Postcards from the apocalypse: 7 end-of-the-world destinations

Postcards from the apocalypse: 7 end-of-the-world destinations

The imminent end of the Mayan calendar is just one of many dark events that are becoming popular with tourists

People love a good ending. Particularly, it seems, when what's ending is the world. 

Mexico is preparing its Mayan heartland for flocks of tourists come December 21, with the end of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar convincing some people that D-Day Earth is nigh.

Mexico isn't the first place to receive a tourism boost as a result of an apocalyptic prediction.

Interest in disaster sites is growing across the world, attracting travelers who want to go beyond the Taj Mahal and Sistine Chapel, to explore places that have provided alternative chapters in history.

Here are seven places for the darker tourists among us.

Mayan Mexico

Chichen Itza CastilloMysterious Mayan temples have attracted a steady stream of tourists this year.

Fifty-two million people are expected to visit Mexico’s southern Mayan states in 2012 for what's considered the hottest ticket on this year’s tourist circuit -- seeing where the doomsday theory began.

Operators have organized tours, cultural events, sacred Mayan journeys, a countdown clock in Tapachula and celebrations at places like UNESCO-listed Chichén Ixtá.

Other popular Mayan sites include Uxmal, Kabah, Tulum and Coba.

Synthesis 2012 festival, Chichén Ixtá, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, December 20-23; US$250; www.synthesis2012.com

Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland

Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland Volcanic fury brings perfectly nice travelers to Iceland.

The fiery eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in March 2010 seemed to fit the Biblical notion of the world being destroyed by fire -- tourists soon responded.

Within 24 hours of the eruption, travel operators were offering trips to the volcano by helicopter and even snowmobile. Tourism continued well after the volcanic activity stopped -- the Icelandic Tourist Board reported a 15.7 percent increase over 2010-11 -- and some people joined volcano hotlines for notification of other events.

They might not have to wait long. Historically, eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull are followed by one of Katla, a bigger and more dangerous beast that sits on 250 square miles of packed ice.

Nordic Visitor, Laugavegur 26, 101 Reykjavik; +354 578 20 80; www.nordicvisitor.com

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Ground Zero, New York

One World Trade Center at Ground ZeroFrom the rubble of Ground Zero, One World Trade Center rises.

Ten years after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on September 11, 2001, a memorial was opened. Two million people have since come to pay respects and ponder the enormity of those events.

The displays, narratives, artefacts and names of victims symbolize hope and remembrance.

911 Memorial, 1 Albany St., World Trade Center, New York City; +1 212 266 5211; 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; free; www.911memorial.org

Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine

Ghost city of Prypyat near ChernobylOnly tourists now, in the abandoned town of Pripyat near Chernobyl.

Pack your Geiger counter for this journey into the dead zone.

It’s been more than 25 years since Chernobyl became the definitive warning about nuclear energy after an accident in 1986, but that hasn’t kept tourists away.

Tours within the exclusion zone are popular even though the Chernobyl event was equivalent to 400 Hiroshimas and caused thousands of health disorders and premature cancer deaths.

Tours promise to “raise bizarre thoughts and questions." The foremost of these questions might be why you want to put yourself at risk -- visitors must sign a liability waiver and be cleared of radiation.

Tour Kiev, 10 Proreznaya St. Kiev; +380 44 279 3505; US$149-400; www.tourkiev.com

Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall, Japan

Nagasaki National Peace MemorialNagasaki National Peace Park, as typically adorned with color and floral tributes.

The atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in the final stages of WWII killed about 70,000 and injured that number again.

Today about 1 million visitors come to the museum and memorial hall each year.

The enormous loss of life is represented each night by 70,000 fiber optic lights, one for every person that died in the blast. The lights illuminate a basin of water outside.

Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall, Nagasaki-shi, Hirano-machi 7-8, +81 (0)95 814 0055; free; www.peace-nagasaki.go.jp

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, Poland

Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration CampAuschwitz-Birkenau -- the most sobering of memorials.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, the ultimate symbol of Nazi concentration camp terror, has attracted 30 million people since it reopened as a museum in 1947.

Grim and chilling, more than a million Jews, Poles, Soviet POWs and others died here through gassing, disease, forced labor, execution, medical experiments and starvation.

Inmate barracks, restored gas chambers and the platform where arrivals were sorted for the gas chamber or labor parties -- all offer a disturbing insight into history's darkest hours.

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, ul. Wieźniów Oświęcimia 20, Oświęcim; +48 33 844 8100/8099; free; www.auschwitz.org.pl

Eyam, England

Eyam ChurchAt the Eyam Church a registry records all victims of the plague.

It's hard to believe an evil malice once lurked in England’s beautiful Peak District.

Yet the bubonic plague came here from London in August 1665 via a flea-infested cloth and within 14 months had killed 260 people. For those living in Eyam it would have seemed apocalyptic at the time, particularly when they were isolated from the rest of the country to prevent further contagion.

Their self-sacrifice placed this "plague village" on the map -- thousands visit each year to see the Plague Cottages where the first deaths occurred; the registry of deaths in the Eyam Church; Mompesson’s well, where food was left for residents; and the Riley Graves, now a memorial to the Hancock family that was nearly entirely wiped out.

Eyam Museum, Hawkhill Road, Eyam, Derbyshire; +44 (0)1433 631371; £2.50 (US$4); Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m-4:30 p.m.; www.eyammuseum.demon.co.uk

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Joanne Lane is an Australian freelance photojournalist based in Brisbane. 

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