News & Views

Dark Tourism: A Fall Travel Trend

abandoned prison/ dark tourism location


Are you ready to mix up your travel itinerary as the summer heat begins to fade? With dark tourism on the rise, you may be swapping out your calming beach walk for a chilling prison tour.Dark tourism is no new phenomenon, but since 1996 when J. John Lennon and Malcolm Foley coined the term, the industry around eerie travel experiences has exploded. Historic examples include tours through the Catacombs of Paris, which began in the 18th century, as well as visits to the Roman Colosseum thousands of years ago.

From scholars to bloggers, dark tourism seems to evoke interest from nearly everyone. Most recently, Netflix released the documentary series “Dark Tourist,” putting this travel trend before the eyes of the platform’s 94 million paid subscribers.

Whether you like adventurous itineraries or leisurely vacations, one of these four dark destinations may match what you’re looking for out of your next trip:



1. The Myrtles Plantation, Louisiana (If you like U.S. domestic vacations, paranormal activity, unsolved murder stories, bed-and-breakfasts, leisure)


This historic antebellum plantation in southern Louisiana is commonly referred to as one of America’s most haunted houses. The mansion was home to a controversial Southern family who was forced to abandon the property after they lost all of their money in the Civil War. Homeowner William Winter was shot dead on the porch and is now said to haunt the estate. Today the house is a popular bed-and-breakfast where various guests have suggested that former slaves, as well as the Winter family children, make their paranormal presence known.


2. Gyaros and Makronisos, Greece (If you like beaches, international getaways, abandoned prisons, political history, wildlife)


If you are uncertain whether dark tourism is for you, these remote Greek islands are the perfect place to test the waters. Gyaros, or “death island,” and Makronisos, also known as “island of shame,” were home to two of the most brutal political prisons used during Greece’s military dictatorship. Both islands held detainees from the 1940s until the 1970s. On these arid, deserted islands, you can take tours of decrepit holding cells, where thousands died from heat and starvation. The desolate islands serve as a somber witness to Greece’s history and remind visitors of the harsh sacrifice that thousands of individuals made for democratic freedom.

If the holding cells get too chilling, you can escape to the stunning Mediterranean waters where wildlife has prospered in the past 40 years due to the absence of human activity. The islands are now known as incredible dive sites, backed by the World Wildlife Fund.


3. Yala National Park, Sri Lanka (If you like safaris, wildlife, memorials, natural disasters, adventure)


If you are interested in the power and beauty of nature, pack your hiking boots and head to Yala National Park. On the southeast coast of Sri Lanka, this park was hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which devasted the region and took thousands of lives. Park guides take you to the waves, where you can gaze at the beach, walk among the ruins and view the memorial to those who died.

When you are ready to return inland, the incredible wildlife in the park will take your breath away. From elephants to leopards, bears and water buffalo, the animals will surely put a smile back on your face as you wonder at the complexity of Mother Earth.


4. Pripyat, Ukraine (If you like international travel, apocalypse stories, deserted homes, history)      

If you are curious what a post-apocalyptic state would look like, book your flight to Chernobyl, Ukraine—home of the worst nuclear disaster in history. In 1986, while Chernobyl was under the governance of the Soviet Union, the local power plant caught fire and erupted. Within one day of the accident, 116,000 people were forced to evacuate due to uninhabitable radiation levels, deserting their lives and leaving the town untouched for decades.

In 2011, after radiation levels subsided to a safe level, the Ukrainian government established the abandoned zone as a tourism site, attracting 50,000 visitors a year. During your visit, you can wander through the untouched Soviet houses, hospitals and schools that remain in disarray from the disaster. While radiation pollution has ruined the region and caused serious public health concerns, dense woodlands and a broad range of animal species have flourished in the absence of humans.


But it is not all fun and games with dark tourism.

While these destinations certainly offer edgy adventure, educational opportunities and a new source of revenue for locals, there are many critics. Among the critics’ concerns are the commodification of death and the oversimplification of complex historical events. Some fear that respect for the dead, as well as a deep understanding of events, will be sacrificed to potential profits. The government in Fukushima, Japan, site of a nuclear power station meltdown in 2011, is considering taking legal action against Netflix for creating false and negative perceptions of the region, scaring away potential visitors, businesses and development.

While travelers must decide for themselves whether dark tourism hurts or helps individual destinations, there is no denying the magnitude of this growing industry.


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