Extreme Travel

The most terrifying places on earth

From hell-themed amusement parks to islands covered with snakes, these are some of the creepiest spots in the world—visit them if you dare.

  • 1. The Island of the Dolls: Xochimilco, Mexico City, Mexico

    The Island of the Dolls: Xochimilco, Mexico City, Mexico

    Anne Lewis / Alamy

    Despite its history and status as a World Heritage Site, Xochimilco is primarily known by more morbid tourists for its Isla de las Munecas, or the Island of the Dolls. Hidden among the area’s many canals, the site is famous for the hundreds of dolls—and doll parts—hanging from trees and scattered among the grass.

    Although it looks more like a horror movie set than anything else, the chinampa (akin to an artificial island) used to be the actual residence of a now-deceased man named Julian Santa Barrera. Barrera collected and displayed the toys in the hopes of warding off evil spirits after finding a dead girl’s body in a nearby canal. Daring souls can hire their own boat, try to convince the driver to pay it a visit, and view it safely from the water.

  • 2. Beelitz-Heilstätten Hospital: Beelitz, Germany

    Beelitz-Heilstätten Hospital: Beelitz, Germany

    Agencja Fotograficzna Caro / Alamy

    If this old German hospital looks disturbing, well, it is. Between 1898 and 1930, the Beelitz-Heilstätten complex served as a tuberculosis sanatorium. It also housed mustard gas and machine gun victims during World War I, including a young soldier named Adolf Hitler, who had been wounded in the leg. The hospital later went on to be a major treatment center for Nazi soldiers during World War II, and it was used as a Soviet military hospital from 1945 until the fall of the Berlin wall.

    Today, a few hospital wards are used as a neurological rehabilitation center, although the majority of the complex is abandoned—and super-creepy. The surgery and psychiatric wards have both been left to decay and give way to nature (and vandals), and the result looks like something straight out of American Horror Story—definitely not an enjoyable day trip for the easily spooked.

  • 3. Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo: Sicily, Italy

    Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo: Sicily, Italy

    Agencja Fotograficzna Caro / Alamy

    Of all the catacombs in the world, from Salzburg to Paris, none are quite as creepy as Sicily’s Catacombe dei Cappucini (Capuchin Catacombs). The macabre space was created out of necessity back in the late 16th century—the cemetery at the Capuchin monastery became overrun, so the underlying crypts were excavated to make more room. Religious men were originally intended to be the exclusive residents, with a friar named Silvestro da Gubbio being the first inductee in 1599. However, once word got out about the natural mummification processes occurring in the space, it soon became a status symbol for local citizens to earn a final resting spot there (in their best clothing, of course).

    As a result, the underground tombs now contain around 8,000 bodies divided into separate corridors, including one for religious figures, one for professional men, one for children, and even one for virgins. The corpses are displayed like a museum exhibit, dressed to the nines and arranged in grotesquely lifelike posts. Sound like fun? Good news: The Capuchin Catacombs are open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., and 3:00 to 5:30 p.m.

  • 4. The Door to Hell: Derweze, Ahal Province, Turkmenistan

    The Door to Hell: Derweze, Ahal Province, Turkmenistan

    Tim Whitby / Alamy

    While Joss Whedon led us to believe that the entrance to hell could be found in Sunnydale, California, he was actually some 7,500 miles off. Located in the middle of the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan is the "Door to Hell," a name locals gave to a 230-foot-wide crater that simply won't stop burning.

    When Soviet scientists began searching for oil back in 1971, they accidentally hit a methane reserve and the drilling platform collapsed, forming the crater and releasing dangerous gas into the air. The scientists decided to light the crater on fire to burn off the methane, creating a Dante-esque anomaly that has remained lit for the past 40-plus years.

  • 5. Aokigahara Forest (aka Suicide Forest): Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

    Aokigahara Forest (aka Suicide Forest): Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

    Robert Gilhooly / Alamy

    This seemingly serene forest at the bottom of Mount Fuji has an extremely tormented history. Colloquially known as “Suicide Forest,” Aokigahara is the world’s second-most popular site for suicides (after the Golden Gate Bridge)—in 2010 alone, 247 people attempted to take their own lives here, and 54 of them were successful. Some blame this phenomena on the forest’s association with demons in Japanese mythology. Others point towards the density of the trees, which muffles sound and makes it extremely easy to get lost. Many hikers even mark their path with tape or string to make it easier to find their way back out again.

    Another possible culprit? Literature—namely Seicho Matsumoto’s 1961 novel Nami no Tō, or Tower of Waves. The book chronicles a couple's doomed relationship, and ends with the heroine heading into Aokigahara to kill herself. While a direct correlation would be hard to track, the novel certainly brought the notion of suicide as a romantic escape into the zeitgeist. Whatever the reason, the sprinkling of clothing and letters throughout the labyrinthine woods gives Aokigahara a terrifying Blair-Witch–meets–Palace-of-Knossos vibe that will chill you to your bones.

  • 6. Snake Island: São Paolo, Brazil

    Snake Island: São Paolo, Brazil

    iStock

    Located about 90 miles off the coast of São Paolo, Ilha de Queimada Grande (“Snake Island”) is one of the most dangerous islands in the entire world. The site earned its moniker due to its insanely high density of golden lancehead vipers; some studies report an average of 1–5 snakes per square meter. The lancehead genus is prevalent throughout Brazil, accounting for 90 percent of the country’s snake-related deaths. However, when sea levels rose some 11,000 years ago and separated Snake Island from the mainland, the newly isolated snakes became hyper evolved—and hyper terrifying—to adapt to their changing environment.

    Since the stranded lanceheads had no ground-level prey on the island, they learned to hunt in the treetops and strike at birds from the air. And because the snakes couldn’t track down the birds and wait for the poison to kick in, their venom adapted to become five times stronger than that of their mainland counterparts—capable of killing their prey instantly, as well as melting human flesh. Because of their potency, the Brazilian government bans the public from ever setting foot on the island (as if you would want to).

  • 7. The Great Blue Hole: Belize

    The Great Blue Hole: Belize

    Ian Bottle / Alamy

    Located about 60 miles off the coast of Belize, the Lighthouse Reef boasts beautiful coral and shallow turquoise waters…oh, and a vertical drop that's more than 400 feet deep. Meet the Great Blue Hole, a 1,000-foot-wide, perfectly circular sinkhole in the middle of the atoll. The spot was made famous by Jacques Cousteau in 1971 when he declared it one of the ten best diving sites on the planet. He also investigated the hole and discovered it had formed as a limestone cave during the last glacial period, more than 15,000 years ago. The massive underwater stalactites and stalagmites served as proof, as they could have only formed when the sea levels dropped below the reef.

    True to Cousteau’s endorsement, divers continue to flock to the Blue Hole today to witness the unique geology. The limestone shelf surrounding the vertical cave sits about 40 feet below the surface, and then it’s a straight jump down into the unknown. The further down divers go, the clearer and more beautiful the rock formations supposedly become, but we can only imagine the eerie feeling of stepping back into the last Ice Age while surrounded by an inky darkness. To appreciate how fully bone-chilling this experience is, check out the viral video of world champion Guillaume Nery free-diving straight down into the Blue Hole.

    See more of the most terrifying places on earth.

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