Travel to North Korea is prohibited unless you arrange a special trip with a well-known tour operator. In most cases, travel to North Korea is strictly controlled by the government. Cultural activities are strictly prohibited as well. Tourists usually have to abide by very strict rules such as not speaking to locals, not filming or photographing military installations or prisons, and not filming in underground mines.
There are several independent travel companies that arrange independent tours of North Korea. These tours are not sponsored by any government or state and most often include a free choice of accommodations. Such independent travel guides usually organize trips around popular attractions and routes. Tours to historical or cultural sites by the government are usually not authorized, although many foreign tourists do arrange such trips.
One of the best ways for individuals to travel to North Korea is to organize a group tour. A group tour allows for many options for cultural experiences, including a visit to the DMZ (mine-filled zone) in the Demilitarized Zone in north Korean. In fact, the DMZ even offers North Korean tourists an opportunity to take photos and perhaps even observe the North Korean people. There are also opportunities for cultural activities, such as visiting a North Korean prison, famine area, or other region that is not typical tourist destinations.
Another way for tourists to travel to North Korea is to arrange a Mt. Gonggong tour. This tour is usually organized by Choson Exchange, a company that provides “multicultural exchange programs” to help travelers enrich their understanding of North Korean culture. There are many alternatives for this type of Mt. Gonggong tour, including the Beijing-Tibet route or the Sino-North Korea trek.
Group tour packages, such as the ones provided by Choson, allow participants to travel in large groups. As well, some independent travel tours provide guided tours of Mt. Gonggong. However, most, if not all independent travel tours of north Korea will not provide participants with a chance to hike one of the world’s largest and most daunting mountain.
A visit to North Korea can also be facilitated by a private tour company. These companies specialize in organizing specialized tours of North Korea, including those that include a visit to the DMZ. For example, the New York Times’ travel section recently published a piece on a special trip organized by a New York tour company. The itinerary for this trip included a visit to the Demilitarized Zone in north Korea. Most independent travel tour organizers offer trips such as this.
It is also possible for foreigners to travel to North Korea on a “specialized tour.” These specialized tours include only participants who have completed high school or college and are authorized to travel to the country. These specialized tours provide an exceptional opportunity to view and experience life in North Korea from the perspective of those who have experience living there. While no one can hope to experience life in North Korea exactly as it was lived many years ago, visitors can still learn a great deal about life in the country by participating in a specialized tour.
If a foreign tourist wishes to travel to North Korea, the best time to travel is the late part of April through the beginning of June. This is a period when travel to the country is very busy, as a result of the Korean summer vacation. In addition, many foreigners make their way to the country during the Choson Festival, which occurs on April 15. Regardless of the month chosen for a North Korean tourist tour, a great deal of planning is required, and participants should be prepared for some level of cultural adjustment.