When travelling to North Korea you simply have no other option than to join the organized tour, stick to the preplanned itinerary, stay in selected government approved hotels and dine out in a rather limited selection of eateries. There are no hostels in DPRK and the backpacker scene there is something virtually unheard of (just like the whole concept of independent travelling).
On the other hand, If you accept the reality and choose to visit DPRK (go for it, you won’t regret it!) despite all these limitations, you will find out that you actually get a decent value for the money you pay. Group packages to North Korea usually require you to spend anywhere between 120 and 250 euros a days (or a bit more in case of some of the companies oriented at customers who don’t mind spending a bit more for additional luxuries).
How much did I pay?
In my case, the 12-day tour to NK cost 1595 euros (excluding the 50 euro visa fee), which means I spent on average 130 euros a day.
What’s included in this price?
– accommodation in a decent hotel offering good quality service and a lot of entertainment options (I’m talking about Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang here – hotels in other cities were not that great, although undoubtedly offered a very interesting “commie” experience)
– all meals (some beers included too)
– transport – air-conditioned bus taking us everywhere around the country + the metro and tram in Pyongyang
– entrance fees to all the major sights
– return train tickets from Dandong (China) to Pyongyang
– service and assistance provided by 3 Korean guides employed by KITC (Korea International Travel Company)
– local Korean guides at all major attractions
– assistance of one Western Guide
All of this for 130 euro a day? Honestly, that’s probably far better value for money that you could find in Western European countries, especially in places like Paris or London where the accommodation in a good quality hotel can easily set you off the equivalent of 130 euros a night, not to mention other expenses.
What’s not included in this price?
Basically all the extras and everyday pleasures you might want to indulge yourself in. These include:
– rides in the amusement park in Pyongyang – 5 euros for the rollercoaster, 3 euros for bumper cars. Not sure about the other rides, since I only resorted to those two.
– special meals, such as dog soup (as a die-hard dog lover I stayed away from this one!), clam barbecue (5 euros), pizza (around 10 euros) etc. The vast majority of the meals are included in the price of your tour though, only some selected special options cost more (don’t worry, you won’t be starving anyway!)
– entrance to the Circus Show – 20 euros
– going on top of the Juche Tower – 5 euros
– beer and other drinks – the ultimate budget killer, especially if you indulge yourself in long drinking sessions with your Korean guides and fellow travellers! However, the beer in DPRK offers a really good value for money (in my opinion way much better than in China), with pints of locally brewed beer on tap costing anywhere between 0.5 euro (!!!) and 2.5 euro a pint. Bottled beers usually cost 1 euro a bottle.
As for the local booze all Koreans are exceptionally proud of – soju – it is indeed dirt cheap and tastes good. It’s not uncommon to find a 0.5l bottle of locally distilled soju for less than 3-4 euros.
– Karaoke, swimming pool, bowling, billiards, table tennis… – you might be actually surprised how much fun you can have while being locked in your hotel for the night (this particularly applies to Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, Koryo Hotel is apparently even better). All these pleasures have their price tags, never exceeding a couple of euros (unless you spend the whole night in Karaoke room or have way too much fun in the Taedonggang Diplomatic Club…)
– International phone calls – as you can’t use your own sim card while travelling in the DPRK, your only option to contact the World outside is to use the phones located in the hotel lobby. And these are unfortunately expensive as hell. Expect to pay at least 2 euros per minute.
– Souvenirs – all in all you definitely want to get some cool postcards with revolutionary stamps, hand painted propaganda posters, books, movies or other fancy stuff from the DPRK and bring it all back home. You can be sure that you will visit A LOT of souvenir shops during your tour in North Korea. Prices can vary quite substantially. It’s quite hard to estimate how much you will spend on these. I personally spent around 80 euros in total.
– Tips for the Korean guides – some tour companies may heavily encourage you to tip your Korean guides and the driver, as this helps keep great connections with the local guides and other travel partners and add a lot to their salaries. The recommended amount is 7 euros per day, which is apparently equally shared between all Korean guides and the driver.
North Korea Tours 2016
Finally, if you are seriously thinking about visiting North Korea next year, here is the breakdown of some of the most interesting tour packages offered by some of the most renowned tour groups specialized in organizing tours to DPRK. This list should give you some initial idea of what are the current tour options available, how much should you prepare to spend and finally, which tour operator might suit your needs best. Please note that this is neither the complete list of companies operating in North Korea nor the full list of tours being offered. Instead of listing all possible options available, I simply selected some of the most renowned tour agencies currently organizing tours to North Korea (including the one I used during my last trip do DRPK) as well as some of the most interesting tour packages they’ve got in their offer. For more information please consult their websites (links below) and contact the companies directly.
Probably the most famous and one of the longest running tour companies specialized in organizing a huge variety of tours to DPRK. Well-known for their good quality services and excellent reputation, they are definitely not the cheapest company though.
Selected North Korea 2016 Tours offered by Koryo Group:
Kim Jong Il Birthday Tour 2016 – Feb 13 – 20/21 – 7 nights in DPRK plus one on the train – 1850 Euros
3 Night Pyongyang Marathon Tour 2016 – 8th Apr – 11th/12th Apr – Flight / Train – 1110 Euros
Kim Il Sung Birthday Short Tour 2016 – Apr 12 – 16/17 – 4 nights in DPRK plus one on the train – 1550 Euros
May Day Long Tour 2016 – Apr 30 – May 7/8 – 7 nights in the DPRK + 1 on the train – 1850 Euros
Summer Holiday Tour 2016 – July 2 – 9/10 – 7 nights in the DPRK + 1 on the train – 1850 Euros
Architecture and Design Tour 2016 – July 23 – 30/31 – 7 nights in the DPRK plus one on the train – 2050 Euros
Victory Day Tour 2016 – July 23 – 28/29 – 5 nights in the DPRK + 1 on the train – 1650 Euros
Cycling Tour 2016 – Aug 11 – 20/21 – 9 nights in DPRK, plus one on the train – 2590 Euros
National Day Ultimate Tour 2016 – Sept 3 – 13/14 – 10 nights in the DPRK plus one on the train – 2150 Euros
China National Day Tour 2016 – Oct 1 – 6/7 – 5 nights in the DPRK plus one on the train – 1650 Euros
Party Foundation Day Long Tour 2016 – Oct 8 – 15/16 – 7 nights in the DPRK plus one on the train – 1850 Euros
North Eastern Adventure Tour 2016 – Oct 17 – 25 – 8 nights in the DPRK – 1290 Euros
Another well-known company maintaining excellent reputation in DPRK, both among travellers and North Korean business partners. This is the company I personally decided to use and honestly, can’t recommend it enough. These guys are primarily focused on organizing affordable tours tailored at more adventurous travellers who don’t mind long intensive days full of sightseeing and even more intensive nights in Karaoke jaunts. In general, if you are a backpacking type of traveller or simply looking for the cheapest travel packages to North Korea – YPT is probably the way to go.
Selected North Korea 2016 Tours offered by Young Pioneer Tours:
January Ultra Budget Tour – January 12th – 14th – 2 nights, 3 days – 445 Euros
General Kim Jong Il Birthday Tour – February 12th – 19th – 5 nights, 6 days – 996 Euros
St. Patrick’s Day Tour – March 14th – 20th – 4 nights, 5 days – 895 Euros
Pyongyang Marathon and Kim Il Sung Birthday Tour – April 8th – 16th – 7 nights, 8 days – 1295 Euros
Military Foundation Day Tour – April 21st – 25th – 4 nights, 5 days – 995 Euros
May Day Tour – April 27th – May 3rd/6th/8th – 5/8/10 days – €995/€1295/€1495
Farming Volunteer Tour – May 15th – 22nd – 5 nights, 6 days – 1095 Euros
All Koreas Part 2: DPRK Extreme North East & Rason Tour – June 12th – 21st – 9 nights, 10 days – 1195 Euros
Victory Day Ultra Budget Tour – July 26th – 28th – 2 nights, 3 days – 445 Euros
DPRK Summer Tour – July 31st – August 6th/10th/12th – 5/9/11 days – €995/€1395/€1595
Liberation Day & Mt Paektu Tour – August 11th – 19th – 7 days – 1395 Euros
DPRK Youth Day Tour – August 25th – 31st – 5 days – 995 Euros
Grand National Day & North East Tour – September 7th – 18th – 10 days – 1695 Euros
Party Foundation Day Tour – October 6th – 12th – 5/7 days – €995/€1195
New Year’s Party Tour – December 28th – January 4th – 6 days – 995 Euros
With their headquarters located in Stockholm, Korea Konsult is one of the few European-based companies specialized in DPRK tourism and the only one located in Northern Europe. Therefore, if you are based in Sweden or particularly keen on choosing the company which is entirely based in Europe, you may definitely want to consider Korea Konsult. However, it is worth pointing out that other notable companies such as YPT or Koryo Group mentioned above, although operating from China, are also nearly entirely owned by Western management and employ Western staff.
Selected North Korea 2016 Tours offered by Korea Konsult:
International Women’s Day tour – 5th – 10th March – 5 nights in the DPRK – 918 Euros
2016 Easter Tour – 24th – 29th March – 5 nights in the DPRK – 1398 Euro
Kim Il Sung’s Birthday & Pyongyang Marathon tour – 9th – 16th April – 7 nights in the DPRK – 1598 Euro
May Day tour with Rason extension and Victory Day in Vladivostok – 28th April -11th May – 10 nights in the DPRK (including 3 nights in Rason), 3 nights in Russia – 2498 Euro
International Children’s Day tour with hiking extension – 31st May -7th June – 7 nights in the DPRK – 1298 Euro
Liberation Day tour with Mt.Kumgang (Diamond Mt.) extension – 13th – 20th August – 7 nights in the DPRK – 1678 Euro
Mt.Paektu and 3 celebrated mountains of the DPRK tour – 5th – 15th September – 10 nights in the DPRK – 2338 Euro
Pyongyang International Film Festival tour – 17th -22nd September – 5 nights in the DPRK – 1398 Euro
Worker’s Party of Korea Anniversary tour with autumn hiking extension – 8th – 18th October – 10 nights in the DPRK – 1938 Euro
A well established British company organizing tours to a lot of interesting destinations around the globe, including some less visited countries such as, of course, North Korea. Tours offered by Regent Holidays generally fall within mid to high range and are better suited at those travellers for whom money is not a primary concern.
Selected North Korea 2015/2016 Tours offered by Regent Holidays:
New Year in North Korea Tour with Ski Extension – 29th December 2015 – 5th January 2016 – 8 Days – £1620
Extended Kim Il Sung Anniversary Tour – 14th April – 23rd April 2016 – 10 Days – £1780
May Day Weekend in North Korea – 30th April – 3rd May – 4 Days – £1050
Spring Break in North Korea – 30th April – 7th May – 8 Days – £1575
Apart from the group tours all companies listed above organize tailor-made independent tours. Although a bit pricey, these tours should appeal to those who are eager to stay away from the tour groups and would like to have more flexibility in designing the itinerary.
However, there are two things you should take note of if you opt for such tour. First, you might actually enjoy less freedom of movement and fewer photographic opportunities since it is definitely easier for North Korean guides and minders to control a single tourist or a small group, unlike the larger crowd of travellers. Therefore, unless you have excellent initial connections with Korean guides, their watchful eyes may put additional pressure on you, if you are a lone tourist, accompanied by two Korean minders at all times.
Another thing is you might actually feel lonely at times, since apart from your Korean guides, you will find it a bit harder to find other travellers to talk to and socialize with. On the other hand, if you are looking for a bit more secluded experience, independent tours might appeal to your tastes.
To learn more about costs of organizing an independent tour, please check the links below:
Have you been to North Korea? How much did you spend on tour tour? Have you got any interesting experiences and tips to share? Leave the comment below – we’d like to hear from you!