6 Dark Tourist Spots You Can Visit
If you know me, you know that I love the weird, the quirky, the dark, and the mysterious. So for Halloween this year, I wanted to write a three part blog about some of these Dark Tourist destinations.
Here in Part 1, We'll focus in on some Dark Tourism locations that you may not have realized you can visit. These sites are all rooted in reality and historical events.
Part 2 we’ll look at some unique (and possibly haunted?) locales for fans of the spooky and some of the folklore surrounding these locations.
Finally we'll conclude Part 3 with some unique and interesting museums around the world dedicated to the weird, the macabre and the dark.
North KoreaHave you ever been like me and thought "I'd really like to go to North Korea, but they don't allow tourists"? But in fact, if you’re not a journalist, South Korean or an American, visiting North Korea is a bit easier than you think. Not easy...easier. Tourism is strictly controlled by the NK Government and only 4000-6000 people get in each year. You are always with a guide and are RARELY allowed to go anywhere that you aren’t expressly invited to go. One must never disrespect the nation of NK, it’s leaders or its symbols and tolerance for those who do is minimal. Many tours will keep you close to Pyongyang, but there has been some expansion. One big draw for tourists is the Masikryong Ski Resort. You need a visa to enter and you won’t receive a stamp in your passport for your troubles. I have a strange fascination of watching videos taken in North Korea on Youtube and one thing is often consistent – the statement of how surreal everything is.
The Exclusion Zone In 1986 the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had a melt down resulting in the biggest man-made disaster of all time, that is until Fukushima Daiichi. The stats vary (I’ve read 100 times and I’ve read 400 times) but more radiation was released than the A Bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Nuclear Rain fell as far as Iceland and 10,000+ people are thought to have died, some immediately, and some from the nuclear fall out due to causes such as cancer. The number of deaths will never be known and some groups even estimate six figure numbers. Now, several areas have low enough radiation levels, and the site has been contained, that tours operate to the area. 49,000 people were evacuated from Pripyat and a further 68,000 from surrounding areas, including the town of Chernobyl. The amazing thing is that despite the radiation, numerous animals have thrived including wild horses, wolves and deer. Guests must use a reputable tour company as there are certain areas that are unsafe, either from radiation or from deterioration of infrastructure and there are several check points you have to pass through (all testing radiation levels). Some people do live in the exclusion zone (roughly 400 with a few thousand that work inside it), but it’s not estimated to be 100% safe to live in for 20,000 years. It’s a land frozen in time.
The Titanic Wreck During her maiden voyage, the Titanic struck an iceberg on April 15, 1912 in the Atlantic Ocean. Over 1500 people died out of an estimated 2224 passengers. It is one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters of a commercial vessel. It was the epitome of luxury, carrying some of the wealthiest people in the world. She was said to be unsinkable. When the iceberg hit, it caused hull plates to buckle inwards which opened five out of sixteen watertight compartments, but the ship was only built to withstand four flooding. The ship did not have enough lifeboats on board, and those that were launched were rarely full. Now, the Titanic is the trip of luxury once again. Those with deep pockets (over $105,000) can take part in the eight day journey that departs from Newfoundland and transports visitors in a titanium and carbon fiber submersible to the wrecks site – over 3km below the Ocean’s Surface. If you think that’s a steep price, consider this – the first voyage is sold out. For the price you get three potential days of diving, with each dive lasting 3 hours which allows once to take in the deck, the bow, the bridge and the location where the grand staircase once lived. Guests will also be able to explore the Titanic’s “debris field” – artifacts strewn across the ocean floor. In addition, during the decent guests will have the opportunity to spot bio-luminescent sea life. Many are optimistic that this dive could be an annual or biannual occurrence, so start saving those pennies.
The Darvaza Gas Crater Now, when the locals call a place "The Door to Hell", you'd expect a much more sinister or dark story, but in fact, the Darvaza Gas Crater might just be the lightest entry on our list. Located in Turkmenistan, this natural site is the result of a natural gas field collapsing into an underground cavern. Geologists set the sit on fire to prevent spreading methane gas and it’s burned continuously since 1971 (despite the geologists estimating the gas to burn off within a few weeks). And if that wasn’t enough, it’s in the middle of the Karakum Desert. But it is a popular tourist destination and between 2009 and 2017 an estimated 50,000 people have visited. This destination does not seem to require a guided tour to access the site and it’s open for desert camping, allowing you to fall asleep next to the orange glow of the portal of hell and awake, refreshed, to a beautiful desert sunrise. Tourist Visas can be difficult to come by – you must book a tour. There are transit visas available allowing for visits of up to 5 days, so if you plan to visit Uzbekistan and Iran during your trip, boy are you in luck. And recently G Adventures just announced guided trips through Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, so that opportunity to see the crater just got a whole lot easier.
Suicide Forest It’s real name is Aokigahara, or the Sea of Trees, but in recent years, it’s become known at the Suicide Forest. Located at the base of Mount Fuji, Aokigahara is a forest feeding off of roughly 30 square kilometers of hardened lava laid down by Mount Fuji’s last major eruption (864 CE). Many folks who know me know I love metaphors and symbolism and I have a deep rooted respect for volcanoes and lava. On the one hand, you have the ultimate force of destruction and once it settles, that changes into a fertile land that grows. Out of chaos comes order. Out of destruction, life. On the other hand, there is a long history of Japanese people suffering from mental health choosing to use the forest as their place of death. Parts of the forest are dense and the lava absorbs sound, so one can feel an intense sense of solitude. The Japanese Culture is a demanding one, and as a country has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. 2016 saw a 22 year low with 21,764 deaths, several of them in the forest. The numbers became so concerning, that the Government stepped in. The area is patrolled by police (as well as a few local volunteers), there are signs along the route in that urge visitors to think of their families and information on resources to contact for suicide prevention. Numbers are no longer reported in an attempt to disconnect the forest from his history. I’ve watched several videos (no, I haven't seen Logan Paul's upload) and documentaries on the location and despite the heart breaking history, the forest is beautiful and the feeling of solitude created by the sound absorbing lava is something I really want to experience.
Auschwitz – Birkenau As one of the more "mainstream" sites on our list (over a million visitors each year), one of the more disturbing facts about a place like Auschwitz is that according to the Washington Post, in a recent poll in April of 2018, two-thirds of millennials don’t know what Auschwitz even is. The same day as that article, CBS News states that 40% of millennials don’t know about the Holocaust at all. So on the off chance that you are a millennial who falls into the stats, simply put, the Holocaust was the genocide of over six million people during World War II at the hands of Hitler and the Nazi Party. The majority were Jewish, but some were gay men, some Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war, political opponents or other ethnic groups. In 1933 Concentration Camps were built to process and house these vast populations and existed through to 1945 when the war ended. The most famous camp was Auschwitz. There are two camps located in the city of Auschwitz. The first is Auschwitz I. Local residents were evicted from the town and the SS moved in. The population of the camp grew so quickly and by 1941, almost 11,000 people were imprisoned and so work began on Auschwitz II-Birkenau, just up the road. It was designed to house as many as 200,000 inmates. By 1942 Hitler had decided to execute all Jews (yup, all of them) and the Auschwitz camps became a death factory and is the largest mass murder site in human history. Of the 1.1-1.3 million Jews who entered Auschwitz’s gates, at least 960,000 were killed. Today, admission is free, though visitors should reserve an entry time. Using a tour guide comes with a fee, though my family purchased a memorial guide book instead, so we could take in the site at our own pace. As we walked through the gates, my mom felt a heaviness grow on her, which I didn’t feel until I entered the Crematorium. To get a sense of what I felt, imagine if you were to lay down and then a heavy, large bean bag to be placed on your chest. It’s a hard place to visit, but one I think is important. While we were there, a large group of Jewish teenagers must have been on a school trip, stopping and praying at different sites on the grounds. As we waited for my cousins so we could head back to our car, I returned from buying some water to see my mom comforting a woman. My mom said “it’s ok, don’t cry”. The lady’s response “My family”. We can’t forget and it’s worth a visit to help us remember what damage the wrong people can bring on humanity. If Auschwitz is too far out of the way for you, I also highly recommend a visit to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp roughly an hour outside of Berlin..