Many of us spend our days dreaming of getting away from it all. The hustle of the city, the stress of the commute, the noise and pollution… what could be better than escaping all that for one of the remotest spots on Earth?
Well, you may be surprised by what qualifies for ‘remote’. Each of the cities and capitals below is in some way cut-off from the rest of the world. They may be hard to get to, they may be geographically distant, or they may simply be isolated in some profound sense. Yet not all of them would naturally spring to mind when you hear the word ‘remote’. From the super-famous to the super-obscure, here are 10 places on Earth so out-of-the-way they make living in the sticks look like renting in downtown Manhattan.
10. Iquitos, Peru
One way you can judge a city’s remoteness is by imaging what would happen there if all modern tech suddenly stopped functioning. For people living in London and New York, it would be a major hassle. For people living in Iquitos, Peru, it would quickly turn into Lord of the Flies.
Iquitos is buried deep in the heart of the Amazon, surrounded by hundreds of miles of impenetrable rainforest. How deep is it buried? So deep that jumping on a boat will take you four days to reach civilization. And forget about roads. Iquitos has only a single outward road, and that dead-ends in a related settlement 65 miles away. With a population of nearly 400,000, Iquitos is the largest city on Earth not connected to the outside world by road.
In this wasteland of vegetation and violent, screaming nature, everything has to be imported. The price of everything from food, to clean water, to luxuries and clothes is sky-high (for Peru). Yet Iquitos isn’t exactly hard to visit. A local airport connects the town to the capital Lima. You just better pray nothing happens to ground all flights in Peru during your visit.
9. Ürümqi, China
Ürümqi in China holds the distinction of being the furthest city from coastline anywhere in Eurasia (possibly on Earth). If you fancy a dip in the sea, you’re gonna have to trek over 2,240km to get there. Located in China’s remote northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Ürümqi is surrounded by a whole lot of nothing. Deserts, mountains, plains… basically, once you leave Ürümqi, there’s almost nothing to break up the monotony.
Another way Ürümqi is remote from the rest of China is culturally. The province it is part of is mostly Muslim, and signs appear in Arabic. People here are generally so suspicious of Beijing and ethnic Han Chinese that major riots sporadically break out, killing dozens.
On the other hand, Ürümqi doesn’t exactly feel remote. A major outpost on the old Silk Road, it’s still a major transport hub for people travelling through Central Asia. That means visiting there feels less like traveling to one of the remotest cities on Earth, and more like stepping into the world’s largest bus station.
8. Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia
You’d have to be stupid, mad or both to build a town like Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. A city of 180,000 situated on a cold, storm-lashed Russian peninsula, it’s almost hilariously inhospitable to life.
The whole town is surrounded by rumbling volcanoes and impassable mountains that have stopped anyone driving roads through to it. As a result, everything and everyone has to come in on tiny, rickety planes. There’s no settlements close to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky because it’s friggin’ impossible to build any on this hostile stretch of land. Moscow is over 4,000 miles away. The closest significant capital is probably Alaska’s state capital of Juneau. It’d be easier for residents to take a trip down to North Korea than it would be for them to visit their own government.
The town was founded as a base for the Russian navy, and wound up surviving thanks to good fishing. Today, it also gets a smattering of tourists who want to visit the nearby national park, and don’t mind stumping up insane amounts of money to get there.
7. King Edward Point, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
The capital of icy, windswept South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, King Edward Point isn’t a city by any stretch of the imagination. The summer population is below 25, and the winter population drops to about 12. A scientific and cultural outpost administered by the government of Great Britain, it’s a tiny blip of civilization surrounded by an ocean of howling emptiness.
Seriously, here’s the island on Google Maps. That tiny dot to the left? That’s the Falkland Islands, itself a pretty-darn remote settlement. The capital of the Falklands is nearly 500km from the fringes of the nearest country (Argentina). King Edward Point is a further 1,500km away. Although it’s employees are part of the British Antarctic Survey Team, British Antarctic Territory itself is 2,300km away. Stand in King Edward Point and look in any direction and you’re probably facing over 1,000km of terrifying emptiness.
The South Georgian capital is so remote that it doesn’t have a permanent population. The British Government, perhaps hoping to stop people from going mad, rotates its staff so no-one ever spends more than a couple of years living there.
6. Siwa Oasis, Egypt
In terms of time taken to get there, Siwa Oasis in Egypt isn’t remote. You can catch a bus from Cairo and be there in less than half a day. But it’s what surrounds Siwa Oasis that earns it a place on this list. The town of 23,000 sits slap bang in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
This is an area of the world where the burning heat and mountains of sand mean it’s logistically-impossible for governments to police their own borders. Step outside in the middle of the day and you’re gonna find yourself flash-fried before you can say “burning flesh”. Even if Cairo is within easy driving distance, it feels like it’s in another universe.
Siwa Oasis’s remoteness can be seen in its history. Essentially cut-off from civilization prior to the invention of the automobile, it wound up with a unique Berber culture that’s different from anything else seen in the region. For one thing, it had a strong tradition of homosexuality and forms of gay marriage until King Fuad outlawed it in 1928. Less-surprisingly, it also clung to nomad customs not seen elsewhere for decades or even centuries. It might be an easy visit now, but historically Siwa Oasis has been one of the most-isolated places on Earth.
5. Mêdog, Tibet
Mêdog in Tibet is a long, difficult, hair-raising drive from civilization that involves crossing frequently-impassable mountains and battling horrendous weather. Believe it or not, this is an improvement. Prior to 2013, there was no road connecting Mêdog at all. If you wanted to get there, you had to saddle up a horse and climb some 4,000 feet over two freakin’ mountains.
Why was Mêdog previously so difficult to get to? A lot of that has to do with where its founders chose to settle. Nestled in a narrow valley between towering mountain peaks, the city of 10,000 is both stupidly beautiful and basically just stupid. For decades, the trade-off for Mêdog’s sublime views was knowing that law enforcement couldn’t get out there in an emergency, and that there was no chance of you getting to a hospital if you got ill or hurt. Locals were at the mercy of nature, which sounds kinda cool until you realize it was totally possible to die in Mêdog from something as simple as an infected cut.
Even today, Mêdog is difficult to get to. The road Beijing built is only open 8 months of the year, and even then it is frequently closed by mudslides and snowfall.
4. Perth, Australia
You’re probably wondering what the heck Perth is doing on this list. The 4th biggest city in Australia, Perth has a population of nearly 2 million, a jumping nightlife district, frequent flights to the rest of Australia and road connections to other cities. Yet this misses out two crucial facts. One: Perth is on Australia’s barren West Coast, where almost nobody lives. And Two: Australia is freakin’ massive.
To get to Sydney, you’d need to drive 2,045 miles across a sun-scorched bed of limestone so desolate it looks like something from a sci-fi film. The nearest city of at least 100,000 people (Adelaide) is 1,300 miles distant, only slightly-less than the distance from New York to Houston. And that’s traveling through the Outback, a place so hostile to life that they might as well rename it ‘the Punisher’.
For Australians living in Perth, it’s cheaper and easier to get to Indonesia than it is to almost anywhere else in their own country. If all modes of transport were to vanish tomorrow, residents of Perth would be utterly isolated from the rest of humanity (but, hey, at least their nightlife would still be good).
3. Funafuti, Tuvalu
If it weren’t for the advent of affordable air travel, no-one in their right mind would ever go to Funafuti. The capital of the absurdly-tiny island nation of Tuvalu (itself only 26 km²), Funafuti is home to a mere 6,000 people. Little more than a collection of squat houses fringed by palm trees, it sprawls out alongside the narrow road that essentially marks Tuvalu’s entire landmass. The nearest lump of land with a population approaching 1m is Fiji, 1,134 kilometers away. To get to a major city, you’d have to fly to either New Zealand or Hawaii.
Although plenty of Pacific Island states are remote, Tuvalu takes the biscuit. A strip of coral surrounded by endless, roiling sea, it feels like the last place on Earth. To get there, you first have to get to Fiji, itself a pretty remote place. Then it’s hop on a rickety plane, cross your fingers and hope you don’t ditch into the sea hundreds of kilometers from civilization. According to one estimate, Funafuti is so distant it only receives 350 tourists a year – less than one a day. Equally-isolated Kiribati, by contrast, receives as many as 5,000.
2. Nuuk, Greenland
Nuuk is the capital of and largest city in Greenland, a sentence which deftly disguises just how breath-takingly remote and tiny it really is. The entire population of Nuuk clocks in at 16,583, a number so small that if the city were in any other country, it’d be known instead as a village. The same sort of thinking applies to its remoteness. By Greenland standards, Nuuk isn’t remote (Ittoqqortoormiit in the east probably takes the prize). But that’s like saying Batman isn’t strong compared to the Incredible Hulk. Compared to you and me, he’s still the freakin’ Batman.
No other capital city on Earth is more northerly than Nuuk. And getting there is a gigantic pain in the derriere. Visitors have to transit via Iceland or Copenhagen, and flights are expensive. Once in Nuuk, getting anywhere else can be a challenge: Greenland is essentially one gigantic ice sheet with terrible weather and non-existent roads. Wander out of Nuuk in almost any direction and you’re soon lost in a wilderness of ice and nothingness. On the plus side, the wages in Nuuk are so stratospherically high that young Danes move here purely to make a killing.
1. Yakutsk, Russia
Yakutsk is so comically-remote it feels like a joke. It’s the capital of the Yakutia region in Siberia, a region that covers over 1 million square miles, yet houses fewer than a million people. There are enough lakes and rivers in Yakutia for each resident to own one of each. It is divided into multiple administration centers the size of Utah, many only containing one tiny village.
Getting to Yakutsk itself is near-impossible. There’s only one road, which can only be used in winter (when the rivers freeze solid), and breaking down on it would mean certain death. There’s no railway. The river trip is 1,000 miles and can only be undertaken in summer, when the river isn’t frozen. You can fly in from Moscow, over 3,000 miles away, on a 6-hour plane, but most Russians can’t afford to do that.
Once you get there, Yakutsk is mind-blowingly inhospitable. It used to be used as a prison for political dissidents and it’s easy to see why. In a warm winter, the temperature ‘only’ drops to -30C. Most years it hits -50C. In other words, not only is Yakutsk hard to get to, it also makes you wonder why anyone would bother.