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  • Writer's pictureGunnar Garfors

The 25 Least Visited Countries in the World

“The Burning Crater” or “The Door to Hell” in Darvaza, Karakum in Turkmenistan. Photo by Marius Arnesen.

Are you up for going on that unique trip that almost no one has done before you? The problem might just be finding the right destination. The least visited country in the world may not be the one you would think.

By: Gunnar Garfors who visited every country, set seven travel world records and wrote “How I Ran Out of Countries”, a book about it all. Instagram: @garfors / Twitter: @garfors.

I have conducted thorough research through visits to all 198 countries of the world – and even written a book about it. It came out in English in July, 2015. The reason or the extensive travelling? To figure out where I eventually want to go on proper holiday. I often wondered which countries are the very least visited ones. Remoteness, visa regulations, governments, available travel information and how many visitors I see on my travels give me a certain idea, but what do the statistics say? If they even exist. And where can I find such official statistics?

UNWTO, World Tourism Organization has a pretty good overview. Some countries, especially some of which are likely to receive very few visitors per year, are still left out, which means that the information must be found elsewhere. I have found info on the remaining ones from various sources, such as newspaper articles or independent travel reports. Do also note that such statistics will never be entirely accurate. Some countries only measure tourists arriving by air, others only track boat arrivals, yet others base their info on information from hotels. And some people on business still say that they are in a country as a tourist to avoid extra bureaucracy.

The 25 least visited countries of the world follow below. The most visited of those has 73,000 foreign tourists in a year, the least visited less than 200. That is way behind number one, France, with 79.5 million annual foreign visitors:

25. Dominica: 73,000 tourists (2011, UNWTO)

This gentleman sells coconuts next to the airport.

Why so few? The island nation is rather small without too many tourist facilities. The only commercial airport cannot handle big aircraft, so the nation is served by propellor planes only.

Why you may still want to visit The jungle provides refuge for a great number of birds and animals. And the rural feel of the island nation makes it feel anything but touristy, exactly what you may be looking for.

What else Do not confuse Dominica with Dominican Republic. Both countries are in the Carribean, but they are very different. Buy coconuts from salesmen by the road and eliminate your thirst. Just know how to haggle or you will be ripped off.

24. Chad: 71,000 tourists (2010, UNWTO)

Me with a policeman and a salesman of audio cassettes.

Why so few? There’s political instability and unrest in this landlocked and dry country. Rebels make large parts of the country less than safe.

Why you may still want to visit You find the biggest rocks in the world in Chad, although you should hire armed guards in 4WD vehicles to go there due to robbers that sometimes go violent. It’s amazing for climbing! The capital N’Djamena is a big market town with some impressive governmental buildings.

What else Mastercard is not accepted in Chad, so bring cash or a Visa card.

23. Central African Republic: 54,000 tourists (2010, UNWTO)

Why so few?

The landlocked country isn’t really famous for much. It is one of the poorest in Africa.

Why you may still want to visit Do go by boat on one of the many rivers in the countries. And relax in semi-modern Bangui where you’ll find French cuisine and a bakery.

What else Do not take photos of locals unless they give you permission to do so. Or risk facing a threatening mob.

22. Liechtenstein: 53,000 tourists (2011, UNWTO)

Why so few? There’s no airport in the landlocked neighbour of Switzerland and Austria. There’s a heliport though, so if you are among those with a bank account here you may still come and leave airborne. Most visitors are presumably on business thanks to the secretive bank system and the low corporate taxes.

Why you may still want to visit Amazing mountains that are great for skiing and hiking. Do not miss Balzers Castle if you’re into stacked rocks.

What else Don’t stay too long here, or you may go bored. The country is tiny.

21. Djibouti: 53,000 tourists (2008, UN)

Why so few? A dry and dirty place. There’s rubbish all over the small desert country that is no one’s typical destination.

Why you may still want to visit The scuba diving is amazing, although not very affordable. There are plenty of French soldiers around if that may appeal to you. That also means a lively nightlife scene every weekend. The lowest point in Africa is also in the country. Lake Assal is 157 meters below sea level.

What else There are some mean looking helicopters on the airport which doubles as a military airfield. You may be able to witness some action there.

20. Sierra Leone: 52,000 tourists (2011, UN)

Taxi, Sierra Leone style.

Why so few? Have you heard anything good about this country recently?

Why you may still want to visit You will discover some of the most amazing beaches in Africa and great hospitality. You can find pretty much anything at the markets in Freetown.

What else Getting to and from the airport is a pain. You will have to go by one of three boat options taking 30-60 minutes to Freetown or splash out on a chartered helicopter that may or may not be operational. One of the options involve travelling 12 kilometers by taxi to the car ferry port. I went for a two wheeled version.

19. Tonga 45,000 tourists (2011, UNWTO)

Blowholes on the south coast of Tonga.

Why so few? It is located in the middle of the Pacific.

Why you may still want to visit The main island is a coral surrounded by coral reefs. The diving and snorkeling is great! And there’s even a choice of airline to get here, which is unusal for island states in Oceania. Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia and Air Pacific can all take you here, making access relatively easy.

What else It’s one of the last absolute monarchies in the world. And the Tongan feasts are famous. Indulge!

18. East Timor: 40,000 tourists (2010, UN)

Why so few? The UN is still very much present here, and UN aircraft largely outnumber commercial ones. The country may still not feel safe for a lot of people.

Why you may still want to visit Fantastic scenery which is great for hiking and treking. And do not forget the scuba diving gear at home. The conditions are world class. You will also find old Portugese buildings scattered around the country and going to small villages as a foreign tourist will guaranteed make people turn heads and most likely produce smiles.

What else Getting a visa is easy for most nationals. You get it in exchange for 30USD upon arrival at the airport in Dili.

17. Bhutan: 37,000 tourists (2011, UNWTO)

Tiger’s Nest. Just do it.

Why so few? You have to go through a process to get a visa and travel permits to the country. And you will be required to have a guide with you while exploring the country.

Why you may still want to visit The mountains are stunning, so are the hiking possibilities. It is also very much a Buddhist country, something that is easily recognized by temples and monsatries, many of which are worth the visit on their own. And do not forget Tiger’s Nest. The monastry build on a small ledge of a mountain. It will take you an hour or two to hike up there, but it is so worth it.

What else You will see penises painted on many buildings around the country. They are signs of good luck, but will make some westerners go totally shy and ackward. And do watch the archery competitions. The locals know how to handle their bows.

16. North Korea: 35,000 tourists (2011, Koryo Group)

Anti-American propaganda everywhere.

Why so few? Do I really need to answer this?

Why you may still want to visit A visit to North Korea will make you redefine your definition of a country. The Truman Show, country scale, someone said. It is one of the safest countries to visit as a tourist. Crime is virually non-existent. Just ignore that everyone will think you are mad for going. It’s so worth a visit.

What else You will always be minded by two minders. Their job is to mind you and each other. Sometimes they will still need to use the facilities, so if you are lucky you may get to exchange some extra information. Do note that you will be on the receiving side of a lot of brainwashing, or should I say propaganda. North Korea is more visited than most people think, primarily because of Chinese tourists. Non-Asian visitors are rare, and I am always asked about North Korea. I am typically introduced as “the youngest hobby traveller to have visited all countries.” A typical response is still; “Have you been to North Korea?” I guess the word “all” is not properly taught in school.

15. Libya: 34,000 tourists (2008, UN)

Say no more.

Why so few? Colonel Gadaffi didn’t exactly work as a tourist magnet. He is now dead, but the unrest that has followed doesn’t invite tourists either.

Why you may still want to visit Some people like sand.

What else Libyans make great coffee! I also experienced them to be very friendly to foreigners, you may very well be invited to someone’s home for a meal. Not to be forgotten are the breathtaking ruins of Leptis Magna, an ancient city of the Roman empire only 130 kilometers from Tripoli. There is a lot to see there, although some of it is not yet excavated.

14. Guinea-Bissau: 30,000 tourists (2011, UN)

Fisherman Mike in the harbour of Bissau.

Why so few? It is a country with relatively poor infrastructure. It is not well connected by Western airlines.

Why you may still want to visit The Bijagos Islands outside Bissau is an archipelago of some twenty islands, where you may see hippos. They are pristine. Do not expect any sign of modern life. Electricity is for chickens.

What else The fish market is Bissau will so make you wanna prepare your own food. Just try to find a kitchen. And you will enjoy the Portugese style architecture. If you’re into such.

13. Mauritania: 29,000 tourists (2008, E Turbo News)

Wikimedia Commons licensed by Sebastián Losada.

Why so few? Reputation has it that Mauritania is only sand and nomads. There are no famous sights there.

Why you may still want to visit The graveyeard for ships on the northern coast is amazing and will sort you out with bizarre photo opportunities! You do not want to miss out on typical desert towns and villages.

What else Credit cards won’t work. Bring cash. You can also hitch a ride with one of the world’s longest trains with over 200 cars. It transports iron ore, but passangers can usually just jump on top of the cargo. Heavy, heavy fuel!

12. Federated States of Micronesia: 26,000 tourists (2008, UN)

Me posing in front of a stereotypical Pacific view.

Why so few? It’s far off and not very well known. United is the only airline that can take you here.

Why you may still want to visit If you like wreck diving, this is heaven thanks to fierce battles during world war II. The country is relatively poor, but also very welcoming. Great seafood!

What else US dollars is used as the currency, so you can leave your calculator at home. You can also visit Wall Mart in Colonia. it’s a supermarket slightly less famous than it’s American “competitor.”

11. Solomon Islands: 23,000 tourists (2010, UNWTO)

Why so few? Getting to and from the island nation in the Pacific is not the easiest or cheapest of tasks thanks to lack of competition. It is also a lot less famous than other neighbouring countries.

Why you may still want to visit Scuba diving, sailing and fishing.

What else Do not miss out on the fish market in Honiara. The yatch club there is great for a drink. Or a ride if you don’t agree with planes.

10. Afghanistan: 17,500 tourists (2012, New York Times)

This is actually me in Herat. Photo by Marius Arnesen.

Why so few? There’s a war. Taliban is in it.

Why you may still want to visit The mountains of Afghanistan are wild and beautiful. They are also hiding places for bandits and terrorists, so you may want to wait until it becomes a little more peaceful.

What else You’ll have a unique chance to try on a traditional blue burqa. I did for two minutes. Poor women! Do also remember to get your visa to the country you will return to in advance. Getting it inside Afghanistan may not be the easiest of tasks. Saying that you are in the country as a tourist will make you appear a liar, so do have a cover story  or be prepared to be declared less than smart.

9. Comoros: 15,000 tourists (2010, UNWTO)

A very popular activity in the harbour of Moroni.

Why so few? The guidebooks say that the islands are infected by malaria carrying mosquitos. I didn’t see any mosquitos. Hotels do anyhow have bed nets, you’ll be fine. There are not a lot of airlines flying to Comoros either.

Why you may still want to visit Great seafood, friendly people, vibrating markets and a beautiful coastline. And very friendly people.

What else Try on a beauty mask. A lot of the women there wear them. The masks do certainly not work as the name suggests while being worn. Public transport doesn’t really exist, so be prepared to raise your thumb. Private cars or minibuses will usually pick you up relatively soon.

8. Sao Tome & Principe: 8,000 tourists (2010, UNWTO)

It took me 40 hours on a cargo ship to get there.

Why you may still want to visit It’s so remote you are more or less guaranteed proper peace. And there are both stunning beaches and mountains that invite for hikes and photo oportunities. Do try the street food.

What else Bring cash and do get your return ticket sorted before you visit. You can easily walk to the airport from Sao Tome.

7. Turkmenistan: 7,000 tourists (2007, UN)

Bring hot dogs and a very long pole. By Marius Arnesen.

Why so few? The country is reputed to be the second craziest in the world. After, of course, North Korea.

Why you may still want to visit Crazy is fun! And all the police officers make you feel very safe.

What else Do visit “The Door to Hell” which is the nickname of the burning crater in Darvaza, litterally in the middle of Karakum desert. It is fantastic and well worth the 3-4 hours long drive. Just stock up on food and vodka before you go, because you will want to stay in a tent overnight near the flames. They make a comforting sound.

6. Equatorial Guinea: 6,000 tourists (2012, estimate based on World Bank figures)

Snapping any photo in Malabo is a high risk activity. Snapping a photo of armed military personell was plain stupid, but I managed to navigate fast enough by foot to avoid anything but s houting from them.

Why so few? You will need a visa to get in unless you are American. Getting a tourist visa is bureaucracy hell.

Why you may still want to visit Have you even heard about Equatorial Guinea? It is the only Spanish speaking country in Africa and having been there gives you bragging rights.

What else Do not openly take photographs of anything offical looking unless you fancy a serious discussion with police or people pretending to be police. This especially applies to the presidential palace.

5. Marshall Islands: 5,000 tourists (2011, UNWTO)

The crystal clear water invites you for swims. Here at a tiny beach 100 meters from the airport.

Why so few? Try to get there. United has a monopoly on flights and does know how to price the tickets accordingly.

Why you may still want to visit The diving at the outer atolls is world-class!

What else Do not expect to find cheap accommodation. There is virtually no crime there though, so you might as well sleep on the beach for free.

4. Kiribati: 4,700 tourists (2011, UN)

I don’t think this photo needs much of a caption.

Why so few? Most people haven’t even heard about Kiribati. It is not very well covered by airlines.

Why you may still want to visit Check out the maps and satellite photos of the islands. It’s all about beach, snorkeling, diving, fishing and water sports. If you do not like any of the above, please leave the rest of us alone and go to Turkmenistan where you’ll find the sand without the water.

What else The 33 atolls of the country are so widespread that it takes 6 hours to fly from the easternmost one to the westernmost one. By a jet plane. The accumulated area of Kiribati is still only 811 square kilometers, slightly bigger than New York City (786 square kilometers).

3. Tuvalu: 1,200 tourists (2011, UN)

The kids are playing water rugby on the runway. The country is so small that every piece of available land is being used for multiple purposes if possible. The country’s power plant in the back.

Why so few? The same applies to Tuvalu as to Kiribati. The nations are not connected by plane routes, although you can easily go from one to another by your own sail boat. Or you have to fly via Fiji. Only Air Pacific flies to Tuvalu and Kiribati.

Why you may still want to visit If sea levels do continue to rise Tuvalu is the first country to disappear, so you may be in a hurry all of a sudden. Go before you will need a submarine to do so. The government is currently looking into options that include buying land elsewhere to move their people.

What else There really isn’t much to see. The nation is so flat, that you shouldn’t expect anything but a stereotypical Pacific island nation with palm trees and beaches.

2. Somalia: 500 tourists (2012, estimate based on news articles)

Think twice before hurting yourself there. Somalian hospitals are not all what they are cracked up to be.

Why so few? War, lack of a government for many years, violent muslim extremists, sharia law. The reputation of Somalia is extremelly close to rock bottom.

Why you may still want to visit The government has started to function again. Mogadishu is now relatively safe and businesses are thriving. Turkish Airlines has even opened a direct twice weekly route from Istanbul.

What else Go to the beach just outside Mogadishu or visit the Bakaara market where you can even buy your own semi-genuine Somalian passport. You may not want to use it anywhere, though. Your travel experience doesn’t extend beyond the Bahamas, Paris or Gran Canaria, you say? First of all; Why are you reading this blog post? Secondly, do not go to Somalia!

1. Nauru: 200 tourists (2011, Crikey)

I ran around the country and saw all the beaches.

Why so few? Nauru is a tiny island nation in the Pacific. The smallest republic in the world covers only 21 square kilometers. There is almost nothing to see there as most of the island (there’s only one) is a large open phosphate mine. Only one airline serves the island. You also need a visa to be allowed in, and the country doesn’t have many embassies abroad.

Why you may still want to visit The beaches surrounding the island are beautiful and “proper” Pacific style. The coral reefs surrounding Nauru makes it great for diving or fishing. There are however only 10,000 people in the country, huge unemployment and virtually no nightlife. There are two hotels, one “posh” on the beach and one “in town.”

What else This is the only country in the world without a capital. Yaren is the biggest community, and therefore acts as the de facto capital. There’s even an internet cafe next to the police station, so you can update your statuses. The problem is that hardly anyone even heard about the place, so you are unlikely to get any praisal. Expect “Nauru? Is that upstate?” responses. Why not run around a country?

Bucket list?

So, how about this for a bucket list? And how many have you visited?  Too extreme? Find out why you should visit the 25 least populated countries in the world And do not forget to take some precautions. Here are my top 20 travel tips.

Do let me know if you have been to many of these places or if you want to go. I’d love to hear from you as we seem to share an interest in slightly unusual destinations. I’m on Twitter (@garfors).

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, may also belong here, but I have not yet  been able to find any information on tourist numbers.

And what about Tajikistan? The country had only 4,000 foreign tourists in 2000 and has appeared in travel articles as a country no one visits. However, they now claim to have had 245,000 visitors in 2012, up from 183,000 in 2011. They are either doing a great job in their tourism sector or fabricating numbers. Most visitors to the country will in any case primarily travel overland from neighbouring countries, so they are more likely to “blend-in” than western tourists. There were tourist buses on the border trying to get in from Uzbekistan when I visited in 2009. Liberia, another likely candidate for the list just missed the spot. Estimates based on UN numbers from 2008 and 2009 indicate as many as 89,000 foreign tourists per year. That’s 16,000 more than country number 25 on this list and tourism is said to increase.

How about the other end of the list?

Those of you who have read so far may actually want to visit countries that are not overrun by foreign tourists. If that is the case, you should certainly avoid the top ten (2011 figures from UNWTOUN):

1. France: 79.5 million 2. USA: 62.3 million 3. China: 57.6 million 4. Spain: 56,7 million 5. Italy: 46.1 million 6. Turkey: 29.3 million 7. UK: 29.2 million 8. Germany: 28.4 million 9. Malaysia: 24.7 million 10. Mexico: 23.4 million

Another unusual journey

Adrian (left) and me.

I am as you may have guessed sort of interested in travelling. Last year I visited five continents in one day with Adrian Butterworth, a friend and filmmaker. The manic journey was a world first, and the media went mad. World-wide.

The TV documentary is about to be finalized (March 2013). Do get in touch if you would like to see a raw edit or if you are interested in airing it. You can watch the 90 second preview here.

More travels out of the ordinary are bound to happen sooner rather than later.

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