“The more hostile the location, the prettier it is.” That’s one quote that accurately describes nature. There’s no denying the Earth is full of mind-blowing landscapes, stunning vistas and magical views.
Whether it’s from the top of a snow-capped mountain in Japan or from an underwater seascape under the great Pacific Reef, you can’t help but marvel at the Earth’s beauty. But in the midst of all this beauty, some places just stop you dead in your tracks.
How else would you describe the picturesque River Wharfe in Yorkshire, England that nobody has ever successfully crossed? This may seem absurd as it’s only about six feet wide. However, the sweeping undercurrent and rock formations under the water have made this a death trap to avoid. This has been the site of a number of unfortunate deaths; most notable is that of a newly wed couple who disappeared when they went hiking along its banks.
Sometimes, nature’s beauty can be a camouflage for danger and death. Here are ten more beautiful but deadly destinations.
10. Mount Merapi, Indonesia
Translated from Indonesian, Merapi becomes “Fire Mountain”, and it truly lives up to its name. Known for its frequent eruptions, this active volcano has erupted sixty times in the last century. One eruption in 1994 left 200 inhabitants of the surrounding towns dead.
With smoke billowing out of the mountain up to 300 days a year, it’s odd to see that thousands still live on the slopes of this volcano. Due to the volcanic ash that makes the soil fertile, farmers still grow crops on the mountain side. This is extremely risky, however; in 2010, the mountain spewed lava for a month.
This eruption led to over 300 deaths and the closing of the air space over the area. In November 2013, Mount Merapi rumbled for hours, sending ash clouds and smoke up to 2,000m high.
9. Boiling Lake, Dominica
America has Yellowstone, New Zealand has the hot springs at Rotorua. But none of these natural springs compare to the one nestled in Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica.
Located six miles east of Roseau, this 200 ft lake needs to be seen to be believed. The temperature of water at the banks of the lake ranges between 180 °F and 200 °F. Visitors must be careful not to fall as the rocks on the banks are extremely slippery due to their permanent covering of cooling steam. This lake is positioned above a hole in the Earth’s crust through which steam from molten lava passes through and heats up the waters.
There are no settlements close by, and it can only be reached by an 8 mile hike. Visibility is limited due to a permanent cloud of steam.
8. Dallol, Ethiopia
Located in a natural depression at the northern-most tip of Ethiopia, lies the town of Dallol. This former mining town has the record for being the hottest place on Earth based on year-round averages, with a constant temperature of around 94.3 °F.
The nearby Dallol volcano has been inactive for almost a century, but there is evidence of constant geothermal activity. Dallol has a humidity of around 60%; the fumes from the hot springs and sulfur pools around guarantee that the region doesn’t cool off, even at night.
The riot of colors from the puddles of lime green water, rust colored crusts and mounds of blue salt make the region simply stunning to the eyes.
7. Námaskarð, Iceland
Next on the list is another beautiful geothermal hot spot, this time at the base of Mt. Namafjall, in Iceland. This smelly (due to heavy sulfur generation) and bleak region is considered one the most active volcanic areas in Europe. The ground is dotted with solfaratas – boiling pools of mud and fumaroles – that shoot sulfur-filled steam into the air.
Just under the surface, there is constant geothermal activity which makes the ground itself very unstable. Visitors to the area are advised to stay on clearly marked paths as the crust has been known to crack open unexpectedly.
Thanks to the boiling, steaming earth and total lack of vegetation, Námaskarð has been nicknamed the “Gateway to Valhalla.”
6. Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Madagascar
This protected UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the strangest parks you’ll ever see. The park is comprised of 250 miles of limestone structures, sometimes reaching up to 390 ft tall. At the base of these razor sharp towers, lie caves and canyons teeming with new species.
In the Malagasy language, the term tsingy means “where one cannot walk barefoot.” The structures render the park a natural but very dangerous obstacle course. Every inch of the limestone is sharp enough to cut through human flesh if approached without caution. While it has kept out most predators, it also repels most scientists. For those that visit, they discover up to five new species every time.
5. Minqin County, China
It’s a bleak day when a government throws its hands up and classifies a region as an “ecological disaster area”. Minqin, located in the north-west of China, was once an agricultural settlement whose fields were supplied by the Shiyang River. These days, due to irrigation upstream, the river has all but dried up.
As the county is surrounded on two sides by the Badain Jaran and Tengger Deserts, the desert sands have steadily encroached on the farmlands. An effort to plant 87,000 hectares of forest land failed as the water shortage quickly reduced it to only 20,000 hectares in 2009.
Now, Minqin has been reduced to only 60 sq miles of fertile land with the desert still steadily approaching. It is estimated that the area will be completely obliterated within the next decade.
4. Madidi National Park, Bolivia
This 1.89 million hectare park is regarded as one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. This park reaches from between the Andes Mountains and runs along the Tuichi River in Bolivia.
This region sports three distinct climates: colder in the snow-capped peaks, temperate at intermediate elevation, and downright tropical in the lowlands. Temperatures in the lowlands hover around 78 °F.
The park is teeming with new species making it a scientist’s dream. To survive, almost every species on Madidi has developed some type of poison. Toxic moths, big-headed army ants and sandflies that transmit leishmaniasis coexist with harpy eagles, macaws and the 1,250 other bird species native to the park. Snakes, jaguars, spectacled bears and wild pigs that have been known to attack humans prowl the jungle for food. Perhaps the creepiest part of this is the abundance of Dermatobia hominis, a fly that lays botflies.
According to a photographer who visited the region, everyone seems to have one botfly larva nestling somewhere on their body. The water is teeming with stingray and toxic fungi and even the plants have poisonous leaves and seeds.
3. Lake Nyos, Cameroon
190 miles outside the capital of Yaoundé lies the Oku volcanic plain. Lake Nyos runs down its side. Though the volcano is largely inactive, this lake is one of only three exploding lakes in the world. A limnic eruption starts when a pocket of magma under the lake leaks carbon dioxide into the water. As more CO2 is dissolved into the lake, it gets more and more unstable. When it becomes supersaturated, any strong earth movement upsets the balance and releases the gas into the air.
In 1986, landslides due to recent heavy rainfall triggered such an eruption. Over 100,000 tons of CO2 were released on the sleeping inhabitants of the villages that lay within 15 miles of the lake. As CO2 is heavier than air, it “hugged” the ground surface and quickly spread. Up to 1,700 people died in their sleep that night.
To avoid a repeat tragedy, pipes and pumps have been sunk in the lake to help “de-gas” it. By constantly siphoning the saturated water from the bottom of the lake to the top, scientists can keep the water from becoming supersaturated.
2. San Pedro de Atacama
The dry and hot winds with an average temperature of 77 °F make this the driest place on Earth. The region receives less than 1 mm of rain annually. NASA uses the surrounding desert to test spacecrafts bound for Mars as it is the closest thing to the Red Planet on Earth.
The desert is filled with sweeping sand dunes, salt flats and wind-shaped canyons, making it ideal for photography. Sprawled across 41, 000 square miles, its clean air and skies also make this a major attraction for stargazers.
While the nearby town of San Pedro de Atacama provides lodging and amenities for backpackers, visitors must be careful to avoid drinking tap water. The water contains dangerous levels of arsenic. The locals have drunk it for centuries and have built an immunity to it.
The area is also home to the blood sucking vinchucas that spread Chagas disease. For those going trekking, it is advised that they stay away from the Bolivian border. During the war, anti-tank mines were buried around there. These days, nobody seems to be able to pinpoint their exact locations, so visitors are encouraged not to stray.
1. Derweze, Turkmenistan
Also referred to as the “Doorway to Hell”, this landmark positioned 170 miles from Ashgabat deserves its name. While drilling in 1971, Soviet geologists tapped into a natural gas cavern 230 ft wide and 65 ft deep. To avoid a poisonous gas discharge from polluting the surrounding villages and harming their inhabitants, the geologists set it on fire. They reckoned it would burn itself out in a week or two.
It’s still burning, 44 years later.
Derweze isn’t the only underground fire pit that exists. A coal mine fire in the Pennsylvanian town of Centralia has been burning since May 1962. The heat, smoke and general discomfort led to an evacuation of all but seven of the town’s residents in 2013. The underground fire extended south to the town of Byrnesville and by 1996, this town had to be abandoned and leveled.
Some hardy folks brave these regions and set up homes here. We salute their bravery. Sure you can visit, if you’re brave enough, but staying there? I don’t think so.