25 of the Least Explored Places on Planet Earth
Stuck in a bubble of boredom and need some escapist relief? Join us on a tour of some of the most remote locales on Planet Earth.
Earth is kind of a big place.
And like a mansion built to impress the neighbors hiding the occasional odd secret from it owners (“Honey, do you know the bathroom in the sub-basement has a bidet?”), Planet Earth still has some locations we haven’t spent a lot of time with.
Australia: New Hebrides Trench
With a depth of almost four and a half miles at its deepest point, the New Hebrides Trench (located off the eastern coast of Australia) wasn’t explored by humans until robots descended it in 2013.
The robots discovered aquatic life totally unlike anything seen in any other part of the oceans (including other deep-sea trenches).
Myanmar: Northern Forest Complex
The easternmost area of the Himalayas is home to dense subtropical forests that have remained largely untouched by human activity. The largest tiger preserve in the world is located here, along with habitat for diverse species of bears and primates.
The 5,000 square miles in the Northern Forest Complex represents one of the largest protected areas in the world and has been described as “primeval.”
Papua New Guinea: Star Mountains
This remote stretch of mountains in western Papua New Guinea is one of the wettest regions in the world, with over 10,000 mm of rain each year.
The first Europeans to attempt to explore and map the area began an expedition in 1959. They started out with two helicopters but one of them crashed, which meant the explorers had to switch to ground transportation on foot.
The Star Mountains culminate with a network of limestone plateaus known as the Hindenburg Wall. Steep bluffs stretch for over 30 miles, creating undisturbed wildlife habitat high above the ground. Many species previously unknown to science have been discovered inhabiting these elevated ecosystems.
Sakha Republic, Russia
Deep in the northern Russian region of Siberia, the Sakha Republic covers an area almost as large as India.
Containing the coldest seas in the Northern Hemisphere, one third of the Sakha Republic lies above the Arctic Circle. With regular winter temperatures of minus 35 degrees Celsius (-31 F), its severe and extreme climate renders it nearly inhospitable.
Extensive mining has taken place in the Sakha Republic, although large swaths of pristine wilderness remain untouched, providing habitat for abundant wildlife.
Mount Namuli, Mozambique
With an elevation of almost 8,000 feet, Mount Namuli is Mozambique’s second-highest mountain peak. Unexplored areas are only accessible through rock climbing, and the combination of civil wars and limited road systems has prevented the exploration of its forests until recently.
Mount Namuli is part of a mountain chain where each peak has developed a unique ecosystem like its own island. Different species inhabit different peaks, and there are several bird and plant species found only on Mount Namuli and nowhere else.
Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
With 2.9 million acres of untouched wilderness, Fiordland National Park in New Zealand has some of the harshest terrain in the Southern Hemisphere. New Zealand’s biggest national park features deep fjords and high cliffs created by glaciers and features some of the oldest rocks in the country. This rugged geography is characterized by largely inaccessible landscapes.
The giant park is also home to diverse and unique animal species. One flightless bird called the “takahē” was thought to be extinct for decades before it was rediscovered in the park in 1948.
Cape Melville, Australia
Although Cape Melville is only 900 miles from the major Australian city of Brisbane, its dramatic environment remains largely unexplored. Due to the fact that it’s surrounded by giant piles of huge granite boulders formed over 250 million years ago, it can only be accessed by helicopter.
Described as a “Lost World,” its isolated rainforest contains many species unique to the region. In 2013 alone, three previously unknown animal species were discovered in Cape Melville.
India: North Sentinel Island
Nearest populated region: 800 kilometers (650 miles) from Indonesia.
North Sentinel Island is one of the Andaman Islands, in the Bay of Bengal. It is home to the Sentinelese who, often violently, reject any contact with the outside world, and are among the last people worldwide to remain virtually untouched by modern civilization. As such, only limited information about the island is known.
The hostile reception outsiders have received when trying to visit North Sentinel Island means much of it remains unexplored.
The protective Sentinelese have been known to kill fishermen who drift too close to their island’s waters, which prompted India to officially establish a three-mile “Do Not Enter” exclusion zone around North Sentinel Island.
Panama, Colombia: The Darién Gap
The Darién Gap is a roadless, 60-mile corridor of swamp and jungle between Panama and Colombia that serves as a barrier to traveling between Central and South America over land.
There are no major settlements in the Darién Gap, and the population of mostly indigenous residents is estimated at 2,000 people. The residents travel by dugout canoe, as most of the terrain is either swamp, rugged mountains, dense jungle, or impenetrable valleys.
Uncharted and infested with mosquitoes, the Darién Gap is a dangerous route for illegal immigration and a notorious hotbed for cocaine production and trafficking.
Vietnam: Hang Son Doong
It’s unbelievable to think that the largest cave passage in the world wasn’t discovered until a local Vietnamese man found it in 1991. But it’s true – even though Hang Son Doon (Cave of the Mountain River) near the border of Vietnam and Laos is thought to be between 2 and 5 million years old, it was discovered by humans less than 30 years ago.
The cave is nearly 6 miles long, 600 feet deep, and 500 feet wide, and has been carved out of limestone over the millennia by a hazardous underground river.
When cavers first tried to formally survey Hang Son Doong in 2009, their efforts were literally stonewalled by a 200-foot high limestone cliff, which was dubbed the Great Wall of Vietnam.
Although the main cave has now been fully explored the network of over 150 caves surrounding it still largely remains to be surveyed.
Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Yemen: Rub' al Khali
Rub’ al Khali means “The Empty Quarter” in Arabic, and this 250,000-square-mile section of the larger Arabian Desert is fittingly the largest uninterrupted stretch of sand in the world.
Before desertification (pre-300 AD) caravan trails crisscrossed the region, providing routes for the frankincense trade. For the past seventeen hundred-plus years the desert has been incredibly difficult to traverse.
The terrain is mostly vast sand dunes, which can be up to 820 feet high. The rest of “The Empty Quarter” consists of endless plains of gravel and gypsum.
Although some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world is found in Rub’ al Khali, it hasn’t stopped the development of some of the world’s largest oil fields, which lie beneath its sands.
Venezuela: Mount Roraima
Bounded on all four sides by 1,300-foot cliffs, Mount Roraima serves as the triple border point for Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana.
Native legend tells of Mount Roraima as the stump of a once-massive tree bearing all of the fruits and vegetables in the world. A mythical trickster cut the huge tree down and a catastrophic flood was unleashed when it crashed to the ground.
The first European to discover Mount Roraima was Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595, but it wasn’t climbed until 1884. Located in the southeast corner of Venezuela’s 12,000-square-mile Canaima National Park, the unique mountain’s 12-square-mile plateau summit was the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel The Lost World.
Philippines: Palawan Island
Palawan is a Philippine island with 1,200 miles of irregular coastline surrounded by over 1,700 smaller islands. Its interior consists of craggy mountains surrounded by heavy virgin forests.
The island is known for its incredible biodiversity and received Biosphere Reserve status in the 1990s in an effort to preserve its aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. New species discovered in Palawan include the purple crab (discovered for the first time in 2012) and a type of shrew-eating pitcher plant (discovered for the first time in 2007).
Although there are island communities populated mostly by natives, and tourists regularly come to visit what has been declared the most beautiful island in the world, its wild mountain terrain makes fully exploring Palawan and its many smaller islands a challenge.
Venezuela: Sima Humboldt
Atop the plateau summit of Venezuela’s table-top Sarisariñama mountain is an enormous sinkhole known as Sima Humboldt. It wasn’t discovered until 1961 when an airplane pilot spotted it. It remained unexplored until 1976.
Sima Humboldt is unusual in its considerable depth (over 1,000 feet) and its location in the middle of a forested mountaintop. The only way it can be accessed is by a permit issued to approved researchers.
11. Antarctica: East Scotia Ridge
Located in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica, the undersea region was previously considered one of the least hospitable to any form of life on earth. Pitch black, with depths of 8,000 feet, there are hydrothermal vents that create temperatures of over 700 degrees Fahrenheit.
Recently researchers have proven there is actually extensive life living amidst these vents, including populations of crabs and previously undiscovered sea life.
Greenland: Oodaaq Island
Only visible under favorable conditions, Oodaaq completely vanished two years after its discovery due to melt-water flooding. Before disappearing, it was considered the most northerly piece of land on earth. It is located approximately 700 kilometers south of the North Pole.
Efforts have been made to relocate Oodaaq through satellite imagery but have not been successful. Measuring only 15 meters by 8 meters when it was first discovered, it continues to elude modern explorers seeking to nail down its location.
Brazil: Vale do Javari
Deep in the interior of Brazil lies Vale do Javari, recognized widely as the most isolated place on earth. The region is home to at least 14 of the Amazon’s uncontacted tribes, who continue to live traditional lifestyles free from modern technology.
Vale do Javari is located in an area larger than Austria and is home to an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 native residents living among 19 villages. This represents the largest and most highly concentrated population of uncontacted groups in the world.
The Pacific Ocean: The Mariana Trench
The deepest place on the planet, this crescent-shaped underwater trough has been measured as deep as 36,000 feet. To put that into perspective, if you dropped Mount Everest into the Mariana Trench it would still lie two kilometers under the ocean.
Located off the coast of Guam in the Pacific Ocean, only four successful descents have been made to its deepest point (known as the Challenger Deep). Due to the immense pressure experienced at 7 miles under the ocean, the most recent manned vessel to descend Challenger Deep was made of titanium. It was piloted by none other than film director James Cameron in 2012.
Chile: Northern Patagonia
Home to Chile’s wildest landscapes, its Northern Patagonian Ice Field remains one of the largest masses of ice outside the polar regions.
Although the Ice Field is retreating it still occupies an area of over 1,600 square miles. High elevation and cool climate preserve the remaining Ice Field, which is a remnant of the Patagonian Ice Sheet that once covered all of Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia in the Andes Mountains.
Several explorers and researchers have crossed the Northern Patagonia Ice Field but much of its glaciers remain unexplored by humans.
Bhutan: Gangkhar Puensum
Bhutan’s highest peak is widely accepted as the highest unclimbed mountain remaining in the world. With its severe weather and inaccurate maps, the mountain may stay unclimbed forever.
Bhutan only allowed mountaineering on this sacred mountain (whose name means “White Peak of the Three Spiritual Brothers”) for the first time in 1983. Multiple expeditions tried and failed to make its summit, which is 24,840 feet in elevation.
Mountaineering was once again banned in 1994 out of respect for the local beliefs and continues to be banned to this day. As a result this Himalayan mountain on the border of Tibet will remain unclimbed and unexplored.
In the far eastern reaches of Russia, branching out into the Pacific Ocean, is the 780-mile-long Kamchatka Peninsula.
The Kamchatka Peninsula is home to over 300 volcanoes, one of which has been erupting continuously since 1996. With 29 active volcanoes, Kamchatka is the most volcanic area in Europe and Asia.
Known as the “land of fire and ice” Kamchatka combines extreme winter weather with continual volcanic activity. The peninsula remains covered in snow from October to May, and is home to impressive populations of brown bears and other northern wildlife.
Namibia: Namib Desert
With a name meaning “vast place,” Namib is the world’s oldest desert. It’s home to the world’s highest sand dunes, some of which can be seen from space.
For at least 50 million years, the Namib’s most arid regions have received only 2 mm of rain each year, which makes it one of the world’s driest regions. Summers see daytime temperatures of over 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit), and nights can be freezing.
Virtually no humans inhabit the Namib other than a scattering of small indigenous settlements and nomad groups.
The last pristine mountain in the Himalayas, Nepalese believe Machapuchare is the home of Lord Shiva and prohibit climbing to the summit.
With an elevation of 22,943 feet, Machapuchare has a huge vertical peak characterized by incredibly steep points at its unique “double summit.” The double peak is thought to resemble the tail of a fish, and the name “Machapuchare” means “Fish’s Tail” in Nepalese.
Only one attempt has ever been made to climb the summit of Machapuchare. In 1957 a British expedition made it within 150 meters of the top, but they kept their promise they would not climb it to the top.
Since then the sacred mountain has been closed to climbers entirely.
Madagascar: Tsingy de Bemahara National Park
With a name that translates into “Where one cannot walk barefoot,” The Tsingy de Bemahara National Park in Madagascar is covered in huge needle-like rock formations jutting from the ground.
This bio fortress is nearly impenetrable due to these huge “forests” of limestone outcroppings.
Caused by groundwater erosion of limestone into deep caverns or fissures, these vast stretches of incredibly steep rocks are virtually impossible for humans to travel across.
Antarctica: Subglacial lakes
Although it wasn’t proven until the 1960s, scientists had theorized since the 1800s that the pressure from the Antarctic ice sheets could raise the temperature of its lowest points enough to keep water liquid.
Research has since confirmed there are 379 lakes beneath the glaciers of Antarctica, some of which have been covered with ice for 35 million years.
Discovered by Russian scientists during a 1957-1964 expedition, Lake Vostok is the largest of the subglacial lakes in Antarctica. Its discovery is still considered one of the most important geographical finds of the 20th century.