5 Mysterious Islands You Can Actually Visit

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Strange islands have been a mainstay of popular fiction ever since Plato wrote about the doomed civilization of Atlantis. Most of us are at least vaguely familiar with the classic novels Treasure Island and the Island of Doctor Moreau. Of course, modern audiences know Isla Nublar (star of the Jurassic Park series) and the infamous island that fueled six seasons of the TV series Lost. The following bizarre islands really do exist; somewhat surprisingly, they’ve turned into unusual tourist destinations.


5. Hashima Island

Hashima Island’s distinctive shape earned it the nickname “Battleship Island.” © Hisagi

Hashima Island’s distinctive shape earned it the nickname “Battleship Island.” © Hisagi

Nicknamed “Battleship Island” because of its distinctive resemblance to a warship, this island served a vital role in Japan’s emergence as an industrial power. It operated from 1887 until 1974 as a coal-mining facility, with up to 5,000 workers housed in stark concrete buildings. Actually, “workers” is a euphemism; many of those coal miners were Chinese and Korean prisoners doing forced labor. That explains why both North and South Korea and China protested Japan’s efforts to have the island declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the island earned that status in 2015). Part of the island was opened to tours in 2009, although many of the structures there have collapsed or are in advanced states of decay, making much of the island dangerous.


4. Oak Island

Treasure hunters have been seeking buried pirate treasure on Oak Island for more than 150 years.

Treasure hunters have been seeking buried pirate treasure on Oak Island for more than 150 years.

Legend has it that either Blackbeard or fellow pirate Captain Kidd buried a fortune in treasure on this island located just a few hundred feet from the shore of Nova Scotia; treasure hunters have been fruitlessly searching for this gold for the better part of two centuries. The island’s aura and mysterious “Money Pit” have inspired documentaries and been fictionalized in TV shows and books. Although the island is privately owned, tours of Oak Island are available several weekends during the summer months, at $15 per person.


3. North Brother Island

The remains of Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island. © Reivax

The remains of Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island. © Reivax

When you think of mysterious islands, you usually think South Pacific, or some remote gulf — not an island in New York City’s East River. But North Brother Island certainly fits the bill of an eerie place. In 1885, Riverside Hospital built a facility on the island to quarantine victims of smallpox and other communicable diseases. The infamous Typhoid Mary, who infected dozens of people with Typhoid Fever, spent the last 20 years of her life quarantined there. More dark history at the island: in 1904, the steamship PS General Slocum caught fire and sank nearby, killing 1,021 people. After World War II, Brother Island offered housing for returning veterans, and after that it served as a teenage drug addiction treatment facility until 1963. Since then, the island has been abandoned. Most of the more than three-dozen buildings there are still standing, although they are overgrown by forest.

Access to North Brother Island has been restricted to the public for years, although plenty of people have boated over from the Bronx for illegal visits. RadioLab.org has explained how you can contact the New York City Parks Department and get a permit to visit. There have been serious efforts underway in 2016 to open the island to all visitors. Not only is safety a concern, but the island now serves as a bird sanctuary.


2. Island of the Dolls

Mexico's Island of the Dolls is an otherworldly place.

Mexico’s Island of the Dolls is an otherworldly place.

This island’s story began with a tragedy. More than 50 years ago, a reclusive Mexican, Julian Santana Barrera, found a girl’s body floating in a remote canal near his remote shack in Xochimilco, Mexico City. When Barrera later discovered a doll floating in the canal, he assumed it belonged to the girl, and he hung it in a tree as a sign of respect. After that, Barrera began to hear mysterious voices, footsteps and even a woman wailing in the night. Barrera assumed he could keep the ghosts at bay by hanging dolls in the trees. So for some 50 years, Barrera hung hundreds of dolls around his shack. These were not pristine, mint-condition Barbies, either. Barrera collected these dolls out of the trash, and many dolls were horribly mutilated figures out of your worst nightmares.

Although Barrera died in 2001 — a relative discovered him drowned in that same canal — his legacy lives on. His family has turned Isla de las Munecas into a tourist attraction. Despite the fact the island is accessible only by taking a two-hour gondola ride, tourists come by the hundreds every year, bringing their cameras … and more dolls to hang up. The island now has countless thousands of dolls hanging from the trees. The dolls are widely reported to be haunted, with plenty of strange tales involving paranormal activities. This is probably not a place you would want to be at night. Here’s an exceptional collection of Island of the Dolls photos compiled by the UK’s Daily Mail.


1. Easter Island

Easter Island draws tens of thousands of tourists each year. © Richard Lehoux

Easter Island draws tens of thousands of tourists each year. © Richard Lehoux

This island certainly needs no introduction. Those enormous and mysterious moai statues — there are 887 of them on the island — are instantly recognizable to most people. But many are surprised to learn that Easter Island, one of the most remote islands in the world, is actually open to tourists. In fact, almost 90,000 tourists visited in 2012. Located roughly 2,100 miles from the coast of Chile, it’s not an easy trip — it’s more than 14 hours of flight time between Miami and Easter Island, not including a layover in Santiago, Chile. Once there, you’ll find accommodations ranging from simple bed and breakfasts to eco-lodges to 5-star resorts. If you’re worried that all there is to do is stare in awe at those enormous moai, there are plenty of other activities to capture the imagination here, including stargazing in some of the darkest skies in the world.

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