North Korea set to welcome first tourists since COVID-19 pandemic

By Chris Lau for CNN

A Russian travel agency is advertising what appears to be the first tour to North Korea since the isolated country closed its borders due to Covid, promising a "family friendly" ski trip to a luxury resort outside the capital Pyongyang.

Like many other countries, North Korea imposed strict anti-epidemic measures and locked down its already tightly controlled borders when the pandemic began to spread worldwide in early 2020.

For $750, Russian tourists can now sign up to be first known travelers to return to the country for a four-day trip to the Masikryong Ski Resort, according to the advertisement on Russian travel agency Vostok Intur's website.

Before Covid, the country used to offer enigmatic – yet highly orchestrated – tours for those interested in catching a glimpse of the world's most isolated nation long ruled by its leader Kim Jong Un and his late father and grandfather.

Masikryong Ski Resort is pictured on February 05, 2019 near Wonsan, North Korea.
Masikryong Ski Resort is pictured on February 05, 2019 near Wonsan, North Korea. Photo credit: Carl Court/Getty Images

Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, said the trip would be the first into North Korea since its borders closed in January 2020.

He said it was a "positive sign" but cautioned against assuming it meant a broader revival of North Korea's small pre-pandemic tourist trade.

"I would be cautious in assuming it will lead to a general opening to all tourists," said Cockerell, whose tour company took a hit after borders closed.

North Korea hasn't announced the resumption of tourism, but according to state news agency KCNA, Pyongyang's External Economic Relations Minister Yun Jong Ho met with Moscow's governor of the Maritime Territory Administration Oleg Kozhemyako during his visit to North Korea in December.

KCNA reported that the two sides discussed "the issues of putting the inter-regional economic cooperation between the two countries on a higher stage."

CNN has reached out to the Russian-based travel agency Vostok Intur for comment. According to its website, the agency organizes regular tours to China, with the North Korean trip being its latest addition.

The advertised trip to North Korea is scheduled to depart the Russian port city of Vladivostok on February 9.

According to the advertisement, the fee covers return flights from Vladivostok to Pyongyang and the bus trip to Masikryong ski resort, which sits at the summit of the 1,360-meter Taehwa Peak, about a 3.5-hour drive east of Pyongyang.

"In Masikryong, you will find yourself in a real paradise for winter sports lovers," the ad read, touting the "clean mountain air and magnificent views."

The itinerary also includes visits to local museums and temples.