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11/05/2013 07:06 am ET

These 'Forbidden' Places Are Actually Easy To Visit, If You're Smart

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You've watched the news and listened to the folklore, but some destinations you've considered off-limits might be much easier to visit than you think.

These "forbidden" spots will add just the right splash of thrill to your next vacation.

Iran
Why it's "forbidden:" "Argo" didn't quite paint Iran as the easiest place for Americans. In 1979, as a result of tensions between Iran's conservative leaders and Western liberals, student protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy and held workers hostage for over a year. Our government has since squabbled with the country on topics from nuclear weaponry to Afghanistan to human rights.

How to get in: The Iranian government will have to approve your entire itinerary before you visit. It's nice to do this through an agency so they can help with the process-- you're legally required to hire a guide from a travel agency to accompany you during your entire trip anyway. Expect to wear conservative clothing and head scarves, and don't panic if you're asked for your passport on the street.
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Chernobyl
Why it's "forbidden:" In 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Prypiat, Ukraine had a HUGE accident when a nuclear reactor exploded during a regular systems test. Dangerous radioactive elements leaked into the atmosphere, killing roughly 4,000 people and forcing over 100,000 to evacuate their homes. It's possible that almost a million people developed sicknesses from exposure to radiation, which still lingers around the site at levels 20 times higher than normal.

How to get in: You'll need a pass to enter the Exclusion Zone, a 30-kilometer radius around the site of the accident. Nowadays, its radiation levels are usually safe enough to enter-- the Exclusion Zone opened to tourists in 2011. The easiest way in is to book through a tour group. You'll get an informative walk-through of the abandoned village with time to explore for yourself, too.
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North Korea
Why it's "forbidden:" Most Americans see this nation as just generally sketchy, what with leader Kim Jong-Un's frequent bomb threats and soldiers detaining American journalists. The socialist dictatorship also keeps its operations under wraps-- North Korea has yet to adopt "mainstream Internet technology." Until 2010, Americans were only allowed in during a few weeks of the year, and they had to surrender cell phones upon arrival.

How to get in: Now, you can visit anytime during the year and -- oh goody! -- bring your mobile phone into the country. You'll have to obtain a visa, which is a relatively standard process, before booking with one of the 25 or so tour companies sanctioned by the North Korean government. You can arrange to travel with a group or solo, but either way two guides plus a driver will follow you at all times during your stay.
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Area 51
Why it's "forbidden:" Nobody's really sure what goes on at this top-secret branch of the Edwards Air Force Base in the desert near Las Vegas. We do know that the CIA is somehow involved, that they didn't publicly acknowledge Area 51's presence until July 2013, and that they're probably using the space to test weapons or aircrafts. More creative skeptics say the government is hiding UFOs or baby aliens in there.

How to get in: Ok, so entering the actual area is still pretty much illegal. But the aforementioned UFO hunters have really made a destination out of Area 51, and they've even dubbed the road there the "Extraterrestrial Highway." You can't go past the warning signs around the area, but you can go up and pet them-- they're a tourist site all their own. To feel like you're truly inside the area, pitch a tent for the night at one of the desert campsites nearby and watch the sky for paranormal activity. Choose Campfire Hill, and you might get a real visit from "the cammo dudes," the security team that patrols Area 51.
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Cuba
Why it's "forbidden:" The U.S. has held an embargo against Cuba since 1960, when Fidel Castro's new regime nationalized some property that belonged to American corporations. The embargo has changed in form over the years, and the current restrictions say that Americans can't spend money in Cuba without a license that requires you to have some reason for visiting besides tourism.

How to get in: An educational tour is your best bet-- "people to people" types of companies get cleared through the government, so you won't have to obtain a license for yourself. Other options for obtaining a personal license include studying with a university's abroad program, performing research or professional work, and visiting family. Those who want to explore Cuba as bona fide tourists take a sneaky route where they first visit another country and then fly to Cuba from there. This is dicey, however, because once you land in Cuba and begin spending money, you're breaking some serious U.S. laws.
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The West Bank
Why it's "forbidden:" This slice of land is an obvious political hotspot-- Palestine controls some of it, Israel controls some of it, and its true ownership has been debated for ages. Violence has been common, though it's dwindled recently. Israeli forces occasionally put areas under curfew, at which time the U.S. State Department urges American citizens to "remain indoors to avoid risking arrest."

How to get in: Though it's not the absolute safest place in the world, it is both safe and legal for Americans to visit the West Bank. There isn't a civilian airport in the West Bank, so visitors should fly to the closest major one in Tel Aviv. Then a 50-minute shuttle ride whisks you to either Bethlehem or Ramallah, where you can adventure freely by taxi or on foot.
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