8 Destinations Where Cannibalism Used to (and Might Still) Exist

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The world is a beautiful but oftentimes dangerous place. If nature isn’t trying to do you in with earthquakes, floods, forest fires, landslides, volcanic eruptions, and more, the local fauna (including the people) just might have you in their ravenous sights instead. For the curious, and the brave, we’ve compiled a list of global destinations where eating men and women used to be a thing. Most of these places are fairly safe (hopefully) to visit now, or at the very least approach from a respectful distance while enjoying non-cannibalistic tourist activities in the neighboring vicinity.—Carl Pettit

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Nuku Hiva

Where: Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia

Nuku Hiva is a stunningly gorgeous mountainous island in French Polynesia’s Marquesas Archipelago. Resplendent with craggy cliffs, deep jungle precipices, and towering waterfalls, it became a favorite spot of author Herman Melville. Nuku Hiva also happens to be home to a once cannibalistic culture. Academics debate how much cannibalism was practiced for ritual reasons, and how much was carried out for protein, or dietary reasons. Regardless, “people meat” used to be served for dinner here. But rest assured, despite some bad press surrounding the disappearance of a German tourist a few years back, human beings (once referred to as “long pigs”) are no longer a staple on Nuku Hiva—although plenty of actual pig still is.

Insider Tip: While Nuku Hiva is off the beaten tourist path, regular flights from Tahiti, plus occasional flights from Bora Bora, will get you there with relative ease.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Nuku Hiva Travel Guide

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Jamestown

Where: Virginia

The first English colonists in the New World established their settlement in Jamestown. The going was rough. Many settlers were unaccustomed to the rigors of farming and hunting, resulting in widespread death, which was compounded by conflicts with the native Powhatan. During the Starving Time (1609–1610), the population plummeted from several hundred colonists down to a meager 60. Modern forensic archeology, along with a first person account from George Percy, revealed that after turning to shoe leather, cats, dogs and mice for sustenance, the starving men and women of Jamestown resorted to digging up graves and eating their dead before relief by ship finally arrived.

Insider Tip: Historic Jamestowne is now a national historic park. The original, early European structures no longer exist, although park ranger guided tours can give you a general sense of the settlement that once was.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Jamestown Travel Guide

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Tibet

Where: China

Tibet, the source of so much of Asia’s fresh water, as well as a wealth of distinctive Buddhist culture, is renowned for the practice of Ahimsa (do no violence) by its indigenous population. In ancient, warlike Tibet (they really liked to fight and conquer back then), before the advent of Buddhism, the Bon religion reigned supreme, which had elements of ritual cannibalism and human sacrifice as part of its practice. Bon eventually amalgamated with Buddhism, with modern adherents of Lamaism and “New Bon” often going to great pains to avoid injuring living creatures, including the smallest of insects. Oh, how the times have changed.

Insider Tip: Getting to Tibet can be difficult for solo travelers due to political sensitivities surrounding Tibet’s status as a part of China. Booking a group excursion with a reputable tour operator will help ensure that you actually make it there.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Tibet Travel Guide

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Tenochtitlan

Where: Mexico City, Mexico

Tenochtitlan, an island city located on Lake Texcoco (the lake has subsequently been drained) in what is now Mexico City, was once the heart of the mighty Aztec Empire. And speaking of hearts, the Aztecs had a predilection for cutting them out during ritual human sacrifices—and perhaps even cannibalizing parts of the sacrificial victims as well, although how often this occurred is the subject of some scholarly debate. Irrespective of lunch menu options, if you were unfortunate enough to be captured by the Aztecs back in the day, the chances of meeting an exceedingly gruesome demise were pretty high.

Insider Tip: While Tenochtitlan no longer exists, intriguing archeological sites and ruins offering insight into the Aztec way of life still do, which are absolutely worth checking out.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Mexico City Travel Guide

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Whangaroa Harbor

Where: New Zealand

These days Whangaroa Harbor, located in Northland, New Zealand (the country’s northernmost region), is famed for its abundance of maritime activities—with no threat of cannibalism on the horizon whatsoever. But in December of 1809, after the Māori became fed up with the treatment of one of their own aboard a brigantine ship named the Boyd, the situation was very different. In what came to be known as the Boyd Massacre, the local Māori killed, and then ate most of the ship’s crew, cannibalizing close to 70 Europeans, which is, in case you’re wondering, quite a lot.

Insider Tip: Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior, a trawler sunk by French saboteurs in 1985, is now a prime diving spot located in the Cavalli Islands (not too far from Whangaroa Harbor), worth checking out if you happen to be in the region.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Northland and the Bay of Islands Travel Guide

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Amazon River Basin

Where: Amazon River basin, Brazil

Among the Wari’ people living in the rainforests of Brazil, chowing down on the occasional human being was once deemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do. The Wari’, named the Pakaa Nova by outsiders, practiced a form of mortuary cannibalism. This meant that they usually only ate dead relatives in rituals honoring the departed souls—although slain enemies from nearby tribes as well as total strangers could become the main course too, depending on the circumstances. Today, thankfully, the remaining Wari’ no longer indulge in the cannibalistic instincts of their ancestors.

Insider Tip: Due to the invasion of modern Brazil, the territory of the Wari’ has been reduced significantly, leading to their resettlement in the state of Rondônia, near Bolivia.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Amazon Travel Guide

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Rome

Where: Italy

People often associate cannibalism with the South Pacific, or societies living in jungles and others inaccessible regions of the planet, separate from the civilized world. But that isn’t always the case. In Ancient Rome, people would guzzle down (or perhaps merely sip) gladiator blood or munch on slain gladiator livers, believing both capable of curing epilepsy. After the Romans banned gladiator sport, those who still hungered for medicinal fluids turned to the blood of executed convicts to satisfy their cravings. Too bad they simply couldn’t have gone in for a little red wine instead.

Insider Tip: When visiting the Roman Colosseum, which usually includes visits to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, book ahead to avoid long lines, or buy your tickets somewhere else besides the Colosseum ticket office itself.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Rome Travel Guide

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Varanasi

Where: Varanasi, India

The Aghori sadhus, or ascetics, of India tend to frequent cremation sites—like those found along the Ganges River in the city of Varanasi—given their fondness (perhaps not the best descriptive noun here) for consuming the dead, and covering their bodies in cremated ashes. By diving headlong into what others consider deeply taboo, Aghori monks, who venerate the god Shiva (manifested as the avatar Bhairava), seek to show that the physical body is only a transitory vessel. Partaking of human flesh on occasion, or meditating while sitting on top of rotting corpses, are some of the ways they choose to do this.

Insider Tip: If you’re dead set on meeting an authentic Aghori, it’s best if you team up with a cultural guide who truly understands India’s vast spiritual landscapes. The fear and awe inspired by the Aghori’s unorthodox practices shouldn’t be taken lightly.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Varanasi Travel Guide

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The Akokisa of Galveston Bay

Where: San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay, Texas

While no one visits Galveston Bay with cannibals on their mind, cannibals did indeed roam these parts once upon a time. Before succumbing to European diseases, or else mixing in with other tribes, the linguistically unique (their language is now extinct) Akokisa held cannibalistic feasts of their enemies on occasion, as reported by François Simars de Bellisle, a Frenchman held captive by the Akokisa in the 1700s. These days you’d be hard pressed to find any cannibals (or Akokisa, for that matter) wandering around downtown Houston—but come the pending zombie apocalypse, who knows, the situation on the ground just might revert back to 18th century people-eating rules.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Houston and Galveston Travel Guide