From Chernobyl to Fukushima: 7 Disaster Tourism Destinations

Your guide to the sites of some of the world's most horrifying man-made and natural disasters.

Following the release of the HBO miniseries "Chernobyl," tourism to the surrounding Ukranian town has increased substantially. Chernobyl's popularity, however, is not isolated: It's just one of many macabre destinations around the world that tourists are flocking to as part of a phenomenon called "disaster tourism."

This form of travel is an offshoot of "dark tourism," a term that describes any form of travel to places that are eerie, abandoned, or connected to death and tragedy. While dark tourism's destinations can include any graveyard or vine-covered mansion on the side of the road, disaster tourism specifically revolves around sites of mass destruction.

The moral implications of visiting these sites are thorny, and it's important to remember that these are all sites of devastating tragedy, not amusement park attractions meant to provide cheap thrills. However, dark tourism can also be a way of processing and honoring the past; and then there's the fact that most places on earth, at one time or another, were the sites of some sort of disastrous event.

With all that said, here are seven of the most extreme disaster tourism destinations in the world.

1. Chernobyl

No list of disaster tourism sites would be complete without the mother of them all—Chernobyl, the site of the 1981 nuclear disaster that left a ghostly city in its wake.

It's impossible to visit Chernobyl without a tour guide, but luckily there are many guided trips to choose from. You can take day trips, which will take you through abandoned kindergartens, vine-covered ferris wheels, and more relics; and, there are even two to three day tours, which will allow you plenty of time to drink in the landscape's aesthetic of quiet devastation, or perhaps to commune with ghosts.

The first question many people ask about visiting Chernobyl is if it's safe. While radiation lasts a long time, and certainly still exists in Chernobyl, the human body can tolerate small doses of radiation without impact—so as long as you don't move into the town, you should be good to go.

Image via Fox

2. Bikini Atoll Nuclear Test Site

As a collective human race, we're fascinated by nuclear power, perhaps because of its unfathomable ability to wreak mass destruction on a vast scale. If you just can't stay away from nuclear sites, or want to go a little further from the beaten path than Chernobyl, the Bikini Atoll Nuclear Test Site in the Marshall Islands is an obvious choice. In all seriousness, the Bikini Atoll weapons test is a brutal example of the United States' arrogant willingness to wreak havoc on others' lives in order to achieve their own military goals. The tests began in 1946, displacing a total of 167 Marshallese inhabitants. In 1954 the U.S. detonated the most powerful bomb it has ever made, and to this day, those islands are still unlivable.

The U.S. government closed the islands for tourism in 2008, but you still have the option to scuba dive nearby if you make arrangements with the Bikini Atoll Divers.

Image via

3. Pompeii

As far as disaster tourism sites go, this one is probably one of the least controversial, given the fact that Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79.

Pompeii can be visited via passage from Rome, and there are hundreds of tours offering visits to the site. Even two thousand years later, and despite its popularity with tourists, Pompeii is still sobering to see. It was once a bustling port town, and you can still see the remnants of the lives that were suddenly stopped in their tracks when nature decided to unleash a flood of lava—graffiti, cafes, vestiges of daily life in ancient times. Pompeii's eeriest attraction, of course, are the mummified bodies lying in the places they died so long ago. The site is a testament both to the ephemerality and permanence of human life and civilization: In death, the citizens of Pompeii have achieved a form of immortality.

Image via L'Italo Americano

4. New Orleans: Katrina's Wake

It's been fifteen years since Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, and much of the city has not yet recovered. There are several tours in operation that will take you through what remains of Katrina's ravages, as well as directions for self-guided exploration. You can walk by the breached levees, making your way through the ruins of the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans.

There are a fair number of memorials, museums, and rebuilt areas that are testaments to the city's resilience, such as the rebuilt Musicians Village in the Upper Ninth Ward and the revitalized Tennessee Street. Still, it's easy to see the places where reconstruction has failed: The Six Flags amusement park was never rebuilt and is being reclaimed by nature, as are whole neighborhoods. It's important to note that neighborhoods inhabited by people of color were disproportionately affected by the storm and ignored by recovery efforts; and low-income areas like the Lower Ninth Ward are still missing more than half of their pre-Katrina inhabitants.

5. Exxon Valdez's Oil Spill

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker hit a reef off the coast of Alaska and leaked roughly 30 million gallons of oil into the sea, killing hundreds of sea creatures and staining 11,000 miles of coastline with oil. The coastal town, Prince William Sound, has mostly rebounded since the disaster, but the shoreline has not recovered.

Today, the family-owned Stephens Cruises operate glacier tours out of the sound that focus on the history of the disaster and its consequences, and they discuss the oil industry's impacts on climate and ecological life today.

Image via Grist

6. Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

After the 2011 earthquake, Haiti suffered through misguided relief efforts, and the consequences of that disaster and its aftermath are still visible on the island. However, a visit to Port-au-Prince is not all about viewing ruins, because Haiti is very much alive. With its rich history and its gleaming beaches, Haiti is a growing destination, a combination of damaged infrastructure and vibrant community.

To see the most visible remnants of the quake, there are destinations like the skeletal Sans Souci Palace, reduced to scaffolding, though you can also see the disaster's impact in Haiti's poor transportation system, and in the fresh new construction that is lifting Port-Au-Prince back onto its feet. With careful planning or a well-researched tour, a trip to Haiti can be an exploration of a beautiful country and a tour of devastation rolled into one.

Image via MustSeePlaces

7. Japan's Fukushima Exclusion Zone

Japan is already a well-known destination for dark tourism. Visitors have long flocked to its Aokigahara 'suicide' forest, but no disaster zone is more popular than the remnants of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

Officials say the area is radioactivity-free now, though 52,000 people remain displaced because of the accident. Still, that hasn't deterred tourists—or tour companies. With these tours, you can visit surrounding towns and farms alongside local guides, exploring ruined train stations and abandoned towns like Tomioka, frozen in time since the explosion. The destination also offers plenty of cheerier sights: cherry trees, hot springs, and high-quality sake are just a few of the delights you can partake in if you visit the area. Essentially, Fukushima is perfectly safe to visit; just don't wander too far off the beaten path, because in certain very select areas there are "hot spots" where radiation is higher, though most are inaccessible or surrounded by dense woods.

Image via ABC

While a visit to the site of a nuclear disaster or oil spill might sound irredeemably grim, tourism—when it's done thoughtfully—can actually be beneficial. First, tourism can provide necessary income for locations struggling to get back on their feet; and second, it can help keep places in the public conscience. The 1989 Exxon disaster site in Alaska is slipping out of memory, but tourism to the site is a reminder of the enduring consequences of oil spills, which can continue to haunt landscapes decades later.

Also, it's important to remember that many of these disasters were caused by climate change, and there will only be more catastrophes like these if we continue to let the earth's temperatures rise—hurricanes will tear apart more nuclear plants, and more levees will break from rising sea levels, and more ghost towns will crop up.

"Because the modern tourist feels disconnected, tourists seek the genuine when they go on vacation," writes Emily Godbey in an essay about why people are drawn to dark destinations. Dark tourism is a form of melodrama, a form of theatre in which "the thrill was based on reality's nearness," she writes. So while tourism is usually thought of as an escapist activity, disaster tourism turns this on its head; it's effectively a way of looking the reality of human destruction straight in the eye.

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It's no secret that the restaurant scene in New York City is one of the most impressive in the world.

Whatever you could want to eat, you can find it in New York—meaning that even if you have a slightly restrictive diet, like veganism, there's plenty of options for you. Local fast-casual chains like By Chloe and Superiority Burger are making New York one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, but the deliciousness doesn't stop there.

Between Manhattan and Brooklyn, there's been a boom of vegan restaurants that'll satisfy any craving. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Blossom(Upper West Side + Greenwich Village)

vegan restaurant

With two locations serving both Uptown and Downtown, Blossom is a go-to for local and tourist vegans alike. They offer an elevated dining experience (and a wide-spanning takeout radius) that puts a cruelty-free spin on classic main dishes like chicken piccata, rigatoni, and grilled salmon. Complete your dinner with a fresh, fruity cocktail and tiramisu—but reservations are strongly recommended beforehand.

Jajaja (West Village + Lower East Side)

vegan Jajaja

Jajaja is the ultimate heaven for Mexican food addicts. Get your fix of south of the border staples like burritos, street tacos, and enchiladas that'll make you second guess whether or not it's actually vegan (pro tip: The nacho portion is large enough to be a meal for one person). They also have a small but mighty menu of tequila and mezcal cocktails to kick off a night of LES bar-hopping. It gets crowded here quickly, though, so try to schedule your dinner early.

Urban Vegan Kitchen(West Village)

Urban Vegan Kitchen

We get it—eating vegan can get kind of bland sometimes. But that's not an issue at Urban Vegan Kitchen, the type of restaurant that'll have you wanting to order one of everything on the menu (but we recommend the "chicken" and waffles). Co-owned by the founder of Blossom, they boast a menu that's just as edgy and exciting as their decor. Their space is large too, making it a crowd-pleasing option for a slightly larger group.

Champs Diner (Williamsburg)

Champs Diner vegan

Located near the border of hip neighborhoods Williamsburg and Bushwick, Champs is a favorite of many young Brooklynites. Their menu is full of vegan alternatives to classic diner fare like breakfast plates, cheeseburgers, and even milkshakes that taste mysteriously like the real deal, while the decor puts a quintessential Brooklyn edge on '50s digs. Who said going plant-based had to be healthy all the time, anyway?

Peacefood (Greenwich Village)

vegan Peacefood

Conveniently located just a stone's throw from Union Square—near both NYU and the New School—Peacefood is a hotspot for college students, but vegans of any age are guaranteed to enjoy their menu. They specialize in comfort food items like quiche, chicken parmesan, and chili with corn bread—all plant-based, of course. While their "chicken" tender basket is to die for, make sure to save room for dessert here, too; Peacefood's lengthy pastry menu is a dream come true.

Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)

Buddha Bodai vegan

Dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are a dime a dozen, but Buddha Bodai takes the cake for the best veggie-friendly experience in one of New York's most bustling neighborhoods. Bring your family or friends along with you to enjoy this massive menu of buns and dumplings stuffed with any type of mock meat you could want. This is also a great option for gluten-free vegans, too, as much of their menu accommodates a gluten-free diet.

Greedi Kitchen (Crown Heights)

Greedi Kitchen vegan

Crown Heights might not be the first neighborhood people think of when it comes to dining in Brooklyn, but Greedi Kitchen is making the case for delicious restaurants in the area. Inspired by its founder's many years of travel, Greedi Kitchen combines the comforting flavors of southern soul food with the added pizazz of global influences. Try one of their po'boys or the crab cake sliders. Trust us.

Screamer’s Pizzeria (Greenpoint + Crown Heights)

Screamer's Pizza vegan

We know what you're thinking: Pizza without real cheese? Call us crazy, but Screamer's does vegan pizza to perfection. If you're into classic pies like a simple margherita or pepperoni, or you want to branch out with unexpected topping combinations, Screamer's is delicious enough to impress carnivores, too (pro tip: the Greenpoint location is small and serves most pies by the slice, while the Crown Heights location is larger for sitting down).

Learning a second language is one of the coolest and most rewarding things you can do in your spare time.

However, if hopping on a one-way ticket to your country of choice isn't an option for you, it can be difficult to find an immersive experience to learn, especially past high school or college.

The next best thing is language-learning apps.

We wanted to look at the top two: DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is the new kid on the block; one of the top downloaded, this free app is a favorite. Then, there's the legacy option: Rosetta Stone. For over 20 years, they've been developing their language-learning software, and their app is the most recent innovation.

They're both great options, but keep reading to figure out which one is the best for you.

Key Similarities

  • Both claim you'll expand your vocabulary
  • Both are available as an app for iOS and Android users
  • Both have a clean user interface with appealing graphics
  • Both have offline capabilities (if you pay)

Key Differences

  • DuoLingo has a popular free version along with its paid version, whereas Rosetta Stone only has a paid version
  • DuoLingo offers 35+ languages, and Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages
  • Rosetta Stone has an advanced TruAccent feature to detect and correct your accent
  • DuoLingo offers a breadth of similar vocab-recognizing features, and Rosetta Stone offers a wider variety of learning methods, like Stories

DuoLingo Overview

DuoLingo's app and its iconic owl have definitely found a place in pop culture. One of the most popular free language-learning apps, it offers 35 different languages, including Klingon, that can be learned through a series of vocabulary-matching games.

DuoLingo offers a free version and a version for $9.99 a month without ads and with offline access.

Rosetta Stone Overview

The Rosetta Stone app is a beast. There are 24 different languages to choose from, but more importantly, you get a huge variety of methods for learning. Not only are there simple games, but there are stories where you get to listen, the Seek and Speak feature, where you go on a treasure hunt to photograph images and get the translations, and the TruAccent feature, which will help you refine your accent. Whenever you speak into the app, you'll get a red/yellow/green rating on your pronunciation, so you can fine-tune it to really sound like you have a firm grasp of the language.

Rosetta Stone costs just $5.99 a month for a 24-month subscription, which gives you access to all of their 24 languages!

Final Notes

Overall, these are both excellent apps for increasing your proficiency in a new language! They both feel quite modern and have a fun experience.

When it comes to really committing words to memory and understanding them, Rosetta Stone is king.

DuoLingo definitely will help you learn new words, and the app can be addicting, but users report it as more of a game than a means to an end.

With Rosetta Stone's variety of features, you'll never get bored; there are more passive elements and more active elements to help you activate different parts of your brain, so you're learning in a more dynamic and efficient way.

The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers only: Up To 45% Off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Languages & Free Tutoring Sessions!


So You Want to Try Workaway

Want to travel cheap, meet locals and kindred spirits, live off the land, and possibly change your life? It might be time to try Workaway.

Sitting in a house on a hill in Tuscany, Italy, watching the sun set and listening to the sound of music coming from the house in which I was staying almost rent-free, I wondered how I had gotten this lucky.

Actually, it was really all thanks to one website—

Workaway Workaway

Workaway is a site that sets travelers up with hosts, who provide visitors with room and board in exchange for roughly five hours of work each weekday. The arrangement varies from host to host—some offer money, others require it—but typically, the Workaway experience is a rare bird: a largely anti-capitalist exchange.

I did four Workaways the summer I traveled in Europe, and then one at a monastery near my home in New York the summer after. Each experience, though they lasted around two weeks each, was among the most enriching times of my life—and I'd argue I learned almost as much through those experiences as I did in four years of college.

There's something extremely special about the Workaway experience, though it's certainly not for everyone.

Workaway Isn't for Everyone: What to Know Before You Go

I loved all the Workaways I went on, but the best advice I can give to anyone considering going is: Enter with an open mind. If you're someone who doesn't do well with the unexpected, if you're not willing to be flexible, if you're a picky eater or easily freaked out, then it's likely that you won't have a good experience at a Workaway.

There are exceptions to all of this. At the Workaway I stayed at in Italy, one of the travelers was suffering from stomach bloating, and the host helped cure her with a diet of miso. (I'm not saying you should go Workawaying if you're ill—this traveler's mother also came to oversee everything—but still, you never know what you'll find).


You should also probably be willing and able to actually work at your Workaway. These aren't vacations, and some hosts will be stricter and less forgiving than others regarding your work ethic. If you're someone who has no experience with difficult farm work, for example, it might not be a good idea to do a Workaway on a farm.

How to Choose a Host

The Workaway website boasts a truly overwhelming number of hosts. You can narrow your search down by location, but you can also search key terms that can help guide you in the right direction. You might search "music," for example—that's how I found the Italy location. You'll find hosts in busy cities and in the most remote mountains of India; you'll find opportunities to tutor and explore. You'll find shadiness, too, so trust your instincts.

Take time to actually read the host's entire bio before reaching out. Read all the comments, too, and if you're nervous or a first-timer, only reach out to hosts who have exclusively glowing reviews. I had the best experiences with hosts that had left extremely detailed bios—that showed me they were likely going to be dedicated hosts.

I also chose hosts whose bios gave me a good feeling, something like a spark of electricity or recognition. This instinctual method might not work for everyone, but it certainly led me in the right direction in all of my Workaway experiences. My Workaways gave me some of the best memories and deepest relationships of my life, and that was partly thanks to the fact that I chose places that were good fits for me.

For example, I chose to stay alone with a wizened academic in France. Something about his bio and descriptions resonated with me enough to trust him. (I also read some of his many thousand-page-long treatises on peace and compassion and decided that if someone could write this and be a psychopath, this wasn't a world I wanted to live in anyway). It was the right decision—and the two weeks I spent there were some of the most enlightening of my entire life.

When you reach out to a host, particularly if it's someone you really want to stay with, it's a good idea to frame your initial contact email as a cover letter of sorts—make sure you explain who you are and personalize your letter to fit each host.

Ixcanaan A Workaway painting experienceWorkaway

Travel Safely

Especially if you're traveling alone, it's always a good idea to choose a host whose page has tons of good reviews. Aside from that, a quick Google search and a scan of any social media pages related to your potential host can't hurt.

Ultimately, Workawaying requires a certain amount of trust and faith on both the host and the traveler's parts—you're either trusting someone to stay in your home or trusting a stranger to host and feed you.

But that trust, in my experience, also results in rapid and deep connections unlike anything I've experienced in the "real world." When you go and share a home with someone, you're also sharing yourself with them, and in that exchange there are the seeds of a powerful bond.

Participate Fully

Wherever you go, you'll want to open your mind and participate fully. Adjust yourself to your host's lifestyle, not the other way around, and take time to get to know your host and the others around you.

You might find that you become someone you never knew you were. As a lifelong introvert, I somehow managed to develop close relationships with many of the people I was staying with.

This might be because most people who are at Workaways are seeking something for one reason or another. In my experience, you find lots of people who are at junctures in their lives, seeking connection and meaning. With the right Workaway, you might just find it.

Workaway The Broke Backpacker - WorkawayThe Broke Backpacker