Not One for Your Bucket List: Snake Island

As travelers, we’re not fond of being told there are places we’re not allowed to visit, but I’m okay with crossing Ilha de Queimada Grande off my bucket list. Also referred to as Snake Island, this tiny rock off the coast of Brazil is home to more than 4,000 deadly Golden Lancehead pitvipers which can grow to nearly two feet in length. That population of snakes works out to roughly one snake per meter making Queimada Grande one of the most deadly places on earth. Just the thought of it makes me woozy.


The Golden Lancehead viper is unique to the island and has venom five times stronger than any other variety of Lancehead in South America. While their population is relatively small and dwindling, the density of them on this small island makes them a very unique species. It also puts them at great risk of extinction. Currently, the Golden Lancehead is considered critically endangered as the small island’s habitat degrades, in part due to fires set by locals hoping to destroy the snakes so they can plant banana farms on the island. 

As is often the case with ominous places, there’s a great deal of lore attached to this island, not all of it confirmed. There’s an account of a hapless fisherman who stepped ashore only to meet his immediate demise. He was said to have been found in his beached boat, dead as a plank having been bitten multiple times. Another account, far more dramatic, tells of the family living in the lighthouse. It was claimed they were overrun with snakes in the lighthouse and forced into the jungle where the were eventually bitten. Herpetologists dedicated to the study of these snakes claim no such fatalities have been officially recorded. Nonetheless, it doesn’t sound like a great alternative to a Sandals Resort vacation. The Brazilian navy has since banned anyone from landing on the island, but despite the threat of arrest or death by snakebite, people do visit the island with surprising regularity.


You can find a very interesting short video of the Golden Lancehead HERE.

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Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.