13 Places on the Planet Off-Limits to Visitors

Warning signs keeping people out of a protected area
Photo: SipaPhoto/Shutterstock

It's no fun being excluded. Tell us that we're not allowed to go somewhere, and you better believe the stubborn child inside us is buying a ticket for that exact destination.

But sometimes access to certain places is restricted for good reason, whether for our benefit or not. Maybe the climate is too extreme, or maybe the inhabitants are too hostile.

From virgin lands that scientists want to study without human interference to super-secret military bases, here's a list of amazing places you'll never step foot on.

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Snake Island, Brazil

Photo: Prefeitura Municipal Itanhaém Follow/flickr

Ilha da Queimada Grande, also known as Snake Island, is a tiny 110-acre island off the coast of Brazil. It is home to more than 4,000 deadly snakes and is the only known place you'll find the golden lancehead (Bothrops insularis), one of the most venomous vipers in the world. Its venom can kill you in an hour.

While scientists venture here for study, locals fear it; no humans call this terrifying place home. In fact, the island contains no mammal species at all, and birds nest here at their own risk.

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Heard Island, Australia

Photo: NASA

Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) is an island group in the Southern Indian Ocean about 2,500 miles southwest of Australia. It's one of the most remote places on Earth, and the climate there is severe: cold, rainy and windy. Scientists go there for wildlife research, as the area is teeming with penguin, seal and flying bird colonies. And commercial fisherman may fish in the nearby rough waters, but otherwise, there are no humans here.

HIMI is home to Australia's only active volcanoes, its highest mountain and its only glaciers. Pictured in the aerial image above is Big Ben, an active volcano that stands 9,000 feet high over Heard Island. Not exactly a warm welcome...

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Lascaux Caves, France

Photo: Everett - Art/Shutterstock

Lascaux Cave in Southwest France is home to ancient works of art painted about 17,000 years ago. The images, which depict large animals around the time of the Paleolithic era, were discovered in 1940. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site nearly 40 years later, and public interest in the site grew.

However, Lascaux Cave is now closed to visitors because the paintings are beginning to fade and mold was found in the cave. Instead, you can see a replica called "Lascaux II" located nearby.

See, this is why we can't have nice things.

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Poveglia, Italy

Photo: Chris 73/Wikimedia Commons

This small island sits right off the coast of Venice. While only a half-mile of ocean separates the two locales, they couldn't be more different. While Venice is a glamorous travel hotspot, Poveglia has seen a lot of pain and cruelty over the years.

Poveglia Island is where Europe sent people dying from the bubonic plague in the 1300s. When the Black Death pandemic swept through in the 1600s, sick citizens once again were exiled there. And in the 1800s, the mentally ill were exiled to an asylum on the island. In the mid 20th century, it was converted to a geriatric center, which closed in 1975.

Today, locals and tourists are prohibited from visiting, and fisherman don't go near it.

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North Sentinel Island, Andaman Islands

Photo: NASA Earth Observatory/Wikimedia Commons

Unlike the previous spots on this list, humans do live on North Sentinel Island, a remote island in Bengal Bay off the coast of India. But the indigenous people known as the Sentinelese actively avoid contact with the outside world, and any intruders have been met with hostility. In 2006, two fisherman approached the island illegally and were killed. (There is a three-mile zone imposed by the Indian government around the island.)

India has stopped all attempts to contact the tribe, and they cannot be observed by air due to the thick forest covering the island. They remain, largely, a mystery.

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Vatican Secret Archives

Photo: Bryan Allison/flickr

With so much mystery built into the history of the Catholic Church, it's no wonder part of Vatican City lands on a list like this.

The Vatican Secret Archives are kept under lock and key in a fortress-like area behind St. Peter's Basilica, and for good reason. It stores millions of irreplaceable historical documents, and the building is guarded by a "phalanx of Swiss Guards in ceremonial uniform and officers from the city state's own police force, the Gendarmerie," reports The Telegraph. Its 52 miles of shelves contain correspondence between the Vatican and some of the most prominent figures in history, including Erasmus, Charlemagne, Michelangelo, Queen Elizabeth I, Mozart, Voltaire and Adolf Hitler.

While the Vatican insists the contents are not secret (they are technically the pope's personal property), that doesn't mean you can go browse through them. Some scientific researchers from qualified universities may apply to enter, but even if access granted, no document from after 1939 is available for public viewing.

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Ise Grand Shrine, Japan

Photo: N yotarou /Wikimedia Commons

Forget going into the Ise Grand Shrine in Japan — they won't even let you see the building.

The Shinto shrine is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu and is one the holiest places in Japan. The story behind it goes something like this:

A sacred mirror, the Yata no Kagami, was used to lure Amaterasu out of a cave in which she had hidden following an argument with Susano-o, the god of storms and the sea, which plunged the world into darkness. The mirror was given to Amaterasu's grandson Ninigi-no-Mikoto, who is thought to be the great-grandfather of Japan's first emperor, Jimmu, through whom it passed into the hands of the Imperial Family.

The mirror is located in the Ise Grand Shrine, and only the chief priest or priestess of the shrine, who must be a member of the Imperial Family, is allowed to enter.

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Area 51, Nevada

Photo: Zhi Yang/Shutterstock

You've likely heard of Area 51 as the place in the desert where aliens supposedly landed in the 1940s near Roswell, New Mexico — a landing that resulted in an ongoing clash between government officials who deny the landing and conspiracy theorists who smell a cover-up.

But the super-secret U.S. military base is located in Nevada, and the government refused to admit it existed until 2013, when the CIA was forced to acknowledge it under the Freedom of Information Act. According to the History Channel, though you can see the complex’s buildings in satellite images, it doesn’t appear on any public U.S. government maps. And you can't drive anywhere near it, the Los Angeles Times reports.

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Tomb of the First Qin Emperor, China

Photo: wit/Wikimedia Commons

Known as First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang Di died in 210 B.C. He is credited with uniting the country and building the Great Wall of China. To match his large legacy, he was buried at the center of a complex designed to mirror the urban plan of the then-capital, Xianyang. The massive 21-square-mile structure contains 8,000 lifelike terracotta soldiers, each designed individually with horses, chariots and weapons, which were first unearthed in 1974. The mausoleum is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

"The big hill, where the emperor is buried — nobody's been in there," archaeologist Kristin Romey, curatorial consultant for the Terracotta Warrior exhibition at New York City’s Discovery Times Square, told Live Science. "Partly it's out of respect for the elders, but they also realize that nobody in the world right now has the technology to properly go in and excavate it."

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Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway

Photo: Frode Ramone/Wikimedia Commons

Tucked into a mountainside on a remote island in Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a fail-safe seed storage facility built to stand both man-made and natural disasters. Permafrost and thick rock ensure that the 930,000 seed samples from the world's crop collections will remain frozen.

The vault functions much like a bank with safe deposit boxes. While the government of Norway owns the facility, it's free to store seeds. Seeds can be deposited and withdrawn in accordance with various international laws and treaties.

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Surtsey Island, Iceland

Photo: CanonS2/Wikimedia Commons

Surtsey Island is basically a baby — it became part of Earth's geography in just the 1960s. The volcanic island and UNESCO World Heritage site near Iceland is pristine as far as human interference is concerned. It was protected as a nature reserve from birth, and because of its scientific value, the area remains off-limits to tourists.

"Surtsey has been producing unique long-term information on the colonization process of new land by plant and animal life. Since they began studying the island in 1964, scientists have observed the arrival of seeds carried by ocean currents, the appearance of molds, bacteria and fungi, followed in 1965 by the first vascular plant, of which there were 10 species by the end of the first decade," according to UNESCO.

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Pine Gap, Australia

Photo: Mark Marathon/Shutterstock

We don't know a tremendous amount about Pine Gap, an intelligence facility operated by Australia and the United States in Australia's Northern Territory. According to news.com.au, it "collects a wide range of signals intelligence as well as providing information on early warning of ballistic missile launches."

A government spokesman told the news outlet that it also “provides intelligence on priorities such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and foreign military capability and weapons developments."

Only employees are allowed inside, and the big white balls in the photograph reportedly protect satellite dishes inside.

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Mezhgorye, Russia

Photo: Pesotsky/Wikimedia Commons

Mezhgorye is a mysterious and interesting little town in the Republic of Bashkortostan near Russia's Mount Yamantau. About 17,000 people live there, according to a recent census. But otherwise, it's a closed town, which means you can't enter without the permission of a government official. It's rumored to be home to two military battalions, a secret nuclear missile base and a massive underground facility. And apparently it's not represented on maps, unless the maps are classified.