Incredible Places You Aren’t Allowed to Visit

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Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway

Svalbard Global Seed Vault could be a lifesaver for anyone who survives the apocalypse… if they can find it that is.

It’s hidden inside a mountain on the remote island of Spitsbergen in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago (pictured here). The mysterious vault stores duplicates of almost all the world’s crop collections.

Varosha, Cyprus

Pre 1974, Varosha was the place to be if you were in Cyprus. The beachside resort was popular with celebrities including Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot. But in 1974, Turkish troops invaded the island after tension with Greece reached breaking point. 

The inhabitants fled and although tensions have calmed down, the Turkish military fenced off the resort and no one’s been allowed in since. Visiting Varosha is strictly forbidden and anyone crossing the wire risks being shot – those who have snuck in report seeing a ghost town of abandoned hotels and homes. Recent reports suggest the resort may soon undergo controversial redevelopments, but nothing has been set in stone just yet.

North Sentinel Island, India

North Sentinel Island, a small island in the Indian Ocean, is officially off-limits to all visitors. Its inhabitants, the Sentinelese, live their life completely untouched by the outside world. The Indian government forbids contact with the tribe, principally to protect them from contracting diseases they have no immunity against. 

The island’s tribespeople do not welcome visitors. American missionary John Allen Chau was killed when he illegally landed on the island in 2018. Attempts to retrieve his body have now been called off due to fears of further attacks and the risks it could post to the Sentinelese too.

Heard Island, Australia

This remote, volcanic island in the Subantarctic belongs to Australia. Stark and inhospitable, it’s dominated by Big Ben – a 9,000-foot (2,743m) high active volcano that is linked to the famous London landmark by name alone. The last recorded eruption here was in 2016. Needless to say, the island remains uninhabited by humans.

In order to protect the island’s rare and delicate ecology (including the resident penguins), visits are strictly regulated – you’re highly unlikely to be able to go unless you’re part of a scientific expedition. Should you be granted access, you face a two-week voyage from Australia across some of the planet’s roughest seas.

Sana’a, Yemen

Yemen’s capital is one of the oldest and highest cities in the world. Sana’a is also one of the most enchanting, its Old City crammed full of Islamic and Ottoman buildings. People have been living in Sana’a for more than 2,500 years, and its exquisite architecture has earned it a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. 

Many of the houses here are built of rammed earth known as pisé, and most of its Old City was built before the 11th century. But civil unrest and then Saudi-led air strikes have put the city in danger. Today the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the US Department of State advise against all travel to Yemen.

Lascaux Cave, France

Back in the 1940s, a teenage boy stumbled upon a cave in the Dordogne filled with prehistoric paintings of more than 2,000 figures. But, after France opened the caves to the public in 1948, it wasn’t long before the effects of all those visitors started to destroy the paintings. 

The cave was closed but, in order that tourists could still enjoy a version of the paintings, the French built an exact copy nearby. Now on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the cave is a compelling record of mainly animal paintings from the Upper Palaeolithic period – about 17,000 BC.

Chapel of the Ark of the Covenant, Ethiopia

It’s said that, sometime before Christ, the Ark of the Covenant disappeared from Jerusalem and ended up in Ethiopia. The Ark is significant in Christian belief since it holds the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and it’s now thought be kept in a special chapel in Aksum.

Throughout time, the Ark has reportedly been guarded by a series of monks, so you won’t be able to visit the sacred relic. However, you can still explore the streets of the ancient town it lives in.

Timbuktu, Mali

There’s always been a mythical air about this ancient Saharan town, which was one of the most important seats of Islamic learning for centuries. But this UNESCO World Heritage Site has since come under attack by Islamist rebels, and tourist numbers to Timbuktu have plunged.   

Its significant place along Africa’s major trade routes gave Timbuktu its wealth, and salt traders still travel this route in spite of the dangers. Before the Islamist insurgents appeared, the town was the focus of fighting from its Tuareg population.

Mount Athos, Greece

For more than a thousand years, Eastern Orthodox monks have been living in the monasteries in Mount Athos. They continue to do so, and welcome a limited number of visitors to this Greek peninsula, providing they’re men. They’ve never allowed women to visit the mountain, and they have no intention of doing so in the future.

Even female animals aren’t allowed to be kept. That means eggs and dairy products have to be brought in from outside the peninsula. However, they’ve made an exception for cats. After all, someone’s got to deal with the mouse problem.

Leptis Magna, Libya

Even before Libya was swept along the tide of turmoil in Africa and the Middle East, its ancient Roman city was well off the tourist radar. Leptis Magna was founded by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC, and its ruins overlooking the Mediterranean Sea are really quite extraordinary.

Sadly, though, it will be some time before tourists can visit these little-explored ruins safely, as official advice in both the USA and the UK is against all travel to Libya.