When residents of these remote communities say they live in the middle of nowhere, they’re not exaggerating. Whether they’re located 1500 miles from the nearest coast or 17,000 feet above sea level, these are nine isolated towns you won't find yourself “just passing through” anytime soon.
1. EDINBURGH OF THE SEVEN SEAS, TRISTAN DA CUNHA
Located 1243 miles from the nearest settlement, this village on the South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha is considered one of the most isolated communities on earth. The town was named in honor of the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to the island in 1867, but today it’s commonly referred to as “The Settlement” by the town’s 300-odd residents. The quickest way to get there is by hitching a six-day boat ride from South Africa, the island’s closest continental neighbor 1491 miles east. In addition to vibrant wildlife, the island is also home to an active volcano at its center. In 1961, the population had to be evacuated to England when it erupted, but thankfully the damage was minimal and most residents returned a few years later.
2. WHITTIER, ALASKA
There’s only one road leading in or out of this south Alaskan town, and it passes through a 2.6-mile, single-lane tunnel that shuts down at night. The population spikes during the summer months, but in the winter Whittier claims around 200 residents. Most of the population lives together in a 14-story condominium building called Begich Towers, which is also home to the town's post office, church, and corner store.
3. VILLA LAS ESTRELLAS, ANTARCTICA
One of only two civilian settlements on the entire continent, the island of Villa Las Estrellas has all the components of your quintessential small town. The village of 100 (and even fewer during the winter months) is home to a gym, church, post office, and a gift shop for tourists. The town even boasts internet access, but it's reserved for exclusive use by the school’s three computers.
4. LA RINCONADA, PERU
Sitting nearly 17,000 feet above sea level, La Rinconada in the Peruvian Andes is the highest human settlement on earth. Despite the lack of running water and the dizzying altitude, the town has amassed a population of approximately 50,000. The main draw isn’t the view—it’s the gold mines located beneath the massive La Bella Durimiente glacier above the town.
5. SUPAI VILLAGE, ARIZONA
The Havasupai reservation village of Supai is only accessible by helicopter or by walking the eight-mile trail that connects it to the nearest road. Despite its remote location, the town still manages to attract tourists each year due to its Grand Canyon real estate and its proximity to the photogenic Havasu Falls. Supai remains one of the only spots in the U.S. where mail is still delivered via mule.
6. COOBER PEDY, AUSTRALIA
, a teenager revolutionized Australia’s opal mining industry when he discovered a gemstone in the remote, southern outback. The unforgiving desert terrain wasn’t exactly an ideal place for a mining town, so in order to make it inhabitable, the homes of Coober Pedy were built underground. Today the population of less than 2000 enjoys access to an underground bar, underground art gallery, and three underground churches. In addition to producing most of the world’s opal, Coober Pedy also draws revenue from curious tourists.
7. LONGYEARBYEN, NORWAY
The Scandinavian town of Longyearbyen is so far north that it’s closer to the North Pole than it is to Oslo, Norway’s capital. The arctic location makes for chilly temperatures year-round and long winters of unbroken darkness. The houses there are built on stilts in order to keep the underlying permafrost from melting beneath them and becoming unstable.
Despite these harsh conditions, Longyearbyen attracts residents from around the world. Of the town’s fewer than 3000 inhabitants, nearly a third of them are foreigners. The community’s greatest appeal is likely its shockingly low crime rate, which is helped by the fact that it's illegal to live in Longyearbyen without a job or a permanent address. (It’s also illegal to die there, because it’s too cold for bodies to decompose.) And while crime is low, gun ownership is unusually high—but this is primarily to protect against the threat of polar bears. The danger is such an issue that the police enforce a law that anyone straying outside the city limits must carry a weapon and know how to use it.
8. PALMERSTON, COOK ISLANDS
The remote island of Palmerston in the South Pacific was first settled by Englishman William Marsters 150 years ago. Today, all but three of the community’s 62 residents are the direct descendants of Marsters and his three Polynesian wives (who happened to be cousins). Part of the Cook Islands, Palmerston is made up of sandy islets connected by a circular coral reef, which sits too close to the surface for sea planes to land safely. The ocean outside the ring is too rough, so the island is only accessible by boat. In addition to reaching Palmerston by yacht or tourist ship, visitors can also try hitching a ride on the cargo ship that delivers supplies to the island twice a year.
9. SIWA OASIS, EGYPT
Heksamarre via Wikimedia Commons
As is the case with any true oasis, getting to Siwa is no picnic. Surrounded by hundreds of kilometers of empty Saharan desert, the remote village is best reached by hired car or an overnight bus trip from Cairo. Tourists still make the trek to experience the community’s idyllic palm groves, olive orchards, and fresh water springs. Only this year was a solar power plant erected in the town to provide electricity. There is no cell phone service, and the oasis’s isolated position has allowed the inhabitants’s tribal Berber culture to remain largely unchanged throughout the centuries.