1. KIRIBATI, central Pacific Ocean
The far-flung Republic of Kiribati in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is widely acknowledged to be the least visited country in the world (with less than 5000 visitors last year), but ironically Adventure Travel consultant Sydel Berryman’s parents live in its capital South Tarawa, and she’s planning a trip to see them later this year. “I’m so excited, mum says the beaches on the remote side of the island are picture-postcard white sand, and the sea is turquoise blue,” says Sydel.
Kiribati’s 33 islands are scattered across a vast area of ocean, and a lack of people (around 100,000 inhabitants in total), means its visitors are often intrepid nature lovers, keen on fishing, bird-watching, diving or (like Sydel’s dad), die-hard surfers. Other travellers are drawn to Kiribati because of its rich history – some of its islands were occupied by the Japanese in WWII, and were the scene of some of the bloodiest battles during the war.
2. MOLDOVA, Eastern Europe
Moldova was famously called ‘the least happy place in the world’ in a New York bestseller last decade, but its dour image is changing as the world wakes up to its old-world charm and history. Only a three-hour flight from London, Moldova is an obscure but fascinating land-locked country between Russia and Ukraine. It’s reputedly the second-least visited country in the world, but just last month Adventure Travel consultant Yvette Park sent a Wellington couple to the obscure East European country, and they came home raving about its untapped beauty and unique history.
Named by Bloomberg as The world’s next big wine region, its underground cellars Chisinau Milestii Mici house 2 million bottles of wine and are big enough to drive a truck through.
3. LIECHTENSTEIN, Europe
Liechtenstein is a sliver of a country, snuggled between Switzerland and Austria, among the mountain ranges that rise steep and rugged above the Rhine. Only 160 square kilometres, it is one of the smallest countries in the world. German-speaking, it boasts astounding mountain scenery, great biking, hiking and winter sports and highlights such as 12th Century Vaduz Castle, the place and official residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein.
4. SAN MARINO, Europe
Picturesque San Marino is something of an enigma; only 61 square kilometres, it is a mountainous micro-nation surrounded by Italy - how it exists at all is something of a mystery. A sole survivor of Italy's once powerful city-state network, it clung on long after the more powerful kingdoms of Genoa and Venice folded. Founded in the 4th century, it is thought to be the world’s oldest surviving republic, and is known for its medieval walled town, cobblestone streets and castle-like citadels clinging high above its peaks.
5. BHUTAN, South Asia
Shrouded in magic, Bhutan is no ordinary place – as Adventure Travel consultant Yvette Park knows. Yvette travelled to the remote and impoverished Kingdom, high in the Himalayas between its powerful neighbours, India and China, ten years ago and often recommends the magical destination to clients. “It is a country like no other – clean, under-stated and rich in history and Buddhist culture.” The Bhutanese name for Bhutan, Druk Yul, means "Land of the Thunder Dragon", and Bhutan only began to open up to outsiders in the 1970s. Cut off from the rest of the world for centuries, Bhutan fiercely guards its ancient traditions and limits the number of tourists it allows each year.
6. BANGLADESH, South Asia
It may be one of the world’s least visited countries, but Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated, its population crammed into a delta of rivers that empties into the Bay of Bengal. Poverty is deep and widespread, but small-scale tourism has sprung up in the form of trekking and visits to tea plantations. Bangladesh spent 15 years under military rule and, although democracy was restored in 1990, the political scene remains volatile.
7. TIMOR-LESTE, Asia
The least visited country in Asia, Timor-Lest offers off-the-beaten track adventures with its rugged landscapes and centuries-old traditions. The eastern half of the island of Timor is surrounded by coral reefs, while the interior is dominated by mountainous forest; it’s a land without tourists and a perfect playground for adventurous divers, snorkelers and trekkers. There are a wealth of colonial buildings from the Portuguese era and an ancient cave system with paintings that date back 13,000 years.
8. BRUNEI, Asia
Brunei is a tiny nation on the island of Borneo. It has one of the world's highest standards of living thanks to its bountiful oil and gas reserves, so hasn’t turned into plentiful rainforests into palm oil plantations. Its ruling royals possess a huge private fortune and its largely ethnic-Malay population enjoy generous state hand outs and pay no taxes. A nation of contrasts, magnificent mosques contrast with haphazard water villages while the forest is home to proboscis monkeys and crocodiles.
9. TUVALU, South Pacific
Halfway between Australia and Hawaii, tiny Tuvalu has been described as a ‘daisy-chain’ made up of three islands and six coral atolls. It is one of the world’s smallest countries, its land area is a scant 26 square kilometres, yet more than half its population live on one island, Fongafale.
A remote and unspoiled corner of the Pacific, it offers magnificent lagoons, reefs and islands, but is under constant threat from rising sea levels. Tuvalu may be far-flung, but Adventure Travel manager Tim Cox has a client who has returned to its remote shores three times. Insider tip: take Australian dollars, there’s no ATM on the island, head to a local church on Sunday, the singing is heavenly, and eat at ‘3T’s restaurant in Funafuti, mains are $7 to $10 and the donut-like banana pancakes are to die for!
10. MONTSERRAT, south Caribbean
Montserrat is the least visited island in the Caribbean, probably best known for the cataclysmic eruptions of the Soufrière Hills Volcano in the 1990s, which devastated the care free little island paradise. The islands appeal lies in snorkelling, diving and small-town living, and two decades on, this modern day Pompeii is slowly recovering and tourists are starting to trickle back.
Fun fact: Montserrat was made famous as the home of Air Studios Montserrat, the recording studio founded by Beatles producer Sir George Martin in 1979. Sting, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Eric Clapton are just some of the stars who made history there. Tip: USA Today’s Travel section recommends Woodland’s beach as one of the most unrivalled beaches in the Caribbean, made up of rare soft, powdery black sand made millions of years ago as the volcano formed the island.
Have you been inspired to step off the tourist track and explore somewhere beautifully different? Or have you got another hidden gem on your travel wish list? This is the type of trip our team love to plan, so get in touch, we'd be happy to help!