From dismembered dolls to the door to hell, visit these places at your own peril...

The radioactive ghost town of Pripyat, Chernobyl


Image via Rough Guides

The radioactive remnants of the Soviet city—built to service the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl—offer plucky visitors an eerie trip back through time to the 1980s. Once a flourishing city of 50,000 people, Pripyat is now a ghost town of dilapidated buildings inhabited only by wild beasts. Some even believe that packs of “mutant” glowing wolves prowl the area after dark.

Due to deadly radiation levels, the town was abandoned following reactor number four’s catastrophic meltdown in 1986. This means the streets are still festooned with Soviet-era iconography and the buildings adorned with hubristic propaganda.

An iconic Ferris wheel with yellow carriages looms over the city in a derelict theme park, which was only opened the day after the disaster (before the full extent of the fallout was known). It’s a chilling thought, but the only people to ride the wheel were unwittingly exposing themselves to deadly levels of radioactivity.

 

The island of the dolls, Mexico


Image via Rebel Circus

Just two hours outside of Mexico City, nestled among a network of Aztec canals and floating gardens, lies isla de las munecas (the island of the dolls).

Legend has it that a local farmer found the body of a drowned girl floating in the stream and decided to hang a doll on the island to appease her ghost and banish evil spirits. The farmer spent the next 50 years amassing a spooky collection of children’s dolls, which he hung from trees and tied to washing lines on the island.

The result is a spectacle of strange: limbs are strewn haphazardly, decapitated heads are impaled on stakes, rotting deadpan faces cast chary glances at frightened visitors. Apparently, when night falls, parliaments of dolls move their heads and whisper to each other under the cover of darkness.

 

Aokigahara suicide forest, Japan


Image via YouTube

Aokigahara Forest is the second most popular place in the world to commit suicide. Venture beyond the designated trails—and the ominous wooden signs that plead with visitors not to take their own lives—and you could be confronted with the horror of a hanging corpse or a decomposed skeleton.

Although beautiful to the eye, the “suicide forest” has an unnerving atmosphere. The deepest thickets of the forest are carpeted in silence, due to the wind-blocking density of the trees, and the volcanic soil underfoot can send compass wheels spinning like sped-up clocks. It is not uncommon for hikers to find themselves lost in these mysterious woods for hours on end.

It is also believed that Aokigahara is haunted by the angry spirits of ubasute–elderly family members who, hundreds of years ago, were taken to the forest and left to die during times of draught and famine.

 

The masked monkey slum of Kampung Monyet, Jakarta


Image via Strange Sounds

Sometimes in life the truth is scarier than fiction. For example, in the video game Just Cause, Kampung Monyet (Monkey Village) is a fictional town of little note. But in real life Kampung Monyet is a depraved shantytown in Jakarta famous for housing an illegal population of creepy masked monkeys.

Although the custom of dressing macaque monkeys in children’s clothes and doll head masks is disturbing, eerie and inhumane, it’s a custom that’s still practised today. Perhaps even more alarming than seeing gangs of expressionless masked monkeys dressed as little girls riding around Indonesian slums on miniature bicycles is the thought of the diseases that many of these unfortunate primates are thought to carry.

 

The door to hell, Turkmenistan


Image via Huffington Post

Turkmenistan’s natural gas reserves are the sixth largest in the world. But one particular gas field is much more famous and much more menacing than most.

Located in the middle of a 160-mile barren desert, the Darvaza gas crater is a 230-foot hole in the ground filled with bubbling mud, sizzling embers and inexhaustible flames. It’s easy to see why the locals call it the “door to hell”.

The blazing inferno was lit by Soviet scientists (who thought it would burn out in a couple of weeks) over four decades ago and has been burning ever since. In addition to being a portal to the underworld, the fiery pit is rumoured to be swarming with thousands of scuttling camel spiders.

 

Akodessewa fetish market, Togo


Image via Atlas Obscura

The Akodessewa fetish market is a disturbing outdoor pharmacy selling everything that a witchdoctor might need to cure a peculiar ailment or bring good luck to a sportsperson. The bazaar’s gruesome stalls are stacked with exotic animal parts, such as leopard heads, ape paws and alligator jaws, to be ground into powder and rubbed into wounds.

Voodoo priests travel right across the continent to take in the stench of a thousand rotting skeletons and purchase the necessary talismans and charms for their next batch of magical, macabre medicine.

 

Snake Island, Brazil


Image via Vice

Ilha da Queimada Grande is a Brazilian island off the coast of Sao Paolo that’s practically teeming with snakes—estimates suggest there are between one to five snakes per square metre. And not just any kind of snake: a unique species of pit viper known as the Golden Lancehead, which is one of the most venomous snakes in the world.

“Snake Island” is so dangerous that the Brazilian army has forbidden anyone but lighthouse maintenance workers and scientists to make the 90-mile voyage from the mainland. However, the availability of Lanceheads on the black market suggests that if you were to make the trip you might also face a run-in with some pretty dedicated serpent smugglers.

 

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