Yet another thing pinching us right about now? The proximity of the Eid holiday and the fact that a quick getaway to Zanzibar, Sri Lanka, or other nearby destinations is not an option. Virtual travel is well and good, but the tantalizing closeness of online adventure can seem almost mocking – an unwelcome reminder of everything you can’t currently have. As an antidote to this perpetual state of FOMO, we’ve rounded up seven locations that are, at least in one sense, the opposite. These remarkable places are off-limits anyway, pandemic or not.
Maya Bay, Thailand
In the film The Beach, a secretive island utopia is ruined by the arrival of foreign visitors who upset the balance of the ecosystem and tear the fledgling community apart. What few know, however, is that Maya Bay is the real-life paradise where the movie was filmed.
The beach was closed indefinitely in 2018, after an unpluggable stream of litter, sewage, and footfall decimated corals, scared off wildlife, and muddied the pristine azure sea. A grand reopening is planned for 2021, though tentative reports suggest that the date is under review.
Lascaux Cave, France
Large parts of the natural world need protection from human hands, but we’re quite capable of ruining our own creations, too. The Lascaux Cave features some of the finest prehistoric paintings anywhere on Earth, depicting Paleolithic practices like taming horses and hunting wild aurochs.
Only discovered in 1940, a toxic cocktail of humidity, carbon dioxide, lichen, and the exhalations of visitors quickly caused the ancient pigments to degrade, some beyond recognition or repair. Lascaux was closed permanently in 1963, but public interest remained high, so authorities built a giant replica of the caves nearby for tourists to visit instead.
Some forbidden places are awash with scandal, mystery, and intrigue – others are just plain dark. The phrase ‘troubled past’ doesn’t even begin to describe Poveglia, an islet in the Venetian Lagoon twice used to quarantine plague victims. During the Black Death, at least 100,000 people were shipped off to the island to die, and the giant plague pits are said to have permanently altered the soil.
When finally disease-free, the island was transformed into a psychiatric hospital, which was dogged by accusations of botched lobotomies and torture. To complete this unholy trinity, the abandoned island is reputedly now haunted. The list of apparent apparitions is endless, chief among them the villainous Dr. Fell, a physician who allegedly committed suicide.
Some forbidden places have been closed for generations, but Surtsey has only existed since 1963. For three years, the Vestmannaeyjar volcanic vents bubbled at the bottom of the ocean, issuing an eruption column that started 130 meters below sea level and ended more than 150 meters above. Intensively studied during and since its creation, Surtsey’s unique properties saw it declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 and, today, it’s accessible only to a select few scientists. Everyone else must make do with flyovers in a small plane.
Snake Island, Brazil
A short way off Brazil’s Atlantic coast, Ilha da Queimada Grande is probably the deadliest island in the world, so you would do well to heed the many warning signs that dot its beaches. Widely nicknamed Snake Island, this small outcrop is the only place on Earth where you can find the golden lancehead pit viper, and 4,000 of the creatures are crammed into the island’s 100-odd acres. Extremely venomous, the snake is an adept tree-climber and feeds mostly on birds. The area is out-of-bounds to all but the Brazilian navy – partly for the snakes’ protection, but mostly for yours.
North Sentinel Island, India
The Sentinelese people of North Sentinel Island are one of a handful of tribes in the world still virtually untouched by mainstream society – and they’ve made it abundantly clear that they’d like it to stay that way. Little is known about the native culture except that they violently reject any and all outsiders, even shooting at low-flying aircrafts with bows and arrows.
In 2018, an American evangelist was killed after he was smuggled ashore by local fisherman – a tragic but effective cautionary tale. Landing on the island is illegal under Indian law, and the threat runs both ways. The islanders lack even the most basic immunities, and exposure to the common cold could decimate the tribe virtually overnight.
Global Seed Vault, Svalbard
A large collection of seeds in the middle of nowhere doesn’t scream excitement, except that its purpose is to prepare for the end of days, safeguarding future food sources in case of catastrophe. The Doomsday Vault, as it is aptly known, is a converted coal mine beneath the frozen wastes of Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole.
The interior is kept at -18°C – often even colder than the Arctic conditions outside – to ensure the seeds age as slowly as possible. We can’t imagine there are many apocalypse-planning centers that would welcome Joe Public, and the Global Seed Vault is certainly not one of them.