Forget about white beaches, seclusion, and swaying palm trees—the world’s strangest islands offer desolation, infestation, and goosebumps!
When you think of “islands,” images of tropical vegetation, blue waters, and white, sandy beaches spring to mind. But there are some that are anything but picture perfect. In fact, the following islands are simply strange!
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Ilha da Queimada Grande (Snake Island)
The stuff nightmares are made off—an island full of snakes! Ilha da Queimada Grande in the Atlantic Ocean could be a beautiful paradise if it didn’t have the highest concentration of venomous snakes in the world. Thousands of Golden Lancehead Vipers slither on the now uninhabited island (there was a manned lighthouse from 1909 to 1920) and a doctor has to be present when the navy makes its annual stop. While poachers have been known to visit Ilha da Queimada Grande to trap, then sell the snakes, the island itself surely won’t be a hotcake destination any time soon.
INSIDER TIPEven if you wanted to go there, you’d need to acquire special permission from the Brazilian navy. Otherwise, visiting the island is illegal.
Clamshells as far as the eye can see. Fadiouth, a small island that’s part of a fishing community, is built on millions of shells that have been discarded by locals for generations. Each step on the white streets is accompanied by a cracking sound, the shells are used as materials in architecture and crafts, and the local Christian cemetery is a popular attraction and rarity in a country where 90 percent of the population adheres to Islam. Fadiouth has no motorized transport and relies heavily on tourism (and clams, of course!).
Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls)
There’s nothing wrong with dolls, but when they’re dismembered, it becomes a bit creepy. Between the canals of Xochimilco in southern Mexico City, you’ll find the Isla de las Muñecas where hundreds of dolls–many of them missing limbs, eyes, or even heads–hang from the trees. They were put there by caretaker Don Julián Santana Barrera, who, according to legend, found a little girl drowned under mysterious circumstances and, shortly after, a floating doll he thought might’ve belonged to her. To appease the spirit of the dead child, he placed dolls around the island for the next fifty years until his death in 2001.
Once a year, remote Christmas Island turns into a red sea of crabs. We’re not talking about thousands or even tens of thousands, but 50 million Christmas crabs! Throughout the year, the crustaceans live within the island’s forests, but during the wet season (October through November) they undertake a spectacular migration, which takes at least a week, to the Indian Ocean where they mate. Obviously, the nearly 2,000 human residents are outnumbered and co-existing hasn’t always been easy with crabs being crushed by vehicles and causing accidents. But now, park rangers installed “crab fences,” “crab grids,” and even a “crab bridge” to support the migration.
Once home to a bustling community of 5,000 miners, Hashima, about nine miles from Nagasaki, was abandoned in the 1970s. Where humans disappear, nature prevails. For the last nearly 50 years, concrete walls have crumbled, buildings were left to the elements, and grass has grown in the cracks. The island has become a ghostly attraction and provided the inspiration, and external shots, for the villain’s lair in the James Bond movie Skyfall. Hashima became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015, however, the vast majority of the island remains off-limits in order to both protect travelers and the ruins themselves.
An island within a lake that is an island within a lake that is on an island in the sea. Confused? Heck, we are! In short, Taal Volcano is a complex volcano in the Philippines. But let’s try the long version again: Vulcan Point Island (island one) lies within Main Crater Lake, which is on Volcano Island (island two), which is within Taal Lake, which is again on an island, Luzon (island three), which is part of the Philippines and sits within the Pacific Ocean. Taal is also the country’s second most active volcano—complex is totally the appropriate word here.
An island shaped like a giant date palm? Only in Dubai! The famous Palm Jumeirah in the United Arab Emirates is a man-made creation and the world’s largest artificial island. It was constructed from boulders from a close-by mountain range and 3 billion cubic feet of sand was dredged from the seafloor. In addition to Palm Jumeirah, two more islands (Deira Island and Palm Jebel Ali) and another ambitious project called The World, a cluster of 300 islands, were also planned, but construction stopped due to the financial crisis.
Don’t we all envision being a king or a queen with our own kingdom sometimes? If you want to make that dream come true, move to tiny Tory Island, about six miles off the coast of Donegal County. The history of kings on Ireland’s most remote inhabited island goes back centuries, maybe even millennia. In order to become king, you better learn Irish (though English is acceptable to communicate with visitors) and, more importantly, convince the 150 residents to vote for you. Which might not be an easy task given that the current Rí Thoraí (King of Tory) has held the title since 1993.
Nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” Sable Island, off the coast of Halifax, is basically a giant sand dune thought to be responsible for hundreds of shipwrecks. Only sealers, shipwrecked sailors, and salvagers ever lived (temporarily) in this hostile environment facing the harsh winds nearly 100 miles offshore. The extreme weather (which causes the landscape to constantly change, moving up to 330 feet annually) is one of the reasons for the more than 350 stranded vessels (fog is another). Other strange stuff about Sable Island: it’s only got one tree, a scrawny three-foot pine, but 500 wild horses!
If you’re into cute fluffy animals, then Usaga Jima is your place to be. The Japanese oddity, aptly named Rabbit Island, is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of tame bunnies that have no fear of humans, so bring some carrots. In World War II, Usaga Jima was actually a secret chemical weapons site and the local Poison Gas Museum reminds of that past. Dogs and cats are not allowed on the island, which means that the bunnies can hop around undisturbed and breed like, well, rabbits!
Once the place where plague sufferers were sent to die and later the home of a mental asylum which performed lobotomies, Poveglia near Venice still sends shivers done the spine of those who dare to set foot on the island. The remains of more than 100,000 people are said to be buried here and locals believe it is haunted by the spirits of the dead. After the last hospital was shut in 1968, the government sealed off the island and still officially forbids any visits, though exceptions are made and Poveglia continues to attract thrill seekers in search of the creepiest place on earth.
The floating islands of Lake Titicaca are one of Peru’s top attractions. For generations, the Uros, an indigenous people of Peru and Bolivia, have lived around and on the lake. Their homes, tightly bundled boats, crafts, and about 120 islands are all made from the buoyant totara reeds that grow in the lake. The islands house between three and 10 families depending on size. While most Uros people have now moved to the mainland, several hundred of them maintain their traditional floating way of living, which began as a defense mechanism against other tribes as the islands could be moved.