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 RT.com

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.

Read More from Journiest

Subscribe now

Related Posts
Destinations

The 10 Best Ethically-Conscious Zoos Across America

From coast to coast, these zoos are doing their part to help wildlife.

With fall weather making us all eager to spend more time outdoors, it's the perfect time of year to pay a visit to the zoo.

Just about every major city has a zoo where visitors can get up close and personal with wild animals, but of course, not all zoos are created equal. Particularly if you've watched Tiger King, you probably already know that some zoos do much more harm than good.


Thankfully, there are also many zoos who are doing great work in conservation efforts and creating the best environment possible for their animals and the animal lovers who want to visit them. Below, we've rounded up just a few of the most ethical zoos in the United States.

San Diego Zoo

As one of the most popular zoos in the country, the San Diego Zoo specializes in endangered animals and focuses on saving them from extinction. They also partner with other zoos around the world to share their research in rehabilitation and conservation that would be difficult, if not impossible, to conduct in the wild.

Austin Zoo

Located on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, the Austin Zoo started as a goat ranch and has gradually grown into one of the state's most animal-friendly zoos. Now boasting over 300 animals from over 100 species, the Austin Zoo operates with a mission to assist animals in need, taking in exotic animals that need to be rescued or rehomed due to a variety of reasons.

Indianapolis Zoo

With a strong commitment to conservation, the Indianapolis Zoo supports efforts around the world to save endangered animals and their land. They are home to over 1,400 animals in habitats that closely mimic those of the wild and have been adopting more eco-friendly practices in addition to their conservation efforts.

Woodland Park Zoo

Located in Seattle, Washington, the Woodland Park Zoo is one of the country's most ethical zoos. They focus on recreating their animals' natural habitats as closely as possible, and the zoo also has conservationist breeding programs on-site to help grow the populations of endangered species.

St. Louis Zoo

Not only is the St. Louis Zoo free to visit, but it's absolutely massive; here, you'll find 19,000 animals from 600 species over a sprawling 90 acres. According to their website, the zoo has "witnessed dozens of cheetah births, hatched and reared endangered Micronesian kingfishers and returned Puerto Rican crested toad tadpoles to ponds in their native homeland—to name only a few successes." The St. Louis Zoo also has a program called the WildCare Institute, which takes a holistic approach to healing troubled ecosystems.

Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo might not be the first attraction you think of when it comes to New York City's outer boroughs, but it offers a much-needed slice of wildlife in the concrete jungle. This zoo is home to award-winning habitats that span over 265 acres. Outside of the city, the Bronx Zoo employs thousands of conservationists who work to protect endangered exotic animals in the world's most threatened environments.

Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

In addition to impressive worldwide conservation efforts, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium—located in Omaha, Nebraska—features the world's largest geodesic dome. This dome creates a realistic desert environment that acts as a home to countless animals and plants.

Columbus Zoo

Ohio's Columbus Zoo houses over 7000 animals from over 800 species. They've made great strides in breeding endangered animals, such as the three polar bear cubs who were born at the zoo in 2016. The Columbus Zoo also boasts a massive 100,000-gallon coral reef tank, and some of the country's best primate habitats.

Alaska Zoo

It should come as no surprise that the Alaska Zoo is a fantastic place to see your favorite arctic and subarctic animals. Located in the city of Anchorage, this zoo focuses on arctic creatures you won't find at your zoos in the continental United States. They especially focus on polar bear rescue.

Denver Zoo

Colorodans are known for their love of the great outdoors, and their appreciation for Mother Nature translates into the practices at the Denver Zoo. They were the first zoo in the country to go above and beyond usual conservation efforts by getting rid of traditional enclosures, creating realistic habitats for their 4,000 creatures from over 600 different species.

Stay

7 Products to Make Your Home Feel Like a Vacation

Sometimes the best place to get away from it all is the place where you're most at home.

With the days getting shorter and the weather getting colder, it's hard not to miss the freedom to hop on a plane and fly off to some exotic destination.

But with most of the world shut off to American tourism, and social distancing still being a major concern, there has never been a better time to bring that sense of freedom and fun into your own home. Even if you don't have the option to travel like you used to, these products offer some affordable escape from the comfort of your home.

Wall Decals

Wall decals

Amazon

Sometimes all you really need to get out of your rut is a change of scenery. Redecorating a room where you spend a lot of your time can make it feel like you're somewhere brand new. And wall decals are among the quickest and cheapest ways to achieve that effect.

Turn your favorite room into a floral scene, a desert landscape, or something more whimsical in a matter of minutes. Coming in various sizes to provide either small touches of color, or wall-size tableaus, it's a simple peel-and-stick process to turn a familiar space into something. These tropical hibiscus decals from RoomMates bring the island vacation you've been craving into your living room for under $15.

PrettyLitter

PrettyLitter

We often overlook the sense of smell as a factor in setting the atmosphere of a space, but you have probably noticed that most homes have a distinctive smell, and that most likely includes your home too. And if you find a way to change that distinct smell, suddenly you're somewhere entirely new.

Of course there are any number of candles, sprays, or essential oil diffusers that can lend your home a temporary transformation into a pine forest or a French bakery, and they can make for nice change of pace. But if you own a cat and want to fundamentally transform and improve the background smell of your home, there is no better way than ditching old-fashioned clay cat litter for something that actually works.

There are some different options on the market, but PrettyLitter not only traps odors–it changes color to help you monitor your cat's health, and is delivered to your door on a monthly basis—so you can skip the litter errand and focus on enjoying your at-home vacation for just $22 a month.

Exotic Edible Plant Kit

passion fruit

If you're willing to put in a little more effort than just sticking some decals on your walls, it's possible to really bring some exotic life to your home in the form of a plant kit. These kits make it (relatively) easy to grow and tend to plants from around the world.

They can add some vibrant color and lively scent to your home, and edible plants—from hot peppers to this passion fruit plant—have the added bonus of delivering flavors from far away, so even food you grow in your own home can take your taste buds on vacation. All for around $25 with shipping.

Cocktail Machine

If you're the type of traveler who prefers to splurge on an all-inclusive resort with an open bar, then you might want to take some of the money you saved by staying at home and buy yourself a robotic bartender. That's essentially what you get with the Bartesian Premium Cocktail and Margarita Machine.

Rather than buying a bunch of ingredients and equipment for mixing your own drinks, you just have to stock up on some cocktail pods and fill up the machine's four glass bottles with your favorite liquors. Suddenly you have a fully stocked and staffed bar available whenever you're ready for a refill. At around $350, and around $2.50 per cocktail pod, the Bartesian isn't cheap, but with the money you're saving on airfare, you can afford to keep your all-inclusive staycation buzz going.

Night-Light Projector

Another great way to transform your space is with some interesting lighting. There are a number of amazing and surprisingly affordable projectors that can make a dark room feel like an entirely different planet, but this ocean wave projector from GoerTek, with a variety of color settings, has the added feature of soothing nature sounds to help you relax. It's also under $30.

Spa Set

spa set

As long as you're giving yourself a chance to relax, why not take that to the next level with some truly pampered luxury? No garment on earth is quite as comfortable as soothing as a bath robe, yet most of us only wear one when we're at a hotel or a spa.

It's time to bring that comfort home, and while you're at it, why not take a soothing, French rose bath with a bath bomb, body wash, lotion, and an exfoliating scrub brush. The full spa set from Ellen Tracy is available for just $40.

Solar Therapy Lamp

therapy lamp

One of the best reasons to travel during the winter is to go somewhere where it doesn't feel like winter! The short days and long nights of winter months cause many people to experience seasonal symptoms of depression. Travelling somewhere with more sunlight can be a great option for escaping those winter blues, but if you're stuck at home you can still get the light you need.

Solar therapy lamps mimic the color and brightness of actual sunlight, and can be used in dark winter mornings to reset your circadian rhythm and make you feel like your soaking up some rays on the beach. This therapy lamp from Miroco is available for under $40.

So the next time you're feeling stir-crazy and want an escape from the familiar, consider bringing your vacation home with one of these products.

People across the world are waking up to the amazing benefits of using meal kits. They're convenient, fast, and much better for the environment compared to grocery shopping. But the benefits don't stop there. The number one meal kit on the market, HelloFresh, adds even more quality and convenience to their meal kit delivery service.

If you need any further convincing, we've gathered the top 7 reasons why people are choosing HelloFresh;

Choice of recipes

Everyone gets tired of trying to think of new, interesting meals to cook. Most of us end up in a weekly cycle of repetitive meals that result in boredom and nagging from the kids.

With HelloFresh, you choose your weekly menu from a range of 25 recipes that change each week, with new ones being added all the time.... Between their top-rated, quick, low-calorie, and vegetarian recipes, and a huge range of cuisines from around the world--HelloFresh has a little bit of something for everyone. You can enjoy a delicious Italian pasta, a flavourful Thai stir-fry, or a classic cheesy beef burger all in the same week; the choice is up to you.

We haven't had a bad dinner yet! all the recipes are so delicious, Sichuan Beef Stir-Fry with Garlic Rice & Crispy Shallots and Portuguese Chicken & Roast Veggie Couscous with Lemon Yoghurt are just a few of our favorites.

Each kit comes with an easy-to-follow recipe card that shows you exactly what to do every step of the way. It makes cooking simple even for rookie chefs!

Convenient

Everyone agrees HelloFresh saves them a ton of time. No more meal planning or hours spent prepping and cooking in the kitchen. They also have this handy app which makes it so easy to pick your meals each week, you can even skip a week or add extra meals with a simple tap.. If you forget to pick your meals, HelloFresh will send you the top-rated recipes for that week. The last thing you need to do is pick when you want your box delivered and HelloFresh takes care of the rest.

Skip the Grocery Store

Just another way HelloFresh saves you time and stress. All the ingredients they deliver are pre-portioned and fresh meaning that everything in the box ends up on your plate. So you'll get a delicious dinner with fewer trips to the dreaded supermarket; who doesn't want that right now?

Easy to use

Choose from their 3 plans; Meat and Veggie, Veggie, and Family-friendly. Then simply choose how many meals you want each week and for how many people, along with which recipes you want; which is by far the hardest part because you'll want to try them all!

Affordable

HelloFresh meals start from as little as $7.99 per serving. By receiving the right amount of ingredients, not only do you cut down on your food waste, you can save money on those expensive one-off sauces that sit in the back of your fridge.

Sustainable

HelloFresh is the first global meal kit company to be CO₂ neutral. Through global and local initiatives, along with their partnership with Plantly, they are offsetting 100% of their direct CO₂ emissions, making them a more environmentally friendly meal kit choice.

They even work directly with local food suppliers and farmers to source the freshest produce, and by cutting out the middleman and shortening their supply chain, your food gets to your kitchen fresher and faster!

Flexible

You can pause, skip a week, or cancel your subscription at any time. You have full control over your plan, which makes it so easy to try to see what all the hype is about.

Try HelloFresh today and see how it can benefit your life. Maybe even add some new reasons to our list. Either way, you know it won't disappoint.

Update: The folks at HelloFresh are extending a special offer to our readers! Follow this link to get over 40% off on Your HelloFresh Order