Horrible Humanity: Disaster Tourism

Are you a soulless freak that is fascinated by the pain of others? Do you prefer grey bombed-out landscapes with an aura of death and petulance over bright, white sandy beaches and mojitos? Well, let me welcome you to horrible humanity travels: where suffering is our biggest attraction! For you normal, well-adjusted people, let me introduce you to the twisted world of disaster or dark tourism and humanity (or lack thereof)… It’s going to be an emotionally bumpy ride; I hope you’re up to it.

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Dark Started It All

Humans have this weird and oftentimes unhealthy curiosity about death, gore and destruction. That’s why there’s a market for bloody horror and non-horror films, serial killer memorabilia (or murderabilia – seriously, it’s a thing) and all tales that involve killing and maiming (see: war and monster movies). The funny thing is that even you might have engaged in dark tourism and not even realized.

Almost anyone who has visited Poland’s second largest city, Krakow, has probably also visited Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp which has the dishonorable record of being the place that saw the largest loss of human life in a single location. Almost one million people were essentially exterminated there, with one in six people being murdered by the Nazi regime during the “Final Solution”. It’s a grave monument to how dehumanizing war and atrocities can be, yet it is visited by 1.4 million people every year.

Another place that is frequently visited, and one that witnessed the genocidal murder of an estimated 1.3 to 3 million people, is the Killing Fields in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge (the regime that enacted the genocide) also took excruciating measures to document their victims (like the Nazis) and as a visitor you will be able to see photographs of the murdered, the places the victims were tortured and executed, and even mountains of human remains, clothes and personal items that were stripped from the victims before they dug their own graves. It is said that so many people are buried there that the earth still expels bone fragments, teeth and clothing whenever it rains.

Beyond Dark

Although both those aforementioned locations are undeniably tragic, they are not the only places of tragedy that are heavily visited. One of the most visited cities in the world, New York City, is also home to one of the largest homeland tragedies witnessed in the modern history of the United States.

Ground Zero is the former location of the Twin Towers or the World Trade Center, which were attacked on September 11, 2001, resulting in thousands of deaths and a scar that will mark the consciousness of the American people for generations to come. Disaster/dark tourism isn’t just dedicated to large scale losses of human life.


Yes, murder tours are a thing… Beyond the selling of muderabilia (as previously mentioned above), some companies are now offering tours that revolve completely around serial killers. A Hollywood-based company named Dearly Departed capitalizes on the darker side of Hollywood and offers an exploitive three-hour tour of the Manson Family murders, a ghost tour (of course), and their popular Tragical History Tour which – check this - is a multimedia bus tour that takes you to the homes and locations throughout Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the Sunset Strip where your favorite celebrities died. The tour even includes the 911 call made by Joaquin Phoenix when his brother River overdosed outside The Viper Club, and drives by the mansion where the infamous Menendez Brothers killed their wealthy parents.

If that doesn’t quench your blood-lust, the website points out that “due to the graphic nature of some crime scene photos and descriptions, this tour is not recommended for children under 12”. That’s right: your sick curiosity will be rewarded with gruesome images that have the potential to traumatize young children.

According to a Yelp review, the tour even includes a visit to a “celebrity” cemetery where Marilyn Monroe, Farrah Fawcett and Merv Griffin are all interred. If you still haven’t found the death tour to satisfy your twisted needs, the company also has a shop… And since you’re in the neighborhood, you might want to stop by the Museum of Death, also in Hollywood.

War Tours

If disgusting exploitation of human misery and grief from a voyeuristic point of view doesn’t get your juices flowing, then you can potentially engage in a more active type of disaster tourism: war zone tours. A former security consultant by the name of Rick Sweeney founded War Zone Tours in 2008 and offers trips to Iraq, Beirut, Mexico, and Africa.

As described on the website, it takes visitors on tours in HREs (high risk environments) with guides that are highly trained and in their majority ex-military. Risking your life in a war-torn region doesn’t come cheap though, and a trip to Baghdad back in 2010 could cost you upwards of $40,000. Last year, the company began offering trips to Israel so people could watch the unfolding of the Syrian Civil War.

The tours are coined as “adventure tourism”, catering to that special type of adrenaline junkie that has even less regard for personal safety than the adrenaline junkies that jump off bridges for kicks. Before you hit “send” on your hate mail though, you might have to CC a few more people as there are a few others in the war tour game.

One is former New York Times journalist Nicholas Woods who founded Political Tours, which offers tours to Iran, North Korea, Israel, and Palestine. Finally, the mildest of the bunch, Untamed Borders will tour you around the Indo-Asian continent including Pakistan, Afghanistan, and hostile areas of Southeast Asia.

Disaster Tourism

So we’ve come full circle through mayhem, death and destruction to the titular type of dark tourism: disaster tours. Disaster tours generally visit places that have been ravaged by natural disasters or war but are not currently active. Here’s why these types of tours are detestable though: post-catastrophe areas are full of people in plight and need, and you go there to gawk at them like a museum exhibit or caged animals in a zoo. While most people rush to these areas to volunteer (like post-Katrina and post-9/11 cleanup volunteers), you go there for entertainment? Tours can actually affect cleanup, rescue and aid volunteer work by unnecessarily congesting areas that need help.

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Disaster Tourism: The Website

During my research, I even found a website that offers destruction simulation, reenacting the Hudson River landing of Flight 1549 by Captain Sully. It involves being in a fully functional simulation cabin and an escape from the inflatable evacuation slides into a smoke-filled room. The best part of it is that the company claims it was designed as a team-building exercise and is “great for corporates”!

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Although disaster/dark tourism seems exploitive, it does help by pumping some needed income into ravaged areas. Although no numbers exist, I imagine that at least a few people are moved by what they see and are moved to action to help. Would you go on a disaster tour? Let me know in the comments section below.