For less than $100, you can tour the abandoned towns around Chernobyl. Just watch out for radioactive trees and dogs, crumbling buildings, and the occasional selfie stick.

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickWhile on a tour of Chernobyl, you can’t touch the ground, you have to wear long pants, and being aware of buildings on the verge of collapse is a must.


On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, in what was then the Soviet Union, resulted in a cloud of radioactive particles spreading across parts of Europe.

APAn aerial view of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, is seen in April 1986, taken just days after the explosion.

Source: Business Insider,Adventure,BBC


The disaster has gone down in history as the world’s worst nuclear accident.

Igor Kostin/Sygma/ContributorPeople were told to take few personal belongings and identity papers, as it was thought they would be returning several days later, which was not the case.

Thirty-one people died in the explosion, and the areas surrounding the plant were permanently contaminated. They’re now considered to be some of the most polluted areas on the planet.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Source: Reuters


As a result of the Chernobyl disaster, an exclusion zone was established in 1986 within a 19-mile radius of the power plant, and access to the area was heavily restricted for almost 30 years.

Google Maps/Andrew Blackwell/Business InsiderThe Chernobyl nuclear power plant is actually closer to the now-abandoned city of Pripyat than it is to the city of Chernobyl.

Source: Business Insider


Only a few locals still live within that area …

Mstyslav Chernov/AP


Read more:
Photos show what daily life is really like inside Chernobyl’s exclusion zone, one of the most polluted areas in the world


… and there’s a brimming population of wildlife, thanks to the lack of humans.

Chistyakosha/ShutterstockA wild fox in front of sign that says ‘Pripyat’ in Russian.


Read more:
There’s a thriving population of radioactive animals that have taken over the abandoned Chernobyl exclusion zone, even though the area is toxic for humans


But in recent years, the site has also become a hotspot for tourists looking to get a firsthand glimpse of the exclusion zone and what remains of the abandoned towns there.

Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The first wave of tourism started around 2011, which is when the area was opened for the first time to tourists travelling with a licensed guide. The Ukrainian government, however, warned at the time that tourists’ safety wasn’t guaranteed.

Gleb Garanich/ReutersA visitor walks in front of the damaged fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant February 24, 2011.

Source: CNN, The Guardian


But in July 2019, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that the site would become an official tourist attraction. He said the area would undergo some changes that would make the area more tourist-friendly, like a “green corridor” that would offer safe entry to the exclusion zone.

Source: CNN


“Until now, Chernobyl was a negative part of Ukraine’s brand,” Zelensky said as he signed the decree in July 2019. “It’s time to change it.”

Source: CNN


Visitor interest is something that several local tour groups around Chernobyl are taking advantage of.

Valentyn Ogirenko/ReutersVisitors in the exclusion zone in June 2019.

The guided tour company SoloEast has been taking visitors into Chernobyl since 2000, according to CNN. And the website for Chernobyl Tour advertises an “eye-opening experience of post-apocalyptic world.”

Chernobyl Tour/Business Insider

Source: Chernobyl Tour and Chernobyl Welcome and

CNN


When Taylor Zwick, a tourist from Prague, booked his May 2019 guided tour of the exclusion zone through Chernobyl Tour, he told Business Insider that he had to provide his passport number.

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickZwick in front of sign that says ‘Pripyat’ in Russian.

Ines Aguilera, a Spanish student living in Copenhagen, said tour guide officials from Chernobyl Tour were very strict about that before she visited the exclusion zone during a different tour in mid-May. “We had to show our passports many times,” she told Business Insider.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAn abandoned building inside the exclusion zone.

Aguilera and a group of friends were studying abroad in Copenhagen when they decided to go. “It’s like one of these weird things that you’ve always wanted to do as a kid,” Aguilera said.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAguilera in front of the damaged reactor.

Zwick said it cost about $80 USD for a full-day tour, and Aguilera said her tour cost her about $88 USD. When we checked the Chernobyl Tour website in August, we found one-day trips priced at $US99 and up. SoloEast’s one-day tours are priced at $US91 and up on its website, as of August.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraThe amusement park in Pripyat.

Source: Chernobyl Tour and SoloEast


Zwick said he paid for part of his tour through PayPal when booking, and he had to pay the rest in person with cash. Aguilera told Business Insider that she had to do the same thing when she booked. She paid the second half in cash when she entered the shuttle bus.

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickA photo taken from a tour bus in the exclusion zone.

They were given instructions upon booking. Aguilera said they had to wear long sleeves, long pants, and couldn’t have space between their pant legs and socks. They wouldn’t be able to touch any metal or the ground while touring Chernobyl either.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAguilera in front of a sign in Pripyat.

Julia Czub, a student from the UK who toured Chernobyl in May 2019 with SoloEast tour company, told Business Insider that they weren’t allowed to touch trees inside the exclusion zone and couldn’t leave a bag or anything on the ground.

Courtesy of Julia CzubCzub in front of an abandoned building in Pripyat.

She said she booked the tour in December 2018, nearly six months before the HBO show was released, so interest in visiting Chernobyl certainly predates the successful mini-series.

Courtesy of Julia CzubCzub and travel companions in front of a sign in Pripyat.

A mix of visitors from nearby European countries were in all three tourists’ tour groups. Zwick said he encountered a group from Sweden that had gone to Kiev for a bachelor party and decided to take a private tour of Chernobyl.

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickA photo taken from the tour bus in the exclusion zone.

After booking online, visitors received a QR code, which is how they gained entry into Chernobyl, according to Zwick. The code was scanned when boarding the bus in Kyiv that took them to Chernobyl.

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickAn abandoned building shrouded in foliage inside the exclusion zone.

Zwick said he met the bus at Kiev’s train station. It was a full-sized coach bus with about 40 to 45 people onboard. The bus left the train station at 8 a.m. …

Google Maps/Business InsiderTaylor Zwick’s bus ride from the Kiev train station to the edge of the exclusion zone took about two hours.

… and Zwick said it took about two hours to get to the Leliv checkpoint at the outer edge of the smaller, 10km (6 mile) exclusion zone surrounding the power plant.

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickZwick’s itinerary.

Aguilera said that her drive wasn’t the most enjoyable. “It was very uncomfortable because the roads were so bumpy,” she said.

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickA car on the side of the road inside the exclusion zone.

Before entering the exclusion zone, Zwick said they were given what looked similar to flash drives attached to green lanyards that they were to put around their necks.

Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters/Business InsiderVisitors inside the exclusion zone in June 2019. These are not the tourists Business Insider spoke to.

The devices were meant to measure the different radiation levels they were exposed to while on their tour. Zwick said that the tour guides collect them at the end of the tour and give them to officials.

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickZwick in front of the damaged reactor with the radiation reader around his neck.

After stopping at the Leliv checkpoint, Zwick said they turned onto a side road toward Moscow’s Eye, or the Duga-1 radar station, that Soviets intended to use as a warning system against US missiles in the Cold War era.

Courtesy of Julia CzubCzub in front of the Duga-1.

By about 1 p.m., Zwick said they drove the rest of the way to the Chernobyl power plant.

Google MapsTaylor Zwick’s journey through the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone with Chernobyl Tour.

Czub said you’re not allowed to take photos too close to the reactor, but she was still able to get near it. “I had no idea that we would be able to get so close to it,” Czub said. “We were literally right next to it.”

Courtesy of Julia CzubA photo taken by Julia Czub inside the exclusion zone.

Zwick said he ate lunch at the Chernobyl Canteen where the workers eat, which is right next to the power plant. There’s a workforce that lives nearby and works on the plant three weeks at a time before taking a break to avoid extreme exposure to the radiation.

Google Maps/Business Insider

Zwick said he saw dogs hanging out in front of the cafeteria. Czub said that she also saw many of the “Chernobyl dogs” around the zone during the tour.

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickA dog inside the exclusion zone.


Read more:
Chernobyl workers are adopting the site’s contaminated dogs, but not all of them are safe to pet


Zwick said the food was included in the tour package he purchased. He was served mashed potatoes, chicken, and soup, and he said it was decent. Aguilera said she brought her own meal after reading so many bad TripAdvisor reviews of them.

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickInside the Chernobyl Canteen.

Zwick said they stayed in the cafeteria for 30 minutes to an hour before heading to Pripyat, the abandoned ghost town that was once the shining star of the Soviet Union. The town housed plant workers back in the 1980s.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAn abandoned swimming pool in Pripyat.

There were swimming pools, supermarkets, and other attractive amenities that have since spiraled into decay.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAn abandoned building in Pripyat.

Czub said Pripyat was her favourite part of the tour. “I didn’t expect the city to look so interesting,” she said.

Courtesy of Julia CzubGas masks lie on the floor of an abandoned building in Pripyat.

She said there was a cafe right next to the river with beautiful stained glass windows. They wandered around Pripyat for an hour to an hour and a half, Zwick said.

Courtesy of Julia CzubAn abandoned building with stained glass windows in Pripyat.

There were some areas that Zwick said their group’s tour guide didn’t take them. For example, they didn’t see the swimming pool like Aguilera was able to.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAn abandoned swimming pool in Pripyat.

“That was our highlight,” Aguilera said of visiting the abandoned pool.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAn abandoned swimming pool in Pripyat.

Zwick said the itinerary isn’t super strict, it just depends on what everyone in the tour group wants to do.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAn abandoned building inside the exclusion zone.

Throughout the trip, Zwick said he carried a Geiger counter, a device that can measure radiation levels, that he rented from the tour company for $US10.

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickZwick holding a Geiger counter in front of the damaged reactor in the exclusion zone.

Aguilera said she and her two friends also rented one to use throughout the trip.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAguilera in front of the reactor.

Zwick said his readings fluctuated throughout his tour through the contaminated exclusion zone. In front of the reactor at the nuclear power plant, Zwick said his counter gave off normal readings

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickZwick inside the exclusion zone.

But at one point it reached 200 mSv near the Ferris wheel in Pripyat’s amusement park. A normal radiation reading is 3 mSv.

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickThe Ferris wheel in the amusement park in Pripyat.

Zwick said a tour guide told them that the reading near the Ferris wheel was because of a speck of radioactive dust that had travelled from the reactor to one of the Ferris wheel cars at the time of the explosion, and it’s still there giving off a high radiation level.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraNot the exact Ferris wheel cart Zwick referred to.

Many of the buildings in the zone are made of concrete. Zwick said tour officials told him that most of the wooden buildings had to be demolished since wood traps radiation.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAn abandoned building in the exclusion zone.

But Aguilera said even the remaining concrete structures are deteriorating.

Courtesy of Julia CzubAn abandoned building in the exclusion zone.

“I don’t know how long these tours are going to be possible because the buildings are about to collapse,” Aguilera said.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAn abandoned building in the exclusion zone.

Many of the signs on top of buildings are in the Ukrainian language, but the signs inside an abandoned store were in Russian, Zwick said. He said that he was told that at the time, Russians were trying to usher out the Ukranian language, so they tried to include a lot of Russian when they originally built the city of Pripyat.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraA sign in the exclusion zone.

Pripyat was the last stop on the tour, Zwick said. After that, they started to head back to Kiev. At the checkpoint, they had to get out and go through radiation scanners.

Courtesy of Julia CzubVisitors being scanned for radiation levels.

Zwick said it was similar to walking through a metal detector. He said the point of it was to make sure each visitor didn’t absorb an abnormal amount of radiation. “It was just like going through a door,” Aguilera said.

Valentyn Ogirenko/ReutersVisitors, not the ones Business Insider spoke to, pass through a radiological control checkpoint after visiting the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine, in June 2019.

He also said there wasn’t even someone standing next to the scanner. “It looks like a very secure place, but at the end of the day, they were just sitting there,” Zwick said.

Genya Savilova/AFP/Getty ImagesTourists, not the ones Business Insider spoke to, pass a radiation control point in the Chernobyl exclusion zone in 2010.

Zwick said he felt like the radiation scanners were more of a formality.

Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty ImagesVisitors pass through a radiation control point in the Chernobyl exclusion zone in 2011.

Zwick said that at the various checkpoints, there were souvenir shops where you could buy sweatshirts, hats, snacks, and Geiger counters.

Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesVisitors at a Chernobyl souvenir stand in June 2019.

Czub also said she saw the souvenir stall, though she said it felt weird to her to purchase something. But “there were a lot of people buying things,” she said.

Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesVisitors at a souvenir shop in Pripyat in June 2019.

Aguilera said she bought some postcards and a patch to put on her backpack.

GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty ImagesVisitors at a souvenir shop in the Chernobyl exclusion zone in June 2019.

Zwick said he was inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone for a total of almost nine hours. Aguilera said the same.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraA radiation warning symbol in the exclusion zone.

All three visitors that we spoke to also said tour guide officials told them that the radiation they were exposed to was minimal.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraThe amusement park in Pripyat.

“We had more radiation going from Copenhagen to Kiev than in the exclusion zone,” Aguilera said. “At least that’s what they told us.”

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAguilera holds a Geiger counter in the exclusion zone.

Zwick said he was also told that the radiation he was exposed to from spending the whole day there was the equivalent of a 3-hour flight and that a chest X-ray gives you 40 times more radiation than did the tour they were on.

Courtesy of Julia CzubA visitor stoops near a radiation warning symbol in the exclusion zone.

As more and more tourists travel to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, some have viewed the visitors as insensitive to the gravity of the tragedy that left dozens dead and hundreds of thousands more without homes.

Courtesy of Julia CzubAn abandoned building in the exclusion zone.

Source: CNN


For years, some have referred to Chernobyl tourism as “dark tourism,” a trend of visitors flocking to sites marked by death and suffering.

Courtesy of Julia CzubAn abandoned building in the exclusion zone.

Source: CNN


Photographer David McMillan has visited and photographed the Chernobyl exclusion zone at least 20 times over the course of 25 years. He told Business Insider that he’s watched as tourism has grown increasingly common at the site.

Courtesy of Julia CzubA gate inside the exclusion zone.


Read more:
A photographer visited the abandoned towns around Chernobyl more than 20 times over the past 25 years, and the captivating photos show just how suddenly time stopped in its tracks after the disaster


“They’re there with their smartphones taking selfies,” McMillan said.

STR/NurPhoto via Getty ImagesA visitor takes a selfie in Pripyat in June 2019.

But Czub said that, though she took photos throughout her tour, she tried to be mindful and respectful. A native of Poland, she said people from her country are specifically interested in Chernobyl because they’re so close to the site of the disaster.

Courtesy of Julia CzubCzub in front of a sign in Pripyat.

Zwick said his trip to Chernobyl taught him more about the history of the disaster and what happened in the aftermath.

Courtesy of Julia CzubBunk beds inside an abandoned building in Pripyat.

And Aguilera said she tried to stay respectful throughout the tour and that she’s always been moved by the story of the Chernobyl accident.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAguilera in the amusement park in Pripyat.

She also said she’s seen the HBO mini-series since taking her trip through the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and that the show’s recreation of the scenes inside the zone are realistic.

Courtesy of Inés AguileraAn abandoned building in the exclusion zone.

“I see my photos and then I see the TV show — it looks quite similar,” Aguilera said.

Courtesy of Julia CzubAbandoned cribs in the exclusion zone.

Czub said the HBO show will likely keep drawing crowds, and so does the owner of the SoloEast tour group, who told CNN that he’s seen an almost 40% increase in interest since the mini-series aired.

Courtesy of Julia CzubAbandoned bunk beds in the exclusion zone.

Source: CNN


“I’m guessing there’s going to be more and more coming now,” Czub said.

Courtesy of Taylor ZwickThe amusement park in Pripyat.

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