Top of every adventure travellers bucket list, a visit to the time-warped Chernobyl Exclusion zone near Kiev in Ukraine is one travel experience where even sky-high expectations are guaranteed to be exceeded. There is just nothing else like it on this Earth – and we don’t need another!
With so many iconic Chernobyl sites to see including the abandoned fair ground or creepy kindergarten, one day is simply never going to be enough to see it all. The best way to fully experience the eerily deserted ghost city of Pripyat, the monolithic military radar Duga and of course the infamous nuclear power plant and newly installed 2nd sarcophagus is on an overnight tour from Kiev….Because there is nothing creepy at all about sleeping in a Chernobyl hotel, right?
For such a once-in-a-lifetime experience I dedicated hours of time reading reviews and talking to operators before trusting Go2Chernobyl.com with one of my biggest travel dreams. Suffice to say I was not disappointed *at all* as you can probably tell by all the epic pictures of Chernobyl and Pripyat here. While there are plenty of cool things to do in Kiev, Chernobyl was still my favourite attraction in all of Ukraine! Read on to find out more about the greatest nuclear accident in history, what to expect on a visit to Chernobyl overnight, vital radiation and safety guidelines and how to find out what you need to consider when picking a Chernobyl tour operator from Kiev for yourself!
On the 26th of April 1986 the world greatest nuclear incident occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, a town in northern Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. It was a catastrophic nuclear accident in which the No.4 reactor entered uncontrolled reaction conditions due to inherent reactor design flaws and a late-night safety test, resulting in explosion and subsequent open-air graphite fire. For nine days radioactive material from the reactor rose on the smoke plumes and was carried across Central and Western Europe, thought most fell on what is now known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
The Chernobyl incident claimed 2 lives in the explosion and 28 later deaths in the following months due to acute radiation poisoning, although it is estimated the number of deaths attributed to this disaster as much higher but it is difficult to accurately determine the causes of many cancers – and Soviet research into this was hidden from the public eyes in the crucial years following. Ultimately over 500,000 people where involved in the ‘clean-up’ immediately following the events, whole towns and villages abandoned and even today 2,500 people still work to ‘clean up’ the site which will take until at least 2065 when the site will be closed off almost entirely. The Chernobyl accident was the most disastrous in history, in terms of both cost and casualties, and is only one of two level 7 International Nuclear Disasters, the other being Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011.
The remains of the No. 4 reactor were enclosed in a concrete sarcophagus to reduce the spread of radiation in the wreckage and to protect the operators of the other undamaged reactors, with the No.3 reactor continuing to produce electricity into 2000!! The Chernobyl New Safe Confinement was built directly over the old sarcophagus in 2017 at a cost of 1.5 billion euros, but even then is only expected to last 100 years at which point something else will be needed. In total 95 villages and towns were abandoned as a result of the disaster and 135 thousands people rehoused or given compensation to live elsewhere, and much of the Chernobyl Exclusion zone has been totally left, with nature taking back over.
Below is what we did on our 2 day Chernobyl tour with Go2Chernobyl – but of course each tour is different but should follow roughly this itinerary. Diversion can of course occur to account for local conditions and daylight hours. However the main highlights are listed below to give you an idea, but it’s better to find out about every exact place when you are there yourself!
For our overnight accomodation the Chernobyl Hotel we stayed in was modern, clean and quiet and even came equip with WiFi which was a nice touch. Breakfast and dinner was served at a nearby ‘pub’ and was more than we could eat on every occasion. Both lunches were served in the canteen near the Chernobyl Power Plant which still serves workers involved in the decontamination and decommissioning of the remaining reactors. So don’t worry – You will not go hungry or have to sleep in any questionable places!
The question everybody wants to know …How long do I need in Chernobyl really? We one day is good, but two is so much better. Trust me, once your there you will see why and won’t want to leave….especially given the amount of time it takes to get to the exclusion zone and through security!
On a two day tour of Chernobyl you get the opportunity to really explore the town of Pripyat (*really explore* – if you know what I mean, because ….well because technically, it’s now not allowed to go into any of the buildings. And on a one day tour with all those police around you have to follow the rules. On a two day tour however you are already in the exclusion zone and can arrive nice and early…) and some of the less frequented sites. The distance between sites means you are rushed on a one-day tour, and to get the highlights your not going to be able to wander freely or ask all the information to get a true understanding of what took place here. Just look at the whole day two itinerary for Chernobyl – and that’s effectively what you are missing out on. Not to mention the eerie experience of sleeping in a Chernobyl hotel (which was actually surprisingly nice, with WiFi no less!) and seeing the landscape under darkness or moonlight. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience after all, and I never meet anyone who regretted going for two nights…
While the dose of radiation received on an average two-day tour of Chernobyl is less than a transatlantic flight (and arguable less damaging than the air pollution of big cities) it is still very important to follow all safety instructions given, to be on a safe side – and of course radiation is not the only hazard you will encounter.
Above all do not decide to try enter the exclusion zone yourself, or ‘make your own tour’ illegally. A few people have tried in recent years – thinking it is more of an adventure, but many areas have yet to be cleaned and by sneaking around you will be exposing yourself to huge amounts of radiation, potentially dangerous situations involving crumbing buildings and wild animals – and of course be breaking the law which is taken very seriously here. One Belorussian Tourist recently died after attempting to climb the Duga Rader by himself. I repeat – do not attempt to visit Chernobyl without a tour, under any circumstances (and no matter what anyone else tells you).
For this once-in-a-life time experience into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone you want to ensure you are in good hands. Not only can it be incredibly dangerous (this is a radiation covered, abandoned town after all), but you want to trust your tour company choice to show you all the best spots and experience possible. Sadly, not everyone does this – and while I don’t want to name and shame, lets just say we read plenty of horror stories online and heard stories of disappointment from other travellers in hostels in Kiev. Luckily our choice of Go2chernobyl.com was an easy experience from beginning to end – so we had no issues what-so-ever!
Go With A Reputable Company! While all guides in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone don’t actually work for the tour companies but are part of a bigger collective (ensuring safety and quality amongst other things) it is well know that some tour companies get better guides due to long standing relationships, and our’s was absolutely great. Not only did he speak fluent English and could answer every single question we threw at him, he genuinely wanted to show us all the areas of Pripyat he could, while stopping us from entering any places that were geniuely dangerous (e.g. brick buildings are a no-go, but concrete buildings tend to last longer). We even left the Chernobyl hotel far earlier than every other group of the second morning too, meaning we had the entire city to ourselves …..
Paying More Does Not Get You More! Ukraine is a pretty cheap country for Western tourists which is great, but seemingly many internet-savy businesses have realised they can charge up to double the expected price of a Chernobyl tour online with some slick marketing for *exactly the same produce*. We stayed in the exact same hotel and ate at the same place (there is not exactly a lot of choice!) as people who paid a lot more than us, and actually had a far bigger group of 15 versus our 7…
Make sure everything is clear and transparent upfront. Of course it can go the other way and the price of a tour to Chernobyl is too cheap with many things not actually included, so get everything in writing. We paid $224 USD each for our tour with Go2Chernobyl.com including absolutely everything except the dosimeter / gigameter rental for Chernobyl which was 300 UAH clearly stated up front. To be clear, you should make sure all of these things are included on your tour to Chernobyl overnight:
Based on my epic experience and their TripAdvisor reviews I recommend you first check out Go2Chernobyl.com when looking for overnight tours to Chernobyl (or only a one-day Chernobyl tour if you’re really short on time). This is based not only on their rapid email response time and efficiency when booking, but the quality of the guide they sourced for us, the transparency about all costs, the great price-point and smooth-running operation at all points. They only seem to run tours in vans not buses however which is great so you do not end up with tour groups of 25-30 people like other companies, but on our tour we only had seven which was great!
There are no special recommendations or mandatory equipment you will need for a Chernobyl tour from Kiev you you might find this Chernobyl Packing List helpful (based on an overnight tour).
You do not need to throw away your clothing after the tour but there is a slight chance you may be asked to throw away any items which have a particularly high radiation count as you exit the exclusion zone. This is only really possible if you roll around on the ground, so should not happen but its best you don’t take your best clothes or anything you would miss into Chernobyl. A proper wash when you get back is all your clothes should require, but if you are paranoid or want to take extra care you can also by a Full Radiation Protection Suit for Chernobyl from Amazon before your tour, or just buy cheap clothes and throw away after the tour (but I don’t recommend this.)
Now you're all set and prepared to explore our big wide world, why not sort out everything else out all in one go? If necessary for your travel plans make sure you have brought proper travel insurance, protected your privacy by getting a secure VPN, compared all the top hotel booking sites to find just what you're after, reserved an unbeatable rental car price and - of course - booked the best flight deals!
Many budget travelers (including me) indulge in worldwide airport lounge access, so we can experience luxury while still slumming it in economy. Naturally, we would never leave home without a more a more general travel guide since we couldn’t possibly cover everything here!
Just add an adventurous attitude and plenty of smiles - they go a long way - and that about covers it all! Now go out, find your own path and don't forget to share your best inspiration stories with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram...I'd love to hear from you!