We always tell our children that the world is their oyster – they can go anywhere and see anything they want to see. We only get one life, and for most of us one of our main aims is to see as much as we can. From talcum powder white beaches to Notre Dame, the earth is full of incredible sights waiting to be discovered.
While it’s true that the tourist industry is one of the most booming, there is a dark underbelly to it that we don’t always see. Some places are kept strictly off limits, sometimes due to urban legend and notoriety, other times for our own personal safety. There’s nothing more that travellers hate than to be told that they can’t go somewhere, so it’s not surprising that a few daring individuals sometimes stumble of the beaten path, looking for adventure in all the wrong places.
But regardless of if you’re an avid explorer or a novice, there are simply some places that the best traveled among us will never get to see, despite their best efforts. I’ve found some beautiful, haunting and deadly places that you will simply NEVER see up close and personal. Let’s take a look and see what we’re missing.
15. THE LAND OF OZ
In North Carolina, there is a now defunct theme park that is so eerie, it would give the cowardly lion a heart attack. The Land of Oz theme park opened its doors in 1970, inspired by the novel and Technicolor film, The Wizard of Oz. For a time, it was one of the most visited attraction parks in the United States, getting visitors in numbers comparable to Disney World. Unfortunately, the success was short lived and just ten years later the doors were closed. The land was never sold though, and it’s broken down rides and mangled yellow brick road remained closed to the public. If you’re willing to pay through the nose, you can arrange to hire it for a wedding or other event. The vast majority of us would be better off sticking to the DVD, though.
14. KOWLOON WALLED CITY
I’m cheating slightly with this entry, but it’s too good not to be included. The Kowloon Walled City was located just outside Hong Kong, during the time of British rule. In its time, it was used as a watch post to protect the area against those who would attack it, like pirates. Japan used it during World War II, but after their surrender the town was stuck in limbo. Neither China nor Britain wanted to take responsibility for it, and thus it became its own lawless city. Surprisingly, the town survived and grew for decades, with residents building complicated corridors above street level. With no government to arrange trash pick-up, the town was soon less than sanitary. After both China and Britain realized it was getting out of control, the town was bulldozed in 1993. You’ll never be able to visit it – it no longer exists.
13. WHITE’S GENTLEMAN’S CLUB
What better thing to do when you’re in London than don a tweed jacket and a pipe and shuffle down to White’s Gentleman’s Club for a brandy or three? Well, while the idea might sound grand, White’s is notorious for being one of the most exclusive clubs ever. Members include Prince Charles, Conrad Black and Tom Stacey. The club was established in 1693 and since its roots has prided itself on a strict men only policy. The only exception to this rule was Queen Elizabeth II, who visited on two occasions in 1991 and 2016. You can only imagine the type of debauchery that goes on behind those doors, can’t you?
12. POVEGLIA ISLAND
Poveglia is a small island with a large amount of awful history attached to it. Located between Venice and Lido in Italy, in the Venetian Lagoon, Poveglia is a revered place shrouded in rich stories. For hundreds of years, the island was a dumping ground for the diseased – as well as the dead. In 1348, the bubonic plague arrived in Italy and the island became a quarantine island for the sick. Many bodies were burned on funeral pyres there during the period, some even still alive. It was once again used in a similar fashion when the Black Death struck in 1630. If that history wasn’t grizzly enough, in the 1920’s the existing buildings were converted into a hospital for the mentally ill. This was closed in 1968, and the island was completely abandoned. Today, the island is closed to both locals and tourists. In one more creepy turn of events, in recent years the hospital was undergoing restoration when work halted with no explanation.
11. CHURCH OF OUR LADY MARY OF ZION
In Ethiopia, you can find a small brick church, called the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. No member of the public of any nationality is allowed to enter the building, as it houses one of the most important biblical objects – the original Ark of the Covenant. If you listen to tradition, the Ark came to Ethiopia with Menelik I after he went to visit his father, King Solomon. The importance of this object can’t be overestimated, meaning that only a specially chosen monk with special privileges is given the right to enter the temple. Apart from that, you’ve got as much chance of seeing the Ark of the Covenant in real life as seeing Jesus in Wal-Mart.
10. THE JIANGSU NATIONAL SECURITY EDUCATION MUSEUM
China is no fool when it comes to homeland security. The Jiangsu National Secrutiy Education Museum houses some of the most top secret documents about the history of Chinese espionage. Unsurprisingly, the museum will only let you in if you’re a Chinese native. After all, they wouldn’t want any foreigners coming in and becoming privy to all of the handy hints and tricks that have garnered them precious information, would they? Word has it that the exhibitions include a large collection of gadgets, including lipstick guns, miniature cameras and maps hidden in cards. That’s one place I would love to see, what do you think?
9. NIIHAU ISLAND
Niihau is a Hawaiian island, and despite what you might think, it’s inhabited. This is no regular Hawaiian island though – there isn’t a hotel in sight, or any paved roads. There isn’t even any electricity. Even the school is powered by solar power. In 1864, one Elizabeth Sinclair purchased Niihau from the Kingdom of Hawaii and it has since passed down to her relatives, the Robinson family. In 1915 her grandson Aubrey Robinson decided to close the island completely to preserve the indigenous culture and spectacular wildlife. These days, the island is off limits to anyone bar relatives of the inhabitants (who at one point needed special permission to visit), the US Navy and government officials.
8. THE NEGEV NUCLEAR RESEARCH CENTER
Deep in the Negev desert, southeast of Dimona in Israel you can find the Negev Nuclear Research Center. Israel’s French allies helped to build the base when construction started in 1958. As you can imagine given the nature of the facility, information is highly classified and therefore we can only speculate as to what goes on inside its walls. That being said, in 2012 Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at Dimona, made his way to the United States. He shared with the US government what he knew about Israel’s nuclear program, including the existence of a top secret building underneath the main facility. Later that year it was reported that the Israel Atomic Energy Commission had decided to shut down the reactor at the site.
7. ISE GRAND SHRINE
In Japan you can find the Ise Grand Shrine. It’s a Shinto shrine dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu-omikami (that’s quite the mouthful isn’t it?) The feature itself is more than just one shrine, consisting of another 125 besides the main two. The shrine is considered incredibly important and holy, meaning that it’s not exactly a tourist attraction. In order to see the shrine up close, you have to be a priest or a priestess, or a member of the Japanese Imperial family. If you’re a member of the public, the best you can hope for is a view of the wooden fences that surround the shrine.
Metro-2 is situated in Moscow, Russia. The secret underground metro system parallels the publicly used Moscow Metro. Metro-2 was supposedly started by Joseph Stalin, and links the Kremlin with the Federal Security Services headquarters, the government airport at Vnukovo-2 and an underground town at Ramenki, as well as many others. While all of this information is shrouded in legend and mystery, with no confirmation from the Russian government and no confirmed photographs. Although, an urban explorer in 1994 claimed to have found the entrance to the system. Other people have come forward with accounts of being part of the construction crew, but other than that – it’s a mystery.
5. WITTENOOM, AUSTRALIA
Australia is home to many deadly things and in this case, it’s asbestos. Way back before anyone knew the incredibly damaging effects asbestos had on the body, Wittenoom was home to 20,000 people who mined the lung destroying mineral. When the health risks became clear in the 60’s and 1,000 townsfolk died as a result, the town was virtually abandoned. Only 8 people still reside there today, having refused to leave. Understandably, the town is a wreck, with anyone in their right mind avoiding it. The ground is still littered with the blue fibers of asbestos, so while it’s an astonishing place – best to keep this one off of your must-see list if you want to live.
4. RUBY, ARIZONA
If ghost towns are your thing, you might want to shuffle down to Ruby, Arizona. Ruby is one of the most hauntingly beautiful and best preserved ghost towns in existence, with a schoolhouse, a jail and a handful of homes dating back to the early 21st century. At its peak in the 30’s, the town was home to around 1,200. It started out as a mining camp, producing copper, lead and zinc. When the mine was closed in the 50’s, the inhabitants had no choice but to up sticks and move elsewhere for work. This town is closed to the public and only those involved in the restoration efforts are able to visit the site.
3. TOMB OF THE QIN SHI HUANG
The tomb of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang is guarded by clay warriors. According to the website Live Science, the mausoleum can only be opened in very certain circumstances. Despite being discovered, the tomb itself remains unopened. The complexity of the structure meant that it was only completed several years after the death of Huang. Extremely high levels of mercury were used in its decoration and it even has built in booby traps that would fire arrows at anyone who entered it (where’s Lara Croft when you need her?) While this is clearly one tomb that needs raiding, it remains closed to this day.
2. DIEGO GARCIA
In the British Indian Ocean, there is a secret idyllic paradise with powder white beaches, oceans of the purest blue and coral gardens unlike anything you’ve ever seen – or in this case, will see. In 1973 the UK government removed all of the island’s inhabitants, without choice. A large American military base was established on the island, strictly off limits to everyone but authorized personnel. Not much is known about Diego Garcia or exactly why the government needed it back so badly, but some human rights groups claim that it’s used as a base by the CIA to torture and execute prisoners.
1. SNAKE ISLAND
If you’re a snake enthusiast, this island off the coast of Brazil might look like heaven to you. In reality, it’s any human’s worst nightmare. The island is home to the deadliest snake in the world, the golden lancehead viper, who’s venom is so potent it can melt human flesh. It’s the only place this particular snake is said to inhabit, so it’s no surprise the Brazilian government decided to ban visitations to the land. Several stories circulate about the isle of the snake, including that of the last lighthouse keeper and his family. Rumor has it that snakes invaded through the windows. The family fled in terror, but were found dead scattered around the wilderness, covered in multiple snakebites. Yeah, I think I’ll pass.
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