Three of my closest colleagues and I wanted to head somewhere completely different. It had always been a dream of mine to see the Chernobyl reactor and the ghost city of Pripyat. So we booked the journey. This is all the information that we gathered and some tips that we picked up along the way.
Is it Safe?
This is always the first question that I am asked. The short answers are both Yes and No.
Yes it is safe to visit the area with a guide. There are two exclusion zones around the power plant. One extends for a 30km radius, the other a 10km radius. Checkpoints control exactly who goes in and they make sure everyone gets out. You will cross the checkpoints where the guide will review the documentation with the guard. When he is happy you can pass.
After the accident was contained there was an extensive clean up project. The main concern was the radioactive particles, which stuck to dust molecules in the air. They flew with helicopters to spray a foam that would absorb the particles and allow them to settle on the ground. This was then washed from the surrounding buildings and the top 150mm of topsoil was removed, replaced and buried away from the area. Therefore, the "cleaned areas" are relatively safe to walk around.
Outside of these areas and close to the ground you will have fairly high levels of radiation. Especially near the vegitation and near the base of trees. However, the majority is surface radiation. Dangerous if touched with bare skin. It is better to visit in winter as there is a layer of snow on everything. This helps minimise any exposure to surface radiation and ensures the dust is kept to a minimum.
Your guide will take you to the safe areas with a geiger meter to ensure that you are never in an area with high radiation levels for too long. Spending a day exploring Chernobyl is the equivalent exposure to around half of one chest x-ray.
Get to Ukraine
You need to begin the journey by getting to Boryspil Airport in Kiev. Ukraine is not the easiest of countries to visit, but certainly not the most difficult. I currently hold a New Zealand passport. This meant that I needed to obtain a visa.
Single entry visas for tourism are simple to obtain. You will need to provide the following documents:
- A national passport, valid for at least three months after the expiration date of the requested visa and having at least 2 blank visa designated pages;
- Visa Application form (you will need Acrobat Reader to view or print these forms) per each passport holder - answered completely and legibly typed or printed in ink in block letters, dated and personally signed by the applicant.
- 2 photos - recent, passport-sized, resembling applicant's travel document photo.
- Valid medical insurance and sufficient financial for the period of intended stay and return to the country of origin or transit to a third country or guaranty to obtain sufficient financial resources in Ukraine.
- Together with all items listed above the following documents, each hereinafter referred to as "the supporting document", related to the purpose of entry, must be submitted for visas.
Accomodation in Kiev
You will need to spend your first night in Kiev. I am certainly no expert in this region and recommend you do your own research on Booking.com or Airbnb.com. However, I can share with you what I learned on my trip. We spent two nights in a fantastic hostel and our last night, it was New Year's eve so had very few choices. In short the second one was rubbish!
The good one (Dream House Hostel) is a clean low cost hostel with very helpful staff. It had a great bar, the food in the restaurant was very nice and they even had lockers to store your camera gear! From here it is walking distance to a lot of the main sights that Kiev has to offer. Take a look at the map below, if you don't want to stay in the hostel, check the areas around it. This is the area that you want to be based!
Chernobyl Tour Companies
In order to book our tour we were looking at various companies. We began by searching through Trip Advisor to see what they recommended. There are basically three types of tours:
- Tour bus (with a number of people)
- Semi-private (smaller number of people)
- Private tour (just your group)
We chose to do a private tour with Solo East Travel as this would allow us more freedom to tailor the experience. It was broken down as follows:
- Pickup at 0830 in Kiev
- 1h30min drive to the Exclusion Zone
- Tour of a small abandoned village
- Tour of the town of Chernobyl
- Visiting various monuments
- Lunch (imported from out of town)
- Tour of the Reactor
- Tour of Pripyat City
- 30min drive
- Tour of DUGA radar array
- 1h30min drive back to Kiev
I have made a post with all of my travel photography and a small travel video outlining some of the things we saw. If you don't want any spoilers then you can avoid this. But, if you're someone that likes to plan then check it out!
Other Useful Links
Sights in Kiev
While you are in Kiev you should take some time to check out some of the sights. It is a truly unique place. Some of the top recommendations can be found here:
Are you planning a trip?
Have you been to Chernobyl before and have tips you can share? Add them to the comments below! If you have friends thinking of visiting make sure they give this a read by hitting share. Alright that is enough promotion. As always thank you very much for taking the time to read the post this far through. I really like to hear from you so if you have any questions hit the comments. To email me you can use the ABOUT page.
Ben - Cultured Kiwi Photography