Halloween has rolled around again, and it’s time to scare yourself silly! We’ve come up with some of the scariest, spookiest, and darkest places on earth that can be visited…if you’re brave enough! Creepy forests filled with dolls, underground catacombs piled high with bones, death railways, plague pits, theme park rides…we’ve got the lot in our list of the top 5 spookiest places in the world to visit!
1. Island of the dolls, Mexico
Long ago, a young girl died in a drowning accident on a tiny island on the Xochimico canals near Mexico City. She was found by the island’s caretaker, who was distraught that he had been unable to save her. One day, he saw a doll that he thought belonged to the girl floating in the water. He hung it in a tree, in an effort to appease her spirit. He was alone on the island, and, in his solitude, he began to believe that the drowned girl wanted him to decorate the trees with more dolls, and started hanging them from branches and trunks across the tiny island. Locals believed that they opened their eyes and moved as they spun on the branches. The caretaker was found, fifty years later, drowned in the very same spot where the young girl’s body had been discovered. Since then, the island has become a macabre tourist attraction, its trees hung with weather-worn dolls, now mostly eyeless or limbless. Truly one of the world’s spookiest destinations!
2. Poveglia Island, Venice
Plague pit, leprosy hospital and institution for the mentally impaired…the unsettling island of Poveglia lies just 10 miles from the bustling tourist honeypot of Venice. Gondoliers won’t bring you here, and locals shun it, but seek it out if you dare! In the middle ages and then again in the 17th-century, plague victims were brought here to die, and their bodies were burnt on huge funeral pyres. Then, a century ago, a hospital for the mentally disabled opened, and, according to legend, a cruel doctor used the inmates for his experiments. He is said to have thrown himself to his death off the hospital bell tower. The island is now off-limits to tourists, and its tragic history has meant that no locals will set foot on it. Although the bells in the tower have long been removed, locals still believe that they can hear them ringing on dark, stormy nights.
3. Death Railway, Thailand
The Burma Railway, better known as the Death Railway, was a rail line linking Thailand and Burma that was constructed during the Japanese occupation of south east Asia during the Second World War. The railway’s construction was immortalised in the film Bridge Over the River Kwai, which still inspires many travellers to make the journey. The Japanese army needed the line to be built rapidly to aid the war effort in Burma, and forcibly drafted in almost 200,000 south east Asian labourers and Allied prisoners of wars. They were forced to work in appallingly inhumane conditions – working night and day on starvation rations, with no machinery. Tens of thousands died and were buried in makeshift graves next to the rail lines. After the war, 111 Japanese officials were tried for war crimes and 32 sentenced to death for their part in the atrocity. The bodies of the fallen were removed and taken to three cemeteries located at Kanchanaburi and two other locations along the rail route. Most of the line is closed, but a section (from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok) is open, and visitors can make the grim, but panoramic journey (it’s a popular day trip from Bangkok). Despite the beauty of the scenery, it’s a harrowing experience.
4. Capuchin catacombs, Palermo
These catacombs beneath the ancient streets of the Sicilian capital of Palermo claim to contain the world’s largest collection of mummies. Now a macabre tourist attraction, the catacombs were originally excavated by the Capuchin monks in the 16th century, when there was no more room in their cemetery. The first corpse to be embalmed was that of Silvestro of Gubbio, one of the monks, who was laid to rest here in 1599. Although originally only monks could be buried in the catacombs, over time it became popular for the wealthy and influential members of Sicilian society to choose to be buried here, often wearing their best finery. Now the underground tombs are lined with more than 8000 bodies, including more than 1200 mummies in a gruesome and fearful display. The most astonishing mummy is that of Rosalia Lombardo, who died in the 1920s just before her second birthday, and was embalmed so carefully that she looks today as though she were just asleep.
5. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Orlando
There are lots of scary rides out there, particularly in Orlando, the self-proclaimed theme park capital of the world. But The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror will have you screaming for your mummy – however old you are! Imagine you find yourself in a creepy, run-down hotel, where all the once-plush fittings are decaying and covered in dust and cobwebs. Imagine that you are ushered into the library by the bellhop just as a storm starts raging outside, thunder cracking deafeningly overhead. Then imagine that you are taken in a creaky old service lift up to your room, just as lightning strikes… Cheesy? Yes. Entertaining? Hugely. Will it scare the pants off you? Probably!