Surprisingly, a lot of tourists want to visit Chernobyl for its screaming curiosity and post-apocalyptic vibe. You may or may not have heard of the ghost town of Pripyat in Eastern Europe’s Ukraine.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, more commonly referred to as just “Chernobyl” and is one of the most significant disaster zones of the late 20th century that left a town blasted with 400 times the radiation of the bomb of Hiroshima.
A Recap of Chernobyl
Chernobyl is the site where, on an evening in April of 1986, a singular event happened near Pripyat in the then USSR (now Ukraine). Unbeknownst to the residents at the time, this event would shape their lives and thousands of others in the area for generations to come.
All thanks to a human error at the Chernobyl site, which caused a steam explosion in Reactor No. 4. This released a small percentage of the reactor’s core into the air, which caused enough radiation to induce a full evacuation of the surrounding towns. As well as the creation of an exclusion zone for 2,600 km2 (1,000 sq mi) around it.
The residents of the town of Pripyat, which is closest to Chernobyl, didn’t know that they were never to return.
It’s a horrible story, with enough photos taken of the ghost town to give anyone a feeling of dread. Yet, it’s precisely this shuddersome look into what a post-apocalyptic society would look like that’s made it so tempting.
Now, more than 30 years later, Chernobyl and the surrounding exclusion zone is a popular tourist attraction. People from all over the world fly in to take a peek at this famous disaster area.
How to Visit Chernobyl
People visit Chernobyl and its surroundings for different reasons. Some come to see the remnants of the people who lived there. Others want to see how nature is taking back the city and the surrounding areas. Some come to see if they can find a mutant cat with eight legs.
Whatever the reason, there’s only one easy way to get to the exclusion zone. Anyone visiting would need to travel with an authorized guide from Kiev, which is the closest city to the zone.
Only licensed guides are allowed to take tourists into the area, with numerous checkpoints to go through.
So anyone who’s planning a trip to Chernobyl and Pripyat will, essentially, have to plan a trip to Kiev. The city of Kiev is the capital of Ukraine and offers plenty of sights and interesting things to do too.
This makes the trip worthwhile, as Chernobyl only offers day trips with 1-day or 2-3 day packages. These packages vary in price and length depending on the tour guide. But a day trip to Chernobyl usually ranges around 10 hours, with four hours spent on travel from and back to Kiev.
In terms of price, they can vary anywhere between $100 and $500 depending on the option taken.
There are group tours which are less expensive and private tours which will obviously cost more. The time of year also influences the price, as most tourists prefer to go during the summer.
So make sure to shop around for a good tour price. Look out for added inclusions like hotel pickups and meals.
Staying In Kiev and Taking a Tour to Chernobyl
If you want to visit Chernobyl, you can do so from Kiev. There are many different places to stay in Kiev, with affordable accommodation offered by both hotels and Airbnb. Some Chernobyl tours will offer hotel pickup, but many will depart from a central location like the train station.
Companies like Chernobyl Story Tours can offer to pick up from the airport. It’s, therefore, a good idea to book the tour first and then find a place to stay that’s close to the pickup point.
Important Travel Tips for Traveling in Kiev and Ukraine
Travel tip #1: Get a VPN
This might be the last thing one thinks of doing in preparation for a trip. But getting a VPN should be near the top of the to-do list. There are two main reasons for this.
First, most travelers connect to hotel WiFi or other public hotspots. This is a good way to get hacked because public WiFi is famously unsafe. A VPN protects anyone that connects to these networks by encrypting all incoming and outgoing data.
Secondly, geo-blocking will also deny people access to websites and apps, like streaming services, which are only available in certain countries. A VPN overcomes this by giving you a new IP address in the country of your choice.
This will fool websites into thinking you are in the USA or the UK, for example.
Travel tip #2: Don’t Drink The Tap Water
The tap water in Ukraine is technically safe to drink in small amounts, though it contains a high concentration of chlorine. For that reason, it’s probably a good idea to stick with bottled water.
There are pump rooms in Kiev which supply clean water at no extra charge.
Travel tip #3: Stick to Cash
Trying to pay with a credit card in Kiev can get tricky and expensive. The banks in the city have different internal conversion rates which could jack up the price a lot. International ATMs are also scarce.
Check out the National Bank of Ukraine’s website for the official exchange rate.
If you intend to visit Chernobyl and the surrounding areas, be prepared for both a somber and exhilarating experience at times. Just make sure to follow the rules and stay safe — both inside and outside the exclusion zone.