The World’s Most Extreme Cities

Humans are social animals. They are brazen adventurers willing to go to any length to seek out the resources necessary to not just survive, but thrive. On the other hand, they can also be lazy and unimaginative, contented with little effort and the creature comforts of civilization. These opposing facts, taken together, can't sufficiently explain why the following metropolises exist.

These are cities in areas of the Earth where humankind clearly was not meant to be. Some are quite successful - heralded as exemplar world cities both as destinations and as places to live. In others, residents and visitors still constantly face the threat of death by dehydration, isolation, or exposure.

Cities aren't always located in the most comfortable locations. These are the wettest, driest, coldest, hottest, highest, most isolated, least accessible & windiest.

These are the cities in the world’s most inhospitable locales:

1. Yakutsk, Russia – World’s Coldest City


Yakutsk, located in Russia’s SakhaRepublic, has a yearly mean temperature of -8.8o C. That number is deceiving as summer in Yakutsk brings several relatively warm months during which life thaws (though the ground doesn’t – Yakutsk is also the largest city built on permafrost) and temperatures can exceed 30o C. This means that during Yakutsk’s long winter the thermometer often dips below -40o C (the mean lows in December and January are -40.4o C, and -41.5o C respectively), with the coldest temperature ever recorded being -64.4o C.

In the winter months, the 269,000 people in Yakutsk (understandably) spend as little time outside as possible. When they do venture into the cold, they are bundled in insulated clothing and/or animal furs, and possibly sipping vodka from a thermos. When they need to use a vehicle in the extreme cold, they will keep it running all day to prevent the battery from dying, making steering wheel locks a must. Vehicle exhaust, in addition to factory smog, and the breath of residents creates an ethereal haze that cloaks the city throughout the season.

2. Kuwait City, Kuwait – World’s Hottest City


Kuwait City has a metropolitan population of 2.4 million who can somehow stand the blistering heat and sandstorms that plague this middle-eastern capital city each year. The city has an annual mean high temperature of 34.3o C, with the months of June, July and August averaging highs between 45-47o C. In 2012, nearby Sulaibya set the record for the highest temperature ever recorded in Asia at 53.8o C (128.8o F).

Kuwaitis beat the heat during the summertime by going to the beach; visiting ‘Aqua Park’, the largest water park in the Persian Gulf region; or hanging out at ‘The Avenues,’ the largest shopping mall in Kuwait, where you’ll find western chains such as Dolce & Gabbana, FatBurger, Footlocker, and Texas Roadhouse.

Unrelenting heat to this degree can be deadly. The government imposes an outdoor work ban June through August from 11am to 4pm. However, the ban is rarely enforced for foreign workers who make up nearly a third of Kuwait’s population. Kuwait has also been criticized for systemic abuse of foreign domestic workers, who have reportedly been forced into slavery. Because of this, countries like IndonesiaNepal, and Sierra Leone have banned its citizens from conducting domestic work in the Middle Eastern nation.

3. Aswan, Egypt – World’s Driest City


Aswan is the world’s driest city with less than a millimeter of rainfall annually. Despite a dearth of precipitation, there is access to water. Aswan is located on the Nile and just south of the city lies the world’s largest rock-filled dam (High Dam, or commonly referred to as the Aswan Dam) which creates one of the world’s largest man-made bodies of water, Lake Nasser.

The city's name reeks of irony, as "Aswan" is an old Nubian word which roughly translates "too much water". This isn't intentionally funny; it was named due to the flood cycle of the Nile River.

4. Buenaventura, Colombia – World’s Wettest City


More than twenty feet of rain (6,275.6 mm) falls annually on Colombia’s largest port city; Buenaventura. Many neighborhoods on the waterfront of Golfo Tortugas (Turtle Gulf) are primarily comprised of shacks built on stilts. Buildings located away from the bay, around the city’s undulating hills, are an array of weather worn concrete, corrugated steel roofs and awnings, and the occasional crumbling wooden façade, rotted through due to non-stop rain and consistent moisture in the air. Rain has become a way of life in Buenaventura. As Colombia’s largest port city it is one of South America’s largest hubs for drug trafficking.

5. Wellington, New Zealand – World’s Windiest City


At 29 km/h, ‘Windy Wellington’ has average wind-speeds 11 km/h higher than America’s better known ‘Windy City’, Chicago. Wellington is located in the ‘Roaring Forties’ or the ‘River of Wind’, a meteorological phenomenon which occurs between 40 and 50 latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere. Here, hot air from the Equator meets the polar vortex with the only land masses present to break the gusts being the southern tip of South America, and, Wellington (as well as the rest of New Zealand’s South Island).

6. El Alto, Bolivia – World’s Highest City (Altitude)


Located 4,150 meters (more than 2 ½ miles) above sea level, the city of El Alto is located in the Altiplano plains region of Bolivia. It started out in the early 20th century as an inconveniently located slum of Bolivia’s administrative capital La Paz, located in the valley below. It has since surpassed La Paz in size and population, and is now the second largest and fastest growing city in Bolivia with 1.18 million residents.

7. Perth, Australia – World’s Most Isolated City


To drive from Perth to the next (relatively) large city in Australia, you would need to make a two day trek through desert climate, along one of the most desolate stretches of road in the world across the Nullarbor (no tree) Plains to Adelaide, South Australia. It is such a feat that there are bumper stickers which commemorate the accomplishment.

It is home to the headquarters of the world’s largest diamond mine, boasts a 4.3% unemployment rate, and is routinely named one the best cities in the world to live in.

8. Iquitos, Peru – World’s Least Accessible City


The only way to get to the Peruvian ‘Capital of the Amazon’ Iquitos is by boat or plane. Small ships can reach the city from the Atlantic Ocean, some 3,600 km of travel up the Amazon River, or short flights from Lima, Peru, or Panama City, Panama service the city most days of the week. The city is so remote, very few cars have been transported here, so the city relies on buses, and smaller, motorized rickshaws for transportation.

Have you ever visited any of them, then add your experience by commenting.