Air travel has allowed the Earth to seem quite accessible to virtually everyone. You can pop on SkyScanner and book a flight to the opposite end of the globe within minutes. With enough money, you can travel to some pretty exotic corners of the world. Well, most of it.
There are places on the Earth as we know it, that money just can’t get you into. In some cases, the prohibition is probably for your own safety. Take the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, an area 18.6 miles around the nuclear reactor that exploded in Ukraine in 1986. To date, only scientists and those involved in the decommissioning process are allowed there.
Or the island of Ilha da Queimada Grande a.k.a Snake Island, just off the coast of Brazil. 110 acres wide, it’s home to a vast colony of Bothrops insularis, the golden lancehead viper. To date, only a few brave scientists dare set foot on the island. If bitten by some of the snakes, the venom can make you very ill or even kill you.
Whether it’s for safety or security reasons, these places exist all over the world. While you may be able to find them on a map, they are physically off-limits to you.
10. Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway
With the constant threat of a natural or man-made disaster, many countries put away seed samples so that food crops can be grown again. But most of these seed banks remain vulnerable if they are situated in the same region as the donating country.
Realizing the need for a more secure location, the Global Seed Vault was created and sited 800 miles from the North Pole. Opened in 2008, the Vault is located on the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago, and 390 ft inside a mountain. This location is also over 400 ft above sea level, so the site will survive even if the ice caps suddenly melted.
Access to this facility is restricted; the access tunnel is 300 ft long and is divided into three separate locked sections. At the end of these, the seeds are housed in three cavernous chambers, about 66 ft deep and 20 ft high. Access to these chambers is also restricted as they can only be opened by one of four assigned keys.
The Vault is said to open only twice a year, and that’s only to receive new seeds. Unless you are the Secretary General of the UN or a former US president, you have zero chance of ‘visiting’ Svalsbard. The Global seed Vault also shares its location with one of the planet’s most dangerous species, the polar bear.
9. Mezhgorye, Russia
Mount Yamantau in the Southern Urals, is believed to contain a Russian military complex about 3, 300 ft below the summit. The town of Mezhgorye was founded in 1995, from two former garrisons, Beloretsk 15 and 16. The area first came to the attention of the wider world in the 1990s, when it was spotted in US spy photographs.
Experts suggest the facility may cover over 380 sq miles and be able to house a population of 60, 000 for several months. The bunker is also said to be able to resist nuclear, chemical or biological attack.
When asked about its use, the Kremlin has, at different times, described it as the center of a mining operation, a vault for state treasures, a repository for food and a nuclear bunker. Questioned further, they became tight-lipped and would only say the site offers no threat to the US.
Not sure which to believe, there are signs that construction still continued into the 2000s. Journalists, international observers, basically everyone has been banned from this area.
8. Woomera Prohibited Area, Australia
The Woomera Prohibited Area is officially home to the Royal Australian Air Force Woomera Test Range. Situated to the NW of Adelaide, it has also been used as a missile testing range among other things. Covering an area larger than England, its location in the desert ensures that all prying eyes are kept away.
After WW II, the UK was keen to develop a cutting edge rocket testing program, but lacked the testing space to do so. The Woomera Prohibited Area emerged as a result of a collaboration with the Australian government; the area at Woomera was chosen as it offered a huge swathe of uninhabited scrub land that was constantly baked at 35°C.
Missile testing began in 1949. Nine major atomic bomb trials later and sections of the area, such as Section 400, had to be classified as out of bounds. The collaboration with the English ended in 1980. Australia entered an agreement with the USA to construct the Nurrungar Joint Tracking Facility within the WPA. This facility had three golfball-like radomes containing huge antennae dishes behind razor-wire fences. The project closed in 1999.
After that it had a stint as a migrant detention center, before being revived as the largest on-land missile testing site. Some sections are still classified as out of bounds.
7. Room 39, North Korea
Also known as Bureau 39, this North Korean organization, was described as “one of the most secret organizations in the world’s most secretive state”, by the journalist Kelly Olsen.
First formed in the late 1970s, it is believed to be housed in the ruling Workers’ Party Building in the Central Committee precinct in downtown Pyongyang. A staff of over 100 people coordinate operations that no one is really sure about.
Room 39 has its finger in many pies; they are allegedly the primary counterfeiter of US currency, the so-called superdollars. These are fake US$100 bills of such high quality that only sophisticated laboratory testing can expose them. With estimates of Room 39-created superdollars ranging from US$45 million to several hundred billion, the US government orchestrated the closing down of banks suspected of aiding money laundering. The North Korean-owned Golden Star Bank in Vienna and the Banco Delta Asia in Macao were shut in 2004 and 2005.
6. Kotaijingu in Ise Shrine – Ise, Japan
Every year, over 6 million people make the pilgrimage to the Ise Shrine complex on the Honshu island. Regarded as one of the holiest places for adherents of the Shinto religion, it’s a complex of 120 shrines connected to the two main shrines; the Imperial Shrine (Kotai Jingu), also known as the Inner Shrine, and the Toyouke Shrine, or Geku (Outer) Shrine.
While pilgrims can get to a large tori (traditional Japanese) gates nearby, that’s as far as they are allowed. They can catch glimpses of the shrine’s thatched roof, but a strict no photography policy is enforced.
The two main shrines are so sacred that access to the inner sanctums is strictly regulated—only the high priest or priestess can enter the shrine, and he or she must come from the Japanese Imperial family.
5. Fort Knox
The Fort Knox bullion depository was originally constructed in 1936 for storing US gold reserves. These days, it’s no longer the largest gold bullion depository in the USA. But it remains impossible to enter. Apart form its role in storing gold, Fort Knox has also held important items like the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, along with the Hungarian crown jewels, a Magna Carta and a Gutenberg Bible.
The building itself is built over two stories tall, with dimensions of around 100 x 120 ft. Its original construction included 750 tons of reinforced steel, 670 tons of structural steel, 16,000 cu ft of granite and 113,000 cu ft of concrete.
Entry into the vault is via 21 inch thick doors that weigh over 20 tons. Admission to the vaults requires a combination code, that isn’t known to any one person. Therefore several members of authorized staff must be present to enter the correct code.
Security at Fort Knox comprises of an elite force of guards called the United States Mint Police. A few miles up the road, there is also the Fort Knox military base. The last time they opened the vault to a member of the public was in 1943, and that was to the then President, F.D. Roosevelt.
4. Area 51, Nevada
Area 51 has several officially documented uses; it’s a part of the US Air Force facility in Nevada, it’s attached to the Edwards Air Force Base in California, it’s even a center for development and testing of aircraft and weapons.
Dotted with a large hangar, runways, radar antennae and smaller administrative, accommodation and catering buildings, it would seem to fit its supposed role as a testing and training facility for new defense technologies and systems. But this 90,000 acre complex is said to be home to much more.
In 1947, in Roswell, following sightings of a disc-like object in the skies, the Army Air Field at Roswell put out a press release saying that it had recovered an unidentified flying object; only to totally retract the statement a short time later. The legend grew when supposedly ex-employees of the base claimed to have seen evidence of alien spacecraft. Ardent ufologists claim that Area 51 contains a complex of underground tunnels and warehouses storing evidence of extraterrestrial activity.
These claims are impossible to prove or refute as the area is treated as strictly off-limits. Civilian and most military air traffic is forbidden from the airspace overhead. It’s a court martial offense for a military plane to breach the no fly zone. Area 51 also does not appear on any government-produced maps.
The site is covered with signs warning trespassers that use of deadly force is authorized. Teams of imposing security guards keep vigilant watch over the perimeter fencing, which is liberally peppered with motion sensors.
3. RAF Menwith Hill, England
While this electronic monitoring station belongs to the UK Ministry of Defense, it’s staffed and run by the US Department of Defense. Officially, a part of America’s global defense communications network, Menwith’s mission is to provide intelligence support for the United States, the UK and their allied interests. Originally called Menwith Hill Station, in 1966, the US National Security Agency (NSA) took over administration. Today, the base primarily serves as an NSA field station.
The site is dotted with a large number of radomes, used to intercept and monitor communications. Menwith Hill is believed to be a central hub for the ECHELON network (America’s Secret Global Surveillance Network). Monitoring everything from emails to phone conversations, ECHELON is used to ‘eavesdrop’ globally.
While the network is said to operate under the FVEY, the agreement by governments of Britain, USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, there has never been official confirmation of ECHELON actually existing.
Its clandestine nature and the fact that there’s such a strong American presence on British soil have led to deployment of a strong ground security force to guard the site. Apart from the perimeter fence dotted with watchtowers, the site is patrolled by armed guards and trained dogs.
2. Diego Garcia, the Indian Ocean
In 1966, the USA needed an Indian Ocean base. Offering the British some incentives, including a $14M discount for their purchase of the Polaris missile system, the UK agreed to ‘give’ the USA Diego Garcia for 50 years.
With the island in their possession, the US set up a naval support facility and military airbase with advanced communications and tracking facilities in 1977. With its specially designed hangars that house state of the art stealth bombers, Diego Garcia proved to be a key base for American bombers during the Afghan and Iraqi wars. Since then, it’s been accused of being everything from a stopping point for US rendition flights transferring prisoners to Guantánamo Bay to supposedly being the last known location of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Proving or disproving any of these allegations is impossible as since its operations began in 1977, no journalist has ever received permission to visit the island.
1. Bohemian Grove
Sonoma County is known for growing of grapes and wine making, but the stately redwood forest in Monte Rio also hides a dark secret. Every year, members of the Bohemian Club gather during the summer for two weeks. Activities are rumored to range from harmless frat house high jinks to ceremonies filled with pagan, even Satanic overtones.
To many, it looks like a bunch of middle aged men simply reliving their youth. That’s until you examine the roll call of members. They include a formidable array of presidents, including Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr.. Other famous members include Mark Twain, William Randolph Hearst, Clint Eastwood and members of the Rockefeller family.
With a clutch of the most influential politicians, businessmen and military figures in the Western world, the Bohemian Club is pretty difficult to join. First you have to face a 15 year waiting list for membership, then an initial US$25,000 fee and annual fees of US$5,000. Members must also be approved for membership, have an Ivy League education and gold standard connections.
With such captains of industry gathering in complete secrecy, theorists have branded the gatherings ‘suspect’. Simply walking in simply can’t happen as the perimeter of Bohemian Grove is heavily guarded throughout the year and especially during the summer.