Korea’s Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) is a haven where wildlife flourishes, despite being named the world’s most heavily armed border, dividing two nations and the Korean peninsula in half. By Shrimayee Thakur
As part of Phase One of the ‘Peace Trail’ project, South Korea will be opening up three routes, approved by the United Nations Command, along the DMZ. The DMZ is a 257 km long no-man’s land, which is about 48 km north of Seoul. As this area has been closed to the public for a long time, it has become an unintentional refuge for endangered species of both birds and mammals, such as the red-crowned cranes, white-nape cranes, mandarin ducks, musk deer and mountain goats. According to reports, the critically endangered Amur leopard has also been spotted there. Visitors can now go to the area to catch a glimpse of some of the 6000 species of flora and fauna, as reported by the National Institute of Ecology in South Korea, living in the DMZ.
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The first trail approved by the UNC is located in Goseong, which is in the Gangwaon province, on the east side of the Korean Peninsula. A tour programme was launched in Goseong on Saturday, to mark the first anniversary of the landmark Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula. The Declaration was signed last year by by the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in and the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.
Visitors to the area will begin their hike at the Unification Observatory, trekking past fences of barbed wire to arrive at the Mount Kumgang Observatory. While some areas like the Joint Security Area (JSA), which is also known as the Truce Village of Panmunjom, were open for visits before, more sites will now be open for visitors to explore. This includes the blue footbridge where President Moon Jae-in and Leader Kim Jong-un conducted talks, and a pine tree, which was planted to commemorate the meeting. Panmunjom is the most visited location from both North and South Korea. Travelers to South Korea’s DMZ must book guided private or group tours with official operators such as Viator.