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What Is Extreme Tourism?

M.C. Huguelet
Updated May 23, 2024
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Extreme tourism, also sometimes referred to as shock tourism, is travel that is strongly characterized by a sense of adventure or even physical danger. The “extreme” aspect of this type of tourism may derive from a destination itself or from one or more activities which are engaged in during one’s trip. Extreme tourism may be arranged by the traveler herself or may be coordinated by an adventure travel company. Critics of this type of tourism argue that it may lead to environmental damage.

In some cases, extreme tourism draws its sense of thrill or risk from a destination. Some extreme tourists travel to places that are considered moderately or even extremely unsafe for physical or political reasons. For instance, they may travel to regions that have been affected by nuclear disasters, like the area surrounding the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine, or to countries that are at war.

Another form of extreme tourism involves traveling to a destination in order to participate in one or more adventurous or potentially dangerous activities. While there are many different extreme activities in which one can participate, most of these activities are physical in nature. For example, an extreme tourist may take a trip which involves cage diving with great white sharks, BASE jumping, or parachuting from a static point such as a skyscraper or cliff, trekking across a desert, or exploring underwater caves.

Some travelers plan their own extreme tourism trips, while others work with an adventure travel agency. As extreme activities and destinations can pose a number of risks to the traveler, many travel experts advise booking one’s trip through an agency. Working with experienced extreme travel professionals can help ensure that the traveler is provided with accommodation and proper supplies during her trip and that she receives adequate medical attention if she is hurt. An extreme travel company may also be able to connect the traveler with local guides or translators when necessary.

Opponents of extreme tourism hold that this form of travel may put certain areas of the planet at a heightened risk of destruction. For instance, extreme travel to the Antarctic rose significantly from the late 20th century to the early 21st century. Many environmentalists and scientific researchers contend that continued Antarctic tourism may lead to the pollution of the continent as well as the introduction of invasive foreign organisms, which could threaten the existing purity of its ecosystems.

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M.C. Huguelet
By M.C. Huguelet , Former Writer
Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide range of publications, including WiseTour. With degrees in Writing and English, she brings a unique perspective and a commitment to clean, precise copy that resonates with readers. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.

Discussion Comments

By StarJo — On Jan 01, 2012

@shell4life – I'm like you. I want to relax and not put myself in danger during my time away from it all. My dad always drags me along on his skiing trips, and I stick to the bunny slopes.

Does anyone know if traveling to go skiing or snowboarding could be considered extreme tourism? Personally, it qualifies for me. People come all the way from across the country to snowy slopes, just to risk their lives while speeding down them.

I have a fear of heights, so my view of this is skewed. To me, it is one of the most extreme things you could do.

By orangey03 — On Dec 31, 2011

I think that the camping trips my uncle takes his family on could be considered extreme tourism. He goes to mountainous areas where bears and mountain lions are known to live, and he pitches a tent in the middle of the woods.

Most people who go camping in areas like this prefer to stay in a cabin, because it will better protect them from dangerous wildlife. He likes the thrill of knowing he could get attacked. He carries a gun to protect his family, but he secretly wishes for a reason to use it.

To me, this is terrible, because he has young children. Putting them in harm's way like that and making them cry out in fear is just wrong. Some people will do anything for extreme tourism, though.

By Oceana — On Dec 31, 2011

I know it is risky, but I love exploring under the sea. People ask me if I'm not afraid of sharks, and I am, but the experience is worth the risk to me.

In all my years of diving, I have never encountered a shark. I always go with a group, and we have an expert to guide us.

I have seen the most beautiful sea anemones, strange fish, and indescribable creatures. If I had stayed on land and let my fears rule me, I never would have known this beauty.

There is nothing like swimming through clear water with creatures most people have only seen on television. I feel so free when I'm down there, and it really is like traveling to another world.

By shell4life — On Dec 30, 2011

Extreme tourism doesn't appeal to me, because I like to play it safe. Also, when I'm on vacation, I want to relax and enjoy the surroundings. I get so stressed at home, so I don't want to be stressed during my vacation, too!

However, some people are only happy when they are getting a rush from a dangerous activity. My cousin is this way. Every time he goes on vacation, I know it will be to do something that could get him killed.

He has gone hang-gliding, ice climbing, and jumping off cliffs into the ocean. He does all this from beautiful locations, so at least if he dies, his last view would be something pretty.

He has tried to talk me into going with him on these excursions. He has even offered to pay for everything, but there isn't enough money in the world to get me to do these things.

By SZapper — On Dec 30, 2011

@starrynight - I think you made a really good point about those documentaries. I would even argue that a lot of documentaries about animals and nature are examples of extreme tourism. The people who make those movies are most definitely in a bit of danger while they're shooting.

Anyway, I think they should heavily monitor tourism to places like Antarctica because of the environmental impact. It's one of the few unspoiled places left on earth, and I think there's a lot of scientific study that could still be done there.

By starrynight — On Dec 29, 2011

@Monika - I think you're taking a pretty narrow view on the issue, don't you? I think the potential for environmental harm is pretty bad, too. But I doubt all extreme tourism damages the environment. In my opinion, what people want to do is their own business. If they aren't hurting anyone else, I don't have a problem with it.

Anyway, I actually saw a few documentaries lately that I think might be examples of extreme tourism, but with a purpose. These people basically go to areas that are dangerous and hard to gain access to, and make documentaries about them.

A few places they went were North Korea and Liberia. The documentaries were really interesting and talked about stuff people in the west wouldn't have known about unless they made those movies! Definitely worthwhile extreme tourism, in my opinion.

By Monika — On Dec 28, 2011

I think extreme tourism is so, so stupid. I know some people are adrenaline junkies, but I think stuff like this really takes it to an unfortunate extreme. It's a waste of money, and if you get hurt, it's your own fault. Not to mention the potential for environmental damage that the article mentioned.

There are plenty of other ways to get an adrenaline rush without putting yourself in serious danger! Go watch an IMAX movie, see a horror flick, or ride a roller coaster or something!

M.C. Huguelet

M.C. Huguelet

Former Writer

Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide...
Learn more
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