So, how do you choose your vacation destinations? Maybe you’ve got a tried-and-true favourite city or resort, and you’re sticking with it for the foreseeable future. Maybe you’ve got a travel bucket list, and you’re ticking off different places each year. Perhaps a recommendation from family or friends swayed you, or positive reviews from other travellers online may have done so.
All of these, of course, are totally popular and legitimate options. That’s the beauty of travel: as long as you’re doing it your way, you’re doing it the right way.
So, where are you going? As for me, I like to be a little lavish when it comes to vacations. After all, I’ve worked all year to be able to afford them in the first place! I’ve recently discovered a love of cruising; a very chilled, luxurious style of vacationing where you can admire some of the world’s most beautiful cities from the comfort of a poolside chair on the deck.
That’s not for everybody, of course. Some of us are fearless thrillseekers, choosing some of the most remote, adventurous destinations on the planet, far from the beaten track.
Snake Island has no beaten track at all, that’s for darn sure. And even if it did, you wouldn’t be able to see it because there’d be freaking snakes all over it.
In this rundown, we’re going to take a look at some of the most haunting facts about this notorious island. Ophiophobes will probably want to sit this one out.
20 Its Real Name Is Just As Frightening
First things first, then. Snake Island is located in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Brazil near Sao Paulo. Needless to say, Snake Island isn’t its official name. It’s better known to Brazilians as Ilha da Queimada Grande, Portuguese for Slash and Burn Fire or Big Burnt Island (roughly).
Already, even taking all of those darn snakes out of the equation, this isn’t the friendliest-sounding place. It was so named for the deforestation that took place there, in efforts to begin a banana plantation on the island. The hissing, slithering residents had a little something to say about that, though.
19 The Human Residents Just Fled
By the standards of a lot of places around the world, Ilha da Queimada Grande really isn’t all that remote. With the climate and the range of terrain, it’s the sort of place that would typically have some human residents.
There was a fair amount of human activity there once, as the lighthouse that’s been constructed would testify. According to DocumentaryTube, though, the lighthouse was manned until the early 1900s, and as soon as it was automated, that was a swift end to permanent human presence on the island. Why’s that, you ask? Well, you didn’t actually ask, because you already know why: there are freaking snakes everywhere, that’s why.
18 It’s Certainly Earned The Name ‘Snake Island’
So, yes. Ilha da Queimada Grande is all well and good, but to most of the world, that name’s just a technicality. This is Snake Island, right here, and for good reason.
Now, if you’re one of those cynics who are tough to impress, you’re probably thinking, “so how many snakes are we talking here? It had better be utterly snaketastic, or I’m going to riot.”
Well, my tough-to-please friend, you can rest assured that there are a whole heck of a lot of snakes here. Chew on this for a factoid: there are estimated to be between one and five snakes per square metre of the island.
17 You Call That A Snake? THIS Is A Snake!
But, heck, even that may not be enough for you. Lots of snakes is one thing, but what kind of snakes? That’s the real question. After all, an island full of feeble little snakes you could mistake for earthworms, wearing tiny little scarves knitted for them for their grandmas (don’t ask me how snake grandmas knit), isn’t going to impress anyone.
You don’t need to worry about that either, though. Snake Island isn’t home to just any old snakes. It’s famous as the home of the golden lancehead pit viper, one of the most dangerous snakes on the planet. Its only home, in fact, as this particular species is only found on this one relatively small island (around 110 acres in area).
16 Did Someone Say Golden Lancehead Pit Viper?
Snake Island isn’t only home to the golden lancehead pit viper, you understand. If that were the case, they’d probably have to call it something like (Only One Type Of) Snake Island, and that’s really not very dramatic at all.
Don’t worry though, because there are a lot of these magnificent creatures there. A 2015 study determined that the population of this particular species stands somewhere between 2,000 to 4,000. They’re concentrated in the part of the island that’s thick with rainforest, which suits their semi-arboreal nature.
So, there we go. Are you building up a good mental picture of snakes dive-bombing you from the trees? Because you should be.
15 The Poor Old Relatively-Harmless Residents
So, as we’ve seen, the stars of the Snake Island show would have to be those golden lanceheads. They’re the reason the island is so famous and so feared, as we’ll see later.
Nevertheless, as I’ve also promised, they aren’t the only snake species that live here. There’s also a smaller population of dipsas albifrons, a non-venomous species that is also found elsewhere (being endemic to an area around the Atlantic Ocean).
We’ll see exactly why the golden lancehead is considered one of the (if not the number one) most dangerous snake in the world, but suffice to say that our poor old buddy dipsas albifrons is a complete Z-lister in comparison.
14 Access Is Completely Forbidden
From everything we’ve seen so far, you’re probably picking up a certain vibe about this place. Snake Island, it’d be fair to say, has a distinctly snakey sort of feel to it.
By comparison, there are precisely zero human residents, because the government of Brazil has strictly forbidden any visitors. This is for the mutual benefit of people and the snakes; the latter of which are super-endangered (those golden guys live only on this island, you’ll remember) while the former would bumble around and cause a lot of tedious paperwork if they met an unfortunate toothy demise.
Even the most intrepid adventurer dare not travel to Snake Island.
13 In The Name Of Science!
Speaking of intrepid adventurers, you’d probably doubt that most scientists would qualify. Science is all lab-coated nerdery and social ineptitude, isn’t it? Heck no, it isn’t. Tell that to Indiana Jones, friend. Or to the brave herpetologists (reptile and amphibian researchers) who head on over to Snake Island to conduct studies.
Every so often, after all, somebody has to head over there to monitor the creatures and their habitat (“Yep, there is, indeed, still a whole heckola of a lot of angry snakes right here”).
Only carefully screened and vetted scientists (the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation handles that) and Brazil’s navy are permitted access to the island.
12 And For Darn Good Reason, Too
But hey, enough suspense. Now we’re really getting into the meat of the thing: what’s so threatening about these golden lancehead pit vipers? I’m glad you asked, friend, because you won’t be.
How venomous are these bad boys, exactly? I think Business Insider put it best: “Even if you get a dose of anti-venom straight after you’re bitten, you’re probably still going to die.”
So, there it is. When it comes to these snakes’ biting philosophy, go hard or go home seems to be the train of thought. They’re some of the most venomous animals on Earth, and they do not mess around.
11 And If The Venom Doesn’t Get You…
I mean, don’t get me wrong, the venom almost certainly will get you. It’s just, there’s more to our old buddy the golden lancehead than just that. Their bites can have a whole array of other ghastly effects besides. It’s 2018, after all, and you can’t pigeonhole snakes like that anymore. They like to branch out with their d-baggery.
Business Insider goes on to describe some of the other symptoms of a bite, in grim detail. You can also look forward to the affected flesh blistering in a horrible way, muscle necrosis, liver failure, brain haemorrhages and, who could forget that old classic, vomiting for both accuracy and distance.
10 “The World’s Most Dangerous Tourist Destination”
While you’re launching last night's dinner the wrong way out of your gullet and regret every single life decision we’ve made to date, you’re probably wondering why you ever came to Snake Island in the first place. I’m speaking metaphorically, you understand, because you can’t go there if you wanted to, but still.
This is one heckola of a place, by all accounts. The only island more hazardous than this would be the one from Jurassic Park, and that only wins out because it had freaking dinosaurs on it. With all of this in mind, then, it’s absolutely zero surprise that TechEBlog has dubbed Snake Island “the world’s most dangerous tourist destination.”
9 But That Doesn’t Stop Poachers
So, there it is. The threat of all manner of ramifications for traveling to the island illegally might not bother you. The threat of an agonising and vomit-y demise once you actually get there might not either. If there’s one thing more dangerous and powerful than the venom of the golden lancehead pit viper, it’s the greed and immorality of humans.
Regardless of the myriad dangers, The Daily Mail reports that poachers continue to attempt to get to the island. Why? Because the rare, critically endangered vipers can fetch up to $30,000 on the black market, that’s why. As they say, nice work if you can survive it.
8 Those Poor Birds…
Now, here’s the thing. We’re talking about Snake Island, not Snakes And A Whole Lot Of Other Interesting Creatures Island. There’s a good reason for that. Not only would it be way too long for the signposts (if it had any, of course), but there’s very little else living here.
As you can imagine, this poses quite a problem for the carnivorous snakes. As far as prey goes, they’re very reliant on unsuspecting migrating birds, who briefly settle and… well, you can imagine. It’s like Saving Private Ryan up in here, only with feathers EVERYWHERE.
Still, a snake’s got to do what a snake’s got to do.
7 It’s Tragically Beautiful
Ilha da Queimada Grande has its share of foibles, there’s no denying. I can’t put my finger on why, but it just doesn’t quite scream 5-star resort experience to me. Maybe it’s the fact that the whole place is a hotbed of furious, vicious snakes from the depths of Beelzebub’s underpants.
That’s a downside, for certain, but let’s not forget what a naturally-beautiful island this is. It’s a wonder to look at, boasting a rich and varied terrain and some magnificent sections of rainforest. You just know this place would be an exclusive retreat for the rich and famous if it were possible.
6 The Sad Tale Of The Fisherman
We all told spooky stories back in third grade, and we all know how these sorts of legends can develop around scary places. There’s no dang place scarier than Snake Island, so you can be sure that it has some tales of its own to tell.
One of them concerns a fisherman, who became stranded on the island after his boat broke down. Not knowing where he was, he set off into the forest, and… well, you can see where this is going. The unfortunate man’s body was supposedly found later, in a grim state. There’s no officially-reported truth to this, but heck. It sounds exactly like something those shifty snakes would do.
5 The Equally-Sad Tale Of The Lighthouse Keeper
In the next episode of Barney The Dinosaur’s Cutesy Snake Island Bedtime Stories, we have the tale of the poor lighthouse keeper. As I say, the lighthouse operator was one of the island’s last established residents, before the structure was automated. The locals say that he almost met a grim fate at the snakes’… hands.
While he was sleeping one night, the snakes found their way into the keeper’s home. This led not only to his demise, but that of his family too. It’s unknown whether there’s any truth to this one, as Smithsonian reports, but still. That’s what I call shiver-worthy.
4 Why So Serious(ly Powerful)?
I think we’ve probably covered the fact that you do not want to be bitten by Snake Island’s residents quite thoroughly by now. There’s another curious angle to take with that, though: why do they need such potent poison?
To answer that one, we’ve got to step back 11,000 years, when the sea levels rose and the island itself was formed. The resident snakes were left with precious little ground-based food, and a reliance on the birds that migrate there. Fast-acting and powerful toxins, the theory goes, are vital for their survival, lest the birds fly on back to the mainland.
3 It’s Even Grim For The Snakes Around Here
With everything we’ve seen so far, it’s probably plain that this foreboding island is not a place we were ever meant to tread. You’d be hard pressed to find a more inhospitable place on the planet, really, in terms of wildlife that really, really doesn’t appreciate house guests.
The thing to remember about that, however, is that the island’s no picnic for the snakes themselves. Ever since the island was created, the resident reptiles have struggled for food, developed super potent venom in an effort to adapt, all of these things. It’s because of these struggles that the species is critically endangered.
2 Other Snake Islands Are Much Friendlier
Ilha da Queimada Grande is probably the world’s most famous ‘Snake Island,’ for all of the reasons we’ve outlined so far. The facts speak for themselves, as do the golden lancehead vipers found here (and only here). This isn’t the world’s only Snake Island, though.
Elsewhere in Brazil, Ilha das Cobras is found in Rio De Janeiro. It’s the home of s Brazilian naval base. Bulgaria’s Snake Island (St. Thomas Island) is simply home to numerous water snakes, while Massachusetts’ Snake Island is simply snake-shaped. It’s only Ilha da Queimada Grande that has become notorious for its dangerous denizens. Such a shame.
1 It’s Still Super-Important That We Go There
And finally, perhaps the most foreboding fact of all about Snake Island: we’re going to need those fearless researchers to keep going there. Not only for the long-time safety of a critically endangered species, but for the potential medical benefits of their research.
As Smithsonian reports, their venom could prove to be vital in treating all kinds of human maladies. Marcelo Duarte, a scientist of the Brazilian Butantan Institute, has explained that the venom has shown potential in contributing towards the treatment of blood clots, circulation problems and heart disease. “We are just scratching this universe of possibilities of venoms,” he said, indicating just how vital this continued research is.
References: DocumentaryTube, BuzzFeed, TechEBlog, AnswersAfrica, Curiosity, Business Insider, The Daily Mail, Smithsonian.com