When most people go on vacation, they do it to relax. Others, however, like a little less relaxation and a little more courting death. Fortunately, there are a variety of death-defying tourist destinations scattered around the world, so no matter how you’d like to stare death in the face, you’ve got a choice.
Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome
In total, around 60 people have died on Half Dome and the trail leading up to it. Hiking up Half Dome takes an entire day, during which you’ll climb over 1,500 meters (5,000 ft), burn anywhere from 4,000 to 9,800 calories, and climb the last 120 meters (400 ft) nearly vertical with the assistance of metal cables. And that’s where many of the problems start to occur. Hikers are discouraged from undertaking the climb when conditions are wet, because the combination of slippery cables and slippery rocks can be deadly—so deadly, in fact, that the bottom part of the cliff on the same side as Mirror Lake is known as the Death Slabs. Even when it’s not wet and slippery, accidents are still well documented. In 2012, a man slipped from the cables and had to be rescued after trying to grab a radio dropped by a person above him. Deaths of 2011 include three hikers who ignored guardrails and fell into Vernal Falls, another man who slipped and fell onto the Mist Trail (ultimately swept away and killed by the same river), and a 26-year-old who slipped on the cables and fell 180 meters (600 ft). Falls and drowning aren’t the only dangers. There are also records of hikers being struck by lightning while attempting to make the climb. The Yosemite Search and Rescue team estimates that about 60 percent of their duties involve rescuing hikers in distress. They rely not just on helicopters for rescues and preparedness for medical emergencies, but also on canine search and rescue and swiftwater rescue teams.
Because regular, non-deadly gardens lack a certain sense of adventure, Jane Percy, the Duchess of Northumberland, decided to make the gardens of Alnwick Castle something extra special. When she found herself at the head of the Alnwick household, she also inherited gardens that had long been neglected. Originally thinking that she was going to include a section of plants known for their healing properties, she realized that wasn’t as much fun as plants that were poisonous. The result is a gated area on the grounds known as The Poison Garden, and it’s full of warnings and plants that can cause certain death. Even though visitors are a relatively safe distance from the plants and can’t actively smell or touch them, some have fainted from the toxic fumes that are released into the air. While some of the plants have a bizarre, unsettling history—like the angel’s trumpet, which acts as an aphrodisiac before its poisonous effects kick in—other plants that the duchess has included in her garden have another meaning. She’s included plants like the coca plant and cannabis, seeing the garden as a valuable teaching tool for the schoolchildren that come through. While many of them might be bored by a trip to regular gardens, she sees her poison garden as a great way to get kids intrigued by plants and their properties.
Hawaii’s Volcano Tours
If you’re the type that thinks checking out an active volcano is the way to go for a vacation, you’re in luck, as you have a couple of different choices in Hawaii. Both have track records of death and the National Park Service actually temporarily shut down the bicycle tour (mentioned below) in 2007 after there were three deaths and a number of serious injuries within the space of a year. For a fee—about $100—tourists are driven up to the top of an active volcano and they then ride a bicycle down. Deaths came when people lost control of their bicycles on the downgrade, but that’s not the only way taking a volcano tour can kill you. In the decade between 1992–2002, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park reported 40 deaths and 45 major injuries. The volcanoes—including Kilauea, which has been erupting almost non-stop since 1938—are a major tourist attraction for the islands. Called geotourism, the trend exposes people to a number of risks aside from the potentially deadly lava. Just as dangerous as the obvious lava flows are the gases that are released into the air. A number of the deaths are of park staff as well as tourists and are attributed to the presence of lava haze. The haze, which looks like a harmless white vapor cloud, is actually a deadly mix of hydrochloric acid, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon dioxide. The gases, while deadly on their own, can also increase the problems caused by asthma and heart conditions. Add in the scalding ocean water, the potential for flying rocks, and a chronic lack of preparation on the part of hikers, and the potential for death—or at least serious complications—from checking out Hawaii’s volcanoes is high.
Skellig Michael most recently made the news as one of the filming locations for Star Wars, but it’s been a beautiful, remote, and integral part of Irish culture for centuries. The site of a monastic settlement, it was chosen by the monks because of its inaccessibility and difficult terrain, something that hasn’t changed since its establishment sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries. It is now a World Heritage site. Visit Greater Skellig’s website and you will be greeted with a safety video for visitors. It stresses that there are 600 ancient steps that wind their way up the side of the mountain, and there are absolutely no safety features whatsoever. There’s also no food or water, visitor centers, toilets, or shelter. Getting to the island means an hour-long boat ride across potentially troublesome open ocean, and it’s not uncommon for landing on the island to become impossible because of high waves and choppy water. The area is particularly prone to falling rocks, but that’s not the only problem. The stone stairs, more than 1,000 years old, are rough, uneven, and meandering. Two deaths only months apart in 2009 sparked a review of the safety conditions on the island. It was determined that the addition of railings would not only destroy the natural beauty and authenticity of the site, but also, according to the Irish Office of Public Works, the presence of a railing would do nothing but lure people into becoming complacent with “a false sense of security.”In spite of public outcry, the only real safety measures taken include signage and a handout that specifies the dangers of slippery, wet stairs, falling rocks, a steep climb, and a reminder to be courteous to others sharing the potentially deadly pathway with you.
Praia De Boa Viagem
Wide, sandy beaches, breathtaking sunsets, perfect weather, close proximity to urban nightlife, and warm, clear, ocean waters. Sounds like the perfect vacation, right? Possibly, if it wasn’t for the sharks. Praia de Boa Viagem has long been one of Brazil’s premiere destination spots for tourists from all over the world, but since 1992, the picturesque beach has been plagued by shark attacks. Between 1992 and 2012, there were 56 shark attacks at the beach. You might say, “Sure, but that’s still less than Australia!” But people have a better chance of walking away from a shark attack in Australia than they do at Praia de Boa Viagem. There, one-third of all attacks end in fatality. The sharks in question are bull sharks, problematic because they tend to like the shallow, coastal waters that they end up sharing with swimmers and surfers—and they’re not really the ones at fault. Porto Suape was built on breeding grounds for the sharks. When it opened in 1984, it also sealed off several estuaries that were once used by female sharks as a safe, sheltered place to bear their young. Tiger sharks are also thought to be a huge part of the problem, though less proof has been found of their attacks than of bull sharks. They’re attracted to the area for a different reason—they also prefer coastal areas, but that’s because they have a tendency to follow ships and eat the garbage that gets thrown overboard. When they run into tourists paddling around in the shallows, that’s an even better meal. And although there are a number of lifeguards patrolling the beach, they don’t always recognize that there’s a problem developing in waist-high water until it’s too late.
White-water rafting can be fun for the whole family, but the Colorado River system has been plagued with accidents, injuries, and fatalities. In 2014, part of the problem has been due in large part to an increase in the melting snowpack from higher up in Colorado’s mountain ranges. Heavy rains can potentially add to the problem, but according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife department, it’s the huge increase in melting snows that’s pushing them to issue high-water advisories for areas throughout the river system. In 2007, the river system saw 12 fatalities and 176 serious injuries, and according to the state’s Division of Boating and Waterways, part of the problem is not just inexperience and neglect when it comes to wearing the proper safety equipment, but the atmosphere and attitude that goes along with boating and rafting on the river system. Alcohol figures heavily into many accidents on the rivers, and with their Class V rapids, faster-than-usual currents, and high-running waters, it all adds up to making 2014 one of the deadliest years ever on the river system. During the first seven months of 2014, 15 deaths occurred on the waterways, tying the record high from 2009.
Acapulco is a name that’s been synonymous with one of the most relaxing, luxurious vacation spots that Americans can easily get to. Beaches, nice weather, huge city blocks built with the comfort of tourists in mind—unfortunately, those city blocks are in a city that has a crime rate that’s almost 30 times higher than the American average. As recently as 2013, the murder rate was 142 per 100,000 citizens, and even though the city is quick to point out that it’s mostly drug-related and not tourist-centric at all, 200 murders in January and February of 2013 alone isn’t a great track record. There’s also no public information that details just where there’s the highest concentration of law enforcement patrols, or just where the murders happen. In spite of assurances, stories still pepper the press with some pretty dark happenings on the beachfront paradise—including an incident in 2013 which saw the rape of six women on vacation. Afterward, Acapulco’s mayor stated that “it happens anywhere in the world,” which is a pretty cold statement to make—anywhere in the world. According to the US Department of State’s Mexico Travel Warning, they recommend that if you do go to Acapulco, stay in specially designated tourist areas, plan rest stops carefully, make sure you have enough fuel to get you through the shady areas outside the tourist spots (if you absolutely need to travel through them), and travel by air when possible. In fact, when it comes to booking a place to stay for its employees, the US government will only book between the Hotel Avalon Excalibur Acapulco and Puerto Marquez, and it also forbids leaving the hotel after the Sun goes down.
The Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher have one of the most breathtaking views in Ireland, looking out over the rough Atlantic Ocean. Its rugged beauty is unobstructed by things such as safety rails, but the potential dangers are much greater than that. Not far from the parking lot is the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Center, with their paved walkways, regular stone steps, and waist-high stone walls covered with signs warning people to stay off the walls. But the walking trail extends out along the top of the cliffs, where it becomes something much more deadly. High, unpredictable winds, relentless and equally unpredictable rains coupled with steep sections of the path, loose gravel, and smooth stone mean that it’s not your normal walk in the park.In 2006, one woman was walking along the top of the cliffs when winds swept her to her death at the bottom, while other deaths happen quite on purpose. In 2007, a 26-year-old mother took her four-year-old son with her when she jumped off the 180 meter (600 ft) cliff. This led to discussions over the implementation of policies directed not only toward warning people of the dangers of the site, but also putting plans in place to help those who go to the cliffs with intentions of jumping. And 2010 brought the focus onto the natural dangers presented by the cliffs, when a huge chunk of an upper ledge fell into the ocean.
El Caminito Del Rey
The Caminito del Rey is so named because the now-deadly path was once walked by Spain’s King Alfonso XIII, shortly after its installation between two power plants in the Gaitanes Gorge. The man-made pathway is only about 1 meter (3 ft) wide (in the places that it still exists) and runs along a sheer cliff face about 100 meters (330 ft) tall. It’s technically closed to the public—and has been since five deaths between 1999–2000—but that doesn’t stop countless people from making the hike every year. The pathway has fallen into disrepair over the years—and that’s something of an understatement. In many places, all that remains of the pathway are rusted metal rails, leaving the most daring no choice but to look straight down at the rocks below rather than at a nice, secure, wooden path. Many of the support beams are rusted through, and in some places, there’s no choice but to climb—carefully—along the side of the mountain. Even where the path remains, holes are common, and even without a fear of heights, the view is dizzying. Although it’s technically illegal to walk there and trespassers face a hefty fine, it’s remained a popular destination—so popular that money is being sunk into extensive repairs, with the hopes that when the walkway reopens, it’s not only still popular but much, much safer.
The Kokoda and Black Cat Trails
The Kokoda Trail is nearly 100 kilometers (60 mi) of hot, humid, treacherous, leech-infested territory running between the northern and southern coasts of Papua New Guinea. Its rainforests have exotic animals, jungles, clean water, and villages of native peoples who have lived off the land for generations. It is also the site of numerous World War II battles, fought between the Australians and the Japanese. And every year, thousands of visitors make the trek, amid the threat of everything from trench foot to death. Walking the entire trail means six 10-hour days of walking, climbing, and swimming. Everything you need, you have to carry with you. Mountains make the miles seem even longer, and all the while you’re swatting mosquitoes that may or may not be carrying malaria. Walkers are escorted by guides, and along the way, many learn about the stories of the soldiers who fought and died in the old foxholes and amid the abandoned machinery. Dehydration, broken bones, and illness are the biggest threats, but there are others. In September 2013, a group hiking the neighboring Black Cat Trail was attacked by a group of locals made up of villagers and escaped convicts. Two porters died after the machete attacks, and seven others were severely wounded—including one Australian who took a spear in the leg. Passports and personal belongings were stolen, and the whole thing was thought to be spurred by an ongoing battle between local tribes and villages—a battle to capitalize on the lucrative tourist trade acting as guides to those who come to walk the trails.