While there are plenty of spectacular places around the world to explore, not all are open to travelers. Whether too dangerous to visit, too remote to access or under strict national regulations, there are several dozen spots around the globe that, though fascinating to read about, are completely off-limits to the average visitor. As much as we’d love to see these places in person, they all have good reason for remaining largely isolated from the outside world.
Here are some of the most travel-restricted places in the world.
Ilha da Queimada Grande, Brazil
Ilha da Queimada Grande, an island located approximately 20 miles off the shoreline of Sao Paolo, is also known as Snake Island — and for good reason. The island serves as a home to one of the world’s deadliest snake species, the golden lancehead viper. With thousands of the lethal reptiles on the island, the government has prohibited visitors from ever setting foot there, although it occasionally grants permission to scientists who want to study the island’s unique ecosystem.
North Sentinel Island, India
Infiltrating the protected area of North Sentinel Island could cost you your life. The island is home to the Sentinelese, one of the world’s last indigenous tribes who remain isolated from the outside world. Travel to the island is prohibited, both for preservation and safety reasons. The Sentinelese have reacted violently to approaching vessels in the past, most recently causing the death of an American missionary in 2018 after he ignored warnings and illegally attempted to visit the island.
Heard Island, Australia
This mountainous island, located about two-thirds of the way between Madagascar and Antarctica, is considered one of the most remote places on Earth. But that may be for the best, considering it contains one of Australia’s two active volcanoes.
Heard Island is home to Mawson Peak, the volcanic summit of Big Ben massif which has erupted multiple times in the past 15 years — most recently, in February 2016. Visitors can only gain access to Heard Island by applying to the Australian Antarctic Division for a permit. Reaching the island from Australia also requires a costly, two-week journey over rough seas.
For more than 100 years, this small island — located between Venice and Lido in the Venetian Lagoon — served as a quarantine station for those diagnosed with the plague and other diseases. Later, it also became the site of a mental hospital. Since the closure of the facility in 1968, the island has remained vacant. In more recent years, efforts to raise funds and restore the island have proven unsuccessful.
Surtsey Island, Iceland
This island, located off the southern coast of Iceland, has been off-limits to the public since it formed in a volcanic eruption in 1963. The only people allowed to visit are researchers and scientists who occasionally stay on the island to study the ecosystem. In 2008, UNESCO declared the island a World Heritage Site in recognition of its great scientific value.
Believe it or not, this Cypriot city, located in the southern quarter of Famagusta, was once a bustling modern tourist area. After the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, residents fled the city and the Turkish took control of it. Since then, the area has remained abandoned and entry is forbidden to the public, making Varosha a virtual ghost town. There have been reports that this former resort area could re-open in the near future but, until then, it remains creepily uninhabited.
Lascaux Caves, France
Located in northwestern France, this complex of caves houses hundreds of the world’s most famous Paleolithic cave paintings. The ancient art dates back over 15,000 years, depicting primarily large animals — many of which correspond with historic fossil records. After the cave began developing black mold in 2008, authorities closed it for several months. These days, only a few scientific experts are allowed to work inside the cave for a few days a month.
Fort Knox, Kentucky
You’ve probably heard the saying “tougher to get into than Fort Knox” — and there’s a good reason for that. This United States Army post, located in Kentucky, is known for boasting some of the toughest security in the country. Why? It houses the United States Bullion Depository, which is used to store a large portion of the nation’s gold reserves. There is a museum at Fort Knox that is open to visitors, but no unauthorized visitors are allowed inside the Bullion Depository, which, let’s be honest, is where you’d want to go.
Vatican Secret Archives
The Vatican Secret Archives houses the historic acts promulgated by the Holy See, along with a multitude of state papers, correspondence, papal account books and other important documents that the church has accumulated dating back centuries. Access is widely restricted, with qualified scholars and researchers required to apply for entry. Even then, there are strict limitations as to what archives users are able to view and access.
The details of this U.S. Air Force facility are so highly classified, we still don’t even technically know what its primary function is. The intense secrecy surrounding the base, located in Nevada, has made it the subject of widespread speculation and conspiracy theories. One favorite theory is that the government houses and examines alien life and spacecraft in the secluded base. This makes the area around the facility popular with alien enthusiasts, although Area 51 itself remains restricted to intelligence and military personnel with special clearance.
In 2019, a viral plan to storm Area 51 forced an Air Force spokesperson to release a statement, describing the facility as “an open training range for the U.S. Air Force.”
Ise Grand Shrine, Japan
Ise Jingu is considered the holiest Shinto shrine in all of Japan. Though revered across the country, most people don’t have permission to enter the most sacred part of the grounds. Only members of the imperial family or high-ranking priests and priestesses have access to the inner sanctum of the shrine. Even though the main grounds are off-limits to tourists, the area outside the walls is a popular destination for visitors because of its serene beauty and importance in Japanese culture.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway
Built into a mountain on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago, this long-term seed storage facility stands halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Constructed for about $9 million, it was built to store and safeguard the world’s largest collection of crops from natural or man-made disasters, the facility boasts a highly advanced security system. Only a handful of employees have permission to access the secure vault.
Club 33, Disneyland
This private Disney club is in the heart of New Orleans Square at California’s Disneyland. Though its existence was originally kept secret, most Disney fans have heard whispers about the club and its location within “The Happiest Place on Earth.” However, chances are minimal that you’ll ever get to see it. Membership involves thousands of dollars in initial fees and annual dues. Even if you can afford it, the waiting list for new members is reportedly over a decade long.
Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory
The island of Diego Garcia has been the subject of controversy since 1967 when the British Indian Ocean Territory took control of the area and forcibly removed the farmworkers that lived there. After their deportation, the United States built a large naval and military base on the Diego, which remains in operation even now. Since then, only military personnel and contractors have access to the island. It’s a shame this place is off-limits to regular visitors because it looks beautiful from the air.
Plymouth was constructed on historical lava deposits near the Soufrière Hills volcano, located on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Though it remained inactive for years, the volcano resumed activity and began erupting again in 1995, forcing an evacuation of the town. By 1997, the entire city was abandoned permanently, leaving it to become a ghost town largely damaged and buried by volcanic matter.
Albatross Island, Tasmania
This 18-acre island, located in Bass Strait, serves as the base to a breeding colony for shy albatross, a near-threatened species of birds historically exploited for its feathers. The island is also home to a plethora of other animals, including penguins, short-tailed shearwaters, silvery gulls, Australia fur seals and more. In order to preserve the animals’ habitat and protect the albatross’ nests, the island bans tourists from visiting.
Bohemian Grove, California
The private, all-male club, the Bohemian Club, owns this 2,700-acre California property. Every summer, the gentlemen’s club hosts a two-week camp at the Grove that draws many prominent men, including business leaders, government officials, musicians and even some former U.S. presidents. Members must invite guests to the Grove, and though the club allows entrance to spouses and relatives, they must follow strict regulations that dictate when they can visit.
Navassa Island, Caribbean
Navassa Island has been the subject of a territorial dispute between Haiti and the United States for years. The U.S. has claimed the island since 1857, while Haiti’s claim goes back to 1697. While the dispute remains ongoing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Navassa Island Wildlife Refuge there in 1999. The refuge protects a 12-nautical mile radius of marine life around the island and remains closed to the general public. Visitors also need to request special permission from the Fish and Wildlife Office in Boquerón, Puerto Rico, to enter its territorial waters or land.
The Scottish farmer and plantation owner, Elizabeth Sinclair, purchased this Hawaiian island in 1864 for $10,000. In the centuries since, private ownership of the island has passed on to her descendants, the Robinson family. To this day, the island remains mostly off-limits to anyone but the family and relatives, their invited guests and some U.S. Navy personal and government officials. Due to its limited visitation, the island has been dubbed “The Forbidden Island.”
Maya Bay, Thailand
Maya Bay, located on the Thai island of Ko Phi Phi Le, was made internationally famous by the 2000 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Beach.” Unfortunately, the film’s production caused damage to the natural construction of the beach. It also spurred an influx of tourism that far exceeded the environment’s carrying capacity. The excessive number of visitors caused the coral reef and marine life to dwindle, and in 2018, authorities opted to close the beach indefinitely in an effort to restore the beach’s ecosystem.
As fascinating as the story of Chernobyl might be, the place doesn’t get many visitors, and there’s a good reason why. Residents evacuated the city in 1988, following the most disastrous nuclear accident in history at the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Decades later, the area remains plagued by an unsafe level of radiation exposure — which means those with access, such as workers from the State Agency of Ukraine, can spend only a strictly regulated amount of time there.
Pine Gap, Australia
Somewhere in a remote area in Central Australia lies the U.S. satellite surveillance base known as Pine Gap. Three of the nation’s top intelligence agencies, the CIA, the NSA and the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, run the highly classified facility. The station functions primarily to collect geolocation data and weapons and communications signals from other countries via satellite. For obvious reasons, only officials with the proper clearance can gain access to the facility.
Mount Athos, Greece
This mountain in northeastern Greece serves as an important center for Eastern Orthodox monasticism. It’s home to 20 monasteries and more than 2,000 monks from various countries. Due to its religious affiliation, the area falls under the jurisdiction of the Monastic State of the Holy Mountain and the Athonite institutions, which have established strict regulations as to who can access the city. Only men can enter the territory, and all visitors must obtain a special entrance permit.
The Tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China
The tomb of the First Qin Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, is located deep inside a hill in the Lintong District of China. Since the discovery of the tomb in 1974, excavators have found thousands of terracotta statues around the site, along with multiple chariots, pieces of weaponry and other artifacts. However, the tomb itself has remained largely untouched, with the Chinese government refusing proposals for exploration out of respect for the ancient burial rites. Though the tomb remains sealed off, visitors can see the terracotta army of soldiers and some of the other items found in the burial grounds.
Robins Island, New York
This 435-acre island lies in the Peconic Bay by the eastern end of Long Island. Though the island remains within the jurisdiction of the Town of Southold in Suffolk County, New York, it’s privately owned and not accessible to the public. The owner, Wall Street financier Louis Bacon, purchased the property in 1993 for $11 million and has made significant restorations to the area’s natural habitat, including bringing in oak trees and replacing non-native grasses.