Today’s world is much smaller than it has ever been. With the rise of globalization, faster modes of transportation and the Internet, the Earth is more accessible and we are more connected than at any point in human history. However, there still remains several areas that are largely mysterious and unexplored. Although humans have come a long way in exploring the Earth – and outer space – in even just the last 100 years, there are still countless areas that remain uncharted. Most of these areas are dangerous, while all are inaccessible for one reason or another. While the thought of space exploration is thrilling, there’s plenty to explore on our own planet. Roughly 17,000 to 18,000 new species have been named each year since WWII, and there remain an estimated 10 million for us to discover. Additionally, less than 10% of the world’s caves have been explored, and there’s always more to learn about the places that have been previously explored. Here are twelve places on Earth that remain shrouded in mystery, even in the 21st century.
12 Gangkhar Puensum
Gangkhar Puensum is a mountain that lies on the border of Bhutan and China and, at 7,570 meters, is generally touted as the world’s highest un-climbed mountain. However, Gangkhar Puensum is not the explorer’s haven that one might think – the mountain remains unexplored because it’s actually illegal to practice any form of mountaineering on it. Any mountain higher than 6,000 meters in Bhutan is off limits for two reasons: many locals consider mountains to be the homes of sacred spirits, and there exists no methods to rescue those who might become injured or trapped on mountains. Climbing Gangkhar Puensum has been forbidden for twenty years, and will remain unexplored for the foreseeable future.
11 Mulu, Borneo
Gunung Mulu National Park boasts the world’s largest cave system, and, as less than 10% of the world’s caves have been explored, it’s an area ripe for discovery. When compared to some of the more remote locations on this list, Mulu is relatively easy to reach: you have the option of traveling by airplanes that depart daily, slowly by boating up the river, or dangerously by foot. Despite this accessibility, once you reach Mulu, there’s plenty of exploration to be done, since most of the park’s caves and jungles remain undiscovered.
Namibia, Africa’s least densely populated country, is the only place on this list to contain a desert. The Kalahari Desert stretches into Namibia from Botswana and South Africa. Much of Namibia, especially the Kalahari, remains unexplored, and offers something for every type of explorer. Fascinating wild animals can be found in Namibia, from lions and cheetahs to wildebeests and ostriches. Additionally, Namibia was the first country on Earth to take environmentalism seriously enough to integrate its protection into their constitution, so roughly 15% of the land is legally protected, leaving plenty to discover and explore.
9 Greenland Ice Sheet
The Greenland Ice Sheet covers nearly 80% of Greenland and measures nearly two miles thick, at its thickest point. In fact, only the Antarctic Ice Sheet is larger. As one can imagine, there is still an abundance of unexplored territory on the Greenland Ice Sheet. In fact, in June of 2014, scientists discovered an entirely new “underworld” hidden more than a mile beneath the Ice Sheet. They were shocked to discover jagged and twisted shapes lurking underneath the smooth and flat sheet. And this unique underworld is only a hint towards what unexplored regions exist underneath and above the Ice Sheet.
8 Kamchatka, Russia
Siberia, located in the north of Russia, is infamously cold and inhospitable. Although it makes up 77% of Russia’s physical landmass, only 27% of the population can be found there. While much of Siberia remains unexplored, the Kamchatka Peninsula, located in Northeast Siberia, is possibly the least explored region. Approximately 300,000 live on the Kamchatka Peninsula, but the majority is uninhabited. The Peninsula is rife with geological wonders, including volcanoes, geysers and bays, and remains largely unexplored thanks to its remote location and stormy winters.
7 Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest is largely unexplored due to its sheer size: spanning nine countries and 5,500,000 square kilometers, it’s the largest rainforest in the world. In addition to the physical exploration possible in the Amazon, scientific discovery is also an exciting frontier. 10% of the world’s species can be found in the Amazon, and new species are frequently being discovered, especially in the rainforest canopy. The canopy is a thrilling place for innovative scientific discovery, as it’s been hypothesized that the canopy could house 50% of the world’s species.
6 Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is not only one of the least explored places in the world, but also one of the most threatened, so it’s imperative to discover and explore responsibly while we still can. The Great Barrier Reef faces several serious threats, including warming oceans and irresponsible human beings. Over 900 islands and 2,500 reefs are contained within the Great Barrier Reef, so there’s no end to exploration. Because we know relatively little about our oceans, new species are constantly being discovered here. And the best part? All you need is a diving certificate and a little gumption to do a little exploring of your own.
5 Papua New Guinea
Like the Great Barrier Reef, Papua New Guinea is ripe for scientific exploration. The entire country is largely unexplored in the Western sense, although it is home to several indigenous tribes. Because Papua New Guinea is covered by dense vegetation, exploration is difficult but rewarding. A lack of paved roads and limited infrastructure mean that tourism is scarce and hasn’t damaged this thriving and unique ecosystem. Roughly 2/3 of the life on Papua New Guinea is endemic, which is sure to lure in the scientifically minded.
Myanmar, also called Burma, is largely unexplored, although expeditions have been taking place during the past couple of years. Myanmar’s dangerous political state for the past 50 years has lent itself to keeping the landscape free from tourism and exploration, but a governmental shift in 2011 has recently opened the country’s borders. Myanmar boasts 135 ethnic groups from the North to the South, and the entire country is alluring for historians, scientists and explorers. Thousands of years of history, especially Buddhist history, remain undocumented in Myanmar, while scores of unique and endangered species like tigers and sun bears call Myanmar their home.
3 Congo Rainforest
The Amazon might be bigger, but the Congo is even less explored. The Congo Basin, which covers an enormous 15% of Africa, has long been a fascinating subject for both locals and foreigners alike. Native pygmy tribes tell tall tales about dinosaur-like creatures that stalk through the Congo, while foreigners like to debate the possibility of pygmy tribes. The Congo is largely populated by Bantu people and was first explored by Henry Morton Stanley, in 1876. Although Stanley traveled 7,000 miles through Africa in 3 years, the Congo remains a mystery.
2 Lake Vostok, Antarctica
Antarctica remains a mystery even in the 21st century. Most expeditions to this icy land depart from Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego, one of the southernmost points of the country. One of the most intriguing places found on Antarctica is Lake Vostok. Located in the east, it is hypothesized that ice covered this lake 15-25 million years ago; thus, it is likely that fossils and unusual forms of life will be found here. Although the lake was discovered in 1993, it has not been thoroughly explored and the samples taken from it have not yet been examined.
1 Mariana Trench
While we know relatively little about our oceans, the Mariana Trench is the least explored region of the ocean. The Mariana Trench is the deepest segment of the ocean, particularly at its deepest point entitled the Challenger Deep, which reaches down to a whopping 6.85 miles. What we do know about the Mariana Trench is fascinating – it’s filled with strange and unique creatures that have accustomed to the intense pressure of the water and the extreme temperatures found at its depths, like the anglerfish. Although we know more about the Mariana Trench now, than at any other point in history, it’s the least explored place on Earth.