Visiting Chernobyl: My Chernobyl Tour Experience
Ukraine was a great country to travel through on my big trip to every country in Europe. Lviv was my favourite spot. Kyiv was fun. Although getting I had a wild experience with Odessa Nightlife getting arrested twice and having to bribe the police twice! And finally, visiting the non-recognised country with a spot of Transnistria tourism was a fascinating trip too. They all offered completely different experiences, but there’s one last stop which promised to outdo them all. My visiting Chernobyl tour. Now, this was something else.
What happened in Chernobyl; Super Quick History
On April 26th 1986 reactor number 4 in the Chernobyl power plant exploded, spilling huge amounts of nuclear radiation through the region. The town of Prypiat was the closest town to the explosion. 350,000 people were evacuated, with the Soviet government telling them “don’t worry, leave your stuff, we’ll be back in 3 days”, they never went back and it’s still not safe to live in today.
Up to 500,000 people have been reported to have died from radiation-induced cancers since then. The city of Prypiat has been a ghost city ever since. People’s belongings are still strewn throughout the area. With the correct permits, it’s possible to visit Pypiat, and although it’s not cheap, and involves some paperwork, it’s a truly remarkable place to visit as a backpacker.
Where is Chernobyl?
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster is in modern-day Ukraine. In what used to be in the Soviet Union. It’s in the North East of Ukraine, really close to the Belarus border. It’s about 200km north of Ukraine’s Capital City, Kiev.
- ‘Chernobyl’ is the name of the largest city near the Chernobyl disaster. It’s partially abandoned with just 1,000 residents as of 2001. It’s officially ‘safe’ but the vegetation still carries high levels of radiation. The city of Chernobyl is 14km from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that exploded.
- Pripyat or Prypiat is the nearest town to the Chernobyl disaster. Pripiat is completely abandoned. If you want to visit ‘Chernobyl’, it’s actually Pripyat that you visit. This is known as the ‘exclusion zone’ where the tours access, and when you need permits to enter (organise by your tour).
- The Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor that exploded was actually in the town of Pripyat, not Chernobyl itself.
Is it Safe to Visit Chernobyl?
If by ‘visiting Chernobyl’ you mean visiting the nuclear reactor and the town of Pripiat, then is it safe? Just about, yes. When you go on a Chernobyl tour you’re issued with a small hand-held Geiger counter that allows you to measure radiation. If an area is high, you don’t go there. You also do a safety brief explaining where you can and can’t go. And of course, when you visit Chernobyl, the Chernobyl guide will only take you to safer places. That being said, 1 or 2 days is enough. Radiation is still present, albeit much lower. Pripiat is abandoned for a reason! So is it safe to visit Chernobyl? As a day trip from Kiev, or on a 2 day tour. Yes, it’s safe. Just don’t stay too long!
The actual city of Chernobyl is now officially ‘safe’. But that’s not where the disaster took place remember.
Can you visit Chernobyl today? & How Do You Visit Chernobyl?
Yes, you can. You can visit Chernobyl in 2021 and beyond. To access the ‘exclusion zone’ you need permits. It’s within the Exclusion Zone that all the photos you see here were taken. The Ferris wheel for example is in Pripyat, as are all the dolls, the abandoned schools etc. It’s almost impossible to get the permits to visit Chernobyl without booking a tour.
So can you visit? Yes, but you must organise a tour to do so. You can see the Chernobyl tour options below. I recommend the 2 day/1night, where you sleep in Chernobyl.
Choosing which Chernobyl Tour to Book
As I mention above, in order to visit Chernobyl, you have to go on an officially recognized Chernobyl tour. The Chernobyl tour then organises your permits issues. Most Chernobyl tours are day trips from Kiev. Personally, I wanted to do something cooler. I wanted to sleep in Chernobyl. So that is possible too, where you visit the exclusion zone in Pripyat, but then sleep in the city of Chernobyl at night.
HOW TO BOOK A 1 DAY TRIP TO CHERNOBYL FROM KIEV:
HOW TO BOOK SLEEPING IN CHERNOBYL! 2D/1N TRIP FROM KIEV:
You can book 2 days and 1 night, where you actually sleep in Chernobyl (it’s safe, don’t worry) for $237. DO THIS ONE. You get to meet the survivors, visit towns where people have returned, sleep in Chernobyl. If you’re interested in visiting Chernobyl at all, this is the best option. And the one I did.
HOW TO VISIT THE ACTUAL POWER PLANT CONTROL ROOM (EXPENSIVE)
Why visit Chernobyl?
There a few reasons why over 10,000 people visit Chernobyl each year. Undoubtedly, one of the reason is ‘dark tourism’. It’s commonplace for people to visit (and hopefully pay respects to) places like Auschwitz, the Killing Fields in Cambodia, Hiroshima in Japan and even travel to Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, or Libya. We’re human, so it’s natural to be fascinated by the harsh reality of life. Also, if you’re interested in modern history. Many of us have seen and heard the names surrounding Chernobyl. We want to be able to ‘place’ it in reality. The same above with Baghdad, Mogadhisu etc. We’re drawn to see how it really is. So people visit Chernobyl for all sorts of reasons. But we should always maintain a level of respect. These aren’t movie scenes. People lived through this.
Chernobyl Tour; My Personal Experience
On Day 1 I was picked up from the train station in Kiev, and driven to Chernobyl. About 2 hours north. We reached Chernobyl city in less than 2 hours and we checked into one of the two hotels in Chernobyl. After dropping our bags, we were back in the transport and off we go to Prypiat, the abandoned ghost town. Former population 50,000 Current population 0.
The minibus stops. Finally, we’re here. The tour talks to you to the most devastating sights. You hear stories that remind you of the reality of the tragedy. Walking around the city is like something from a zombie movie. Old kindergarten schools that were hastily left now are empty with cast iron and wire beds still in place, with old teddy bears and plastic dolls. You can see the Olympic pool and the basketball court. The bus station, hotels and supermarkets. All left so hurriedly, with shopping trolleys still in their place.
Officially it’s now illegal to enter the buildings but Dom (our tour leader), being the great guy that he is, would often be talking to the official guide giving us opportunities to go where we wouldn’t be seen. If you catch my drift.
Running through the old theatre, sitting in the stands in the stadium. It was all so crazy. We had Geiger counters and they would sporadically tick and click aggressively when we came to a radiation hotspot. We were told to avoid vegetation where we could as they absorb more radiation than inanimate objects.
After a few hours in Prypiat, we went for some food. Before we can access the canteen outside the exclusion zone which we had to be scanned to test our radiation levels.
After lunch, we take a quick trip to see Reactor 4, the perpetrator in all of this madness. It has since been covered up with layers and layers on concrete to keep the remaining radiation locked away, there are plans afoot to increase the ‘shell’ further still. After one last photo, it’s time to go back to the city of Chernobyl, our bed for the night.
In the evening we all had a few beers in the hotel and chatted about the day. Sombre stuff. On day 2, we wouldn’t be returning to Prypiat which was disappointing. But they don’t want to expose us to more radiation than they have to. Instead, we go to a nearby village which had also been evacuated back in the 80s. However it’s now outside the zone of alienation, therefore people can live there once more.
We met an old couple who had lived through the disaster. They had been removed in the evacuation hurriedly one night. But as soon as they could, then they returned at the first available moment, and they’ve been there ever since. It was great chatting to them about their experiences and although it sounds like a horror movie to us, for them it was just life.
The rest of the second day is taken up with memorials and statues to the heroes who helped save lives. We visit some old towns that were effected and then we headed back to Kiev. I’m not a huge fan of tours in general. But this was something really unique, and something that I’d be happy to pay for again (250 Euro/$310). If you guys are interested, drop Dom a line at CHERNOBYLwel, he’s the best in the business.
Final thoughts on visiting Chernobyl
Should you visit? If you’re curious, sure. Just try to remain respectful. It’s a fascinating look back on a tragic piece of recent history. And if you gave the chance, I would recommend choosing 2 days and 1 night (in Chernobyl). That gives a fuller experience. One that is difficult to find elsewhere. A true insight into the sombre reality of the Chernobyl disaster.
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