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How & Where To Visit The Most Dangerous Places On Earth


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There are endless metrics to measure danger. Is it random gun violence? War? The possibility of natural disasters? Poisonous predators? Or maybe it’s a little bit of all of the above. Basically, measuring the most dangerous places in the world is tough. It’s also murky — because while it’s fun to talk about islands covered in snakes, it’s a whole different matter to plan a trip to war torn countries.

Right now, there’s a shockingly low number of nations not at war in some way. Add in the fact that we spent a few centuries building cities and amassing populations in danger zones before we had any purchase on volcanism or tectonic science and we’re left with a whole lot of scary shit on the globe.

We decided we’d go ahead and compile a list of some of the most dangerous places around the world. To keep it somewhat even-handed we’re using half natural dangers like volcanoes and lakes that’ll turn you to stone after suffocating you with noxious gases, and half places where the danger comes from humans. We do not encourage you to visit places in the latter category unless you are going with a clear intent and a plan for bringing something positive to the area.

Ilha de Queimada Grande, Brazil

It’s snake island! Seriously, it’s full of snakes! Legend has it that a knot of snakes killed the lighthouse keeper and his entire family back in the 1920s and the island was summarily abandoned to the snakes. The snakes have spent 11,000 years evolving on the island without any predators or outside intervention. You’re thinking about snake cannibalism now, aren’t you?

But it doesn’t end there. This is the sole home to the Golden Lancehead Viper which has venom that melts your skin. Hello nightmares! So, yeah, you won’t be finding Indiana Jones booking a trip… or many other people for that matter.

The island off the coast of Brazil near Sao Paulo is a pretty popular diving and fishing destination. So getting around the island is as easy as chartering a trip. Getting on the island is another matter. The Brazilian government strictly forbade anyone landing on the islands without a very specific and hard-to-get permit (mostly given to scientists and photographers). So, maybe take that Instagram shot from the safety of your fishing boat.

Democractic Republic of Congo

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The DRC, or the Congo, has been wrecked by war — due to radical, theological, and slave-driving warlords. Add in very active and very destructive volcanoes to the east and one of the world’s most dense and deadly (and uncharted) jungles and you have yourself a very dangerous place.

Now, granted, a lot of the militants are in very isolated corners of the jungle. Military violence is not that common in the big cities like Kinshasa. But it does happen. This is also a country where 48 women are raped every hour — meaning one in every five women have been the victim of sexual warfare. That’s before we even get to the child slavery in coltan mines in the mountains.

The best and only reason to visit the Congo is as an aid worker who can medically and politically support NGOs in the areas most afflicted by the decades-long wars. Visas aren’t impossible to come by with sponsorship from a program, although tourists visas do exist. Generally, you can fly into Kinshasa if you’re visiting the west. If you’re visiting the east, then you’ll need to fly into Kigali (Rwanda) and drive in.

It is imperative you register with the local MONUC office so the UN knows you’re in country and what you’re doing. It’s also essential to register your trip with the US Department of State in case things go super sideways and you needed a military evac. Lastly, hire a local guide who can serve as a bodyguard. You’ll be giving a local a much-needed job which equals money to feed their families. That puts money into their economy in a positive way.

Danakil Desert, Ethopia/Eritrea/Djibouti

National Geographic dubbed this the “cruelest place on earth.” Which must have been a slap in the face for the handful of people who live there to mine salt. Still, it’s a pretty brutal corner of the world for various reasons. The biggest risk in the area is sulfuric gases spewing from geysers, active volcanoes spouting toxic gases, and a temperature that likes to hover around 120F.

But there’s more. The conflict in Eritrea means you’ll be in danger of kidnapping and random violence thanks to the fighters on the Eritrean side of the desert.

You’ll need an expert (and often armed) guide to go to the Danakil Desert. There are no exceptions — as any access is strictly forbidden without an escort. This isn’t Yellowstone where clear paths have been lain to guide you safely through the spewing and boiling toxins and lava. This is wild exploding earth with a real danger of death at every turn.

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Sanaa, Yemen

The civil war that’s been raging for 1,000 days in Yemen is woefully underreported in the West. This, unfortunately, has made the stunningly beautiful city of Sanaa a no-go on the same level as large swathes of Syria and Iraq during the ISIS years.

Forced starvation, ethnic cleansing, and constant air raids have ravaged the historic city and decimated the population to the point of calamity.

Let’s be real, the only reason you should ever consider going here is as a war correspondent or photographer. If you’re doing so, please take a course in combat triage before you go. If you have the mettle for it, you’ll bring back the stories and photos that’ll shine a light on a very neglected corner of our world.

Death Valley, USA

Okay, let’s take a big breath. Death Valley in California is free of armed conflict. It’s pretty accessible and picturesque. In fact, it’s down-right Instagrammable when the light hits it just right during that magic hour all Californians love to wax poetic about.

So, why does it make this list? Because Death Valley is unforgiving. There’s the staggering heat (record high is 134F). Then there’s the complete lack of shade since there’s no vegetation. That means that if you run out of water, you have 14 hours before Death Valley kills you. So don’t run out of gas in the middle of the desert with no water. Take this seriously. There have been enough emergencies recently to prompt a travel warning for the whole place.

Oh, and there’s also the risk of getting the Hantavirus. That one fills your lungs with fluid and kills 38 percent of people who get it!

You can drive to Death Valley whenever you want. Which, admittedly, seems brazen for a place so dangerous to humans. But, hey, land of the free, right?

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Mailuu-Suu, Kyrgyzstan

This is one of the most radioactive places in the world. The valley deep in the Kyrgyz wilds was the home to a massive set of uranium mines for the Soviet nuclear program. The short of it is that the Soviets stopped mining uranium here and just left the mines on the hills above the town and river. Like, literally just up and left them. Over the last 50 years, landslides, mudslides, and various events have caused the massively radioactive mines to spill into the river and town multiple times (most recently in 2002). Naturally, this has led to serious health concerns for locals.

Since the mines were the main source of work in the area, the town’s 22,000 people are very economically depressed and reliant on a much smaller light bulb factory and the upcycling of waste around that concern.

You can get to this town by simply showing up in Bishkek (most flights transfer through Russia). Americans don’t need a visa to enter the country for 60 days. It’s about a 7-hour drive (in the best conditions) to get down to Mailuu-Suu from the capital.

Valley of Death, Russia

Below that massive Kikhpinych volcano sits a valley where toxic gases leak into the air. The valley walls keep that gas in the valley to the point that the birds and small mammals that enter the valley die. That’s right, the toxic gases from this volcanic land will literally kill you if you get too close and simply breathe. The gases even kill off most plants.

The vast and stark landscape is something truly beautiful to behold. But, the risk of dying from breathing seems to be a pretty big “thanks, but, no thanks.”

Getting to Russia requires an expensive tourist visa. Getting to Kamchatcha requires a lot of time, effort, and money. The volcanic area of the already extremely remote Kamchatka is basically off the map with no real roads leading in or out. So you’re either going to have to chopper in or hike 112 miles from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy.

Pacific Northwest, USA

We can already hear you clicking and clacking at this choice. But, hear us out. See that photo up there of Seattle with Mount Rainier looming over it? Yeah, that’s very alive and very overdue for big ol’ eruption volcano. And it’s more than just the spewing of toxic gases, enormous amounts of ash, and a possible lava flow that’d bust up large parts of the Seattle-Tacoma area. Rainier has massive lahars — rocky debris deposits — due to its glaciers and loose rock formations which will add massive mudflows to the mix of ash, gas, and lava.

But, wait, there’s more! The Pacific Northwest is also home to the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The CSZ came to the public’s consciousness when The New Yorker published a very long and bone-chilling piece on the fault’s overdue status. The science says there’s a one in three chance it’ll cause a very big earthquake anytime in the next 50 years.

When that earthquake comes, it’ll affect seven million people and be the worst natural disaster in America’s history. Add in the damage it’d do the nation’s shipping and the concentration of the nation’s defenses (there are a lot of bases around the Salish Sea) and you’ve got a possible ripple effect of destruction for years. Basically, yeah, this place is a powder keg just waiting to go off.

Well, we guess you don’t want to be there when any of this happens. Until then, it’s still an awesome part of the world to visit. Just keep an eye on the tremors happening around Rainier.

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Lake Natron, Tanzania

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Well, if the idea of the PNW killing you one unlucky day doesn’t keep you away, a lake that will strip your skin, suffocate you, and turn you to stone might instill some fear. Lake Natron is a very odd place. The shallow waters and heavy mineral-infused spring water have created a massive amount of salt, natron, and toxic gases.

Basically, hydrogen sulfide that the lake’s salty surface emits will kill you. If that somehow doesn’t, the alkali salt crust will melt away your skin and then turn you to stone. Of course, swimming is very much prohibited in these parts of the lake. All that being said, through the amazingness that’s evolution, animals and some plants have adapted to live in these extreme environments. Millions of flamingos nest here because the toxic nature of the lake is a natural protective barrier. Man, nature is so dope.

Visiting the lake is a pretty standard part of Tanzanian tourism. You’ll have to pay an extra fee of around $30 bucks to get into the area. Hiring a local and professional guide is highly recommended so that you can a) view the wildlife without disturbing it and b) not die. Seriously, there are parts of the lake where you can swim and even fish and then parts of the lake that’ll straight up kill you.

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Afghanistan

With the wars with ISIS winding down in Iraq and Syria, Afghanistan is poised to retake the most dangerous warzone mantle again, as ISIS moves in to battle the Taliban. Afghanistan’s geography is unforgiving in-and-of-itself with vast untouched wilderness, deserts, and mountains. Add in roving bands of fanatics and zealots with Twitter accounts (they track people posting near them, and will kidnap you) and RPGs and you’ve got a very dangerous corner of the world.

Like Yemen, you can travel here. But have a purpose. Do it legally. And know when to get out. An Afghan visa is easy enough to get and only costs $160. From there, you can fly into Kabul pretty regularly. Once there, be sure to register your trip with the State Department and have a clear plan (read: a reason for being there).

Traveling Afghanistan is a very difficult and rewarding experience. A little time in a country we’ve been at war with for nearly two decades will assuredly be enlightening.

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