The World’s Wildest Waters: Six Places Not to Swim

 

The waters of our planet are as vast and varied as the land, filled with mystery, beauty, danger and adventure. Oceans, seas, rivers and lakes beckon travelers who flock to their shores and banks, however, some of the most spectacular watery destinations are also the most deadly — if one dares to dip their toes. These sites, though breathtaking, are very daunting and should only be enjoyed from a safe distance.

1. The Boiling Lake in Dominica

This World Heritage site has attained a kind of mythic quality over time. Only advanced hikers should consider embarking on the rugged eight-mile trek to the lake that has waters super-heated by volcanic activity. True to its name, the lake is literally boiling. Bubbles are visible on its surface, which is shrouded in a perpetual mask of steam. The exact depth of the lake is unknown, adding to its mystique. At some point below its surface the water comes into contact with magma, heats up and rises toward the surface. Aside from the fact the lake’s water can scald swimmers, another good reason not to swim is the currents created from the water’s movement. There are safer hot springs, lower in elevation, on the same trail as the boiling lake that can help weary hikers unwind safely.

On the hiking trail to the boiling lake of Dominica. Photo credit Goran Hoglund.

On the hiking trail to the boiling lake of Dominica. Photo credit Goran Hoglund.

2. New Smyrna Beach, Florida: Shark Attack Capital of the World

This sandy swath on Florida’s Atlantic coast is doubly dangerous, as swimmers are exposed to unpredictable, deadly rip currents; and also face a higher-than-average potential for being attacked by a shark. Over 238 shark attacks are on record for New Smyrna Beach, the highest for any beach on the planet. In 2008 alone there were 12 reported shark attacks at New Smyrna Beach. The sharks at New Smyrna are black-tip reef sharks and bull sharks. They are both small sharks that can leave nasty — though rarely fatal — bites. Though officials do what they can and put up signs reading “Dangerous Marine Life” and “Do Not Swim: Rip Currents Present,” swimmers are still tempted by the warm blue waves at New Smyrna. Ironically, many swimmers are attracted by New Smyrna’s distinction as the shark attack capital of the world and enjoy the thrill. To avoid danger, stay on the sand at Smyrna.

This peaceful sunset at New Smyrna Beach conceals the shark-infested waters.

This peaceful sunset at New Smyrna Beach conceals the shark-infested waters.

3. Niagara Falls, Ontario

[Also see our travel article “Visiting Niagara Falls in Ontario“]

While a handful of daredevils have actually survived going over Niagara Falls, countless others have not. The famous waterfalls have captivated tourists who flock to witness the beauty and majesty of such a volume of water. Nearby Niagara Falls hotels welcome visitors from all over the world. The water moves over the falls at 600,000 gallons per second and crashes down onto a wall of giant jagged boulders. This should be enough to deter any swimmer and attracts only the most intrepid adventurers, some of whom have attempted going over the falls in a barrel or walking over it in a tightrope. Surviving such antics is far from guaranteed — so stick to sightseeing from the sidelines.

Amazingly, dozens of people have tried to go over Niagara Falls in barrels, boats and even jet skis.

Amazingly, dozens of people have tried to go over Niagara Falls in barrels, boats and even jet skis.

4. Lake Victoria, Africa

The expansive shores of Lake Victoria are shared by three countries — Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. The massive lake is the lifeblood of the millions of people who live along its waters — and is also an incredibly dangerous spot, with over 5,000 deaths reported annually. Such dismal statistics actually make the lake the most dangerous body of water in the world. Victims of Lake Victoria are claimed by its erratic weather patterns — torrents of extreme wind and rain that can surprise fisherman and swimmers. The lake also has unpredictable depths and sudden drop-offs that can take swimmers by surprise. Violent thunderstorms are created quite suddenly, thanks to the lake providing warm, wet weather conditions. The waters are prone to “freak waves” that capsize boats and harm people along the shore.

A sunset from the shores of Lake Victoria on the Kenya Side. CC-SA

A sunset from the shores of Lake Victoria on the Kenya Side. CC-SA

5. Zipolite Beach, Mexico

This beach, known as Playa Zipolite in Spanish, is a tempting scene of crystal waters and bright white sands in Southern Mexico. The beach is — unfortunately — true to its name, which translated is “beach of the dead.” So-called on account of its wild rip currents that claim the lives of tourists every year, the beach is better enjoyed without taking a dip. Swimmers are cautioned not to enter Zipolite’s waters during the full moon, when the strong currents come closer to shore and become excessively erratic. While some tourists are actually swept out to sea and taken in a giant circular pattern back to the beach, others are swept out and disappear forever.

Though the beach looks nice, the current makes it incredibly dangerous for swimmers. Photo credit Kevin Hutchinson.

Though the beach looks nice, the current makes it incredibly dangerous for swimmers. Photo credit Kevin Hutchinson.

6. Hanakapiai Beach, Kauai

A popular tourist attraction on Kauai’s Na Pali coast, Hanakapiai does not hide its dangers. A wooden sign welcomes visitors to the beach with a warning not to swim, along with tally marks for each life the waters there have claimed. The sign currently has over 80 tally marks, a testament to the power of the Na Pali coastal waters. There are no reefs to protect the beaches along the coast there, so the currents are especially powerful. Enjoy the beach, but don’t tempt fate with the potent waves of Hanakapiai!

The beach is beautiful and so is the scenery, but do yourself a favor and stay out of the water.

The beach is beautiful and so is the scenery, but do yourself a favor and stay out of the water.

See more top ten travel lists from Traveler’s Digest.

More reading suggestions from Traveler’s Digest:

  1. Ten Least Visited Countries in Europe
  2. World’s Ten Best Green Hotels
  3. World’s Ten Best Places to Watch the Sunset
  4. Cities with the Best Nightlife in Asia
  5. Canada’s Top Natural Attractions

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Richard Klein is a travel writer with a passion for surfing and hiking in some of the world’s most remote regions.