"Look," I said, interrupting. "Let's say I wanted to go for a boat ride with some friends somewhere in the Exclusion Zone. Just theoretically speaking, where would we go? Where are the really nice spots?"

Dennis regarded me blankly from behind his shades. In their silvery lenses, I could see the reflection of someone who looked like me, with an expression on his face that said: 'Yes. I am an idiot.'


Chernobyl. The very word stirs the heart of the budding pollution tourist. Site of the infamous 1986 nuclear disaster, the Exclusion Zone has since become an accidental wildnerness preserve and a gateway drug for open-minded travelers the world over.

But Chernobyl also does double duty as one of the most polluted places in the world—and one of its most beautiful. Like no other landscape, it overturns our preconceptions and challenges our ideas of what counts as natural. So that's where I started my journey. After all, nothing says vacation like a chirping Geiger counter.


An annotated map of my wanderings in and around the Exclusion Zone.

And a slideshow to match.


next: The Oil Sand Mines of Northern Alberta