There are surprisingly many people who seem to think that dark tourism is about "dangerous places", or at least includes activities that can really only be called 'danger tourism'. For instance: driving, or cycling, the infamously "most dangerous road in the world", an epithet attached to the Yungas Road in Bolivia
– is considered by some to be a form of dark tourism. The association with death is indeed real here (see what is dark tourism
and the concept of dark tourism
) – too many people have been killed in the frequent accidents on this road. But going on it precisely in order to risk joining the ranks of accident casualties is, in my view, plain danger tourism, and not dark tourism.
Perhaps the most extreme form of danger tourism is travelling into actual war zones
(compare: war tourism
). Equally out of bounds should be places known for a incalculably high risk of abductions of foreigners (parts of Afghanistan, say) or areas with other forbiddingly high crime
risks (e.g. parts of Brazil's big cities or certain parts of Africa are such 'no-go areas'). Neither should any tourists stumble straight into a volcanic eruption, chase after tornadoes, wallow in the snow on an avalanche-prone slope, or any such thing.
In general: putting one's own life (or the life of others) at risk, is NOT dark tourism, in my view, and I most certainly do NOT promote it.
However, things change – what was once an absolute no-go area for tourism may calm down, become safe and then capitalize on its dark legacy by including it in the touristic infrastructure (e.g. guided tours of the relevant "troubled" parts of Belfast
, Northern Ireland
now form part of the city's tourism offerings). The same may happen in the future to places that today are still clearly out of bounds – who knows, maybe Iraq
will become such a destination in an unpredictable number of years' time. (In fact, parts of Iraq had already reopened to tourism, in particular the Kurdish north of the country, when it was comparatively stable a few years ago … but that changed again, of course. Generally Iraq still tends to be too risky for tourism at the present time.)
Since such developments are gradual and fluid and may fluctuate back and forth, there have to be borderline cases
too. Parts of Israel
are a case in point here. True, there's a constant risk of terrorism, and while security is palpably high you can never be too sure what might happen – plus the never-ending conflict in the area all too frequently erupts into all-out war. During those times the risks to travellers obviously only increase further too, at least for particular areas. On the other hand, Israel does have a justifiably thriving tourism industry (including bits that qualify for real dark tourism, i.e. which is not danger tourism) and it is normally not really the fearsomely dangerous place it is often perceived to be from the outside world.
[personal anecdote: I actually once travelled to Israel
while there was a war on (or rather: had sparked off yet again – as it sadly does with depressing regularity in that part of the world), namely the Lebanon war in the summer of 2006. I did not
go because of
the war but
rather I went in spite of
it: primarily to attend a wedding I had been invited to long before the conflict erupted. I didn't want to pull out and disappoint the marrying couple like so many other prospective guests from outside the country had already done. Of course it was a case of balancing the risks. Many people more concerned than me tried to talk me out of going. But I didn't budge – and I'm glad I went. It turned out that life in the centre of Israel, where I stayed, carried on almost as normal. There was a certain tension in the air, and a few areas of Jerusalem
in particular had to be temporarily avoided. However, tours through the West Bank to the Dead Sea and Masada
were still operating as normal (albeit with far lower than normal numbers of tourists – almost exclusively undeterred Jewish visitors from abroad). Personally I felt reasonably safe at all times – even though the military aircraft traffic overhead, patrolling navy speedboats off the coast, and young women soldiers being bussed to the front from Tel Aviv's central bus station served as reminders that not all was quite so well as the Israelis tried hard to pretend. It did teach me a thing or two about the psyche of Israel as well – something you can only feel on the ground, not in news reports about missile attacks on Israeli cities or the Israeli army's over-retaliation in Gaza or elsewhere. I felt a kind of calm resilience, an odd mixture of stubborn and good-humoured, permeating the whole feel of the place, certainly in Tel Aviv (Jerusalem
is even more complicated).]
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