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These places can become a death trap for tourists

The boards are only a few hands wide.

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These places can become a death trap for tourists

The boards are only a few hands wide. Like a ledge, they lead along an almost vertical rock face at Mount Hua Shan at a height of 2000 meters. They only seem provisionally anchored in the sheer stone with iron hooks on which the rust is starting. After all: It is mandatory that you have to secure yourself with belts on the way.

The trails on Hua Shan, a sacred mountain in China's Shaanxi Province, are not for the faint of heart, and those with a fear of heights may be shocked to the core. They are among the most dangerous things trekking fans can expect.

Steep stairs hewn into the rock and narrow rock ridges sometimes lead vertically uphill - the yawning abyss, as on the Bohlenweg described at the beginning, is always a threat. "Don't look down" headlined the Huffington Post.

The daring hikers are rewarded with a panorama of the bizarre backdrop of the Quin Lin Mountains with their steep ridges and rock towers. Monasteries, pagodas and ancient religious sites ensure a mystical atmosphere along the way, including the Dongdao Temple, one of the most important Taoist temples in China.

The Taoists believed that the god of the underworld lives in Mount Hua Shan. Just how dangerous trekking can be here is illustrated by the case of a 2019 student who fell and died while trying to take a selfie.

Movies like Steven Spielberg's Jaws have contributed to his image as a bloodthirsty killer: but the shark is not generally a killing machine, even if that reputation precedes it. He meets divers curiously, but usually not aggressively.

But where sharks want to defend their territory or mistake people for seals, the predatory fish also attacks. And nowhere else are these tragic accidents more common than on the Florida shores, more specifically in Volusia County, which — despite being a county — has dubbed itself the “Shark bite capital of the world.”

According to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, which documents shark attacks worldwide in the "International Shark Attack File" (ISAF), there were 137 "human-shark encounters" around the world last year. 28 attacks occurred in the waters off Florida, 17 of them in Volusia County, which also includes the well-known Daytona Beach and the particularly affected New Smyrna Beach.

Very few attacks are fatal. Nine people died as a result of a shark bite in 2021, according to ISAF. A fatal accident occurred in the USA - not in Florida, but in California.

Incidentally, the risk of an attack is reduced by not splashing around unnecessarily, avoiding the twilight and not wearing glittering jewellery.

Around one million visitors flock to the Victoria Falls, Africa's most famous waterfall on the Zambezi, the border river between Zimbabwe and Zambia. When the continent's fourth-longest river swells in the rainy season, it plunges 1.7 kilometers wide between the towns of Livingstone, Zambia, and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Then there is the "largest water curtain on earth" to marvel at, as tour operators like to advertise. Bathing in the huge masses of water would then not be a good idea.

But in the dry season from September to December, when the river calms down, opinions change. A swim in “Devil’s Pool” is highly coveted and can often only be experienced through bookable time slots. Its name says it all: Not only Instagram fans speak of the most dangerous natural pool in the world.

It is right at the top of the falls on the Zambian side. Only a slippery rock lip, in front of which the river water accumulates three meters deep, protects against falling into the more than 100 meter deep gorge behind it. Experienced guides accompany the adrenaline-craving water junkies to the devilish pool, which is considered comparatively harmless in the dry season.

But risks remain: Fatal accidents happen again and again at the Victoria Falls - such as on New Year's Day 2021, when a tourist from Zimbabwe slipped on the edge of the rock above the gorge and fell into the depths.

On Mexico's Yucatán peninsula, a natural wonder awaits beneath the dense jungle-covered surface of the earth: a cave system filled with groundwater, one of the most extensive and largest of its kind in the world. Its corridors are estimated to be 380 kilometers long.

Its existence gives it away about cenotes, which are sinkhole-like limestone holes that were formed thousands of years ago when their cave roofs collapsed. These sometimes only 15, but sometimes also 100 meters deep freshwater pools are popular bathing and snorkeling spots with tourists and locals.

Some of the corridors are connected to the sea, and freshwater mixes with saltwater. The divers move through a bizarre, labyrinthine limestone world of stalagmites and stalactites populated by colorful fish.

Cenotes were considered sacred by the Maya, and they also marked the entrance to the underworld. Today, they also grant passionate divers access to one of the most impressive underwater landscapes of all.

Around the city of Tulum, around 100 well-explored cenotes dot the Caribbean coast. But there are thousands and the underwater routes are often not yet mapped. It is recommended to be accompanied by a certified cave diver as a guide. If you dive without such company, you risk your life.

Again and again there are diving accidents, some of which are fatal. This fate also befell two German cave divers in the Gran Cenote Kalimba near Tulum in 2018.

They are called "Jumping Croc Tours" - boat trips on the Adelaide River in Australia's Northern Territory, for which thousands of tourists embark every year. Saltwater crocodiles, called salties, are attracted with pieces of meat.

Guides hold long poles over the railing, from which a chicken carcass or buffalo meat dangles. A success in the eyes of tourists and tour operators is when a reptile that was previously gliding like a board in the river shoots out of the water in a flash and eats the chunk of meat, cheered and photographed by the spectators.

Unfortunately, there are also fatal incidents on the river. In September 2021, a tourist had to undergo emergency surgery. He was on board a tour boat when a reptile bit his arm. In the same month, a tour guide was injured by a young crocodile. The 60-year-old disregarded the safety regulations on the excursion boats and grabbed a pole that had fallen overboard.

But it can get worse. Deutsche Welle headlined its website "Australia's dangerous tourist attraction" when in 2014 a fisherman was killed by one of the reptiles as he waded into the water to retrieve a fishing hook.

Crocodiles were once nearly extinct in the area, but numbers recovered rapidly after they were placed under protection in the 1970s. The "Jumping Croc Tours" are controversial. The organizers, who see it as educational work about animals in the wild, are accused of conditioning the crocodiles to associate people with food.

It slept for over 400 years before it erupted again for the first time. That was in August 2010. Since then there have been numerous eruptions at Mount Sinabung, with columns of smoke shooting up miles into the sky, lava flows crawling down the slopes and the surrounding area disappearing under thick layers of ash.

This makes the 2460 meter high mountain on the Indonesian island of Sumatra one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It lies on the famous Pacific Ring of Fire – there are almost 130 volcanoes in Indonesia alone.

Mountain climbers and disaster tourists seem to be magically drawn to the dangers. The activities at Mount Sinabung even boost local tourism. Hotels call guests to the roof terrace during eruptions, vantage points outside a declared danger zone have been set up. Tours to various villages and observation posts can be booked. Treks to the mountain start from the surrounding towns of Kabanjahe and Pematang Siantar.

Since the new series of eruptions, tens of thousands of residents have had to be evacuated from Mount Sinabung, and people have died again and again. In 2017, a German tourist died on Mount Sibayak, an active volcano 30 kilometers from Mount Sinabung.

Ilha da Queimada Grande is often referred to as the "Island of Death". That fits: On the rocky ridge, which protrudes from the Atlantic a good 30 kilometers off the Brazilian coast, it is teeming with poisonous snakes. And so many that they were completely closed to visitors in the mid-1980s.

Since then you can only go ashore with a special permit. The lighthouse was switched to automatic operation after the last keeper died, allegedly from a snake bite. But even a special permit does not prevent the snakes from biting in case of doubt.

According to Brazilian authorities, around 2,000 specimens of the endemic island lance viper live on the 43-hectare island, which is partly covered by dense forest. Once upon a time there were even said to have been 15,000 of these poisonous snakes. But you would still meet one of the lance vipers every 300 meters.

The venom of the dreaded adder is many times more toxic than that of the related mainland lance viper. The reason: Because hardly any mammals live on Death Island, the snake learned to hunt for birds in trees - its poison became stronger in order to be able to kill the flying prey quickly within seconds.

This article was first published in February 2022.

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