From Siberia to Patagonia, the most icy, remote or isolated localities, such as Ittoqqortoormiit, on the east coast of Greenland.
The strangest cities in the world are probably those that arise in places where it seems that it is not possible to live. Places that defy the coldest temperatures and the most suffocating; at altitudes in which it is difficult to breathe or at depths that seem typical of an ultraworld; populations that settle for strange reasons isolated from any civilized corner of the world. Cities, in short, that put human beings to the test and their capacity for coexistence and survival. These are some of the most extreme places on the planet.
1. Living in the harshest cold
Yakutsk and Oymyakon (Russia)
When temperatures fall below 30 or 40 degrees below zero, things get really complicated. In the classifications of the coldest cities in the world Yakutsk always appears, a place wrapped in a certain mystery. Not only because of its extreme temperature (in winter they reach up to -40ºC) but also because of its remoteness, in the middle of the vast and desolate Siberia, and its history, linked to exiles and forced exile.
It is the capital of the Republic of Sakha (huge and empty, with 3.1 million square kilometers). It is located about 450 kilometers from the Arctic Circle and is not only the coldest city in the world in winter, but also one of the most extreme, since in the short summer temperatures can exceed 29 ° C. Not many foreign visitors pass through here, even though it is an important cultural, scientific and economic center, with 17 museums, some quite interesting. In Yakutsk there are also several institutions devoted to the study of climate and the World Mammoth Center is being created, which has set itself the goal of cloning this extinct animal in the last glaciation. But its raison d’etre are its mineral resources: diamonds, gold and oil. The best way to get there is the Lena river, by car when it freezes and allows traffic or ferries when it thaws.
However, the most extreme locality is about 900 kilometers east of Yakutsk: Oymyakon. It is the permanent settlement of the coldest population in the world. Interestingly, its name (means thawed water) refers to nearby thermal springs that give life to the place and that the inhabitants try to keep accessible throughout the year. Here the lowest temperature in history has been recorded in an inhabited population: -71.2 ºC, on January 26, 1926. A curiosity: in this place live some of the longest-lived people in Russia.
2. The greatest thermal variation
In the same Republic of Sakha (the largest territorial division in the world) we find another record very related to the previous one: the greatest temperature variation, according to the Guinness book, registered in Verjoyansk: from -69.8 ºC to 37 ºC in summer , an oscillation of 106.8 degrees. It is not a place of tourist traffic, of course: it is 675 kilometers from Yakutsk and its origin was a Cossack settlement that has always served to receive political exiles. It has about 1,300 inhabitants of which 75% are Yakuts (the rest are Russians) who live, above all, from the breeding of cattle, horses, reindeer and the fur business.
3. The hottest cities
San Luis Rio Colorado (Mexico)
To find the hottest city in the world, you have to travel just to the other side of the planet, specifically to the Mexican state of Sonora. There is San Luis Río Colorado, of about 250,000 inhabitants, on a plateau that functions as a small grill, between the desert area of Altar and the State of Baja California. It has reached 59.5ºC in its thermometers. And beyond experiencing the extreme heat there are reasons to visit it. For example, touring El Pinacate, a territory declared a biosphere reserve, as well as the Upper Gulf of California and the Colorado River delta, declared World Heritage reserves. They display strange landscapes before the traveler: dunes, volcanic craters and spilled lavas, which contain 40% of the fauna and desert flora. The contrast is offered by the Gulf of Santa Clara, in the Sea of Cortez, a quiet town that every year thousands of tourists visit, mainly North Americans. The first Europeans who passed through there, in the sixteenth century, were Spaniards; later Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries did it, but the city of San Luis was born many years later, in 1907, as a military agricultural colony.
High temperatures have not been an obstacle to the creation of large cities. There are many cities that suffer extreme heat, some of them historic, such as Mecca, Marrakech, Las Vegas or the Ethiopian Dallol. Or the new capitals of the Gulf countries, such as the city of Kuwait, whose average temperature is 46.9 degrees, or the port city of Jizan, on the coast of the Red Sea, where almost two million people live.
4. The roof of the world
La Rinconada (Peru)
The foundation of the city at the highest altitude on the planet (at 5,099 meters) is due to a gold mine. With more than 30,000 inhabitants, and at the foot of the Andean snowy Ananea Grande, in the Peruvian province of Puno, its average daily temperature oscillates just above freezing. The altitude and mountainous landscape make living here not easy and the population remains largely below the poverty line, without water supply and in precarious conditions. However, the exploitation of gold is enough to keep this city active in a place almost from another planet, which tends to welcome, however, fans of skiing, mountaineering and trekking.
Above La Rinconada there is another inhabited place, Tuiwa, in Tibet, although it can not be described as a city. So its real competition is Wenquan, in China, at 5,019 meters of altitude, with more than 80,000 inhabitants and 70% humidity, which further complicates habitability. Other urban roofs scattered around the world are El Aguilar (Argentina); Colquechaca (Bolivia), mining town near Potosí; Korzok, Komic, Ukdungle and Kurgiakh, in India, or also the Chinese Tanggulashan or Pagri, on the border with Bhutan. But we do speak of a big city (with more than 30,000 inhabitants), the highest is El Alto (4,150 meters), in western Bolivia, which even has the La Paz airport.
5. Live below sea level
Jericho and Tabgha
To visit the city at lower altitudes of the earth, you have to travel to Jericho, in the West Bank, located 200 meters below sea level; presumes, in addition, to be the oldest city in the world. Compete in depth with Tabgha, on the north coast of the Sea of Galilee, where Christian tradition places the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes according to the Gospel of St. Matthew. A church with valuable relics remembers the event and welcomes thousands of pilgrims every year.
Taking a leap to the other side of the planet we find cities below sea level in the Valley of Death, in California. And there are corners of the earth much lower than the latter, although they do not have important cities. This is the case of Lake Assal, in the depression of Afar, in Djibouti, with the saltiest water on earth, or the Turfán depression, an area so hot and dry that it is known as China’s kiln. In Europe we also find cities below sea level. Specifically in the Netherlands, product of the work of man, which created levees to contain the sea water and fighting against the sinking of the earth. This is the case of the Randstad region, whose 90% of the territory is between four and seven meters below sea level.
6. North of north
Hammerfest, Longyearbyen and Barrow
Three cities vie for the title of the northernmost city in the world. The first is Hammerfest (Norway), within the Arctic Circle, with more than 10,000 inhabitants and an average annual temperature of only 2 degrees. It presumes to be the first city in northern Europe that had electric lighting in the streets, in 1891; It was the scene of important fighting during the Second World War and, currently, lives from its liquefied natural gas plant, which has given a boost to an area with few economic prospects. Tourists cross here on the way to the North Cape: a ferry leaves daily from here to Nordkapp, the northern end of the continent. There are also many northern auroras hunters and in its streets we find a curiosity: the headquarters of the Polar Bear Association.
Hammerfest is disputed by the title Longyearbyen, the largest town on the Norwegian Svalbard Islands, where only about 2,000 people live. In this remote corner of the Arctic the sun sets every year on October 25 and does not return to peek until March 8, a return that is celebrated in style with the Solfestuka, a popular festival that brings the whole city together 12:15 to wait for the arrival of the sun. Longyearbyen itself has a tourist pull: the first hotel was built in 1897, although it was later closed, and almost two thirds of the surface of the Svalbard archipelago are protected: it includes three nature reserves, six national parks, 15 bird sanctuaries and a protected area special environmental interest. And some other curiosity, typical of its location, as the sushi bar north of the planet and the prohibition (for 70 years) of burying their deceased; It is illegal.
The third city in the list is Barrow, in Alaska (Ukpeagvik in native language), where about 4,500 inhabitants live who defy freezing winds and temperatures that can drop to 40 degrees below zero. The water of the Arctic freezes from November to March and prevents boats from arriving, but Barrow’s economic resource is the tourists who visit it to watch the midnight sun and learn about the Inupiaq culture, of which there are news since 800 BC. During the short summer, local tour operators offer excursions to see polar bears, photographing of the owls or approaching some of the archaeological sites in the area; also to the old whaling station of Cape Smyte, which is considered the oldest wooden building in the Arctic (1893).
Perhaps, beyond this competition to three, the title of the northernmost place would have to be granted to the few who live in Alert, a small town on the northern coast of the island of Ellesmere, in Nunavut (Canada). This military base and meteorological station is the human settlement located to the north of the planet. The nearby Iqaluit is the smallest territory of the provincial capitals of Canada. It has about 7,000 inhabitants, mostly native Eskimos, and offers comfort to those who dare to take it as a starting point to venture into the magnificent nature of the north of the country.
7. The southernmost: Ushuaia or Puerto Williams?
Argentina and Chile
With almost 70,000 inhabitants on the banks of the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia has always held the title of the southernmost city in the world. It is 3,200 kilometers south of Buenos Aires, at the southern end of the American continent, less than 1,000 kilometers from Antarctica. It is a strategic city, it always has been, and to populate it, a prison was built at the beginning of the 20th century, whose prisoners were shaping the city. The presidio had the southernmost railway line in the world (for the transfer of prisoners), now converted into the tourist Train of the End of the World that allows you to enter the national park of Tierra del Fuego, a paradise for hikers. The other great attraction of the area is to navigate the Beagle Channel, the arm of the sea that separates Ushuaia from Navarino Island and where you can see birds, sea lions, a huge population of Magellanic penguins and, if you’re lucky, some humpback whale
Since recently, Ushuaia has been discussing the throne as the southernmost city in the world, the Chilean port of Puerto Williams, on the southern shore of the Beagle Channel, thanks to a change in Chilean conventions: the country currently considers cities with populations over 5,000 inhabitants, and although Puerto Williams, a mere settlement originally one hundred kilometers farther south than Ushuaia, does not reach that figure (around 2,000 residents) it has also been considered a city because it is the head of a governorate and has elementary services. In practice, tourists who come here are attracted to the same things on either side of the canal, which acts as a border: trails to travel wild and extreme landscapes; the observation of Antarctic fauna and the approach to the primitive cultures of Tierra del Fuego, the yaganes and selknam.
8. The most isolated
From Greenland to Havasu Canyon, Arizona
Among the most inaccessible cities in the world there is a place to choose. For example, in remote Arctic lands, Ittoqqortoormiit, located on the east coast of Greenland and, in many rankings located at number one of the most isolated villages. It has a couple of stores for its 450 residents, visitors who come here do so to know how their lifestyle is (they live above all from hunting and fishing), in the middle of a completely wild nature. The local population shares their knowledge with tourists, while they take them on sleds dragged by dogs or in their canoes.
Remote are the populations of the Aleutian archipelago, a chain of islands stretching from southwest Alaska to eastern Russia. In one of them is Adak, which barely has 300 inhabitants. In the Second World War it was a naval base (it has been closed since then) and is currently recognized as the southernmost and most remote city in Alaska. Few are those who reach it, or even Adamstown, in the Pitcairn Islands, the least populated country in the world. Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom, its 50 inhabitants maintain a small local government and receive, from time to time, a curious visitor usually attracted by the history of the mutineers of the Bounty and the Tahitians who accompanied them, and whose descendants are today residents of this island. Adamstown is considered the smallest official capital of the world; the island does not have an airport or hotels, but those who visit it can stay with one of the local families. Another curiosity: in 1838 the islands were the first territory in the world where women’s suffrage was approved identical to that of men.
Another of the most remote inhabited cities on earth is Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, curious and evocative name of this population of the island of Tristan de Acuña, British dependency, more than 2,700 kilometers from the South African coast. All its inhabitants (about 270) come from seven families that settled in 1816. It has no restaurants, no traffic lights, but a golf course. Its remoteness and isolation made it an inspiration for adventure novels, such as The Sons of Captain Grant and A Captain of Fifteen, by Jules Verne (it is the first island they spot after a long journey) or The King of the Air, Emilio Salgari. But you do not have to go to remote islands to find isolated places, even if they are not strictly a city. In Arizona is the village of Supai, the home of the Havasupai tribe, within the Havasu canyon, completely isolated from the outside world. There are no roads, only a path of about 12 kilometers accessible from the top of a hill, or the possibility of arriving by helicopter. The nearest food, water or gas point of sale is almost 100 kilometers away, in Peach Spring.