Islands are supposed to be sunny, peaceful, and warm - exotic locales where you spend time on the beach, maybe do a bit of snorkeling, and even enjoy a few fruity drinks. Except sometimes, none of that happens.
The world sports many deceptively beautiful islands, ones that look pleasant but are actually terrifying. From former nuclear test sites to places that are home to deadly creatures, these scary isles have more going on than we realized. And we wanted to know more.
We found out what people who've been to 10 of the most dangerous islands in the world said about them, and were left ready to just stay home. Vote up the islands you will most definitely take a hard pass on, too.
Located off the coast of Brazil, Ilha de Queimada Grande is home to as many as 4,000 golden lancehead pit vipers - one of the most lethal snakes on the planet. Also called Snake Island, the landform is roughly 110 square acres of predator-free rainforest, rocks, and grassy areas for the lethal snakes to roam.
A golden lancehead pit viper bite can be lethal within hours without treatment, and because the island is so dangerous, Brazil has forbidden humans from visiting. Exceptions can be made, but a medical professional is required to accompany anyone setting foot there.
When Tara Brown from 60 Minutes received permission to visit Snake Island in 2019, she explained what it entailed:
A full medical team, an ambulance on the mainland on standby, a defibrillator, anti-venom, respirators. Everyone took it quite seriously... I discovered I’m pretty spineless. The setting is very remote, it’s very hot, highly vegetated, and you’re pulling yourself up to get to the top. To my mind, there could be a snake anywhere and you’re always on high alert, and a big part of me was saying, "Oh no, please don’t let there be a snake there."
During the 1910s, the island's lighthouse required human maintenance. According to local legend, the last lighthouse keeper and his family were killed when snakes chased them out of their home, fell out of the trees, and bit them. The lighthouse has been automated since the early- to mid-20th century, but occasional visits by the Brazilian navy are still necessary.
As one of the Andaman Islands, North Sentinel Island is located in the Bay of Bengal. It's supervised by India, and visitors need permission to set foot on its shores.
Restricted entry and limited contact with the indigenous people serve two purposes. There's a desire to protect the island and its population, as well as to prevent additional acts of violence that have involved past visitors.
During the late 19th century, European exploration of the island proved fruitless, while 20th-century interactions with the Sentinelese left the Indian government and anthropologist T.N. Pandit struggling to establish friendships. Pandit recalled his trips to the island:
We had brought in gifts of pots and pans, large quantities of coconuts, iron tools like hammers and long knives... But the Sentinelese warriors faced us with angry and grim faces and fully armed with their long bows and arrows, all set to defend their land.
In 1991, successful contact was made, but efforts to drop in relief after the tsunami in 2004 were met with aggression. In 2006, natives killed two fishermen for getting too close to the island, and in 2018, the death of John Allen Chau demonstrated how dangerous it could be to approach its shores.
Chau attempted to spread Christianity on North Sentinel Island, first getting shot at with arrows on approach - only to return the next day. The natives proceeded to kill Chau. To maintain peace and the integrity of the island itself, his body was never recovered.
Pandit commented on Chau's death in 2018, pointing out:
During our interactions they threatened us but it never reached a point where they went on to kill or wound. Whenever they got agitated we stepped back... I feel very sad for the death of this young man who came all the way from America. But he made a mistake. He had enough chance to save himself. But he persisted and paid with his life.
In 1919, criminal and political prisoners first arrived at the "most severe prison" in Panama, housed on Coiba Island. The remote location housed more than 3,000 individuals from 1919 to 2004 and was the site of torture, brutality, and horrific conditions for decades.
Over time, Coiba Island had roughly 30 camps built by the prisoners themselves, with no furniture, windows, or bathrooms. The extreme conditions tested their mental sanity, as did torture techniques used by their captors. According to US Army Ranger Chuck Holton:
They had this ritual for new prisoners; the guards would take them into the jungle, blindfold them, line them up and have a mock execution. They would put guns to them, count down "three, two, one, fire," intimidating them.
Holton called it an "absolutely malicious" place, in large part because "everything on that island wants to bite you; everything is poisonous." He also talked about what he saw on his first visit:
There were some political prisoners... being held there on the island, but what we didn’t know was there were a few cells that were packed with people... The guards that were left there told us not to go in as they all had AIDS. We realized that several of the men in the cell had perished in the days before we got there. The dead had been left with the living; you can imagine the smell of several corpses that had been rotting.
During the 1940s and '50s, Bikini Atoll, an island within the Marshall Islands chain in the Pacific Ocean, was a US military nuclear testing site. At the time, residents were relocated to nearby Rongerik and Kwajalein atolls before arriving at Kili Island in 1948.
Indigenous Bikinians returned to their atoll during the late 1960s and the population rose through the 1970s. Radiation levels left much of the food and water too dangerous for human consumption, with residents also experiencing health effects from radiation.
Continued clean-up, relocation efforts, and monetary aid left most native Bikinians living off the island, with scientists and caretakers as the lone inhabitants. Diving and sportfishing are common, although they must be done carefully.
When S.C. Gwynne visited the atoll in 2012, he saw firsthand how the deceptive beauty of the island could be:
Despite the natural beauty, it is impossible to walk anywhere, or look anywhere, and escape Bikini’s nightmare history. Every man-made object on the island is an artifact either of the bomb tests or of some failed attempt to help the Bikinians return to their home... There is a sense, while on Bikini Atoll, of being at the end of the world.