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Haunted Travel: The world’s spookiest islands

When people think of islands, they envision sun, surf, and piña coladas. But islands aren’t all Jimmy Buffet tunes and limbo sticks. You may be surprised by the darkness lurking beneath that shimmering sand.

Here are my picks for five of the world’s spookiest islands.

1. Mikyake-jima

Imagine getting off a ferry and seeing this:

Five spooky islands: Miyakejima www.jhmoncrieff.com Photo credit: Victor Bulla

Photo credit: Victor Bulla

While it looks like a scene from The Twilight Zone, it’s actually a way of life for the citizens of Miyake-jima, Japan. The gas masks are a necessity since the air on the island is poisonous, thanks to a very active volcano. Mount Oyama has erupted thirteen times in the past five hundred years, and a particularly nasty eruption in the year 2000 resulted in a full evacuation.

Almost three thousands citizens opted to return in 2005, even though the sulphur dioxide polluting the atmosphere means they need to carry gas masks with them at all times. Strangely, the island has enjoyed an upswing in tourism over the past few years, but not to worry–alarms go off if there’s a sudden dramatic increase in the levels of toxic gas. Comforting, no?

2. Saint François, Guadeloupe

Five Spooky Islands jhmoncrieff.com

In sharp contrast to Miyake-jima, there’s nothing outwardly spooky about Raisins Clairs Beach in Saint François, Guadeloupe, but don’t be fooled. Something disturbing waits beneath the surface. Sunbathers have found human bones, teeth, coffin nails, and a metal collar. Not exactly your typical vacation souvenirs.

After two excavations, archaeologists deduced that this picture-perfect beach covered a cemetery containing the graves of up to one thousand slaves. Erosion is responsible for revealing the chilling history, so locals pressured the government to install an anti-storm surge system in 2015. The sites known to contain bones have been marked, but every time it rains, there’s always a chance more will be uncovered.

3. Fiji

Five Spooky Islands www.jhmoncrieff.com

Ah, Fiji. Looks beautiful, right? And it is. But this gorgeous island has more than its share of skeletons in the closet.

When missionaries first visited Fiji in the 1800s, they were graciously invited to dinner, not realizing they were the main course. Turns out the Fijians’ favourite food was human flesh, and they weren’t the slightest bit shy about it.

The most vulnerable citizens of the island were also the most at risk. Children were cooked alive or hung feet-first off canoe mastheads, their skulls crushed as the vessels roiled in the waves. Missionaries also wrote of other horrors they witnessed, such as men eating their own wives and people eaten while they were still conscious.

This is all in the past, of course. But as recently as December 2016, Amnesty International called out Fiji’s police and military for aiding and abetting “an ingrained culture of torture.”

4. Okunoshima

Five spooky islands: Okunoshima www.jhmoncrieff.com

You’ve probably heard of this one without knowing it. Affectionately nicknamed “Rabbit Island,” it’s been the darling of the internet since videos of its tame rabbit population went viral.

Bunnicula, is that you?

Bunnicula, is that you?

Have you ever wondered how all those bunnies got there? Turns out, it’s not so cute.

In World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army manufactured tons of poison gas on the island, gas that was used to kill an estimated eighty thousand people. (That’s the remains of the factory above. Not creepy at all.) If you’re making something that deadly, better test it first, right? Yep, those sweet-looking animals are believed to have descended from the original test subjects, which could mean there’s some seriously mutant bunnies hopping around. Experts poo-poo this notion, claiming American soldiers killed the hapless animals. They say Rabbit Island’s residents are the result of children who released pets there for some unknown reason. My advice: if you go to Rabbit Island, keep your eyes peeled for Bunnicula. And don’t bring cabbage–it’s bad for the bunnies.

5. Poveglia

Poveglia tower exterior www.jhmoncrieff.com

This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the granddaddy of them all. If anyone made a horror movie about this little island located off the coast of Venice, Italy, it would get panned for being too over-the-top.

Let’s see. First Poveglia was the site of bloody battles, and then it was a dumping ground for plague victims–twice, some of whom were buried alive in mass graves. As if that wasn’t enough, someone decided the island would make a lovely place for an asylum, complete with a doctor who tortured his patients, performing lobotomies with a hammer and chisel. And did said doctor come to a tragic end? Of course! But no one knows if his death was the result of murder or suicide.

Today the island is considered to be the world’s most haunted, so it was a natural setting for The Girl Who Talks to Ghosts. You can read more about my visit to the island here.

Would you visit any of these islands?

P.S. If you liked this post, you’ll enjoy this one about the most cursed island in the world.

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  1. Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor

    Definitely the kind of places I want to avoid while we’re out cruising on our sailboat 🙂

  2. L. Diane Wolfe

    Fiji is right off my list.

    Claiming kids dumped rabbits on that island sounds really far-fetched. I’m surprised no one has made a movie about mutated bunnies attacking people visit the island.

  3. Mary Aalgaard

    No, thank you! But, I’ll be happy to read about it in your books.

  4. Dave Burnham

    What a very interesting post. Rabbit Island could have been the basis for one of those 50s B-rated horror movies. I first heard about Poveglia when it was visited by Zak Bagans and the “Ghost Adventures” team. It’s definitely a screwed-up location. Then again the other are no picnic!

  5. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    I can’t decide which of these is creepiest. They’re all terrifying in different ways. Shudder!

  6. Liesbet

    Japan is mentioned twice. Hmmm. I think I’d rather avoid those places. The images and mention of skulls and human bones reminds me of my visit to the Killing Fields in Cambodia many years ago. Creepy post, Holli!

  7. Tamara Narayan

    Excellent setting for a story. Makes me think of the Cure for Wellness movie as well. Looking forward to reading it! (And loved reading about all these creepy islands.)

    I is for Illuminati

    • JH

      Thanks so much, Tamara! I appreciate the kind words. Hopefully life is treating you well.

  8. James Pailly

    Toxic air? That sounds more like another planet than a place here on Earth.

    • JH

      It does, doesn’t it?

  9. Rebecca Douglass

    In some ways, the volcanic island isn’t creepy–in my mind, I guess that one’s reserved for human actions! I can’t imagine living there, but…

    And I can’t resist noting that I’ve set my murder mysteries…on an island 🙂 Not a tropical paradise, which isn’t actually what I think of when I think of islands. See, I grew up on one. In Puget Sound, which is definitely not tropical!

    • JH

      The creepiness comes from seeing that many people in gas masks staring at you when you arrive. That photo I posted freaks me out!

  10. C. Lee McKenzie

    OMG! There go my island vacation plans. . . in like forever! I can’t imagine stretching out on a beautiful white beach, running my hands through those warm grains and coming up with a bone or two.

    • JH

      That would be really horrifying. Talk about a vacation ender!

  11. Lexa Cain

    Thanks for the list of PLACES I WILL NEVER GO NOW! I knew all the creepy history of the Italian island. (I almost set a book in Italy, but chose an idea based in Hungary and Romania instead.) I signed up for your Thunderclap! 🙂

    • JH

      Thanks for signing up, Lexa. You ROCK!

      And, you’re welcome. 😉

  12. Samantha Bryant

    While I love reading about them, I’m not sure I’d ever visit any of them. Real life is scary enough in the day to day 🙂

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

  13. Birgit

    Those people from the volcano island are just nuts! I will never visit that island. Fiji is pretty nasty especially that they had little care for their own people. I want to visit that island off of Venice where you went to and hope to get to Venice …and then I will visit. Your book sounds really quite good!

    • JH

      Thanks, Birgit. Yeah, I can understand being attached to a place, but when the air is too poisonous to breathe, it’s time to move on.

  14. Denise

    So I am scratching Fiji off the ‘to-be-seen list’. Very interesting post.

    • JH

      Oh, I’m sure it’s still a beautiful place to visit. It just has a very troubled history.

  15. Barbara In Caneyhead

    Love the creepy Islands! I was just thinking the building on one looked nice until you told me it was a chemical weapon plant! A hunter would need to check these bunnies for more than wolves!

    • JH

      Thanks for commenting, Barbara! It’s great to see you back here. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  16. Mark Murata

    I would possibly visit Okunoshima. They have a museum there that shows the harsh working conditions in the factory, and the horrible effects of poison gas on people.

    • JH

      I’d enjoy going to that museum too. If one can be said to “enjoy” something like that.

  17. Anna

    Don’t think I would visit places like that. I do love a good horror story, but I’m in it for the scare. My gross out factor is pretty low. 😉

  18. Random Musings

    I’d heard some of the stuff about Fiji but I always assumed it was made up! I’d still go in a heartbeat though lol

  19. Nikki B.

    I’m so creeped out by all these places but at the same time… I kinda want to visit. I guess that’s the never-ending struggle of being someone who loves horror and scary stories! 🙂 I mean, my head says no, but my heart says yes! HA!!

  20. Liesbet

    I remember you visiting Poveglia and writing about it, and about the one with the gas masks. I had no idea about Fiji’s past, but it reminded me of a recent cannibalism story in one of the islands in the Marquesas (French Polynesia) a few years ago, where a local inhabitant killed and presumably ate a German tourist… Those cannibalism allocations proved false later on.

    Here are a couple of links about the crime:


  21. beach traveler

    I was just thinking the building on one looked nice until you told me it was a chemical weapon plant! A hunter would need to check these bunnies for more than wolves!


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