Humans have been migrating and moving from place to place since the dawn of time in the neverending quest to explore every corner of the blue marble we call home.
However, against all odds, there are still places in the world that are off-limits to curious travelers.
From a snake-infested island to a secretive military base, here are the 22 forbidden places no one is allowed to visit.
Snake Island, Brazil
Visiting an island whose sole resident is a notoriously venomous snake is not exactly on anyone’s bucket list. That’s probably why Ilha da Queimada Grande, also known as Snake Island, isn’t a popular tourist destination.
Located 90 miles off the São Paulo coast in Brazil, the island is the natural home of the golden lancehead pit viper—one of the deadliest snakes in the world whose venom can kill a human in less than an hour.
The snakes became stranded on the island thousands of years ago and, eventually, adapted to the environment by preying on migrating birds. The lack of ground-level predators allowed them to reproduce quickly and today, between 2,000 and 4,000 golden lancehead vipers inhabit the treacherous island. There are one to five snakes per square meter on the island.
Local stories say that those who visited the island suffered horrific fates. Today, only the Brazilian navy and certain scientific research groups accompanied by doctors are allowed on the island.
Room 39, North Korea
The world’s most secretive country is also the home of what is known to be the most secretive organization. Room 39, or Bureau 39, is the name of a secret North Korean organization that is believed to be located inside the Workers’ Party building in the capital, Pyongyang.
While the activities behind the closed doors of room 39 are virtually unknown, it is believed the department raises funds through commercial enterprises—both legal and illegal —from counterfeiting to selling gold, drugs, or weapons.
The organization allegedly makes between $500 million and $2 billion for the country. Since the country is notoriously secretive, it is very difficult to confirm all of this.
Vatican Secret Archives, Vatican
Every year, Vatican city attracts millions of visitors, eager to take a peek at every corner of the holy place. However, one place in the tiny sovereign state is off-limits to visitors: the Vatican Apostolic Archive. Formed in 1612, the secret room located in a heavily protected area contains 53 miles of shelves with historical records of the Catholic Church, personal documents of every pope, and religious materials dating to the 8th century.
The archives were entirely off-limits until 1881 when Pope Leo XIII gave special access to some Catholic scholars.
To this day, the collection remains closed to everyone except for certain accredited researchers and scholars, who are allowed to request up to five specific files a day.
Coca-Cola vault, Atlanta, United States
Since it was created in 1886 by John Pemberton in Atlanta, the recipe for one of the world’s most popular soft drinks, Coca-Cola, has been safeguarded and kept secret.
When Coca-Cola was acquired as a company in 1919, the formula was first kept under lock and key at a New York bank, and then in 1925, it was moved to the Trust Company Bank in Atlanta.
In 2011 the company moved the handwritten recipe to a multi-million dollar vault in the World of Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta. While visitors can see the vault outside, only a few top executives can actually get inside the vault.
North Sentinel Island, India
In the Bay of Bengal sits the pristine island of North Sentinel, believed to have been there for more than 60 000 years. The island is the home of the most isolated tribe in the world—the Sentinelese —one of the last remaining communities virtually unaffected by modern civilization.
The island has been off-limits for many years to protect the tribe from diseases and the visitors from meeting a violent end.
Despite the ongoing ban and a three-mile restriction zone that prevents anyone from entering the territory, many curious visitors have tried to sneak in and meet the tribe, which vigorously rejects all contact with outsiders.
In 2018, American missionary John Allen Chau was killed by the tribe after illegally entering the island in an attempt to convert the tribe to Christianity.
Tomb of the Qin Shi Huang, China
Approximately 2,000 clay soldiers have been found in the tomb of Qin Shi Huangburied deep beneath a hill in Central China since it was accidentally discovered in 1974. Archeologists believe there are 8,000 still to be uncovered. There is one place; however, that will remain uncovered.
Chinese authorities have banned archeologists from handling the central tomb containing Qin Shi Huang’s body, which has been closed since 210 B.C.E.
This was done partly out of respect for the dead but also to prevent the ancient artifacts from being damaged during excavation.
Area 51, Nevada, United States
Area 51 has not only been off limits for years, but the U.S. government denied its existence until 2013, when it was confirmed that there is indeed a “flight testing facility” in the Nevada desert.
The restricted status doesn’t stop curious visitors from flocking to the gate. In fact, in 2019, an event on Facebook named “Storm Area 51,” a plan to raid the area, had two million RSVPs. However, only a few dozen appeared at the gates at the appointed time and were quickly forced to leave by authorities.
Surtsey Island, Iceland
In 1963, a violent undersea volcanic eruption created a brand-new island 20 miles off the coast of Iceland. Named Surtsey, the formation is one of the youngest islands on the planet, giving scientists a unique chance to observe an ecosystem’s birth and evolution.
The first visitors to the island were bacteria, fungi, and molds. Today around 89 bird species and 335 invertebrates inhabit the island.
Because of this, the island is off-limits to everyone except accredited research teams.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway
In the Svalbard Archipelago, halfway between Norway and the North Pole, lies the Global Seed Vault, colloquially known as the “Doomsday Vault.” The facility currently safeguards duplicates of 1 million seeds from all over the world and can store around 4.5 million samples of seeds. Its purpose is to protect the world’s crops in case a global disaster wipes them from their natural environment. The vault is located deep underground and high above sea level to withstand ocean rise, nuclear attacks, and earthquakes.
Lascaux cave, France
The Lascaux Caves in Southwestern France house 900 of the best-preserved examples of prehistoric paintings. The sketches of deer, horses, and other animals are believed to date back to the Upper Paleolithic period, which was 15,000 to 17,000 years ago.
The site became a popular tourist attraction soon after its discovery in the 1940s. However, due to the growing number of visitors, the carbon monoxide from people’s breath started damaging the cave’s paintings leading the authorities to close the site in 1963.
Now off-limits to visitors, archaeology fans can check out a perfect replica of Lascaux Cave located right next door to the original site.
North Brother Island, New York, United States
Every year, millions of visitors flock to New York City eager to explore every inch of “The Big Apple—” except one.North Brother Island on the East River is an abandoned quarantine island that has been off-limits to visitors for almost half a century.
From the late 1800s to the 1940s, the island served as a hospital site for patients with highly contagious illnesses. Those who died on the island were buried in the island’s morgue. In 1951, the hospital was turned into a drug rehabilitation center before being completely abandoned in 1963.
Today, the island is managed by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and serves as a bird sanctuary.
While inaccessible to the general public, the city makes exceptions for academics and researchers who must apply to get permission to access the island.
Bhangarh Fort, India
What was once a splendid kingdom now lies as a ruin between Jaipur and Alwar in Rajasthan.
Founded by Amber Kachwah in 1573 for his youngest son, Bhangarh Fort’s population drastically declined when a severe famine forced the villagers to flee. Legend has it that a curse on the fort caused the kingdom to fall into ruin.
According to the Times of India, the fort is recognized as the only haunted place in India, and in order to visit the place before dawn or after sundown, you’ll need a government permit.
Poveglia Island, Italy
Povegilia, a tiny piece of land located less than half a mile from Venice, is known as a forbidden island with a dark and twisted past.
While completely deserted today, over the years, 160,000 people have lived and died on the island. In 1793, the Venetian island became a quarantine station, and potential plague victims were housed there for two decades. So many people died there; it is believed that around 50% of the island’s soil contains human remains. After Poveglia’s quarantine station closed in 1814, its dark history continued. A mental hospital opened on the site in the 1920s and quickly earned notoriety for its inhumane treatment of patients.
Today the abandoned, overgrown island is mainly off-limits to visitors.
Jiangsu National Security Education Museum, China
When China opened the doors of its national spy museum, everyone was welcome—except foreigners. Jiangsu National Security Education Museum, located in Nanjing, exhibits items relating to espionage and spy services from the early days of the People’s Republic of China until the late 1920s.
There is a sign outside the museum informing visitors that only Chinese citizens are allowed inside—a policy designed to conceal the communist regime’s methods.
Heard Island, Australia
With a reputation as one of the most dangerous places on earth, Heard Island is off-limits for the public’s own good.
Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean between Australia and Antarctica, Heard Island is entirely untouched by humans. The island houses the tallest mountains in Australia, two active volcanos, and a number of glaciers.
The Australian government has made it illegal to visit the area to protect both the untouched ecosystem on the island and curious adrenaline seekers from killing themselves.
While you can apply for a permit, the government allows only accredited researchers and scientists to study the island.
Ise Grand Shrine, Japan
This Shinto shrine in Japan was built around 2000 years ago, and it has been rebuilt every two decades since the late 7th century. A reconstruction of the shrine helps maintain the traditional shinmei-zukuri style of architecture.
Rebuilding Ise Grand requires replicating every detail of the ornate design, making it one of the nation’s most expensive structures. In each case, the Japanese government spends $500 million on rebuilding Ise Grand and its hundreds of secondary shrines. Still, most of that effort and cost go unnoticed: tourists can see the shrine from the outside, but only priestesses and priests can access it on the inside.
Montserrat’s Designated Exclusion Zone
When the Soufrière Hills volcano on the Caribean island Montserrat violently erupted in 1995, it forced the nearby town of Plymouth to evacuate and eventually abandon as ash consumed the town.
In spite of the fact that the volcano is no longer as destructive as it was a few decades ago, there’s still a chance it will erupt again, so more than half the island is still an exclusion zone and off-limits to visitors.
Dulce Base, New Mexico, U.S.
In the far reaches of Northern New Mexico, there is a tiny town known as Dulce where its residents often talk of a mysterious underground facility where unimaginable things happen. Named Dulce Base, the alleged subterranean facility is located on the Colorado-New Mexico border, and according to the rumors, it is operated by the U.S. military and aliens who jointly work on mind control experiments, human-alien hybrids, and other advanced technologies. There is also a claim that the intriguing place serves as the hub for an underground transportation system linking other alien bases, including one in Taos.
At first sight, Ni’ihau—the smallest inhabited Hawaiian island— looks like a tropical paradise: swaying palm trees, endangered animals, and no tourists. But the reason why the tiny island in the Pacific is so remote it’s because it is off-limits to outsiders. In 1863, Hawaii’s King Kamehameha sold Ni’ihau to wealthy plantation owners whose descendants still run the island.
Dubbed the “forbidden isle’ Niihau is home to 84 inhabitants, has no paved roads, running water, or telephone service, and runs solely on solar-powered electricity. The natives speak a traditional dialect of Hawaiian and forage and hunt their own food.
Travelers were allowed to visit and observe the Hawaiian culture and community for some time. However, as a result of a polio outbreak among the Hawaiian Islands in 1952, outsiders were prohibited from entering to protect the natives. Today, only U.S. Navy personnel, government officials, and invited guests can visit the island.
Heart Reef, Australia
A heart-shaped reef in the middle of the ocean sounds like the perfect photo opportunity, right? Well, Heart Reef—a part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef— is exactly that.
Discovered in 1975 by one of Air Whitsunday’s pilots, Heart Reef is home to a delicate ecosystem and only reachable by a seaplane or helicopter tour. The coral formation has a protected status and is off-limits to visitors, snorkelers, and divers.
The White’s Club, UK
White’s Club in London is one of the world’s oldest and most elitist gentlemen’s clubs. It’s also one of the few places that, still in this day and age, refuses entry to women.The gentlemen-only club is located at 37 St. James’ Street in Picadilly, and its members include politicians, senior bankers, and even heirs to the British throne.Because of strict gender restrictions, only the late Queen Elizabeth was able to gain entry. In 2013, Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, left the club, saying: “I’m dismayed the club does not accept women as members. I find that inexplicable in this day and age, I really do.”
Royal Air Force Menwith Hill, England
Menwith Hill Royal Air Force Station, located in North Yorkshire, England, is the largest electronic monitoring station in the world, intercepting communications to gather intelligence for the United Kingdom and the United States.
Over 650 acres of dedicated land are covered with giant golf ball-like domes. The base was built in 1954 to monitor Soviet Cold War communications, but no one knows what it does today. Some unconfirmed rumors claim the base serves as a ground station for U.S. satellites and investigates international terrorist actions and drug trades.
The public knows absolutely nothing about this secretive military installation. The base is only accessible to ECHELON spies (a global spy network comprised of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S.) and the N.S.A. (U.S. National Security Agency.)