The Real Reason You’ll Never Set Foot on These 15 Islands No Matter How Much You Want To
If you’re like most travelers, the idea of a remote island sounds like the perfect escape. From secret islands tucked away in obscure corners of the world to private islands that most normal people will never get to visit, there’s nothing more alluring than a forgotten island. But some islands, as it turns out, are harder to visit than others.
You’ll probably never get to set foot on the following secret islands. It’s not that they’re too remote to reach — you’re just not allowed to visit them for some surprising reasons. Some are private islands, and some house secret military bases. But others have ghosts (page 11) or snakes (page 13) to thank for making them effectively off-limits to visitors.
1. Clipperton Island
- Location: East Pacific
- Why it’s off-limits: It’s inhospitable and difficult to reach.
Atlas Obscura puts Clipperton Island on the list of secret islands that you probably wouldn’t want to visit. The island “is so remote that even the Guinness Book of World Records’ ‘Most Traveled Man’ was given no recourse but to swim there,” the publication notes. It also characterizes Clipperton Island as “equally as inhospitable as it is hard to reach.” The island has no fresh water. Treacherous reefs surround it on all sides. But the island also has a gruesome history.
In 1906, British and Mexican interest groups tried to colonize it with 100 people who would depend on supplies shipped from mainland Mexico. “Everything went as planned until the Mexican Civil War diverted the suppliers’ attention… for years,” Atlas Obscura notes. As you might imagine, the experiment did not end well.
Next: This island has gorgeous beaches — and houses a secretive military base.
2. Diego Garcia
- Location: The Central Indian Ocean
- Why it’s off-limits: It houses a U.S. military and naval base.
The Telegraph puts Diego Garcia on the list of the secret islands that travelers can’t visit. “With its talcum powder beaches and colourful coral gardens, Diego Garcia might look like an idyllic tropical retreat, but there’s long been trouble in this particular paradise,” the publication notes.
The British government forcibly evicted the residents of the island in 1973. Then, the U.S. built a military base on the land and declared it off-limits to anyone but official personnel. Plus, as The Telegraph notes, secrecy and controversy have shrouded the island ever since. Some people even claim that the CIA used the island to torture prisoners.
Next: These islands served as a dump for radioactive waste.
3. Farallon Islands
- Location: Off the shore of San Francisco
- Why they’re off-limits: The islands served as a dump for nuclear waste.
Atlas Obscura puts the Farallon Islands on the list of islands you’d never want to visit, even if you could. Between 1946 and 1970, the United States government dumped “more than 47,800 drums and other containers of low-level radioactive waste” onto the ocean floor west of San Francisco. The government also sunk the USS Independence, part of the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests, near the islands.
The New York Times notes that the islands remain off-limits to humans. They are uninhabited with the exception of Southeast Farallon Island, “where a handful of conservation scientists have a field research station. Permits to go ashore are rarely granted.”
Next: You can only visit this island if you make it onto ‘the list.’
4. Fisher Island
- Location: South of Miami
- Why it’s off-limits: It’s a secretive and exclusive oasis for the super-rich.
USA Today reports that you’re not exactly forbidden from visiting Fisher Island, just south of Miami. But the publication notes that Fisher Island is “One of the wealthiest places in America; an island where relatively few outsiders have ever been.”
The only way to get to what Forbes characterizes as America’s richest zip code? Private yacht, which could cost you between $1 million and $2 million to dock — or the island’s ferry. The affluent residents of the island pay for the ferry. And they also pay for a security guard who will only let you board the ferry if you’re on “the list.”
Next: This land mass remains one of the most remote islands in the world.
5. Heard Island
- Location: Between Madagascar and Antarctica
- Why it’s off-limits: It’s one of the most remote secret islands in the world.
Mental Floss puts the Antarctic land mass of Heard Island on the list of the coolest places you aren’t allowed to visit. The barren volcanic island is an Australian external territory located about two-thirds of the way between Madagascar and Antarctica. Penguins, seals, and marine birds call this mountainous island home.
In 2000, researchers noticed a lava flow coming from the southwest side of Mawson’s Peak, a volcano that has remained active ever since. In addition to the dangers posed by the volcano, the island often experiences bad weather. And it takes a two-week sail through some of the roughest waters in the world to get there. Plus, no commercial tour operators visit Heard Island.
Next: This island isn’t permanent.
6. Home Reef
- Location: The South Pacific
- Why it’s off-limits: It’s not permanent.
You’re not technically forbidden from visiting Home Reef in the South Pacific. But depending on when you plan to go, it might not be such a great idea to visit this volcanic island.
NASA reports that this ephemeral island emerges after volcanic eruptions. Then, it erodes away over the course of years. It was reportedly first formed by a submarine volcanic eruption in 1852, then reformed in 1984 and 2006.
Next: This island is privately owned. But you could buy it!
7. James Island
- Location: British Columbia
- Why it’s off-limits: It’s privately owned — but on the market.
Next on the list of private islands? James Island, located off the coast of British Columbia. If you really want to set foot on one of the many private islands around the world, this one may be your best bet. At least if you have a few million dollars sitting around. Billionaire Craig McCaw once owned this island. He purchased the land for $19 million in 1994. But he decided to sell it in 2012 because he and his family “no longer had time to spend there.”
The island reportedly remains on the market for $75 million. So if you save your pennies, you could theoretically make the island — with its miles of beaches, 5,000 square-foot mansion, and private golf course — your own.
Next: This island belongs to a famous actor.
8. Little Hall’s Pond Cay
- Location: The Bahamas
- Why it’s off-limits: It’s Johnny Depp’s private island.
As USA Today notes, some islands are off-limits to the average traveler because they’re privately owned. Others “have been dubbed out-of-bounds by the government for the sake of safety, and some have been restricted exclusively for research.” Little Hall’s Pond Cay falls into the “private island” category.
In fact, it’s owned by Johnny Depp. Depp once said of the island, “I can come down here and disappear.” He added, “Money doesn’t buy you happiness. But it buys you a big enough yacht to sail right up to it.”
Next: The owners of this island may or may not let you visit.
- Location: Hawaii
- Why it’s off-limits: It’s one of the most interesting private and secret islands.
Niihau, known as the “forbidden island of Hawaii,” probably ranks among the most interesting private islands in the world. USA Today reports that the same family has owned this island since 1864. But it didn’t earn its nickname until 1952 when they banned outsiders from the island to protect natives against a polio epidemic.
Since then, most travelers have been denied access. But USA Today notes that in recent years, the owners of the island have occasionally offered helicopter tours to the island’s north shore, where visitors can explore for a few hours.
Next: The population of this island doesn’t want contact with the outside world.
10. North Sentinel Island
- Location: India
- Why it’s off-limits: The indigenous population resists contact with the outside world.
Next on the list of secret islands you probably won’t ever visit? North Sentinel Island. Mental Floss reports that this heavily forested island in the Bay of Bengal “is completely encircled by coral reef, making it difficult to approach by boat.” But that doesn’t even count as the main reason why people don’t visit.
North Sentinel Island is inhabited by an indigenous population known as the Sentinelese. The Sentinelese have rejected contact with all other people. (They number among the last communities untouched by modern civilization.) In 2008, the tribe killed two fishermen whose boat strayed too close. And in 2004, they shot arrows and threw stones at research helicopters assessing the damage from a tsunami.
Next: This island has a gruesome past. And many people think ghosts still haunt it.
- Location: Italy
- Why it’s off-limits: It’s abandoned — and haunted.
Mental Floss reports that Poveglia is a small island located between Venice and Lido, within the Venetian Lagoon. Throughout its history, it has been home to a fort, used as a shipping checkpoint, and even served as a quarantine station for the Bubonic Plague. And since the turn of the last century, it has served as the location for a mental asylum. The psychiatric hospital closed in 1968. Since then, the island has remained abandoned.
Mental Floss notes that it probably doesn’t help that Poveglia reportedly numbers among the most haunted places on earth, with the ghosts of plague victims, war victims, and even a “murderous asylum doctor” roaming the island. The Italian government offered up the island for a long-term lease of 99 years. The government seems to be hoping that someone will redevelop the land — and perhaps give you a reason to visit.
Next: The owner of this island uses it as a vacation home, and for another surprising purpose.
12. Robins Island
- Location: Long Island, New York
- Why it’s off limits: It’s privately owned. Plus, it functions as a nature preserve.
USA Today notes that Robins Island — near Long Island, New York — is privately owned by hedge fund manager Louis Moore Bacon. Bacon originally purchased the 445-acre island in Peconic Bay to create his own secluded getaway. But in addition to constructing several vacation homes, he also turned the island into a nature preserve.
As USA Today reports, “When he purchased the land in 1993 Bacon set out to protect the area’s rare and endangered species by donating $1.1 million to the Nature Conservancy and has invested a great deal of his own money in order to restore and conserve the island’s natural habitat.”
Next: If you don’t love venomous snakes, you definitely don’t want to set foot on this island.
13. Snake Island
- Location: Brazil
- Why it’s off-limits: It’s uninhabitable thanks to a huge population of venomous snakes.
Snake Island counts among the islands that you can’t visit — and definitely wouldn’t want to. As USA Today reports, “Unless you’re willing to break Brazilian law, this island off the coast of Sao Paulo in Brazil is absolutely off-limits.” Snake Island, or “Ilha de Queimada Grande,” has a huge population of highly venomous golden lancehead snakes.
The snakes on the island are between three and five times more poisonous than their relatives on the mainland. And they inhabit so much of the island that the government has deemed the whole island uninhabitable. If you ask us, that sounds like a pretty good reason to cross this island off your bucket list!
Next: You can’t visit this island — one of the secret islands off the coast of the United States — because it belongs to a famous media mogul.
14. St. Phillips Island
- Location: South Carolina
- Why it’s off-limits: It’s privately owned.
USA Today notes that St. Phillips Island also numbers among the private islands that you probably won’t ever get to visit. Ted Turner purchased it for $2 million in 1979. As with most private islands, regular people can’t visit this beautiful property.
In fact, only Turner and the people he invites ashore can visit the island’s maritime forests, lagoons, and beaches. Pretty unfortunate, because as USA Today notes, it “sounds just like an adventure-lover’s paradise.”
Next: You can’t visit this island unless you’re conducting research.
- Location: Iceland
- Why it’s off-limits: It’s open only to researchers.
USA Today puts Surtsey — an island off of Iceland — on the list of secret islands you can visit only if you’re conducting research. The island exists because of a volcanic eruption off the southern coast of Iceland in the 1960s; in fact, the volcanic land mass forms the southernmost part of Iceland.
UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site in 2008. And as USA Today reports, it currently serves “as a rare and unique laboratory for researchers who have studied the development of the land’s ecosystem over the past 50 years.”
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