Beaches? Cruises? ‘Dark’ Tourists Prefer the Gloomy and Macabre

Oct 28, 2022 · 165 comments
Claire Voyant (NYC)
I visited Auschwitz. So sad
Gary (Toronto)
I travel for many reasons, and some of those reasons are a desire to learn and better understand our history. Visiting places where important events have occurred, both good and bad, puts things into perspective and helps the past feel more "real" compared to merely reading about it, or watching it on TV. I have visited Dachau, and the images in my brain from that place now vividly reappear when the Holocaust is referenced. I have also visited The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which hammered home to me the way the lives of the so many benignly normal people, who were very much like us, were destroyed through an abstract hatred by others. Visiting makes the past seem less foreign. If more of us had a deeper understanding of our history, perhaps we wouldn't repeat the same mistakes or be drawn to the same lies and promises being fed to us today by some politicians. Of course certain places -- concentration camps, scenes of violence, churches, burial grounds -- need to be visited with respect, but that can be subjective. A few photos to document a place seems ok to me; selfies or silly posing feels disrespectful. As with any travel, some people make the effort to understand other places, some just gawk, and some don't care in the least about any of it. But when I travel, I also mix in fun and beautiful places. To seek out only macabre places seems as one-dimensional as only seeking out pretty beaches. Ideally I try to get a feel for all aspects of the places I visit.
Susan Fitzwater (Ambler, PA)
People can be odd. "People," you tell us, "came out in the carriages to watch the battle of Waterloo." That made me smile-- --'cause I'm remembering (half a century later) elegant Washingtonians, driving out to watch the first battle of Bull Run. They expected those rebels were in for a drubbing--and they wanted to see 'em run. It didn't work out that way. They did the running themselves--as the rebels came charging on. One U.S. congressman was captured. How mortifying! What happened to him I never heard-- --but the problem is: we enjoy looking back on the darker days of history. And we find--they're not over. We find ourselves (like that man in Edgar Allan Poe) caught in the maelstrom. Swirling round and round--with the people whose tragic fate we'd hoped to stare at-- --from a safe distance. My point is: there are no safe distances-- --as witness the young man that (for a lark--or why?) chose to visit North Korea. The most barbaric place on earth. He paid. Boy, did he pay! But as for people in the Philippines. letting themselves be crucified-- --we Christians believe: the crucifixion of Christ was a one time occurrence. Destined never to be repeated. But if it amuses you! to have nails driven into your hands and feet-- --nails? Real nails? You're kidding! Not my cup of tea! I'll take Chernobyl-- --any day.
lance (texas)
Anyone who goes to North Korea for fun deserves what they get.
Rebecca (DC)
The inclusion of the entire country of East Timor, a gorgeous place with wonderful culture and people, alongside sites of trauma, conflict, and disaster, is inexcusably offensive journalism.
Grant (Dallas)
I'm not sure if its dark tourism, but every American needs to visit Wounded Knee. Mount Rushmore, just a few hours away, seems tawdry by comparison.
Rick (Summit)
There’s always been a disconnect between the world news section and the travel section. One has sunny beaches, great food and happy natives eager to share their rich culture. The other is war, mass deaths, disease, famine, crime, environmental catastrophes. Some travelers want to reconcile the front page with the travel page.
MKR (Philadelphia)
See the battlefields at Gettysburg, Antietam or Shiloh. It doesn't get much darker, especially Shiloh. Beautiful and horrifying all at once.
HAL (Jupiter)
You don’t have to travel far for dark tourism, just come to my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. It’s hell on earth.
S (NJ)
@HAL As hellish as it is can it compare with the masochistic delight of travelling to the Philipines to be nailed to a cross, as referenced in the article? If so, send me an invite and I'll bring a bowl of jello.
HAL (Jupiter)
@S Ha, ha. Good one!
JWood (AAMi)
Yet another example of overpopulated societies bored hedonism.
Peak Oiler (Richmond, VA)
Irish famine museum in Skibbereen. Well worth a visit, but instead of reveling in the macabre, I came out haunted by what most English, with a few valiant exceptions, chose to ignore, right across the sea.
Gary (Oslo)
For anyone over 65, any trip these days is dark tourism. Older people have to literally risk their lives to go anywhere because everyone thinks the pandemic is over, and no one is wearing a mask.
Lapsed Republican (Hoosier State)
“When the whole world is on fire and flooded and no one can afford their energy bills, lying on a beach at a five-star resort feels embarrassing” And indulging ones feelings of schadenfreude by touring these places is not? It's like when you see a horrible wreck on the highway and everybody has to slow down to take a look. Ms. Joyce laments the effects of climate change, but what was her share of the CO2 that was spewed into the atmosphere on here flights to Chernobyl and N. Korea?
Rich (California)
This proves people have too much money. Most people are fleeing places like these. "It prepares people as the world gets more gloomy and violent." So you want to concentrate on that?
Ron Cole (Hermitage, Pa)
A couple months ago, on a driving trip to Texas to visit relatives, I wanted to stop by to see the place where Emmett Till was murdered. It was a moving experience. I remember telling people later about the stop, and most of the time I was asked, "Who?" Tourism to these places helps us not forget.
Randy (SF, NM)
I've thought it over, and I'd prefer to be nailed to a cross than visit another destination overrun with cruise ship zombies or vacuous Instagrammers.
Rich (California)
@Randy Howling.....LOL.....ain't that the truth.
ellie k. (michigan)
I’m curious about the numbers of Americans choosing to visit German concentration camps yet never visit the Civil Rights Trail, Indian Reservations or Manzanar (don’t even know it exists). It is easier to express dismay over the grim deeds committed by others while ignoring your own history, I suppose.
Ash (Oakland, CA)
@ellie k. Say it again for the people in the back!
Bewildered (Melbourne, Australia)
Another thing. Over the years I have seen a few sites which memorialised horror: in Hiroshima, Nanjing, Berlin, Phnom Penh. In each case I saw it as an obligation to see and try to understand what such events meant in the context of that country and this world. But I am aware of the dangers (seductions?) of voyeurism. Some years ago I was travelling in wester Uzbekistan and asked a young Uzbek student how difficult it was to get to the Aral Sea, the Soviet-era environmental calamity which essentially drained the Sea in the pursuit of water-hungry cotton crops. He said it was quite accessible, if you enjoyed that kind of disaster tourism. This forced me to reflect on my motives for seeing the rotting hulls of fishing boats and the ruination of livelihoods across a vast area. I gave up my interest in seeing the remains.
Bewildered (Melbourne, Australia)
Am I the only one to be bemused by the inclusion of Timor- Leste (East Timor) alongside North Korea and Nagano-Karabakh in the opening sentence of this article? This is a tiny and impoverished country, to be sure, and it suffered grievously at the hands of Indonesia before achieving independence in 2002. But it has such raw beauty, and the friendliest people I have ever encountered in my travels. There is nothing dark about a trip to Timor-Leste; as a bonus for you Americans, it uses US dollars for its currency.
Lizzy (Cape Breton)
Does trekking through the Darien Gap attract these people, between Columbia and Panama? If these people want something real, this would be the ticket.
thewriterstuff (Planet Earth)
"...posing for selfies at Dachau led to disgust and outrage." This has become the problem with all tourism and organized tours are the worst, although some of the places you need to take an organized tour (Chernobyl) and you can't just go by yourself I have travelled to most of the sites listed here, along with many more. When you visit Chichen Itza, for example, you will hear about virgins being sacrificed and in Europe any visit to a museum will show you weapons of war and atrocities begat by torture. As a life long traveler who waited for retirement to eagerly pursue this pleasure, I was astounded to find how much it had changed, since I first started traveling. People feel entitled to their selfies, they step off paths in tender places like the Galapagos, they climb over ropes putting themselves in harm's way and block people from getting a photo without them in it. The last time I was at the Louvre I watched the tourists line up to see the Mona Lisa, I became obsessed, because I noticed that some people didn't look at the painting....they clambered in and took a selfie and left. Your picture here of the little boy on his dad's shoulder's is a example of disrespect. Everyone on the road knows who the worst offenders are and which countries they come from. They are resistant to education, so there's no point talking to them. And all those selfies by influencers...notice how everyone is wearing red? They aren't selfies. Don't get me started on drones...ban 'em!
Fuzzy Chicken (NYC)
@thewriterstuff and where are the from? Ugly Americans OR are they inspired by ugly Americans et al?
BYH (Best Coast)
Seems like many places could qualify as “dark tourists” sites; it’s just a matter of marketing and awareness at this point. Human suffering and cruelty throughout history is boundless, and much of it recent. I used to live about two blocks away from the home of a female serial killer who buried her victims in the backyard and one might never have known of its past.
Melkat (St. Louis)
I’m surprised the author did not include diving to see shipwrecks. My brother dives in North Carolina and tells me there are myriad ships littering the sea floor along our eastern coast. Of course I realize that the remains of ships and submarines become part of the undersea environment, but it’s hard to imagine exploring those without giving some thought to the people who perished in some of those sinkings.
Gertrude (The Hinterland)
I don’t see why the idea of vacation has to be piña coladas, cargo shorts, and Hawaiian shirts. Palm trees, safari, gondolas, these are all fine and good, but vacation just means taking time to enjoy the experience of life away from day-to-day monotony. People get enjoyment different ways. Nothing exotic or strange as I see it, these kinds of vacations.
ellie k. (michigan)
@Gertrude Wait a minute - there are a myriad of vacations other than your description. Many go to seen the natural environment, experience the culture, and return with new ideas to apply in our lives. And never wear stereotype beach clothes. Methinks you miss the point - more apocalyptical travel desires emerging. Part of travel has always been seeing just how peculiar foreigners might, but increasingly becoming like gawking at a car accident.
Jake Morrison (New Zealand)
In 2019, I visited Israel, staying three nights in the West Bank. Earlier this month, I visited Auschwitz. Some friends think I’m crazy, but I just want to see these places with my own eyes.
TC (Manila)
Twenty years ago, when I had just arrived in DC, I found a flyer that called on peace groups to join a counter-rally against a scheduled gathering (with permits) of the neo-Nazi National Alliance outside the U.S. Capitol. I decided to go as an observer -- a "dark tourist", if you will, before the term was invented. At Union Station, there were police helicopters flying overhead. The first people I ran into were DC cops, some of them on horses, others with riot gear. I never got to see the neo-Nazis up close, though, because the police formed a solid phalanx around them as they stood in formation on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol. But I did see them from afar, just standing there, their red, black and white swastika banners barely fluttering in the August heat. A couple of of them had megaphones, but I couldn't hear what was said. Even from a distance, I got a creepy feeling. Last year, watching on TV the January 6 attack on the Capitol -- it felt both familiar, and yet not: The same creepy feeling came back, and grew quickly into outright horror. I couldn't spot any DC police in the crowd of attackers. This time, there was no order, no distance, no control. By the way, right after that Nazi rally , I visited the U.S. Holocaust Museum nearby. Does that not qualify as another "dark tourism" site? And does that not make all its visitors "dark tourists"? I'm from the Philippines, incidentally, and I've never attended on of those annual crucifixion re-enactments.
Linda (NYC)
In October 2001, a friend came to visit us and announced that she wanted to visit Ground Zero. I understand her reasons for it now a little better, but at that time my feelings about what had happened in our city were still very raw, which I think was true for many of us. I felt like snarling at her, “Why? Don’t you have graveyards back in Oregon?”
Concerned Citizen (NY)
Let's just visit beautiful areas like Kashmir. Genocide is easily forgotten there...
Joakim Lloyd Raboff (Sweden)
In 2021, I visited both Chornobyl and Auschwitz in a feeble attempt to better comprehend why so much of our collectively accumulated knowledge and tenacity is the cause of devastating havoc and profound tragedy. So much of our species' evolution has been focused on tribalism, division, and, ultimately, warfare. And now it seems as if we are regressing, incurably incapable of learning from our past mistakes.
ellie k. (michigan)
@Joakim Lloyd Raboff How does going to places that have been sanitized into memorials help comprehension? My point is people do not learn from visiting past sites - plenty of evidence on that. So it becomes voyeurism. Read the news - horror continues but you’re unlikely to be able to visit. But you can go places where climate change has devastating effects; or go help in Syrian refugee camps ( no longer newsworthy).
Joe Pruessner (Hastings, UK)
This is an interesting read, but I'm not sure about the proposition that tourists who visit these spots are "dark tourists." Many are just tourists who are interested in seeing all the sites in an area. Certainly, The Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh are an example of this. I went to Cambodia to see everything I could, which included the marvelous temples created by the Khmer dynasties, as well as the school where Pol Pot and his henchman tortured prisoners. It is all part of the experience of visiting distant lands and cultures.
Kate H (Dallas)
I was moved by a recent visit to Alcatraz Island. The former prison was mobbed by tourists taking selfies in cells, but the grim beauty of its gardens and the views of San Francisco Bay were incredible.
XPatriot (USA)
There is plenty of so-called “dark” history in our own back yards: the Americas were conquered by a genocide far greater than that perpetrated by the Nazis; and slavery (with its brutality, its tearing apart of families, its rapes and tortures) was not only limited to southern states. If we really understood those facts we would truly be able to engage with the world as it is. This article is about escapism masquerading as engagement.
Rbw (Paris)
Hi, About 600 000 africans were forced to America as slaves. You are right. About 6 000 000 jews died in Nazi termination camps.
Melkat (St. Louis)
@Rbw But you are not counting the generations of people born into slavery, the myriad descendants of all those “forced to America”. Slave couples formed families, had children, were often sold away from each other; American slave owners often raped their female slaves and the children born of those rapes were slaves…I spent a year living in Nuremberg a couple decades ago, and thought a lot about the Holocaust. But I now regard our nation’s centuries of chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregation, with lynchings and massacres of innocent citizens, as America’s own holocaust.
ellie k. (michigan)
@Rbw You leave out genocide of the native americans.
hughcruik (Budapest)
While can't afford a five star hotel, my wife and I enjoy sitting on the beach and finding a little slice of peace and comfort in a world with many, many problems. There's no need to feel guilty about it. Constantly being steeped in misery is exhausting and counter-productive to actually being able to do some good in the world.
Dave (Mass)
Certainly not on the same scale as Auschwitz or Chernonyl.....but touring the Capitol during or right after the attempted overturning of the Election would have been a further lesson in the Never Forget vein. After the attack on Nancy Pelosi's's apparent that forgetfulness is a common issue with far too many of us both here and around the world. Trump's ridiculing of the handicapped, a Gold Star Family and a former POW...along with his enablers in the GOP and the likes of Tucker and Hannity and Co. have brought us to where we find ourselves today. Only because so many Americans have embraced rather than rejecting their venom. The Ken Burns film the US and the Holocaust ...and Rick Steves PBS film on Fascism are prime examples of how Democracies fail and horrors and man's inhumanity to man rise up. After Jan. 6 we should realize....anything can happen even here in the US. Don't take Democracy for granted....VOTE like your life depends on it. It's too late when a Democracy fails !! Like Liz Cheney..Vote Blue...we are sadly down to a one party system ! VOTE !
Millenial female (NYC)
In 200 years maybe the remaining class of people that can travel will use advanced VR tech to recreate the sites of the world before most species on earth died off, before the ocean became filled with microplastics - acidified and stagnant. Before islands and beaches of paradise and forests filled with life, disappeared. Goodbye, blue skies.
Ciaren Curtis McTarbzok (Paris)
AKA : Thanatourism I’ve got the Parisian Catacombs down the street from me. When I ride my bike by it this morning, there will be a line one people long. And that line will will be replenished all day long.
Ciaren Curtis McTarbzok (Paris)
*a line one hundred people long
ellie k. (michigan)
@Ciaren Curtis McTarbzok I must be wierd as it was the sewer tour I regret missing.
Andrew (Germany)
I do not agree that e.g. visiting concentrations camps such as Dachau should be considered as Dark Tourism. These are important memorials for remembering the victims of cruel crimes committed by a whole society, either Nazis or the majority of Germans that did not resist and kept silent. These memorial sites in Germany and throughout Europe are an important part of the commemorative culture in Germany that reminds of the responsibility to prevent these kinds of crime in the future. These are sites of shame for Germany but even more it is important to nevertheless support these sites. As a German I am thankful to the United States that together with its allies stopped the terror of Nazi Times and have given Germany the chance and support for recovering and being rebuilt as a democratic country. And it is important that also visitors from the US and other countries can come to these sites and see that the sacrifices of the allies were not in vain because here the victims still get a face and name and the Nazis and their crimes are documented.
Cayce (California)
@Andrew I guess it depends one one’s definition of the term “dark tourism”. In the pejorative sense, the tourist is just that: someone breezing through to take photos and have stories to tell their friends about, collecting a certain social cache etc without giving genuine consideration to the site’s history. But as the article mentions, many who visit such sites are doing so for the honorable reasons reflected in your comments, yet might be referred to under the same term. In any event, thank you for your insightful comments.
thewriterstuff (Planet Earth)
@Andrew I agree. My most intense memory from Auschwitz was a very old man in a kippah, walking down the railroad tracks....I wondered had he been there. It was staggering to imagine that people created an efficient way to murder and incinerate innocent people....children! I have been to Cambodia and the site mentioned here, the old men there are the only 2 survivors of the torture camp. They show up every day to meet people, so we never forget.
Tom (RI)
I guess the Roman Colosseum, any ancient catacombs or your local cemetery would qualify, too.
Charles (Los Angeles)
Well, I can just take a 25 minute drive dow to Skid Row if this is the experience I want. The first time you go it is truly something out of a dystopian film, but minutes from some of the greatest wealth on the planet. That's all the "dark" I need.
Cayce (California)
@Charles And for many people, things like that are not sufficient to grow their appreciation and understanding of history and its more horrific hours. I’m unsure what your point is.
Ciaren Curtis McTarbzok (Paris)
AKA : slumming rich people in cars with tinted windows driving through poor ghettos
Linda (NYC)
Yes, or homeless encampments with rows of tents, while griping about how those people should just get jobs or go into shelters “that are nicer than our home!” (I actually heard that from an otherwise intelligent friend when we were in Seattle.)
inframan (Pacific NW)
These all sound like perfect venues for a Roadside Picnic. But still not as spooky as the real thing.
km ak (florida)
Yeah, we know already because David Farrier made this show several years ago.
Cayce (California)
@km ak If only that had been mentioned in the article, or if he had been quoted. That would have made it so much more informative.
Dr. Faustroll (Poland)
@Cayce Uh... ...except it was, and he is..?
barbara (santa cruz ca)
to each his own. i like history and would go to the tower of london.selfies in dachau. i see no problem as it is all about them and i don't see how they would get a background in or why they want endless pics of their face but i saw a teen in a beautiful gem and mineral sit for almost an hour taking pics of her face.
Cayce (California)
@barbara The problem is that is reflective of a major problem we have (at least in the US) where people are ignorant of history in general and narcissistic with regards to their relationship to it in specific. If a culture is producing a generation that only regards a concentration camp as a personal photo op instead of as a serious moment to contemplate its meaning, that culture has a massive problem that urgently needs to be addressed.
barbara (santa cruz ca)
@Cayce i had a lot of dealings with foreigners and many expressed surprise at how many americans did not even know their country such as sweden existed. an estonian was shocked when i asked if his was a common nasme or was he related to the president. nobody had heard of estonias. vast ignorance yes and produces people for whom the world is just a hazy backdrop to their face.
Lou (Anytown, USA)
For those into extreme dark tourism I would highly recommend the Central African Republic. I had the priveledge of spending a couple of weeks there and I must say that the people I met were wonderful, the landscape lush and the food wasn't too too bad. Also, the lack of any recognizable form of government and a whacked economy made me feel right at home.
Emily (Michigan)
I won't pretend that a beach or theme park type of vacation doesn't have its place for me, but much of my travel involves historical interests, and much of history isn't pretty. I don't know that I'd call it "dark tourism," but exposing myself to the unpleasant parts of the past seems important and never fails to leave me with another perspective on how we should treat one another.
Jeffrey Sinclair (Toronto)
What they aren’t considering is that if they see or feel something they don’t like, it won’t leave them. It becomes part of you, for better or worse, for the rest of your life.
Cayce (California)
@Jeffrey Sinclair How do you know they aren't considering that? It won't be staying with the selfie camp anyway because they don't care to begin with, and I would imagine the more serious folk who are the for right reasons (I use that term loosely) have not only considered that, but it may even be part of the very motivation for their visit: to see something in order to never forget it, so it never leaves them, so they take the lessons of history forward with them.
This just seems like people are being entertained by other people's horrific misfortunes no matter how it's explained or defended. Sad.
Cynthia (Maryland)
I respectfully disagree. So the humans that perished in these places are not deserving of being honored by someone willing to spend their time and money to learn about what happened to them? If I suffered and perished in a killing field, I think I’d want to know that the rest of the world cared to know about what happened there and to me and my fellow human beings. Remember Them.
Melkat (St. Louis)
@ST In the sense that being stimulated by new experiences and learning new information is “entertaining”, compared to the routine and sameness of their everyday lives, yes. But that does not necessarily make it trivial, much less sociopathic.
ellie k. (michigan)
@Cynthia They are dead and gone. They suffered horribly then died because at the time the world did not intercede when it could have made a difference. It still doesn’t. Rwanda, Haiti, Amazon rainforest natives, Tibetans, Native American women…another short news item, likely forgotten in history books.
Peter (Denver)
I'd one of my first dark sites was the Kennedy assassination location in Dallas. I am surprised that much of that location remains the same, despite pressure for economic redevelopment.
James (Savannah)
Tourists tired of sanitized tour group outings are energized by non-sanitized tour group outings. A Gary Larson cartoon, come to life. Meanwhile, the real world.
hdtvpete (Newark Airport)
Grab a copy of "Lies Across America" and visit as many of the sites as you can. You'll find plenty of "darkness" asking the way. I have to say: the spookiest place we ever visited was the Gettysburg battlefield. We did a ghost tour and then tried to drive around the park at night - couldn't do it, felt too ominous. And for a weird experience, drive through Centralia, PA which has an underground coal-fed fire burning for 60 years. Most of the houses are gone, even though the streets and sidewalks remain. At night, you can look down through the cracks on closed-off PA route 61 and see an orange glow and feel the heat. And smoke rises from random holes in the ground, even in the cemetery.
Kevin (Pennsylvania)
@hdtvpete You are spot on with Centralia, PA. I was there many times in the 80s and 90s going up to our hunting camp. Dad would drive us thru just to see the few homes that remained there back then. It was a yearly post Thanksgiving tradition,,,,Centralia then Deer Camp,,where hunting was more an excuse to sit around in a cabin with NO RADIO, TV or Telephone. Just a Massive fire place from river rocks, cards, booze and war stories from WWII, Korea and Vietnam vets. Great times
What a perfect piece of writing, with as few words as possible a complete world and experience to contemplate. Sheer mastery of the English language!
Melkat (St. Louis)
@hdtvpete -Thanks fit book recommendation. I grew up in PA. Now I’m sorry I never saw Centralia.
David Williams (San Diego county)
I visited a hostel in Slovakia where I was tortured and disfigured. Best vacation ever!
ham (smithtown)
@David Williams Happy Halloween, fellow horror dork.
Rural Progressive (Midwest)
My daughter and I visited Dachau Camp outside of Munich in 2014. I gave her the option of visiting Disney World but she chose Dachau. " I'll learn more, Dad." She's a social worker today. She chose the vacation as well as the vocation. I'm still wondering about her choices, but then I wonder about things both beautiful and dark.
Cayce (California)
@Rural Progressive You're a stellar parent. Good job.
Mary (NC)
"More than half of those surveyed said they preferred visiting “active” or former war zones." People want to visit "active" war zones? As someone who spent 25 years on active duty in the US Armed Forces and have been involved in operations that I would never voluntarily get near as a tourist, and been to remote places where only a tiny tiny percentage of people on earth are allowed to visit, this is indeed puzzling. When you don't have real skin in the game and can flee that "active war zone" anytime you want (unlike those who are there on government orders) - you get to pretend you are part of it while not really being so.
barbara (santa cruz ca)
@Mary during the american war between the states i have seen pics and drawings of men and women watching the show. at ist bull run whennthe union army fled there was of course, a great rush to get away. maybe for them it was the same as our watching the news.
Lou (Anytown, USA)
@Mary - That sounds a lot like my Peace Corps experience but I must say I did learn a few things which might have made me a slightly better person.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
It's stupid and selfish, because someone might risk and even lose their life trying to rescue you. Just like all those Sherpas who get killed or injured trying to rescue all those clowns who want to climb Mt Everest.
MOS (Pine Valley)
A hundred years ago, I visited Salem Mass., hoping to get some goosebumps, no such thing happened. It felt / looked like a tourist trap, any mystique lost to time. The best memory of that visit was of eating a fried apple pie. Truly eerie and absolutely wonderful, is Easter Island / Papa Nui. We arrived there the ONLY way to one should, by water, on a cruise ship. There is hardly anyone around, the ever-present sound of the ocean and the silent Moai, witnesses to so much sadness on that beautiful Island. They ARE stunning. After reading here an article by Edward Albee about his visit, I was prompted to go. Everything was in sync with a cruise ship that we met in Papeete, sailing for 11 days with stops at Pitcairn Island - a bit spooky, eerie beauty abounds there, and everywhere the immense Pacific Ocean. Unforgettable,
Mary (NC)
@MOS One of the biggest abrogations of justice happened in Salem in 1692. I found my time in Salem to be quite informative and I learned a lot about what happened in Salem. I came away with a much better understanding of this sad event.
Dr. Faustroll (Poland)
@MOS Rapa Nui. Apparently it wasn't completely unforgettable. Also, it's more than a little ironic in the context of the article that your recollection of the Pitcairn Islands is only 'a bit spooky, eerie', which is perhaps something of a casualty of your flipping by it on a cruise ship. The Pitcairn Islands are the site of a horrific, multi-generation deep, rampant rape and incest and grooming and abuse history, only some of which has been prosecuted, only very recently, and where the perpetrators are largely unrepentant. So, y'know, if we're looking to actually witness 'so much sadness on [...] beautiful island(s)', and history rather than a fleeting set of images...probably worth a closer look.
MOS (Pine Valley)
@Dr. Faustroll Dr. Faustroll, I went on that cruise fully informed about Rapa Nui and the Pitcairn Islands. I spoke with the inhabitants of both places. The few inhabitants of Pitcairn were very interesting. The Vanity Fair article that gave the island recent infamy about the child molestations went unspoken, I was a guest there and not there to discuss something so unpleasant - it would have been in poor taste. Papa Nui long called to me, since "Chariots of the Gods" portrayed it as such a strange place. I read books and articles about it and the lovely people there. So, I wrote on the light side, so much negativity and "trolls" out there.
Meengla_Pakistan_USA (SouthCarolina)
I am on of the arm-chair 'Dark' tourists myself: Made an attempt to go to 'La Rinconada' mine in Peru in 2016 but no local would accompany me from Cuzco due to the dangers, despite me offering half their travel cost, and I chickened out, going alone. Going to North Korea and Chernobyl is on my must-go list. I'd rather go to small towns in eastern Europe than Paris or London or Berlin. If I can't climb the Everest, I could try Kilimanjaro?? Or take the 3rd class in the St. Petersburg to Beijing train. In short, seeing the 'exotic' and the 'unknown' would elevate me. If I have to bear the familiar then I would do (and indeed been doing) cheap Caribbean cruises via Carnival until I am financially 'there' to do what I must do. I am actually waiting till the Spring of 2023 when some financial situation would improve to venture out.
Mary Sojourner (Flagstaff)
Hug a Khmer Rouge survivor??? Beam me up, somebody. How to neutralize horror, contemporary privileged Americans.
Tariq (Los Angeles)
@Mary Sojourner This man (and his sons) are Norwegian. Feels like a fair and heartfelt response from two 14-year-old boys, who seem to have processed the Killing Fields deeply. How would you respond?
Cayce (California)
@Mary Sojourner They were Norwegian. And what were they to do, invent a time machine and undo the horror? Some kind people - children, no less! - do what little they can, offer a simple sign of love to traumatized people they don't know, and your reaction is snide critique? Beam me up, indeed.
thewriterstuff (Planet Earth)
@Mary Sojourner Those men that were hugged are the only 2 survivors of the prison camp. They show up every day to tell their story, lest we forget. They are very old and very frail. Survivor's tell their stories, so we remember.
Louis (FL)
This has not been 'done before' because it's intention stems from higher states of being searching for a new-age awareness. It has been done, but the intention was different.
By George (Tombstone, AZ)
I do this. It is driven by an interest in history. I also like traveling to remote places, whether beautiful or desolate. Hedonistic travel (sunbathing, eating, shopping, etc) holds no interest for me.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
I no longer like traveling at all. Never did hedonism or 'dark tourism' but I don't really like traveling anymore. I don't even like going to work.
JWood (AAMi)
@By George Look up the definition or hedonistic. It's subjective to an individual's personal pleasures...which could include any activity.
Jerry (Amsterdam)
Kim Jong-un will be more than happy to welcome the dark tourism voyeurs, and show them firsthand the sites of suffering they have only read about. Maybe the tourist can even spend some years in a hard labor camp in North Korea, thinking about lying on a beach at a five-star resort……
Cayce (California)
@Jerry What does this even mean? That because someone visits Dachau and contemplates history, they're wasting their time because.......something about North Korea? This is classic "if you're not doing the best thing, everything else is worthless" thinking. Yes, some of the types of folks mentioned in the article are worthy of dismissal. But what about those who genuinely care? By your thinking, I shouldn't do a favor for my elderly widowed neighbor because I wasn't out taking down the worst despots on the planet. Could have been doing something more meaningful, right? Every time we put genuine love and genuine contemplation into the world, we are making it a better place. Snidely judging those who do so helps no one and defeats your own supposed purpose.
Ashley (Central MA)
Surprised to read a story on this subject and not see a shoutout to Atlas Obscura. It's one of the internet's most glorious rabbit holes!
HOUDINI (New York City)
As one whop studies the zeitgeist, I said half jokingly over a year ago, "I guess we are in a ground war now." I meant that the evil that TFG is has lowered standards to such a degree, that if you go to the gym or the market you have to ask if unpleasantness will occur. I believe you all know what I am not saying. Mr. Pelosi suffering this intrusion says volumes about what Donald Trump has done. Our legislatures have to recognize his malfeasance and show him his room in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he will sit and sit and sit along with others who attacked our country (on 9/11). David Brooks has a column about the national sadness; here you reveal the sharp tip to the spear that society has become.
HOUDINI (New York City)
@HOUDINI wrong comment with unfortunately typo on "who"...please excuse this. I was trying to add to Maureen Dowd's column about Mr. Pelosi attacked. Somehow it brought me here and I did not check. My apologies.
Mary Sojourner (Flagstaff)
@HOUDINI That may be, but you made some telling points.
HOUDINI (New York City)
@Mary Sojourner Thank you. I feel so odd making this point here. But, rep Matt Gaetz seems to have called January 6th a "tourist event." A capitol Police officer named Brian Sicknick was beaten effectively to death. The Q-Anon mind sees this as "reasonable." 800 arrests, 693 convictions. Over half have pled guilty. Average sentence: 4 months. My point: things are falling a part. There must be accountability. What did he die for? Thank you Ms. Sojourner for listening.
hotGumption (Rhode Island)
I want mine sandy and sanitized, but thanks anyway.
Carmen (San Diego)
Great article! After our first-time tour of the USA and Canada in an RV my husband and I are exploring themes for a second tour. Some ideas are a Civil Rights Tour, Micro-Nations Tour, Famous Authors tour, Native American History Tour, Old Growth Tree Tour. We are not interested in haunted houses but we stumbled on one at a campground in Opelika, Alabama. It sure felt like the real thing. Would never go back!
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
I met a former freedom rider who led tours in South Carolina, but I was more interested in his life as a freedom rider than in any tour.
ellie k. (michigan)
@Carmen So many things to treasure and learn. I’d love to use your travel idea. Tip: I’ve done trips based on books, PrairyErth, Bridges of Madison County, The English Major, 1776 - for starters.
CJ (Oakland, CA)
I get the impulse to feel like the beach vacation abroad is the apex of capitalist decadence and meangless. But just visiting sights of horror as a tourist is not much better. Historical sites or some direct connection to you is can understand, but not pouring into disaster zone before the water has receded or before war carnage has been removed from the battlefield. It would be better to help, get involved. It is needed and will leave a lasting, meaningful impression. I've lived and worked in developing countries, had a career as an airplane crash investigator, and now live on a remote Native American reservation. There is a lot of suffering out there. But it's easy to get involved. Probably within 100 miles of everyone in the US.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
I feel like we should give free beach vacations to poor people stuck in cities, take them to spas too. Most of them could probably use a free massage.
MNKindaNice (Minnesota)
Each to their own, but I prefer a 5-star resort with poolside cocktail service, great restaurants, a spa, and the ocean or mountains nearby and to do nothing but relax, read, and catch up on my sleep. The world is dark enough, there is no way I'm spending my vacations in dark, unhappy places.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
I found a working class version of this in West Virginia, hiking and mountain views, but getting there and back without a car was almost impossible.
Bluebird (NY)
A good friend of mine lives in Amityville, NY. She said tourists were showing up in her neighborhood all the time looking for the Amityville Horror house after the book and movie came out. It went on for years. She had a habit of steering them in the wrong direction. I visited the Aokigahara forest in Japan 30+ years ago. It's dark and lush, beautiful and peaceful. In the olden days it was said to house the ghosts of the dead.
Jules (New York)
When I went to Cambodia I visited a former prison of the Khmer Rouge. It was very powerful and moving. I never considered this to be "dark tourism," but rather 'visiting historical sites.' But perhaps there are tourists who's ONLY objective is to visit sites of pain and conflict? I am fascinated by places that are completely different from where I live, so I am very interested in visiting North Korea, but am too terrified of an outcome like Otto Warmbier.
Alan Dean Foster (Prescott, Arizona)
In 2011, I stood right next to that statue in the picture of Chernobyl. This was before the containment vessel was finished or emplaced and you could still see the reactor. I did out of scientific and historical curiosity, not because it was a "dark" destination.
Steve (SF)
This groups together a lot of experiences that bear no relation to each other. I would think it near irresponsible to go to Cambodia and not learn about its history, or visit Anne Franks house in Amsterdam, etc. This doesn't seem comparable to a suicide forest. As someone who went to Nagorno Karabagh, I found it anything but "dark," but full of determined and welcoming people trying to build a future. If more people went, there might be better understanding of their quest for self-determination which looks very under threat at the moment.
Cayce (California)
@Steve That's informative and appreciated, but there's no getting around the fact that many of these experiences do bear relation to each other.
syfredrick (Providence)
Maybe people find it more satisfying to believe that they can get through "... the terror of knowing what this world is about." than to fantasize about Caribbean island beaches, sipping Pina Coladas, and wind-surfing azure seas in the brief period after the brutal summer sun but before the hurricane season. Especially near the end of October.
Susan (Michigan)
@syfredrick well we are Under Pressure
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
One of our heating repair guys went to a resort and was freaked out by how creepy it was, separated from the people who live there. He hated it and said never again. I've never been to a resort.
Quentin (NYC)
The summary of the survey (from an oh-so-reputable source) results in this article is super misrepresentative of what the actual survey says.
Jk (Cambridge)
Is this why Providence get some many tourists into Lovecraft, King, Hocus Pocus and a book bound in human skin? My school recently had to hire more security to chase off these fans
Sonder (on land)
I like visiting cemeteries - is that "dark tourism"? When I told a colleague that I wanted to do a "dead scientists tour" of European cemeteries, they actually asked what travel agent booked those tours! Uh, none. Just a rental car and a GPS.
barbara (santa cruz ca)
@Sonder was told by someone that karl marx was buried in a small london church. william blake was there too. and a coworker went to dsly city to see the mr and mrs wyatt easrp grave in the jewish cemetary. i would go to pere lachaise in paris. and many go to old graveyards to make rubbings off tombstones. not sure this is dark tourism. is going to alcatraz in frisco. interesting tour. cold there.
Why not Dark Climate Tourism? There are countless areas where global warming has wreaked havoc - permanently. This could encourage travelers to stay closer to home on their next trip; there is no shortage of devasting/devasted areas, anywhere in the world.
John C. (Away in Asia)
“Dark tourism” is a disgusting. Here in Japan there were loads of Americans breaking into people’s houses in the Fukushima areas closed off after the 2011 tsunami taking selfies. These were homes owned by people who were still alive who woke up to find their private spaces invaded by random strangers and posted all over social media. Dark tourism is little more than an extension of imperialism, wealthy privileged people going to places to gawk at how backwards or unfortunate they are so that they can then oat themselves on the back and go “wow, look at how much better we are than these natives”.
Cayce (California)
@John C. That's awful and those people are vultures. Having said that, I find a recurring theme in these comments, which is that "dark tourism" automatically means that kind of narcissistic garbage. A large part of the article deals specifically with people who are essentially the opposite of that, people with genuine empathy who want to learn (this leans more towards the historical side, obviously, as opposed to "current tragedy" side) and respect what has taken place. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. But yes, the behavior you described is abhorrent.
Jimmy (NYC)
@John C. frankly you could make the same argument for most types of tourism
Madrugada Mistral (Hillsboro, OR)
I didn't realize that having visited Mauthausen and Dachau I was a "dark tourist."
Cayce (California)
@Madrugada Mistral You aren't. You are who you are, and you visited those places for the reasons that are important to you. I enjoy discussing topics like this in a sort of abstract way, but when it comes to the individual, I hope folks like yourself don't worry about a label.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
I would never go. My cousin was tortured in a labor camp and managed to escape. Won't go to 911 memorial either. Let the dead rest in peace. I like to visit living cities and little towns, wherever I can go by foot, local bus or train, and just walk around or hang out. Visiting Monterrigioni was great, I didn't see a single tourist that day.
Carolyn R (Cape Coral, FL)
Come visit beautiful Lee County, FL. Our barrier islands and beaches are devastated, many of them are inaccessible or entrances are guarded by the police and access is restricted. If you want to see the power of Mother Nature you can drive through any neighborhood.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
I didn't realize school was cancelled after one hurricane, and as I walked to the high school, I was hopping over wires and climbing around trees. I was going to go home the other way, but it was under water. We drove through the rich neighborhood at night and it was eerie, mansions sitting in total darkness amid huge, uprooted trees, some of them hanging on wires. It's bad enough here after a major storm, but no one should live on a barrier island.
Horace Dewey (NYC)
A little bizarre? Sure. I'm not sure, though, that you could characterize everyone with absolutely human impulses and curiosities as consumers of serial killers and rapists. Catastrophe tourism bothers me too, but it is an absolutely welcome departure from 95% of cruises, in which shore trips compete with each other to obscure as much authentic local culture as they can.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
Cruises seem like hell to me, not fun being trapped on a crowded ship with no escape, plus cruise ships pollute and kill manatees, etc. It's time to ban cruise ships.
Patriot (USA)
What's better, I think, is visiting places all places, light or dark, and get a view and taste of how the locals really live. Talk to them. Buy from them. They're all right around the corner. Experience the planet and reject corporations and their awful, fake and exploitive cocoons of cruise ships and "all inclusive" resorts and tours!
Jane (Brooklyn)
This article is ridiculous. Suffering and sites of suffering have long been tourist destinations, not because people want a “real world vacation” but because so many people love the voyeurism that comes watching pain that will never reach them. These same people binge watch shows about serial killers and rapists, a cultural fixation that I find deeply disturbing.
hotGumption (Rhode Island)
@Jane You got it right Jane!
Ivy (PH)
Here in Asia we have a term, “poverty porn”. There’s a fine line between art and exploitation when it comes to watching media, “touring” places or having new experiences that might be deemed “dark”. There are more misses than hits, and the people affected are harmed more than helped.
Chuck (Pennsylvania)
@Jane There’s a lot of daylight between North Korea and Portugal’s built-up Algarve coast. I enjoy a certain amount of authenticity when I travel, preferring untouristy Mexican mountain villages over, say, Cancun. It’s not because I like looking at poverty or human suffering, but because my imagination runs wild when I’m in a place that transports me back in time. I get what’s called a “period rush.” I suppose people who visit danger zones get that sort of thing as well. But also, I get a fresh perspective that perhaps makes me a better person. In the US, for those who want to be transported to another dimension, I’d recommend driving the narrow, vine-choked backroads of southern West Virginia’s Mingo and McDowell counties. It’s beautiful terrain, you’ll learn a lot about the history of coal just by doing a bit of reading beforehand and observing what you see, and the region desperately needs tourist dollars.
M (Rochester)
The Katrina one is definitely tacky but I understand it's appeal. I was stationed in Biloxi a couple of years after it happened and it's almost impossible to comprehend unless you went there, it looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off and just demolished everything along the coast.
MB (Anywhere But Here)
Johnny Rotten sang it best: “A cheap holiday in other people's misery I don't wanna holiday in the sun I wanna go to new Belsen I wanna see some history 'Cause now I got a reasonable economy”
Ft (US)
Macabre. To go as a tourist to a war zone. Cheap thrills and then you get to jump a quick flight back to your comfortable safety., Go be a helper. Or if you will only get in the way of the helpers, then stay home and send money to the helpers.
averyt (Manhattan)
The Dead Kennedys predicted this, back in the early 80's. Everything Jello Biafra imagined is coming true.
Lorenzo (Oregon)
@averyt And Robocop.
JJ (Seattle, WA)
Not sure what's creepier, dark tourism or Disney adults.
Ashley (Central MA)
@JJ Is there any appreciable difference?
inframan (Pacific NW)
@Ashley - Isn't that what JJ is saying?
ronny (hartford)
my very rich friends scheduled trips to eastern Poland soon after the war with Russia began in Ukraine, pretending to themselves that they are personally needed to pass out the supplies they are paying for, like Sean Penn in NOLA post Katrina. It offers plutocrats an “authentic” world experience/adventure. what a life!
Ayzed (Malaysia)
I wonder what the metaverse versions will look like.
Lorenzo (Oregon)
Visiting the House of Terror in Budapest was utterly chilling. Had not heard of it and the incients before, and it truly enlightened us as to all the horrors that are not commonly known from bygone eras.
Ugly And Fat Git (Boulder, CO)
Whenever I read about things like person getting nailed to a cross for some religious thing, I curse my parents for not telling me about becoming a godman?
Rick (New Orleans)
Auschwitz and Ground Zero are not “current conflict zones,” so I’m not sure the author is being consistent here. Putting yourself in harm's way in an actual conflict is beyond reckless and irresponsible, if you don’t have a good reason.
NYT Reader (CA, USA)
As someone who has visited the Cambodia Killing Fields, there's something so oddly serene about these "dark" destinations. When you realize that the heavy silence in the vicinity is antithetical to the screams of terror that must have been present about half a century ago. It gives another perspective on the fragility of human life is and the extent of suffering people can endure. When one passes, there are no more stories that you can tell, arguments that you can make, or experiences that you can share except those the living choose to honor you with. As Homer writes in the Iliad, "the same honor waits for the coward and the brave. They both go down to Death" and it is up to the living to remember them.
Expat (Zurich)
Actually, should you be interested in wild life, Chernobyl is far from 'macarbre' It is one of the most interesting places on the globe to visit UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme ) “How C hernobyl has become an unexpected haven for wildlife “ · Researchers have found the land surrounding the plant, which has been largely off limits to humans for three decades, has become a haven for wildlife” UNEP Sep 16, 2020 It is *MUCH* easier for wild life to live with radioactivity than with humans As far as wild life is concerned : The more radioactivity , the better - as long as it keeps humans away So. SHOULD you interested in wild life: Chernobyl is the place to go :-) There are fascinating studies, and tours
SKB On The Ohio (SW Ohio)
@Expat Thank you for the link, very good news.
SD (Washington State)
@Expat I read about what you describe in a good book called "Islands of Abandonment." The book also discusses several other places that were similarly destroyed in some fashion and what eventually became of them. A surprisingly uplifting read about the resiliency of nature.
barbara (santa cruz ca)
@Expat have read the border between n and s korea is free of humans and home to many birds and other animal life. sad comment on human activity
Michelle Varrin (Bozeman, MT)
The darkest travel I’ve ever done was last month on a Viking river cruise with a Covid outbreak. From deep in the upper Nile River basin there was a med evac and doctor visits to the ship and my husband and I were the only ones who put masks on: tragic and macabre.
thewriterstuff (Planet Earth)
@Michelle Varrin I can't believe people still go on cruises!
Seth (PA, USA)
I recently read Neil Postman's book "Amusing Ourselves To Death." It is about how TV and its offshoots make our education, religion, and politics all about entertainment. I guess dark tourism is about amusing ourselves with death. I wonder what next year's hot, I mean dark, destination will be. The ruins of the Capitol? Islands about to be underwater? The next nuclear disaster in Ukraine? Earth! Full of relaxing beaches and entertaining, transfixing pain.
Escapist (NYC)
The title of this piece doesn't quite work for me as it implies that beaches are not dark tourism destinations. What about the Normandy D-Day beaches where thousands of men were killed? Also, there are probably plenty of spoiled or eroded beaches throughout the world that people can tour to see the dark side of global warming and pollution.
Kevin (SJ, CA)
Just make sure you're giving your money to people who deserve your money. "Dark Tourism" should not include destinations like North Korea just because you think things aren't good and you want to see how they really are. Because in those places, they are just pulling the wool over your eyes and your worldview will be even more skewed the wrong way than if you didn't go at all. And if you want to risk your life in a true conflict zone, good on you. That makes a lot of sense.
RamS (New York)
I think a lot of natural beauty is "dark." Go to Congaree National Park in SC - a hidden gem (and also a LOT of mosquitos), or Everglades, etc. Even Everest base camp was very desolate and the surrounding areas, i.e., in Lhasa, etc. were sad due to the status of the Tibetans. Then there's Death Valley, one of my favourite places (I love deserts in general, very brutal places if you observe what is going on). Not a fan of human based attractions. I think that is different. There is nothing "natural" about humans causing other humans to suffer especially in this day and age.
See also