Dark tourism according to Wikipedia has been defined as tourism involving travel to places historically associated with death and tragedy. TheSouthAfrican.com, examines this global trend and even lists two places in South Africa where dark tourists may be interested in.
Giving rise to a new travel subculture that is steadily becoming a global phenomenon, historical sites of macabre events like mass murders and nuclear disasters are becoming the go-to hotspots for a new breed of tourists.
Dubbed “dark tourists” who participate in the emerging subculture of “dark tourism”, these travellers are now actively planning visits to sites of some of the world’s most notorious atrocities and worst disasters.
And for dark tourists, whose choice of vacations are being billed as adventure or misadventure excursions, there is certainly no shortage of dark destinations and attractions. From Nazi concentration camps to the Chernobyl nuclear facility, dark tourists are increasingly visiting sites that have left indelible marks on humanity and the world and leaving with equally indelible memories of the past.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic currently playing havoc with international travel — and ironically producing the potential for new dark attractions as a result of the unprecedented death toll brought on by the virus — dark tourism is expected to see a resurgence after the pandemic has been brought under control.
Some of the attractions that are expected to draw dark tourists once the international pandemic has passed include:
CRIME, COCAINE AND CARTELS IN COLUMBIA
Currently one of the more popular dark tourist experiences is described as a “narco simulation” and is hosted in the deep underbelly of Columbia.
The narco (narcotics) fantasy tours are offered by locals in Medellin, Columbia.
Medellin, in the 80’s, was the hometown and base of operations for one of the world’s most infamous drug lords and “narcoterrorist” Pablo Escobar. For a fee, the tour will take you through the town with a “narco henchman” as a guide and simulate the experience of being a cartel member yourself.
The experience also promises to show Escobar’s “other side” — which include his contributions to his local community. Locally Escobar was also hailed a Columbian “Robin Hood”, having built schools and medical centers for the community of Medellin.
BORDER JUMPING AND MIGRANT SURVIVAL
The widely known phenomenon of Illegal border crossings, particularly between Mexico and America have earned the dubious reputation as extremely dangerous undertakings.
Mass illegal migration, which has seen almost daily attempts by hundreds of asylum seekers, economic migrants and those displaced by conflict to illegally cross the borders of many other countries, particularly in Europe.
This global phenomenon has begun to attract curious tourists keen to experience these desperate migrant journeys. This in turn has given tourism entrepreneurs the opportunity to stage border crossing simulations for more adventurous tourists who get to follow the same routes used by migrants while experiencing simulations of the real life experiences and dangers that migrants face.
The simulations range from robbery, murder and border police interactions to snakes and other dangerous wildlife and are directed at giving participants a new understanding of the desperate bids by migrants to seek out a new life.
RISKING RADIATION AT GROUND ZERO
such as Chernobyl in Ukraine in the former Soviet Union and Fukushima in Japan are two of the world’s most notorious nuclear disaster facilities and regions.
Both sites are still accepted as dangerous areas due to the high levels of radiation emitted as a result of the disasters. The radiation effects from the Chernobyl event in particular were ultimately felt and measured in significant portions of the northern hemisphere.
When visiting these sites, tourists could still encounter pockets of radiation that far exceed safe and acceptable levels of radiation. Open to the public, visitors have reportedly been flocking to these disaster areas in significant numbers – despite the radiation risks.
Visitors to these regions and the nuclear facilities are expected to gain a greater understanding of what took place there, along with the deadly consequences of such disasters.
A FOREST OF FASCINATION, FEAR AND FATALITIES
Aokigahara Forest in Japan is beautiful, vast and dense and is situated in a region of the country known for its exceptional biodiversity and large numbers of fauna and flora species.
This forest has however also gained a reputation for something far more sinister – that of a place where people have gone to commit suicide. So prolific are the suicides that the attraction has come to be commonly referred to as Suicide Forest.
Both its beauty and its sinister reputation has made this forest a very popular attraction.
Besides appearing to be a suicide destination, visitors have also been known to wander into the forest and never return, while many others have reportedly veered off the trails there and have become lost.
Such is the extent of these events that authorities have posted signage across the area which appeal to the suicidal and the mentally ill to rethink their reasons for entering the forest.
DOMESTIC ‘DARK TOURISM’ DESTINATIONS
South Africa too offers many sites that are considered “dark tourist destinations” and continue to attract scores of local and international visitors annually.
WHERE NELSON MANDELA WAS NABBED
The popular Nelson Mandela Capture Site in KwaZulu-Natal is one of South Africa’s most famous sites of contemporary history. A monument marks the spot where the prolific apartheid activist and former state president was captured before being sent to Robben Island on 5 August 1962.
The memorial is based in the picturesque Howick region which is situated near Pietermaritzburg. The attraction is hallmarked by a museum and a sculpture which takes the form of a steel portrait of Nelson Mandela overlooking the beautiful landscape.
THE RAILWAY STATION WHERE GHANDI TOOK A STAND
Another historically important attraction in South Africa is the Pietermaritzburg Railway Station which is located in that KwaZulu-Natal city.
This station is where human rights activist and renowned Indian pacifist Mahatma Ghandi took a stand against racial inequality and subsequently began his life-long fight against discrimination after being thrown off a train in 1893.
While for some, dark tourism could simply be fobbed off as merely attractions for those with macabre tastes or those seeking a cheap thrill, but for others, dark tourism provides an opportunity to revisit history in one of the most personal and intimate ways possible.
Visiting these sites also gives visitors the chance to gain greater understanding of major historic events, while developing a deeper empathy and sympathy for the victims of many of history’s greatest tragedies.