The Enigmatic Allure of the World’s Most Remote Inhabited Places
Far from the hustle and bustle of modern life, there exist hidden corners of the Earth where communities have chosen to settle and thrive, each with their own unique stories and captivating charms. Here, we explore the geography, history, and culture of some of the most remote inhabited places on Earth, offering a glimpse into the lives of people who have chosen to live far from the madding crowd.
Tristan da Cunha: An Island Sanctuary in the South Atlantic
Approximately 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) from the nearest inhabited landmass, Saint Helena, Tristan da Cunha proudly stands as the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world (Geographic Guide, n.d.). Home to fewer than 300 people, this British Overseas Territory offers a tight-knit community with a unique way of life. The islanders are known for their self-sufficiency, cultivating potatoes, and raising cattle and sheep (BBC News, 2020). Interestingly, all residents share a common surname, either Green, Glass, Swain, or Rogers, a testament to the small number of families that have inhabited the island since the early 1800s (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2021).
Ittoqqortoormiit: The Arctic Oasis of Greenland
Nestled between the world’s largest national park and the vast Greenland Ice Sheet, Ittoqqortoormiit (formerly known as Scoresbysund) is one of the most isolated settlements on Earth. Home to approximately 450 inhabitants, this Greenlandic village is accessible only by helicopter or boat, with supply ships arriving just once a year due to treacherous sea ice conditions (Visit Greenland, n.d.). The Inuit people who call this place home rely on hunting and fishing for sustenance, capturing narwhals, polar bears, and muskoxen in the icy Arctic wilderness (Watson, 2018).
La Rinconada: The World’s Highest Human Settlement
Perched at an altitude of 5,100 meters (16,728 feet) in the Peruvian Andes, La Rinconada is the highest human settlement on Earth. Boasting a population of around 30,000 people, this gold mining town has attracted fortune-seekers from across Peru and beyond (Ryall, 2019). Despite its inhospitable environment, with freezing temperatures and low oxygen levels, the resilient inhabitants of La Rinconada eke out a living through artisanal gold mining, often under perilous conditions (Global Majority E-Journal, 2011).
Oymyakon: The Pole of Cold
Located in the heart of Siberia, Oymyakon is considered one of the coldest inhabited places on Earth. With temperatures regularly dipping below -50°C (-58°F) during the winter months, this remote Russian village of around 500 residents has adapted to life in the extreme cold (RT, 2013). To survive in this frigid environment, the people of Oymyakon rely on time-tested traditional practices, such as ice fishing and reindeer herding (Amos, 2018).
Changtang: A High Plateau Sanctuary
The Changtang region in northern Tibet is an expansive high plateau with an average altitude of over 4,500 meters (14,800 feet) above sea level. Home to the nomadic Changpa people, this remote area is known for its harsh climate and stunning landscapes (Yeh, 2013). The Changpa people have adapted to the challenging environment by herding yaks and pashmina goats, which provide them with essential resources such as meat, milk, and wool (Save the Children, 2015). The Changtang region is also a wildlife haven, hosting several endangered species, including the Tibetan antelope, wild yak, and snow leopard (Schaller, 1998).
Pitcairn Islands: A Haven in the South Pacific
The Pitcairn Islands, a British Overseas Territory, consist of four volcanic islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Of these islands, only Pitcairn Island is inhabited, with a population of fewer than 50 residents (Steele, 2021). The inhabitants of Pitcairn Island are descendants of the infamous HMS Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian companions, who settled on the island in 1790 (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2021). The islanders sustain themselves through agriculture, fishing, and the sale of handicrafts and collectible stamps to visitors and collectors (Pitcairn Islands Tourism, n.d.).
Siwa Oasis: The Desert’s Hidden Treasure
The Siwa Oasis, located in the heart of Egypt’s Western Desert, is a remote settlement with a rich history dating back thousands of years. Home to around 30,000 inhabitants, the Siwa Oasis boasts lush palm groves, freshwater springs, and ancient mud-brick architecture (Fahmy, 2017). The local Amazigh people have preserved their unique culture and language while adapting to the challenging desert environment by cultivating date palms and olives, and relying on traditional irrigation systems (Kennedy, 2015).
Villa Las Estrellas: Antarctica’s Intriguing Settlement
Situated on King George Island in Antarctica, Villa Las Estrellas is a small Chilean research station and settlement. Established in 1984, it currently hosts a population of around 100 people during the summer months and around 50 during the harsh winter (Antarctica Guide, n.d.). Villa Las Estrellas is one of the few settlements in Antarctica that allows families to live together, complete with a school, hospital, and even a post office. The inhabitants, primarily researchers and their families, have to adapt to the extreme conditions of Antarctica, with limited resources and sunlight during the winter season (Smithsonian Magazine, 2018).
Supai Village: The Havasupai Tribe’s Hidden Canyon Home
Nestled deep within the Havasu Canyon, a tributary of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Supai Village is the remote home of the Havasupai Tribe. With a population of around 200 residents, this isolated settlement is accessible only by foot, horseback, or helicopter, as no roads lead to the village (Havasupai Tribe, n.d.). The Havasupai people, whose name means “people of the blue-green waters,” have lived in the canyon for centuries, relying on tourism and the striking Havasu Falls as their primary source of income. Despite the challenges of living in such a remote location, the tribe has managed to preserve its unique culture and traditions (National Park Service, 2021).
These fascinating remote settlements, each with their own unique stories and challenges, stand as a testament to human resilience and adaptability. Their mystique and allure offer a glimpse into the lives of people who have chosen to carve out a niche in the most distant corners of our planet.
Amos, H. (2018). Unveiling Life at -45C: The ‘Pole of Cold’. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-42740692
Antarctica Guide. (n.d.). Discover Villa Las Estrellas: Life on King George Island. https://www.antarcticaguide.com/antarctica/villa-las-estrellas/
BBC News. (2020). Tristan da Cunha: Unraveling the Story of the World’s Most Remote Settlement. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-55444135
Encyclopedia Britannica. (2021). Exploring Tristan da Cunha. https://www.britannica.com/place/Tristan-da-Cunha
Encyclopedia Britannica. (2021). Pitcairn Island: A South Pacific Sanctuary. https://www.britannica.com/place/Pitcairn-Island
Fahmy, N. (2017). Siwa Oasis: Egypt’s Hidden Treasure Uncovered. Egypt Today. https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/9/12309/Siwa-Oasis-Egypt-s-hidden-treasure
Geographic Guide. (n.d.). Tristan da Cunha: Remote Island Life Revealed. http://www.geographicguide.com/pictures/tristan-da-cunha.htm
Global Majority E-Journal. (2011). La Rinconada, Peru: Heights of Exploitation Exposed. https://www.academia.edu/6723405
Havasupai Tribe. (n.d.). Experience Supai Village: The Heart of Havasupai Culture. https://theofficialhavasupaitribe.com/Supai-Village.html
Kennedy, M. (2015). The Amazigh of Siwa Oasis, Egypt: A Unique Culture Preserved. Minority Rights Group International. https://minorityrights.org/minorities/amazigh-siwa-oasis-egypt/
National Park Service. (2021). Explore the Havasupai Indian Reservation: A Unique Canyon Sanctuary. https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/havasupai.htm
Pitcairn Islands Tourism. (n.d.). About Pitcairn: Life on a Remote Island. https://www.visitpitcairn.pn/about/index.html
RT. (2013). Oymyakon Journal: Discovering the Pole of Cold. https://www.rt.com/news/oymyakon-journal-pole-cold-681/
Ryall, J. (2019). Life at the Top of the World: La Rinconada, the Highest Human Settlement on Earth. South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/long-reads/article/3007938/life-top-world-inside-la-rinconada-highest-human
Save the Children. (2015). Changtang, Tibet: A High Altitude Challenge Unveiled. https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/blogs/2015/tibet-a-high-altitude-challenge
Schaller, G.B. (1998). Wildlife of the Tibetan Steppe: A Journey into the Wild. University of Chicago Press.
Smithsonian Magazine. (2018). Journey to Villa Las Estrellas: A Glimpse into Antarctica’s Residential Life. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/welcome-villa-las-estrellas-antarcticas-coziest-neighborhood-180969269/
Visit Greenland. (n.d.). Ittoqqortoormiit – The Remotest Inhabited Community in the Western Hemisphere Uncovered. https://visitgreenland.com/about-greenland/ittoqqortoormiit-the-remotest-inhabited-community-in-the-western-hemisphere/
Watson, L. (2018). Life at the Edge of the Earth: An Insider’s Look at Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland’s Most Remote Settlement. Adventure.com. https://adventure.com/ittoqqortoormiit-greenland-remote-settlement/
Yeh, E.T. (2013). Blazing Pellets and Pristine Peaks: The Political Ecology of Climate Change and Desertification in the Northern Tibetan Plateau. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 103(1), 7-24.