The Most Fascinating Places On Earth That Are Completely Illegal To Visit

Enter at your own peril: The North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean, home to an isolated tribe. © Christian Caron – CC A-NC-SA

You’ve no doubt seen hundreds of listicles about the “The 10 most desirable places you must visit before you die.” Well, here’s a selection of undeniably fascinating destinations on planet Earth that you are – for better or for worse – forbidden to visit, regardless of your bank balance or Instagram following.

The Lascaux Caves

The Lascaux Caves are arguably one of the most significant sites in human history. These French caverns contain hundreds of vibrant cave paintings and etchings of life in the Ice Age, some of which date back over some 17,300 years.

Unfortunately, you will probably never be able to see it with your own eyes.

The cave complex was first opened to the public in 1948, after only being discovered eight years previous by a group of teenagers. Thousands of tourists swarmed to the caves each day until researchers started to realize something suspicious.

The unprecedented crowds were bringing in huge amounts carbon dioxide, heat, humidity, and other contaminants to the cave, transforming the dank cave walls into a breeding ground for fungi and lichen. By 1963, only a handful of experts were allowed into the caves to restore and monitor it. Even to this day, many of the paintings remain stained and tarnished as a result of the mold.

Nice one, humans.

Depiction of aurochs, horses, and deer in the Lascaux Caves. Prof saxx/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain 

Ghost Town In Paradise

The golden sands and clear blue seas of Varosha in the Cypriot city of Famagusta were once a playground for the rich and famous. Richard Burton, Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor, and many other Hollywood stars spent their summers at the idyllic resort in its heyday.

Then, in the summer of 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus, sparking a bloody inter-ethnic conflict in the northern corner of the island.  

On July 20, 1974, the entire city of Famagusta fled their homes and workplaces, fearing they would be caught in the crossfire of a street fight between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish armies. Although tensions have since cooled down, if not unresolved, Turkey still holds on to Varosha as a "bargaining chip” and many streets of the city quarter remain off-limits to people outside the Turkish Armed Forces.

Just outside the exclusion zone in Varosha in 2006. TomasNY/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.5

 

An Island Away From The Industrialized World

The North Sentinel Island is home to one of the world’s last few tribes that remain largely untouched by the outside world. In order to respect their wishes, there is now a 4.8-kilometer (3-mile) exclusion zone around the island. If you decide to break this, expect a shower of arrows to head your way.

The remote island can be found in the Bay of Bengal, a pocket of the Indian Ocean surrounded by India to the west, Bangladesh to the north, and Myanmar to the east. It’s home to the Sentinelese people. The outside world knows next to nothing about them or their island, although it's believed that between 40 to 200 people still inhabit the land.

Indian anthropologists managed to establish some contact with the Sentinelese between the 1970s and 1996, however more recent attempts to make contact with the island’s inhabitants have been sternly rejected, occasionally with violence. Equally, authorities are hesitant to visit the island as the Sentinelese could easily be wiped out by pathogens to which they have no immunity.

In the wake of the 2004 tsunami, helicopters were sent to the Sentinelese island to check on their welfare. As shown by photographers, a tribe member was filmed firing arrows up at the helicopter. Even more shockingly, two fishermen accidentally washed ashore in 2006 and were promptly killed. Remarkably, the Indian government did not seek to prosecute the people responsible for the deaths and they were forced to abandon attempts to recover the bodies of the two sailors.

The Sentinelese stand guard on an island beach. © Christian Caron – CC A-NC-SA

One Of The World’s "Newest" Islands

Surtsey Island is practically a giant laboratory. In 1963, a massive volcanic eruption took center stage in the shallow seas off the coast of Iceland, eventually forming a mass of land named after the mythological Norse giant Surtr.

Since this chunk of land has remained relatively untouched by humans, it’s providing scientists with some valuable insights into how plant and animal life colonize new land. Studies have shown that the island became inhabited by a number of bacteria, fungi, and mold within years. By the end of the 1970s, the island was home to over 10 species of vascular plant, most likely thanks to seeds brought over by the waves and bird poop.

Most bizarrely of all, scientists once found a tomato plant growing on the island, most likely the result of a rogue scientist pooping out the seeds of a tomato. 

Unfortunately, the island is strictly off-limits to the public, unless you’re a scientist.

The newborn island of Surtsey, off the coast of Iceland, on November 30, 1963. Howell Williams/NOAA.

 

Snake Island

Snake Island sounds like the murderous headquarters of a supervillain from an 80s cartoon. In actual fact, it’s home to something much more terrifying: It’s infested with a critically endangered and deadly snake known as the golden lancehead pit viper.

It's believed the legions of snakes became trapped on the island when rising sea levels cut them off from the mainland. Now, the island has become a pit-stop for migratory birds, many of which end up in the belly of the golden lanceheads. Marcelo Duarte, a biologist who has visited Snake Island over 20 times, said that the island has at least one snake per each square meter (although some less reliable estimates say that figure is higher).

The only people who can access the island are the Brazilian Navy and government-vetted scientists (not that you’d want to go there anyway).

A golden lancehead viper held in the Biological Museum, Instituto Butantan. Nayeryouakim CC BY-SA 4.0

New York City’s Creepy Island

Just under a mile from Manhattan, there’s a mysterious island that’s been left abandoned for more than half a century. In the 19th century, North Brother Island was home to a hospital used to treat smallpox and other quarantinable diseases. “Typhoid Mary”, one of the first people in the US to be identified as a carrier of typhoid fever, even spent three years on the island. By the 1960s, the island hospital gained a nasty reputation for corruption and the city eventually shut its door.

The island, now off-limits to the public, still has its dilapidated and overgrown hospital buildings. It isn’t all doom and gloom though; the island has since become a nesting colony for many rare birds, supporting some of the area's last remaining species of black-crowned night heron, great egrets, and snowy egrets.

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