Think an Island Getaway Sounds Fun? Not Necessarily at These 10 Places
On these bizarre, sinister, and sometimes somber abandoned islands, you'll find mystery, history, buried treasure, and tragedy.
What could be scarier than finding yourself on an uninhabited island where there’s no way out and you’re surrounded by the water? That’s right: stranded on an abandoned island with a creepy history. And there are many places like this around the world. Bearing ancient curses, serving as mass burial grounds, witnessing death, hiding treasures–these islands are curious places that won’t leave a traveler indifferent. These islands break to pieces the stereotype of idyllic island leisure and instead guarantee nightmares after visiting. Some of them are places of remembrance and dialogue, others simply infested with deadly poisonous snakes–but all are extremely fascinating. The abandoned flair adds to the mystery and deafening silence serves as the best accompaniment for exploration. So, get ready for chills down your spine and enter the sinister world of the abandoned islands of the world.
Located right next to the glitzy seaside resort of the Lido in a dreamy Venetian lagoon, Poveglia may well be one of the most haunted places in the world. For 100 years it was a quarantine spot for plague victims, then it was turned into a hospital for the mentally ill, and, finally, it was completely abandoned. Poveglia bears thousands of remains of the plague victims and today, only wind travels through the silent halls of former medical institutions. The island is completely closed for visits and has been put up for auction by the government. Unsurprising, so far, no one wants to buy it.
Sometimes the past gets forgotten a bit quicker when big money is involved. This seems to be a case of charming Mamula island, right next to the Montenegrin resort town of Herceg Novi. Once you know its history, though, all the charm disappears. During World War II, Mamula’s fortress was used by the fascist forces of Benito Mussolini as a concentration camp where the prisoners were tortured. Despite its horrific past, in 2015 the Montenegro government leased the island to a Swiss development company, which is planning a luxury beach resort.
Approached from afar, Gunkanjima is a surreal sight. A pile of multi-story buildings crammed together in a tiny space surrounded by the seawall. When you arrive you’re greeted by the eerie emptiness of the skeleton-looking houses. Once thought to be the most densely populated place on the planet, today this island is just a set of crumbling structures devoured by the greenery and the sea. It’s hard to believe that in the first part of the 20th century this small island was home to more than 5,000 people that all came to work on submarine coal productions of Mitsubishi Corporation. Once the coal ran out in the ’50s, the people left indefinitely, leaving all the structures to rot and die slowly.
If you’re looking for a place that brings the pirate stories to life, the islands of Dry Tortugas–about 67 miles west of Key West–are the ideal candidates. Discovered back in 1517 by the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, this kaleidoscope of uninhabited land chunks is only home to sea turtles and shipwrecks. The waters of Dry Tortugas were famed to be of a dangerous kind because of the shallowness, and many seafarers lost their lives (and fortunes) here. Remains of hundreds of shipwrecks dot the sea bottom calling for treasure hunting. Today, the islands are included in Dry Tortugas National Park which is one of the least popular American parks due to its remote location.
Ilha da Queimada Grande
If there was a sequel to Samuel L. Jackson’s 2016 flick Snakes on a Plane, it would take place on Ilha da Queimada Grande. While there is no plane, there are plenty of venomous snakes–about one snake to every square meter if we’re being precise. The island can be found off the Brazilian coast and it’s officially closed to the public (except for Navy and selected researchers). Just imagine losing your way and ending up there in the company of thousands of pit vipers.
Jokes and nightmares aside, the snakes–Bothrops insularis (or golden lanceheads)–are a critically endangered species and this limited rocky terrain is their only home. So, let’s never visit this island and leave them alone so they can do their natural poisonous things, okay?
Carlo Leopoldo Bezerra Francini/Dreamstime
Deadman’s Island is both sacred land and a source of legends. And rightfully so. This small stretch of land just off the busy Vancouver downtown has long been a burial ground. The Indigenous Squamish people buried their dead in the trees of the island, enclosing the bodies in red cedar boxes that hung from branches. When colonialists arrived, they subsequently buried their dead here. At the end of the 19th century, the island was used as a quarantine site for the smallpox pandemic victims and subsequently as the final resting place for those who died of the illness. Additionally, according to Squamish legends, a deadly battle in which more than 200 men were killed also took place on this small island.
In an estuary in Kent, is another Deadman’s Island–it seems this is a pretty popular geographical name in English-speaking countries. As weird as it sounds, on this island, you can literally see the dead. As though written into a Victorian Gothic novel, when the tide is out, hundreds of human remains appear in the muddy ground. Bones, broken coffins, skulls. The bodies are believed to be of prisoners who died of diseases onboard floating jails that were docked in the area. Fortunately, it’s completely off the limits to the general public.
David Anstiss / Dead Man's Island and Channel Marker [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons
Probably the least disturbing place on the list, Houtouwan village on Shengshan Island in China is an unusual tandem of abandonment and the forces of nature. From the sea, it looks like some kind of a twisted alternative reality version of Italy’s Cinque Terre. Houtouwan is an eerie sight of abandoned houses overgrown by greenery. In 1994 almost everyone left the village because of the hard access and lack of work and now it stands in silence with the waves rolling loudly upon its rocky shores, offering weirdly beautiful panoramas of the green derelict.
Ross Island is a picture-perfect palm tree-covered paradise where peacocks roam freely and you can pet deer. It would be a great location for an oceanside resort save for one fact. For almost a hundred years it was a British penal colony where all the horrors of the colonial regime unfolded. Torture was rampant, death frequent, and inhumane medical tests added to the overall atmosphere of madness, cruelty, and terror. The colony for convicts was established in 1858 right after the Indian Rebellion of 1857 to imprison political activists. It existed until 1945. Today, only ruins remain to serve as a chilling reminder of the colonial atrocities.
More than one million New Yorkers are buried on this mile-long stretch of land next to the Bronx. It’s also is the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world. Prior to its use as a cemetery, Hart Island served as a training ground, prison camp, psychiatric clinic, quarantine site for victims of tuberculosis, a jail, a reformatory, defense missile station, homeless shelter, and drug rehabilitation facility.
Today Hart functions primarily as a potter’s field, a burial ground for unknown or unclaimed people. The island is restricted and visitors must request access from New York’s Department of Corrections. Until recently, all the burials were performed by the inmates of the Riker Island jail complex.