What is Dark Tourism?
The term ‘Dark Tourism’ has become increasingly popular in recent years and even more so since the Netflix series ‘Dark Tourist’ presented by Louis Theroux-like Kiwi David Farrier launched. In this fascinating eight-part documentary he visits strange, risky and sometimes terrifying destinations across the globe that are frequented by tourists seeking an experience different to that offered by Thomas Cook (other holiday companies are available).
But where and why did this unusual pastime originate? Despite increasing popularity in recent years, people and pilgrims as far back as the 11th century visited places of religious significance such as Jerusalem the location of Christ’s crucifixion. Tourists interested in bloody history would take part in the Grand Tour visiting Gettysburg the site of the bloodiest battle of American civil war in 1863 and the ruins of the Colosseum that saw plenty execution, torture and death. It was an opportunity for the wealthy to experience Europe.
It seems our recent fascination with events is fuelled by the media and availability of information online that persuades us to visit places in person and experience them first-hand. It may not be your average beach holiday but, despite their macabre nature, these sites of historical interest educate us in the effects of natural disasters, conflict and (hopefully) resolution.
The 20th century has given us many opportunities to populate the dark tourist trail with war, catastrophes and loss of life. In Farrier’s ‘Dark Tourist’ he visits the site of JFK’s assassination and learns how local Americans are cashing in on the murder with tours, reconstructions and even artificial intelligence experiences.
‘Dark’ places to visit
If you’re intrigued and fancy becoming a dark tourist yourself, perhaps you’re wondering where you should head on your first trip. Here’s two fascinating destinations to start you on your dark tourist journey.
Robben Island Prison in South Africa, the prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years along with 3000 political prisoners during their fight to end the Apartheid is a must for any dark tourist. Tours are conducted by ex-prisoners who show you the graveyard of people who died due to leprosy, the quarries where prisoners were put to work and of course the maximum-security prison.
Robben Island Prison
Chernobyl, the city restricted by the Chernobyl exclusion zone in Ukraine is a fascinating place to visit for dark tourists. The city was evacuated in 1986, 30 hours after a nuclear blast at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant the most disastrous nuclear accident in history. The city is now deserted and only two general stores and a hotel for tourists exist. Take a tour around the city that was subject to a nuclear cloud containing radioactive material that was 400 times the combined fallout of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the second world war. Despite the fact the city is deserted, levels of radiation are safe even if you stay more than a month.
Abandoned theme park in Chernobyl (photo credit: Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament)
Tips on becoming a dark tourist
Dark tourism gives you an opportunity to investigate the heart of history and explore events that can often be uncomfortable to confront.
Start slowly and ease yourself into the world of dark tourism, if you’re planning a trip always take a guide and do your research into the potential risks that you could face.
Book your accommodation well in advance, as many places are remote and won’t necessarily have lots of accommodation available.
Read your travel insurance policy documents thoroughly to ensure you are covered for the places you are visiting. If in doubt call and speak to your insurer.