What kind of traveller are you? Are you one of those typical tourist types who has a long bucket list of famous attractions to visit? You know, the Statue of Liberty, the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, the Pyramids… there’s a lot of essential sights to tick off, friends, and only one lifetime to do it in.
That’s all well and good if you are, of course. What could be more life-affirming than to visit a series of some of the greatest man-made and natural wonders the world has to offer? That’s a life well spent, right there, but it’s not for some people.
Other vacationers prefer to head off the beaten track, or just dive in and discover a new city at street level. It’s not all about tourist guidebooks. Then, of course, there are the extreme travellers. The ones for whom a silly selfie holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa will not do.
These people are a little more difficult to satisfy, but there’s a dream trip out there for everyone. If you’re really up for a walk on the wild side, let’s take a look at some of the most intimidating, dangerous and intimidatingly dangerous places on that planet. How does Mexico’s notorious Island of the Dolls grab you? Or perhaps the hotel that inspired Stephen King’s iconic novel The Shining? Maybe even a dip in Namibia’s Skeleton Coast?
Buckle up, friends, this is going to be a bumpy ride.
25 Snake Island, Brazil: Snakes Alive!
That’s right. I’m kicking this party off the right way, by heading straight over to Brazil’s Ilha da Queimada Grande. It’s better known all around the world as Snake Island, and even better known as That Island That The Brazilian Government Has Forbidden Anybody To Visit Because It’s Full Of Angry, ANGRY Snakes.
It’s estimated that there are between one to five snakes per square metre of this island. That’s bad enough, but these aren’t any old snakes. The island is the exclusive home of the golden lancehead pit viper, which boasts venom strong enough to melt through skin.
The only permitted visitors are the Brazilian navy, performing periodical maintenance checks, and occasional teams of highly-trained and vetted researchers (who, presumably, travel over every now and then to report that, yes, the island is still full of furious, bitey snakes).
24 Island of the Dolls, Mexico: Chucky, Is That You?
As I say, I’m a huge fan of horror movies. If there’s one thing I can tell you about the genre, it’s that dolls are everywhere. Supposedly a harmless children’s toy, these little things have been made forever daunting by Chucky and the Child’s Play movies.
There’s something uniquely unnerving about dolls. You don’t believe me? Pay a visit to the Isla de las Munecas (Island of the Dolls), to the south of Mexico City.
According to legend, Don Julian Santana Barrera, the island’s caretaker, found a poor girl who had lost her life in mysterious circumstance. He hung a doll he believed to be hers in a nearby tree, as a sign of respect. Barrera continued to add dolls, as did the many subsequent visitors to the island. Today, it’s quite a spooky sight to behold.
23 The Stanley Hotel, United States: Heeere’s Johnny!
If you’re not familiar with Stephen King’s work, you might think that the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado is just an ordinary hotel. It looks super nice, sure, and boasts some absolutely stunning views of the Rocky Mountains, but otherworldly and scary? Not at all.
What you don’t know is that King stayed here overnight once, and is said to have used the hotel’s ambiance as the inspiration for the spooky Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Stories of mysterious happenings here are common. As reported by Come To Life Colorado,
“…many guests at The Stanley report feeling the spiritual energy of past guests and employees, including hotel founders F.O. and Flora Stanley.”
22 Chernobyl, Ukraine: A land In (Very Slow) Recovery
The unfortunate land of Chernobyl, Ukraine needs no introduction. In April 1986, it played host to the devastating Chernobyl disaster, a core explosion during a safety test that had a terrible effect on the surrounding area. Not only the workers and wildlife, but the plants and buildings for miles around were profoundly affected.
Even today, there’s really no telling if the area is truly safe, or if it ever will be. The event was unprecedented, and the extent to which it’ll continue to influence the land isn’t quite understood. Nevertheless, bold travellers continue to visit the evacuated town, taking eerie photographs as mementos.
21 The ‘Door To Hell,’ Turkmenistan: It’s Getting Hot In Here
Now, I’m not quite sure what I’m looking at here. Isn’t it a Balrog, that enormous fiery demon that Gandalf fought in the Mines of Moria?
As it turns out, no, no it isn’t. This is the infamous ‘Door to Hell,’ also known as the Darvaza Crater. It’s situated in the desert north of Turkmenistan, and is said to have been set alight in 1971, for fear that it was emitting harmful gasses. It’s been burning ever since, and is one heckola of an intimidating sight whichever way you slice it.
Various studies have taken place in the crater and the area surrounding it, to investigate whether any life can survive in this harshest of environments.
20 Gas Mask Island, Japan: As Scary At It Looks?
You’ve probably heard of Miyakejima, Japan’s notorious Gas Mask Island. You’ve probably also seen those unnerving pictures, of residents wearing sad masks. It’s all very unnatural and unnerving, like in those Doctor Who episodes with Christopher Eccleston, “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances.”
What’s with the masks? Well, they’re not worn at all times, but are carried at all times by residents. This is necessary because of Mount Oyama, the active volcano on the island. It’s been spewing dangerous amounts of sulphur for years since its most recent eruption, and while levels are low enough for people to return and tourists to visit, the situation is still strictly monitored.
19 North Yungas Road, Bolivia: Just Don’t Look Down
Now, I wouldn’t say I’m particularly afraid of heights. I’m not a fan, either, but I like to think that I can deal relatively well with that sort of thing. That is, I used to, but now I’m looking at Bolivia’s North Yungas Road and… well, I’m questioning my ability to cope with absolutely anything ever.
As Condé Nast Traveler reports, this is the path from La Paz to Coroico. The facts really speak for themselves here, as the road:
“weaves precariously through the Amazon rainforest at a height of more than 15,000 feet. When you consider that [unnerving] elevation—not to mention the 12-foot-wide single lane, lack of guardrails, and limited visibility due to rain and fog—it's easy to see why this 50-mile stretch of highway has earned the nickname "The Death Road."”
Mercifully, vehicles don’t tend to use it much these days, but thrillseekers do make a habit of traveling the route.
18 Mirny Diamond Mine, Russia: From Russia With Drills
For our next entry, we’re crossing back over to Russia, to look at one of the most remarkable, unnerving and remarkably intimidating feats of human engineering ever.
Work on the Mirny Diamond Mine began in 1955, in an effort to contribute to the wealth of the Soviet Union. Eventually, they had one of the largest man-made holes in the world on their hands, around a whole mile across and over 1,700 feet deep!
It was said that aircraft flying over were in danger of being sucked into this great gaping void by air currents! The mine has been active only as an underground diamond mine since 2009.
17 Nagoro, Japan: When Dolls Just Aren’t Strange Enough
Now, we’ve already covered Mexico’s Island of Dolls, and the super-charming ambience there. Maybe you’re fine with that, though. Maybe little dolls are just too easy for you. In that case, you should probably take a trip over to the small Japanese village of Nagoro. They’ve got something rather special over there.
That’s right. This teeny village has a population of only around 40 people, but it boasts 350 of these life-sized dolls. Local resident Tsukimi Ayano made them, modelled them after people who have left the town or passed away, and put them in appropriate places around the town. The effect is… well, I can’t even imagine walking through Nagoro at night.
16 Shi Cheng, China: The Chinese Answer To Atlantis
We’ve all heard the stories of Atlantis, a legendary city that was lost under the waves in antiquity. Was it a real place? Is it just a legend? While we don’t know for certain, most academics agree that there never was a true Atlantis.
One thing we can say for sure is that China’s submerged ‘Lion City’ is definitely real. As reported by The Daily Mail, this ancient city was flooded by a man-made lake (Qiandao Lake) in 1959, in order to accommodate a hydroelectric power station. Divers continue to make discoveries on journeys down to the ruins; when they’re brave enough to go down to the quiet, dark depths.
15 Aokigahara, Japan: If You Go Down To The Woods Today…
When you’re a horror movie buff like me, you start to get a little averse to silence and serenity. It’s tough to trust it. Many find a peaceful nature walk in the forest relaxing, grounding, de-stressing, but I’ve always found these sorts of places to be more than a little scary.
Japan’s Aokigahara forest is known locally as Jukai (Sea of Trees), because it’s so dense with them. This also makes it remarkably quiet, as does the curious lack of wildlife. The thick forest contains other curious attractions, like the Wind Cave and the Ice Cave, but many dare not enter because of all of the superstitions that surround this place.
14 El Azizia, Libya: The Hottest Darn Place On Earth (Maybe)
This is going to be a bit of a controversial one, for sure. After all, when you think of the hottest place on the planet, California’s notorious ‘Death Valley’ tends to spring to mind. Back in 1922, though, a temperature of 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded at El Azizia, Libya, the highest ever recorded.
This was the world record for almost 100 years, until the reading was deemed inaccurate and invalid in 2012. Regardless, though, the heat in the region is known to regularly exceed 120 degrees. Speaking as a pale Brit who wilts in the heat, I’ll admit that I’m a little afraid.
13 Oymyakon, Russia: The *Coldest* Darn Place On Earth (Maybe)
Because the very idea of temperatures of 120 degrees+ is going to frighten me for the rest of the day, I’m going to try my darndest to counteract it with this next entry. Now, we’re off to Russia, to visit one of the coldest places on the planet that is permanently inhabited.
Naturally, it’s in Siberia. In Oymyakon, Russia, snow days are not a thing (well, snowy days are every day, but you know what I mean). Children still attend school until temperatures reach -62 Fahrenheit, and they’ve been known to hit -80 in this region!
It’s no wonder that only a very small, very hardy population of around 500 people live here.
12 Poveglia, Italy: The Island Of Nightmares
A trip to Venice should really be a glamorous affair. Gondolas and all of that. Like anywhere, though, it has its dark past, secrets and questionable areas, and all of these things meet on a mysterious little island in the Venetian lagoon.
The island of Poveglia served as a convenient place to quarantine plague victims around the 1800s, before becoming the site of a psychiatric hospital of ill-repute in the 1920s. The hospital closed in 1968, and the Italian government forbade all visits to the island after various reports of strange happenings there.
Perhaps this story will have a happy ending, though. The island was auctioned off by the government and purchased by a local businessman in 2014, and there’s hope that a big restoration project might bear fruit.
11 Gulliver’s Kingdom, Japan: Giant-Sized Scares
Now, see, there were warning signs here right from the start. I’m no building planner or architect, granted, but I’d have thought that rule number one of constructing a theme park would be don’t build it right near Aokigahara.
That’s exactly what happened, though. Gulliver’s Kingdom was built in 1997, an unconventional ode to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. It boasted bobsled tracks and such instead of conventional rides. It lasted only a few years before closing in 2001. It was then left to moulder away looking ominous for six more years, before being demolished in 2007.
That statue… brrr.
10 Centralia, Pennsylvania: Keep That Fire Burning
So, yes. Following on from the mysteriously-burning ‘Door to Hell,’ we’ve got an endless-burning town in Pennsylvania that… well, it’s burning for a very clear reason.
In May 1962, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! reports, the people of Centralia burned a landfill site full of trash to remove the waste. Unfortunately, Centralia was once a pivotal mining town, and the landfill was situated over an old coal mine. The fire spread to the mine beneath the town, and could not and would not be put out.
As a result of the fumes, Centralia had to be abandoned and condemned. It continues to leak toxic gases to this day, and is a very dangerous place to venture.
9 The Danakil Desert, Ethiopia: Turning Up The Heat Even Further
As we saw with El Azizia earlier, settling on the Hottest Place In The World™ is a little more of a complicated process than you might think. Are we talking about a one-time world record temperature, or an overall hottest average over such-and-such a period? If it’s the latter you’re looking at, then the Danakil Desert in Ethiopia is most certainly in the running.
“The Sun scorches the cracked earth,” The BBC reports, “a wavering mirage confuses the eye, and dry air and dust suck the moisture from your mouth and eyes. Ethiopia's Danakil Depression is one of the hottest, driest and lowest places on the planet.”
The average year-round temperature is 34. 4C, we’re told, and rainfall is measured at a meagre 100-200 mm per year! Only the hardy Afar people live in such a region.
8 The Skeleton Coast, Namibia: This Is A Confronting Place, Make No Bones About It
There’s something strangely otherworldly about Namibia’s Skeleton Coast. I think CNN Travel puts it best:
“the sand dunes towering a hundred meters (300 feet) behind the shore and the fact there's nothing man-made -- other than shipwrecks -- for a hundred miles in every direction indicate that there's something very different about this section of Namibia's 1,570 kilometer coastline.”
It's both beautiful and intimidating, when you stop and think about it. Hundreds of ships have been wrecked here over the centuries, and in the absence of people and civilisation, here they remain. There’s nowhere quite like the Skeleton Coast, for better or for worst.
7 Lake Natron, Tanzania: Fancy A Dip?
The pristine, unspoiled white sands of the Skeleton Coast are one thing, but it’s not the most infamous body of water around (whether it should be or not). For our next stop, we’re going to cross over to Tanzania, and the infamous Lake Natron.
This lake is well-known for the myth that animals ‘turn into stone’ on coming into contact with it, owing to its super high levels of sodium carbonate. This is a gross exaggeration, but the waters are certainly very dangerous. The pH levels are very high in the lake, around 10.5, and will burn the flesh of animals that haven’t adapted to it.
6 Dadipark, Belgium: It’s Seen Better Days (Lots Of Them)
If you ask me, there’s no sight quite as scary as a forgotten and decaying theme park. It’s the scale of the whole thing, I think. The great, steely ferris wheel, the twisted and broken rides… there’s no greater setting for a horror movie.
There are real-life examples of abandoned theme parks all over the world, and for my money, none are quite as foreboding as Belgium’s Dadipark. The oldest park in Europe, it was built in 1950. The chosen site, Dadizele, was already popular with families, and evolved from a simple playpark into a large theme park.
It continued to operate until early in the 2000s, when the decrepit state of the rides started to be blamed for a series of serious accidents. It was left to rot for some time before finally being demolished in 2012.
5 Bran Castle, Romania: The Home Of Count Dracula
With the enduring success of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, many have looked closer into the geography he describes in the novel. What was the real inspiration behind the famous Count’s castle? There are multiple candidates, and no clear answer, but one of the most imposing fortresses in the region would have to be Bran Castle.
Often connected to the book (though Stoker himself never visited the region), the great castle is located on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia. Today, it’s a popular attraction for horror fans and enthusiasts, even if the links to the Dracula legend are super tenuous at best.
4 Lake Kivu, Democratic Republic Of Congo: Are We Safe Here?
For as much we humans like to think we’re unstoppable, building towns, huge darn skyscrapers and everything else wherever we please, we know who’s really in charge here. At any moment, Mother Nature could step in and ruin ALL of our days.
Nobody knows this better than the people of Lake Kivu. Here, DW reports, there are two active volcanoes, Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira beneath the water. Much like with Miyakejima, they’re spewing Carbon Dioxide into the lake (not to mention the methane).
Various scientific projects are underway to ensure that these gases do not escape and cause great harm to millions in the region, but the danger is ever-present.
3 Field Museum, United States: One Field Trip You Might Not Want To Go On
I don’t know about you, but the museums I visited on field trips were super interesting. They weren’t exciting or dangerous, granted, but I’m one of those rare history buffs that actually appreciated the old artifacts on display.
If it’s excitement and danger you’re looking for in your museum experience, how about Chicago’s Field Museum? Their exhibition of poisonous plants covers hemlock, belladonna, wolfsbane and other notorious names you won't hear outside of Severus Snape's classroom, for those who aren’t afraid to get up close and personal with some of the scariest plants in history.
Not the actual plants, you understand, as many are wax replicas (“You can’t display the richness and the way they look in nature with a dried specimen,” curator Christine Niezgoda explains), but this is one intimidating exhibition.
2 Gomantong Caves, Malaysia: Getting Down And Dirty With The Animals
How are you with bugs? I was unfortunate enough to have watched Arachnophobia one night, when I was far too young to have done, and it gave me a bit of a fear of spiders. Not teeny ones, they’re totally fine, but big hairy angry ones? No thanks, friend.
Spiders aren’t technically bugs, no, but there’s no time to get all scientific now. We’re about to cross over into Malaysia’s Gomantong caves, and this vast natural wonder (the limestone walls are 300 feet tall in some places) is crawling with the things. Condé Nast Traveler reports that:
“…visitors often leave the site describing it as one of the most disgusting wildlife experiences they’ve ever had… If you can make it through the river of bat droppings, you’ll then encounter several million Malaysian cockroaches scurrying around… there are several other wonderful creatures you just might happen upon, including snakes, scorpions, freshwater crabs, and the infamous giant scutigera centipedes—poisonous critters that are at least three inches long.”
1 Canfranc Rail Station, Spain: Secrets Buried Deep Beneath
Here’s another place that may not look like very much at first glance. You can see that it was a super-fancy building at one time, but it’s been forgotten and gone entirely to seed.
This is what remains of Spain’s Canfranc Rail Station, in the Pyrenees. As reported by Destination Tips, an accident in 1970 saw the station closed, and it started to moulder away unused. Intriguingly, though, it’s found a new lease of life as the site of an underground laboratory, where scientists delve into the secrets (and, indeed, the very existence) of dark matter.
References: Bustle, List25, Thrillophilia, Atlas Obscura, The Daily Mail, Aokigahara Forest, Live Science, Inspire More, News.com.au, isladelasmunecas.com, The Guardian, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, The BBC, The Vintage News, Destination Tips.