When you sit down to plan your dream vacation, there are probably a couple obvious places that come to mind. Want something tropical? Maybe the Bahamas. Want something adventurous? Get on a plane to Iceland.
But some travelers are looking for something different. A country that is untainted, untouched and remote. Issue is that some of these countries, whether intentionally or unintentionally, are nearly impossible to access. These are twenty-five stories of tourists who have attempted to or visited some of the most remote countries in the world. Let’s just say I would read this before Mom and Dad plan the next family vacation.
25. North Sentinel Island: Attacks By Arrow
Technically it’s part of the country of India, except that India has never really governed it. No modern country or state has, because the island is left completely to the local inhabitants, the Sentinelese people, who are completely isolated (literally and figuratively) from the outside world and appear to have a stone age culture. Most attempts at contact with the Sentinelese end with them attacking any attempted visitors with spears and arrows. Even the Indian census attempting to count the number of people there, as it is delicately put on Wikipedia, “out of necessity… was conducted from a distance.”
Basically, they get on with their lives and nobody else can go there; even anthropologists have given up braving the potential wrath of the inhabitants who tend to kill outsiders on sight.
24. Tiger’s Nest: A Trap For Tourists
Why so inaccessible? First of all, you will need to pay for your trip in advance. I am not talking about the plane ticket, I am talking about the all-inclusive package inside Bhutan. It has to be paid to a Bhutanese travel agent via money transfer, which makes it more of a hassle than using your worn American Express card. The all-inclusive trips have given rise to the rumor that Bhutan is a very expensive country to visit. The $200 to $300 per day (depending on the season and whether you travel alone or not) will, however, cover “everything.” As in accommodation, transport within the country, guides, meals, and the tourist tax. You only need to worry about drinks and souvenirs.
23. Madagascar Islands: Join The French Militia
France maintains a military garrison of around 14 troops on each of the islands in the Mozambique Channel that are claimed by Madagascar; the Glorioso Islands are claimed by Comoros, and Mauritius claims Tromelin.
Possibly because of the territorial disputes, these islands are quite difficult to visit: you either have to be part of the French military, join one the very rare organized tours, or have your own yacht to get there (even then I’m not sure you’re allowed to set foot on an island without special permission).
22. Nakhichevan: Terrible Transportation Nightmare
It is not easy to travel to Nakhichevan. It’s a part of Azerbaijan that is not connected to the rest of Azerbaijan. There are flights in between these two parts of Azerbaijan, but there is no advance booking possible and when I was there last time there were no tickets available for 14 days. Since the border with Armenia is closed, you should go through Iran (but there is no visa on the border) or take the road to Turkey, then Georgia, then in Batumi get the second visa for Azerbaijan and go then to proper Azerbaijan.
All this is some 5 days of nonstop traveling and few days waiting for the second visa instead of a 20-minute flight or 3 hours by bus.
21. Parts Of Asia, Africa, and Cuba: Breaking In The Borders
Much of Africa and Central Asia require visas in advance and can make it difficult to get.
North Korea is actually fairly easy to get into with an approved tour. It’s somewhat harder for Americans, but I think there’s one tour a year which accepts Americans. Of course, unless you can get a job at an embassy there, it’s impossible to get in otherwise.
Cuba is really easy, but for U.S. citizens it’s illegal. Cuba will obligingly not stamp your passport though, and many Americans have gone illegally, and even blogged about it, but nobody’s been prosecuted. You’d have to fly in via Mexico though.
20. Eritrea: Stricter Than North Korea
I would put Eritrea high on the list. It’s a non-democratic country where the government aggressively smothers any kind of information freedom. Independent news is formally banned, and there are no foreign correspondents in the country; Reporters Without Borders ranks Eritrea dead last on journalistic freedom, with North Korea in second-last place. So, given that context, it’s not surprising that the government wants to control the movement of people (and the information that they bring) coming into the country. When applying for a visa, there is really no way to know whether they will approve it, regardless of meeting criteria.
19. Turkmenistan: Intense 24-Hour Surveillance
Turkmenistan. It is basically the North Korea of Central Asia. Tourist visas are almost impossible to come by unless you agree to have a “cultural guide” with you 24 hours a day during your time in the country. I recently drove a motorcycle from India to Spain and had to pass through Turkmenistan. I made it in on a transit visa. I’ve traveled half my adult life and this was one of the most bizarre places I have been. We called it Absurdistan.
18. Angola, Russia, And Saudi Arabia: Bureaucratic Barriers
The Russian visa is very hard to get. On the form, you must list things like any military service, your last three jobs, and both of your parents’ names. Good luck getting a visa.
17. Jan Mayen: Gorgeous Yet Insanely Inaccessible
Jan Mayen is a Norwegian volcanic island located in the North Arctic Ocean. With only around 18 military and scientific personnel stationed (and exchanged every half a year) on the island, Jan Mayen is one of the least-populated places in the world. It has no ports and no harbors, only one short airstrip and a few anchorage, and you have to have permission from Norwegian authorities to travel to the island. It has almost no traffic with the rest of the world. With only less than one flight per month, Jan Mayen is truly a place more desolate than Antarctica or even South Georgia Island!
16. Angola: Their Exclusive Economy
Soviet-style residential buildings in Angola. Why so inaccessible? Angola has a lot of oil money these days. Europe does not. Things have certainly turned around, something the former Portuguese colony has clearly noticed. The visa regime is quite harsh to prevent unemployed Europeans from going job hunting there.
15. Guinea-Bissau: Incredibly Hard To Reach
Guinea-Bissau. Requires visas, including for visitors from neighboring countries, but has very few embassies, and none with websites. Few international connections: flights from Portugal and Cape Verde. Recently closed some of its borders.
The main road over the border between Guinea-Bissau and Guinea is unpaved, one-track, and takes about 8 hours to drive in a good 4×4. The border crossing is an ancient rusted human-powered chain ferry, which holds one truck or 2 cars at a time.
14. Israeli Citizens: Harsh Bans On Travel
Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria — if you hold an Israeli visa. Used or unused. Irrespective of your nationality.
A total of 18 countries, which include the aforementioned countries and other Arab and Islamic countries, have banned entry of any individual holding Israeli passport.
13. Turkmenistan: A 5-Day Visa Taking 5 Years To Get
Turkmenistan. I answered “What is it like to visit North Korea?”, but Turkmenistan definitely takes the cake. It took me 2+ years to get granted a visa for 5 days.
12. Saudi Arabia: Refusal To Grant Visitor Visas
Saudi Arabia does not currently issue visitor visas. Generally, the only way you can legally enter the kingdom is on a work visa, a special family visitor visa (only if you have family currently living there), and a pilgrimage visa during the Hajj.
Easy to fly to the country with regular connections from Europe, India, UAE, and parts farther east. But not very easy to actually get out of the airport.
11. Transnistria: Abandoned By The Government
There is also Transnistria, a piece of the Soviet Union that broke off from Moldova in Eastern Europe and is now not technically recognized as a country by the U.S. and most western countries. You would need your passport to enter, though that is not advised because no government can help you if anything happens inside the country. Many tourists do go in, but it usually is better to have Moldovan or Ukrainian friends take you if you want to go that bad. I would put it high on this list because it is an almost unknown breakaway piece of a country few have heard of, in an area that is not well-traveled.
10. Venezuela: Frightening For Even The Citizens
We (Venezuelans) know how to avoid dangerous situations and be relatively “safe” (not really) but as someone who doesn’t know their way around or doesn’t know someone who knows the place and that can be with them 24/7, I would REALLY not recommend you go.
Venezuela is one of the most violent places you can go to at the moment. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory said in March 2014 the country’s crime rate was now nearly 80 deaths per 100,000 people.
It’s a beautiful place to see, yes. The things you see are more than beautiful, but its not the right time to go there…
9. A Secluded Paradise
Kiribati is in the middle of the Pacific. Literally. I mean, most Pacific countries are often said to be, but Kiribati really is. It stretches 3,500 kilometers from east to west. Both the capital, Tarawa, and Kiritimati (Christmas Island) are served by international flights, but only twice a week. The remoteness of the country isn’t the only reason why it is the 4th least visited country in the world. Entering it isn’t all that easy either unless you are from one of 60 countries. I am not from any of those and had to apply for a visa from Kiribati’s sole consulate in Europe, conveniently located in Llanddewi Rhydderch in Wales. That was relatively straightforward once I actually found the embassy. The border police are more thorough than any other in the Pacific, with the possible exception of Australia, so do not attempt to go there without a visa. Then again, they probably won’t even let you on the plane without one.
8. Somalia: Downright Dangerous
Somalia is pretty hard to get to. There is no functioning government, airports are constantly being bombed, the locals will most likely kill you or kidnap you for extortion. Even if you pay for a private army to escort you, most likely they will turn on you to get the rest of the money.
7. China Might Make It Difficult For No Reason
I’m Australian. Before leaving the country on a long trip I went to the embassy. The guy at reception (not even one of the guys in the actual building) asked to see my airline tickets. I explained I didn’t have any because I was going overland. “Well then, we need to see your flights to Hong Kong,” he said.
“I’m not going to Hong Kong,” I explained. “I’ll be going overland on the train from Hanoi.”
He just grunted.
After a minute I tried to get through.
“No,” he told me, “we need the tickets.”
And back and forth for a few minutes. “In that case, we need an itinerary of your whole trip from your travel agent with all your accommodations confirmed before and after you visit China, plus in China.”
“I’d still like to see somebody.”
He just shrugged.
After a bit of this, I realized he wasn’t going to let me in. I gave up. A few months later, a couple of weeks before heading through Vietnam, I went to the Chinese embassy in Bangkok with all the documentation I could get (a hotel booking in one place in China, evidence that I had enough money to look after myself, that I had a job so I wasn’t going to overstay, etc.). They didn’t want to see any of that, said nothing, and gave me the visa that same day.
Also, if you just want to visit (and if you can get a transit flight), you can get three days in Beijing or Shanghai if you’re genuinely in transit. And of course most countries can get a visa on arrival or visa-free entry to Hong Kong or Macao if you count that as part of China.
6. New Zealand: Tough Terrain To Tackle
New Zealand, for someone coming from the U.S., is difficult without the help of a local travel person.
The country is one of the most physically beautiful, but because of the topography and roads, one needs someone knowledgeable regarding distance, time, and lodging.
5. Tibet: Quite Literally Breathtaking
Tibet, a part of China. Since this place has really high sea level elevation, it’s really hard to breathe when you travel in Tibet. On the other hand, it’s a wonderful place; nice view, fresh air, blue sky, and exotic.
4. Saint Helena: Braving Rough Seas To Reach
Saint Helena, which lies in the south Atlantic, somewhere west of Cape Town and south of Ascension Island, is something of a traveler’s secret. Despite being promised an airport this year, the Saints (locals) have been let down, and are continuing to rely on their twice-annual imports from the last working, aptly named, Saint Helena Royal Mail Ship.
With trips aboard the RMS taking up to a month from Dorset to Cape Town, a holiday to Saint Helena is certainly for the more intrepid traveler, and not for one who has to worry about their annual leave allowance.
Those brave enough to make the trip must also be sure of strong sea legs, as the vessel sails non-stop, sometimes for a week at a time, through some rather turbulent seas.
3. Athos: A Restriction On Women
Athos (Greece): Women are not allowed to enter this island. Non-orthodox Christians are restricted, too.
2. Tristan da Cunha: Most Remote Archipelago World-Wide
Tristan da Cunha (colloquially “Tristan”), is both a remote group of volcanic islands in the South Atlantic Ocean and the main island of that group. It is the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world, lying 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) from the nearest inhabited land, Saint Helena, 2,400 kilometers (1,491 miles) from the nearest continental land, South Africa, and 3,360 kilometers (2,088 miles) from South America.
The territory consists of the main island, also named Tristan da Cunha, which has a north-south length of 11.27 kilometers (7.0 miles) and has an area of 98 square kilometers (37.8 square miles), along with the smaller, uninhabited Nightingale Islands and the wildlife reserves of Inaccessible and Gough Islands.
1. Hounding Interviews And Excessive Paperwork
Countries like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan (don’t go there) have extremely strictly visa policies for all the countries. You would find many young foreign backpackers in India. These guys can virtually stay in India for 4 to 5 months visa-free in India, whereas when we try to travel to their countries, a lot of paperwork is required and sometimes interviews are taken.