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There are holidays, and there are holidays. There are the lie-on-the-beach-with-a-cocktail-in-hand kind of holidays, and then there are the get-off-the-beaten-path-and-challenge-yourself holidays. Some people live for a five-star hotel, a Michelin meal, an all-inclusive cruise, or a soothing spa day. Others are addicted to the adrenaline rush and excitement of living on the edge, and for these travelers, only the world’s scariest and most dangerous destinations will do. It’s to these people that I dedicate this list.
1. Bungee Jumping, New Zealand
The Kawarau Bridge Bungy in Queenstown, New Zealand, is nowhere near the world’s highest or scariest bungee jump. That “honor” goes to the 765-foot Macau Tower jump. It is, however, the original, the world’s first bungee jump site, the one that spawned an adrenaline-junkie culture, and a worldwide fascination with leaping off high things with an elastic band tied to your feet.
Nestled into a rock face and overlooking the stunning Kawarau River, the view alone makes this spot worth a visit. Don’t think 141 feet sounds high? Just wait until you’ve shuffled out to the edge of the bridge, heart pounding and mind racing, standing, waiting to jump off! This is probably still the most popular bungee spot in the world, attracting thousands of thrill-seekers every year who’ve all come to push themselves to the limit and test their nerve. Now, it’s your turn to take the same leap of faith!
2. Devil’s Pool, Zambia
Roughly one million tourists travel to Victoria Falls — the world’s largest sheet of falling water — every year. Some are content to admire from afar, but the more adrenaline-obsessed like to get up close and personal by taking a dip in the Devil’s Pool; the ultimate infinity pool. Sitting right on the edge of Victoria Falls, this is probably the most infamous natural rock pool in the world and is a swimming experience like no other. Only a small and slippery wall of rock separates you from the sheer drop to the water below. If you’re feeling particularly brave, you can dangle your arms and legs over the edge.
Truthfully, this is one of those activities that looks scarier than it really is and your chances of being washed over the edge are pretty slim. In my youth, I worked near the falls and we’d often walk across the rocks, when the river level was low, and swim in the Devil’s Pool. It made for some amazing photos and great memories. Nowadays, you can’t just walk across yourself, but you can book a trip through Green Safaris. Be prepared, unless you are visiting from August – December, you’ll need to check river levels before setting out. If the water is too high or too dangerous, you won’t be permitted to swim.
Pro Tip: When the Zambezi River rises, the Devil’s Pool vanishes beneath the roaring waters, but there’s another rock pool just like it a little distance away. For much of the year, it’s simply bare rock, but as the Zambezi swallows up Devil’s Pool, it brings Angel’s Pool into her own. This pool isn’t as deep, but for thrill-seekers hoping to splash around on the edge of one of the Natural Wonders of the World, Angel’s Pool is just as terrifying as the original. Some people say even more so…
3. Climb Mount Hua Shan, China
A variety of temples and religious structures dot the slopes of Mount Hua in northwestern China, but to see them, you must scale the mountain. What starts as a gentle climb, all of a sudden finds you clinging to a few wooden planks held together by what look like large staples, bolted to the cliff face by loose metal chains, several hundred feet above the ground. Handholds are few. One wrong move and you’ll plunge hundreds of meters to your death. Looking down, you can’t help but think, “What on earth am I doing?” Stunningly beautiful, this scary adventure is considered one of the most dangerous hikes in the world and is certainly not something for the faint-hearted.
Pro Tip: China Discovery offers a tour that combines the famed Terracotta Warriors with Mount Hua.
4. Nile River Rafting, Jinja, Uganda
With the right safety gear, a lifejacket, and a helmet, white water rafting is not inherently dangerous, but there is still something slightly terrifying about jumping aboard a little rubber boat and setting off into the raging Nile River. This is one of the top destinations in the world for white water rafting and definitely one for the adrenaline junkies. Some serious water pours through these grade-five rapids (the highest grading allowed to be commercially rafted). Each time your raft flips, and you find yourself sucked under the raging torrent of water, you can’t help but think to yourself, “What if I can’t find my way back to the surface?” If you live for travel and outdoor adventures, this destination is perfect for you.
5. Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea
Renowned as the location of one of the most important battles for Australians in World War II — when approximately 625 Australians were killed and thousands more wounded or struck down by disease — the Kokoda Track has become something of a rite of passage for many Australians. With a grandfather who fought in Papua New Guinea in WWII, and a son currently in the Australian Army, this is a destination close to my heart. Maybe hiking 60 miles through dense and muddy jungle, in hot, humid conditions isn’t your idea of a good time, but it is mine. Known as one of the world’s most spectacular and challenging treks, the 8-to-10-day Kokoda Trek is a serious adventure for all who attempt it. This is a truly wild experience, which makes it a little scary.
6. Walking Safari, Zambia
Fancy ditching the vehicle and going for a walk through a national park full of lions, leopards, elephants, and various other wild animals? This is actually not as scary as it sounds, in fact, it’s an amazing experience. Yes, your guide and scout are carrying guns, just in case of emergency, but the real thrill of the experience is being out there in the wilderness with no one else around, experiencing it in a special and unique way. On foot, giraffes and elephants tower over you and buffaloes are now at eye level. Predators become your prey, as you search for lion or leopard tracks from the night before. It’s the realness of the experience, the burst of adrenaline that comes from standing downwind of an elephant and catching its unmistakable scent that makes a walking safari unforgettable.
South Luangwa National Park in Zambia is the original birthplace of walking safaris, and you will find some of the best on-foot safari experiences here. Zambia offers Africa’s widest choice of wonderful walking safaris. Strictly-guided exams guarantee high standards of guides, and when you combine that with the great wildlife and high-quality camps, it makes Zambian walking safaris some of the very best.
Pro Tip: Some of the best and most memorable walking safaris I have done have been with Remote Africa Safaris.
7. Shark Cage Diving, Gansbaai, South Africa
I don’t know about you, but Jaws very nearly scared me out of the water, any water, permanently! But if you feel brave, or just feel like confronting your fears, then head to Gansbaai in South Africa and have an unrivaled encounter with one of the world’s most feared predators, the great white shark. The waters here are densely populated with sharks, earning it the dubious distinction of being called the “Great White Shark Capital of the World,” and it’s the only place in the world where you can dive with great white sharks all year round.
Just offshore of Gansbaai are two islands, Dyer Island and Geyser Island, populated by penguins and seals. Between the two islands is “Shark Alley,” which probably has the biggest concentration of great white sharks in the world. This is where film crews for National Geographic and Discovery Channel go to get their shark footage. If you’ve ever seen a video of great whites, mouths open, breaching the water, there’s a good chance it was filmed somewhere near this spot.
When you reach Shark Alley, a cage will be dropped over the side of the boat. Wearing only a wetsuit and goggles, you’ll get yourself overboard and into the cage, and when a shark approaches, you’ll duck underwater to take a look. A metal cage seems pretty safe until you’re face to face with a 2,500-pound killing machine, but when that’s the only thing between you and rows of sharp teeth, you may question your life choices!
Pro Tip: Marine Dynamics is regarded as one of the most ethical shark cage diving operators, and is a good company to support.
8. Crossing The Drake Passage, Southern Ocean
Reaching the icy seventh continent is a rite of passage for intrepid world explorers. The Drake Passage, known for its turbulent seas, is considered one of the most treacherous voyages a ship can make. If a storm hits this notoriously violent stretch of water between Argentina and Antarctica, the swell can grow to 55 feet. Imagine wave after wave of four-story-sized buildings crashing onto your boat! If that doesn’t scare you then nothing will.
In this era of modern ship construction and technology, and with the advent of sonar and advanced navigation systems, the journey is much safer and more accessible than it was for explorers in the past. But it’s still not easy, and by crossing the legendary Drake Passage, you’ll have paid the “price of entry,” and the reward is Antarctica herself!
Pro Tip: Check out Chimu Adventures if crossing the Drake Passage appeals to you.
9. BASE Jumping, Kjerag, Norway
Leaping off a cliff at Kjerag, near Stavanger in Norway, is about as extreme an experience as it gets! The northern cliff drops 3,228 feet vertically and is one of the world’s most iconic BASE jump sites. Leap from here, and you’ll have about 15 seconds before you hit the valley below. Surprisingly, it turns out that if you know what you are doing, if you’re an experienced BASE jumper, you can do quite a lot in 15 seconds. Professional wingsuiters dive, some in formation, somersaulting and gliding right beside the sheer granite cliff as the world rushes past — all before activating their parachutes and landing on the hard ground or in the chilly waters below.
You’d have to be slightly crazy to do it, BASE jumpers have a frighteningly high “expiry” rate. BASE jumping is one of the world’s most dangerous pursuits, one in every 60 participants will end up killed by the sport. The first jump at Kjerag was in 1994. Since then, over 53,000 jumps have been made, with 136 accidents, 12 fatalities, 48 helicopter rescues, and 11 rescues by climbers. Scary.
Just so you know, you don’t have to jump if you come to Kjerag! The location is also popular with hikers and photographers who come here for the stunning views of the fjords and mountains.
There you have my roundup of some of the world’s scariest tourist attractions. Some are scarier than others, and some sound scarier than they actually are, but I think there’s something on this list for everyone, if you just pluck up enough courage to give it a try.
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