Come holiday time, you can either take it easy and head for the local beach, or have the adventure of a lifetime, a real risk to life that you’ll remember till your rocking in a chair with the peeled ears of grandchildren hanging on your every word. Where to go? The world is full of lively locales and spots meant only for the brave, though few know of their existence. Luckily for you we’ve compiled a list of the 15 most dangerous places to visit. Here they are.
Izu Islands. Japan
Ever been to a souvenir shop and noticed that the most sold item is a gas mask? No, me neither. But souvenir shops on the island of Miyakejima, one of Japan’s Izu Islands, keep them in stock, and for good reason. Miyakejima is a volcanic island, but that’s the least of anyone’s worries. The volcanic activity sends poisonous gasses up from the ground, forcing the residents and visiting tourists to wear gas masks. Mount Oyama, the main volcano on the island, last belched in 2000, prompting a mass evacuation due to extremely high levels of toxic gas. All flights into the area were banned for over eight years due to the high levels of sulphur. Residents were finally permitted to return to their “normal” routines in 2005 but they were, and still, required to carry a gas mask with them at all times. However, visitors have said that the scuba diving is among the best in the world.
Alnwick Poison Gardens. England
Located in the town of Alnwick, Northumberland, England, next to Alnwick Castle, the garden is home to some of the most poisonous plants known to man: Nux vomica (the source of strychnine), hemlock, ricinus communis (source of harmless castor oil but also deadly ricin), foxglove, atropa belladonna, brugmansia, and laburnum. There are even specimens of cannabis and coca plants specially protected from the public, and for which they have a special license. You wouldn’t want your children gamboling around some of these plants.
The Door to Hell. Turkmenistan
The name says it all. The Door to Hell was originally a natural gas field-cum-underground satanic lair located in Derweze, Turkmenistan. The Soviets came across this vast reserve and started to extract the gas by drilling, causing the field to collapse and form a crater. The crater started releasing poisonous gasses prompting the Soviet engineers to set fire to the crater to burn all the gas. At the time, 1971, the estimates were that the gasses would burn out in a few weeks. It has been burning for more than four decades. This is as close to Hell as you’ll ever get.
These mines in Quebec produce asbestos, that fireproof material that’s been banned in several countries because of links to cancer. Oddly enough, Thetford-Mines continues producing asbestos, and even offers misguided visitors guided tours. You can visit the enormous open pit asbestos mine, which is still fully operational, and note that the miners there are not wearing any special protection, a bad sign for the workers, the townspeople and you the visitor. Some residential areas in the nearby town are littered with unhealthy piles of asbestos waste, reminiscent of Orwell’s description of the English coal mining towns of the early 20th century and their insalubrious conditions. The mine offers bus tours of the deadly environment during the summer months. Tickets are free.
Never mind the conflict currently being played out in The Ukraine, and which in all likelihood is bound to worsen, the worst thing that can befall the unsuspecting tourist is radiation poisoning from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The 1986 nuclear disaster at the plant forced Soviet authorities to evacuate the towns of Chernobyl, Pripyat and the neighboring communities, leaving the area virtually uninhabited and a wasteland. Some former residents have returned and there are guided tours of the area, even though the area is still brimming with radioactivity.
Mud Volcanoes. Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan boasts the largest number of mud volcanoes in the world with roughly 800. Although they look tame and inviting to those keen on mud baths, they can cause quite a bit of damage. Mud volcanoes have been known to erupt with great force sending flames shooting into the sky as high as 1000 meters and tons of mud dispersed over the ground. In one eruption, the flames could easily be seen from 15 kilometers away, and would still be burning three days later. Of course, it would be very disastrous to be enjoying a mud bath on the day of an eruption.
Ramree Island. Burma
The Burmese Island was written into history during the closing days of WWII, when Allied forces landed on Ramree to take the island from the Japanese. Obviously, that’s not what makes it so dangerous. Ramree is the home of thousands of salt-water crocodiles, malaria and venomous scorpions. As Allied forces advanced, the Japanese were pushed deeper into the island where the mangrove swamps lie. Of the 1000 Japanese soldiers defending the island that day, only 20 came out from the swamps. The rest were devoured by the crocs. British naturalist Bruce Stanley Wright, who participated in the battle, wrote: “That night [of the 19 February 1945] was the most horrible that any member of the M.L. [motor launch] crews ever experienced. The scattered rifle shots in the pitch black swamp, punctured by the screams of wounded men crushed in the jaws of huge reptiles, and the blurred worrying sound of spinning crocodiles, made a cacophony of hell that has rarely been duplicated on earth. At dawn the vultures arrived to clean up what the crocodiles had left”
Dominica Boiling Lake. Dominica
The second largest boiling lake in the world, after Frying Pan Lake on New Zealand, Dominica’s natural hot tub reaches temperatures of 180–197 °F (82–92 °C) along the edges, with those numbers rising considerably in the center where all the boiling activity is concentrated. At those temperatures, swimming in its steamy waters is ill advised. Nevertheless, since there is no road leading to the lake, visitors can take an 8-mile hike through lush jungle, sulfur springs, over mountains and through gorges to view this marvel from a 100-foot cliff.
Lake Nyos. Cameroon
From boiling lakes to poisonous ones. Lake Nyos in Cameroon is a particular body of water. It is a deep lake on the flank of an inactive volcano with a pocket of magma beneath that leaks carbon dioxide (CO2) into the water, changing it into carbonic acid. As such, it is an “exploding lake,” one of only three known in the world. The “explosions,” however, are not the usual ones. In 1986, Lake Nyos suddenly emitted a large cloud of CO2, which suffocated 1,800 people and 3,500 livestock in nearby towns and villages.
Bolton Strid. England
The Bolton Strid, a continuation of the River Wharfe in Yorkshire, is a picturesque river typical of the idyllic English countryside, but with one huge blemish. Everyone, absolutely everybody, who has swum in its waters has perished. The Strid itself looks harmless, quaint and even inviting, but its depth and strong undercurrent make this brook-like body of water, the deadliest river. Worst still, few bodies were ever recovered. A word to the wise: Don’t go fly fishing here.
Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. Madagascar
Madagascar’s UNESCO World Heritage Site is a treasure trove for biologists, if they could only access the area! Tsingy, a Malagasy word meaning, “where one cannot walk barefoot,” is a 250-square-mile bio-fortress filled with sharp and jagged limestone spears, that can easily cut through skin. The park is teeming with creatures endemic to the area and completely unknown to science. Scientists that have ventured into the park to collect specimens, have had to crawl out of the park seeking medical attention due to the rough conditions, but not before reporting some new and creepy biological finds.
The Afar Triangle. Africa
Encompassing the regions of Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea, the Afar Triangle is where the Earth opens up to show the terrifying contents of its deep belly. As one of the most unstable areas on the planet, the Triangle has huge, gaping cracks that seem to open spontaneously while spitting out blasts of superheated air (around 750 degrees Fahrenheit). The sound of bubbling magma can be heard from the depths of some cracks, and plumes of sulfurous gas erupt from others. The area is famous for being the home of the Afar people, a proud and noble tribe, and a cradle of extinct hominids rich in bones and fragments. So unless you’re an anthropologist or an archaeologist, you might want to avoid the area.
The Corryvreckan Maelstrom. Scotland
Scotland’s most dangerous tourist attraction is only for the brave. The whirlpool lies between the isles of Jura and Scarba in the Inner Hebrides and is considered to be unnavigable by the Royal Navy, though some have tried it. An underwater mountain creates the whirlpool, the third largest in the world, and causes water to rush in towards a 200m pinnacle of rock in the narrow Jura strait, the peak of which sits only 30m from the surface, creating the violent phenomenon. George Orwell once tried to test its reputation and barely made it out alive.
Jellyfish Lake. Palau
Most people have never even heard of the Republic of Palau in Micronesia, let alone the Jellyfish Lake, home to millions of jellyfish that slowly migrate across the water each day, following the path of the sun. Although obtaining a pass to visit the island is not difficult and really just a matter of money ($100), tourists are only allowed to snorkel among the golden jellies and moon jellies, jellyfish that are normally harmless despite their appearance. Scuba diving is forbidden as the lower level contains dangerous amounts of hydrogen sulfide, which can be deadly.
Half Dome. Yosemite National Park. California
Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is a veritable landmark and probably the most recognizable rock formation in the country, but reaching its summit is no easy accomplishment. The 8.5-mile hike uphill from the bottom of the valley, plus the hundreds of granite stairs is not for everyone. But the final 400 feet are the trickiest; hikers must climb up the steep slope with two steel cables as their only support. Still, many adventurous climbers done a free-solo straight up the sheer rock wall. Just in case that’s not terrifying enough, two hikers died after getting struck by lightning on Half Dome in 1985.
Ice Diving. Antarctica
Scuba diving is already one of the most dangerous recreational activities in the worldbut ice diving takes that risk to a whole new level. While standard diving already puts the participant at risk of drowning, barotrauma (increased underwater pressure), decompression sickness and nitrogen narcosis, ice diving also adds the dangers of a single entry/exit point. As the ice is usually very thick, a small hole is cut at the surface for the divers to enter and a rope is also attached to their harness for extra safety. While this helps to reduce the risk of ice diving, the incredibly low water temperatures and a ceiling of ice with only a tiny exit point makes ice diving one of the most dangerous swims in the world.