share your experience!
Summary of our trip to Eocheongdo Island
- When we travelled: 22~23 May 2021
- Travel route: Seoul → Gunsan → Eocheongdo Island → Gunsan → Seoul
- How we travelled: Coach, taxi and ferry