Many individuals associate tourism with relaxing beach vacations, mesmerizing sunsets, and visits to museums. However, there’s a growing community of adrenaline enthusiasts seeking more extreme and sensory-challenging experiences. They delve into activities like dawn cemetery explorations, entering abandoned buildings, and visiting sites marked by human catastrophes, a phenomenon known as dark tourism or thanatourism.
With each passing year, more travelers are embracing dark tourism, venturing to places where death and misfortune once reigned. This unique form of travel aims to bring tourists closer to the concept of mortality, often involving visits to historically significant yet tragic locations. Do you have the courage to continue reading and learn more about this intriguing subject?
What Is Dark Tourism, and How Did It Originate?
Dark tourism revolves around visiting places or embarking on pilgrimages to areas where themes of violence and death take center stage. The term, also referred to as thanatourism, was first introduced in 1996 by students Lennon and Foley at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. That same year, marketer and writer A. V. Seaton officially coined the term in his publications.
While some criticized the emergence of dark tourism destinations in Europe, arguing it profited from people’s suffering, tourism analysts Philip Stone and Richard Sharple from the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom contended that death was already a part of people’s lives. They viewed dark tourism as a potent means to ensure that the lessons of the past are not forgotten.
In recent years, thanatourism has gained popularity worldwide, with specialized companies creating experiences such as tours to Chernobyl or the Auschwitz concentration camp. Mexico and the United States offer their own brand of dark tourism, featuring adrenaline-pumping haunted houses and eerie experiences.
Participation in this type of travel and activity depends on the traveler’s physical and mental health, as individuals with good physical and cardiac health and without mental health conditions like depression or anxiety are better suited for dark tourism.
Exploring the Different Types of Dark Tourism
There are seven categories of dark tourism, ranging from light to intense experiences:
- Dark entertainment industries, encompassing haunted houses, zombie apocalypse simulations, and haunted forests.
- Theatrical, dance, performance, or painting exhibitions that connect with the afterlife.
- Dungeons, cells, fortifications, and prisons associated with significant historical events.
- Cemeteries and activities related to them.
- Places of worship, like the altars of Santa Muerte in Tepito.
- Areas of armed confrontations, including sites of violent conflicts or rebellions.
- Tours of locations where massacres or genocides occurred for political, racial, or social reasons.
Dark Tourism in Mexico
Mexico offers a unique range of dark tourism activities:
- Eco Alberto Park in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, hosts a midnight tour where visitors role-play as immigrants attempting to cross the Mexican-U.S. border, facing challenges from criminals and drug traffickers.
- In Mexico City’s Tepito neighborhood, visitors can explore the devotion to Santa Muerte, offering opportunities to visit altars, attend masses, and interact with sect founders.
- Mazatlan and Sinaloa provide “narcotours” that lead participants to homes, precincts, and streets where historical drug-related events occurred, including the house where El Chapo was arrested and the shrine to “Malverde,” the saint of drug traffickers.
Prominent Dark Tourism Destinations Worldwide
Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland is one of the primary camps constructed by the Germans during World War II. Visitors can tour the barracks where Jews slept in overcrowded conditions and see rebuilt gas chambers.
Chernobyl in Ukraine was the site of the worst nuclear accident in history in 1986. Thousands died due to radiation, and the town of Pripyat, which was abandoned, serves as a haunting reminder of the disaster.
The Catacombs of Paris, situated meters below the city, contain corridors and streets filled with human bones, offering a unique exploration of the macabre beneath the romantic capital.
Dark tourism may challenge traditional notions of travel, but it provides a unique lens through which to explore history, culture, and human experiences.