Are the Galapagos Islands, Svalbard or Yakutsk not exotic enough? Perhaps then you should try to reach destinations you can be quite sure nobody you know has ever visited — places that are almost impossible to reach.
In the 21st century you can get to pretty much anywhere else on the planet within a matter of days — if the destination has an airport you can usually get there within 36 hours. Usually you can find some kind of lodging, restaurants and other services there and there's someone to help you if something bad happens.
Magellan's expedition in the early 16th century was the first round-the-world trip; it took three years and only one of his five ships made it all the way. By the late 19th century, a trip around the world in 80 days was possible on passenger trains and steamboats. Today, you could do it in a couple of days with a round-the-world flight (if your trip consists of just flying and changing planes). In general nowadays one can comfortably get to distant corners of the world which the explorers struggled to reach; for example the island in the Philippines where Magellan was killed now has an international airport.
However, there are still some destinations that you cannot simply buy a ticket to, and even if you can it may be prohibitively expensive or require knowing the right people and securing the right permits years in advance. Those destinations are the subject of this article.
What counts as "next-to-impossible" is subjective and elastic, but it has to mean something more challenging than "inconvenient and uncomfortable". The places described here are difficult to access for a variety of reasons: the list isn't exhaustive, and your own ingenuity is an essential component of reaching them. But broadly, what's included here are:
- Remote destinations: These are the main focus of this page. They lack regular transport to get in or around: you need to drive, sail, fly, ride or hike there yourself or join expedition transport. These places may have no permanent population or services. They may lack even basic airstrips, safe landing points, dirt tracks, drinkable water, or means of communication with the rest of the world. They may have a harsh climate, so even just staying alive is a constant preoccupation. There may be little to eat (and that little may be protected if it's a nature reserve). And then there's the business of getting back from the place, which – as many explorers found to their cost – may be a bigger challenge than getting in. This page doesn't include places with no hope of return, though it's conceivable that future interplanetary journeys might be one-way trips. See also Other destinations, which includes several remote islands and similar spots.
- Politically restricted destinations: some people can travel there but others may not, or only within constraints. Examples are:
- North Korea: foreigners can only visit as part of an approved party on an approved itinerary, with overt minders and not-very-covert agents dogging their every step. Nevertheless such trips, though expensive, are relatively common, and trouble-free so long as you keep your nose clean. Iran is an intermediate case: EU citizens can get visas and tour with little difficulty. It's quasi-North Korean for US and UK citizens, though their Iranian diasporas can make family visits.
- Some of Saudi Arabia: Tourist visas were introduced in 2019; before that the whole country was just open to foreigners coming for pilgrimage, transit or business/work. Still, the holy cities and pilgrimage destinations of Mecca and Medina are open only to Muslims. Many other Muslim countries have refused admission to Israeli passport holders, or to those whose passports show they've visited Israel, though this list is dwindling.
- Trouble back home: the destination might welcome you, but your own country might restrict or punish you. It's difficult for US citizens to visit Cuba, and the UK has used revocation of citizenship as a political weapon against those travelling to the conflict in Syria.
What's not included here:
- Temporary difficulties, such as natural calamity, civil upheaval or strife. For these, warnings are posted on the relevant pages, and in 2021 the entire world is in this category because of Covid-19. The assumption is that the difficulty will pass and normal travel will resume. But when does "temporary" become permanent? – it may be difficult if not unwise to predict.
- Restricted enclosures. Everywhere has places where you'd be in big trouble if you trespassed, especially around borders and military installations, but they're not included here if they're just a small patch within an otherwise accessible destination. Similarly, Chernobyl has areas that remain unsafe to enter, but it's a mainstream visitor attraction. Larger restricted tracts may exist in conflict zones, for instance around the borders of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, while the rest of those countries remain safe.
- War zones: simply don't go there: in 2021 the prime examples are Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. These do have transport for getting in and around, though it may be restricted to combatants and essential workers inbound, while a desperate population tries to flee outbound. The war may become a "frozen conflict" dragging on for decades, with much of the country off limits, and other areas subject to bomb attacks, murderous armed gangs, and collapsing buildings. Even after the conflict ends, expect ruined infrastructure and facilities, residual restrictions and checkpoints, and suspicion of strangers: whose side were they on? Are they worth kidnapping? Landmines and bitterness may persist for a century. But in the early 21st century, these war-torn areas are small by historical standards. The wars in Yugoslavia, Vietnam and Cambodia seemed interminable yet now these are friendly mainstream destinations, so there remains hope for the likes of Syria.
- Fictional destinations. Narnia, Hogwarts and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are easy to reach by reading a book or watching a movie. Several real destinations associated with works of fiction are described on the Fiction tourism pages, eg Game of Thrones filming locations. A related group are the Phantoms, non-existent places described by people who'd seen them. (That's aside from misidentified places, such as the "Indies" reached by Christopher Columbus.) They range from the tropical Kingdom of Prester John to the icy Aurora Islands, but they simply don't exist and never did. Do share your experience if you re-discover any of them.
- Most of the 1 Sahara desert, aside from some towns and similar sites near the edge of the desert, and a handful of roads and tracks (mostly in Algeria). The desert is huge, comparable in size to the United States or China.
- The 2 Congo Rainforest in Central Africa is the second largest in the world, remote and sparsely populated.
Antarctica and the Southern OceanEdit
Antarctica and its surrounding ocean are hazardous and icy cold, yet in summer some parts are mainstream tourist destinations, on cruises and air excursions. These include the west coast of the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Shetland Islands north of the Peninsula with the settlement of Villa Las Estrellas, Ross Island with McMurdo Station, the South Pole, and the north coast of South Georgia Island. But to venture even 1 km from this beaten tourist path would plunge you into polar dangers, only survivable by a robust expedition. Places beyond those, outlined here, are always expedition territory even in summer. And then winter sets in: temperatures drop below -40° (C or F, take your pick), and katabatic winds of hurricane force drop this to -80°C. There is little or no daylight. The sea freezes so there's no boat access, and the airstrips may be unusable. A few research stations are staffed year round but most close for winter. There's not even wildlife to eat, as these depend upon access to an unfrozen sea. Yes, too cold and remote even for penguins, think carefully about that before making your travel plans. Roughly north to south are:
- 3 French Southern and Antarctic Lands are a scattered group. A ship calls at the largest, Kerguelen, four times a year; some others in the group are off-limits. Winds are often storm force in these "Furious Fifties", but the sea is unfrozen so expedition ships can get in year-round.
- Heard Island and McDonald Islands are 500 km southeast of Kerguelen. They're Australian and you can only land by expedition under permit.
- 4 Bouvet Island, a Norwegian territory, is the remotest island in the world, some 2600 km southwest of Cape Town. The seas are rough and there's no harbour, so you may need to helicopter in from ship to shore. The island is a wildlife reserve.
- 5 South Georgia Island is a cruise destination along its north coast. The mountainous interior and exposed south coast are expedition territory. Trips sometimes re-create Ernest Shackleton's trek from King Haakon Bay on the south coast to Stromness Bay to bring help to his marooned men.
- The South Sandwich Islands are the volcanic arc of islands further south. Cruises sometimes sail by but landing is difficult.
- Inland Antarctica: Apart from the easily-visited South Pole, all of the interior ranks as next-to-impossible. East Antarctica has the 6 Southern Pole of Inaccessibility, the South Geomagnetic Pole, and the coldest place on earth. In West Antarctica, 7 Marie Byrd Land is the largest tract of land in the world not claimed by any country. Or you can climb Mount Vinson or Mount Sidley.
- While the southernmost third of Siberia is easily accessed, 8 northern Siberia is nothing more than wilderness for hundreds and thousands of kilometers; the same goes for most of the 9 Russian Far East. In winter, this region hosts the Pole of Cold (i.e. the coldest place in the north hemisphere). Even traveling along the arguably most important road in easternmost Russia, the Kolyma Highway, is somewhat of an expedition. Russia is also known for its closed cities, such as 10 Norilsk. Often located rather off the beaten path, these are related to military, nuclear or space activities, and entry is by special permit only. There are also cities which were formerly closed but are accessible today; the most important of these is Vladivostok, main base of the Russian Navy in the Pacific.
- Access to 11 North Korea is strictly controlled and unless you're doing business with the government, the only way to get legally in is on a tour; the latter being surprisingly easy. Only a few places in the country are open to tourists including some places in Pyongyang and environs and Panmunjeom at the South Korean border (and possibly places along the road). Some tours also allow travel overland between the Chinese border and Pyongyang by train. However, almost all of the rest of the country is strictly off-limits, as is even leaving your hotel without your guide. A few foreigners have been arrested for proselytism and minor thefts, and these resulted in serious diplomatic incidents.
- Much of the 12 Himalayas, including previously unclimbed mountain peaks as described below. The Himalayas form part of a large mountainous area stretching into Central, South and East Asia with all of the world's summits that are higher than 7,000 m. The Pamir range and the Wakhan Corridor at the western end of the Himalayas are particularly isolated areas.
- 13 Loulan Ruins (楼兰遗址) (Ruoqiang, China). A ruined city in the Lop Desert. The city was the capital of a small kingdom of the same name, which began to flourish from the 2nd century BC onward. In the 1st century BC, the kingdom came under Chinese control and was renamed Shanshan, but the city itself continued to be known as Loulan. The city was abandoned in the 4th century AD, apparently due to the Tarim River changing course and depriving the city of its water supply. Visiting Loulan today is extremely difficult. Indeed, this is probably one of the hardest places in China to visit. A special permit is required from the Ruoqiang County government. Getting the permit is said to require a lot of paperwork and you will likely have to get the approval of the Chinese military, as the area is under military control. The permit is also very expensive, particularly for foreigners. The permit costs ¥3500 for Chinese nationals but foreign visitors are expected to cough up ¥300,000 (no joke). The authorities are no doubt mindful of the fact that many artefacts from the site were spirited out of the country by foreign archaeologists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even if you succeed in getting a permit, your trip to Loulan is likely to be rather challenging as the Lop Desert is very inhospitable and prone to violent sand storms. Hundreds of people have reportedly died in the desert, including some eminent Chinese explorers. Solo travel is simply too dangerous and will not be approved by the authorities. Visitors are expected to travel in convoys consisting of multiple off-road vehicles, but even off-road vehicles are susceptible to getting stuck in the sand.
- 14 Nuristan. This is the most isolated area of Afghanistan; it was not until the late 19th century that the Afghans conquered it and the first Europeans reached it.
- Western Tibet is quite isolated; most of it is on a plateau at over 4000 m altitude and only inhabited by a few nomadic herders. Almost the only travellers are pilgrims bound for the sacred Mount Kailash.
- Okinoshima island is very close to the large city of Fukuoka, but its Shinto shrine is considered so sacred that only a few men and no women at all get permission to visit every year.
- The Arabian Desert, stretching across many Arab countries, is off the beaten path but there are highways and towns in parts of it, and much of the rest can be visited if you use a 4WD vehicle and are suitably cautious. It is fairly common, for example, for expatriates in Jeddah and Taif to go out along the Hejaz railway that Lawrence and his lads repeatedly blew up during World War I.
- 15 Empty Quarter (Rub' al Khali). The most difficult and isolated area of that desert is the Empty Quarter, mostly in the southeast corner of Saudi Arabia but extending into Oman and the UAE. It is so remote that many map providers don't bother to pretend they know the exact national borders as they are disputed among the countries that abut this place. Almost no-one goes there; there are few roads and little water.
- Also in Saudi Arabia, the cities of 16 Mecca and 17 Medina are difficult to get to if you are not a Muslim as entry is legally prohibited for non-Muslims year round. Of course, several million Muslims visit both during the Hajj pilgrimage every year, many visit them at other times, and both are thriving cities with well over a million residents.
Save for the North Pole, which can be reached on an expensive tour, there's no place within 1,000 kilometers of the pole that wouldn't require an expedition to get to. The way in is by plane, ski or dogsled — as much of the ocean is covered by thick ice around the year going by boat is probably not an option (but carrying one may be necessary for much of the expedition, to get from one ice field to the next).
- 18 Bear Island — administratively part of Svalbard, Bjørnøya is located between that archipelago and the Norwegian mainland. The island has a meteorological station and is fairly frequently visited by scientists of different fields.
- 19 Franz Josef Land is an uninhabited and largely ice-covered archipelago of almost 200 islands located between Novaya Zemlya and the North Pole. It’s a military zone, and you would need a permit from the Russian military to enter. In Soviet times no outsiders were allowed in, and since then, only three non-Russian expeditions have been granted permits to conduct expeditions there. If all else fails, a couple of the islands are visited on some icebreaker cruises to the North Pole. The islands are also part of the Russian Arctic National Park, a project to protect Arctic wildlife, and therefore reportedly a good place to see Arctic wildlife.
- 20 Jan Mayen — from Tromsø some 2/3 of the way to Greenland. Provided you get permission to visit, you can climb the world's northernmost active volcano. You won't be alone on this island, as Norway has military and meteorological staff stationed here. Depending on the circumstances you may get in quite comfortably on a Norwegian Air Force flight.
- 21 Novaya Zemlya, located about 500 km northeast of the Kola peninsula, is a mountainous archipelago of two islands, inhabited only by Russian military staff (most of them in the town of Belushya Guba in the south) and you will unsurprisingly need a permit to be allowed in. Due to its remoteness, it was chosen as a test site for nuclear bombs during the Cold War — indeed the largest man-made explosion ever took place on the northern island in 1961 when the Tsar Bomba was detonated.
- 22 Severnaya Zemlya, discovered in 1913 as the last landmass to become known to man.
- 23 ATOW1996 or other islands off Northern Greenland. ATOW1996 was once sighted by an expedition and is considered the northernmost piece of permanent land on Earth, but there may be islands further north. Find one of those!
- 24 Rockall — an islet less than halfway from Scotland to Iceland, claimed by four countries. Getting here entails more than 400 km of sailing through the often rough North Atlantic, and as this is a steep rock jutting up from the ocean there are no harbours. Some people landing here have been winched down by helicopter; however, there's no place to land safely.
- 25 Tristan da Cunha, about halfway between Cape Town and Buenos Aires, is the most remote inhabited island in the world, with sporadic service ships visiting the island from Southern Africa (and visitors are allowed as passengers only if there is a spare room), but sailing your own craft there is also an option. The eponymous archipelago is considered the remotest archipelago in the world, and fittingly, one of the islands there is named Inaccessible Island.
- 26 Surtsey is an island in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, only half a century old, emerging from the ocean as a result of a volcanic eruption in the 1960s. Surtsey is a place where scientists study how plants and animals colonize newly formed land, and a limited number of scientists are the only people allowed to set foot on Surtsey.
- The "monk-republic" of 27 Mount Athos is off-limits to the female half of the population. In order to enter, visitors are required to apply for a special permit called a diamonitirion. Only men are permitted to visit.
- Parts of the moon landscape that is the 28 interior of Iceland can be accessed by tour or you can rent one of those iconic Icelandic monster trucks and drive yourself (car rental agencies specifically prohibit you from attempting to drive one of their regular cars there). The tire tracks leading through the area are open to traffic only in the summer — elsewhere and other times of the year you have to get in and around on foot. There is very little life of any kind here, so don't expect any food stores or even edible vegetation. Save for the glaciers, the area is characterized as a "lava desert". On the upside, potable water is generally available. While you aren't going to experience any Siberian temperatures here, the weather is cool or cold year round with a lot of moisture, wind and snow, so do prepare accordingly. Moreover, this is one of the most volcanically active areas in the world, and volcanic eruptions and glacial lake outburst floods (jökulhlaups) are risks to be aware of. You can see some of this without travelling since parts of Game of Thrones are filmed there.
- Some uninhabited islands in the North Sea require a special permit to get to. An example of that is 29 Memmert in the East Frisian islands, which is mostly a bird sanctuary and only entered for research by ornithologists. While none of these islands are hard to get to per se, they are subject to very strict environmental protection laws, and save for the odd tour, there is no realistic way of legally getting there for non-ornithologists.
- The island of 30 Gogland (also known by its Finnish name Suursaari and Swedish name Högland) is very close to Kotka, Finland and used to have a vibrant tourism scene until the 1930s. However, when the island was ceded to the Soviet Union, it became a closed military area. Visits were briefly permitted by special permission after the Soviet Union dissolved, but the Russians have installed a military radar facility and the island was closed again.
- 31 Varosha, a suburb of Famagusta on the eastern coast of Cyprus was a major playground for the international jet set before 1974. Turkey captured it that year and fenced off the area, which became a ghost town after the hasty evacuation of the locals. Hardly anyone dared to go into the off-limits region until October 2020, when the Turkish military declared parts of it reopened for tourism.
- Offshore installations such as gas rigs are mostly off-limits, with a marine exclusion zone around them. Several wartime offshore forts, such as the "Maunsell Forts" in the Thames estuary east of London, can be visited on boat trips. Sealand 11 km off Felixstowe is a Maunsel Fort claimed as an independent micronation. What started as curmudgeonly eccentricity soon turned nasty when organised crime spotted its potential. Sealand in 2021 just has a resident caretaker who's unlikely to shoot at shipping, but approach with care.
- 32 Diego Garcia, part the British Indian Ocean Territory, is a military base with no access except by authorised UK and US military personnel and other government officials.
- 33 North Sentinel Island, one of the smaller Andaman Islands, is the home of the Sentinelese, who are often considered to be the most isolated group from the rest of humanity. An estimated 150-300 people, whose language differs from other Andaman islanders, this tribe has long refused any contact with outsiders (frequently violently so; they killed two fishermen in 2006 and a would-be missionary in 2018). No visitors are permitted by the Indian government, which claims de jure sovereignty over the island, to ensure the islanders' privacy and to keep them from the risk of getting infected with a disease they may not have developed immunity to.
- 34 Area 51 is entirely off limits to anyone other than authorized personnel of the U.S. military.
- 35 Clipperton Island is an uninhabited "piece of France" in the Pacific Ocean some 1,120 km southwest from Acapulco. Bring your own boat and be careful with the reefs around the atoll. Officially you'll need a permit from the authorities on French Polynesia to visit unless you're a French citizen — there are no border controls, but the French Navy occasionally visits the island.
- The 36 Darién Gap between Panama and Colombia will really upset your pan-American road trip. 100 km of impassible jungles and swamps interrupt the Pan-American Highway from connecting the two continents. The region is also the operating area of several armed groups that have in the past targeted "wealthy" westerners for kidnappings. Most travellers bypass the area, either by air or by sea.
- Inner and northern Greenland doesn't have the airports and ports most settlements on the coast have. You will need an expedition permit from the Danish authorities to visit 37 Greenland's interior. You have to bring everything you need with you, as most of the island is just a huge glacier.
- 38 Guadalupe Island is an island located nearly 320 km (200 miles) off the coast of Mexico. The closest most will get to the island is Great White Shark tours a few miles from the island. There are no tours onto the island yourself, so you if want to go there and you don't want to go by boat, feel free to swim or try to land a plane at its "airport" where multiple planes have crashed!
- 39 , an uninhabited small island 56 km west of Haiti, is a disputed territory claimed as an unorganized unincorporated territory of the United States. Haiti also claims the island. Under U.S. law, you must obtain a permit to visit the island from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office. On Navassa Island you can find an abandoned lighthouse and possibly remains of buildings related to 19th-century guano mining (in which accumulated bird droppings were extracted as fertilizer).
- Various points in 40 Northern Canada and 41 Alaska are accessible only by bush plane or, if uninhabited, have no transportation at all. Nunavut by road is not an option. On 42 Ellesmere Island, scheduled bush planes reach Grise Fiord, but travel further north is by general aviation charter or military aircraft only. Overall, the area can be compared to similar latitudes in Russia with hundreds of km between settlements, extremely cold winters and occasional military installations.
- A few isolated coastal fishing outports in eastern Canada are accessible only by sea (or air); much of northern Labrador, a few villages on the rugged 43 southern Newfoundland coastline and a stretch of eastern Quebec's 44 North Shore) east of Kegasha and west of Blanc-Sablon simply have no road. Many of the smallest, most remote villages have been abandoned.
Oceania and Pacific OceanEdit
Unlike the rest of the continents, which can be traversed overland, Oceania is spread over the Pacific Ocean with only one national land border; between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia on the island of New Guinea. Some of the world's least visited independent countries are here, including the least visited, Nauru. There are also thousands of small islands and atolls you need your own boat or (sea)plane to get to. Some places in northern Oceania are US military bases that do not allow tourists in.
- 45 Ashmore and Cartier Islands; not possible, no landing strip, people nor anything.
- Parts of the 46 Australian Outback; especially the western half of the country. The Gunbarrel Highway and the other couple of routes are very much off the beaten track and include hundreds of km without any fuel stations, services or settlements. If you go off that highway, you're pretty guaranteed to be on your own. Be absolutely sure you're carrying enough water and other supplies, and advise others of your itinerary. During the Australian summer, daytime temperatures may approach 50°C (120°F). If you are going to pass through Aboriginal lands, obtain a permit from the local authorities.
- 47 Cameron Corner is almost impossible to go to, even though it's the border between three states.
- See Antarctica above for Heard Island and McDonald Islands 500 km southeast of Kerguelen.
- New Zealand Subantarctic Islands — you can only visit them on the occasional expedition cruise ship
- 48 Palmerston Island – an isolated island inhabited by 50 or so descendants of one British sailor and his Polynesian wives. If you have a yacht and want to visit, call ahead to see if there's anything they want you to bring for them.
- 49 Paracel Islands – a disputed territory in the South China Sea. China has established a few settlements by extensively reclaiming land, but entry is restricted to mainland Chinese citizens.
- 50 Pitcairn Island — the only ship regularly visiting the islands (with a population of 67) does so four times a year, and even getting to Mangareva where the ferry starts from involves an infrequent flight from Tahiti.
- 51 Point Nemo — also dubbed the pole of inaccessibility, this remote patch of ocean is so far away from any land that it is used as a spacecraft cemetery; over 300 space stations, rockets and satellites were de-orbited and carefully steered to crash down in the area, now waiting to be (re)discovered on the ocean floor by divers.
- 52 Wake Island – properly speaking an atoll, is located in the Pacific between Guam and Hawaii. As it is a U.S. Air Force base and U.S. Army missile site, you will need a good reason for getting permission to enter. The same is true for some other Pacific atolls such as 53 Kwajalein.
- 54 The Wollemi Pine – Sorry, but you can't find the exact locations of the last surviving jurassic forest today.
- 55 Arnhem Land – a large area of the Northern Territory, mostly sacred land, about the size of Austria, but with less than 5000 people.
- 56 Isla Malpelo (Colombia) — A military outpost and an offbeat diving destination, 400 km out in the Pacific Ocean. You need a special permit from the National Natural Park Office in Bogota, and you have to anchor offshore and sleep on your vessel. A company in Panama reportedly arranges fairly expensive diving expeditions to this island.
- 57 Ilha da Queimada Grande (Brazil) - Otherwise known as 'Snake Island', this uninhabited island off the coast of São Paulo is infested with its own endemic species of extremely venomous Bothrops insularis golden lancehead pit viper snakes. Travel to the island is forbidden, although scientists may get approval.
- Parts of 58 interior Brazil are still hard to get to and there are still some "uncontacted peoples" that have never met a person from the outside world.
- Cross between Asia and North America between the two 59 Diomede Islands — Little Diomede (an American island west of Alaska) and Big Diomede (easternmost point of Russia). This is the only place in the world where you can see land across the International Date Line. It's just a few km across, so the crossing by boat or walking across the ice in the winter is probably the easiest part. However, it's a challenge getting to either of the islands in the first place, and you will probably face a whole lot of paperwork to be able to cross the border legally. There are no real border stations there and citizens of almost all countries other than the United States will need a visa to enter the U.S. in their own vessel. Moreover, almost everyone needs a visa to enter Russia. In addition, foreigners need an additional special permission to enter 60 Chukotka, and since Big Diomede is host to a Russian military installation, you can expect it to be very hard to obtain permission to enter.
- Confident and ambitious mountaineers rejoice! There are still many unclimbed mountains in the world — that is, there are no records of anyone having climbed them yet. These are usually remote and/or particularly dangerous to climb. Despite modern technology, there's at best only rough information available concerning grades, dangerous sections, safe routes and such, so while you're there why not collect some information for future climbers? As you don't know what awaits you during your climb, you need to have mountaineering skills, knowledge and experience to cope with whatever you encounter. Even with proper maps and knowledge of good routes, few activities are as risky as mountain climbing, and if you need a recap of what dangers you may run into when mountaineering, you should choose a more commonly climbed mountain for now. When planning a trip like this remember that some mountains are considered sacred and therefore may not be climbed — for instance this is why nobody has been to the top of 61 Gangkhar Puensum, the highest mountain in Bhutan and likely the world's highest unclimbed mountain.
- Perhaps you would rather go downwards instead? All over the world there are caves to explore and the longer they are the less likely it is that someone has set their foot there before. For example, go see if the legendary tunnel between Europe and Africa, from St. Michael's cave in the Rock of Gibraltar to the Cave of Hercules truly exists. Or find a longer cave system than the Mammoth Cave system. On these expeditions it is imperative to bring enough spare batteries and flashlights and even more importantly you will also need to devise some system for navigating so that you can find the path back to the surface.
- The oceans of the world — off the coast, that is. While there's likely not much to see above water hundreds or thousands of km from the nearest land, there may be a whole lot of things to see under water like marine life, coral reefs, underwater volcanoes and even forgotten shipwrecks no divers have seen before. If you have access to an extremely sturdy submersible, you can become one of the hitherto very few to visit the 62 Challenger Deep near Guam in the western Pacific Ocean, which at about 11 km below the sea level is the deepest known point on Earth. However this is not the place closest to the core of our planet. As the Earth is not a perfect sphere, that point is to be found somewhere in the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole and is approximately more than 13 km closer to the Earth's center. Take into account that this part of the world is perpetually covered by thick ice. For most of the deep sea there are not even any good maps or charts, let alone anybody who has gone there and lived to tell the tale. "Discovering" something new is rather easy, provided you have a good submersible and know how to use it. Besides the Challenger Deep, visiting other deeps in the trenches around the Pacific, such as Horizon Deep (10,800 m) near Tonga and Sirena Deep (10,732 meters) near Guam, would place you in an even more exclusive club. These places are inhabited by giant amphipods and other giant deep-sea creatures, and they are even more scarcely explored than the Moon.
- Space — While low earth orbit is reachable by the "general public" (if only a handful of multimillionaires), anything beyond the International Space Station is pretty much off limits even to state-funded missions as of 2019. The Moon was briefly accessible to the Apollo Program from 1969 to 1972, but it will be 2020 or later before another country returns to manned lunar exploration. The "dark side" of the Moon, which faces away from Earth, has never been visited by humans. In the early 21st century, some companies have been developing spaceships to take tourists to space (defined as 100 km above Earth and beyond) for "only" a few hundred thousand USD, but as of 2019, these flights aren't operating. "Space diving" is another possibility to go very high up, though still not all the way to space. This entails ascending to 30–40 km above ground in a balloon, jumping down and possibly breaking the sound barrier before launching your parachute. In the same manner as extremely few have been to the Challenger Deep, there are very few people (aside from astronauts) who can boast of having travelled to several times the altitude of a passenger plane and about twenty times higher than normal skydivers.
- See also: Outdoor life
This kind of travel requires months or years of preparation. You will also need a lot of time and money for the trip, too. Of course you will hardly need any money on the trip itself, but you need to purchase gear and transportation. Everything you will need on your journey, you have to bring with you, with the possible exception of any food you obtain by hunting, fishing or gathering. Things you need to pack include at least food and water, someplace to sleep, communication and navigation gear and emergency equipment.
Many developed countries, and the main cities at destinations where diving or trekking are popular, have stores that specialize in these activities. They are more oriented to tourists and dilettantes than to really difficult travel, but they may still have much of the equipment you need.
Read up on your destination as well as you can, including climate, biology and geology. This way you can better evaluate what you'll have to pack and what kind of conditions you may expect there. Is there a rainy season and when? Can you find drinkable water there? Is it a desert or a very cold destination? Is there a risk for earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or severe weather? And how about toxic snakes and other dangerous animals or pests such as biting insects that may both be incredibly irritating and carry quite nasty diseases?
The famous explorers never made their journeys alone. You should also gather a crew, including someone with medical knowledge and someone with technical knowledge. It should go without saying that you will also need the sailing, flying, driving or riding and survival skills to get to the destination.
Inform yourself if any special permits are required for the place you plan to visit — for instance a permission by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office is required for Navassa Island. While there seldom will be anyone inspecting your papers at the destination unless it's a military area, someone might be interested in your activities once you return (or if you've advertised it widely, before you leave). Also, the authorities of the country "owning" (or claiming) the territory may conduct overflights to see whether there are unauthorized persons around. Sometimes there are military installations on desolate islands and large uninhabited areas. Expect them to be off limits to civilians, in particular to foreigners!
For some destinations, there may be a de-facto requirement for a local guide. For instance, an Arctic destination might be polar bear country. Polar bears may hold some protected status as their numbers dwindle, yet a bear attack can be deadly. Local authorities may therefore allow a native Inuit bear guard to carry firearms (and use them if human life is in danger) while retaining more general restrictions on visitors carrying guns or hunting polar bears.
Local regulations on firearms vary widely, from Canada's tight restrictions on guns in national parks to Svalbard's offer of local licences to any existing holder of a foreign gun licence. Visitors to Svalbard may rent firearms readily as local regulations require at least one member of any party heading into polar bear country carry (and know how to use) a firearm.
If you are doing academic work in topics like geology, oceanology, archaeology, or zoology, you may get the opportunity to go to seldom visited places. In that case, you will have a better backup, others will handle the paperwork and the trip is free, but your schedule will be set and you're usually expected to collect samples and make measurements, depending on the nature of the expedition.
Before departing, you may want to inform the appropriate authorities about your approximate schedule and itinerary.
If you do not have the skills, physical condition, time or courage to set up such an expedition, some of the listed places can be visited by tour. You will be taken to the destination by professionals, but at some tours — like skiing from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole — you are still expected to do some work. Tours to destinations that just a handful of people visit usually depart just a few times a year at most and cost thousands or tens of thousands of US dollars or euros.
Read up on the immigration and customs policies of the countries you will pass through and consider changing your plans if needed. Even if you don't need a visa, you usually still will need to bring your passport and enter and exit through official border crossings or at least get your passport stamped somewhere. If you're caught having no proof of when and where you've entered the country, expect to get fined, possibly jailed, deported and often banned from re-entering for a number of years, possibly for life.
Even if you could cross a border without a visa, you may need a visa in the case you're traveling in an unorthodox way such as in your own boat or plane. For instance, people who normally can enter the United States on the Visa Waiver Program can do so only on board commercial carriers or overland. Also, you may be carrying stuff that "normal tourists" don't, which may interest the customs officials, such as foods, radio equipment, or things that could be classified as weapons.
If the destination is an island, as is the case with many of the above listed places, a boat may be the best way to access it. On the downside, sailing for hundreds or thousands of kilometers takes a long time. This means plenty of opportunities for things going wrong: severe weather, someone falling sick, navigational errors or running out of provisions. Once you are there, you may not find any safe harbour. You will also need approximately the same amount of time and provisions for getting back.
If the place is on land, it's slightly easier to get there, but where there are no roads or tracks you may in the best case be able to get in with a 4WD vehicle and in worse cases only by foot or by riding on an animal (e.g. horse or camel). And also, just because Nunatsiavut is on the Canadian mainland, that doesn't mean it's time to put the boats away. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, there are places on firm land, sometimes hundreds of miles away from any coast, that are best accessed by boat because road or rail infrastructure simply does not exist. This used to be the case almost everywhere prior to the rise of passenger rail and aviation; it remains true for remote parts of the Amazon, for example.
A private plane is a fast way of getting in, but there are several drawbacks. You will need somewhere to land and take off safely, and you won't probably be able to get (exact) information about the terrain before actually landing. A hydroplane is probably better than a plane with a landing gear, not just for landing on water but also on sand, grass or snow. As with anything with an engine, you will need to carry enough fuel to make it there and back.
Helicopters have the undeniable advantage of being able to land almost anywhere, but they have a far shorter range compared to airplanes and cannot carry as much supplies. In some cases the only way to set foot on an island may be to anchor well off the coast and fly there by helicopter.
Some of the destinations require travel close to the North Magnetic Pole (located near Ellesmere Island) or the South Magnetic Pole (in the Southern Ocean approximately 100 km from the Antarctic coast towards Adelaide). The difference in direction between the magnetic north and real north gets bigger the closer you get to these points, which means magnetic compasses will not work as expected. Another challenge is that there are often no good maps of the destination. For getting around on land, satellite images can often be used as rough substitutes. On the other hand if you travel by boat you'd benefit from knowing where the reefs and seamounts are and if you're landing a plane, suitable places for landing.
No matter which way of transportation you choose for getting in, your vehicle should be in impeccable condition as should your driving, sailing, flying and navigational skills. Also, bring tools and spare parts and have enough skills in your team to fix anything—from radios to engines—that may break.
- Landscapes few have seen before.
- Flora and fauna that might be endemic to the place you visit. Who knows if you may find a new species?
- Depending on the destination you may also run into ghost towns or other archaeological sites.
- Stars — in unpopulated areas there'll be no artificial lights, and this creates an excellent opportunity for stargazing unless there are clouds - which is unlikely in a desert though they may be unavoidable in a rainforest.
- Take photos and notes. It could make a nice book, thesis or website and be an inspiration for future explorers. You may even be the first or one of the first people documenting the place properly.
- If you collect "souvenirs", do so judiciously and without damaging the environment. In general, the rules of leave no trace camping should apply, except for scientific samples.
- Set up your ham radio and connect with people around the world. Some countries recognise your home country's radio licence; in others, you must request a local call sign in advance. A few countries (such as North Korea, P5) licence nobody. Frequency assignments and power levels also differ between countries. Contact the related national radio amateur organisation for information.
- Be careful with any activities. There's no ambulance you can call if you injure yourself.
Eat and drinkEdit
- See also: Camping food
What you bring with you. Many of these places are barren and have very little animal life or vegetation. It's also possible that there's no drinkable water at the destination.
If you plan on consuming any "local" foodstuff from fishing or foraging, you need to know for sure exactly what you are putting in your mouth. Therefore local flora and fauna is another thing that should be studied beforehand. Especially in the case of islands there may be little information available on the precise destination you are going to, though there are often comparable places at the same latitude which can be studied.
In addition, hygienic handling of food and beverages is essential — this also goes for provisions you've brought with you. Food poisoning in the middle of nowhere is far more dangerous than when you have access to pharmacies and hospitals. The mere scent of food may attract wild animals, a safety issue. Be bear aware; if dangerous animals are afoot, package edibles in bear-resistant containers.
Wilderness backpacking#Eat and the subsequent Drink section give some ideas for things to bring. If you're heading for a desert, a glacier or a barren islet you likely also have to bring fuel for cooking (and in cold climates, heating). Overall, expect that you need to bring all the provisions you need for the duration of your trip, plus some extra. Due to things like bad weather the trip may take longer than you've planned and things like excessive heat, pests, fuel leaks or other accidents may render some (in the worst case even all!) of your provisions inedible. Food and water are the last things you want to lose, so pack them accordingly.
Bring a tent or sleep on board your vessel. Sometimes it might be possible to make a shelter of whatever material you will find at the destination, but do not count on that. You need to protect yourself at least from rain and cold.
If you are going to a cold destination which lacks combustible material, you may have to bring your own fuel to keep yourself warm. This is obvious if you're going somewhere with ice and snow, but remember that deserts also get notoriously cold during the night. It cannot be stressed enough that you should be very careful when handling fire – you do not want to harm yourself, destroy your equipment or start a forest or bush fire.
A further threat in deserts is – as paradoxical as it may sound – drowning. Most of the time people travel in wadis, dried-up rivers, as they provide protection from direct sunlight during the day. Oftentimes you will be inclined to sleep there as well, as they can have rather steep grades at the side and wadis don't become as cold as more exposed parts of the desert. However, if and when it rains upstream of where you are, torrential flooding can occur without any warning, drowning your whole party in your sleep if you are unlucky.
When sleeping, you and your equipment are vulnerable to threats more than at daytime. Food remains you've left near your tent or shelter may attract animals you don't want to have near you from hungry bears and other predators to insects. Moreover, especially in warm areas you can expect snakes, spiders and other bugs roaming around that are toxic and may spread diseases, not to mention mosquitoes that are vectors for a range of infectious diseases, including dengue and malaria. Medical precautions such as vaccinations and pills are useful as is use of mosquito nets and hammocks, though nothing gives 100% protection against these creatures. Even if harmless, most people would rather not wake up by having such creatures crawling on them. In destinations other than islands and entirely uninhabitable environments there's a risk that hostile locals will pay you a visit (also see the Stay safe section below). If there are many in your expedition party, you may want to take turns keeping guard during the night.
Expect to encounter some type of severe weather on your trip. Of course, extreme cold or heat are reasons why some of the places listed above have never been settled in the first place. Dangerous animals, pests and tropical diseases may also be a risk, depending on the destination. If an accident happens, you're on your own. In some places, general lawlessness may be an issue, often caused simply by the physical impossibility of enforcing existing laws in remote areas. In other places, the exact opposite – authoritarian regimes with a bizarre cult of personality and "Stalinistic" ways of enforcing it – may be your main concern. Surprisingly enough, there are places where both issues are of major concern at the same time.
As some of the places on this list are not only remote but also sensitive areas (at least in the mind of those claiming jurisdiction over them), permits may be necessary and even getting a permit does not guarantee you a friendly reception by local authorities. It isn't uncommon for remote areas to be used by the military for signal interception and test ranges for weapons, vehicles and such, and such sites are not always marked on civilian maps. They will not be amused by surprise visitors. Sensitive areas also include border zones — even if you have your travel documents in order you are usually required to use official border crossing points to cross between countries. No matter if it's complete wilderness for hundreds of kilometers around, expect to have a helicopter or drone hovering above you sooner or later if you try to cross a border where you're not supposed to. This is especially true for borders between countries with hostile relations.
In such areas, authorities may react by closely checking your permits, refusing entry or opening fire without any real reason or justification other than you being a "threat to national security" or something of the sort. Going to some of the uninhabited places on this list and hoping to find them so, only to see that they are in fact manned by some sort of security detail may cause anything from your death or imprisonment to a major international incident, so do not get any ideas. If a place is claimed by more than one entity, going there with a permit from one side but not the other is certainly unwise as well.
Don't even think of going on an expedition like this if you have any health problems or disabilities. On a trip like this you will likely be several weeks' travel away from any hospital. You should at the very least bring a first aid kit including medications that you may need (e.g. malaria prophylaxis) and if possible, have or bring someone with medical training. Ensure that your vaccinations are up to date.
- If you are visiting a remote island or similarly-isolated point, don't bring animals, seeds or diseases. The local flora and fauna may not be able to cope with invasive species or diseases.
- Any "uncontacted peoples" are best left undisturbed; many are protected by law in this regard, to prevent their exposure to crime and disease.
- Per #Stay safe, make certain that the area you plan to visit isn't a restricted area, such as for military or other security reasons.
A satellite phone or amateur radio is probably your best bet. Beyond 80° north or south, the geosynchronous satellite signal disappears below the horizon, and much earlier it may disappear behind hills; non-geosynchronous systems (such as Iridium) may still work. GPS navigation is also non-geosynchronous, and works near the North and South Poles. However, it is only one-way communication.
Back to where you came from, or to another virtually unexplored place! You brought enough supplies for the trip back, right?