There are all sorts of tourism niches out there. You’ve heard of people traveling for food, shopping, golf, medical treatments, maybe even to visit war zones, disaster sites or the graves of dead celebrities. There’s also a lot of unsavory stuff out there that sways me from my usual stance that anything that motivates a person to get a passport, hop on a plane and get out of the usual milieu is a great thing. But let’s skip that for another day. I want to introduce you to a few tourism niches that I find genuinely interesting, potentially enriching and maybe just a bit nerdy.
Atomic Tourism Right now, there are people taking a tour into the 1,000-square mile Exclusion Zone established to keep people away from the wreckage of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Tourists are heading to Ukraine to fork over rubles to go into one of the most ghostly areas ever – the abandoned city of Pryp’yat’. They’re braving high background radiation levels (this recent blog post will show readings from a Geiger counter at various places).
There are other sites that can take you straight back to the Atomic Age, from the excellent Titan Missile Museum in Arizona to the White Sands National Monument. Personally, I’d absolutely love to take a trip into the Exclusion Zone, mostly to see what happens to a city when humans all but abandon it; believe it or not, there are still people who squat in the Exclusion Zone for all sorts of reasons. Here’s another fascinating article about the Exclusion Zone.
I wrote about this awhile back, and I’m still fascinated by the idea of going places to hear things. And I’m not talking about concerts. In some cases, sound tourism is about not hearing things – it’s about silence The Sonic Wonders website has a great collection of ideas for people interesting in sound tourism (definitely one of the tourism niches that interests me most). The booming sand dunes are closest to me over in California. The site also lists JÃ¶kulsárlÃ³n Floating Icebergs and the creaks from the little icebergs. Some of the more interesting natural sounds I’ve heard while traveling have been the sound of water flowing under a glacier, and the rumble of huge cinders belching out of Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica. Oh, and howler monkeys make a really eerie "woofing" sound. Urban Exploration This is one of those tourism niches for people who think creepy equals cool. If you’ve ever wanted to poke your nose into an abandoned building or spend the day mapping out an abandoned subway tunnel, this is for you.
If you turn to the right information sources, you’ll discover all sorts of places in your urban environment are waiting for you to arrive armed with flashlights. Urban exploration does carry some high risks – arrest, accidents, even encounters with people who calls these "abandoned" areas home. Still, it’s all pretty tempting. I know of an entire largely forgotten underground portion of Phoenix that even has a bowling alley. And there has to be a lot more that nobody talks about – the same probably goes for your home city. Urban exploration reminds me a bit of caving. Enthusiasts don’t like to share their secrets with the masses. But here’s a good place to start.
Volcano Tourism Out of all the odd tourism niches, this is probably my favorite. The forces that shape the world fascinate me. I’ve stood on mountains that are emitting sulfuric fumes. I’ve looked into recently erupted volcanoes. I’ve seen the aftermath of catastrophic explosions (the blown-out visage of Red Crater in the Tongariro National Park is my favorite example). It really makes me realize how much power geographic forces possess.
If you’d like to see volcanic forces first-hand, I recommend Iceland, New Zealand and Hawaii. I would also have recommended the oddball volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai in Tanzania. National Geographic wrote an amazing piece about 10 years ago all about its unusual black, free-flowing, low-temperature lava. But an explosion blew the Tim Burton-esque landscape that was once at its summit into oblivion. Enjoy the photos, anyway. And there’s also a place in Guatemala where you can ride a sled down a volcano’s cinder landscape. Here’s a source for planning your own volcanic vacation.