Next-to-impossible destinations

Are the Galapagos Islands, Svalbard or Yakutsk not exotic enough? Perhaps then you should try to reach destinations you can be absolutely sure nobody you know has ever visited — places that are almost impossible to reach.


"Leif Erikson discovers North America"

In the 21st century you can get to pretty much anywhere else on the planet within a matter of days — if the destination has an airport you can usually get there within 24 hours. Usually you can find some kind of lodging, restaurants and other services there and there's someone to help you if something bad happens.

Historical explorers like Leif Erikson or Ferdinand Magellan did not have that luxury...or even reliable maps. In fact they had really no idea what would await them once and if they arrived. While one can nowadays comfortably get to distant corners of the world the explorers struggled to reach, there are still some destinations that you cannot simply buy a ticket to, and even if you can it may be prohibitively expensive or require knowing the right people and securing the right permits years in advance.


War zones are to some extent comparable to the destinations listed below. They do, however, have some infrastructure for getting in and once the hostilities have ended (or before they start) the area will be like a "normal" destination again — for instance most countries comprising the former Yugoslavia are again visited by tourists just like before the wars in the 1990s. On the other hand, war zones include many risks that you will not encounter at the destinations below.

Governments also impose legally-binding exclusion zones in response to natural or man-made disasters, such as volcanic eruptions or nuclear meltdowns. A few points in Fukushima remain inaccessible due to a 2011 nuclear disaster, for instance. In some cases there are also political restrictions; for example many Muslim countries will refuse visitors travelling on an Israeli passport and the US government generally prohibits its citizens from visiting Cuba.


Dunes of the Sahara desert

Antarctica and the Southern Ocean

Antarctica as a whole is pretty inaccessible, as are the Islands of the Southern Ocean. Sure you can just hand over a couple of thousand pound/euro/dollars to the next tour operator to fly you into one of the bases or take a cruise ship tour, but most of the continent is hardly ever visited even by scientists. Though admittedly even cruises to the Antarctic coast are more of adventures than regular cruises.

If you want to see anything that is not at or close to one of the bases or the coast, you will have to bring serious expedition skill and gear and a willingness to cross vast distances on sled, ski or foot. Certainly doable, but by no means easy. The whole thing gets immensely more complicated during the winter time. Temperatures drop below -40 degrees, the sun is hardly (or never, if you go further south) to be seen and even some research stations become deserted. The only people who are in Antarctica during the Austral winter (June-September) are researchers and staff of research stations and even that mostly due to political reasons as maintaining "year-round" stations gives the countries that do it some extra rights under the Antarctic Treaty.

There used to be a Soviet base at the Southern Pole of inaccessibility. Now only Lenin stands guard there.


Arctic Ocean

Plane is a rather comfortable way of reaching the North Pole

Atlantic Ocean



Indian Ocean

North America

The coast of Navassa Island — "Caribbean" probably brings entirely different views to your mind

Middle East

Oceania and Pacific Ocean

Longboats on Pitcairn

The world's least visited independent country, Nauru, is here.

South America


The Little (US) and Big (Russia) Diomedes, as seen from north
The bathyscaphe Trieste, the first vessel to reach the Challenger Deep, just before diving


See also: Outdoor life
Victory awaits him who has everything in order—luck, people call it.—Roald Amundsen

This kind of travel requires months or years of preparation. You will also need a lot of time for the trip itself and money. Of course you will hardly need any money on the trip itself, but you need to purchase gear and transportation. Everything you will need on your journey, you have to bring with you. Things you need to pack include at least food and water, someplace to sleep, communication and navigation gear and emergency equipment.

Read up on your destination as well as you can, including climate, biology and geology. This way you can better evaluate what you'll have to pack and what kind of conditions you may expect there. Is there a rainy season and when? Can you find drinkable water there? Is there a risk for earthquakes or volcanic eruptions? And how about toxic snakes?

The famous explorers never made their journeys alone. You should also gather a crew, including someone with medical knowledge and someone with technical knowledge. It should go without saying that you will also need the sailing, flying, driving or riding and survival skills to get to the destination.

Inform yourself if any special permits are required for the place you plan to visit — for instance a permission by the US Fish and Wildlife Office is required for Navassa Island. While there obviously seldom will be anyone inspecting your papers at the destination itself unless it's a military area, someone might be interested in your activities once you return (or if you've advertised it widely, before you leave). Also, the authorities of the country "owning" (or claiming) the territory may conduct overflights to see that there are no unauthorized persons around. Sometimes there are military installations on desolate islands and large uninhabited areas. Expect them to be off limits to civilians, in particular to foreigners!

Geologists in Labrador

If you are doing academic work in topics like geology, oceanology or zoology, you may get the opportunity to go to seldom visited places. In that case, you will have a better backup, others will handle the paperwork and the trip is free, but your schedule will be set and you're usually expected to collect samples and make measurements, depending on the nature of the expedition.

Before departing, you may want to inform the appropriate authorities about your approximate schedule and itinerary.

If you do not have the skills, physical condition, time or courage to set up such an expedition, some of the listed places can be visited by tour. You will be taken to the destination by professionals, but at some tours — like skiing from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole — you are still expected to do some work. Needless to say, tours to destinations just a handful of people visit usually depart just a few times a year at most and cost thousands or tens of thousands of US dollars or Euros.

Get in

Rockall - access by boat only

Read up on the immigration and customs policies of the countries you will pass through and consider changing your plans if needed. Even if you don't need a visa, you usually still will need to bring your passport and enter and exit through official border crossings or at least get your passport stamped somewhere. If you're caught having no proof of when and where you've entered the country, expect to get fined, possibly jailed, deported and often banned from re-entering for a number of years. Also, if you're traveling in an unorthodox way such as in your own boat or plane you may need a visa. For instance people who normally can enter the United States on the Visa Waiver Program can do so only on board commercial carriers or overland. Also, you may be carrying stuff that "normal tourists" don't, which may interest the customs officials such as foods, radio equipment or (things that can be classified as) weapons.

Many of the places listed above are islands, and can therefore only be reached by plane or boat. If the place is on land, it's slightly easier to get there, but where there are no roads or tracks you may in the best case be able to get in with a 4WD vehicle and in worse cases only by foot or an animal you ride (e.g. horse or camel). Just because Nunatsiavut is on the Canadian mainland, that doesn't mean it's time to put the boats away. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, there are places on firm land, sometimes hundreds of miles away from any coast, that are best accessed by boat because road or rail infrastructure simply does not exist. This used to be the case almost everywhere prior to the rise of passenger rail and aviation; it remains true for remote parts of the Amazon, for example.

A private plane is a fast way of getting in, but there are several drawbacks. You will need somewhere to land and take off safely, and you won't probably be able to get (exact) information about the terrain before actually landing. A hydroplane is probably better than a plane with a landing gear, not just for landing on water but also on sand, grass or snow. As with anything with an engine, you will need to carry enough fuel to make it there and back.

Helicopters have the undeniable advantage of being able to land almost anywhere, but they have a far shorter range compared to airplanes and cannot carry as much supplies. In some cases the only way to set foot on an island may be to anchor well off the coast and fly there by helicopter.

If the destination is an island, a boat may be the best way for landing. On the downside, sailing for hundreds or thousands of km takes relatively long. This means plenty of opportunities for things going wrong; severe weather, someone falling sick, navigational errors and running out of provisions. You will also need the same amount of time and provisions for getting back.

Some of the destinations require travel close to the North Magnetic Pole (located near Ellesmere Island) or the South Magnetic Pole (in the Southern Ocean approximately 100 km from the Antarctic coast towards Adelaide). The difference in direction between the magnetic north and real north gets bigger the closer you get to these points, which means magnetic compasses will not work as expected. Another challenge is that there are often no good maps of the destination. For getting around on land, satellite images can often be used as rough substitutes. On the other hand if you travel by boat you'd benefit from knowing where the reefs and seamounts are and if you're landing a plane, suitable places for landing.

No matter which way of transportation you choose for getting in, your vehicle should be in impeccable condition as should your driving/sailing/flying and navigational skills. Also, bring tools and spare parts and have enough skills in your team to fix anything — from radios to engines — that may break.


Yellow-eyed penguins on the Auckland Islands


Eat and Drink

Damper — Australian Outback bread. Mix flour and water and bake it in the campfire coals.

What you bring with you. Many of these places are barren and have very little animal life or vegetation. It's also possible that there's no drinkable water at the destination.

If you plan on consuming any "local" foodstuff, you need to know for sure exactly what you are putting in your mouth. Therefore local flora and fauna is another thing that should be studied beforehand. Especially in the case of islands there may be little information available on the precise destination you are going to, though there are often comparable places at the same latitude which can be studied. In addition, hygienic handling of food and beverages is essential — this also goes for provisions you've brought with you. Food poisoning in the middle of nowhere is far more dangerous than when you have access to pharmacies and hospitals.

Wilderness backpacking#Eat and the subsequent Drink section give some ideas for things to bring. If you're heading for a desert, a glacier or a barren islet you likely also have to bring fuel for cooking (and in cold climates, heating). Overall, expect that you need to bring all the provisions you need for the duration of your trip, plus some extra. Due to things like bad weather the trip may take longer than you've planned and things like excessive heat, pests, fuel leaks or other accidents may render some (in the worst case even all!) of your provisions inedible. Food and water are the last things you want to lose, so pack them accordingly.


Around the campfire in Sahara

Bring a tent or sleep on board your vessel. Sometimes it might be possible to make a shelter of whatever material you will find at the destination, however do not count on that. You need to protect yourself at least from rain and cold.

If you are going to a cold destination which lacks combustible material, you may have to bring your own fuel to keep yourself warm. This is obvious if you're going somewhere with ice and snow, but remember that deserts also get notoriously cold during the night. It cannot be stressed enough that you should be very careful when handling fire — you do not want to harm yourself, destroy your equipment or start a forest or bush fire.

A further threat in deserts is - as paradoxical as it may sound - drowning. Most of the time people travel in wadis, dried-up rivers, as they provide protection from direct sunlight during the day. Oftentimes you will be inclined to sleep there as well, as they can have rather steep grades at the side and wadis don't become as cold as more exposed parts of the desert. However, if and when it rains upstream of where you are, torrential flooding can occur without any warning, drowning your whole party in your sleep if you are unlucky.

When sleeping, you and your equipment are vulnerable to threats more than at daytime. Food remains you've left near your tent or shelter may attract animals you don't want to have near you from hungry bears and other predators to insects. Moreover, especially in warm areas you can expect snakes, spiders and other bugs roaming around that are toxic and may spread diseases, not to mention mosquitoes that are vectors for a range of infectious diseases, including dengue and malaria. Medical precautions such as vaccinations and pills are useful as is use of mosquito nets and hammocks, though nothing gives 100% protection against these creatures. Even if harmless, most people would rather not wake up by having such creatures crawling on them. In destinations other than islands and entirely uninhabitable environments there's a risk that hostile locals will pay you a visit (also see the Stay safe section below). If there are many in your expedition party, you may want to take turns keeping guard during the night.

Stay safe

Buildings, masts and barbed wire in the middle of nowhere usually mean you shouldn't be there...

Expect to encounter some type of severe weather on your trip. Of course, extreme cold or heat are reasons why some of the places listed above have never been settled in the first place. Dangerous animals, pests and tropical diseases may also be a risk, depending on the destination. If an accident happens, you're on your own. In some places, general lawlessness may be an issue - often caused simply by the physical impossibility of enforcing existing laws in remote areas. In other places, the exact opposite - authoritarian regimes with a bizarre cult of personality and "stalinistic" ways of enforcing it - may be your main concern. Surprisingly enough, there are places where both issues are of major concern at the same time.

As some of the places on this list are not only remote but also sensitive areas (at least in the mind of those claiming jurisdiction over them), permits may be necessary and even getting a permit does not guarantee you a friendly reception by local authorities. They may in fact react by closely checking your permits, refusing entry or opening fire without any real reason or justification other than you being a "threat to national security" or something of the sort. Going to some of the uninhabited places on this list and hoping to find them so, only to see that they are in fact manned by some sort of security detail may cause anything from your death or imprisonment to a major international incident, so do not get any ideas. If a place is claimed by more than one entity, going there with a permit from one side but not the other is certainly unwise as well.

Stay healthy

Don't even think of going on an expedition like this if you have any health problems or disabilities. On a trip like this you will likely be several weeks' travel away from any hospital. You should at the very least bring a first aid kit including medications that you may need (e.g. malaria prophylaxis) and if possible bring someone with some medical training. Check that your vaccinations are up to date.



A satellite phone or amateur radio is probably your best bet. Beyond 80° north or south, the geosynchronous satellite signal disappears below the horizon; non-geosynchronous systems (such as Iridium) may still work.

Go next

Back to where you came from, or to another virtually unexplored place! You brought enough supplies for the trip back, right?

See also

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, February 29, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.