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The 10 Coolest Places You're Not Allowed to Visit

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Our spectacular planet has so many wonders to explore. However, there are some places that are just too dangerous, too protected, or maybe too special to visit—even for the most seasoned voyager. These places have been completely cut off from the outside world. 

1. Heard Island Volcano, Australia 

Top 10 Coolest Places You'll Never Visit

Satellite image of the southern tip of Heard Island. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

This barren volcanic Antarctic Island, an Australian external territory about two thirds of the way between Madagascar and Antarctica, is considered one of the most remote places on earth. The 368-square-mile landmass is mountainous, has 41 glaciers and is also home to an array of wildlife including penguins, seals, and marine birds. However in 2000, the University of Hawaii noticed a two-kilometer-long lava flow coming from the southwest side of Mawson’s Peak, a 2,745-foot-high complex volcano which has been active ever since. Aside from the volcano and its dangers, the weather on the island is notoriously poor. Plus, its a minimum two-week sail to any other major land mass — making it one of the most dangerous, and hardest places in the world to access.

2. Snake Island, Brazil 

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Aerial view of Ilha da Queimada Grande. (Photo: Prefeitura Municipal Itanhaém/Flickr)

Ilha da Queimada Grande, or Snake Island, as it is more affectionately known, is a 43-hectare island located of the Brazilian coastline, approximately 20 miles from the Sao Paulo shore. The island is home one of the globe’s most deadly species of snake, the Golden Lancehead Viper, who’s venom can eat through flesh. There are more than 4,000 of them on the island, but local lore suggests that there is one snake for every five square meters of the land. Whatever the case, the Brazilian government has prohibited any visitors from setting foot there with one exception: Every few years the government grants a handful of scientists a permit to study the snakes. 

3. North Sentinel Island, Andaman Islands 

This small, heavily forested island in the Bay of Bengal is completely encircled by coral reef, making it difficult to approach by boat. However, its inaccessibility is not the main obstacle to a visit: North Sentinel Island is inhabited by a small indigenous population known as the Sentinelese, who have rejected contact with all other peoples — they are among the world’s last communities to remain untouched by modern civilization. In 2008, two fisherman whose boat accidentally strayed too close were reportedly killed by the tribe. And in the wake of the massive 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami, research helicopters assessing the damage in the area were attacked by the Sentinelese, who shot arrows and threw stones as the aircraft flew over the coastline. 

4. Lascaux Caves, France 

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This complex series of caves, located in Northwestern France, is home to one of history’s most famous examples of Paleolithic cave paintings ever discovered. The ancient artwork is believed to be over 17,000 years old and depicts mostly images of large animals that have been proven through fossil excavations to have been living in the area at that time. The caves are even listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. However since 2008, the caves have been completely closed off to the public following a fungal outbreak, with only a small handful of scientists allowed to enter for just a few days a month in order to study the paintings.

5. Poveglia, Italy 

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The island of Poveglia, with its ruined hospital and plague burial grounds. (Photo: Marco Secchi/Getty Images)

This small island is located between Venice and Lido within the Venetian Lagoon in northern Italy. Throughout its history, it has been home to a fort, used as a shipping check point, been a quarantine station for the Bubonic Plague, and since the turn of the last century, there has been as an asylum. In 1968, the psychiatric hospital was closed down and the island was abandoned. It’s no wonder — Poveglia has long been considered one of the most haunted places on earth. Rumor has it that the ghosts of plague victims, war victims, and the ghost of a murderous asylum doctor roam the decaying grounds. The Italian government offered the island up for long term lease (99 years) in 2014 in the hope that someone would redevelop the land. 

6. Vatican Secret Archives, Vatican City, Italy

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Buried deep within the walls of Vatican City, and mostly underground, are the Vatican Secret Archives, which house the immense history of the acts of the Holy See, along with historic documents, state papers, papal account books, and other official correspondence, some of which dates back to the eighth century. Items include letters from Michelangelo, a letter from Mary Queen of Scots written while she was awaiting her execution, and King Henry VIII’s request for a marriage annulment. The archives, which are the official property of the current pope, have been estimated to span over 52 miles of shelving with more that 35,000 items. Other than a very small staff who take care of the archives, access is strictly limited to qualified scholars from very select higher education and research institutions, all of whom have to undergo an rigorous access application process to be granted entry.

7. Ise Grand Shrine, Japan

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Visitors are allowed as far as the gate, where they can offer their prayers, but never beyond. (Photo:JTB/UIG via Getty Images)

This Isa Shrine, located in the town of Uji-tachi in the Mie Prefecture of Japan, is a Shinto shrine complex dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu-omikami, which consists of two main shrines and about 125 secondary shrines. While the location of the shrine is said to date back to the third century, the standing structures have been dismantled and replaced every 20 years — most recently in 2013 — consistent with Shinto beliefs regarding death and renewal. One of the main shrines is believed to house the ‘Sacred Mirror,’ called Yata no Kagami, part of the Imperial Regalia of Japan. From outside, little can be seen except a fence and the buildings’ thatched roofs. Access is restricted to just the high priestess or priest, who has to be a member of the Japanese Imperial Family. 

8. Area 51, Nevada 

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Satellite image of Area 51, Southern Nevada, United States, a remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base. (Photo: DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)

No list of prohibited places would be complete without a mention of Area 51 — the nickname for a remote detachment of United States Air Force facility Edwards Air Force Base, located in Southern Nevada. The facility is shrouded in secrecy and while it has long believed to be a testing facility for experimental aircraft and weaponry, conspiracy theorists favorite theory that the base is where the U.S. government examines and stores a crashed alien space craft and the alien occupants, including evidence from a supposed alien crash landing in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. While the area surrounding Area 51 is a popular tourist destination for alien enthusiasts, access to Area 51 itself is completely prohibited, except to intelligence and military personnel with special clearance. The airspace above the base is also a no-go area and is rumored to be protected with anti aircraft weaponry and fighter jets.

9. Tomb of the Qin Shi Huang, China 

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The tomb of China’s first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who died in 210 BC, is buried deep beneath a hill in Central China. The burial complex consists of a complicated network of underground caverns that were filled with all the things the emperor would need in the afterlife, including clay reproductions of his armies, family, servants, horses, and staff, widely known as the Terracotta Army. Since its initial discovery in 1974, over 2,000 statues have been excavated, each of them completely unique, and experts believe that there may be more that 8,000 in total surrounding the central tomb, still yet to be uncovered. However, the Chinese government might never allow the excavation of the emperor’s tomb, choosing to respect the ancient burial rites. So while tourists can catch a glimpse of the emperor’s clay army during a site tour, the ancient warrior’s main tomb may remain undiscovered indefinitely. 

10. Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway

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The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a vast subterranean seed bank and storage facility on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, around 800 miles from the North Pole, built 400 feet into a mountainside. Officially opened in February 2008, the facility now stores around 840,000 samples of 4000 different species of seeds, from all over the world. The idea behind the seed bank is to provide a safety net against accidental loss diversity in the case of a major global or regional event. It functions much like a safety deposit box at the bank, allowing organizations or governments to ‘deposit’ seed variations in the vault for safe keeping, and only they have access to their deposits. The 11,000-square-foot facility is protected by highly advanced security systems and access is strictly limited to a handful of employees. 

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environment
There's Only One Carbon Negative Country in the World (Here's How They Do It)
Chris Jackson, Getty Images
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

In 2017, the small nation of Bhutan became the first and only carbon negative country in the world. That's right: not carbon neutral, carbon negative.

In an article on the subject, the Climate Council—an independent, Australia-based nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public on matters related to climate change—defines carbon negative status as occurring when a country's carbon emissions are not only offset, but are actually in the negative due to the generation and exportation of renewable energy. There are several reasons for this impressive feat.

Bhutan—a small, landlocked country in the middle of the Himalayas—has a population of approximately 813,000 and produces 2.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The country is 72 percent forest, and those forests trap more than three times their carbon dioxide output through a process called carbon sequestration, the long-term storage of carbon in plants, soil, and the ocean. This means that Bhutan is a carbon sink: It absorbs more carbon than it releases as carbon dioxide. Specifically, Bhutan is a carbon sink for more than 4 million tons of CO2 each year. In addition, the country exports most of the renewable electricity generated by its rivers, which is equivalent to 6 million tons of CO2.

Bhutan is also exceptionally environmentally friendly. This is partly because it takes a holistic view of development, measuring it with the Gross National Happiness Index instead of the Gross Domestic Product Index, like most countries. Instead of only prioritizing economic improvement, Gross National Happiness balances it with sociocultural and environmental improvement. The eco-conscious country invests in sustainable transport, subsidizes electric vehicles, and has an entirely paperless government.

Bhutan has pledged to remain carbon neutral for all time, and it's safe to say it's doing pretty well so far.

[h/t The Climate Council]

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History
How an Early Female Travel Writer Became an Immunization Pioneer
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by A. Devéria
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by A. Devéria

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was a British aristocrat, feminist, and writer who was famed for her letters. If that were all she did, she would be a slightly obscure example of a travel writer and early feminist. But she was also an important public health advocate who is largely responsible for the adoption of inoculation against smallpox—one of the earliest forms of immunization—in England.

Smallpox was a scourge right up until the mid-20th century. Caused by two strains of Variola virus, the disease had a mortality rate of up to 35 percent. If you lived, you were left with unsightly scars, and possible complications such as severe arthritis and blindness.

Lady Montagu knew smallpox well: Her brother died of it at the age of 20, and in late 1715, she contracted the disease herself. She survived, but her looks did not; she lost her eyelashes and was left with deeply pitted skin on her face.

When Lady Montagu’s husband, Edward Wortley Montagu, was appointed ambassador to Turkey the year after her illness, she accompanied him and took up residence in Constantinople (now Istanbul). The lively letters she wrote home described the world of the Middle East to her English friends and served for many as an introduction to Muslim society.

One of the many things Lady Montagu wrote home about was the practice of variolation, a type of inoculation practiced in Asia and Africa likely starting around the 15th or 16th century. In variolation, a small bit of a pustule from someone with a mild case of smallpox is placed into one or more cuts on someone who has not had the disease. A week or so later, the person comes down with a mild case of smallpox and is immune to the disease ever after.

Lady Montagu described the process in a 1717 letter:

"There is a set of old women, who make it their business to perform the operation, every autumn, in the month of September, when the great heat is abated. People send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the small-pox: they make parties for this purpose, and when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together) the old woman comes with a nuts-hell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox, and asks what veins you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch), and puts into the vein as much matter as can lye upon the head of her needle, and after that binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell; and in this manner opens four or five veins. . . . The children or young patients play together all the rest of the day, and are in perfect health to the eighth. Then the fever begins to seize them, and they keep their beds two days, very seldom three. They have very rarely above twenty or thirty in their faces, which never mark; and in eight days' time they are as well as before their illness."

So impressed was Lady Montagu by the effectiveness of variolation that she had a Scottish doctor who worked at the embassy, Charles Maitland, variolate her 5-year-old son in 1718 with the help of a local woman. She returned to England later that same year. In 1721, a smallpox epidemic hit London, and Montagu had Maitland (who by then had also returned to England) variolate her 4-year-old daughter in the presence of several prominent doctors. Maitland later ran an early version of a clinical trial of the procedure on six condemned inmates in Newgate Prison, who were promised their freedom if they took part in the experiment. All six lived, and those later exposed to smallpox were immune. Maitland then repeated the experiment on a group of orphaned children with the same results.

A painting of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants
Jean-Baptiste Vanmour, Art UK // CC BY-NC-ND

But the idea of purposely giving someone a disease was not an easy sell, especially since about 2 or 3 percent of people who were variolated still died of smallpox (either because the procedure didn’t work, or because they caught a different strain than the one they had been variolated with). In addition, variolated people could also spread the disease while they were infectious. Lady Montagu also faced criticism because the procedure was seen as “Oriental,” and because of her gender.

But from the start, Lady Montagu knew that getting variolation accepted would be an uphill battle. In the same letter as her first description of the practice, she wrote:

"I am patriot enough to take pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England; and I should not fail to write to some of our doctors very particularly about it, if I knew any one of them that I thought had virtue enough to destroy such a considerable branch of their revenue for the good of mankind. But that distemper is too beneficial to them, not to expose to all their resentment the hardy wight that should undertake to put an end to it. Perhaps, if I live to return, I may, however, have courage to war with them."

As promised, Lady Montagu promoted variolation enthusiastically, encouraging the parents in her circle, visiting convalescing patients, and publishing an account of the practice in a London newspaper. Through her influence, many people, including members of the royal family, were inoculated against smallpox, starting with two daughters of the Princess of Wales in 1722. Without her advocacy, scholars say, variolation might never have caught on and smallpox would have been an even greater menace than it was. The famed poet Alexander Pope said that for her, immortality would be "a due reward" for "an action which all posterity may feel the advantage of," namely the "world’s being freed from the future terrors of the small-pox."

Variolation was performed in England for another 70 years, until Edward Jenner introduced vaccination using cowpox in 1796. Vaccination was instrumental in finally stopping smallpox: In 1980, it became the first (and so far, only) human disease to be completely eradicated worldwide.

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