Dec 15 2010

FAQ: I want to tour Chernobyl. How do I get there?

by in Chernobyl Tour 2007, Eastern Europe & the Caucasus, Ukraine

Chernobyl nuclear power plant
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, July 2007

Since the Ukrainian government recently announced that the exclusion zone surrounding the Chernobyl disaster site will be open for tours beginning in 2011, interest in touring the region has exploded (along with traffic to my blog). Media reports have been rather erroneous, however, as private companies have actually been leading tours of the exclusion zone for many years. I traveled there in 2007 and since then I have received a substantial number of emails from people who are interested in making the trip themselves. I’ve been meaning to put together a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to address most of the common questions but have kept putting it off. Well, no longer…here is the list of frequently asked questions posed to me by readers, and my answers.

How did you get there?
As strange as it sounds, a Chernobyl tour was actually quite easy to arrange. We booked our tour through the travel agency SoloEast. You have to let them know ahead of time so that they can submit your details (i.e., passport number) to the Ukrainian government for clearance. Also, if you do this far enough ahead of time there is an opportunity for others interested in touring on that day to sign up for your tour, which will lower the cost. SoloEast will pick you up in Kiev and take you to Chernobyl, and then bring you back to Kiev. Yes, it’s really that easy.

Another option you might want to consider is taking one of the tours that is led by former Pripyat residents. I’d really like to visit Chernobyl again, and if I were to return to Ukraine, I would definitely look into doing this. You can find out tour dates and more info at chernobylzone.com.


Amusement park in Pripyat, a city of 50,000 abandoned shortly after the Chernobyl disaster

How much was the tour?
At the time we went, our tour cost approximately $115 per person. Prices have risen over the years, however. A solo tour will cost you $490, but if you round up a few others the price drops to $100-205 depending on the number of participants.


Soviet crest atop a Pripyat apartment building

Where do you go? What do you see?
Everywhere. A lot. You’ll visit the Memorial to the Liquidators who literally saved the world. You’ll visit Kopachi, a village so contaminated with radiation that the government bulldozed it and buried its remains. All that remains of it are mounds of dirt skewered by the occasional radiation sign. You’ll stand 100 meters from the infamous reactor #4, where the explosion occurred, and feed the giant catfish in the nearby cooling pond. The highlight of the tour is Pripyat, a city that 50,000 residents called home until they were evacuated following the explosion at reactor #4. Today, Pripyat remains as a Soviet city frozen in time, visited by curious tour groups, vandals, and looters. You’ll visit the graveyard of ships and a collection of vehicles that were used in the cleanup of Chernobyl. And then you will be provided with a hearty lunch back at the Chornobylinterinform office.

chernobyl ship graveyard

Where do you fly to?
Boryspil International Airport (KBP) in Kiev. If you go in the summer (I went in July 2007), like I did, roundtrip to Kiev from the USA will run about $1000+. If you’re coming from Europe, or going to Kiev in the winter, it will be substantially cheaper.

Where do you stay?
SoloEast now gives you the option of spending a night at a hotel within the exclusion zone area itself (it is primarily for visiting scientists and researchers) so you can ask them about that. But in general since tours are only for a day you will stay in Kiev, which is 2.5 hours from the zone. As for accommodation in Kiev, skip the overpriced hotels and rent an apartment. We used KievApts.com and rented a place in the city center near Independence Square. Can’t beat that location. KievApts will also arrange to pick you up at the airport if you’d like.

kiev apartment bedspread
You know you want to stay in an apartment that features this bedspread!

Is it safe to visit Chernobyl? Were there any protective measures?
Is it safe? Well, they say it is, and obviously it wasn’t a huge concern of mine, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone. One of my friends used to work in the nuclear industry and thought I was nuts for going there, though. There are a lot of rules you have to follow there and they go over them once you get to the zone (i.e, stick to the asphalt and don’t step on the radioactive moss). When you book your tour, SoloEast will advise you of the proper clothing and shoes to wear, but other than that, you won’t be walking around the zone in white suits. At the end of the tour, you’ll pass through a checkpoint that will scan you for any stray radioactive particles you might have picked up. Our group cleared the checkpoint with no problems, but if you don’t then you might be subject to a chemical shower.

radiation checkpoint near chernobyl
All clear

Was the tour in English?
Yep.

Do they speak English in Ukraine?
From my own experience, many of the younger Ukrainians spoke English. I speak horrible Russian and managed quite well over there, but I think you will be fine if you don’t speak Russian or Ukrainian. Just think of it as an adventure. I would recommend learning the Cyrillic alphabet if you are not already familiar with it because all street/metro signs in Kiev are in Cyrillic. It’s not that hard and will only take a few hours to master it. Trust me.

If you have any further questions that haven’t been addressed here, shoot me an e-mail or leave them in the comments section and I will answer them.

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9 Responses to FAQ: I want to tour Chernobyl. How do I get there?

  1. From Mark:

    The tours conducted by Pripyat.com through the chernobylzone websites are conducted only in Russian and Ukrainian. They did offer 2 English tours through chernobylzone.com in April and May 2010, but I assume they did not get much interest since they stopped offering those trips.

    Currently, tourists can still see the graveyard of ships, but the vehicle graveyard has been off limits to visitors since 2008 – a government restriction due to radiation levels.

    Posted on December 15, 2010 at 7:04 am #
  2. From Lindsay:

    Ah yeah, I should have clarified…I meant the small collection of vehicles in the city of Chernobyl. We didn’t visit the big vehicle graveyard due to road conditions at the time.

    Posted on December 15, 2010 at 8:00 am #
  3. From Steve:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I hope that one day soon I will be able to take the same trip. Is there anything that you have done differently? Was your trip only a day trip? Can you get trips for maybe 2-3 days or is there not enough to see?

    Posted on March 18, 2011 at 11:53 am #
  4. From Lindsay:

    It was only a day trip, however Solo East now offers multiple day trips there. If I were to do it again, I would probably opt for a multi-day trip.

    Posted on March 21, 2011 at 1:10 pm #
  5. From Tamas Moedling:

    When the tragedy on the atomic power station in Japan had happened I was in Ukraine for my business for the first time. Searching Internet pages I visit website tourtokiev.com and read that they offer tour to Chernobyl. The price is not high in comparison with another sites. Then I offer to my friend to visit Chernobyl together. In April we booked this tour and after meeting we’ll never forget about this.
    Probably, it was my the most unusual, the most extreme from the point of view of the simple inhabitant and the most interesting trip for all my rather short life.
    I don’t want to describe all my impressions because you should visit this place yourself.

    Posted on August 30, 2011 at 5:33 am #
  6. From Zach:

    Do you need radioactive protection suits?

    Posted on May 12, 2012 at 11:07 am #
  7. From Lindsay:

    Nope, no suits required.

    Posted on May 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm #
  8. From Dima:

    suggest their, on passage on closed territory zone exclusion

    Posted on November 4, 2012 at 3:11 am #

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    […] and this information might be useful to those planning a trip, I’m putting together a FAQ similar to the one I prepared for visiting Chernobyl. Of course, if you have questions about traveling to North Korea and it is not answered below, […]

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