Many people aspire to see as much of the world as possible before they kick the bucket, and as nice as it is to think that the world is our oyster, there’s always somewhere that seems to be off limits to the prying eyes of the public. From top secret military spy stations to bizarre elitist cult-clubs, here are 12 places you probably won’t be seeing anytime soon—no matter how much money you have.
12. Area 51
Probably the worst kept secret in all of America, Area 51 is the name given to a supposedly covert military installation located about 80 miles north-west of Las Vegas, Nevada. Positioned in the center of the base is a large military airfield and, according to many conspiracy theories, the main purpose of the base is to research and develop experimental aircraft and weaponry. Although all the research and work carried out at Area 51 is considered top secret and highly sensitive, in 2013 the U.S. government, for the first time, acknowledged the existence of the base and declassified documents detailing its history and purpose.
11. Lascaux Caves
Located in France, Lascaux is a complex of caves world-renowned for its Paleolithic cave paintings that are estimated to be more than 17,500 years old. The artifacts and works of art found at Lascaux bear extremely rare witness to long-extinct civilizations that have proven to be very difficult to understand. The paintings are universally recognized as masterpieces of prehistoric art and represent exceptional findings from a historic and anthropological standpoint. Much of the art found in the caves depicts different species such as bison, bulls and horses. Some illustrations of humans or semi-humans are also present, although the human figures are not as richly defined or detailed as is the animal art. It is believed the drawings of animals involved in the hunt helped to assure ancient hunters that they would be successful. Although these caves were open to the public at one point, they have since been closed to all visitors in an effort to preserve the original artwork.
10. Google Data Center
Have you ever wondered about the resources it takes to maintain the world’s largest search engine? The physical infrastructure at the Google Data Center consists of thousands of servers that, in aggregate, form an insanely large cloud computing network. This framework allows the company to access 20 billion web pages a day, handle over three billion daily queries, conduct millions of ad auctions in real time, offer free email storage to 425 million Gmail users, and stream millions of YouTube videos to users around the world. The Google Data Center is also just about as heavily guarded as Area 51—probably because it stores all our valuable personal information.
9. Disney’s Club 33
Located within Disneyland is one of Florida’s finest and most exclusive five star restaurants. Officially maintained as a secret feature of the theme park, Club 33 was originally intended for exclusive use by Disneyland’s Corporate sponsors and other industry VIPs when it first opened in 1967. Since then, individual memberships have been offered, however there’s an initiation fee of about $30,000 on top of a reoccurring annual fee of $12,000. Of course, that’s to be expected when you’re part of an elite club full of rich and famous people. The Club 33 staff have noted that it’s not unusual to be enjoying your meal, only to have a famous actor or well known celebrity sitting at the table next to you. As of 2011, there has been a 14-year waiting list for new members. U.S. Presidents, foreign dignitaries, actors, and business leaders from all over the world have all enjoyed the club immensely, but, not to worry, there’s still hope for everyday people to get in on the experience since members are allowed to bring guests. Better start networking now.
8. The Vatican Secret Archives
Some believe it holds evidence of extraterrestrial life. Others, dark truths that would disprove the existence of Jesus and destroy the Church. The Vatican Secret Archives, or Archivum Secretum Apostolicum Vaticanum, contains priceless historical records detailing intriguing historical events. Its contents, once looted by Napoleon and relocated to Paris, span more than a millennia and contain documents that date all the way back to the eighth century. Even though Pope Leo XIII opened the archives up to outsiders in 1881, the holdings are still a far cry from being easily accessible. Scholars lucky enough to be deemed passage must enter through the Porta Sant’Anna, pass armed Swiss Guards, walk through the Cortile del Belvedere, and present special credentials that must be renewed every six months. Journalists, students, and amateur historians aren’t allowed entrance. However, if you’d like to read something from the estimated 84 kilometres of shelving in The Vatican Secret Archives, you can always send a request for a digital manuscript—who knew the Church was so modern?
7. The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion
It’s known as the most important church in Ethiopia—and for good reason. The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion claims that it is home to the Ark of the Covenant. Since the Ark of the Covenant is one of the most sacred objects in all of theology, the building itself is pretty much off limits to everyone.
6. RAF Menwith Hill
Made up of a cluster of buildings and odd structures shaped like huge golf balls, RAF Menwith Hill is a Royal Air Force station located near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England. The massive golf balls, also known as radomes, actually house an array of satellite receivers and transmitters that help the workers of Menwith Hill carry out their mission, which, according to their website, consists of “providing intelligence support for U.K., U.S. and allied interests.” The base is so expansive that it’s allegedly the biggest electronic monitoring station in the world. In recent years, installations like Menwith Hill have kept an even tighter lid on affairs after disclosures made by National Security Agency-leaker Edward Snowden warned that the U.S. was using NSA surveillance programs to secretly gather information about phone calls and Internet communications worldwide.
5. Snake Island
Ilha da Queimada Grande, also known as Snake Island, is found 20 miles off the coast of Sao Paulo. The island is home to an endemic species of snake called the Golden Lancehead Viper, which is one of the most venomous snakes in the world. The Lancehead Vipers venom is, in fact, so potent that no bite victim has ever survived long enough to be admitted to hospital. The Brazilian government has banned anyone from visiting the island due to the high volume of deadly snakes present there. However, some people have been known to risk venturing to the island in order to try and catch the snakes so they can be sold for a high price on the black market.
4. Pine Gap
Pine Gap is pretty much Australia’s version of Area 51. It’s a secretive facility located 20 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs and has been in operation since the 1970s. The official name is the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, but the Australian government really likes to pretend that it doesn’t exist at all. The facility supports over 800 employees and consists of a large computer complex with 14 radomes (the same type of giant golf ball structures from Menwith Hill). The location is of significant strategic importance, since it controls U.S. spy satellites as they pass over the one third of the globe which includes China, the Middle East, and parts of Russia. Like Menwith Hill, Pine Gap is basically a monitoring station. In 2013, former CIA contractor and employee Edward Snowden revealed documents that showed Pine Gap was amongst the facilities used in the PRISM surveillance program conducted by various U.S. intelligence agencies. It’s currently the only place in all of Australia that has been designated a no fly zone.
3. Bohemian Grove
Each year in mid-July, some of the wealthiest and most influential men in the world get together at a 2,700 acre campground in Monte Rio, California, for two weeks of heavy drinking, super-secret discussions, and a host of other purported ritualistic behavior. Members of the Bohemian Club have included former U.S. presidents, prominent business leaders, entertainers, and oil tycoons. The purpose of the congregation is supposedly to escape the “frontier culture,” or uncivilized interests, of common men. As such, all guests are expected to abstain from making any business deals during their stay. The club is so secretive that little can be said for certain about it. However, much of what is known comes from people who have covertly infiltrated the camp. In 2000, Texas-based filmmaker Alex Jones and his cameraman snuck into the camp with a hidden camera and were able to record a Bohemian Grove ceremony. During the ceremony, it appears members wear costumes and cremate an effigy called “Care” to pay tribute to the surrounding Redwood trees.
Metro-2 is supposedly a secret subterranean train system that runs parallel with the public metro system in Moscow. Rumours say the system was built during the time of Joseph Stalin and was codenamed D-6 by the KGB. With four lines that run anywhere between 50 and 200 meters deep, the length of Metro-2 is thought to exceed that of the public Metro, and have access to routes that connect directly with the government airport, Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters, and other locations of national importance. When asked about the secret underground network, the FSB would neither confirm nor deny its existence but, of course, we all know what that usually means—it probably exists! At its height, the Soviet Union certainly would have had the industrial capability to secretly build a shadow metro line in Moscow and then use its intelligence system ensure it remains hidden.
1. Room 39
International drug dealing, counterfeiting, insurance fraud—the list of alleged illegal activity going on in North Korea’s Office 39 is both long and complicated. It’s said that the institution’s sole purpose is to figure out ways to obtain foreign currency for Kim Jong-un’s slush fund. Although extremely little has ever been published about Room 39, the organization is believed to have over 20 bank accounts in Switzerland and China that it supposedly uses for the purposes of money laundering and other illegal activities. The secret group also has over 130 companies under its jurisdiction and possibly brings in over $1 billion in revenue each year—albeit, a substantial percentage of that money could be the result of illegal activities such as the production of controlled substances and smuggling of illicit weapons. All the available information concerning Room 39 is difficult to evaluate, but many claim that it is critical to Kim Jong-un’s continued power, since it enables him to buy political support and fund North Korea’s nuclear program. If you ever happen to find yourself in North Korea, Room 39 is said to be located inside a ruling Workers’ Party building in Pyongyang.