Now that travel has opened up in our post-pandemic world, we’re excited to get back to exploring. If you are looking for a unique and offbeat destination to adventure in, we recommend North Korea as part of your travel bucket list.
Even though this country is often overlooked by travelers for different reasons, there are many reasons why you should travel to North Korea.
So, if you are open to an unique adventure of a lifetime – we think you should give North Korea a chance.
There are many activities and sights to choose from, and some you can absolutely not miss on your trip to North Korea.
Unfortunately, there are also some things you cannot do. This is a beautiful place to explore, but you do still need to be careful and aware of some of the rules and regulations in North Korea.
We wrote this guide to showcase some of our top tips of things you need to know to have an amazing trip abroad. If you follow our recommendations based on our experience, you shouldn’t have a problem.
This should be an obvious first place to start while planning your trip to North Korea after the mayhem of 2020.
North Korea eased COVID related restrictions in June 2022, allowing international tourists to finally enter after over two years of a strict lockdown.
Now, even though tourists are allowed to visit the country again it is still important to keep a lookout for any last moment emergency measures that could be imposed.
With new variants as well as possibility of restrictions inside the country itself, it is best to make an informed decision as you plan to visit the country. If things start to look concerning again, we recommend waiting to fly out until restrictions are lifted again.
Visiting North Korea independently as a tourist is not possible. In reality, this means that you will need to arrange for a guided tour, whether you like it or not.
This may sound intimidating but don’t worry – there are several companies specializing in organized tours.
Make sure to have a checklist ready with your budget, requirements and dates first to narrow down your options. It will make it easier to narrow down the right company to go with. We went in 2017 with Tongil Tours.
You can also think of what you are most excited to see during your trip- nature, architecture or cultural experiences. That way, when you choose a package tour too you can request for these activities to be included.
Once you have picked a tour and are ready to go off on your adventure to North Korea, be prepared to apply for a visa.
North Korea has strict entry restrictions and almost every visitor there needs a visa. Depending on your country of origin, you may also be required to go through special security checks. Side note here, during our trip we have been checked less thoroughly in North Korea than China, so it doesn’t have to be as strict as many people paint it to be.
So, check the official consulate for North Korea or consult with your tour guide to make sure you successfully apply for a visa. Most of the formalities will be handled by the tour agency, but you will need to provide them with anything they request.
Since the pandemic, visa processing times in every country have also become slower so it is important to plan your departure accordingly.
North Korea has a list of prohibited items that you cannot bring to the country which include films, posters and literature that may be considered propaganda. For example, anything to do with any religion is considered as such.
If you’re looking for the details of the kind of things that are absolutely forbidden, we have also previously written about packing for North Korea.
So, it is advisable to avoid accidentally taking these things as you may face the risk of fines or even jail. Remember to be careful when you’re packing your bags!
It can be difficult to find or get quick access to English speaking medical services when you are on a trip to North Korea.
Since the country also took a hit with a short wave of coronavirus, healthcare facilities in general are not the best in North Korea.
Check up on the medicines you’re allowed to carry and plan to take them along.
Visiting North Korea is in itself a completely unique experience.
Even as travel restrictions are being lifted around the world and people flock to other Asian countries, if you are traveling to North Korea you are already off the beaten path.
But to make this experience even more exciting, we recommend trying to plan a visit around days of significance such as the Day of The Shining Star (leader Kim Jong il’s birthday) on February 16, where you might get lucky and join a mob dance.
North Korea has a bunch of sites to explore that are beyond the capital. A lot of tourists enjoy visiting the mountains as well as the borders with South Korea.
Other places are certainly quite special but the capital city of Pyongyang is a fascinating place to soak in the history and architecture of this offbeat destination.
So, in your plans to visit, don’t forget to keep Pyongyang as part of the itinerary.
If you are a photography enthusiast and want to capture every moment of your travels, North Korea is a perfect destination for you.
But, there are special rules and regulations concerning what can be filmed inside the country by tourists. For example, all military objects, areas and movements are totally off-limits. Don’t even think about trying to sneak a photo of these things, or you could find yourself in some serious trouble.
You’ll also find it difficult to get permission to photograph things or scenes that might put the country in an unfavorable light.
Keep this in mind that unauthorized pictures are strictly prohibited and even punishable. For example, taking a photo of only a part of the “Great Leader” is not allowed. If you’re taking a photo of his image – it must be in full.
It can seem frustrating to curb your enthusiasm for photography, but you can navigate this by planning ahead with your tour guide who will inform you about the possibilities as well as best spots to take pictures.
When planning your trip to North Korea, make sure to keep the Demilitarized Zone as a priority too.
You may feel that it is quite tricky and complex to visit this border zone with South Korea – but in reality it is not!
It is a truly unique border where visitors are allowed to explore within demarcated zones. So, make sure to request this in your tour too.
North Korea is indeed safe to travel when you’re inside the country and it is not highly common for tourists to feel unsafe there.
But, because of the country’s political positioning with other governments and its recent activities, many countries issue advisories to avoid visiting North Korea.
It is wise to keep track of political updates too to make a final decision on your plan to visit North Korea.
As travelers embark on journeys around the world with covid restrictions finally easing out, North Korea is a one of its kind place that is again (kind of) open to the world.