10 places it's (almost) impossible to visit
By Orlando Parfitt
Thanks to cheap flights and the internet, the world’s not as mysterious as it used to be. Many of us have travelled to far-flung areas of the globe that would have been totally alien and unreachable to Brits even a couple of generations ago. However, there are still parts of the planet that – no matter how many tourist blogs you read – are still (almost) off-limits to tourists. Here are some of our favourite forbidden travel destinations.
Where is it? The Venetian lagoon, Italy
Why can’t I visit?: Because it’s haunted! According to legend it was used to isolate plague victims during Roman times, and then as a giant Black Death grave in the Middle Ages. As if that wasn’t scary enough, it’s also home to spooky abandoned building – complete with bell tower naturally – that was apparently a mental hospital. These days it’s off-limits to visitors unless you bribe a gondolier to take you there.
2. Area 51
Where is it? Nevada, USA
Why can’t I visit?: It’s a top secret military testing base, protected by armed private security teams patrolling in jeeps who are authorised to use deadly force to deal with intruders. Whether or not you believe UFOs have crashed landed there, the ridiculously strict security around the base means you’re never going to find out for sure.
3. Le Cercle Munster
Where is it? Luxembourg
Why can’t I visit?: It’s an exclusive private members club that’s extremely selective about adding new members. Want to join? You must be backed by two sponsors and be approved by a selection committee made up of bigwigs from the finance world. Unless you’re an incredibly rich banker, businessman or equity trader, you’ll never see the sumptuous insides of the club, take part in the ‘Programme culturel’ or eat the delicious food at the in-house restaurant. Damn!
4. Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion
Where is it? Axum, Ethiopia
Why can’t I visit?: Because it’s no ordinary church. According to legend it's home to one of the most important biblical artefacts ever – the Ark of the Covenant (and we thought Indiana Jones left it in a warehouse). Only a specially chosen monk is allowed to guard the ‘Ark’. No-one else is allowed to lay eyes on it or even get close, in case they melt presumably (see Indiana Jones again). Of course, some claim this secrecy means the Ethiopian church is telling porkies…
5. Most of Niihau Island
Where is it? The Hawaiian Islands, USA
Why can’t I visit?: Super-rich family the Robinsons (they’re not Swiss) bought Niihau in 1915 and closed it off to preserve its indigenous culture and wildlife. The 200-or-so natives who live there lead a blissful existence free of electricity, burger joints and, for the most part, tourists. There are very rare helicopter tours to the isle where you can wander along one of the beaches, but getting anywhere near the locals is strictly forbidden; hence its nickname, the, er, ‘Forbidden Island’.
6. Bohemian Grove
Where is it? California, USA
Why can’t I visit?: It’s an extremely secretive men-only club whose members include artists, musicians, businessmen politicians… and the odd president (Nixon was a member). Once a year they all gather for a two-week long festival where (allegedly) rituals such as the ‘Cremation of Care’ - a wicker-man-style faux-pagan rite - and the ‘Grove Play’ - a large-scale musical theatre production - are performed by members. It sounds like fun to us, but somehow I don’t think we’ll get an invite…
7. Lechiguilla Cave
Where is it? New Mexico, USA
Why can’t I visit?: It’s perhaps the most beautiful cave on the planet and frankly, the authorities don’t want you ruining it. Discovered in 1986 by miners, the sprawling underground complex is home to stunning speleothems, gypsum chandeliers and hydromagnesite balloons. We don’t know what any of these are, but they sound impressive. Sadly, unless you’re an extremely experienced caver you’ll never get a permit to see them.
8. Jiangsu National Security Education museum
Where is it? Nanjing, China
Why can’t I visit?: Anyone is allowed in… as long as they are Chinese. There’s a big sign outside the front of this very unusual museum stating that only Chinese citizens are allowed inside. The unusual entry requirements are because the museum documents the history of Chinese espionage, and the state doesn’t want us foreigners finding out their spying secrets.
9. Ilha de Queimada Grande
Where is it? Off the shore of Brazil
Why can’t I visit?: Basically, because it’s full of snakes – hence the nickname: ‘Snake Island’. Local legend states there’s between one and five snakes per square metre on the island. And not just any old snakes, most of ‘em are golden lanceheads – noted for their extremely potent venom. Because of this, understandably, the Brazilian Navy forbids tourists from stepping foot on the island.
10. The peak of Mount Kailash
Where is it? The Himalayas, Tibet
Why can’t I visit?: Because it's home to a Hindu god. Lord Shiva, to be precise, who resides at the summit in a state of perpetual meditation. Sounds like bliss to us, which is appropriate, as Buddhists also believe the peak is home to the Buddha Demchok, who represents supreme bliss. Because of this religious significance the peak was always considered off-limits by most climbers, before this Chinese government issued an official ban in 2001.