Uncharted Backpacker

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Dark Tourism

As one of the first pioneers in modern dark tourism I can tell you that this style of travel is widely misunderstood and frowned upon because of this. Many say Dark Tourism is politically incorrect, but the term Dark Tourism is actually a broad term for multiple categories within this style of tourism. This post is to take a look into the darker side of travel and understand why people not only enjoy it, but dedicate the entirety of their travels to it.

What is Dark Tourism?

To summarise this, Dark Tourism is now generally accepted to be tourists who are drawn to locations that have been significantly impacted by a tragedy that most likely resulted in loss of life.

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Old Tanks in Afghanistan Panjshir Valley

This is where it gets confusing, what most decide to be a “dark tourism” sight is solely based on opinion as no destinations are officially labelled as dark tourist sights.

So that being said you can be visiting a sight which many would consider a dark tourist site without even knowing!

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Bedouin Youth in Yemen Marib Province

For example: many tourist who travel to Paris would love the opportunity to visit the Paris catacombs. This is easily a dark tourist sight and to is widely accepted as a usual traveler destination. So is Dark Tourism Ok? 

What Attracts Travelers to Dark Tourism

The easiest way to explain goes like this; the average person watches the world news. This is because we are interested in current events. Usually the news features wars, natural disasters or remembering similar events of the past, but for some seeing it through a television is not enough. Some want to be there, to experience it and witness history themselves. Why is this frowned upon?

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Skulls on the longhouse roof, Sarawak Borneo

When I began my life abroad I started back in Thailand in 2007. I was interested in beaches, diving, spicy food and nature.

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains

My curious young self-spent three months in Thailand and I began to get the itch to venture further. My next stop was Cambodia, mainly for the purpose of seeing the amazing temples of Angkor Wat.

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

War Museum in Iraq

Like most travelers in Cambodia a trip here would be incomplete without a visit to the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields. Here thousand were murdered in cold blood in a very recent genocide.

This was maybe the first “dark tourist” sight I experienced. Visiting here didn’t make me fascinated with genocide, but more interested in seeing why these kinds of things happen.

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Lower Omo Tribes, Ethiopia

This is one reason why people are genuinely curious about the darker side of things. And for all the vastly different dark tourism destinations I have visited, I have unique and special stories that give me reason why I decided to venture there.

Categories of Dark Tourism

Although Dark Tourism is changing fast, these are some general categories of sights I have visited and experienced. Of course this is only a small part of it all, but just to grasp how complex Dark Tourism is we can use this:

War Tourism

Some see war tourism as unthinkable, but to tell you the truth on my website the number one place I am asked about travel to is Yemen. Yemen a country in the midst of a brutal coal war and considered the worst humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen!

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Crossing the Khyber Pass Afghanistan/Pakistan

War tourism might just be one of the biggest Dark Tourism categories. To see war happen first hand is not something many can say they have done and this is exactly one of the reasons why so many are curious about it.

Historical and Genocide

Genocide is possibly the darkest segments of human history. When we think genocide the first to come to mind is most likely the Holocaust.

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Auschwitz, Poland

Auschwitz the camp that exterminated countless innocent people is one of the most popular sights in Poland to visit today.

These sights in my opinion should be places everyone should visit. It’s important to remind ourselves of events that we should never repeat and to see the tragedy that has happened in our past.

Disaster Tourism

The most famous of these sights would be Chernobyl, the village that was decimated by the failing nuclear reactor plant in the Ukraine.

Although it happened years ago the radiation is still a very present and dangerous factor. With saying that visiting a town that is being swallowed up by nature and has not seen change since the USSR its enthralling!

Disasters like this can make for some amazing historical and unique sights.

Natural Disaster Tourism

For many like myself experiencing nature at its most powerful and grandest is amazing. It’s not so much the tragedy that attracts me here, it’s the sheer power of what our planet is capable of.

With climate change increasing the intensity of storms and weather, this kind of tourism is only getting more fascinating.

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Typhoon Yolanda Disaster in Letye

Political Tourism

First place that comes to mind, North Korea. This is easily one of the most controversial categories of Dark Tourism. This is because of with most political situations there is an ongoing struggle or crisis.

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Mansu Hill complex, North Korea

On the other hand what you see on television or read about in magazines about current political situations is most likely fabricated.

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

US Embassy, Tehran, Iran

Travelling to countries known for their political situation can be eye opening! It can change perspectives and show you truths that most have no idea are happening.

Crime and Gang Related Tourism

Police Museums, Closed down Prisons (Open ones as well!) And the location of famous murders.

Crime is a very popular topic within tourism. It’s historic just as it is recent and ongoing in many places. This is what makes it so fascinating and disturbing at the same time.

Is Dark Tourism Ok?

This is mostly a matter of opinion. If we are to draw a line of what is OK and what is not acceptable this line would be very different from person to person.

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Khat Market in Sanaa Yemen

In reality the line is drawn only in one spot, is it legal? That’s right, if you’re not breaking any laws then why not! It’s a matter of being respectful and understanding of where you are or what you’re seeing. Not everyone is going to agree with you traveling to certain places, but who cares as long as it’s legal and you’re not hurting anyone then go and explore the riches of Dark Tourism.

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Hiking the Kalash Valleys, Pakistan/Afghanistan

Of all the darkest destinations I have been in my experience the most controversial one has been North Korea. Not for me, but for viewers on my website. Everyone seems to have an opinion about travel there.

When I traveled to North Korea I did not write about politics and I was not breaking any laws, so why are people so upset? Simply put, they most likely just don’t understand and that is fine!

See some of My Dark Tourism Travels Here:

Yemen

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

North Korea

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Libya

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Afghanistan

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Iraq

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Iran

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Want to Read More About Dark Tourism?

Understanding Dark Tourism and What It Is?

Check out Atlas Obscura HERE. A book dedicated to the weird and wonderful Dark Tourism sights around the globe!

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Stephen Gollan

Stephen Gollan

Uncharted Backpacker is a glimpse at the past eleven years of globetrotting I have done. Now at over ninety countries I share my travel knowledge for you so you too can travel the world and see what wonders it has to offer.

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • What an super interesting blog post. I never heard of dark tourism before and thank you for explaining it and giving examples. Looks like you’ve done and seen some incredible things on your travels!

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