This article on the least visited countries in the world was first published in February 2017 and is updated frequently, most recently in March 2020. Please check travel advisory boards before traveling to unstable countries as information may change quickly if there is unrest.
I have been a fan of going to the least visited countries in the world ever since I started traveling. My first trip outside of Spain was to Cuba, in 2001. Back then the Caribbean island was visited by just a few, mostly Spaniards, among whom it was a very popular destination with dozens of charter flights and cheap package tours to all-inclusive Varadero with short stop-overs in Havana.
Although my trip was to feature that short stop over, as I danced in a steamy and dark underground Cuban bar, I realised what I really wanted to do was to rent a vintage car and explore the rest of the island which remained untouched by the package tourists.
I’ve come to understand that what draws me to the least visited places in the world is the combination of the thrill of the unknown, as well as the magic of experiencing a place that very few have seen before. I am not the only one, when exploring these countries I have often met others with the same motivation: to go to the least touristy countries.
Since my first trip to Cuba I have traveled to over 110 countries, where I have collected some rare passport stamps. Some I have visited several times, like Thailand, particularly Phuket, others I have lived in, like South Africa, the UAE or Singapore, and many I spent long periods working at, like Kenya or Sudan.
While Cuba is no longer the virgin place it used to be, the majority of the world’s 198 countries is still a mystery waiting to be discovered and there are many destinations on this list of the least known countries where tourism is not developed and where you may not even see another foreigner during your time on the ground. It is those least traveled countries which I favor, and there are many.
More than 30% of the total international arrivals happen in the top five countries of Spain, China, Italy, the United States and France, but the bottom 20 least known countries in the world receive less than 0.1% of the total arrivals.
I decided to do my research and collate data from several sources starting with the World Bank as the basis then complementing the missing data points with data from the Word Trade Organization, the United Nations and news pieces from various publications. With all this, I put together my list of the least visited countries. Unless otherwise stated, the source for the data is the World Bank database with data for the latest available year (2017).
As data for some of the least popular countries is non-existent (for example, Somalia has never reported tourism numbers), I had to complement the above official sources with correspondence from local tourism organisations and even local travel agents who could help me understand the picture on the ground.
Lastly, I also conducted own interviews while visiting some of these nations and my observations on the ground, plus some back of the envelope calculations based on tourism spending and average spent per tourist.
Without further ado, here is the list of the least visited countries in the world.
- San Marino
- St. Vincent
- Timor-Leste (East Timor)
- Sierra Leone
- Sao Tome and Principe
- Solomon Islands
- American Samoa
- Federated States of Micronesia
- Marshall Islands
- Equatorial Guinea
- South Sudan
- Other unknown countries
International arrivals: 85,000 visitors, World Bank
An unlikely candidate for this list since it is right in the middle of Europe, German-speaking Liechtenstein is one of the least traveled countries because it does not have any airport and it is double landlocked. To get there you need to drive from Austria or Switzerland, the country which invented skiing and accidentally invaded Liechtenstein in 2007, so most visitors don’t spend a night there.
Liechtenstein hasn’t always been at the top of this list, but 2018 and 2019 have seen a steep increase in the number of international tourist arrivals, particularly from Switzerland, Germany and the US. The trend seems to be increasing and the country may even be wiped off this list if it continues to grow at this rate. Now is a great time to visit. It’s also a wonderful stopover if you’re planning a road trip around Europe.
Fun fact about Liechtenstein: This tiny country is so fascinating that the list of fun facts never ends. Liechtenstein is one of the safest country in the world. The last murder was in 2014 due to a dispute between a banking CEO and an employee. But this is a very rare case.
Every year, on national day, His Serene Highness Prince Hans-Adam II, the head of state, and his son, His Serene Highness Hereditary Prince Alois, invite the residents for a beer in the garden of Vaduz Castle. The entire country was briefly available for rent in 2011 and surprisingly, it is producer of 20% of the world’s false teeth.
What to see/do in Liechtenstein: It is such a tiny place that you can see it all in a day. There are castles, mountains and good food, including Michelin-awarded traditional Restaurant Torkel.
Need to know: You will need to drive to Liechtenstein and the closest airports are St. Gallen-Altenrhein Airport (53km) in Germany or Zurich (115km).
You will rub shoulders with: Ski fanatics escaping the crowded Alps and villagers enjoying the peacefulness of one of the least touristy countries in Europe.
International Arrivals: 84,000 visitors, World Bank
San Marino is a tiny microstate in the Apennine Mountains and is completely surrounded by Italy, just like the Vatican, or Lesotho in South Africa. The entire country measures around 61sqkm with an equally small population of around 33,000. It is also the oldest extant sovereign state and constitutional republic.
According to the International Monetary Fund, it has one of the highest GDPs per capita, coming in 15th in the world in 2019. It also has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe.
Fun fact about San Marino: Every July (usually the last weekend in July), San Marino holds an epic Medieval Days festival where you can dress in clothes of fables and epic tales. You will listen to their centuries-old stories in their wonderful medieval village. If you’ve ever wanted to try mead (honey wine) or learn the arts of archery or falconry, this is the place to do it. Another interesting fact about this least visited country in the world is that it has more vehicles than people!
What to see/do in San Marino: Also known as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, it really lives up to its name with rolling hills, medieval fortresses and wineries. As it’s so close to the some of the most popular places in the area like Florence or Bologna, it makes for a great day trip. It’s also home to the UNESCO sites the San Marino Historic Centre and Mount Titano. It also has plenty of museums, amazing local eateries and plenty of tax-free shopping.
Need to know: There aren’t any border formalities when coming from Italy, so if you can get into Italy, you can get into San Marino. You can choose to purchase a souvenir stamp at the tourist office if you love your passport to be filled with rare stamps from around the world, but it will be officially canceled inside your passport.
You will rub shoulders with: Italians on their way to the Romagna or Rimini riviera on holiday who decided to pop into San Marino for a few hours, or possibly the night.
International Arrivals: 80,000 visitors, World Bank
St. Vincent, which is also called St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is a multi island Anglo-Caribbean country that is surrounded by Saint Lucia, Barbados and Grenada. The entire territory measures 389 sqkm (150 sq mi) and consists of Saint Vincent which is the main island, and the northern two-thirds of the Grenadines, which is a chain of 32 smaller islands. Many of the islands are uninhabited.
After being colonised by both France briefly and Britain for a longer period, St. Vincent was one of the last of the Windward Islands to gain independence, which was on 27 October 1979. While you can’t fly directly from the US or Europe you can get here through Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Martinique and Puerto Rico.
The mega franchise, the Pirates of the Caribbean, was filmed mostly in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Fun fact about St. Vincent: Mustique, an island in the Grenadines, is privately owned by a consortium of landowners. They then rent the island out to vacationers that can afford it. Think along the lines of $20,000-$100,000 per week.
What to see/do in St. Vincent: This depends on where you go. St. Vincent has more black sand beaches due to past volcanic activity. The Grenadines has the more picturesque white powder Caribbean beaches, especially on island like Union Island, Canouan, Mustique and Bequia. Either way, you’ll be wanting to relax on the beach, go fishing, yachting or diving.
Need to know: You will need to leave your camo apparel at home because it’s prohibited in St. Vincent and the Grenadines as police sport the camouflage pattern. Also, July to October is hurricane season, so while it isn’t the best time to travel, hotel prices do plummet.
You will rub shoulders with: The local highly political Vincentians working hard and the throngs of uber wealthy tourists spending their cash shopping
Timor-Leste (East Timor)
International Arrivals: 75,000 visitors, World Bank.
One of the least visited places in the world, but still a country I very much enjoyed visiting, East Timor surprised me for how expensive and filled with missionaries it was. After years of civil war, East Timor is today a safe place but infrastructure is still poor. When it rains, roads can simply become impassible and parts of the country isolated.
Fun Fact about Timor-Leste: Timor-Leste gained independence in 2002 making it the first new country of the 21st century and a very young one.
What to see/do in Timor-Leste: Diving is a major draw in Timor Leste. As it is located in the Coral Triangle like Indonesia or the Philippines, so marine life is rich and beaches untouched, diving in Atauro Island is benefiting from quick recovery. Drive along the coast east towards the tip and make plenty of stopovers. You will not see another tourist.
Need to know: Timor Leste is a very safe country. The lack of public transport means you are best renting a car. Driving can be quite an adventure on its own as the roads are potholed and a lot of the country is impassable during or after the monsoon season, so parts become completely isolated.
Flying to Timor can be very expensive so try routing via Darwin or Bali. This is Southeast Asia’s hidden gem and tourism is only stalled because it is a very expensive trip. It is expensive to get there, to get around, to sleep and to eat. Spending $15 for a very simple meal is not uncommon and the basic 3 star hotels, mostly in the capital Dili, have nightly rates above the $100 mark. Also, the country uses the USD as its currency.
International Arrivals: 63,000, World Bank
Formerly a British colony, not much is known about Dominica which is why it remains one of the least visited countries. This unknown country is filled with nature, waterfalls, boiling lakes, historical places and pirates!
Fun fact about Dominica: Dominica is one of the filming locations for several pirate movies including Pirates of the Caribbean and this is suitable because the country does indeed have a history of piracy.
What to see or do: Despite being one of the smallest countries in the world, Dominica has unique rocky landscapes that make it an ideal destination for adventure and nature lovers. There are volcanoes (most of which are active but don’t erupt), and Boiling Lake which spits water inside the UNESCO-listed Morne Trois Pitons National Park.
Need to know: Although there are two airports it is best to visit Dominica by ferry from nearby Guadeloupe or Martinique. If you fall in love with the country, it is possible (and relatively cheap) to obtain citizenship through an economic investment of just $100,000 (the best place for this according to the Financial Times).
You will rub shoulders with: The locals. Dominica is one of the few Caribbean countries with a relevant Carib Indian population descendants of the original inhabitants. The majority of visitors to Dominica come on day trips from the cruises docking on the island so if you stay overnight you will be one of the few.
International arrivals: 57,000 visitors, World Bank 2016 data
Sierra Leone is one of the least visited countries in the world and one not usually associated with tourism but rather with the slave trade in the 16th and 17th century, “blood diamonds”, a horrific civil war which ended in 2002. If that wasn’t all, it is more recently associated with ebola.
However, Sierra Leone is a country that always fascinated me. When I was working in Africa, and had colleagues working there, the helicopter trip from the airport to Freetown was a Russian-roulette journey, and it used to crash regularly, but it was a preferred transportation method to the road journey.
Fun fact about Sierra Leone: The country entered the Miss Universe competition for the first time in 2017.
Things to do/see in Sierra Leone: Aside from the beach and Banana Islands which are a great sun and sea destination, Sierra Leone is an important sanctuary for orphaned or illegally traded chimps which can be seen at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary.
As a last port of call for the slaves sent to the Americas, Bunce Island is a place of great edification to understand more about the country’s tragic past.
Need to know: The World Health Organisation declared Sierra Leone ebola-free in 2016. However, the helicopter trips are still a life-threatening adventure. Just kidding. Check best routes into town before landing. The road option is not recommended and speed boats are the best alternative.
You will rub shoulders with: Diamond traders and the most adventurous African lovers who are keeping the secret of one of the least touristy countries all to themselves. And well, also some businessmen.
International arrivals: 54,000 visitors, World Bank
One of my favourite South Pacific islands, Tonga, is a beautiful group of islands with Maldives-style islets, waters crowded with humpback whales in season, and a hard-to-pronounceable capital name: Nuku’alofa
Fun fact about Tonga: Captain James Cook called Tonga “The friendly island”. When he landed on the islands for the 3rd time he was invited to dinner and celebrations. Little did he know that the party was actually an excuse for the local kings to decide on the best plan to kill him.
He did manage to escape, as they could not come up with the right method. You can still visit the site of his landing in Tongatapu today.
What to do/see in Tonga: Swimming with humpback whales will be one of your life’s most memorable experiences in and one which is wildest and least crowded in this least visited country.
Need to know: Tonga is made of many islands. Whereas the main island is your entry point, make sure to venture into Eua Island and the Vava’u Archipelago. In the main island of Tongatapu, stray dogs can be a problem and you should be careful, especially at night.
You will rub shoulders with: The young local crew working on very high end super yachts that are anchored in the safe natural harbour of the Vava’u Archipelago when the owners are not using them, and adventurous Australian marine photographers taking avid tourists under water.
International arrivals: 45,200 visitors, World Bank 2016 data
The swampy country next to Guinea is as poor if not more so than its neighbours. Hardly anyone enters this unknown country but those who do will be rewarded with pretty beaches all to themselves.
Fun fact about Guinea-Bissau: The country used to be one with Cape Verde until 1980. A coup separated the two. The coastal peoples believe in spirits and shrines can be found everywhere.
Things to do/see in Guinea-Bissau: The beautiful UNESCO-listed Bijagós islands are as dreamy as they are remote and eco-friendly and you may bump into some hippos. In the south east part of the country, in the Boe region, on the border with Guinea, you can also spot chimpanzees.
Need to know: Tourism here is underdeveloped to say the least, so like many other of the leat visited countries on this list, you will need to either get private guides or have a lot of time to figure out ways to get around. The Italian hotel, Aparthotel Chez Helene in Varela, is as legendary as the food they serve and has a reputation for being a little gem in a completely unexplored country.
You will rub shoulders with: The locals and the drug smugglers. The UN considers Guinea-Bissau as a major port for drugs to arrive into Europe, even a “narco-state” akin to Escobar’s Colombia. But fret not, the drug cartels are too busy minding their own business, so they stay away from tourists, or so they say.
International arrivals: 45,200 visitors, World Bank 2016 data
There is more than one Guinea, like there is more than one Congo. This one is the Guinea often referred to as Conakry, as this is the name of its capital.
Guinea is often associated with “blood diamonds” (diamonds mined in conflict zones) and inspired the movie of the same name, as well as other countries on this list. It is so unknown and it receives so few visitors that there is not much anybody knows about one of world’s least visited countries.
Fun fact about Guinea: Conakry is the wettest capital in the world with 3,7m of rain per year.
Things to do/see in Guinea: The country has one of the last remaining dry tropical forests. Don’t miss the acrobats from Centre d’Art Acrobatique Keita Fodeba who can be seen training in the mornings. As a tropical country, there are a lot of waterfalls, especially in the Fouta Djalon Plateau.
Need to know: This is one of the poorest countries in one of the poorest regions in the world. Like many of its neighbours, war and conflict have threatened its population since independence. Literacy rates and life expectancy are low, and tourism infrastructure follows suit.
You will rub shoulders with: Although not one of the most unpopular countries, so few people visit Guinea that you will find the most adventurous of the adventurers often on overland trips through West Africa visiting more than one country. Nobody comes here for the weekend.
International arrivals: 45,000 visitors, World Bank 2014 data
Liberia has some worthy tourism activities and sights. There are long stretches of beaches, perfect waves to surf and tropical forests, but this is one of the least known countries in the world, barely visited by anyone, and this doesn’t help infrastructure development.
Fun fact about Liberia: The country was founded by freed slaves from the US who were sent back to Africa at the beginning of the 19th century when the US started a repatriation program. This is why it still preserves strong ties with the country and has a very similar flag 🇱🇷.
Need to know: There is practically no infrastructure and the country does not officially issue tourist visas. Add to that the fact that there are few embassies outside and getting a visa may require you to ship your passport somewhere or going to neigbouring countries (also on this list) to apply in person in Guinea Conakry or Freetown, Sierra Leone.
As this is one of the countries with least tourism, the immigration officials do not understand that someone might want to travel for the sake of it.
You will rub shoulders with: Diplomats, wild surfers looking for the big waves or hard core travelers visiting all the least visited countries in the world. And the occasional fishing fanatic
International arrivals: 35,900 visitors, World Bank
Another place that seems to be lost in the large oceans between Africa and Madagascar. Comoros is a small volcanic island near Seychelles and by far one if the most unknown countries in the world.
Fun fact about Comoros: Very few people can say anything about this unknown country, but here is one interesting fact. Comoros has had 20 coups since independence from France in 1975, although it is actually pretty safe.
Things to do/see in Comoros: The four main islands offer everything, from sandy beaches to thick rainforests for trekking and the world’s largest active volcano, Mt Karthala which erupts regularly creating Pompeian landscapes.
Need to know: As a former French colony Comoran speak French but because of all the Arabic influences, Islam is the prevalent religion. So you should cover up and leave the cocktails for the other part of the holiday, the one which takes you to dreamy Seychelles, nearby.
You will rub shoulders with: Lonely Planet considers the Comoros so remote that “an international fugitive could hide here”. Perhaps they know something we don’t.
Sao Tome and Principe
International arrivals: 33,400, World Bank
This group of volcanic islands in the Gulf of Guinea embody the phrase “tropical paradise”. Think cocoa and coffee plantations, volcanic rocks, clear waters and balmy afternoons. It gained its independence from Portugal in 1975.
Fun fact about Sao Tome and Principe: This is the place where astrophysicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, proved Einstein’s Theory of Relativity over Newton’s during a solar eclipse.
Things to do/see in Sao Tome and Principe: This is my idea of a lost paradise that seems to have been forgotten. Miles and miles of beaches without any tourists, clear warm waters, palm trees dancing in the wind, the hot sun and maybe a coconut in your hand. Thankfully, the government is developing tourism in a mindful manner. Explore the Portuguese colonial past and relax.
Need to know: Things happen at a different pace here. Perhaps a common trait for the least known countries on this list. Add the permanent Equatorial weather and the slow island life and you can see how things unfold at a natural pace. Relax in one of the less travelled countries, heaven wasn’t built in a day.
You will rub shoulders with: Mostly Portuguese, as the only way to reach it is either via Angola (a hard to visit place too), Lisbon twice weekly and Gabon.
International arrivals: Less than 30,000, World Travel & Tourism Council
You thought Equatorial Guinea was the least visited country in the world? Technically it is, however, that is just because the country really topping this list is currently not receiving visitors.
Libya stopped issuing tourist visas in 2015 and its borders with Chad, Niger, Sudan and Algeria have been closed since. While at the beginning of 2018 things improved and tours resumed, to the point where international arrivals reached reasonable levels of 30,000 in 2018, things took a turn for the worse in April 2019 and tours have been cancelled again.
Even in March 2020 the situation is still extremely dangerous with flights in the capital of Tripoli being rerouted to Misrata, around a 3 hour drive from the capital.
It would be fair to assume that, even as things had improved recently, the majority of the arrivals were those involved in the media, relief organisations, military personnel and some businessmen and women and locals returning home, and that real travelers, except for those visiting every country, were limited.
Fun fact about Libya: Before the war, Libya had free education, free housing, free loans and no beggars. It was also a dictatorship.
Things to see/do in Libya: Libya has so much to offer. From the UNESCO-listed carvings and interesting rock formations in the Acacus Mountains to the Roman ruins in Ghadames, Cyrene or Leptis Magna, the Islamic architecture of Qasr al-Haj or Atiq Mosque and the hammams in Tripoli. Once the doors open back and safety improves, the country has nothing to envy the rest of the popular Maghreb countries or even parts of Sicily, Greece and Ancient Rome.
Need to know: 90% of the country is desert, so the moment you leave the coastal areas expect the landscapes to be barren and sandy. The country is dry.
You will rub shoulders with: Conflict journalists, guerrillas and fighters.
International arrivals: 27,900 visitors, World Bank
This group of islands north west of Australia shares a border and quite a lot of heritage with Papua New Guinea. The Solomon Islands, like others in the Pacific, are a treasure trove of WWII relics, wrecks and diving.
Spending a week there is a great way to have a taste for real South Pacific life. The infrastructure is bare to say the least and there are very few tourists. Once you drive out of Honiara for 5kms you will hit paths instead of paved roads. The islands of Gizo are stunning. The waters so clear, with so little development, you can see turtles from the jetty of your hotel.
Fun fact about the Solomon Islands: When I flew from Honiara to Gizo, the airport was filled with people sobbing. I was not sure why everyone was so sad. Until a coffin was brought in and into the plane. As the country is eminently isolated and made of islands, islanders have to fly their deceased by plane.
Locals also believe in ghosts and, while I was there, the newspaper reported a ghost sighting.
Things to do/see in the Solomon Islands: Honiara is good if you are into WWII trivia or need a bit of civilization after spending time on a tiny island with nothing. It is one of the least developed capitals I have ever visited but feels like a buzzing metropolis after a few days in Gizo.
The archipelago has amazing islands and islets that are the subject of long lost paradises and you will not see anyone else. Dive to your heart’s content with just the marine life for companionship. At night, the waters may shine because of luminescent plankton. I guarantee you, you have never seen anything so magical.
Need to know: Solomon Islands is a country most have never heard of. There have not been major political issues and the country does not make the news. The flights from Fiji where diving is extraordinary, stop in Vanuatu in both directions so it is a good combo trip. After Solomons, Vanuatu’s popularity with Australia will seem hyper developed. You will not be able to buy flights to Gizo online so just walk into a good old travel agency when you get there.
You will rub shoulders with: NGO personnel and some adventurous Australians looking for something more than popular Vanuatu, and missionaries. Really, nobody else visits the Solomon Islands making it one of the rare countries you may never set foot on.
International arrivals: 20,200, World Bank
Okay, so American Samoa is not a country but rather an unincorporated territory of the United States of America like Guam or Puerto Rico. But it is so different from the mainland that we thought we’d include it on this list of least visited countries in the world.
American Samoa is usually not the first pick for many travelers looking for a vacation, but it is extremely beautiful and is up there with any of the best national parks in the US. The small group of five volcanic islands in the South Pacific, half way between Hawaii and New Zealand is largely untouched, pristine and remote.
American Samoa doesn’t share much with the US and is more similar to neighbouring Samoa. In fact, it’s considered the oldest Polynesian culture that dates back 3,000 years ago from the first migrant who came from Southeast Asia and landed on Papua New Guinea who then colonised the Pacific. But due to its US ties, it is a lot more developed that most countries in the Pacific.
Fun fact about the American Samoa: When you fly from nearby Samoa you actually go back an entire day as you cross the international date line. That’s one way to extend your special day into 48 hours.
Things to do/see in the American Samoa: Activities in American Samoa are mostly to do with nature and the beach. There are some epic surf spots, untouched islands, and gorgeous national parks and conservation areas like Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary or the National Park of American Samoa. There’s also the world’s largest tuna packing factory if you’re interested.
Need to know: American Samoa is so remote that it can only be reached from Honolulu on a 5h flight, or from Samoa, on a 20min flight.
You will rub shoulders with: Traveling surfers and intrepid explorers looking for off the beaten path destinations.
Federated States of Micronesia
International arrivals: 19,200, World Bank
The Federate States of Micronesia (FSM), not to be confused with Micronesia, the group of islands with Pacific culture that also includes Marshall Islands and Kiribati, is a country in the North Pacific near Guam and a third of the way between the Philippines and Hawaii. Although the country is made of hundreds of islands, there are four main differentiated states: Yap, Chuuk, Kosrae and Pohnpei.
Fun fact about the Federated States of Micronesia: There are many interesting facts about FSM but perhaps the most interesting is that women still walk bare chested and wear grass skirts in Yap.
Pohnpei has an ancient city built at the same time as Angkor Wat called Nan Madol and reminiscent of that type of ruins, which was declared a UNESCO site in 2016. Chuuk is the world’s wreck diving mecca and the center stage of the Allied Forces’ attack on Japan which is believed to have turned the tables on the Pacific episode of WWII.
Things to do/see in the Federated States of Micronesia: Diving is the main reason for most visitors to the country. Be it for the wrecks of Chuuk or the mantas in Yap, the underwater world is fascinating. Culture is more of a drawback for Kosrae, Yap and Pohnpei. Nan Madol, which has recently been put on the map, is expected to attract some tourism going forward.
Need to know: The islands are connected by United Airlines island hopping flights which are expensive and a nightmare to coordinate. Consider bundling Yap and Palau in one trip and Chuuk, Kosrae and Pohnpei (maybe with the Marshall Islands and/or Hawaii) in another. All flights start from Guam.
There are also flight from Brisbane via Nauru with Nauru Airlines. Despite being a developing country, FSM is quite expensive as a result of its remoteness and status as one of the least visited tourists.
You will rub shoulders with: Divers, dive masters, dive instructors, dive shop owners, diving professionals and the occasional military personnel stationed at Guam looking for a getaway.
International arrivals: 20,000, Tourism Ministry
Despite being riddled with war and ranking as one of the least travelled countries for over a decade now, surprisingly more people travel to Afghanistan every year than you may think.
That includes a lot of military and NGO personnel as well as journalists and the media in general who battle with dangerous roads and the world’s least safe airlines.
However, there are a couple of companies who organise trips to discover the country’s beautiful mountains and what is left of its rich heritage and tourism numbers are increasing, if the government is to be believed. Also, while it is one of the least visited, Afghanistan is certainly not an unknown country.
Fun fact about Afghanistan: I am not sure anyone can identify Afghanistan with fun. The country ranks second on the World Terrorism Index after Iraq (2018) and is least peaceful in the world according to the Global Peace Index.
Things to do/see in Afghanistan: When I started working in the Middle East in 2006, my first project was for a client in Afghanistan. We did not travel there, instead, the client used to come to Dubai for meetings. They showed us photos, shared stories with us, as we had to understand the country well to plan the network roll out.
At that time, nobody had a phone and we had to consider things like War Lords when planning the infrastructure. The pictures of the mountains and the many books I read about the country made me want to visit. But the security situation alway deterred me.
Since then, phones were put in the hands of every Afghan but the safety record has remained poor. If you decide to visit, there is only one travel agency to consider – Afghan Tours and Logistics which is the ground handler of most other international tour companies. Let them show you the beauty of the mountains and what is left after decades of fighting.
Need to know: The safety situation in Afghanistan is volatile and things can change rapidly so make sure to check in advance and close to the date with your ground handler or with people you may know who live there.
You will rub shoulders with: Dare-devil travelers who want a taste for war and are fascinated by the country’s rich past and dramatic landscapes. And a fair dose of NGO staff, journalists and military personnel.
International arrivals: 14,000, World Bank
The landlocked Republic of Mali is the eighth largest in Africa whose economy centres around agriculture and mining. Its biggest export is gold and is in fact the third largest producer of this pricey metal in the continent.
The history of Mali is one of great ideas and education, centered around mathematics, astronomy, literature, and art. You’ve probably heard of the ancient city of Timbuktu, also known as the city of gold or ancient centre of learning, but you probably didn’t know that it was in Mali. The famed University of Sankhore has its roots here.
Once a French colony in the 19th century, followed by many years of one-party rule from 1960, Mali become a democratic nation in 1991.
Unfortunately, the current situation in Mali is a far cry from its previous academic prosperity due to escalating conflict between agricultural and pastoral communities who have gained help from jihadist militants since 2015. The situation, specifically in central Mali, is ongoing in 2020.
Fun fact about Mali: The inhabitants of Mali are a pretty young bunch with 67% of its population being under the age of 25 in 2017.
Things to do/see in Mali: Most of your time will be spent visiting ancient sites and soaking up the local culture. Probably the most impressive structure is the Great Mud Mosque of Djenne, the largest mudbrick building in the world, and the Bandiagara Escarpment Cliff Dwellings which are home carved into the mountains.
Need to know: Mali is currently on the Tier 2 Watch List for trafficking.
You will rub shoulders with: French military personal helping to fight against the terrorist groups.
International arrivals: 6,000, Source
Turkmenistan is as secretive as North Korea but even a step beyond in terms of adulation of its leader, if that was even possible. Visiting can only be done with an approved tour and you cannot leave the marble capital of Ashgabat without one.
Even if you are allowed to walk around the capital alone, don’t expect to see any locals. The grand city is practically empty, its pristine, gold and marble streets devoid of any life. If there was ever an apocalyptic event that killed humanity, the world would look like Ashgabat.
Fun fact: Apparently you need to pass a test about a book written by the leader to get your driving license and the days of the week are named after him and his mother.
What to see or do: Turkmenistan’s most famous sight is directly related to its wealth: Darvaza crater. This forever burning crater is similar to what you see in Azerbaijan: escaping natural gas, of which the country has reserves, burning permanently day and night.
The capital is another obvious highlight, if only because of how bizarre it is, but give it a bit more time and you can explore the UNESCO listed cities of Nisa and Merv both along the ancient Silk Route.
Need to know: You need a visa and while it is not impossible or hard to get (you can simply request an LOI in advance and from the distance via your tour company), some have reported difficulties and rejections. There is no freedom of expression or the media so watch what you say.
You will rub shoulders with: Probably the hardiest of travelers visiting all the countries in the world and others with an interest in history, the Silk Route and Central Asia. Unlike other unknown countries, Turkmenistan does not see the usual suspects such as journalists (banned) or aid personnel (banned too) and there is little international business so the few visitors are mostly real tourists.
International arrivals: 7,100 visitors, World Bank
Pronounced “Kiribas”, this group of islands in the Central Pacific is one of the most remote and therefore one of the least visited countries in world. It’s also at danger of disappearing as a result of global warming. The islands are basically sinking as they lack any elevation.
Fun fact about Kiribati: Kiribati sits at the four corners of the world. It straddles the Equator and spans the international Date Line which is dented so that all the islands can be on the same day so it has parts in the northern and southern hemisphere and at either side of the Date Line. To fly from Tarawa, the capital, to Kirimati or Christmas Island, requires a stop over in Fiji.
Things to do/see in Kiribati: Unless you are interested in fishing or diving it is unlikely that you will find much else to do. The atolls or islands that make up the country are largely flat sandbanks, so low level that the country is at risk of disappearing under the rising waters. In fact, two of the islands did in 2009. Expect fluffy white sand beaches with transparent warm waters.
Need to know: The country name is pronounced Kiribas as “ti” is “s” in I-Kiribati language. Traveling within Kiribati is difficult and expensive as there are limited options available and only 1 flight a week with Nauru Airlines and Fiji Airways each to Tarawa and one fight a week connecting Kiritimati Island with Fiji and Hawaii. Although the country extends over 3,5million sq km, the land mass is only 800 sq km so 99% of Kiribati is water.
You will rub shoulders with: Fishing fanatics and travelers who have been everywhere including all the unknown countries on this list. You could be the only tourist in Tarawa if you visit.
International arrivals: 6,800, World Bank
Several of the countries on this list are in the Pacific and the Marshall Islands is another one of them.
Made of over 30 coral atolls and 1,000 islands, this is the Maldives of the Pacific but don’t expect any high-end resort. It became independent from US administration in 1986 after decades as a UN Trust Territory so it is one of the youngest countries in the world.
Fun fact about the Marshall Islands: Although some of the islands have appealing names like Bikini Atoll, the US conducted several nuclear tests in the area between 1958 and 1962 which left the islands as “the most contaminated place in the world”, according to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Another atoll, Kwajalein, is closed off from civilians as it is the site of a US missile testing facility. Locals are called Marshallese.
Things to do/see in the Marshall Islands: The best place to enjoy island life is Arno Atoll, about 9km from Majuro, the capital, and the only islands that are easily reached by boat. Majuro is sadly polluted and does not offer much, so escaping to Arno is a must.
Here you will enjoy sandy beaches with fluffy sand and clear waters. The rest of the atolls are mostly uninhabited and not reachable via scheduled service since Air Marshall Islands started to suffer financial distress.
Need to know: This is a truly hard to reach place as there are only flights from Hawaii and Guam (on the same route), Nauru (erratic), and Fiji. It is best to bundle a trip to Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae (also on this list) and Guam as United Airlines connects them all. Or go from Fiji, though prices are usually high. Nauru Airlines service from Brisbane via Nauru, Tarawa and Pohnpei is more reliable these days but can be expensive.
You will rub shoulders with: Military personnel linked to the testing facilities and those in transit between other Pacific islands. Travelers visiting all the countries in the world. Few people come here to genuinely visit.
International arrivals: 4,000, Source 2018 data
Once an important trading passage through the Sahara, Mauritania is currently one of the least traveled countries especially since recent violence and attacks against foreigners in 2017 renewed negative travel advisories from the French Government, the no.1 tourism country of origin. Parts of Mauritania’s richest past are being engulfed by the desert sand, ever present and anxiously waiting to consume it all.
Mauritania is not one of the safest countries but with care and planning you can visit it safely. Since 2018, tourism figures are finally climbing up and tours have returned. The French Government has relaxed its travel advisory, changing from red to orange and group tours are returning. Although in December 2019 US Department of State did advise against visiting areas that are closer to the Mali border due to active insurgency and cross-border attacks.
This West African country is made of nomadic tribes that still live like they did in the middle ages. Read government’s travel advisories carefully for unsafe parts such the border with Mali where the terrorist threat is highest.
Fun fact about Mauritania: Have you ever heard of the capital of Mauritania? The funniest name in Trivia – Nouakchott.
Things to do/see in Mauritania: Mali’s safer cousin is a fine example of desert landscapes. Visit the UNESCO listed Banc d’Arguin National Park for a sea of dunes similar to Namibia, migratory birds, seals, dolphins, whales and rich marine life – all to yourself.
Transport yourself to the time of the Saharan caravan trade through the desert in the four UNESCO listed desert villages in the Adrar region that rise from the dunes like sand castles. Chinghetti is home to ancient manuscripts and, if you find it, Mauritania has a huge monolith in the desert called Ben Amera. And for the adventure of a lifetime, ride the ore train.
Need to know: Infrastructure is bare and non-existent so you might want to consider a DIY self-driving camping trip. This is the desert, so, similar to visiting other countries on this list such as Djibouti, be prepared to find sand everywhere weeks after returning home. Mauritania is a strict Muslim dry country so there is no alcohol.
You will rub shoulders with: Camel traders and Bedouin tribes wrapped in white linen protecting themselves from the sun and the wind. Gold miners in the dessert, and the truly adventurous.
International arrivals: 2,700, World Bank
If you thought the Marshall Islands were remote and quiet, wait until you hear about Tuvalu, one of the few genuinely least known countries on this list. WWII brought an airstrip to Tuvalu and gave the islands the chance to be connected with the rest of the world if only twice weekly on a service from Fiji. And a place to play volleyball!
Sadly Tuvalu has been making the headlines recently because of the effects of climate change. The low-lying atoll is slowly sinking and has been the center of the 2019 Pacific Forum Leaders Meeting, and the heated discussions between Australia and the Pacific nations on coal mining and its effects on the environment and rising temperatures.
Fun fact about Tuvalu: As there are only two flights a week from Suva to Tuvalu with Air Fiji, the unfenced airstrip is used as a public park and sports ground with locals gathering to play football when the sun loses its strength. The only place in the world you can do that on an international runway.
Things to do/see in Tuvalu: This is where you can truly have a South Pacific adventure with deserted islets, beaches without any footprints and wild palm trees bloated with coconuts at the Funafuti Conservation Area about a half an hour boat ride from the main island. The main island of Funafuti is sadly a bit polluted and eroded from the effects of climate change.
Need to know: Transportation does not exist, so hitch a ride with a local or rent a scooter or car (a local will let you borrow theirs). Bring all the money you will need as there are no ATMs and credit cards are not accepted. The country is at risk of disappearing under the rising waters, so hurry up!
You will rub shoulders with: It is unclear whether you will actually see anyone else on Tuvalu seeing as only 4-5 visitors are on the island at any given point (I saw none!), so consider it an opportunity to meet the locals and let them guide you through their country or invite you to Sunday church. Truly one of the least touristy countries on this list that tourists can actually enjoy.
International arrivals: Less than 1,000, Own estimate
Nauru is an island in the Central Pacific right on the Equator and 4,000km northeast of Sydney. It is best known as a phosphate rock island and the place where Australia’s refugees are sent to await being processed. With a tiny population of less than 10,000 people this is also the smallest countries in the world.
Fun fact about Nauru: Nauru has a total land area of 21 sq km. That is half a Marathon so you could run it all in a couple of hours or walk it in a day. If you drive around it (It is really hot to walk), it will take you 30min.
Things to do/see in Nauru: There isn’t anything to see per se in Nauru. Flights come in and out for either a two or seven day stay and you are best spending two days, unless you want to be isolated from the world for a week and just read a few books. It’s also an expensive place so the shorter the better.
Need to know: Getting a visa to Nauru is a bit of a mission since officially there aren’t any places to do so. Your best bet is phoning/emailing Nauru Airlines or emailing Nauru’s Director of Immigration, well known among the hardy traveler community.
You will rub shoulders with: Nobody else, really. The country averages a couple of tourists at a time, that is, you. The rest of international arrivals are either locals, some businessmen in the phosphate industry and those working in the refugee centers.
Tourists: Less than 1,000, Visit Guinea Ecuatorial
If there was public data available, Equatorial Guinea would probably top the list of the least visited countries in the world in the sense of tourism per se, together with Nauru and Somalia but is an anomaly in many other ways.
According to the only local tour company, Visit Equatorial Guinea, there are practically no tourists. In fact, the owner is the source for the visitor figure quoted here. He estimated that no more than 150 people visit a year, although other foreigners also come for oil-related business reasons. Visas are expensive and hard to get, easiest for Spanish in Madrid or in Cameroon and Gabon for most.
Fun fact about Equatorial Guinea: The country used to be a Spanish colony, the only one in Africa, and so, Spanish is still widely spoken. It is also an extremely wealthy country (country not people) with large oil reserves giving it one of the highest per capita GDPs in Africa, comparable to European countries, if only made of wide discrepancies between the rich and the poor.
Things to do/see in Equatorial Guinea: The capital, Malabo, is quaint and full of colonial heritage. It is also located on Bioko Island, off the mainland, and near a thick rainforest and the country’s highest peak rising to over 3,000m. This is a country you come to see endemic primates like chimps and even gorillas, just don’t expect any tourism infrastructure. Monte Alen National Park has elephants, leopards and lots of birds.
Need to know: Monitor the political situation as the country is known for being unstable and for coups to take place suddenly. Planning well ahead is necessary because the visa may require you to visit neighbouring countries or bring unusual paperwork like criminal records if you hold specific passports (US and Chinese get it for free).
You will rub shoulders with: Oil workers and their families. The local agency told me nobody goes there, so the only visitors are most likely travelers trying to visit all the least visited countries in the world.
Less than 1,000, Own estimate
It makes me really sad to see Yemen on this list knowing the reasons why, because it is one of the most beautiful countries I ever visited. Unfortunately the current humanitarian crisis and security situation has deteriorated significantly since March 2015 and traveling to Yemen right now is not only difficult but also unsafe.
There are currently no commercial flights to the mainland due to the imposition of a no-fly zone and blockade by the Saudi-led forces fighting Shiite rebels. Because of this, the only way to get into Yemen mainland is via the Omani border (more stable than the Saudi border). But you can fly to the UNESCO-listed island of Socotra from Cairo once a week.
Fun fact: Socotra’s otherworldly landscapes are the result of full isolation for thousands of years and are not found anywhere else. Sanaa is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and a fine example of vertical architecture
What to see or do: Socotra, the easiest to visit at the moment, is relatively safe and a UNESCO-listed island with stunning one-of-a-kind vegetation and landscapes. You will have to spend a week there because flights run once a week only.
Sanaa, the capital, it also UNESCO listed and it is one of the most impressive places you will ever see. The white and red wind-house style architecture found in Yemen is breathtaking. I only hope there will be a lot left after the war ends.
Need to know: The security situation needs to be closely monitored and can worsen at any time. It is advisable to travel below the radar to minimise risk of kidnapping, even in Socotra.
You will rub shoulders with: Really hardy travelers and those visiting every country in the world. Media and international aid is also limited.
Number of visitors: Less than 1,000, Own estimate
The world’s youngest country, South Sudan, opens the list of the least visited countries in the world. I visited before it became an independent country on 9 July, 2011. This is when it was still part of Sudan where I was working, and the images of the capital, Juba, remain engraved in my mind.
The potholed road that linked the city to the airport took us on a ride that felt like dune bashing in Dubai. The bareness of the infrastructure, with hotels inside container boxes, and the lack of any sites cannot be compared to any other place.
Fun fact about South Sudan: The first baby born on the day the country became independent was called just that, Independence.
Things to see/do in South Sudan: The instability that preceded and continued with independence means that not many tourists visit this country. The number of visitors you see are usually NGO personnel, journalists in search of a story and a few business people who are looking for opportunities in the new land.
If you manage to find someone who will take you there, and the curfews and controls allow you, visit Nimule National Park or Boma National Park for a safari, or the wetland area of the Sudd. Years of conflict have taken a toll on wildlife which has been poached and eaten for survival. The largest animal migration occurs in South Sudan, but contrary to the situation in the Serengeti or Masai Mara, you will be the only one there.
Need to know: Kidnappings of foreigners are common. The security situation is concerning, so be aware of the risks, which unlike other places, are real in South Sudan. Given the current situation, it is also unlikely that you can enjoy any of its sites as there is nil infrastructure and refuge camps are sadly some of the largest and growing.
You will rub shoulders with: NGO personnel and adventurous, brave entrepreneurs who are seizing all the opportunities a new and bare country provides and those visiting all the countries in the world.
International arrivals: Less than 1,000, Own estimate
Somalia is not your everyday vacation spot. It is one of the world’s most dangerous countries plagued by political infighting, violence, and terrorism. Governments across the world also advise their citizens to avoid traveling to the country, for fear of kidnapping or attack.
However, the country still officially controls Somaliland which is a relatively peaceful region that has been aiming for independence and to become a separate state for years. Visiting Somaliland is relatively easy and safe. You can read all about Somaliland’s safety in my post about it.
Fun fact about Somalia: The United Nations World Tourism Organization has never recorded the number of people who visit Somalia since it started collecting data on tourism in 1995. As this is a very unique country which has pretty much been in chaos and lack of government since 1991, it is pretty fascinating to visit. Read more interesting facts about Somaliland.
Things to do/see in Somalia: Somalia’s reputation as a tourist destination with pristine beaches completely disintegrated following the start of the civil war in 1991. However, if you want to visit, I recommend going to Somaliland instead which is safee, with few terrorist attacks and with a few interesting things to do like visiting the Laas Geel cave paintings.
Need to know: As of 2016, any traveler who has been to Somalia will no longer be eligible for ESTA waiver program to enter the US and will have to go through the regular visa application process including an interview. Consider this in case you need to travel to the US, as it is not clear whether they will approve your visa.
You will rub shoulders with: Private security, Army personnel and journalists in search of a story. In Somaliland, a bit safer, you might find some adventurous travelers trying to visit all the least known countries.
Other unknown countries
Apart from the least visited countries in the world, there are also several other unknown countries which receive a more significant amount of international arrivals but which may come from a limited amount of countries (e.g. most visitors to North Korea come from China) or for work (e.g. the military in Djibouti).
These countries used to be among the least visited in our last edition but are no longer because of increasing numbers. However, we have decided to leave them because they are either really unknown to most or expected on this list.
International arrivals: 80,000, World Bank
Spending four days exploring the best things to see in Djibouti is still one of my most favourite trips to date. Djibouti is one of the most unknown countries. Even hardcore travelers don’t know where to place it on a map. I bet you cannot state one fact about this tiny country in the Horn of Africa.
Contrary to what most may think given its location, there are no wars, no refugees, no political unrest, but also no tourists in Djibouti. And this is a shame because the country is a treasure trove of otherworldly landscapes and geological surprises.
Fun fact about Djibouti: Djibouti is a very unique place with aspirations of becoming “the Dubai of Africa” and a large contingent of army personnel from several countries including the US permanently stationed there, but there are many more cool facts about Djibouti.
What to see/do in Djibouti: Spend a week to cover it all. Drive through the desert to Lake Abbe, a dried out lake that is filled with quick sand, piping natural chimneys that steam gas from the center of the Earth, as well as French legion soldiers in training.
Float on Lake Assal, the lowest point in Africa that has a higher salt percentage than the Red Sea, you can indeed float completely alone. I guarantee nobody else will be bathing in this huge lake on the day you visit, or even the days after/before. Swim with whale sharks in season. Eat grilled fish or nutella pancakes. Spend time in the crystal clear waters of Moucha Island.
Need to know: Most nationalities used to be able to get visas on arrival but this is changing so check the latest situation. And beware, this is the largest army base in Africa for many countries so security is tight and army personnel is everywhere. Don’t do anything suspicious when visiting this least visited country, like bringing a drone…
You will rub shoulders with: The French Legion, US soldiers and Somali pirates who seek refuge in Djibouti’s waters all for good measure.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – North Korea
International arrivals: 100,000 (mostly from China), own estimate in talks with tour operators
It is unsurprising that the world’s most secretive country is part of this list of the least visited countries although is neither difficult nor expensive to visit North Korea. If you want to, it is pretty easy although I would not recommend spending more than 6 days in North Korea.
Yet, Americans can’t go since the 2017 incident involving the death of an American student (this ban has been extended in 2019), and other Westerners visit in small numbers. The vast majority of visitors to the DPRK (possibly 90%) are Chinese so it remains one of the most unknown countries in the West.
North Korea is a controlled state, and you should be extra careful, especially when you take photos which you will surely want to do since the country makes for some incredible shots.
Completely isolated from the outside world for the last 70+ years, the Hermit Country feels and looks like it has remained unchanged since the Korean War ended. Infrastructure is limited and farmers still work the fields with hand sickles and mules.
These ancient farming methods have caused many famines. Images of the leaders, known for their iron fists and grandeur, are everywhere and the admiration by the population is extreme.
Fun fact about North Korea: There are many interesting facts about North Korea, although they are not necessarily fun. to summarise it in one sentence: time has stood still in the DPRK. As a foreigner you will be chaperoned and never left alone and this can be unsettling and make you feel claustrophobic.
Things to do/see in North Korea: There are a lot of things to do and see in North Korea and you can tailor your trip to your taste knowing that there is one stop that will be required and is mandatory for all tourists: The Mausoleum of the Leaders or Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.
Visiting and paying your respects is expected of all tourists and you should dress up. Visit the other side of the De-militarized Zone and the wall is pretty interesting too. North Korea also has a rich history dating pre-modern times and a few UNESCO sites, a couple of which have only opened to the public recently. And don’t miss the Mass Games which have returned in the summer of 2019.
Need to know: There are a lot of rules one needs to follow when visiting North Korea. Taking photos or video is allowed but you are best to ask the guides every time just to be sure. You will be watched, by your two guides and driver as well as by the Intelligence service, guaranteed.
Surprisingly, the hotel had a TV set with international uncensored channels like the BBC. You are not allowed to walk around in the street or talk to the locals, so once the day ends and you are dropped at your hotel you must stay there until you are picked up the next day.
You can travel in a group or book an independent tour like I did just for me and my friend. Booking your own allows you to tailor the trip to what you want to see or do. This is a highly controlled regime where locals have no freedom but they still have fun dancing, singing and going to the amusement park.
The guides come in pairs so they watch you and each other. As you are never alone and the regime is known for taking strict measures on tourists offending them, you may feel like you can’t speak your mind for the whole time you are there. You probably shouldn’t.
Traveling to North Korea requires a trip to China and a connection via plane or train from there. Your visa will be given in an external paper by your travel agent in Beijing and you will give it back to the airport personnel when you depart.
Your passport will be with your local tour guide the whole time, not with you, so be prepared to a degree of curtailing of your personal freedom that you probably have never experienced before.
You will rub shoulders with: Chinese elders looking for a glimpse into their youth when China was still a true communist country, and Chinese students. But you are only going to see them at the Mausoleum or the DMZ. Everywhere else, you will not interact with any other tourist. Restaurants separate each tourist group from the rest.
International arrivals: 145,000, World Bank
Moldova is landlocked and surrounded by unstable Ukraine and Romania. Although it used to be one of the world’s least visited countries in our last edition, the increase in number of tourism has taken it off the list. It must be thanks to a haven of wineries and rolling hills.
A large group of Roma gypsies still live in the country and Romanian is the official language, though Russian is widely spoken. This is a largely peaceful yet unstable country with internal disputes and proximity to Ukraine so keep an eye on travel advisories.
Fun fact about Moldova: The country is home to Milestii Mici, the biggest wine collection in the world with over 1.5 million bottles according to the Guinness World record and 200km of underground tunnels.
Things to do/see in Modova: You should of course visit all the wineries, many of which, together with Milestii, are famous for being huge or producing famous wines. After the wine, visit Orheiul Vechi (also known as Old Orhei), a 13th century Cave Monastery, to purge your sins. There are several other caves worth exploring.
Need to know: In 1992, the northern region of Transnistria, located on the border with Ukraine, declared independence and has since been managed as such by the local militia government without recognition of any other state. As a result, if you find yourself there, you will not have any consular support and will find yourself back in the era of the Soviet Union.
You will rub shoulders with: Wine lovers as Moldova, despite being in Europe, is one of the least known countries except for those looking for an ideal, pastoral wine retreat.
After compiling this list of the least visited countries in the world I realised there were a few surprises for me. For example, what about countries that I thought nobody visited like Chad, Central African Republic or Niger, did you even know they existed?
Most of the countries on this list are firmly off the grid. Receiving much less than 0.1% of the visitors you still have 24 countries where you can get offline without any crowds.
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