ByTommy DePaoli, writer at
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Tommy DePaoli

Everyone needs a vacation now and then, but some of us just aren't satisfied with the traditional tourist stops. For those who think ordinary locales are nothing short of mundane, there is an entire subset of travel known as dark tourism, which promises thrills, chills, and a whole lot of goosebumps.

The world is filled with places that people shouldn't tread, but whether it's an abandoned asylum or a haunted forest, people just can't get enough of the real-life macabre. In fact, this obsession with unnerving hot spots has become so prolific, it helped inspire the upcoming horror movie, The Forest, which finds one traveler on a collision course with some seriously sinister spirits.

We may have to wait until January 8, 2016 to witness Natalie Dormer's terrifying trip, but there are plenty of haunted landmarks and disturbing destinations anyone can check out in the meantime—just don't forget your flashlight.

5. The Catacombs of Paris, France

The Catacombs of Paris have been a terrifying tourist destination since the early 19th century, but I had no idea just how deep this gruesome rabbit hole goes. Apparently, there's a French subculture of "cataphiles" who have keys that allow access to hidden points around the city, giving an even deeper entry into the "World's Largest Grave."

These urban explorers clearly didn't learn from the catacombs in Odessa, where a girl died after getting separated from her group. It took two years to retrieve her body because officials were too frightened to go down there. Considering the sheer size and macabre decor of the catacombs in Paris, I'd be way too scared I would find myself in the same position.

4. Pompeii, Italy

So many tourists have frequented the ruins of the once-great Roman city that they probably don't consider it "dark" at all. However, I'd say that with at least 2,000 people completely decimated by a brutal force of nature qualifies as one of the grimmest sites around. Due to the volcanic eruption that covered the area in ash, Pompeii is frozen in time, preserved as a mass grave of its petrified inhabitants who must have run screaming from a destruction they just couldn't comprehend.

Seeing the forms of children on the ground to pregnant women in glass cases is enough to give me the heebie-jeebies, and the fact that these people existed nearly 2000 years ago is enough to make my head spin. With 2 million visitors annually, Pompeii is proof that a location need not be obscure to be exceptionally disturbing.

3. Los Feliz Murder Mansion, United States

Real-life horror stories can be as good a driving force to visiting a grisly destination as any creepy photo opportunities, and that is certainly the case with the so-called Murder Mansion in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz. The horrible event took place on December 6, 1959, when the home's owner Dr. Harold Perelson brutally bludgeoned his wife to death with a hammer before attempting the same on his 18-year-old daughter. She survived, and her father drank acid to end his own life.

Since that still-inexplicably deadly day, the house has remained eerily unchanged. It has passed through owners in one family, but they used the property strictly for storage. As a result, visitors (who are actually trespassers) can peer in through the windows to see a living room with a 1950s-style TV and supposedly a Christmas tree complete with unwrapped gifts. One person claimed the house is haunted, and was bitten by a black widow spider trying to break in. While the mystery remains unsolved, what remains totally creepy is that this house has sit in waiting, almost expecting its original owners to return.

2. Island of the Dolls, Mexico

"La Isla de las Munecas" (Island of the Dolls) is a Mexican tourist destination, but don't expect to find adorable tchotchkes here. The island is famous for the bizarrely mutilated dolls that fill the trees. In a truly cinematic origin story, a hermit named Don Juliana Santana left civilization to set up this oasis of the disturbed. According to legend, he set up all these dolls to appease a little girl's spirit after she drowned in the canal.

Don Julian did not like nosy onlookers, so the dolls could have also been a way to discourage intrusion. In a truly scary twist of fate, he died the same way as this supposed little girl: drowning in the canal. His legacy remains on the island, in the faces and poses of mutilated dolls strung up in different displays of torture.

1. Aokigahara Suicide Forest, Japan

The most appealing aspect of any dark destination is the threat of the unexplainable, and Japan's Aokigahara, also grimly known as the Suicide Forest, might just be the most enigmatic place you can actually visit. As mentioned early, Aokigahara has become such a noteworthy mystery, it's the setting for The Forest.

Since the 1950s, hundreds upon hundreds of lost souls have made their way into the forest to end their lives, and to this day no one knows what attracts them to this particular location. Legend says that angry spirits known as yūrei have taken hold of this "Sea of Trees," and they only grow more powerful as more devastating losses accrue.

The most unreal aspect of Aokigahara is that it's a national park, so anyone can walk through and visit. Despite this openness, the locals will be quick to tell you that the area should not be disturbed for it's full of despair and grief.

Considering this chilling response, I may just stick to seeing Aokigahara in cinematic form come January 8, but what about you?

(Sources: Atlas Obscura)


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