So-Called “Dark” Tourism: Incorporating Difficult Stories into your Journey

Posted by on October 22nd, 2019

South America offers a number of attractions for travelers: beautiful scenery, friendly people, vivacious music and dance, delicious food, fun activities and interesting cultural experiences. Many of the destinations also offer the opportunity to learn about the darker side of local history.

So-called “dark tourism” can be tricky. Difficult stories must be told respectfully, with the idea of educating more than entertaining. Some of the most challenging stories in South American history are recent enough that the memories are still fresh and impactful. We appreciate the kind of engaging, respectful storytelling that allows travelers to learn about some of the more difficult periods of South American history. Here are a few of our recommendations:

Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile

The Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos commemorates the victims of human rights violations during the military regime led by dictator Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990. The military coup and subsequent period of repression were marked by extreme violence, disappearances, and forced exile, and the consequences continue to reverberate in Chile. The museum offers an audio tour in English so that you can go through the exhibits at your own pace.

Buenos Aires Jewish Heritage Tour

Argentina has a strong Jewish community, and Buenos Aires is home to a number of synagogues, Jewish schools and theaters, and Rabbinical Seminaries. Although the Jewish population was well established before Argentina even gained independence from Spain, the region has a difficult history of antisemitism. Jewish citizens were a primary target during Argentina’s military junta from 1976 to 1983, and two major terrorist attacks in the early 1990s targeted Argentina’s Israeli Embassy and the Jewish community center (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. You can take a Jewish Heritage tour that focuses on the community in Buenos Aires and the complicated history of Judaism in Argentina.

The Morrinho Project in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro has a number of favelas, poverty-stricken communities largely comprising makeshift structures made from scavenged materials. These neighborhoods tend to lack formal infrastructure, leading to water shortages, waste disposal issues, overcrowding, pollution and disease. Many favelas are also afflicted with high crime rates and violence. Based out of Rio’s Pereira da Silva favela, the Morrinho Project is a 400-square-meter model of a favela cityscape. The model, which is constructed from old brick and other recycled materials, is an oasis for the children of the favela: a place where they can play and interact with art in a secure environment. Morrinho is populated by Lego people and miniature vehicles, which participants use to recreate and understand life in the favela. The project was started by local youths in 1997, and has continued to grow and garner international recognition since then.

Social Transformation Tour: Comuna 13 in Medellín, Colombia

The Comuna 13 area of Medellin was one of the most violent communities in Colombia’s history. Through innovative social and urban planning, by the local government and private investors, it has been transformed and today showcases a number of successful programs to improve public spaces and strengthen positive social dynamics. You can take a “social transformation” tour that explores the challenging history of this area and the ways in which it has been reshaped into a safe, positive environment.

Respectfully navigating dark tourism is a great way to get a more complete picture of the places you’re visiting, learning about the events and stories that shaped your destinations. These are just a few examples of the options available. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of your destinations, just speak with your Destination Specialist. We can suggest a variety of excursion options, and also recommend our top books and movies to learn more before you travel.

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