11 Places on Earth That Still Are Unmapped

Does it sometimes seem like every single inch of Earth has been discovered? Far from it. But scientists are working on it.

1 / 12
Magnifying glass and ancient old map
Andrey Burmakin/Shutterstock

Charting the unknown

The thought of unmapped regions of the globe can send tremors of excitement through the hearts of adventurers. But figuring out the topography of remote or even forgotten regions has important consequences. Namely, it can give us a clearer understanding of the world’s populations, what their needs are, and support organizations in assisting those in need—for example, those providing disaster assistance. Wondering where some of these places are? The crowdsourced Missing Maps Project has mapped over 1 million kilometres of roads and almost 44 million buildings. But there’s so much that’s still unchartered. Before scrolling on to see the most isolated regions of the world, learn about the most common geography mistakes people make.

2 / 12
Vale do Javari Brazil

Vale do Javari, Brazil

Called one of the most isolated parts of the world by Mental Floss, possibly as many as 14 un-contacted Amazon tribes make their home in this region. It comprises an area about the size of Austria—or 53,000 square kilometres. An expedition was mounted by Brazil’s agency for indigenous peoples this past March, with the goal of easing tensions between two rival indigenous groups, reports The Guardian.

3 / 12
Aerial view of Favela da Rocinha, Biggest Slum in Brazil on the Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, and Skyline of the City behind


Look at a map of a city and you’ll find streets and parks and highways and buildings all clearly indicated. But in some cities, that clarity is just an illusion, at least in part. As BBC Future points out, in cities like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Lagos, Nigeria, slums are not delineated on maps—because “they aren’t a top priority for those living there.” In fact, many of the world’s most populated cities have large impoverished communities.

4 / 12
Blue sea background

Sandy Island, South Pacific

Some places that do exist don’t show up on maps, while other places that don’t exist do. One recent example is Sandy Island, which BBC reports appears on marine charts and world maps as well as on Google Earth and Google Maps. But when scientists set out to study the island that’s supposed to be located between Australia and New Caledonia, they discovered it isn’t there, and possibly never was. Human error, repeated down the years, is thought to be at fault—although its also possible that the island came… Tthen went. Learn about the 13 islands that may disappear before the century is over.

5 / 12
Sunbeams penetrating at Ik-Kil cenote inlet
Sergey Novikov/Shutterstock

Yucatan Cenotes

This underwater cave system on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, thousands of kilometres long, has remained largely unexplored since the time of the Mayans, and exists on no maps, according to photographer Klaus Thymann. He’s both begun to explore—a pursuit not without its dangers—and photograph it in order to bring awareness that will lead to its conservation, he told The Guardian. The rivers that run through the system “form the aquifer of Yucatán and support about 11 different ecosystems.” Expand your marine knowledge, starting with these fascinating facts you never knew about our oceans.

6 / 12
Gangkhar Puensum Largest Unclimbed Mountain
Courtesy Rhion/Wikipedia

Gangkhar Puensum

It’s probably the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, although some people have tried to scale this 3,000-metre peak in Bhutan—an unusual destination worth adding to your bucket list. Like many tall mountains, this one is unmapped—although unlike other mountains, it remains uncharted for spiritual reasons. To locals, some areas in the mountains are the refuge of centuries-old buddhist saints and the mountains themselves homes to gods and goddesses. Although climbers hoping to scale tall peaks like this one could use Google Earth to get an idea of what they’re in for, BBC Future points out many consider that cheating. If you think that’s amazing, check out more of the world’s most remote locations.

7 / 12
Fitz Roy mountain near El Chalten, in the Southern Patagonia, on the border between Argentina and Chile. Sunset view from track

Patagonia, Argentina and Chile

According to Geospatial World, the Patagonia region, which stretches almost all the way to the South Pole, is dotted with rainforests and glaciers so remote and hostile that they’re virtually impossible to chart. “With ice fields comparable to those in the polar regions,” it notes, mapping “is a difficult and dangerous task.”

Got Machu Picchu on your bucket list? Here are 20+ more unmissable things to do in Peru.

8 / 12
landscape in the green mountains of Myanmar at Pyin Oo Lwin

Northern Forest Complex, Myanmar

Years of economic sanctions against this Southeast Asian country actually succeeded in protecting much of its pristine forest from development, reports Yale e360. But that seems to be changing, with forest disappearing and with it, many vulnerable species. It’s difficult to gauge the damage, though, because with hardly any roads in these areas, few people can get in to assess what’s going on. That means the forest is likely disappearing before it can even be adequately mapped.

Speaking of which, here’s what could happen if the Amazon rainforest disappeared.

9 / 12
huge granite cairns at Cape Melville, Queensland,Australia

Cape Melville, Australia

The “lost world” of Cape Melville is an Australian headland that’s been cut off from exploration by a surrounding wall made of boulders of granite that are hundreds of feet tall. While they’ve effectively protected its internal rainforest habitat, it also means the area is virtually impossible to map, writes Geospatial World.

These gorgeous travel photos are sure to inspire your wanderlust.

10 / 12
Aerial view of road on sea coastal.


Even in places where we’ve had accurate maps for decades, climate change—which is causing rising sea levels, intense storms, and flooding, and all the erosion those events engender—is actually changing the lay of the coastal land as we once knew it. Can our map makers keep up with the rapid-fire changes?

Next, explore the world’s best beaches.

11 / 12
Underwater diver in underwater world landscape

The ocean floor

It’s vast—our planet’s five ocean basins cover 71 per cent of the earth’s surface. And although we actually have mapped it, that map is distinctly low-res, according to an article in The Conversation. In fact, it’s less detailed, even, than our maps of Mars, the Moon, and Venus. That’s because all that pesky water gets in the way of mapping tools. But… Oceanographers are working on it.

Check out the creepiest things ever found at the bottom of the ocean.

12 / 12
North Sentinel Island, India
Gautam Singh/AP/Shutterstock

North Sentinel Island, India

Due to a local population that’s hostile to outsiders, North Sentinel Island, part of the Andaman Island archipelago off the southerly tip of Myanmar, remains—and probably will remain for some time—unexplored (by non-Sentinelese) as well as unmapped. It’s also officially off-limits to pretty much all visits.

Heading to Delhi or Mumbai? Don’t miss these helpful hints for Canadians travelling to India for the first time.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest

Newsletter Unit