9 Places on the Planet Off-Limits to Visitors

Warning signs keeping people out of a protected area
Warning signs outside of Area 51 in Nevada.

SipaPhoto / Shutterstock

Air travel makes it simple to go anywhere in the world with relative ease. Although customs may give tourists trouble, once they're inside a country, they are generally free to visit wherever they wish. Some locations, though, pose a risk so severe, either to the visitor, the place itself, or the secrets kept there, that outsiders are prohibited from entering.

From the caves of southwest France to a volcanic island off the coast of Iceland, here are nine places around the world that are off-limits to visitors.

1
of 9

Snake Island

An aerial view of the tree-covered Snake Island in Brazil

Prefeitura Municipal Itanhaém Follow / Flickr

Ilha da Queimada Grande, also known as Snake Island, is a 110-acre island off the coast of Brazil that is home to thousands of deadly snakes called golden lancehead vipers (Bothrops insularis). One of the most venomous snakes in the world, the golden lancehead viper’s venom can kill a person in an hour. While scientists venture to Snake Island for study, the island is closed to the public.

2
of 9

Heard Island and McDonald Islands

A satellite image of snow-capped Heard Island in Australia

NASA / Wikimedia Commons

The Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands is an island group in the Southern Indian Ocean about 2,500 miles southwest of Australia. One of the most remote places on Earth, the islands' severe weather is often cold, rainy, and windy. Towering above Heard Island stands the active volcano Big Ben, which stands just over 9,000 feet and is the third tallest point in Australia and its territories. The plants and animals on the islands are part of an intact ecosystem, with no known species introduced by humans living there. To maintain the integrity of the ecosystem, the islands are closed to the general public.

3
of 9

Lascaux

A cave painting of an animal in the Lascaux Caves

Everett - Art / Shutterstock

The Lascaux caves in southwest France are home to ancient cave paintings created about 17,000 years ago during the Magdalenian era. Discovered in 1940 by a group of teenagers, the caves and the paintings inside them became a popular tourist attraction that resulted in the deterioration of the artwork. Due to this degradation, the Lascaux caves were closed to the public in 1963 and have remained so ever since. The impressive cave paintings can still be admired, however, as a number of replicas have been built by the French government.

4
of 9

North Sentinel Island

An satellite view of North Sentinel Island

NASA / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

A remote island in Bengal Bay and part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands off the coast of India, North Sentinel Island is home to an indigenous people known as the Sentinelese. The islanders actively avoid contact with the outside world, and intruders have been met with hostility. In 2018, during an attempt to visit the island, an American missionary was killed by the Sentinelese with arrows. The island is closed to all outsiders.

5
of 9

Ise Grand Shrine

Holy Shinto shrines in Japan are obscured by a fence

N yotarou / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Ise Grand Shrine, or Ise Jingu, is a Shinto shrine complex dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu and is one of the holiest places in Japan. Although unproven, the shrine is said to house the sacred mirror Yata no Kagami, which represents truth and was forged by a deity to lure Amaterasu from her cave. The Ise Grand Shrine consists of two main shrines that are closed to the public, Naikū and Gekū, and 123 other related shrine buildings. As is custom, the main shrine buildings are deconstructed every 20 years, and new shrines are built in a tradition meant to sustain their longevity

6
of 9

Area 51

Two buildings outside of Are 51 in the Nevada desert

Zhi Yang / Shutterstock

The secretive United States military base, located in Nevada, went unacknowledged by the federal government until 2013 when the CIA was forced to acknowledge it under the Freedom of Information Act. Numerous conspiracy theories connect the location to UFOs and the possible existence of aliens on Earth. Access to the base is denied to the public, and its fenced perimeter is heavily patrolled by federal agents.

7
of 9

Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor

Terracotta soldiers lined up near the tomb of China's first emperor

Kevin Poh / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Known as the First Qin Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor to rule over a united China. When he died in 210 BCE, he was buried at the center of a complex designed to replicate the urban plan of the then-capital, Xianyang. The massive 21-square-mile structure contains thousands of lifelike terra-cotta soldiers, each designed individually with terra-cotta horses and bronze chariots and weapons, which were first unearthed in 1974. The mausoleum is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And, while the terra-cotta soldiers surrounding the tomb have become a major tourist attraction, the tomb itself has not been excavated and the area is closed to the public.

8
of 9

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the snow-covered landscape of Norway

Svalbard Global Seed Vault / Riccardo Gangale / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Tucked into a mountainside on a remote island in Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a fail-safe seed storage facility built to withstand both human-made and natural disasters. With over 1,000,000 seed samples in the collection, the vault and its contents are protected from thawing by permafrost and a thick layer of rock. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is closed to the public.

9
of 9

Surtsey

The uninhabited, volcanic Surtsey Island

CanonS2 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Surtsey, an island off the south coast of Iceland, is a geographical infant, having only been formed by volcanic eruptions in the 1960s. The young island (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is remarkable in that it has existed free of any human interference, and it remains an ideal location for study of how plant and animal life colonize on new landforms. Since its formation, Surtsey has been documented to have a variety of molds, bacterias, and plants, along with 89 species of birds and 335 species of invertebrates, living on it.