Dark Tourism: the journey through gloom

Friday, 6 October 2017

Dark tourism is defined as tourism directed to places that are identified generally with death and suffering.

Dark tourism is defined as tourism directed to places that are identified generally with death and suffering.

dark tourism

Dark tourism explained

So you see, dark tourism encompasses not just sites of paranormal activities but also places where great deaths and disasters have occurred. Take for example the site of the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine or the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

Let's face it, there’s something about the dark and gruesome that most people find fascinating and intriguing. We all love the feeling of suspense and thrill, sometimes even beyond the threshold of our tolerance.

Oftentimes, we find ourselves holding a Stephen King masterpiece and involuntarily flipping through the pages, even if our mind is telling us to do otherwise. How many of us, for example, have indulged in a horror movie, alone in our room, just to get our heart pumping fast?

Some even take it a step further, like visiting abandoned houses and buildings, and even cemeteries. Adrenaline rush is undoubtedly addictive. Perhaps that is also why dark tourism has gained popularity among travelers worldwide. Or perhaps because history becomes even more interesting when it has dark undertones.

Dark tourism and the society 

Some people may think that dark tourism is just fad or a passing fancy, but it is a legitimate branch of tourism. The fact that there is an academic center dedicated to it — the Institute for Dark Tourism Research (iDTR) of the University of Central Lancashire - proves that dark tourism somehow holds importance in the realm of travel and tourism.

iDTR promotes ethical research into the social scientific understanding of tourist sites of death, disaster or the seemingly macabre. The iDTR brings together researchers who seek to deliver internationally-recognized research that contributes to the ethical and social scientific understanding of dark tourism and dark heritage.

dark tourism

iDTR Executive Director Dr. Philip Stone said that dark tourism, from an academic perspective, deals with history, remembrance, memorialization and intrigue. Dark tourism is essential for society because “the ordinary dead becomes significant with life because that is how we connect with them, the idea of connection and the idea of putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, that’s really important,” Dr. Stone added.

Conceptually, dark tourism has been in existence for a long time but the term was coined only around 1996. But if we would think closely, people have long been visiting places of death such the place of Jesus Christ’s passing, for example, or the Catacombs of Paris. The Great Pyramids of Egypt, while considered architectural wonders are, first and foremost, enormous royal mausoleums.

Dark Tourism in the Philippines

Sunny, tropical Philippines, known for its pristine beaches and blissful islands, is also home to spots that fall under the category of dark tourism. It’s not a new concept in the Philippines as Filipinos have also long been enthralled by ghost stories and other hair-raising tales. But more than this, as I have mentioned earlier, dark tourism is also a walk back in history and an appreciation of art and heritage.

Here are some tourist spots in the Philippines that can be considered dark yet stunning at the same time:

I. Intramuros

Intramuros is a Spanish-era walled settlement that is also the original site of old Manila, an ancient Tagalog colony along the banks of Pasig River. The land, bequeathed by the former native rulers to the Spaniards, eventually became the seat of education, government and religion during the Spanish colonial era. The wall was constructed to protect the city from natural disasters as well as attacks from pirates and other invaders.

dark tourism
La Pieta inside Manila Cathedral
At only 0.67 square kilometers in land area, Intramuros is best explored by foot. As a starting point, one might want to visit Manila Cathedral (Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception), a neo-Romanesque cathedral established in 1571.

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Inside San Agustin Church

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Statue inside San Agustin Church

Other sites that are worthy of a visit in Intramuros are San Agustin Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Fort Santiago, Palacio del Gobernador, Casa Manila, and Aduana Building ruins, to name some.

San Agustin
The dead Christ
At daytime, Fort Santiago is a beautiful historical park that houses antiquities from the Spanish colonial era. It tells a different story by nighttime though because of horrid events during World War II where hundreds of soldiers and civilians were tortured and killed in Fort Santiago. Before the war, Fort Santiago also served as a prison. Some say that noises can be heard from the empty dungeons of Fort Santiago during night time.

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An old well
Also inside Intramuros is the seemingly innocent ruins of St. Ignatius Church at the former Ateneo de Manila. Little do people know that on that site, over 60,000 people died during the Liberation of Manila. In 1932, a large fire gutted the buildings of the old Ateneo, which almost reduced the complex to ashes. This site is considered today as one of the most haunted places in Metro Manila.

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Ruins of the old Ateneo de Manila University
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Related Posts: Away for the Weekend: Intramuros Photo Trip, Away for the Weekend: Intramuros Tour

II. Corregidor Island

Corregidor Island (Fort Mills) is a small tadpole-shaped rocky island located at the entrance of Manila Bay and served as a military defense post during World War II. It was considered to have played an important role during the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese forces. Geographically, the island is more proximate to Manila but it is under the jurisdiction of Cavite.

dark tourism

dark tourism

The only route going to the island is via a one-hour ferry ride from Manila Bay. One may explore the island by foot or by bike or via tranvias through the guided tours conducted by Sun Cruises. The island is divided into four areas: topside, middle side, bottom side and tail side.

dark tourism

The section with the biggest land area is the topside. This is the location of the Army headquarters, barracks, officers’ quarters, most of the artillery batteries, Pacific War Memorial, and an old Spanish lighthouse.

The middle side contains the officers’ quarters, barracks, hospital, quarters for non-commissioned officers, and schools. The hospital, reputed to be haunted, is a favorite site for ghost-hunting tours.

Bottom side is the lower part of the island that serves as the neck that connects the head and the tail of the island. The Malinta Tunnel, the last stronghold of the Philippine and American Military forces, is located here. This tunnel was originally intended as a bunker but it was eventually converted to a 1000-bed hospital.

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Most of the islands parks and memorials are located at the tail side of Corregidor Island. The Filipino Heroes Memorial, with its 14 rich murals, is located here at the tail end.

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Hospital scene inside Malinta Tunnel
dark tourism
Old typewriter

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The old Spanish lighthouse
At night time, Corregidor falls eerily silent. Most care takers within the island would warn guests to be very careful especially when taking walks in the dark. Many soldiers, after all, lost their lives in this very island during the last major world war.

Related Post: Away for the Weekend: Corregidor Overnight Tour

III. La Loma Catholic Cemetery (Campo Santo de La Loma)

The La Loma Catholic Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Manila, opened in 1884 and is located in Caloocan City, with its southern portion under Manila’s territory. It was originally known as Cementerio de Binondo since the area was then under the jurisdiction of Sta. Cruz, Manila. In the olden days, the cemetery was known for its intricately-designed wrought-iron gates supported by equally stunning stone columns with elaborate carvings.


Throughout the cemetery, one may find mausoleums and tombs that are decorated in gothic and neo-classical styles; no doubt works of art.


The focal point of La Loma Catholic Cemetery is the old St. Pancratius Chapel, a funerary chapel that is no longer used since 1964 when a new chapel was built near the main road. The old baroque chapel is much grander, with its faƧade of lavishly-carved stone reliefs.

A lonely statue
dark tourism

A few years ago, a friend and I went to La Loma Cemetery to take snapshots of the works of art within the property but we were driven away by a guard who told us that it was prohibited to take photos unless we secured a permit. We had no way of verifying if it were true so we had no choice but to leave.

IV. Manila North Cemetery

Manila North Cemetery is also one of the oldest burial grounds in Metro Manila. It used to be part of La Loma Cemetery but it was created to be exclusively a Catholic cemetery. Mausoleums with varying degrees of architectural details can also be seen inside the cemetery. Perhaps one of the distinguishing marks of this memorial park is the number of notable personalities – mostly politicians and film stars – who are buried here.

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An old cemetery resident
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Masonic Burial Grounds
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Interestingly, there are the group plots inside the cemetery, namely, American Association, Armed Forces of the Philippines Cemetery, Boy Scout Cenotaph, Firemen's plot, Jewish Cemetery, Masonic burial grounds, Mausoleo de los Veteranos de la RevoluciĆ³n, Military and police plot, Thomasites' plot, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

V. Baguio

The Summer Capital of the Philippines’ chilly winds is perhaps not only due to its altitude, but also because of the many haunted spots in the City of Pines. Probably the most famous of these eerie places is the Diplomat Hotel, an abandoned lodge that is said to be the site of many dreadful events during World War II. Many guests have attested to many hair-raising experiences inside the property, including videos of ghosts and spirit possessions.

Other places in to visit in Baguio for a dose of goose bumps is Loakan Road, Laperal White House, Teachers Camp and the site of the old Hyatt Hotel.


  1. Baguio City Guide
  2. Sun Cruises
  3. Spot.ph
  4. www.Wikipedia.org
  5. www.uclan.ac.uk/
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  1. Really interesting post. It is like how people want to visit old prisons.

  2. Yup, exactly. Places like that really fuel one's curiosity. Thank you!


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