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North Korea opens to first overseas tour group since pandemic

Is North Korea slowly relinquishing its 'Hermit Kingdom' status? The shuttered state welcomed 100 Russian tourists – the first international visitors since 2020 – on 9 February 2024 for a four-day private tour of North Korea from Pyongyang.

Is North Korea slowly relinquishing its ‘Hermit Kingdom’ status? The shuttered state welcomed 100 Russian tourists – the first international visitors since 2020 – on 9 February 2024 for a four-day private tour of North Korea from Pyongyang.

The international visit is a significant tourism milestone for the famously reclusive nation, which had some of the world’s strictest border restrictions during the pandemic.

It still hasn’t fully reopened to international tourism after more than four years.

Currently, tourists can only venture as far as the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), a 4km-wide strip of land separating North and South Korea, on an official tour from Seoul.

Prayer ribbons for peace at Korean DMZ. Image: Yeongsik Im/Shutterstock

However, as economic and military allies, North Korea and Russia have close diplomatic ties.

The Russian tour group flew from Vladivostok to Pyongyang on a North Korean-operated Air Koryo flight, according to a Russian embassy Facebook post.

The group, comprised of tourism professionals and travellers from around Russia, was due to spend four days sightseeing, including stops in the capital, Pyongyang, and visiting a ski resort.

Masikryong Ski Resort in North Korea. Image: Terimma/Shutterstock

Masikryong Ski Resort is a 3.5-hour drive from Pyongyang and is a major attraction built in just 10 months to attract tourism.

According to Seoul-based NK News, in 2019 Chinese tourists may have provided an estimated USD$175 million (approximately AUD$268 million) in extra revenue for North Korea.

Contiki will commence its first-ever South Korea tours next month, which include a DMZ visit.

Other tour operators that offer a DMZ trip on South Korean itineraries include Intrepid Travel, MW Tours and Wendy Wu Tours.