YPT have been taking people to places their mother doesn’t want them to go to for ten years now, and one of the most common questions we get asked is “is there anywhere you won’t go?” Well, from Donbass to Iraq and Afghanistan, some of our tours are not advertised on the site because security is most definitely the number-one concern.
But another question we get is “is there anywhere you can’t go to?”
And of course there are many, and not just Area 51! From secret government metro lines like the Moscow Metro-2; the booby-trapped tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang near the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an; or even the Ilha da Queimada Grande – otherwise known as Snake Island, Brazil – there are many places only Indiana Jones could explore.
Here’s our top 5:
The Darien Gap, Colombia
We could put a number of parts of Colombia up here, basically the first question most people ask about the country is: is it safe to travel there? And yes, generally, it is. But some places are not exactly on the tourist trail.
Ask a Scottish friend about Darien and he’ll probably wince, but now the Darien Gap is the border area between Panama and Colombia and the only break – or gap, we suppose we should say – in the Pan-American Highway. Some do traverse it, but with the danger of paramilitary groups – both leftist and rightist – drug cartels and local tribes who don’t want to be disturbed, the Darien Gap is pretty much inaccessible.
If you are up for a bit of narco-tourism and civil war history in this really awesome travel destination, join YPT in Colombia in May.
Surtsey Island, Iceland
It’s not just safety that’s the issue though; some parts of the world are closed off for all kinds of different reasons, and as we shall see, they’re often islands.
Surtset Island is a volcanic island in Iceland that is basically a large scientific research lab. In 1965 it was declared a nature reserve and in 2008 a UNESCO world heritage site, and it’s a site where scientists study the natural processes of plant or animal settlement without human contact. So unless you’re a scientist and you’re working on the project, you won’t have a chance of stepping foot there.
Visit Iceland and join YPT’s cruise to Greenland for some whale watching and the Northern Lights.
Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, Ethiopia
Another common reason for not being able to visit a place is on religious grounds. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s not open to everyone, but to a significant percentage of travellers it’s off limits.
Mount Kailash in Tibet is revered by Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs alike, and it is absolutely forbidden to climb the mountain face; instead you can join the pilgrims walking around it or just go to Mt Everest instead.
Saudi Arabia is notoriously hard to visit, and the entire city of Mecca, unless you’re a Muslim, is again off-limits.
It’s therefore not uncommon for religious sites to be off-limits to many, but the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum, Ethiopia certainly takes the biscuit. Only one person is allowed in – the guardian monk – and he is appointed by the previous monk and stays in his position until he dies, whereupon the next appointee takes over. This secrecy is because they claim to hold the Ark of the Covenant inside, and of course the best way to prevent counter-evidence is…
Join YPT in Ethiopia in May on our first group tour to this fascinating country.
Mezhgorye, Bashkortostan, Russia
Mezhgorye is a secret town of 20,000 people or so near the Ural Mountains in Russia, and is completely off limits to outsiders.
This is because it was most probably created to house the secret bunkers where Soviet officials and generals would flee to in the case of a nuclear strike on the USSR. It’s also used as a repository for valuable items and foodstuffs.
And with the fall of the USSR, Mezhgorye – controlled directly by the federal government – just kept on going!
For your (almost) complete Summer Soviet Adventure, book up with YPT.
North Sentinel Island, Andaman Islands, India
But for one place it’s not just plain old religion, politics, environmental or just reasons of civil unrest. The Sentinelese people on North Sentinel island in the Indian Ocean just really don’t like outsiders.
They have resisted attempts at communication for as far back as people can remember, and have possibly been living there for 60,000 years without much contact with the outside world. The South Sentinelese can’t even understand their language, so there’s not much luck for the rest of us.
Pretty much anyone who tries to go to shore, whether because of shipwreck and the need of shelter or to take the Word of God to the islanders, ends up dead in a hail of arrows. The locals even fired arrows at an Indian government helicopter that went to see if they needed assistance after the deadly tsunami.
And to be honest, in a world of hyper-globalisation and ever-expanding communications networks, some people just deserve to be bloody left alone.