Equipped with my Geiger counter I ventured deep into Chernobyl’s “Zone”. Every so often I would enter a room and the Geiger would alert that Radiation levels are dangerously high. This is a trip like no other I have undertaken before. It’s otherworldly, wandering the apocalyptic lands between radioactive forests, massive power plants, desolate villages, and dilapidated cities. Those who wander the area as they please are known as “stalkers” by locals. As a stalker, you have absolute freedom to explore this world’s end. I had been in search of a unique travel experience and becoming a nuclear disaster explorer has been nothing short of amazing! Grab a Geiger detector and gas mask and join me as I venture deeper into the Chernobyl disaster zone!
Getting to Chernobyl
There are two ways to visit Chernobyl, the first is to join a tour. Most tour companies will arrange all your permits, push you into an overcrowded bus and do a quick tour of the area. Note it is illegal to enter any buildings within the Chernobyl disaster zone.
The other option is to visit Chernobyl illegally. This requires extensive local knowledge to keep you safe and you risk the chance of being caught by the police. Another factor to keep in mind is that the area is huge, visiting illegally means hiking for several days through marshes and forests.
There is an alternative, however! I linked up with Gamma Travel. Their guides are well endorsed in the area (They used to be Stalkers) and are arranging amazing unique opportunities. You enter Chernobyl with only you and a guide legally, but they have special access to give you the “Chernobyl Stalker” experience.
Understanding Radiation in Chernobyl
After the 1986 nuclear Disaster in Chernobyl, the area has been plagued with some of the world’s highest radiation levels. Coming to Chernobyl I realized how very little I actually understood about radiation.
For starters, there are three kinds of radiation. Gamma, Alpha, and Beta. Using a Geiger Detector, you can test for Gamma Radiation levels. Many objects in Chernobyl will have very high radioactive levels this being Gamma Radiation.
Alpha and Beta Radiation, however, is in the form of dust. Walking through the exclusion zone you will see how much dust there is, now not all of it is radioactive deadly dust, but much of it might be.
Is Traveling Chernobyl Safe?
After understanding how radiation works you can also understand how to keep yourself safe from radiation in Chernobyl, but what is a safe radiation level? Its widely understood that levels above .20 are considered not safe. In a few spots of Chernobyl, I had readings as high as 2500! But as long as you do not spend much time near this amount of Gamma Radiation, you will be fine.
An example of this is if you fly from New York to Tokyo you will be exposed to radiation levels of around 10-20. Three days in Chernobyl my Geiger read that I was exposed to levels of about 80.
Now that we understand the safety of Gamma lets protect ourselves from Alpha and Beta Radiation. Being made up of dust this type of Radiation is best-protected wearing clothes… yes, that’s it. If the dust gets on your clothes you can wash it off, but one must be very careful not to inhale or get the dust on your skin. Entering the body this kind of radiation can cause damage.
Equipped with knowledge and tools its completely up to you to decide whether it is safe to visit Chernobyl. Although I felt safe, others may not.
The Stalkers of Chernobyl are somewhat of local legends. They are addicted and dedicated to exploring Chernobyl solo staying for days overnight in the abandoned buildings. Although it is illegal, the Stalkers have pretty much-paved way to the tourism you see in Chernobyl today and until you have experienced what its like to explore a post-apocalyptic world, I wouldn’t judge what they do.
I spent three days exploring the Zone as a stalker (stayed in a hotel in Chernobyl although), with the help of my guide to show me the reins of this exhilarating experience!
Abandoned Villages 30 km Zone
Chernobyl is divided into two large circular areas. There are the 30km and 10km zones. The 30km zone is mostly forests and abandoned villages, while the 10km zone is where you will find Pripyat/Power Plants.
Permits in hand we crossed into the 30 km Exclusion Zone. This is the first step to getting to Chernobyl’s Radio Active areas. This area is easy to slip off the road and into abandoned settlements that have not seen people since the disaster. It’s so incredibly fascinating to see intact houses being devoured by nature.
Entering the houses, you will see that everyone had left in a hurry and never returned. There is an assortment of clothing, children’s toys and Soviet newspapers littered amongst the rooms of these houses. It’s somewhat eerie seeing this but gives great insight into what life was like during Soviet times.
The radiation in this area is fairly safe, but with all of Chernobyl, you should still take precautions not to get the dust on you.
Chernobyl Power Plant and Plant Number 4
Within the 10 km zone you will find the Chernobyl Power Plant and Power Plant number 4.
The Chernobyl Power Plant now encapsulated in a dome of solid steel is the site of the Chernobyl disaster. you are not allowed to enter the power plant, but you can visit the entrance gates that have a memorial monument to the lives lost in the disaster.
After visiting the Chernobyl Power Plant we headed over to the power plant cafeteria where all the workers come to eat. Before you enter and get your food you must pass through a Soviet era Radiation detector. If you fail the detection then you must exit and wash off all radiation before you are allowed into the lunch room!
Outside of the Chernobyl Power Plant Cafeteria is the Power Plant number 4. Here a massive decaying structure was the site of the second power plant and reactor. The plants construction was due to be finished shortly after the disaster, but because of high radiation levels this massive uncompleted structure has been left to decay. Its a great spot of apocalyptic photography and there are countless eerie undiscovered rooms.
This is the masterpiece of the area, the Soviet city of Pripyat. Meant to be a utopian city equipped with private schools, hospitals, 5-star hotel, and even a Ferris wheel playground! After the 1986 disaster, it was left empty, radioactive and left to nature to slowly retake the land.
Pripyat has to be one of the most fascinating places I have ever been because of so many factors. It’s a look into what the end of the world would look like, a Soviet city that has not changed at all, what nature does when the people leave and finally what a Nuclear disaster does.
We started in the center of Pripyat. Here you will find the hotel and supermarket. On foot, we made our way through several apartment blocks ascending to the roofs for an eagle’s eye look over the area (a must do!!) then into the hospitals, schools, swimming pools and finally the amusement park. Exploring the city on foot dashing between buildings and climbing the massive crumbly structures was the highlight of my trip to Chernobyl!
This is the area that most imagine traveling in Chernobyl is like. There is so much to see here and to discover, but keep in mind that entering the buildings is deemed illegal. So, entering them you must do at your own risk. I heard that some others had been caught and were sent back to Kiev, but let’s be honest that only adds to the excitement!
The Duga Radar and “Abandoned Summer Camp”
Following the road out of Pripyat, we stopped at a friendly looking bus stop. This bus stop was labeled “The Abandoned Summer Camp for Kids”. This is how the Soviets hid what was down the overgrown forested road. Nearing closer to the entrance it emerges above the forest. Here is the location of a top-secret Soviet radar base called Duga or “The Woodpecker”, that was used to detect oncoming attacks from the United States. The tower is absolutely massive, an amazing feat of architecture that stands
The Duga was so powerful that it interrupted broadcasting signals all across the globe during the cold war. The area is also the sight of a complex military operations base. These days like the rest of the Chernobyl area it is abandoned and left to rot. Exploring the base, you will find Soviet training centers and countless rooms filled with old computer equipment that they used to use to monitor the skies.
When the reactor exploded, and Chernobyl was covered in radioactive clouds the trains that were coming through were ordered to stop in their tracks. These trains due to exposure would be stopping for the last time.
Now with the tracks decaying and the trains falling over the train graveyard is another essential stop for all wannabe stalkers. Many of the trains now have been pulled apart by looters leaving other sections of the train to collapse and spill over the land.
Chernobyl Travel Video
As I mentioned above, there is not that many ways to have a true experience in the exclusive zone of Chernobyl. This new and progressive company is trying to change this, fitting the needs of travelers rather than tourists. Gamma travel is the way to go when it comes to any Stalker experience in Chernobyl!