Daydreaming about traipsing around the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone made me wonder just how idyllic this accidental-wildlife refuge really is. Local camera-trap photography is downright sexy with wolves, lynx, eagle, and deer, but the satellite images paint a duller picture.

Wildlife is thriving without pesky humans in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Photography credit: Dr. Sergei Gaschak

NASA periodically checks on the location of the catastrophic meltdown. It isn't doesn't make for a stunning satellite image that cries out for an immediate visit. Instead, the dull brown of the countryside dominates, with patches of light-green agricultural land and dark-green forests. Industrial wreckage of the power plant, massive concrete dams and levees, and distinctly-artificial cooling channels round out the photograph as the site where something happened long ago.

Chernobyl and surroundings in 1997. Image credit: NASA/Earth Observatory


Chernobyl in 2009. Image credit: NASA/Earth Observatory

Talking about vacationing in a literal radioactive wasteland is a peculiar concept, but Chernobyl is far more alive than the fictional interpretations of the post-apocalyptic setting. Abandoned industrial buildings overgrown with vegetation hold a certain appeal as the wreckage of what once was. While Chernobyl isn't a lush landscape of thick, luxuriant vegetation taking over where humans once paved, it is developing a distinctly dystopian aesthetic as utilitarian Soviet architecture is overgrown and decays.


An overgrown playground in Pripyat, Ukraine. Photography credit: AP Photo/Efrem Luka

Chernobyl still isn't the top of my list of dream vacation-destinations, but I can understand the appeal of history and catastrophe bathed in dull greys, washed-out browns, and dirty greens.


An vision of Chernobyl's tourism future. Image credit: ZA Architects