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The smelliest places on Earth

We like to engage your senses through the power of the written word. Well, try to anyway. On this occasion, it is smell! We have located four of the most pungent places in the world. Some are nice and some quite horrendous! I dream a dream of scratch-and-sniff emails, but until then you’ll have to make do with this. Just remember that we don’t cover bad smells on our travel insurance.


Seal Island, South Africa | Seals

Unless you’ve been to Seal Island, it’s unlikely you have ever considered what a seal smells like. One seal may smell fine; 60,000 seals, however, don’t smell too fresh. Described as a mixture of rotting flesh, fish and poop, this is a pungent smell. Although rancid to us, this is the smell of dinner to the great white shark. If you take a boat trip to the island, keep your eyes peeled for a great white launching itself out of the water to catch a Cape fur seal. Poor smelly creatures.

Despite their aroma, they are quite cute, and a trip to the island is fascinating, although you can’t disembark as it is too rocky and, well, there are seals everywhere. The seals come in all shades of brown and you can watch them stretch, play fight and flump around. If you’re really lucky you can watch the babies call out for their mothers or watch a pair fighting. There’s nothing like a bit of seal drama!

St Lucia | Chocolate

There’s nothing more satisfying that the smell of chocolate. OK, maybe the taste of it is more satisfying, but the smell is pretty good too. St Lucia is home to a few cocoa plantations, some of which have hotels attached to them (brilliant). If you are lucky enough to stay in one of these hotels expect to smell that distinctive, rich aroma. The cocoa pods themselves don’t smell like chocolate and if you were to eat the fruit hoping for a chocolaty delight, you’d be most disappointed! It is once the beans start being processed that the smell emerges.

Once the cocoa pods have been cut down from the tree, they’re left to mature for a few days in a heap. The beans are then put into fermentation boxes where they are covered with banana leaves. They start to generate heat and alcohol and quite a bizarre smell – a bit like balsamic vinegar. After seven days of fermenting, the beans, having turned from white to brown, get put out to dry on special trays. It is important that the beans don’t get wet, or they will taste mouldy, and it is important that they don’t over-dry and taste burnt. It is as the beans are drying that the best smell is created; a strong, deep, rich and distinctive scent!

Isparta, Turkey | Roses

The smell of roses is one of the nicest, freshest smells around and the city of Isparta , in west Turkey, is the best place to find such a smell. The city is a big producer of rose oil and rose water, and during the months of May and June, enough rose petals are harvested to create hundreds of litres of oil. The Rosa Damascena is a pink rose that contains valuable essential oils. The oil is encouraged to develop by the sun, but can also be evaporated by the heat too. For this reason, the time of day that the blooms are picked is very important. Men, women and children start picking as soon as the rose petals start to open at first light, but stop at 11am, before it gets too hot.

It takes half a million petals to make just one litre of oil, which is thought to be one of the best rose oils in the world. Despite the amazing smell, there isn’t much to see in the Rose City of Isparta, as the rose “fields” are very often gardens hidden in the hills, somewhere tourists wouldn’t normally visit. However, there are rose tours available, where visitors can take a look around the fields and gardens and see how the distillation process works.

Ijen Volcano, Java | Sulphur

Sulphur has a very distinctive smell, and it’s not nice. Spare a thought for the miners of the Ijen Volcano then, who have to chip off chunks of this yellow, eggy-smelling material and carry it in flimsy baskets out of a steep crater. The sulphur, which is blood red until it solidifies, is poisonous and it emerges around an acidic lake. The fumes produced by the sulphur visibly waft around, carried by the wind, and are incredibly noxious. The clouds burn the throat and eyes and can dissolve teeth if exposed for long enough. They even corrode delicate machinery, such as cameras, within minutes.