Ilha da Queimada Grande (Snake Island): Another Happy Place

Close-up of a snake's head
A snake.

Along with visiting Chernobyl, journeying to Snake Island (Ilha da Queimada Grande) is one of the most dangerous tourist trips available today.

The island off the coast of Brazil is home to some 4,000 snakes. And that’s pretty much it. Oh yes, and they’re insanely venomous. Hurray!

The History of Snake Island

This is actually a beautiful place! Although kind of like Pitcairn Island and Spume Island, you probably don’t want to live here either.

Home to around 2,000-4,000 golden lancehead snakes (Bothrops insularis), part of the pit viper species, these are one of the most dangerous serpents on Earth.

To confuse matters, there’s another Snake Island located in the Black Sea, which is under Ukrainian administration.

For our Snake Island in South America, we’ll keep on calling it Ilha da Queimada Grande from here. So, there’s no confusion. Eh?

A rough translation into English is Slash and Burn Fire (or Big Burnt Island). Pretty.

The island is 21 miles off São Paulo and 430,000 m2 (4,600,000 sq ft).

Due to its small size, this means the snakes are crammed onto the island. And it’s believed there’s one snake to every 11 feet.

However, the species is also on the critically endangered IUCN list. So, it’s important to protect the psychotic bastards… whilst keeping your distance.

Because if one were to bite you, then you’d probably be dead within an hour. Apparently, the snake’s venom is strong enough to cause:

  • Kidney failure
  • Necrosis of muscular tissue
  • Brain haemorrhaging
  • Intestinal bleeding

There’s a seven percent chance of death for humans. Good, eh?

How Did Snakes End Up On Ilha da Queimada Grande?

Rising sea levels around 11,000 years back isolated the island, leaving snakes stranded. As they evolved, their venom became highly potent.

The snakes need venom that kills prey pretty much immediately, so natural selection favoured the snakes with super-strong poisonous horror.

The snakes have no ground-level prey (or predators), so they’ve reproduced at an incredible rate. They feed off unwary birds that flap into the vicinity

Of course, that means the snakes are particularly aggressive when it comes to fighting for food. So, it’s sort of a no-no for tourism treks.

There were human residents on the island, but they all eventually fled to live somewhere without as many killer serpents.

Some did remain until not too far in the past.

A lighthouse was built on the island in 1909 to ward off ships from the island. And a lighthouse keeper looked after the place.

This individual had to man the ting before it became automated. Stories abound that he (and his family) were killed by the snakes.

But so many urban legends abound about the island, fact and fiction are starting to merge.

We believe the lighthouse is now derelict and (rightfully) abandoned.

Can You Visit Ilha da Queimada Grande?

No. You can’t. As the lancehead snakes are so dangerous, this means (rather unsurprisingly) humans are banned from visiting Ilha da Queimada Grande.

The Brazilian government has total control over the place. The Brazilian Navy has shut the island off to the public. Bloody nanny state, PC, leftists ruining society again!

If you want to visit, you need to speak to the government and claim a waiver to go and visit. In other words, you need to be a scientist looking to do research. 

The Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation vets all applications and then issues permits to those who qualify.

Why do these people go? The venom of the pit vipers is, apparently, potentially very effective against the likes of heart disease. So, intrepid scientists keep on going!

Plus, local poachers. They keep trying to invade the island, as the golden lanceheads can get $30,000 on the black market.

Frankly, we think it all means you’ll probably have to stick to the Dordogne for your next holiday.

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