1. Volusia County — Florida, United States
Why are the most inviting beaches so often the most dangerous? Such is the case in Florida, a state well-known for its tropical climate, gorgeous scenery, and insane news headlines. Volusia County is also known for leading the world in shark bite incidents.
Despite the danger, the central beaches remain renowned local surf breaks, though Daytona Beach’s popularity has waned considerably since the ’60s and ’70s. It’s hard to tell if surfers are scared off by the sharks or hard-partying college kids that frequent Daytona in the summer. Most of the shark bites are nonfatal, but if you do plan to visit, consider staying on land.
2. Copacabana Beach — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro is one of the most-visited tourist destinations in the world. There seems to be something for everyone. There’s the Christ the Redeemer statue, which is considered one of the new “Seven Wonders of the World.” There’s Sugarloaf Mountain, which offers a breathtaking view and cable pathway. There’s a bustling nightlife full of live music, dancing, and delicious food.
Then there’s Copacabana, which looks like a beachside paradise. While Brazil has its own deadly snakes, spiders, and sharks, it’s humans that pose the greatest threat. Some of the world’s most pronounced wealth disparity has made the city a hotbed for crime — and drive-by shootings are all too common. Also, the water isn’t too clean, either.
3. Galveston County — Texas, United States
Signs along the Texas coast read: “Swim at your own risk.” Beaches in Galveston County are especially contaminated with bacteria. Once again, sewage runoff is primarily to blame. The Environmental Protection Agency warns against getting in the water lest the microscopic organisms wreak havoc on your body.
Researchers have consistently found levels of Enterococcus, a bacteria indicator, to be abnormally high in Galveston County beaches. Healthy people with no cuts or open sores will probably be fine — but anyone with diabetes, liver problems, or other preexisting conditions should stay on the shore. No matter who you are, avoid swimming in the ocean for at least 72 hours following substantial rainfall.
4. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai has been an important trade port since the beginning of the 20th century, but it was the discovery of oil off the coast that turned the city into a worldwide economic powerhouse. Though the oil in Fateh (which translates to “good fortune”) is nearly depleted, the city has diversified its economy, and the lion’s share of its GDP now comes from tourism and retail shopping.
A popular destination for the fabulously well-off, beaches in Dubai are frequented by the richest people in the world. Unfortunately, the water is full of mercury, and the seas are rough and dangerous. Visitors frequently ignore lifeguards’ warnings and end up needing rescue — if they’re lucky enough to be rescued.
5. Myrtle Beach — South Carolina, United States
Once again, it’s not always the fault of strong ocean currents or hungry sea creatures that a beach is dangerous. The city of Myrtle Beach is one of the most dangerous in the country because of its high crime rate. Worse yet, it seems to be increasing.
If you decide to visit Myrtle Beach, don’t leave your wallet in the sand, and be cautious. Instead, you may be interested in trying some of the safer and slightly more luxurious beaches just outside of Charleston. Despite the threat of danger, Myrtle Beach remains one of the most frequented tourist destinations for Americans.
6. Red Triangle, California
Off the coast of northern California, the ocean between Big Sur and Bodega Bay stretches out past the Farallon Islands and forms the “Red Triangle.” It’s a veritable shark buffet, with 38% of U.S. great white attacks taking place there. Smack-dab in the middle is Half Moon Bay, home of Mavericks Beach, an internationally known proving ground for big-wave surfers.
Why are there so many great whites in the Red Triangle? Because there’s so much prey there. Elephant seals, otters, and fish inhabit the zone. One silver lining is that the great whites swimming close to the shore are mostly juveniles — smaller sharks that would rather feed on fish than large mammals. Still, if someone spots a shark, stay out of the water.
7. Monastery Beach — California, United States
Many people have drowned in the waters off the shores of Monastery Beach due to the powerful currents, rough surf, and lack of a lifeguard on duty. The frequency of drownings has caused the locals to call the beautiful beach by a different name: “Mortuary Beach.”
Many visitors have been tempted by the beach’s stunning beauty, decide to swim, and end up swept out to sea. Even strong swimmers have perished. There are plenty of other lovely beaches in the area to choose from that are much safer. If you visit Carmel, California, please don’t gamble with your life at Monastery Beach.
8. Cairns — Queensland, Australia
You had to figure Australia would show up on this list more than once, right? To get to the Great Barrier Reef, you must first pass through the water off the coast of Cairns. During stinging season, Irukandji and Chironex fleckeri jellyfish are everywhere — and they can kill you, fast.
Dubbed the “hand of death,” a sting from the Chironex fleckeri jellyfish can kill you in as little as three minutes. While Irukandji can similarly cause death by cardiac arrest or brain hemorrhaging, the jellyfish can also induce Irukandji syndrome in a victim. The syndrome renders victims bedridden for days in agonizing pain. Worse than that, there’s no known effective method of first aid.
9. Lamu Island, Kenya
Once a beloved place to visit because of its pristine beaches, historic Swahili architecture, and hospitable island resorts, Lamu Island has been considered too dangerous to visit in recent years. The bitter conflict between Kenya and neighboring Somalia made the idyllic location prone to violence and kidnappings from warring factions.
Earlier this year, however, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office lifted their travel advisory against traveling to the island for any reason deemed inessential. You should still avoid Lamu County, though, and anywhere near the Kenya-Somalia border. As long as you understand the risks, it may be worth a trip before hordes of other tourists descend upon the island.
10. Hanakapiai Beach — Hawaii, United States
Ah, Hawaii. Awe-inspiring views, tropical weather, and a never-ending list of recreational activities make the Hawaiian Isles the ideal tourist location. The famed Kalalau Trail ends with a breathtaking view of Hanakapiai Beach. Before you cool off by taking a dip, beware: There’s danger in paradise.
There’s no lifeguard on duty at the secluded beach, and the lack of nearby reefs means ocean currents sweep unhampered through the area. Rough surf and rip currents have caused at least 29 drowning deaths since 1970. Most of the victims were visitors who made the 3.2-kilometer trek through northwest Kauai. About half of these bodies were never recovered, and the suspected number of deaths stands much higher.
11. Mindanao Island — Philippines
The island of Mindanao is home to some of the most jaw-dropping sights of beauty in the world. Its pristine beaches, warm weather, and luscious forestry make it an attractive haven for tourists and fishermen. However, relationships between ethnic and religious groups and the government have soured, leading to violence between militants and troops.
The practice of kidnapping foreigners and wealthy locals for ransom has spiked in recent decades. Islamic extremist groups like Abu Sayyaf, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, as well as communist guerrilla forces like the New People’s Army, remain at war with the government. You may want to rethink your vacation plans.
12. Praia de Boa Viagem — Recife, Brazil
While Volusia County may have the highest quantity of shark attacks, this beach in Brazil has the deadliest. At least 56 beachgoers have lost their lives at the teeth of the bull sharks and tiger sharks that pass through the area during migration.
Scientists aren’t sure what makes the shark attacks in this part of Brazil so fatal. The fatality rate from shark bites in Recife is 37% — more than twice the worldwide average. Bull sharks in particular are extremely aggressive when provoked and prefer to hunt in shallow waters. Recife beaches remain popular spots to sunbathe, but you’ll notice a conspicuous lack of people actually swimming in the water. In fact, even lifeguards in the area have begun training in pools instead of the ocean.
13. Réunion Island
This French island off the coast of Madagascar is a tourism hot spot because of its spectacular scenery, great waves, and epic active volcanoes. French citizens can visit the island without technically leaving their country — making the journey the longest domestic flight in the world.
Once again, toothy sea monsters lurking in the coastal waters are here to spoil the fun. For some reason, shark attacks have spiked within the last decade. In fact, sharks are to blame for a drastic drop in tourism: They’ve claimed the lives of eight humans in at least 20 attacks since 2011. Sometimes, the locals just do not appreciate visitors.
14. Acapulco, Mexico
The name Acapulco calls to mind beautiful sun-soaked beaches, pristine shores, and luxury. These are just a few of the attractions that make the city one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. But there’s something else the famed adult playground is becoming increasingly known for: its high crime rate.
Warring cartels are casting a somber shadow over the sunny paradise. Despite the danger, the booming tourism industry in Acapulco has not seemed to suffer any setbacks in recent years. It may be that visitors are not aware of the crime wave, or that they’re simply willing to take the risk.
15. Gansbaai — Western Cape, South Africa
Another popular tourist destination — this lovely South African town’s name translates to “Bay of Geese.” Though geese aren’t necessarily the friendliest creatures, you needn’t worry about them. The town’s economy primarily runs on the fishing industry, but tourism is a close second for generating local revenue.
The reason so many people visit is also the reason this beach made the list — Gansbaai is considered the “great white shark capital of the world.” Shark Alley is located a few miles off of the coast, between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock. In case you hadn’t guessed it, Shark Alley is absolutely teeming with great whites. If you want to marvel at these giant sea beasts, you can book a cage-diving expedition to see them up close. Just make sure steel remains between you and the sharks.
16. Cape Tribulation — Queensland, Australia
Another trip down under. Only 110 kilometers from Cairns (which also appears on this list), Cape Tribulation is similarly gorgeous. Explorer James Cook gave the cape its ominous name after his ship struck the reef, stating that, “here begun all our troubles.”
The name, however, isn’t enough to scare people off. Aussies and people from all over the world flock to Cape Tribulation to stand in awe of its clear blue waters, soft sand, and the sublime Daintree Rainforest. Unfortunately, it’s also full of snakes, jellyfish, crocodiles, and cassowaries. Cassowaries don’t exactly look threatening, but the flightless bird can kill (and has killed) people.
17. West End, Grand Bahama
The Bahamas are synonymous with luxurious sunny ocean getaways. If you were to close your eyes and picture the ideal shore, chances are it would look like West End Beach. Beyond the stunning scenery, the location is especially attractive to Western tourists because of its stable government (it’s under British law) and secure financial system (you can use U.S. cash).
Humans aren’t the only ones that find the lovely island irresistible. Tiger sharks are especially fond of the warm water and tasty treats below the surface. Humans aren’t their first choice, but the sharks have been known to make exceptions.
18. Playa Zipolite — San Pedro Pochutla, Mexico
You’d think the name “Zipolite,” which translates from Zapotec to mean “beach of the dead,” would be enough to keep tourists away. But there are a lot of reasons one might visit Playa Zipolite. It boasts a stunning setting, complete with bright-blue water, soft sand, and great waves for surfing. Also, a “clothing optional” section of the beach doesn’t hurt, either.
Unfortunately, strong undercurrents plague its waters. The powerful currents flow in circular motions — some toward the shore, others out to sea. Many swimmers have drowned at Playa Zipolite, prompting the creation of a volunteer lifeguard service in 1995. If you plan to swim there, know your limits and stay within the designated swimming zones.
19. Chowpatty Beach — Mumbai, India
Mumbai is a busy city. There’s plenty to do there: Gawk at awe-inspiring architecture, visit the bustling art district, or take a tour of the Bollywood film industry. Mumbai is one of the most densely populated places in the world — visitors will naturally want to find some natural scenery to stretch out and relax.
Enter Chowpatty Beach, a location popular amongst tourists and residents alike. You won’t exactly find the peace and quiet you were after — it’s extremely crowded — but there’s a graver concern: pollution. There’s rumored to be an oil slick in the area, but the real problem is raw sewage seeping into the ocean. Scientists have found dangerously high levels of fecal coliform in its waters. Don’t swim there.
20. Bikini Atoll — Republic of the Marshall Islands
Once a U.S. territory, Bikini Atoll was the site of 23 nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958. Before then, the waters were shark-infested — now, not so much. The United States declared the area safe in 1970, but eight years later, scientists discovered dangerously high levels of cesium-137 body burdens. Residents were once again evacuated.
Predictably, tourism isn’t exactly booming in the area. However, the small island has become popular with wreck divers, who no longer have the sharks to contend with. The fish and fruit are still too contaminated with radiation to consume safely. So if you want to visit, pack a lunch.
21. Kilauea — Hawaii, United States
The Hawaiian islands were formed by volcanic activity. Millions of years later, their volcanoes are some of their main attractions. You can visit the Kilauea active volcano and marvel at how lava spills into the boiling ocean. Just don’t get too close.
While it goes without saying how deadly touching lava would be, even standing remotely near it can be dangerous. A volcanic eruption is unlikely, but the Kilauea volcano has been known to unpredictably spew hot steam, lava, and large rocks for incredible distances. When you visit, heed the warnings of your tour guide and be sure to exercise caution.
22. Amazon Basin, Brazil
While the Amazon is feared by most would-be visitors, it still finds its way onto this list due to its popularity among ecotourists. One of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, the Amazon is a fascinating place for researchers and people with a ravenous appetite for adventure into the unknown.
It’s also diverse in the ways it can kill you. There are crocodiles, piranhas, snakes, electric eels, and malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Perhaps most terrifying is the notorious vampire fish, which is rumored to have the ability to swim into an orifice of its choosing and eat you from the inside.
23. Darwin — Northern Territory, Australia
If there’s one major takeaway from this list, it’s that beaches in Australia are best left to the creatures that live there. In the north of Australia, between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, lies Darwin. It’s host to all sorts of creatures that can kill you. Ironically, one of the most deadly creatures in Darwin is a reptile that has evolved very little since the Mesozoic Era.
I’m speaking, of course, about the crocodile. The saltwater croc can grow up to 20 feet, hide in estuaries or swim miles out to sea, and literally sleeps with one eye open. If they don’t scare you, keep in mind Darwin also has sharks, box jellyfish, and venomous snakes to contend with.
24. Costa del Sol — Andalusia, Spain
An attractive destination for British people seeking some summer sun, Costa del Sol boasts some enticing features: Clear blue skies, warm water, and sublime natural scenery make the southern coast of Andalusia hard to beat. However, the inviting water along the coast is also extremely dangerous.
High winds are known to whip up some rough surf, and rip currents in the area are notoriously deadly. Many a tourist has met their end underestimating the ocean in Costa del Sol. If you decide to make the trip, stick to beaches with a lifeguard present, heed warnings, and stay abreast of the fickle weather conditions.
25. Skeleton Coast Beach, Namibia
This beach has earned its name. The shores are littered with shipwrecks and the skeletons of seals, whales, and other animals. The Skeleton Coast isn’t easy to access — you’ll need to hire a 4×4 and drive dozens of miles from Windhoek to reach the edge of the national park. Despite its remote location, Skeleton Coast is popular with ecotourists (Cape Cross hosts a giant seal colony) and surfers.
Though most visitors are barred from entering much of the park, it is far from unpopulated. The Himba people apply a mixture of ochre pigment and butter to protect themselves from the blistering sun. A veritable animal graveyard, the sun-bleached remains of terrestrial species litter the area. Portuguese explorers dubbed the land “The Gates of Hell.”
26. Manaus Beach — Manaus, Brazil
The city of Manaus was dubbed the “Heart of the Amazon” for its easy access to the river and jungle. There are plenty of attractions in Manaus, but one of the most breathtaking is the Meeting of the Waters, where the blue and green Rio Negro meets the sandy Amazon River.
Just like the Amazon jungle, the beach is quite dangerous. Thick foliage hides all sorts of dangerous creatures in its depths, including piranhas, anacondas, and electric eels. This area of Brazil is rife with crime, and pirates have been known to patrol the Amazon, so exercise extreme caution if you decide to go kayaking.
27. Staithes Beach — North Yorkshire, England
When you think of England, typically a lovely beach isn’t what comes to mind. Perhaps this is why the sun-starved Brits have to make do with Staithes Beach. A popular spot for surfers — it’s said to be a great wave when the conditions are right.
Unfortunately, the water is disgusting. The UK Environment Agency labeled Staithes as the worst beach in Europe in terms of contamination. Sewage problems that plague the area are the main culprit. Symptoms of infection range from relatively minor — diarrhea and rashes — to life-threatening: meningitis, typhoid fever, and hepatitis A. Until they figure out how to keep the beach clean, it’s best to stay out of the water.
28. Uttakleiv Beach — Lofoten, Norway
Warm weather isn’t the only reason to visit a place. In fact, the icy Uttakleiv Beach in Norway is considered the most romantic beach in Europe. What it lacks in warmth, it makes up for in stunning aesthetics. The summer attracts tourists from around the world who want to see the famed midnight sun, while winter and spring months offer an epic view of the northern lights.
As you probably know, Norway is cold. In winter, it is freezing. An injury or lack of preparation can easily lead to (and has led to) many an accidental death. Even in the summer, sea temperatures remain between eight and 14 degrees Celsius — cold enough to cause hypothermia in no time at all.
29. Schitovaya Bukhta, Russia
When you think of popular surfing destinations, you tend to think of tropical places — Hawaii, Australia, Fiji, etc. After all, Mike Hynson and Robert August never made it out to Russia in TheEndless Summer. But Schitovaya Bukhta (Shield Bay) is actually a world-class wave — it’s even inspired a burgeoning local surf community and brought in visitors from around the world.
That being said, there are a few reasons you may want to pass on it. The beach is located near several military facilities, and you’ll need to acquire a permit before you paddle out. Also, there’s a bunch of disused nuclear submarines in the area — some of which have been known to leak radiation.
30. Fraser Island — Queensland, Australia
This stunning island off the southeast coast of Queensland, Australia, hosts white, sandy beaches, crystal-clear water, and lush green trees. It sounds like the perfect place to plan a romantic rendezvous — if it weren’t for some terrifying drawbacks sure to spoil the mood.
In addition to the gorgeous scenery, the water surrounding the island is teeming with great whites, bull sharks, and tiger sharks. If that doesn’t keep you out of the water, the deadly Irukandji jellyfish should do the trick. Not that you’ll fare much better inland — with funnel-web spiders whose bite will kill you within fifteen minutes — and packs of wild dingoes that are less than welcoming to outsiders. Oh yeah, there are crocodiles, too.