Whether via girlfriend getaways, solo sojourns or adventure-heavy holidays, women are traveling more than ever these days. But even in today’s age of increasing gender equity, there are spots across the globe where the absence of a Y chromosome means a traveler must tread lightly – or not at all.
Many of these bans on females are steeped in religious tradition and etiquette, but is a reminder of how far, or not ,women have come.
Here are some tourist destinations where females strictly are forbidden.
Mount Athos, Greece: The longstanding gender ban on this ancient mountain doesn’t apply to just women – it also includes many female domestic animals. Commonly known among Greeks as the “Holy Mountain,” the self-governed Mount Athos, which encompasses both the mountain and a peninsula in Macedonia, is accessible only via ferry -- and only to men with a special permit. A centuries-old belief maintains that the presence of females inhibits their path to the spiritual enlightenment of the monks living there among its 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries.
Over the years, several women have been successful in sneaking onto Mount Athos’s forbidden-to-females shores, including a French writer who reportedly underwent a double mastectomy in order to disguise herself as a monk in the 1920s, and, more recently, four Moldovan women who illegally entered Greece and accidentally ended up at Mount Athos.
Saudi Arabia: If you’re a solo female traveler looking to visit Saudi Arabia as a tourist, you’ll have an easier time booking a trip to Mars. As of 2010, tourist visas to Saudi Arabia don’t exist, and visas for business and to visit family are notoriously difficult for Americans to obtain. On top of that, women who do travel to the country must be accompanied by a male relative in order to be granted entry. And even then, Saudi Arabia isn’t exactly a welcoming destination for females. Women need a man, or government permission, to do just about anything – Saudi Arabian women aren’t even allowed to drive.
“We hear nonstop all this bad press about Iran and how terrible Iran is, but Saudi Arabia is much more oppressive of women,” notes Michelle May, a San Francisco-based journalist who has traveled extensively to Middle Eastern countries. “Their human rights record and their treatment of women are far worse than Iran.”
Haji Ali Dargah Shrine, Mumbai, India: One of Mumbai’s most iconic landmarks, which is dedicated to a 15th-century Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Bukhari. The site, which also holds the saint's tomb, draws between 15,000 and 20,000 daily visitors of all castes, creeds and religions, according to the organization that runs it. But in July, a women’s group visited and found the Dargah’s most sacred area, called the sanctum sanctorum, had been barred to females. The shrine’s authorities claim that it is "un-Islamic under the Sharia Law" for women to visit graves and that they were rectifying a mistake that had allowed women to enter this area.
By November 2012, news of this development had spread, sparking outrage among many women’s rights groups that say the ban represents clear discrimination of women and that it damages the reputation of Islam in India. The state government has refused to intervene in the issue, which it claims is a religious matter, so at least for now, the shrine’s sanctum sanctorum remains off-limits to women.
Hindu temples in India and Bali, Indonesia during certain times of the month: It’s a common sight – and a curious one, at least for many Westerners – at many Hindu temples in these parts of the world: signs that prohibit menstruating women from entering. It’s unclear exactly how this ban is monitored, but it’s based on the belief among some religions, including Hinduism and the Eastern Orthodox Church, that menstruating women are impure, and as result they are banned from entering sacred areas of worship or receiving communion.
The ban has been challenged in some places, but it’s still the status quo at many temples throughout India and Indonesia. Even more disturbing: It occasionally comes with the threat of violence if women visitors violate the rule.
Mount Omine, Japan: In 2004, the United Nations declared this mountain in southern a UNESCO World Heritage site, but thanks to a centuries-old gender ban, it’s one that women are still not allowed to visit. For more than 1,300 years, only men have been allowed to navigate the rocky paths leading to the Buddhist temple near the 5,640-foot peak. That’s because, according to long-held religious beliefs, women pose a distraction for the religious pilgrims who should be engaged in strict self-denial while on the mountain.
Today, the gender ban continues, despite an 1872 Japanese government decree that struck down longstanding conventions that kept women off many of the country’s mountains, including Mount Fuji. Since then, Mount Omine has defiantly ignored that order. Predictably, Japanese women’s groups lobbied the government and the United Nations against naming the mountain as a World Heritage site, to no avail.
Galaxy water park, Bavaria, Germany: This past summer, one of Europe’s largest and most popular waterparks, which is part of the sprawling Therme Erding sauna complex near Munich, banned women from one of its high-speed slides because owners determined it to be causing “intimate injuries.” According to a park official, at least six women suffered injury to their genital area on the X-treme Faser slide, in which participants can reportedly hit speeds up to 45 miles per hour.
A park spokesman told an English-language newspaper that it was working on developing a bodysuit for women to prevent such mishaps in the future. According to a gynecological association that was referenced in the newspaper, however, there was no medical condition other than pregnancy that should prevent women from using such a slide. In other words, this particular gender ban appears to be washed up.