25. Atacama Desert, Chile, Peru
The Atacama Desert, situated on the central-west coast of South America, is considered the driest place in the world. In Chile, the desert receives just 0.004 inches of rain per year, though snowmelt from the nearby Andes Mountains fills lakes and rivers that support wildlife. Its temperatures can be pretty extreme too ranging from well below freezing at night to extremely hot during the day. Amazingly, more than a million people live in the Atacama. Many live near and work at copper mines in the desert, while others live along the coast or work at research stations like the Paranal Observatory, where astronomers use the Very Large Telescope to peer deep into space on the more than 300 clear nights a year here.
Penguins the size of people once lived here. About 36 million years ago, penguins that stood 4 1/2 feet tall roamed the region we know today as the Atacama, according to researchers who discovered fossilized skulls of the giant flightless birds in the desert back in 2007, National Geographic reports.
About 70 miles south of the coastal city of Antofagasta, the long highway through the desert is interrupted by a 36-ft.-high sculpture of a giant hand reaching up from beneath the desert floor. The Hand of the Desert (mano del desierto) has a base of iron and cement, and stands 11 meters tall. The sculpture was created to signify the horrifying human rights issues that the Chileans have dealt with in the past. The artist behind Mano del Desierto, is the Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal.
Opened to the public in 1992, the sculpture today has become a must-stop-and-see for tourists (and vandals, as its base is often covered in graffiti).
24 Verkhoyansk, Russia
The oldest city above the Arctic Circle, about 1500 people live in this freezing metropolis where temperatures rarely climb above -40C. This isolated village was founded as a fort in 1638 and serves as a regional hub in cattle breeding and tin and goldmining. Located 404 miles from Yakutsk and and 1,500 miles south of the North Pole, Verkhoyansk was used as a place of exile between the 1860s and early 20th century by both the Tzars and the Soviets, it’s still possible to see the remains of Stalin’s gulag camps. My grand grand grand father had also been exiled to Siberia and was one of the very few people that had survived.
Modern-day residents pile on huge fur hats and coats and tend to stay indoors when it gets really cold.
These amazing photos were taken by travellers, Austrian Brigitte and the Swiss couple Susan and Peter who visited Siberia in 2012.
23. Mount Merapi, Indonesia
Nicknamed “fire mountain”, Mount Merapi, one of the world’s most volatile and dangerous volcanos, is always smoldering and in the past 500 years it has erupted over 60 times. This doesn’t stop nearly a quarter million people from living on the fertile soil right under its shadow.
Photograph by Purwowiyoto, AP nationalgeographic
One of the worst volcanic eruption in recent years occurred at Merapi in 2010 that killed about 350 people.
Indonesia lies across a series of geological fault-lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
There are about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia.
22. Lake Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo/Rwanda
Deep below the surface of this lake are several trillion cubic feet of methane and carbon dioxide gas. If released, over 2 million lives would be in danger.
21. The Pitcairn Islands
Sometimes called the smallest democracy on Earth, this tiny nation of only 50 people is descended from 9 families related to the famous Bounty mutineers. It has no harbor and no airstrip so you better have a canoe if you want to get here. They do have high speed internet though, so pack your smart phone.
20. Cook, Australia
Home to only 4 people, this used to be a railway station where trains would refuel on what is the longest stretch of straight track on Earth. As times have changed, only 4 people live here anymore and unfortunately they have to ship all of their food and water in because nothing grows, or lives, in the region.
19. Minqin County, China
With a rapidly increasing population that has sucked up the only river in the region, two deserts that are gradually closing in and only 60 square miles of fertile land left this place does not have a hopeful future.
18 La Rinconada, Peru
Located over 5km above sea level in the Peruvian Andes, it is known as the highest permanent settlement on Earth. The 30,000 people that live here work in the gold mine and many suffer from mercury poisoning. Strangely enough they don’t get paid for their work. They mine for 30 days and then on the 31st day they are allowed to take as much ore out of the mine as they can carry. Remember that ore doesn’t necessarily contain gold.
17. Chernobyl, Ukraine
Ever since the nuclear reactor blew in 1986 this place has for the most part been evacuated. These days, however, workers are once again housed within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone although they are limited in the number of days per week that they can be there. Hopefully their jobs comes with a good bit of hazard pay.
16. Linfen, China
Found in the middle of China’s coal belt, cities don’t come much more polluted than this.
15. Pompeii, Italy
After being famously destroyed by Vesuvius in A.D 79 people continued to inhabit the slopes of Pompeii primarily due to its fertile soil. Although the place continues to be completely covered in lava every now and then people still consider the risk to be worthwhile.
Known as “the most alien looking place on Earth” this Yemeni island is extremely isolated. In fact, a vast majority of its flora and fauna is found nowhere else on Earth. In spite of that 40,000 people live here and they have a grand total of 2 roads.
Socotra’s landscape could be defined by Dragon Blood Trees – the unique plants, that look like an umbrella. The red sap, which was used as a medicine, gave the name for the tree. The island is also a home for a few endemic bird and mammal species.
Socotra is under the UNESCO protection.
13. Barrow, Alaska, US
Famous for long polar nights and extremely cold temperatures Barrow sits right on the shoreline of the Arctic Ocean.
12. Tristan da Cunha
Possibly the most remote inhabited place on Earth, Tristan is nearly 2,000 miles from South Africa. If you’re thinking of moving, keep in mind that the residents aren’t too friendly to outsiders. Immigration is actually prohibited.
11. Bajau Laut, Philippines
Not really a place as much as it is a people, this indigenous ethnic group comes primarily from the Philippines and many live their entire life on floating houses in the ocean.
10. Kifuka, Democratic Republic of the Congo
If you are afraid of lightning you definitely don’t want to live here. This village experiences constant thunderstorms and every square mile has on average 60 lightning strikes per year.
9. Meghalaya, India
This region in India is famous for its heavy rains and constant monsoons. The rain is so prevalent in fact that it has influenced the development of unique plant life, cultural traditions, and even the clothing of locals.
8. Múli, Faroe Islands
This tiny village on the Faroe Islands has some of the most unpredictable weather imaginable. There is almost no vegetation or natural resources, and it goes without saying but its four residents are extremely isolated.
7. Motuo, China
One of the hardest places to reach on Earth, the 10,000 residents of this valley have no road access to the outside world. The only way to get in is by taking a perilous hike through the mountains that can take up to a week.
6. Norilsk, Russia
This city brings together high levels of pollution from manufacturing with extreme levels of Siberian cold. Not a good combination.
5. Dallol, Ethiopia
Home to the lowest land volcano, some scorchingly hot temperatures that tend to stay above 40 degrees celcius all year (104 degrees fahrenheit), and very little connectivity to the outside world apart from camels, there are no statistics on how many people actually live here but for the most part this mining town has been abandoned.
4. La Oroya, Peru
Nearly all of the children living in this polluted city have some degree of lead poisoning due to the large amount of smelting taking place. It has repeatedly been ranked as one of the world’s most polluted places.
3. Oymyakon, Russia
With an average winter temperature that can easily reach -60 degrees celcius (about -80 degrees farenheit) this place is known as the North Pole of cold for a reason. The 500 residents have some unique problems including pen ink freezing in winter.
2. Death Valley, US
In the western hemisphere you won’t get any hotter than death valley. It holds the record at 57 degrees celcius (134 degrees fahrenheit) and although American Indians inhabited the valley for over a thousand years, these days the only sign of life is a small community at Furnace Creek.
1. Vostok Station, Antarctica
Located at the Southern Pole of Cold in the middle of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet there are numerous reasons why this place should not be inhabited. Not only does it hold the record for the lowest measured temperature on Earth at -89.2 degrees celcius (about -128 degrees fahrenheit) but there is also almost no moisture in the air, the average windspeed is about 18km/h (11mph), there is very little oxygen because of its high elevation at 3,488 meters (11,444 ft), and a polar night can last half of the year. Most researchers take months to acclimatize and undergo numerous headaches, twitches, nose bleeds, vomiting, and other pains.