To paraphrase Talking Heads, “*don’t* take me to the river, *don’t* drop me in the water.”
With wild swimming on the rise in recent years, there is a tendency of wanting to jump into any body of water that looks inviting, especially if the weather is favorable. Be it a gurgling stream, a pristine-looking beach, a still lake, or a part of the ocean that looks too inviting to be ignored, some bodies of water have a hidden secret and it is not advised to hop in for a swim, or in some cases, even to stand too close.
Here are some you should avoid at all costs.
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Bolton Strid, River Wharfe
WHERE: North Yorkshire, England
Bolton Abbey is a ruined 12th-century monastery set in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, a perfect place for a day out, complete with a gurgling stream. The little river Wharfe is as picturesque as they come. But looks are deceiving. The Bolton Strid, a stretch of the river near the abbey is reportedly 100% deadly. Nobody who has ever gone in has come out alive. Not only can the water level increase up to five feet per minute after heavy rainfall, but the river also narrows significantly in this spot. This increases the rate of flow dramatically and with several rocky outcrops, overhangs, and caves below the surface together with strong undercurrents, this gurgling stream turns into, statistically, one of the deadliest in the world.
The Bermuda Triangle
WHERE: North Atlantic
Probably the most notorious stretch of water in the world, this region of the Atlantic located between the southeastern coast of the U.S., the island of Bermuda, and the Greater Antilles, might not be an internationally-recognized place, but it is certainly legendary. Fact is, that the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean, the Milwaukee Depth, lies within the triangle; it is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and the region does suffer from a fair number of heavy storms. But, while without a doubt several ships and aircraft have disappeared within the Bermuda Triangle, it is probably the least dangerous but most famous body of water on this list.
Located along the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lake Kivu with its many small islands is one of the Great Lakes of Africa. But it is not a normal lake, instead, it is more akin to a chemistry set. To put it very simply, due to the tectonic action in the Great Rift Valley, gases bubble into this lake, and would normally dissipate. But this lake is so deep, up to 1,500 feet at its deepest spot, that the gases stay down below, and with the volcanic action, they could very well explode at any minute. This results in Lake Kivu being of huge interest to scientists, but swimmers should stay well away.
The Boiling Lake
On the relaxed Caribbean island of Dominica, who would expect something quite as dangerous as a boiling lake? This lake, the second-largest boiling lake after the wonderfully-named Frying Pan Lake near Rotorua in New Zealand, is in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. It is a 6.5-mile hike from the capital Roseau to get to the lake, through the Valley of Desolation, through which a boiling stream and smaller boiling ponds accompany visitors on the way. The water is hot enough to boil an egg, around 195 degrees, so, however much you would love a dip in the lake after the hike, it is not wise.
Rio Tinto, the red river, runs through Andalusia in south-western Spain. The river looks harmless enough, except that it is a rusty red color. This comes from running through a countryside that is rich in minerals, and where copper, silver, iron ore, and other minerals have been mined for some 5,000 years. It is the iron salts and sulfates in particular which give the water its red color, and the very low pH of 1.7 -2.5, meaning high acidity. But while no plants manage to grow near it, there are anaerobic bacteria that seem to thrive in the water, making it unsafe for humans, but exciting for scientists who are exploring potential life on other planets.
Jacob’s Well is beautiful. A deep blue hole in the ground, the water shimmering clear with a year-round steady temperature of 68 degrees. A haven during the stifling Texan summer heat. But the deep blue hole is just that: blue and very deep. Down to a depth of 137 feet. This karstic spring has been known for millennia for its clear water and is reasonably safe for those who just want to have a quick dip. It is scuba- and free-divers that can get into serious trouble here because Jacob’s Well is the entry point to a widespread cave system that continues and extends into a maze for many thousands of feet, which has been known to have caused fatalities to divers who either got stuck, lost, or went too deep and ran out of air.
WHERE: Queensland, Australia
The Daintree River makes up the southern border of the Daintree Rainforest, the world’s oldest rainforest. Just as the forest is one of the most diverse habitats, the river is also filled with animals. Most notably, crocodiles. Even more notably, saltwater crocodiles. These crocs are not only enormous, but also amazingly fast, and the river is teeming with them. So much so that, when you are waiting for the little car ferry to take you across, you are warned not to wait too close to the river. Despite their size, some 23 feet in length and 2,200 pounds of weight, the crocs can come out at an alarming speed straight at you.
Located at the foot of the Mammoth Mountains, one of the nation’s largest active volcanic regions, Horseshoe Lake looks like a tranquil, inviting lake. If a little chilly. The dangers are not immediately obvious to hikers or potential swimmers, but they are real and regularly deadly. Due to the volcanic activity, the lake and surrounding area emit exceedingly high levels of carbon dioxide. While naturally found in our air, levels of 10 to 20% can be deadly. Here, they sometimes reach 98%.
Years ago, amazing pictures went round the globe from animals having been turned to stone by a lake’s extremely high salinity and mineral content. That was this lake. The problem with Lake Natron is that water flows in, but does not flow out again, and instead evaporates, making it very salty, not unlike the Dead Sea. But Lake Natron, as the name suggests, also has a high content of natron, a mix of sodium carbonate and baking soda, leaving the lake with an extremely high pH, seriously caustic. Birds that may have fallen into the lake and climb out again basically desiccate while alive. Creepy.
WHERE: Dahab, Egypt
The Blue Hole in the Red Sea is popular with scuba divers and freedivers. You’d think this spot’s nickname—Diver’s Cemetery—would put you off, no? The Blue Hole is a sinkhole some 400 feet deep. Down below there is a tunnel that connects the sinkhole with the sea, and often divers become disorientated or simply have dived too deep. Several hundred deaths over the years still don’t put people off from going down into the blue depths though.
WHERE: Gansbaai, South Africa
Like with a few of the beforementioned bodies of water, here the clue is in the name. This channel of the ocean, a two-and-a-bit hours’ drive from Cape Town, boasts the largest population of great white sharks in the world. Do you need to know more before making a decision? Yes, you can go in, but only in a shark cage. Without? That is a definite “no.”
WHERE: Washington, D.C.
The Potomac River, like most rivers, has stretches of water that are calm and running through beautiful countryside. Then there are rapids and falls that look enticing for rafters and kayakers, and other stretches that go through city and industrial land. There are stretches, such as the Great Falls, that may attract adrenaline junkies, but it’s against the law to go in because of the countless drownings that have happened here. Rapids, rocks, obstacles such as trees in the water, all create danger. But even for the calm stretches, it is not advised to go swimming for three days after rain, because of pollution, bacteria, and general run-off from the land.
WHERE: Kauai, Hawaii
A secluded beach with no road access, but with white sand and beautiful waves, Hanakapiai sits in between a popular hiking trail and a stunning waterfall on Hawaii’s Kauai island. It sounds like a visitor’s dream. But don’t be fooled by the wild beauty, as there might be a beach there in the summer months, but in winter, the coastline is battered by such strong waves and currents that they wash away the beach. Add to that strong rip tides, shore breaks, and cross currents and you’ll understand the sign on the beach warning about re-occurring drownings.
WHERE: South America
The Amazon basin is vast, stretching across Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Suriname, covering some 40% of the entire South American continent. You’d think there would be a safe stretch of water to take a dip, right? Actually, no. The water is teeming with things out to get you: piranhas; alligators; snakes, from venomous to those that crush you to death; parasitic catfish; electric eels; parasites and leeches; and—you need more?
WHERE: Oaxaca, Mexico
A beautiful beach with inviting surf, cafes, and restaurants overlooking the coastline, and a little community away from the beaten track sounds heavenly. While it attracts plenty of visitors to its picture-perfect location, the beach has the moniker “Beach of the Dead.” Not quite so inviting anymore. Still, despite rip currents and strong waves eroding the coastline, the beach is popular, especially with nudists; Zipolite is also Mexico’s first and only nudist beach, and the rumor of 50 deaths a year is only a rumor. Or is it?