In 2010 the WHO announced that for the first time ever over half of the world’s population now lived in urban areas. This state will only get more extreme, as the number of city dwellers increases by 60 million every year. Tokyo, for example, has a population of 4,750 people per square kilometre, which works out as six people per football field of space.
The dream of getting away from it all isn’t new, but when faced with these numbers more and more people are tempted to cut all ties, and disappear from their increasingly crowded and connected lives. Below, we’ve collated profiles of ten of world’s areas that would satisfy even the most misanthropic of people. The places on this list are completely cut off from the world. These are 10 of the world’s tiniest communities that still manage to exist entirely undisturbed by the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
10. Supai, Arizona
In this day and age you know you’re living in a fairly isolated area if your mail is delivered by mule. There are in fact only two communities in the United States which still have its letters and packages arrive by four legs, and one of them is Supai. This tiny 208 person community at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is accessible only by mule, on foot, or in emergencies by helicopter. There are no cars, and even the most direct mule routes are a 13 km trek to the nearest road, meaning that it the most remote settlement in America’s lower 48 states.
9. Saint Helena
This lump of volcanic rock sticking out of the South Atlantic Ocean measures about 8 km by 16 km, and is home to a population of 4,000 people. There are no commercial flights to or from the island, so visitors will have to catch a lift with the British air force whose planes occasionally have a handful of seats for civilians. The island was first discovered at the beginning of the 16th century by the Portuguese, and has been an important stopover for ships crossing the ocean ever since. In 1657 it was given to the East India Trading Company by Oliver Cromwell, and at one point acted as a prison for Napoleon.
8. Motuo, China
The Motuo county in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China is extremely inaccessible. The area is protected by a snowy ring of mountains, and has a bizarre geography which means that areas capable of producing tropical fruit exist alongside typical Himalayan landscapes.
In Tibetan script the area is named ‘hidden lotus’ and is the holiest part of the country. It is accessible only by suspension bridge, though the Chinese authorities are in the process of constructing a highway. This project is not the first of its kind, and in fact a road was completed in the 90s, but was enveloped by the jungle after a very short time.
7. Easter Island
Easter Island’s 887 monolithic heads have faced the Pacific Ocean for the past 500 years. The stones from which they were carved were so large that almost all of the island was deforested to provide the wood to move them from the island’s centre to its coast. Further settlements and sheep farming have meant that to this day Easter Island is largely barren grassland.
In 2012 the island’s population rested at just under 5,800, which is about a third of the peak levels of settlers thought to have been present in the 1600s, a hundred years before the first Europeans arrived. It was this historical period that produced the enormous heads (the heaviest weights in at 82 tonnes), most of which were never moved to the coast and remain in the quarry.
6. Alert, Nunavut
At a latitude of 82°30’05” north (that’s just 817km from the North Pole) Alert is the world’s most northerly inhabited area. Its year round population is 0, but it receives regular rotations of scientists – who use it to monitor atmospheric changes – and military personnel who run the Canadian signals intelligence base.
Alert is covered in snow for 10 months per year, and rarely gets warmer than 3 or 4 degrees celsius. For the period between April and September its summer residents experience polar summer, meaning that the sun never sets.
5. McMurdo Station, Antarctica
In the summer, Antarctica’s largest community has a sizeable population of 2,000 people, spread out across one hundred buildings. In the winter all this changes, and the number drops to as little as 200. Once a year, in an operation named ‘Deep Freeze’ fuel, supplies and equipment are shipped in by boats operated by the US navy.
For a short period of time the base was run on a tiny oil drum-sized nuclear reactor, (small enough to be flown in by plane) which provided power to the community and the energy to run a desalination plant. After just ten years of operations this marvel of engineering was decommissioned due to ongoing safety concerns, and replaced with diesel generators which require 42 million litres of fuel per year.
4. Chang Tang, Tibet
The majority of the Chang Tang nature reserve lies above 14,000 feet and sits on a plateau so large that it provides water for 1.4 billion people in China and Southern Asia’s lowlands. The field biologist George Schaller, who has worked in the area since the 80s, recalls a trek he made with a few conservationists across the northern section of the area. The team walked about 1,000 miles during the winter, ‘roughly the distance between New York and Chicago’, and didn’t see a single person.
3. Nuclear Submarine
There are two main types of submarine: fast attack and ballistic. The former is armed with cruise missiles and has been used on a fairly regular basis (including during the west’s recent aid mission to Libya’s rebels). The larger ballistic ‘boats’ which are deployed by the British navy are armed with Trident nuclear missile systems and are tasked with being as undetectable as possible. One of the UK’s four larger submarines is always quietly moving around the ocean’s depths, which means that for three months at a time 180 men exist in a suspended state, completely cut off from the world.
2. Tristan da Cunha
At 2,000km from the nearest piece of inhabited land, Tristan da Cunha is the most isolated archipelago in the world. In 2009 this group of volcanic islands was home to just 276 people, most of whom make a living by farming the communal land. As it stands the island doesn’t allow any outsiders to buy land or settle, so unless the islanders vote to change the law the population should remain relatively stable in the low hundreds.
The territory’s 37 square miles are technically part of the British Overseas Territories, and bizarrely the island can be reached by telephone via a London area code. There are, however, no direct transport routes to and from the island as it lacks an airport, meaning that any visitors have to arrive by fishing boat from South Africa.
1. International Space Station
There have been people living 220 miles above our heads since November, 2000. The ISS took around a decade and an estimated $100bn to construct, and has a few more rooms than the average three bedroom house.
Like the crews of the nuclear submarines, the permanent crew can go up to three months at a time without seeing other people, but unlike the fairly large group of 180 required by the sub, the ISS normally hosts just 6 or 7 astronauts. This tiny number, in combination with the sheer difficulty of getting to the orbiting laboratory earns this location the title of the most isolated place that humans call home.