The Getaway
Stay Away From These Forbidden Tourist Destinations

As the internet brings cultures together, international travel is steadily becoming a top priority. Bucket lists are morphing into travel itineraries, and tourists are learning to customize their experiences at every level. Not all journeys are meant to be, however. Sometimes, whether or not we get to visit a destination is decided for us before we even pack our bags. Some locations close forever when they become a danger to our well-being, and others fare much better without humans interfering in the environment. A few regions forbid visitors to protect culture or knowledge, often leading to controversy. Before you complete your travel bucket list, make sure you aren't including any of the forbidden tourist destinations of the world. You may find some insight at alternative locations nearby or, at the very least, save yourself a ticket.


01 Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico

From a distance, the serene island of Cayo Santiago seems like an escape from the tourist-packed cities of Puerto Rico a mile-and-a-half away. You won't be able to set foot on land, however, since the territory is currently home to thousands of rhesus macaque monkeys. Scientists established the Island of Monkeys as a research preserve in the 1930s, and access remains limited. Overnight camping is prohibited, and tourism of any kind is not allowed. The closest you can get to the shore is kayaking around the perimeter, though you wouldn't want to tour the island anyway. The primates of Cayo Santiago carry Herpes B, a version of the virus fatal to humans. In 2017, Hurricane Maria destroyed almost all of the island's vegetation. The macaques continue to thrive after the event by adapting their behaviors, a lesson that humans may apply to societies in the future.


02 Zone Rouge, Verdun, France

World War 1 trench near Verdun stockcam / Getty Images

Every battle has its casualties but, in the case of France's Battle of Verdun during World War I, it was several villages that had to die for their country. The conflict lasted around 300 days, during which the German and French armies fired millions of explosive shells at each other. The artillery battle destroyed nine villages and contaminated the earth with lead, arsenic, and poison gas. When it was all over, the French government decided to relocate the communities rather than rebuild. The restricted villages became the Zone Rouge, or Red Zone, too dangerous for visitors. Over a hundred years later, some sections are still off-limits; even local farmers accidentally discharge unexploded shells. Meanwhile, nature is steadily reclaiming the uninhabited territory. If you visit Verdun, stick to the safe zones for your own protection, and let the ghosts of the past and departed soldiers rest in peace.


03 Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia

Majestic Uluru at sunset on a clear winter's evening in the Northern Territory, Australia

Uluru, a massive sandstone rock formation in the heart of the Australian wilderness, is at the core of many Anangu creation myths. Also known as Ayers Rock, the sacred monolith houses the spirits of their ancestors. It's also a national symbol of Australia, prompting decades of travelers from all over the world to climb the path to its summit. Excessive tourism contributed significant damage to the rockface over the years, not to mention that it disregarded the Anangu's wishes that their sacred sites remain undisturbed. That changed in October of 2019 when an official ban on climbing Uluru took effect. While the path to the summit of Ayers Rock is no longer accessible, tourists can still ride around its base on a camel or Segway or photograph the setting sun illuminating its amber facade. There's also a guest book where visitors can testify that they did not ascend Uluru.


04 The Vatican Archives, Vatican City

Rome, Italy Eva-Katalin / Getty Images

An underground vault housing 35,000 volumes of privileged reading material sounds like the setting for an action-adventure film — not the home of the Catholic Church. The super-secret Vatican Archives are a subject of constant speculation. The extraordinary collection includes 12 centuries of documents dating back to the 8th century. From King Henry VIII's letters requesting a divorce to notes from the trial of the astronomer Galileo, the contents of the 53 miles of shelving within the archives makes it one of the world's most important research centers. Because of its significance to culture, the contents of the Vatican's vault remain accessible only to scholars after a rigorous vetting process. Additionally, records younger than 75 years old are restricted, and not all documents are available for review. Some argue that the church is hiding some forbidden knowledge, but representatives insist their catalog is just too big.


05 Mir Diamond Mine, Mirny, Russia

The eastern Siberian city of Mirny hovers near the edge of the Mir (Peace) diamond mine August 30, 2001, one of the largest mines run by Russia''s state diamond company, Alrosa. The mine produces some of the highest quality stones in Russia, known as "Mir diamonds." Russia produces one-quarter of the world''s diamonds. Scott Peterson / Getty Images

The small town of Mirny in Siberia is even smaller in comparison to its most notable feature: the Mir Mine. The open-pit diamond mine, which is also the second-largest excavated hole in the world, produced ten million carats of diamonds a year during the 1960s. Diamond dealers around the world were openly skeptical of how the mine could continue to be so productive. The Soviet government granted the De Beers company access in 1976, but they did everything they could to limit their time and information gathered. Mirny Mine was always inaccessible to strangers and remains a mystery to this day. Though the mine is no longer operational, access remains strictly off-limits to outsiders, including the airspace above the gaping hole. Legend has it that hot and cold air circulation creates a vortex so powerful above the mine, it sucks small aircraft out of the sky.


06 Surtsey Island, Iceland

In 1963, an underwater volcanic eruption lasting four years created the island of Surtsey off the southern coast of Iceland. Now preserved as a living laboratory, the one-square-mile land is a perfect example of the uprising of a new ecosystem. What began as a barren landmass is now home to a growing number of species. Surtsey gives scientists a chance to learn how life colonizes new land without human influences, much like during Earth's early days. That means tourism is out of the question as scientists already try to minimize the impact their presence creates. Recognizing its scientific value, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 2008. The only way to set foot on Surtsey Island is to join the club of approved researchers who arrive each year to study its unique ecosystem. You can still visit nearby Heimaey, the only populated of the Westman Islands archipelago.


07 Varosha, Cyprus

Ruins of hotels at Varosia district of Famagusta, Cyprus trabantos / Getty Images

In the early 1970s, the Mediterranean beach town of Varosha in Famagusta, Cyprus, was a booming tourist destination. Turkish troops descended on the island in 1974, however, forcing an evacuation that abandoned the city to the elements. Armed forces occupied the area and warned the public to stay out. Its shops still stocked with merchandise and cars remaining parked in their garages, Varosha soon became a ghost town. Buildings and other infrastructure continue to decay after years of neglect, although recently announced plans describe redevelopment projects in the once-thriving region. Beaches and sections of the town reopened to visitors in October 2020, a controversial move that angered many in the international community. The plan doesn't help deteriorating relations with Cyprus, Greece, or the European Union, but it does provide an opportunity to see parts of the forbidden city and the time capsule that is Varosha.


08 North Sentinel Island, India

Aerial view of North Sentinel Island, Andaman.

Though North Sentinel Island is one of the globe's best-known forbidden destinations, the land notorious for its less-than-welcoming residents recently made international headlines for a tragic but predictable reason. American missionary John Allen Chau illegally traveled to the off-limits island in 2018. He bribed a fisherman to take him within the restricted ocean area that extends for three miles from the shore. Hoping to make peaceful contact with the tribe, Chau met with deadly force, instead. North Sentinel Island is closed to tourism and the outside world for a reason. The Sentinelese refuse contact with society, and the world has decided to respect their wishes. Officials also recognize the risk that contact efforts pose to visitors, as well as for the indigenous people who lack immunities to deadly diseases. The closest tourists can get is the remaining Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal.


09 The Queen's Bedroom, United Kingdom

buckingham palace

Buckingham Palace has long been one of Western Civilization's premier tourist attractions, and the royal family and other inhabitants have acted with grace when the throngs descend. That grace, however, stops precisely at the door of Queen Elizabeth's bedroom, where prying eyes are not allowed. However, an unemployed Londoner by the name of Michael Fagan was able to access the royal chambers via a drainpipe in the year 1982, and Queen Elizabeth took his surprise presence with her usual good grace. She and the intruder enjoyed a calm conversation, and when he asked for a cigarette, she was able to summon a footman to bring it and thus alerted her staff to his presence. Fagan's visit didn't end as graciously as it began — he was firmly escorted off the palace grounds, although the queen declined to press trespassing charges.


10 Lascaux Caves, France

MONTIGNAC, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 24: International Center of Parietal Art at the foot of the hill of Lascaux.The major element of the site is the facsimile which reproduces the entirely of the original cave of Lascaux on November 24, 2016 in Montignac, France.The center explain the richness of the representations painted and engraved in the cave of Lascaux.The cave of Lascaux in the Dordogne has discovered on 12 September 1940 and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979, it is one of the masterpieces of parietal art.For protect the 20 000 years paintings, the cave has been closed since 1963. The International Center of Parietal will open on December 15, 2016. Patrick Aventurier / Getty Images

Most people learned about Lascaux Caves in a class and were fascinated to the point of promising themselves they'd visit one day. However, unless they made the trek before 1963, they were out of luck. The caves were closed to help ensure their preservation — the carbon dioxide produced by human breath is damaging to the 20,000-year-old Palaeolithic cave paintings. Those with their hearts set on experiencing the magic of the caves have the option of doing so at a replication of the cave which is fantastic since their location in Southwest France's Dordogne region is a worthy vacation destination in its own right. Set between the Pyrenees Mountain Range and the Loire Valley, Dordogne offers abundant natural beauty accented by the ruins of numerous Roman castles.


11 Heard Island, Australia

Located between Antarctica and Madagascar's southern tip, Heard Island is a member of a group of remote volcanic islands in the south section of the Indian Ocean. Technically part of Australia, Heard Island is among the most far-flung destinations on the planet. Tourists are not allowed on the island due to the wide range of wildlife that lives there. The island is home to penguins and other marine birds, seals, and invertebrates. Additionally, the area's typically poor weather conditions feature nearly constant rough seas and high winds, making travel extremely hazardous. Indications that the volcano may become active are also at play — the island was closed to anyone but researchers in the year 2000.


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