10 Undiscovered Countries to Visit Before Everyone Else Does
Norwegian Gunnar Garfors is a world traveler who's visited every country under the sun and thinks these 10 underrated nations are worthy of a coveted spot on your must-go list.
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Many of us have far-flung destinations, like Japan and Australia, on our bucket lists. But what about Nauru or Kiribati? They may be among the least-visited countries in the world, but they deserve a second look. Gunnar Garfors, a 43-year-old world traveler, recommends the following travel buried treasure for your next trip.
The tiny nation of Nauru is the smallest island country in the world. In 2017, just 130 visitors ventured to explore this island, making it the least-visited country in the world. Nauru sits northeast of Australia and is a four-hour direct flight from Brisbane. There are just two hotels on the island and a rental car is recommended to get around. Visit Command Ridge, the highest point on the island, which has a rusty Japanese outpost from World War II. Or head to Anibare Bay for white sandy beaches, coral reefs and fish curry. A tourist visa is required and must be obtained by mail before you travel to Nauru.
In the South Pacific, the tropical island nation of Tuvalu consists of nine islands and coral atolls. Just 800 people visited Tuvalu in 2017, many exploring its main island, Funafuti. Twice-weekly flights come in from Nadi, Fiji. Since the island receives so few arrivals, there are no visitor centers or tour guides. Rent a motorbike and explore on your own. It's helpful that most locals speak English and all signs are in English. Take a day trip by boat to the Funafuti Conservation Area for swimming and snorkeling amidst a variety of exotic tropical fish. A tourist visa is required but can be secured upon arrival in Tuvalu.
The tiny nation of Equatorial Guinea is nestled between Cameroon and Gabon on Africa’s west coast. As the least-visited of all 54 countries in Africa, Spanish-speaking Equatorial Guinea received 2,400 visitors in 2017. Home to the Congo rainforest, the second largest rainforest in the world, the nation boasts lush greenery and diverse wildlife, including chimpanzees, hippos and gorillas. Explore the capital city, Malabo, for colonial architecture and a bowl of pepesup (spicy fish soup). Later, take a swim in clear waters on black sand beaches. For stays of fewer than 90 days, a tourist visa is not required. However, you must provide proof of yellow fever and polio vaccinations. It’s an eight-hour flight from several cities in Europe.
Situated in the Central Pacific, 33 islands and coral atolls along the equator make up Kiribati. The unspoiled, white-sand beaches and colorful lagoons are among the least-known in the Pacific Ocean, attracting just 3,600 visitors in 2017. Kiribati is also one of the least developed countries, but it’s generally a safe place to travel. Make time to explore one or more of the outer islands for traditional culture and dances. For World War II buffs, the Gilbert group of islands has a number of historical relics and forts from the 1941 invasion. Flights arrive twice-weekly from Brisbane and Nadi, Fiji. A tourist visa is not required for stays of up to 30 days.
Central Asia’s Turkmenistan is considered one of the more mysterious of the five 'Stans of the Silk Road, the ancient route that facilitated the silk and spice trade from east to west from 130 BC to 1453 AD. It’s also the least explored, receiving just 7,000 visitors in 2017. Explore the white marble buildings adorned with gold-lacquered domes in the capital city, Ashgabat. The exotic mosques, bazaars and palaces are also must-sees. A tourist visa is required and it’s one of the more challenging to obtain, but only because you must enter Turkmenistan as part of a guided tour. The tour operator will secure a visa for you.
Sao Tomé and Principe
A two-island nation off the west coast of Africa, Sao Tomé and Principe welcomed 29,000 visitors in 2017. The islands are part of a volcano chain where you'll find a diverse environment boasting dramatic rock formations, sandy beaches and tropical jungles. Obo Natural Park, which covers nearly 60 percent of the land area, teems with colorful birds and exotic wildlife. The charming capital city of Santo Antonio is known for pastel colonial-era buildings and tempting culinary dishes, like calulu (a signature fish stew). For stays of 15 days or fewer, a tourist visa is not required. However, you must provide proof of yellow fever vaccination.
Liberia is home to Sapo National Park, one of the most popular national parks in West Africa. This massive protected area supports a diverse ecosystem full of lush foliage and endangered wildlife, like the pygmy hippopotamus. The coastal capital, Monrovia, is serviced by three airlines and is home to national museums and palm-fringed beaches. Golden Beach is a favorite spot for colorful sunsets and total relaxation. Hiking in the Nimba Mountains is another popular activity. Just 57,000 visitors came to Liberia in 2015. A tourist visa is required and must be obtained prior to travel to Liberia. Proof of yellow fever vaccination is also required.
Thanks to a man named Pita Taufatofua (better known as Tonga’s shirtless flagbearer at the 2016 and 2018 Olympic Games), Tonga may soon attract more than 62,000 visitors. This tiny kingdom of more than 170 islands in the South Pacific wows with sugar sand beaches, turquoise lagoons and large coral reefs filled with schools of tropical fish. Start in Tongatapu, the kingdom’s main island, which can be reached by a three-hour flight from Auckland. You won’t find glitzy resorts here, but you will find plenty of outdoor adventures, like sailing, fishing and kitesurfing. A tourist visa is not required for stays of up to 31 days.
East Timor (also known as Timor-Leste in the country’s official language, Portuguese) drew 74,000 visitors in 2017. Situated in Southeast Asia, East Timor is a natural beauty thanks to dense mangroves that hug the coastline, vivid coral reefs and a wide array of marine life, like sea horses and manta rays. East Timor is also known for its abundance of whales and dolphins. Book a direct flight to Dili from Bali to enjoy the laid-back lifestyle and unique intersection of Portuguese and Indonesian cultures in this remote nation. A 30-day tourist visa is required but can be secured upon arrival in East Timor.
German-speaking Liechtenstein is just 62 square miles and sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland. Despite its medieval castles, alpine villages and lush valleys, only 79,000 visitors opted to explore Liechtenstein (though it’s worth noting that this is nearly double its population). Nature lovers, hike the Historical Eschnerberg Trail or along Prince’s Way, both of which boast some of the best mountainous scenery in the country (technically, it’s a principality). The capital, Valduz, is home to modern and contemporary art galleries. Situated in the middle of Europe, it’s easy to get to Liechtenstein by train from Zurich. A tourist visa is not required for stays of less than 90 days.