Our spectacular planet has so many wonders to explore. However, there are some places that are just too dangerous, too protected, or maybe too special to visit—even for the most seasoned voyager. These places have been completely cut off from the outside world.
1. Area 51, Nevada
No list of prohibited places would be complete without a mention of Area 51 — the nickname for a remote detachment of United States Air Force facility Edwards Air Force Base, located in Southern Nevada. The facility is shrouded in secrecy and while it has long believed to be a testing facility for experimental aircraft and weaponry, conspiracy theorists favorite theory that the base is where the U.S. government examines and stores a crashed alien spacecraft and the alien occupants, including evidence from a supposed alien crash landing in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. While the area surrounding Area 51 is a popular tourist destination for alien enthusiasts, access to Area 51 itself is completely prohibited, except to intelligence and military personnel with special clearance. The airspace above the base is also a no-go area and is rumored to be protected with anti-aircraft weaponry and fighter jets.
2. Snake Island (Ilha Da Queimada Grande), Brazil
Off the coast of Brazil is a tiny but incredibly dangerous island called Ilha da Queimada Grande which is fondly known as Snake Island. Snake Island is home to thousands of lethal venomous golden lancehead snakes (Bothrops insularis).
The golden lancehead is a species of pit viper that has an incredibly deadly venom known to cause more human mortalities than any other group of snakes in either North or South America. Its venom can cause swelling, kidney failure, intestinal bleeding, hemorrhaging of the brain, and can kill a human within one hour. There are estimated to be anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 lancehead snakes on Snake Island.
The golden lancehead snake is not even the only snake species on the island, only the most dangerous. There are many varieties of snakes on the island and only a small amount of non-venomous snakes. There is estimated to now be between one and five snakes per square meter.
The reason thousands of snakes are thought to have collected here due to rising sea levels containing them on the small island measuring no more than 43 hectares. The island was once inhabited until the late 1920s but now, for human protection, Snake Island is completely off-limits to the public and it’s actually illegal to visit the island.
3. Heard Island Volcano, Australia
This barren volcanic Antarctic Island, an Australian external territory about two-thirds of the way between Madagascar and Antarctica, is considered one of the most remote places on earth. The 368-square-mile landmass is mountainous, has 41 glaciers, and is also home to an array of wildlife including penguins, seals, and marine birds. However, in 2000, the University of Hawaii noticed a two-kilometer-long lava flow coming from the southwest side of Mawson’s Peak, a 2,745-foot-high complex volcano that has been active ever since. Aside from the volcano and its dangers, the weather on the island is notoriously poor. Plus, it’s a minimum two-week sail to any other major landmass — making it one of the most dangerous, and hardest places in the world to access.
4. U.N. Buffer Zone, Cyprus
Behind barbed wire fences, a watchtower looks down over an eerie scene; an airport stands, thick with dust, old aircraft decaying on the landing strips, nearby abandoned homes, businesses, cars, and buildings lay idle as they have done for decades.
This is the UN Buffer Zone which cuts through Cyprus, dividing the independent Republic of Cyprus from the Turkish-occupied northern part of the island. In 1974, Turkish troops invaded Cyprus, escalating the civil war between the Greeks and the Turks. The U.N. then took control of this ‘buffer zone’ in the capital Nicosia after the ceasefire was declared.
In an attempt to prevent future clashes between the populations of the two halves of the island, peacekeepers from the United Nations have patrolled the buffer zone for years. As a result, this area has remained frozen in time, and no one is allowed into this zone, and if you ever tried you probably wouldn’t make it out alive.
5. Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a vast subterranean seed bank and storage facility on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, around 800 miles from the North Pole, built 400 feet into a mountainside. Officially opened in February 2008, the facility now stores around 840,000 samples of 4000 different species of seeds, from all over the world. The idea behind the seed bank is to provide a safety net against accidental loss diversity in the case of a major global or regional event. It functions much like a safety deposit box at the bank, allowing organizations or governments to ‘deposit’ seed variations in the vault for safekeeping, and only they have access to their deposits. The 11,000-square-foot facility is protected by highly advanced security systems and access is strictly limited to a handful of employees.
6. North Sentinel Island, India
Off the coast of Myanmar is a tiny forested island where indigenous Sentinelese people reside in voluntary isolation from the rest of the world. The tribal Sentinelese have lived on North Sentinel Island for over 60,000 years and are extremely opposed to outside influences and remain entirely disconnected from the modern world.
The Sentinelese are known to fiercely protect their independence, sometimes violently, and for this reason, very little is known about their island. Reportedly, an Indian Coast Guard helicopter made the mistake of flying nearby on reconnaissance and was shot at with arrows by the island’s natives.
There are estimated to be anywhere between 50 and 400 natives living on the island. Indian Authorities respect their right to complete isolation and prohibit anyone to travel to the island or even approach within five nautical miles.
The Sentinelese are so untouched from the real world that they are even exempt from any laws. This means that the indigenous people are allowed to legitimately kill outsiders who trespass on their island without prosecution. Natives will frequently attack boats that reach too close to their shores and actually killed two fishermen in 2006 and a US Missionary in 2018.
7. Ise Grand Shrine, Japan
This Isa Shrine, located in the town of Uji-Tachi in the Mie Prefecture of Japan, is a Shinto shrine complex dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu-Omikami, which consists of two main shrines and about 125 secondary shrines. While the location of the shrine is said to date back to the third century, the standing structures have been dismantled and replaced every 20 years — most recently in 2013 — consistent with Shinto beliefs regarding death and renewal. One of the main shrines is believed to house the ‘Sacred Mirror,’ called Yata no Kagami, part of the Imperial Regalia of Japan. From outside, little can be seen except a fence and the buildings’ thatched roofs. Access is restricted to just the high priestess or priest, who has to be a member of the Japanese Imperial Family.
8. Vatican Secret Archives, Vatican City
The Vatican Secret Archives is officially said to contain historical artifacts dating back more than 12 centuries. The vast 53-mile archive houses an impressive collection of relics including letters penned by Michelangelo, and the pleas for help that Mary Queen of Scots sent to Pope Sixtus V before her execution.
This could be the greatest collection of historical objects in the world, yet only a handful of people have ever been allowed inside.
As a result, the Secret Archives are shrouded in mystery and subject to wild conspiracy theories. Speculation of what lies within these forbidden walls include evidence of magic, demons, extraterrestrials, and details of the predicted apocalypse…or even the missing Chronovisor, a nifty device that allows its users to view past or future events and was purportedly built by an Italian priest and scientist, Father Pellegrino Maria Ernetti, so he could witness Christ’s crucifixion first hand.
Fascinating… yet unless you are an incredibly select scholar who is approved by the Vatican and you have specifically asked to view a particular relic then your chances of gaining access are next to none!
9. Poveglia, Italy
This small island is located between Venice and Lido within the Venetian Lagoon in northern Italy. Throughout its history, it has been home to a fort, used as a shipping checkpoint, been a quarantine station for the Bubonic Plague, and since the turn of the last century, has been an asylum. In 1968, the psychiatric hospital was closed down and the island was abandoned. It’s no wonder — Poveglia has long been considered one of the most haunted places on earth. Rumor has it that the ghosts of plague victims, war victims, and the ghost of a murderous asylum doctor roam the decaying grounds. The Italian government offered the island up for a long term lease (99 years) in 2014 in the hope that someone would redevelop the land.
10. Tomb Of Qin Shi Huang, China
You’ll no doubt be familiar with the iconic faces of the underground army of terracotta warriors at Xi’an; one of the most incredible archaeological discoveries of all time.
Though this ancient site sees thousands of tourists descend in their droves, not many are aware that buried deep beneath them, lies an emperor in his mausoleum, surrounded by a river of poisonous mercury, who’s been undisturbed for more than 2000 years.
The tomb holds the body and the secrets of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who died on Sept. 10, 210 B.C. No human being has ever stepped inside these sacred walls and it will likely stay that way for the foreseeable future. We can only ever imagine what treasures lie within…
11. Lascaux Caves, France
This complex series of caves, located in Northwestern France, is home to one of history’s most famous examples of Paleolithic cave paintings ever discovered. The ancient artwork is believed to be over 17,000 years old and depicts mostly images of large animals that have been proven through fossil excavations to have been living in the area at that time. The caves are even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, since 2008, the caves have been completely closed off to the public following a fungal outbreak, with only a small handful of scientists allowed to enter for just a few days a month in order to study the paintings.
12. North Brother Island, United State
Less than a mile from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan lies a secret island that has been abandoned for almost 60 years.
North Brother Island is home to the Riverside Hospital which has seen its fair share of death, decay, and ruin over the years. Once used as a place to quarantine sufferers of tuberculosis, yellow fever, and smallpox in the 19th century; later it was used after World War II to house veterans, and then as a treatment center for heroin addicts. Now sadly left to crumble, it lies in ruins covered by weeds and overgrown plants.
Today it is a haven for birds and only with very strict written permission from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation can you gain access to the island, otherwise it is strictly forbidden.
13. Mezhgorye, Russia
It transpires that Russia has its very own Area 51, only it’s a whole town. Mezhgorye is situated deep within the Ural Mountains and is said to be 400 square miles large but it’s still completely off the radar.
The Kremlin claims it is merely a mining site but that doesn’t explain why it’s surrounded by two battalions of armed guards who will use lethal force to prevent anyone going anywhere within the vicinity.
It is believed that Mezhgorye could be a nuclear missile site containing automatic missiles that can be activated remotely, complete with a large fully equipped emergency bunker to house Russia’s oligarchy if nuclear war became a reality.
14. Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraina
There is something fascinating about Chernobyl, a place frozen in time since the explosion that ripped through Reactor 4 at the Nuclear Power Plant in 1986, but although more than three decades have passed, strict controls remain in place and dangers endure.
Covering 1,000 square miles, the Exclusion Zone is where radioactive contamination is at its highest and, whilst the surrounding areas can be explored, access here is limited.
Officials in Ukraine are keen to restrict access to Chernobyl’s most hazardous areas and limit the further spread of contamination and, although the curious continue to take a close interest in this forgotten and abandoned land, infringement of the rules and regulations is not taken lightly. There is hope that, in time, things might change and life will return. Until then, however, you’d be wise to do as you’re told and not attempt to set foot in the forbidden places here.
15. Diego Garcia Island, Indian Ocean
Located in the clear blue waters of the Central Indian Ocean, Diego Garcia might appear a picture postcard paradise from afar, but seen close up, this is no place to kick back on the golden sands.
Housing a vast US naval and military base since the 1970s, access is strictly forbidden to all but the 1,000 or so personnel stationed here, and such is the atoll’s troubled past, no chances are taken when it comes to securing its secrets.
The subject of fierce territorial disputes since the US moved in at the height of the Cold War, the island’s inhabitants were forcibly removed and controversy has raged here ever since. Life is said to be good for the military personnel and contractors who are based here, but outsiders are not welcomed and all approaches are rebuffed in no uncertain terms. Paradise this might appear, but Diego Garcia is no place for the curious.