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Six of the World's Grimmest Tourist Destinations

Some people are content with the fabricated fantasy worlds of Disney World and the Mall of America. Others edge toward natural grandeur, like the Swiss Alps or Grand Canyon. Some go for the pizzazz of Las Vegas or Ibiza, Spain. Still others appreciate the widely known historical destinations, like the Egyptian pyramids or (according to all the bumper stickers) Wall Drug, South Dakota.

If you're looking for something considerably off the beaten path - or if you're wondering where your considerably-off-the-beaten-path neighbors may be headed on their next vacation -- consider these six morbid but fully open-for-business tourist spots ...

1. Chernobyl

Want to visit the site of the world's worst nuclear power accident? For $200 to $400, you can wander this preserved, and slightly radioactive, ghost town for a day.

Chernobylinterinform, the zone's information agency, offers chaperoned tours of the area that's been largely closed to the world since Chernobyl's Reactor No. 4 exploded in 1986, plus lunch. (Don't worry, says one travel agency, the quality of the food is guaranteed.)

"It is amazing," said tourist Ilkka Jahnukainen, 22. "So dreamlike and silent."

What about the radiation? Chernobylinterinform says the tours have no health risks. Radiation levels of 300 to 500 roentgens an hour are deadly, but those in the tour area range from 15 to several hundred microroentgens an hour (a microroentgen is one-millionth of a roentgen). These levels are only dangerous after long-term exposure, they say.

Still, certain areas are more radioactive than others, so there are rules. Tourists are told to stay with the group, to stay on asphalt and concrete (soil risks higher exposure), and to not touch anything.

2. Jonestown

If you're up for an adventure, albeit a morbid one, you can visit Jonestown, the site where cult leader Jim Jones ordered over 900 people, including more than 270 children, to commit suicide.

It will take some work to get there, though. The site is in Guyana, a mostly jungle-filled region that lies on the northern coast of South America. Once there, you'll need to take a 45-minute flight to Port Kaituma (a river port that's part of the bauxite mining industry). From there, it's another 45-minute truck ride to Jonestown.

It's essential to find a local guide to take you there, someone who can show you were the town and buildings once stood. The estimated price of this day trip (once you're in Guyana) is about $150 a person, including lunch.

3. Alcatraz

If you're in San Francisco, you can visit the most infamous federal prison in the United States: Alcatraz. See where Al Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Robert Franklin Stroud (known as the "Birdman of Alcatraz") and other notorious criminals served their time.

Alcatraz Island is a 10-minute ferry ride from San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, and many types of tours are available. Over 1 million people visit the island each year, so book your tour at least a week in advance. You can tour the Cell Block, hear stories from former inmates and prison guards, and explore "the Rock's" natural side: it's now home to a protected bird sanctuary, with beautiful plants and flowers. For the brave, evening tours are also available.

4. Hollywood Underground

Anyone can take a tour of celebrity homes, but how about seeking out famous celebrity graves? This is a do-it-yourself adventure, but if you're interested in seeing the final resting places of Los-Angeles-area stars, you can find their locations at Hollywood Underground, a Web site devoted to just that.

Spencer Tracy, Nat King Cole, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, John Candy, Sharon Tate (who was murdered by members of the Manson family), and many more celebrities who have passed away can be found.



5. Transylvania Dracula Tour

This one is just in time for Halloween. Take a tour of Transylvania, the region in Romania known for the most famous of vampires: Dracula.

You can see Dracula's birthplace and tomb, and tour other castles and museums (some of which are said to be haunted). Most tours also include a Halloween party at Dracula's castle.

6. Ghost Tour of England

If you're not into Dracula but want something spooky, check out GHOSTour 2006: The Haunted Vacation to England. This is a guided tour of everything haunted: hotels, homes, churches, theaters, castles, graveyards, ghost walks -- even a haunted pub crawl.

According to the tour's host, many travelers see ghostly figures and strange orbs of light, and experience feelings of being watched and not being alone at many of the attractions.

This is a seven-night trip, which includes round-trip airfare, hotels, meals and tours, and is only available on certain dates.

If you don't want to travel far for your macabre vacation, most big cities have their own guided ghost tours, and tours of their local famous crimes and disasters. Or you can just read How Many Insect Parts and Rodent Hairs are Allowed in Your Food? to get your share of grim reality.

Recommended Reading

The FBI's Ten Most Wanted: A Short History & the Current Ten Most Wanted


The New York Times

U.S. Department of State Post Report

The National Park Service: Alcatraz Island

Hollywood Underground

Dracula Tour

Ghost Tour

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