Like adventure? Put these scare-yourself-silly destinations on your bucket list.
Every year as Halloween approaches, people seek out choreographed thrills that frighten them in harmless ways, the dangers perceived rather than actual.
Yet there are places around the world where scares come without benefit of costumed characters wielding plastic chainsaws.
Edge along narrow planks suspended high on a mountain cliff, putting your trust into the bolts embedded in the sheer stone face. Or visit a city abandoned long ago, where signs of life are as ever-present as the ticking of a Geiger counter.
Here are some truly frightening travel destinations around the world.
Mount Hua Shan, China
The trail along the cliffs of Mount Hua Shan makes the Grand Canyon Skywalk (a glass-bottomed stroll over a ledge hundreds of feet up) about as scary as a walk along Disneyland’s Main Street.
Hikers on the sacred mountain encounter planks bolted hundreds of feet high along sheer stone walls. And those bolts are checked regularly. You hope.
Even scarier is the bathroom situation. This is from a Chinese tourism website: “There are only a few toilets on the top of Mt. Hua Shan and the toilet condition is also not good. It is better to prepare mentally.”
Island of Dolls, Mexico
Dolls are inherently creepy, but this is far worse than shelves of American Girl dolls looking at you. Dolls in various states of disrepair hang from the trees amid canals near Mexico City. Not all have the requisite appendages, but all stare unblinkingly (if they have eyes).
This morbid collection is the work of caretaker Don Julio Santana, who is said to have years ago found the body of a 4-year-old girl in a canal. Shortly afterward, he found a doll and hung it from a tree to appease the girl’s spirit. He went on to hang dozens more, even though it would seem to invite spirits rather than appease them.
BASE jumping, Norway
Few adventure companies post a “There is a possibility you will severely injure yourself, if not die” warning on their home pages, but SBK Base does just that. The company prepares you to jump off a cliff.
The statistics page compiles the number of jumps, injuries and deaths since the company started in 1994. If you’re still interested in taking a leap of faith, SBK’s latest stats report 53,171 jumps, 136 accidents, 12 fatalities, 48 helicopter rescues and 11 rescues by climbers. Enjoy.
Ice-hole plunge, Finland
If you’re up in the Nordic countries and not in the mood to jump off a cliff, how about into an ice hole? Finns call it refreshing. Those unaccustomed to jumping into narrow gaps cut into ice might say, “Whatever the Finnish number is for 9-1-1, dial it now.”
How long you stay in the frigid water is up to you. Most experts suggest up to that point where your heart is about to stop.
Jack the Ripper tour, London
If you’re going to follow one of history’s most terrifying serial killers, it might as well be the guy at No. 1 in the power rankings.
Guides lead you into some of the creepiest places in London, streets and alleys that haven’t changed much since 1888 when Jack was on the loose, eviscerating his victims. As the website notes, you will learn of the crimes from experts who know them “inside and out.” Cheeky turn of phrase.
Border-crossing simulation, Mexico
Hoping for a better life, you’re dragging what little you own across the desert, following strangers who implore you to trust them.
Suddenly you’re accosted by members of a drug cartel who demand to know what you’re doing. Not long afterward, armed thieves rifle through your backpack for money and valuables. And just when you thought you’d made it, you’re taken into custody by Border Patrol officers.
Welcome to Night Walk, one of the most unusual “tours” in the world. Participants at Parque EcoAlberto —which is actually hundreds of miles south of the border — race over brush-covered hills and through streams in a three-hour, 7-mile journey designed to mimic an attempted crossing of the U.S. border.
If you don’t feel like being chased by armed actors, there’s also kayaking, zip lining and, for those who want to be in literal hot water, thermal pools.
Edge Walk, Toronto
Head to the top of CN Tower (as Toronto’s tallest structure, it’s impossible to miss) and take a stroll along a handrail-free walkway that would make a safety inspector cringe (or anyone else, for that matter).
Participants pull on onesies equipped with straps that attach to the bar ringing the inside of the walkway. Once tethered, they enjoy a walk 1,168 feet above the ground, free to lean over the ledge for a better view.
Edge Walk even hosts weddings. How’s that for taking the plunge?
Gates of Hell, Turkmenistan
A Russian engineering disaster is now one of the hottest travel destinations on the planet. (And based on its name, we shouldn’t have to add “literally.”)
While drilling in 1971, workers hit a massive cavern filled with natural gas. Poisonous gas rose and, with no pesky government agencies charged with protecting the environment to get in the way, officials set it on fire. The Darvaza gas crater was born. And who doesn’t like to say “gas crater”?
Locals have since organized tours, and residents are known to attach extremely long poles to frying pans so they cook eggs and other items. No “Gates of Hell” recipe book yet, but expect instructions to start with, “Set inferno to a few thousand degrees.”
Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, Ukraine
See one of the world’s worst environmental disasters up close.
Well, not too up close. Radiation is dangerously high in many areas, and tour guides are careful to stay clear given the terrible TripAdvisor reviews that could pop up in 10 years or so. No need to hurry to see the abandoned villages, they’ll probably remain unoccupied for another century or two.
Centralia mine fire, Pennsylvania
The Soviets haven’t cornered the market on environmental tragedies. A coal mine under Centralia has been burning since 1962, resulting in a ghost town where heat and smoke emanate from cracks in the ground.
While there is some debate about how the fire started, it’s generally agreed that an attempt to burn a landfill on May 27, 1962, ignited a coal seam. The fire has burned slowly but steadily ever since, and only a few residents remain.
Though there are no guided tours, visitors are free to drop in. Just don’t expect to fill up your tank because underground fires are not amenable to gas stations.
Even as Kim Jong-un makes overtures to suggest his country is ready to join the rest of the world, this is hardly the feel-good moment everyone’s been waiting for.
Those who visit North Korea do so at their own risk, unless your name is Dennis Rodman and happen to be good friends with the Great Leader. The rest of us should smile and keep any negativity to ourselves. That goes for participants on the North Korea Brewery Industry Tour, unless you truly believe Taedonggang lager is the greatest beer to have ever honored your lips.
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