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World's Last Remaining Terra Nullius

In the flat, empty desert between Sudan and Egypt, there’s a place that nobody wants – the world’s last great remaining Terra Nullius: the only habitable area of land left on the planet that’s not claimed by any sovereign nation-state.

Bir Tawil: the world's last Terra Nullius
Bir Tawil | Credit: James Martin and Gareth Johnson

Spanning roughly 800 square miles, Bir Tawil is a quadrangle of drifting dunes and sun-baked sand in the middle of nowhere.

Bir Tawil’s strange status is the result of a curious quirk in international relations, meaning that neither Sudan nor Egypt has ever laid claim to it. The anomaly dates back to 1899, when Britain drew a line across the Nubian Desert in the wake of the Mahdist War with Sudan. The political boundary included Bir Tawil within Sudan’s border, while a large wedge of potentially resource-rich land on the Red Sea known as the Hala'ib Triangle fell within Egypt’s mandate.

In 1902, Britain decided to change the border they’d drawn just a couple of years earlier. This time, Bir Tawil ended up within Egypt’s borders, while the Hala'ib Triangle fell under Sudanese jurisdiction. To this day, both countries have unsurprisingly only ever recognised the border agreement giving them the Hala'ib Triangle, leaving Bir Tawil a geographical anomaly, unclaimed by any internationally recognised nation.

There are, of course, no hotels in Bir Tawil. No shops, no restaurants, no museums, no landmarks. There aren’t even any roads. The only way to reach this political no man’s land is by enduring a two-day drive from the Sudanese capital, following nothing but desert tracks and sand dunes as you travel to one of the world’s most isolated and remote areas.

For tourists, there’s little to see but sand, so why on earth would anyone want to visit? Well, that's not putting off Young Pioneer Tours. If you hanker after visiting curious anomalies, the good news is that there's now a tour operator offering trips. Feeling intrepid?

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