Picture the following scenario. You’re walking along, exploring a forested trail on a hot day, when all of a sudden you stumble across a pristine pool of water. Your first inclination would be to take a dip — nothing could be wrong with that. But in some places, that could be your last mistake.
Some of the world’s most dangerous places to swim look fairly obvious, but even more of them appear deceptively calm and beautiful. This list will show you exactly what and where you should steer clear of. From sharks to poisonous gas to bacteria, it’s a scary world out there!
1. Devil’s Pool, Zambia
If you’re on the lookout for dangerous places to swim that look terrifying from the get-go, then start booking your plane tickets for the peaceful southern African nation of Zambia. While it shares the breathtaking thunder of Victoria Falls with neighboring Zimbabwe, it’s on Zambia’s side that you can find a truly remarkable rock formation.
A small dip in the riverbed of the Zambezi River has created a miniature bath for daredevils, which means you can actually sit at the very edge of one of the most massive waterfalls on the planet. Sure, the drop is dangerous enough — but you also have to check the water for crocodiles and hippos before wading in!
2. Buxton Blue Lagoon, England
In the middle of the English countryside in Derbyshire, an old rock quarry has been flooded with water and turned into this gorgeous pool. But its shimmering, inviting color has tempted many an unfortunate passerby to take a dip — with terrible consequences for their health. This blue lagoon packs a nasty secret.
Leftover calcium oxide has seeped into the water from the quarry, and sent its pH levels skyrocketing. It’s one of England’s most dangerous places to swim because it is akin to having a dip in a bath of ammonia or bleach. To make matters worse, it’s filled with cars and garbage. Locals have colored it black to make it seem repellent.
3. Blue Hole, Egypt
The sandy beaches of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, lining the brilliant coral reefs of the Red Sea and their dazzling marine life, have made for a relaxing vacation spot for decades, and business is booming. Yet one spot by the city of Dahab has gained notoriety for all the wrong reasons.
The Blue Hole, a natural underwater sinkhole, is a tempting spot for divers, but has claimed more lives than perhaps any other diving spot in the world. A submarine tunnel connects to a dramatic drop-off into the surrounding sea — but finding it can be disorienting, leading the curious to their doom.
4. Gansbaai, South Africa
To the southeast of South Africa’s picturesque city of Cape Town is a seaside town called Gansbaai. Teeming with wildlife in the waters of Walker Bay, it borders a nature reserve and features a variety of whale-watching opportunities. Just think twice before paddling out into the water for a swim.
South Africa is known as one of the most famous places in the world to see great white sharks up close and personal, and Gansbaai holds a particularly creepy reputation for one of the largest concentrations of these deadly fish to be found in the wild. Naturally, this only keeps the tourists coming in droves.
5. Orinoco River, Venezuela & Colombia
The Amazon River and its tributaries may be far larger and better known, and has its own nefarious cast of characters swimming around, but to the north is yet another river system that serves as one of the most dangerous places for swimmers. Its rich biodiversity is also terrifically hostile to humans.
There’s the obvious threat of crocodiles, as well as the ferocious piranha and electric eels. But a certain parasitic fish species in the Orinoco will truly make you cringe. It’s called the candiru, and while it’s relatively tiny, it has a dastardly, vampiral plan. It can mistakes human bodily openings for fish gills, and burrows its way inside.
6. Boiling Lake, Dominica
As is the case with many other nations in the Caribbean, the island of Dominica was formed by the processes of volcanism. It is the youngest island in its chain, and its surface has not yet quieted down — far from it. Dominica is a hotbed of geothermal activity, and features a sinister landscape known as the Boiling Lake.
The name is not an exaggeration. Parts of it are quite literally boiling, as it is a crack in the Earth’s crust that has filled with water. Not only could you get literally cooked alive if you were foolish enough to take the plunge, but the gases escaping from the volcano are lethal, and have a deadly track record.
7. Dead Sea, Israel/Palestinian Territories/Jordan
The lowest point on Earth is a geological marvel. Ten times saltier than the ocean, this landmark is a popular tourist attraction, renowned for the supposed healing powers of its mud and the high mineral concentrations of its waters that form the basis of many skin care products. But it too has a dark side.
Swimmers are delighted to discover that it’s nearly impossible not to float thanks to the Dead Sea’s extreme buoyancy. Just don’t swallow too much of the water: too much of its salts can be lethal. Additionally, falling in it face first can prove extremely dangerous, as normally you would be able to stand up and right yourself.
8. Lake Nyos, Cameroon
Deep beneath the waters of Lake Nyos in the central African country of Cameroon, a monster lies in wait. It is not alive, yet it has a pulse. A magma chamber provides the lake with outrageously high levels of carbon dioxide, making it not only one of the most dangerous place for a dip, but perilous to live by.
In 1986, a sudden eruption sent a gas cloud wafting out of the lake, engulfing the surrounding countryside. Thousands of people and their livestock were suffocated by its toxic fumes. Today, the lake is a ticking time bomb: its natural volcanic wall could give way, leading to yet another gas leak.
9. Lake Victoria, Kenya/Uganda/Tanzania
The largest lake on the African continent borders three countries, and sports hundreds of species of boldly-colored fish found nowhere else in the world. It doesn’t have a volcanic vent, nor are there abnormal levels of carbon dioxide in its waters, yet for some reason, it is regarded as a highly dangerous place to swim.
Over the years, Lake Victoria has claimed an abnormally high amount of victims, ranging into the thousands. The culprit is generally not the local population of crocodiles and hippos, but rather the risk of drowning. It is speculated that because the lake has its own weather system, sudden storms can catch swimmers unawares.
10. Hanakāpīʻai Beach, Hawaiʻi
With its lush jungle vegetation, soaring cliffs that tower over the Pacific Ocean, and sparkling beaches, the Nā Pali of the Hawaiian island of Kauai is an understandably popular getaway destination. But for those looking for a remote beach to feel solitude, you might want to choose carefully before coming to Hanakāpīʻai Beach.
Hanakāpīʻai Beach has proven to be one of the island’s extremely dangerous places for swimmers. Here, geography works against you if you’re caught in one of the beach’s notoriously strong rip tides, as safe shore is nowhere to be found. Currents are especially powerful because there’s no reef to slow them down.
11. Ganges River, India
It’s one of the most famous rivers in the world, it’s considered sacred by hundreds of millions of adherents of the Hindu religion, and it’s desperately, frighteningly polluted. Because of the amount of waste runoff it receives from one of the planet’s most populated nations, its waters are overwhelmingly loaded with bacteria.
Conversely, because of its sacred status, the Ganges is considered by the faithful to actually be a place of purity. It is not at all uncommon to see people bathing in its waters and even brushing their teeth with them. The Ganges is also a place for cremations and burials. Swimming, therefore, can be dangerous to your health.
12. Río Tinto, Spain
While the planet is filled with bodies of water that have miraculously turned brilliant and wild colors through the forces of nature alone, this river, which winds its way through southern Spain for about 62 miles, has a different reason for its hue. It’s best to observe from a distance.
The area surrounding the river has been used as a mine rich in ore for thousands of years, millennia before the Romans arrived and set up shop themselves. As a result of seepage from these mines, the river has become abnormally acidic, enough to dissolve metal. Try to resist the temptation to wade on in.
13. Laguna Caliente, Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s pristine rainforests and beaches are not its only natural attraction. It sports some of the most dangerous places for tourists in the region in the form of active volcanoes, and visitors are generally not disappointed, as eruptions are frequent. Poás Volcano in particular packs an especially surprising sight.
Just approaching the Laguna Caliente, one of the volcano’s craters that has been filled in by water, requires getting a permit. While its turquoise hue is tempting and the steam escaping may make it look like a pleasant hot spring, it’s one of the most acidic lakes on Earth and entering its waters would be your final mistake.
14. Queensland, Australia
Australia has a legendary reputation for being filled with its fair share of dangerous creatures, with venomous spiders and snakes on land, and sharks, enormous saltwater crocodiles, and even deadly octopus in the ocean. But something far tinier adds a particular element of peril to many beaches along Australia’s northeast coast.
Jellyfish stings can be nasty and very painful, but swimming in the waters off of the state of Queensland is a far more vile menace. The box jellyfish, identified by their cube-like bells, packs a vicious sting, and the thumb-sized Irukandji species can even cause humans to go into cardiac arrest. Heed lifeguards’ warnings.
15. New Smyrna Beach, Florida
As one of the most prominent peninsulas in North America, Florida is known for the warm, soft sand of the beaches that line its thousands of miles of shore. Yet for some bizarre reason, one beach in particular on Florida’s eastern shore attracts a particular visitor that might make you think twice before swimming.
According to academic studies conducted in the area, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean that surround New Smyrna Beach in particular have the highest number of confirmed shark attack victims in the entire world. In 2008 alone, nearly half of reported shark attacks in the world happened here. You might need a bigger boat.
16. The Strid, England
The Strid looks, at first glance, like a pastoral stream rushing through deep green forests and mossy rocks, a place to set up a canvas and paint its moving poetry. But whatever you do, stay out of its rushing waters. These currents rank high among dangerous places for a dip.
It’s a delightful place to take a relaxing stroll in nature. But this section of the River Wharfe in Yorkshire in northern England is deceptively strong. Its currents can easily snatch up waders, drowning them or leading them straight into the many rocks that line its shores. Sadly, The Strid has even claimed the lives of a honeymooning couple.
17. Farallon Islands, California
Most visitors to the great city of San Francisco don’t realize there is a group of islands far in the distance off its western shores, and far fewer will ever venture out to explore them. Called the Islands of the Dead by the original native inhabitants of the area, they’re hard to reach — and have a deadly secret.
While the Farallon Islands can be a great place to observe massive flocks of seabirds and even the occasional marine mammal, their location places them smack dab in the middle of a region known as the Red Triangle. This stretch of the Pacific Ocean off the California coast is particularly swarming with great white sharks.
18. Lake Chagan, Kazakhstan
All you need to hear is that Chagan Lake’s other name is “Atomic Lake”, and that should be well enough to keep you far away from its shores. While its waters are fed by a nearby river, this is not a natural lake, but rather, a crater left over from the Cold War era.
Here in the wilds of Kazakhstan, a fantastically powerful nuclear blast was set off during testing in 1965. The impact of the detonation created a hole in the ground over 1,300 feet across. As can be guessed, the area has in no way recovered from the nuclear test, and its radioactivity is off the charts.
19. Jacob’s Well, Texas
With its clear waters and breathtaking visibility, the pool called Jacob’s Well offers an astounding view all the way to its bottom, roughly 120 feet down. There’s no dangerous wildlife or currents to speak of, but exploring its series of underwater caves and tunnels requires proper experience — something many divers don’t realize.
As divers and swimmers seek to casually have a gander at the many submerged passageways, they can quite easily become disoriented. A fair number of tragic accidents have happened when curious explorers looking around have lost their way, and not been able to get back up to the surface in time.
20. Everglades, Florida
The Everglades, a vast series of swamps and mangroves, covers the southwestern tip of Florida. It is home to aggressive armies of mosquitoes. What’s more, it’s the only place on the planet where both alligators and crocodiles can be found together coexisting. Exploring its backwaters can be exhilarating, but swimming is decidedly not the best idea.
The murky, muddy waters of The Everglades are home to several species of venomous snake, including the coral snake, a relative of the cobra — and they can swim. To make matters worse, the dangerous cottonmouth prefers swimming — and can do it well. Add to this the populations of escaped boa constrictors and pythons, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
21. Chowpatty Beach, India
The Indian metropolis of Mumbai, one of the largest cities on Earth, gazes into the Arabian Sea, and is lined by tropical beaches. Unfortunately, with its tremendous population and the amount of waste produced, its beaches have become a veritable garbage dump — and Chowpatty Beach is no exception to the rule.
Pollution is so terrible that it has made this stretch of water into a very dangerous place to go for a swim, although this fact certainly doesn’t deter many of the locals from enjoying themselves. The levels of bacteria caused by raw sewage are astronomical, and pollution from a possible oil slick is sadly making the beach turn black.
22. Horseshoe Lake, California
Alongside its beaches, Hollywood movie stars, and agricultural produce, California is also known for a more sinister reason: its high frequency of earthquakes along the fault lines that traverse the state. These earthquakes spelled doom for Horseshoe Lake in Mono County, not far from the famed Mammoth Mountain skiing area.
While it may look like a gorgeous and quiet patch of wilderness on the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountain foothills, jumping into Horseshoe Lake for a swim would be a seriously bad idea. Earthquakes have caused an abnormal amount of carbon dioxide to seep into the water, killing trees and threatening any human who takes a dip.
23. East & North Coasts, Barbados
The island nation that singing and modeling superstar Rihanna calls home stands apart from the eastern chain of Caribbean islands, sitting out in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean. This means that while its north and west are fine for a swim, the rest ought to be regarded with caution.
The large waves that pummel east shores of Barbados from the Atlantic can easily snatch up even the most experienced swimmer, and rip tides are very common. If you’re keen on getting in the water for a swim or a snorkel, it’s best to get to the other side of the island.
24. Lake Kivu, Rwanda & DRC
As a part of the chain of East African lakes that span the length of the Rift Valley, the land underneath Lake Kivu is gradually being spread apart by tectonic plates. Geologists have discovered evidence of multiple mass extinctions in the Lake Kivu area over thousands of years. What has caused them?
Extraordinary amounts of carbon dioxide and methane gas fill the otherwise placid lake. Efforts are being made to extract some of the gas from the lake to lessen its risk, but the danger is real. A gas burst could snuff out millions of people and animals in the surrounding area, even burning vegetation and possibly triggering a miniature tsunami.
25. Réunion Island
This small island east of Madagascar is not an independent country, but rather an overseas territory belonging to France. It features plenty of possibilities for enjoyment with its many hiking trails and active volcanoes to explore. Réunion’s tropical waters are a paradise for snorkeling. But they also have a dark history.
The beautiful blue waters off the island are known as one of the most dangerous places you could go for a swim, as they have one of the highest numbers of recorded shark attacks across the planet. The attacks were so frequent that the island’s leader called for a culling of bull and tiger sharks.
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