The most remote places on Earth

CNN  — 

The problem with exciting destinations is that you’re unlikely to be the only one drawn to them.

These options provide personal space because they can be – to put it mildly – a challenge to reach. (Particularly the ones with “Inaccessibility” right in their names.)

Get ready to travel where most folks don’t – the most remote places on Earth:

Arctic Pole of Inaccessibility (a.k.a. Northern Pole of Inaccessibility)

Let’s say you want to go to the North Pole and face temperatures so cold that they attract worldwide attention on the brief occasions they go above freezing. (They’re normally at least 30 degrees below zero.) But you decide, “Too easy.” So you eliminate the crutch of land.

The Northern Pole of Inaccessibility is the point on the Arctic Ocean most distant from terra firma. Bonus challenge: The pole is actually moving. Polar explorers have set out to reach it and discovered it shifted over 100 miles.

Bonus bonus challenge: If you’re determined to go on foot, you get to deal with melting ice caused by those temperature spikes.

Slightly Easier Option: The North Pole (Non-Inaccessible Version). You’re still facing deeply harsh conditions, but at least there are tour groups who are willing to get you there. Just be prepared to spend: This trek can easily set you back over $20,000.

Antarctic Pole of Inaccessibility (a.k.a. Southern Pole of Inaccessibility)

This is perfect for people who went to the Arctic and said, “Too warm.”

Winter temperatures at the South Pole average -76 F (-60 C). (Which is borderline balmy compared to how cold the continent can get: Antarctica has produced the lowest ever recorded temperature of -128.6 F, or -89 C.)

Hello from Antarctica.

Located more than 500 miles away from the South Pole, you’ll know that you reached the Antarctic Pole of Inaccessibility when you encounter a bust of Vladimir Lenin, because a small abandoned Soviet research station marks the spot.

Slightly Easier Option: The South Pole (Non-Inaccessible Version). Let’s be clear: Anyone making this trek will still likely face some brutal conditions. (Few people visit Antarctica and come back describing it as surprisingly temperate.)

Still, tour groups exist who can get you there, provided you are prepared to plunk down more than $40,000 for the journey.

Point Nemo (a.k.a. The Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility)

This is ideal for someone addicted to remote experiences, but less than eager to freeze to death. In return for the warmer weather, you give up land.

Seriously, banish it from your mind – this takes you to the South Pacific Ocean and plops you over 1,000 miles away from solid ground. Indeed, at times the nearest human beings are on the International Space Station.

There are currently no tours going here, which makes sense: The most striking feature of the area may be the surprising amount of nautical garbage (primarily in the form of plastic).

Slightly Easier Option: Easter Island. The home to those remarkable statues is a mere thousand miles away from Nemo, albeit still quite distant from pretty much everything else.

It’s possible to fly there, because – follow us on this – there’s land. (This is still, by normal standards, a thoroughly grueling journey: A quick search of flight options from New York reveals this trek should take at least 42 hours including stopovers and cost around $3,000 per person.)

Vale do Javari (Brazil)

Technology has helped us to document a great deal of our planet. Yet there are parts of the Earth that remain firmly off the grid.

Vale do Javari is a chunk of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest roughly the size of South Carolina. In 2011, a previously unknown tribe was located here.

It’s likely that more people who have successfully remained unknown to the modern world will be uncovered as satellite pictures continue to improve. (On a far less positive note, it will also become less challenging to find them as more of the Amazon rainforest is destroyed.)

Slightly Easier Option: The Arena da Amazônia.

Constructed by Brazil for the 2014 World Cup at a cost of roughly $300 million, this stadium in Manaus seats over 40,000 and can be found hundreds of miles away from other major cities.

Used for a handful of matches at the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics and basically wasted since then because there’s virtually no need for it in the region, the project’s location is so inexplicable that it crosses over from “stupid” all the way to “strangely intriguing.”

Saint Helena

There’s a reason why his enemies didn’t worry about Napoleon escaping when the exiled French emperor slipped away from the island of Elba. (Actually, they may have been a little concerned, since many historians have argued he was poisoned.)

Saint Helena is located approximately 1,200 miles off the southwestern coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. (Making it, at the time of Napoleon’s arrival in 1815, a serious exile indeed.)

The island finally got an airport in 2017, which The Atlantic celebrated with an article titled, “The Opening of ‘The World’s Most Useless Airport’ in Remote Saint Helena.”

Slightly Easier Option: Siberia. In a development Joseph Stalin could have never imagined, the dumping ground for many perceived enemies of the Soviet Union has become something of a hip travel destination (at least, during the warmer seasons).

You can beat the crowds by coming during the winter instead of the summer – the temperature has been recorded at - 89.9 F (- 67.7 C). This cold is literally otherworldly, in the sense you could travel to Mars and enjoy similar temperatures.

Urique in the Copper Canyon (Mexico)

The Grand Canyon lives up to its name, but that doesn’t mean another canyon can’t turn out to be even grander.

The Copper Canyon is Mexico’s supersized take on the Grand Canyon, with the state of Chihuahua offering a network of gorges longer and deeper than the southwest USA’s.

Urique is a former mining village located at canyon bottom – to get there requires a nine-mile descent down the steep canyon on a narrow road.

Important Travel Note: The US Department of State has issued a Level 3 travel advisory for Chihuahua state due to crime in the region. (This asks Americans to reconsider travel, though stops short of the “Do Not Travel” designation.)

In general, visitors are urged to use caution, stick to tourist areas and avoid traveling after dark.

Slightly Easier Option: Xilitla. Another remarkable offering from Mexico, the “Magical Town” of Xilitla is an isolated hillside community surrounded by tropical Huasteca Potosina. It is best known for the surreal Las Pozas garden, a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Coal Mines Historic Site (Tasmania)

Pretty much wherever you may be on planet Earth, Tasmania is remote from it. (After all, to get to Tasmania you need to travel all the way to Australia… and then travel all the way across Australia to get to its southern coast… and then travel the 260 miles separating this island from the mainland.)

England used to dump convicts they wanted to get off their hands in Australia. Subsequently, Australia’s choice to send prisoners that they didn’t want to be imprisoned in Van Diemen’s Land (which, as any fan of U2 songs sung by The Edge can tell you, is the former name of Tasmania) was a way to exile the exiled.

The Kiwirrkurra community was established in the 1980s.

The Coal Mines Historic Site today describes itself as a “place of punishment for the ‘worst’ class of convicts.” That punishment was hard labor, with the extra brutal twist that it occurred underground, where they were forced to mine.

Slightly Easier Option: Kiwirrkurra, Australia. Let’s say you want to be distant but you don’t want to leave the Aussie mainland.

Enter Kiwirrkurra. Located in Australia’s massive Gibson Desert – it’s about 60,000 square miles – in 2011 Kiwirrkurra’s population was reported as roughly 200 people and the next community is more than 60 miles away.

Choquequirao (Peru)

As anyone who has visited Machu Picchu can attest, this elevated Inca ruin is a memory that will stay with you forever.

You can reach it via grueling multi-day hike or train and bus ride. And yes, one of these options is decidedly more taxing than the other, particularly when the rains hit.

Choquequirao is still at the pre-public transportation stage. This may well change but, until then, if you want to get there you have to climb the Andes Mountains like the Inca. (Though the Inca were far less likely to have hired porters handling all their gear, as visitors typically do today.)

Slightly Easier Option: La Rinconada, Peru. It’s the highest permanent settlement in the world at nearly 17,000 feet above sea level – people brave the altitude because gold has been located there. And it should be noted that it isn’t that much easier – there’s no running water, no sewage system and CNN has described it as “the world’s harshest town.”

Life in the world's harshest town
01:20 - Source: CNN

Erta Ale lava lakes (a.k.a. Smoking Mountain) (Ethiopia)

Lava lakes are both photogenic (particularly when erupting) and potentially dangerous (eruptions can be lethal for a variety of reasons, including the poison gas they may emit).

The Danakil Depression (or Afar Depression) in northeastern Ethiopia generally boasts two lava lakes thanks to the active volcano Erta Ale.

Volcano aside, the area has limited appeal for most possible permanent residents, with droughts, a general lack of trees, and temperatures in the region hitting 118 F. (The BBC termed it simply “one of the hottest, driest and lowest places on the planet.”)

Beyond this, Erta Ale can be genuinely dangerous: A 2005 eruption and 2007 lava flow both triggered evacuations of the area.

Slightly Easier Option: The Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Most tourists go to Oahu, Maui, maybe Kauai. They often skip the Big Island, which is shortsighted. Not because those other islands aren’t great, but because the Big Island’s active volcano occasionally obliterates some of that isle’s top attractions.

In 2018, it has already evaporated what was the state’s largest freshwater lake. Estimated at 200 feet deep, it was eliminated in just a few hours. Visit before Kilauea strikes again.

Kilauea is Hawaii's most active volcano.

“The Door to Hell” (a.k.a. “The Gates to Hell”) (Turkmenistan)

In the Karakum Desert lies a crater roughly 230 feet across and 65 feet deep. Okay, that’s not so exciting, but what sets this one apart is that it is on fire. (It was created decades ago when the Soviets punctured a natural gas cavern and then set it ablaze.)

A limited number of tourists show up each year and witness a bizarre sight that at times feels like a true waking nightmare. (Supposedly you can on occasion witness thousands of spiders inexplicably being drawn to it and marching into the flames.)

Bonus points because the Soviet Republic turned Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan can be, shall we say, a challenging place to visit.

In 2015 the US Department of State noted, “Turkmenistan is a source country for men, women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.” On a lighter note, their president has a 24-carat gold leaf-covered statue of himself riding a horse that stands on a pedestal located more than 60 feet above the capital city.

Slightly Easier Option: Indonesia’s Kawah Ijen volcano. If you climb this 8,660-foot active volcano in East Java, you can witness sulfur miners in action and feel positively coddled in your own job.

(They gather liquid sulfur dubbed “devil’s gold” near live sulfur vents, watch it harden, then climb back up – they may have descended as much as 2,700 feet – before walking down the volcano to sell it. And, if there’s time left in the day, they may do it again.)

Barneo Ice Camp

Okay, you really want an Arctic experience, but you don’t feel like chasing around the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility nor do you need to make like you’re the explorer Robert Peary.

If you have at least $20,000 and are free in April, here’s one option. Russia constructs and oversees this camp at 89° north for a month each year. (The Russian military also has conducted drills here, unnerving neighbor Norway.)

You’re fed and provided heated facilities, making it about as cushy as you can hope for on a frozen chunk of the Arctic Ocean with temperatures below zero.

Longyearbyen, Norway.

Slightly Easier Option: Longyearbyen, Norway. This is typically where you go to get to Barneo, which is a 2.5-hour flight north.

Longyearbyen is the northernmost proper community in the world, boasting over 2,000 residents. (Substantial as that number is, they are still outnumbered by neighboring polar bears.)

While south of Barneo, you’ll get your share of harsh conditions: It is forbidden to bury bodies because the extreme cold stops them from decomposing. Schedule this one sooner rather than later – rising temperatures threaten the community, notably through increased avalanches.

K2 Mountaintop (China/Pakistan border)

Start with a mountain that is about 75 miles from the nearest village. Make it the second-tallest in the world at a staggering 28,251 feet.

Then throw in absurdly dangerous conditions: It’s relentlessly steep, prone to avalanches and the weather is both harsh and unpredictable. (Entire years can pass when no one manages to make the climb successfully.)

This is a journey that is potentially fatal. But if you can somehow reach the top, you’ll have some space to yourself.

Slightly Easier Option: The Villages of Dhalamlam Mountain. Located in Yemen, they are so elevated that they find themselves removed from the warfare plaguing that nation.

Which is not to say it’s a world of magic and fantasy. A lack of electricity and running water makes life challenging, and while there is a certain charm to traveling on foot, by donkey or via an old cable car that’s powered by an automobile engine, the allure quickly fades when you realize you need immediate treatment for appendicitis.

Sean Cunningham is a writer, editor and playwright