Most Extreme Bodies of Water in the World

With the planet only getting hotter and hotter, we all want to relax by stepping into a cool pool every now and again. However, not all bodies of water are great replacements for the backyard swimming pool. Check out some of the most bizarre and potentially deadly bodies of water all over the world, starting with some rusty red waters in Spain. . .

33. Rio Tinto, Spain

Rust-colored shallow water of the acidic Rio Tinto in Spain.

The Rio Tinto is one of the most acidic rivers in the world with a pH value of 2 to 2.5. For reference, our stomach acid averages a pH of 1.5 to 3.5.

But the acidity of this water isn’t all that makes it notable; its rusty color also makes it eye-catching. How did it get its unique rusty color? Well, in a manner of speaking, rust, as plenty of iron makes its way into the river and dissolves.

But if you think the Rio Tinto is a bad place to take a dip, it’s still nothing compared to what’s next on our list. . .

32. Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, United States

Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, showing boiling hot geysers emitting columns of steam.
Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park. From InSapphoWeTrust on Flickr.

Look. We know it's tempting. But no, you can’t dip your toes into unauthorized areas at Yellowstone National Park, especially when they’re part of the Norris Geyser Basin. For one, it’s more than a little toasty here, reaching up to nearly 460 degrees Fahrenheit in some places. If that isn’t enough to deter you, maybe the fact that the waters are acidic here should.

Plenty of people have died falling into hot springs at Yellowstone. In fact, one man in 2016 was almost completely dissolved after falling into a spring reportedly near the Norris Geyser Basin.

If you thought this incident proves that Yellowstone is home to the hottest, most acidic bodies of water in the world, though, you'd be wrong. . .

31. Java's Acid Lake, Indonesia

Ijen Volcano, Banyuwangi Regency, East Java, Indonesia: The lake at the floor of the crater. Its pH is around 0,5 because of the sulfur acid.
Ijen Volcano, Banyuwangi Regency, East Java, Indonesia. Image credit: © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas on Wikimedia Commons.

The Acid Lake in Java is one of the most acidic bodies of water that we’ve discovered on our planet. Remember: Our stomach acids have a pH value of 1.5 to 3.5. This lake? Less than 0.3.

One man’s body couldn’t withstand the heat and acidity of the Norris Geyser Basin at Yellowstone. . . and many of the geysers there are around pH 3.5 or a little lower. Moral of the story: Java’s Acid Lake is not a place to stick your hand into, even if the steamy water looks inviting.

Speaking of steamy? . . .

30. Boiling Lake, Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica

Boiling Lake in Dominica, showing a boiling center and steam shrouding the body of water.
Boiling Lake in Dominica. Image credit: Antoine Hubert on Flickr.

Maybe you joke about liking boiling hot showers and baths, but you still shouldn’t step into the the Boiling Lake in Dominica’s Morne Trois Pitons National Park. With temperatures reaching up to roughly 197 degrees Fahrenheit along the edges alone, getting burned is guaranteed if you tried to take a dip here. 

However, you won’t even have to step into the lake to potentially get hurt. There are recorded instances of the area spitting out sulfuric gas, which has resulted in fatalities.

Of course, bodies of water spitting out toxic fumes isn’t unique to Boiling Lake, as our next destination shows. . .

29. Lake Kivu, D.R. Congo and Rwanda

Lake Kivu as seen from Western Rwanda with lots of hills and vegetation.
Lake Kivu as seen from Western Rwanda. Image credit: Adam Jones, Ph. D. on Wikimedia Commons.

At 56 miles long and 31 miles wide, this is a pretty sizeable entry on our list, and one of the largest lakes on the entire African continent. But its size isn't what makes it potentially dangerous.

Rarely, a lake can undergo “lake overturn,” also called a limnic eruption. When this happens, potentially deadly amounts of carbon dioxide are released from the body of water. There hasn’t been such an eruption at Lake Kivu in recent history, although scientists think past eruptions occurred once every 1,000 years.

There are, however, two other lakes that have had overturns in recent history with deadly consequences for the surrounding areas. . .

28. Lake Monoun, Cameroon

Lake Monoun in Cameroon as seen from a hill.
Lake Monoun. Image credit: Prosper Mekem on Wikimedia Commons.

One of only two places recorded in recent history to undergo lake overturn, Lake Monoun experienced a limnic eruption in 1984. On August 15 that year, the lake spat out such large quantities of undissolved carbon dioxide that 37 people in the surrounding area died.

At the time, people couldn’t agree on a reason for why this tragedy happened. However, two years later, another similar event occurred. . .

27. Lake Nyos, Cameroon

Combined two photographs to create semi-panoramic view of Lake Nyos. The photos themselves were taken on August 29, 1986, less than a month after the major Limnic eruption.
Lake Nyos shortly after the 1986 limnic eruption. Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey.

Lake Nyos was at the center of that new, unexpected tragedy so similar to the one that happened at Lake Monoun just a few years earlier. On August 21, 1986, Lake Nyos in Cameroon also experienced a limnic eruption. This eruption, however, completely outscaled the one that happened two years earlier. The hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide released killed almost 1,750 people and thousands of livestock.

Nature was the architect of these tragedies; the next stop on our list is dangerous for entirely human-made reasons. . .

26. Lake Karachay, Russia

Satellite image/map of the Mayak nuclear facility, the closed town of Ozyorsk/Ozersk (Chelyabinsk-65), different lakes and reservoirs, and the South Urals nuclear power plant. Based on a screenshot from NASA World Wind (Landsat Global Mosaic visual layer), color corrected.
Satellite image of Lake Karachay (Karachai) and surrounding area. Image credit: NASA, Jan Rieke.

If you’re talking about radioactive bodies of water, this is a good place to start as it’s one of the most contaminated on the planet.

Lake Karachay was near the Mayak nuclear facility and became a dumping site for radioactive waste starting in the 1950s. The lake eventually started to dry up. Meaning radioactive dust. Meaning droughts could easily blow said radioactive dust away from the lake and to populated areas. Which happened.

Eventually it had to be infilled. So it’s definitely a place to avoid (for several reasons) if you want a lakeside party. But this site isn’t the only body of water that’s been touched by radioactivity. . .

25. Techa River, Russia

The Techa River near the village Muslyumovo. View eastward downstream of the railway bridge. On the right, along the right bank of the river, passes the 75K-206 highway "Muslyumovo - Sakkulovo Railway Station - Entrance to Yekaterinburg on the M5 Ural Road"
Techa River near the village Musluymovo. Image credit: Ural-66 on Wikimedia Commons.

Lake Karachay isn’t the only victim of the Mayak facility. The Techa River was also a convenient dumping ground for radioactive waste. So, just how much was dumped there? Enough to expose about 28,000 people, and it would result in chronic radiation sickness and high rates of cancer for years.

Since the location of the Mayak facility was to be kept secret, early victims of radiation poisoning couldn’t even be told they were irradiated for fear of the facility being discovered.

Unfortunately, radioactive waste is still impacting rivers today, as our next pick shows. . .

24. Yenisei River, Mongolia and Russia

Cape Shiversky Ridge on the Yenisei River near the Shivera village (Zheleznogorsk Urban Okrug, Krasnoyarsk Krai).
Along the Yenisei River. Image credit: Ninara on Flickr.

The Yenisei River is one of the longest rivers of the world. . . and it made headlines when radioactive particles were found in it. Like Karachay and Techa, the radioactivity was a result of improperly handled waste from a Soviet nuclear facility.

Our next river is dangerous for entirely natural reasons that most people don't even see coming. . .

23. Potomac River, United States

Greats Falls of the Potomac River create swift currents.
Greats Falls of the Potomac. Photo credit: National Park Service.

John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States, reportedly liked to swim naked in the Potomac River every day. This raises a lot of questions, one of them being: Just how did he survive?

This river is finicky, known to have dangerous currents when water levels are up. Even exempting weather conditions, there are plenty of places along the river with rapid and powerful undercurrents that can sweep away even the strongest of swimmers.

But if you think the Potomac looks deceptive, this next entry will blow you away. . .

22. River Wharfe, United Kingdom

Narrow and bumpy waters of the River Wharfe Strid.
Image credit: River Wharfe - The Stride in Spate / © Tom Howard / CC-BY-SA 2.0.

Don’t let this innocent-looking river fool you. Plenty have named a narrow stretch of the River Wharfe, the Strid, one of the most dangerous rivers in the world.

You may be wondering, Seriously? This little stream? It’s, like, 6 feet across.

Yes, it’s tiny, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. With fast currents, undercut banks, and plenty of rocks, the Strid has claimed many lives. In fact, according to some people, the fatality rate here is about 100%.?

You might be surprised to learn that this deadly little stream is in the United Kingdom instead of a place more well-known for its outdoor dangers, like Australia. . .

21. Murray River, Australia

Murray River in Australia at sunset.

Of course Australia made this list.

The longest river in Australia, the Murray River is nearly 1,560 miles long and features prominently in some Aboriginal Australian folklore. The highly irrigated Murray is important not just for agricultural reasons, but recreational ones, too. Murray is a great source of entertainment, being a popular spot for boating and swimming activities.

However, swimmers should be advised that this river does pose risks, including deceptively swift currents and underwater hazards. Because areas of the river can be murky, these hazards go unseen from the surface, which has caused several deaths over the years.

And since it's Australia, you know this isn't the only watery area you need to be wary of when you visit the Land Down Under. . .

20. Yarra River, Australia

Nighttime view of the Yarra River flowing through Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Nighttime view of the Yarra River flowing through Melbourne, Australia.

This 150-mile Australian river is a popular spot for many swimmers, kayakers, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. But just because it's popular doesn't mean that all areas of the river are safe for human recreational activities. We can thank ourselves for that—pollution is damaging long stretches of the lower part of the Yarra River. Trash, harmful bacteria, chemical wastes, and more threaten both the surrounding environment and health of the people accessing these waters.

Of course, we can't talk about Australia without mentioning the animals. . .

19. Northern Coastlines of Australia

A large, scaly saltwater crocodile rests on a muddy bank.

Australia is well-known as a home for some dangerous animals, and the saltwater crocodile is one animal that calls some of its waters home. Saltwater crocodiles are the largest crocodiles species on the planet, and one of the most deadly as well. On average, about one to two people are victims of fatal crocodile attacks a year in Australia alone.

Death by crocodile definitely isn't pleasant. Sometimes saltwater crocs will tear apart larger prey using "death rolls," which is pretty much what it sounds like. They will hold tightly onto their prey and then spin rapidly underwater to tear it apart.

The next (also Australian) destination on our list is also home to some extreme animals that may give crocodiles a run for their money. . .

18. Coastlines of Queensland, Australia

A signpost at a beach in Cape Tribulation, Queensland, Australia warning of the presence of the Box Jellyfish Chironex fleckeri and others.
Image credit: TydeNet on Wikimedia Commons.

The beaches of Australia are great fun, but you have to be aware that you're sharing the waters with some potentially dangerous animals. While stingrays may come to mind (R.I.P. Steve Irwin), these animals are actually one of the least deadly animals Australia has to offer, with only 2 recorded stingray deaths there in nearly 75 years.

If you want to enjoy Australian waters, the animal you should be more concerned about is the jellyfish. Records there place these creatures as the cause of at least 69 deaths!

So there you have it: Keep an eye out for jellyfish. We know, they don't look vicious, unlike the creatures found at our next destination. . .

17. Zaire River, a.k.a. Congo River, D.R. Congo

Tiger fish, or "Piranhas of Africa". Photo taken at River Safari, Singapore.
Image credit: ProjectManhattan on Wikimedia Commons.

Rivers are great places to cool off on a hot summer day. But any time you enter a river, you need to be aware of the creatures that already live there.

The Congo River, for example, is home to some extreme animals like the goliath tigerfish. What’s a goliath tigerfish, you ask? It’s a massive fish that can grow to the size of small man with a gnarly set of sharp teeth. . . and it’s been known to attack humans on occasion.

If you thought these places were extreme, these next few ones might make your stomach drop. . .

16. Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe

The naturally formed "Devil's Pool", where tourists at Victoria Falls swim despite a risk of plunging over the edge
Swimmers in the Devil's Pool.

There's no doubt that the Victoria Falls are gorgeous, drawing in plenty of visitors every year. However, that doesn't mean that accidents haven't happened there. Multiple people have accidentally died by slipping off the falls, which can reach up to 355 feet. Popular places at this site include the Devil's Pool. . . which is a swim area right at the edge of the falls.

While the deaths at Victoria Falls are tragic, they appear to be accidents. That unfortunately differs a bit from the next entry on the list. . .

15. Kegon Falls, Japan

Autumn view of Kegon Falls in Japan.
Kegon Falls, Nikkō National Park, Japan.

The gorgeous Kegon Falls in Japan drop an incredible 318 feet. The falls themselves and the surrounding area have widely been recognized for their beauty. The dark flip side of this destination, however, is that it’s also a popular place for people to take their own lives. It's believed that the press coverage of a student dying here over 100 years ago is what cemented this place as a suicide hotspot.

The next site on this list is also known for being a bit haunted. . .

14. Tequendama Falls, Colombia

Tequendama Falls, Colombia
Tequendama Falls. Image credit: Xemenendura on Wikimedia Commons.

Tequendama Falls is a great tourist attraction located in South America. These Colombian falls are certainly gorgeous, but like Kegon Falls, this destination has a haunted history, having once itself been a popular spot for those seeking suicide. Today, it fortunately doesn't have that reputation. Unfortunately, though, the river that feeds into the falls is itself pretty polluted.

While any amount of pollution is bad, these falls have nothing on the following entry. . .

13. Citarum River, Indonesia

Citarum River pollution in 2009.
Citarum River pollution in 2009. Image credit: MNN on Wikimedia Commons.

The Citarum River runs through West Java in Indonesia. Despite being a vitally important source of water, electricity, and fishing, this river is one of, if not the, most polluted rivers on Earth. Besides trash, you can also find dangerous levels of mercury and arsenic in these waters. Fortunately in recent years, there have been multi-billion dollar, large-scale efforts to clean it.

If you're tired of hearing about how much we humans have messed up the environment, head on to the next destination. . .

12. Paraná River, South America

Paraná River, South America as seen from a green hillside.
Paraná River, South America.

The Paraná River is known as a great bird-watching destination. Just know before you dip your toes in that it was also the site of a massive piranha attack on Christmas Day in 2013. According to reports, piranhas descended on swimmers during this time, and some people lost fingers and toes! It’s estimated that roughly 70 people were injured in the freak attack.

If you're unsettled by this rare event, you'll be absolutely shocked by our next entry. . .

11. Orinoco River, South America

Bright green vegetation growing along Orinoco River, Amazonas State, Venezuela.
Image credit: Don Perucho on Flickr.

You know what’s fun when you go swimming? Not getting electrocuted. That could be a risk if you step into the Orinoco River, which runs across several countries in South America. Along with the Amazon River, it is home to the electric eel. Just how powerful are electric eel shocks? Well, they can generate up to 600 volts! (Also important: The electric eel isn’t an eel, but a fish. Have fun at your next trivia night with this one.)

Human deaths by electric eels are very, very rare. However, they have happened. Of course, you’ll encounter more than just electric eels in South American waters. . .

10. Amazon River, South America

Three dolphins playing in the Amazon River.

Like the Orinoco, the Amazon is home to electric eels as well as a host of other wildlife. You might immediately think of intelligent river dolphins or even the mighty anaconda, but there might be an even scarier creature lurking in these waters.

Meet the candiru, or vampire fish. In 1997, one man decided to take a leak along a river. And, uh, one of these little fish jumped up into the man’s urethra during the act and had to be surgically removed. While this is the only documented instance of this happening, we think that’s more than enough.?‍♀️

Of course, if you're searching for something truly extreme, these waters can't compare to our next pick. . .

9. Ilha da Queimada Grande, a.k.a. Snake Island

Aerial view of Ilha da Queimada Grande, otherwise known as Snake Island, off the coast of Brazil.

Do you like swimming with snakes? If you answered yes (why?), I’m sorry to tell you that your dream swimming destination is currently closed off to the public. The place? Snake Island, formally known as Ilha da Quieimada Grande. Just off the coast of Brazil, this place is home to a species of deadly vipers not found anywhere else in the world.

If you're sad about missing out on your chance to hang out with some extreme animals, this next site might be the place for you, since it's one of the most shark-infested locations on the planet. . .

8. Gansbaai, South Africa, a.k.a “Shark Alley”

Great white shark near Gansbaai in South Africa.
Image credit: Olga Ernst on Wikimedia Commons.

If you don’t like sharks, avoid Gansbaai, South Africa. But if you have always wanted to see great whites, this place is well-known as the place to go cage diving and see these and other sharks up close.

Want to see the sharks but don’t want to put yourself in an underwater cage? Not a problem. There are boat tours that can take people to just watch the sharks as they go about their shark business. Either way, just know that trying to swim in these waters means you’ll be likely to encounter sharks more than almost any other place on Earth.

But just because you'll be more likely to encounter a shark here doesn't mean you're more likely to get bitten. The shark bite capital of the world title actually goes to the next place on our list. . .

7. New Smyrna Beach, United States

View of the white beaches at New Smyrna Beach, Florida, USA
Image credit: Gavin Baker on Flickr.

New Smyrna is a lovely little city in Florida with scenic beaches. White sand? Check. Cute shops? Check. Sharks? Check. This location is within the county that’s been called the “world’s shark bite capital.”

But at least you can avoid shark attacks by staying out of the ocean. Right? Right? . . .

6. Lake Nicaragua, Nicaragua

Bullshark swimming in the ocean with scuba divers.
Image credit: Albert Kok~enwiki on Wikimedia Commons.

Wrong. Thought you’d be safe from sharks in a freshwater lake? Think again. Bull sharks can adapt to freshwater, and plenty of these sharks call Lake Nicaragua home. And just how did these sharks get here? By jumping into the lake from a connecting river.

Radiation, dangerous animals, deceptive undercurrents. . . At this point, you're probably thinking that the only semi-safe body of water in the world must just be some hole in the ground. Well, not exactly. . .

5. Devil's Den Cave, United States

Devil's Den Cave in Williston, Florida., with clear blue water and vegetation hanging from an opening in the cave's ceiling.
Devil's Den Cave in Williston, Florida. Image Credit: ©Eric Beach 2007 via Wikipedia.

This privately owned location in a small Floridian town is a beautiful diving and snorkeling site that dates all the way back to prehistoric times; plenty of ancient artifacts have been discovered in the caves. Those who want to visit this site should know that requirements for entering the cave itself are pretty strict. It should come as no surprise that those who want to go diving into the prehistoric spring there need proper certification. But even proper training is no guarantee of safety. With underwater passages that descend 90 feet, these caves can prove to be a challenge for even experienced divers.

A name like Devil's Den screams extreme, but the next spot on our list looks completely harmless at first glance, and with an unassuming name to boot. . .

4. Blue Hole, Red Sea

Aerial view of the Blue Hole in Sinai, off the coast of the Red Sea.
Image credit: S. Ellermann on Wikimedia.

One of the most dangerous diving spots in the world can be found along the coast of the Red Sea. This blue hole (a term for a large marine sinkhole) descends nearly 330 feet. Divers love it because it's not only pretty accessible, but also because this area lacks particularly dangerous currents. But these perks don't mean that this isn't a deadly location.

There's no official record of the number of deaths here. But educated estimates? More than 130. And considering that many of these deaths were experienced divers, some attribute the hazards to overconfidence.

But this isn't the only deceptively safe-looking blue hole on our list. . .

3. Blue Hole, United States

Crisp clear blue water at Blue Hole, New Mexico.
Image credit: Stephen Harshman on Flickr.

This lovely little blue hole in New Mexico is a popular swimming spot for locals and tourists alike. But people who enter do so at their own risk, as there are no lifeguards there. Considering this hole is more than 80 feet deep, it should come as no surprise that it’s not just popular with swimmers, but also divers. And as all divers will tell you, any expedition comes with a set of risks; this destination is no different. In 2016, one diver exploring the hole became trapped and died.

However, this isn’t the only publicly open diving spot in the U.S. that has an official death count. . .

2. Jacob’s Well, United States

A swimmer in the blue water at Jacob's Well in Hays County, Texas, United States.
Image credit: Larry D. Moore on Wikimedia Commons by CC-BY-SA 4.0.

Jacob’s Well is another popular U.S.-based diving spot. With plenty of underwater passageways, there’s lots of space for eager divers to explore. However, narrow passageways, lack of lighting, and other complex challenges presented by Jacob’s Well mean that it can be easy to get turned around and lost or even become trapped in these underground waterways. The Well has claimed at least 8 lives in the past few decades, so anyone curious enough to explore this Texan destination should do so at their own risk.

But if deep dives are your thing, Jacob's Well can't compare to our #1 pick for the world's most extreme body of water. . .

1. Mariana Trench, Pacific Ocean

Map of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument in the Pacific Ocean.
Map of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Image credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The Mariana Trench is the single deepest trench in the world, reaching all the way down to depths of 36,200 feet! That’s roughly 6.8 miles. For reference, the deepest any human has ever dived is just over 1,000 feet. At depths like that, you know there’s bound to be some pressure. . . roughly 15,750 psi (pounds per square inch). Sea level pressure is about 14.6 pounds psi, by contrast. Yeah, you'd get squished if you even remotely tried to reach the bottom.

Also, according to one Google review, they don’t serve chips there. So there’s that.

Respect the Power of Nature

Blue ocean wave.

There's no doubt about it: Earth is home to some extreme places. Some of these places you can visit, and some you definitely shouldn't. If you do decide to make your way to one of these extreme bodies of water, just make sure you do so in a safe and informed manner.

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