Peaceful tropical isles, perfect jungle, little-known ancient enclaves and no crowds. We seek out some of the world’s under-visited corners that are far removed from mass tourism but even more enticing for it. With figures sourced from the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) latest report, these are the 15 least-visited countries globally. You don’t need any reasons to travel least visited countries.
TUVALU: 2,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
The least-visited place on Earth, this sun-kissed archipelago on the outer western edge of Polynesia gets just 2,000 visitors a year, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) statistics for 2016. Made up of six atolls and three islands, Tuvalu totals just 10 square miles in land area. Remote Tuvalu has a population of 9,561, with around half residing in the capital Funafuti.
This peaceful nation has no army and is an idyllic spot to disappear to where you can discover strong Polynesian culture and tradition away from resorts. Visitors that do make it here are astounded by the underwater sights they encounter on diving and snorkeling expeditions around its coral reefs and crystal clear lagoons. Yachting between the little islands is another fantastic way to pass the time.
KIRIBATI: 4,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
An independent republic made up of 33 coral atolls that stretch across the equator in the central Pacific Ocean, picturesque Kiribati has a lot to entice visitors. But strangely very few make it here, most likely due to its remoteness. It’s made up of three island groups: the Gilbert Islands (the most populated), the Phoenix Islands, and the Line Islands. Surrounded by barrier reefs, the islands’ lovely lagoons are perfect for paddling, snorkeling, and diving.
SÃO TOMÉ & PRÍNCIPE: 8,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
According to the UNWTO’s 2010 figures (the latest figures available), this tiny two-island African country in the Gulf of Guinea receives just 8,000 visitors a year. It’s Africa’s second-smallest nation, after the Seychelles, and surprisingly little visited by tour operators and independent travelers considering its abundant natural beauty. Discovered uninhabited by the Portuguese in the 1470s, today there’s a population of almost 200,000 people across the islands.
Unspoiled Príncipe, home to just 7,000 people, is arguably the most alluring of the two, with its lovely beaches, needle-like volcanic tower Pico Cao Grande (pictured) and thickly forested interior. Thanks to its rich biodiversity the island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. São Tomé also has fine beaches and dense jungle along with historic buildings – São Tomé city is renowned for its beautiful but crumbling architecture.
MONTSERRAT: 9,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
A network of hiking trails, empty beaches and a lost city make Montserrat an enticing tropical destination. But it’s the Caribbean’s least-visited isle. This is largely due to the stunning but active Soufrière Hills Volcano, which began erupting in the mid-1990s and buried the former capital Plymouth in ash, forcing over two thirds of the population to emigrate. It remains active. Today the island has just 5,000 residents.
Much of this mountainous British Overseas Territory remains off limits due to the ongoing volcanic activity – the city of Plymouth, St George’s Hill, the Soufriere Hills Volcano, and the entire south of the island are in an exclusion zone. But you can admire the volcano from various safe viewing points including Montserrat Volcano Observatory, and boat trips will take you along the coast to see the deserted remains of Plymouth.
COMOROS: 24,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
The Comoros archipelago, which lies in the Indian Ocean between the coast of Mozambique and the northernmost tip of Madagascar, had just 24,000 visitors in 2015, according to the UNWTO. Made up of three main volcanic islands – Grande Comore, Mohéli and Anjouan (with a fourth island, Mayotte, that remains part of France), it’s an enticing off-beat place with a fascinating blend of Arab and Swahili culture.
Those that make the journey, however, can plunge into the Indian Ocean to snorkel above little-explored coral reefs, hike through pristine rainforests and traverse active volcanoes. Mohéli is the smallest island but one of the most beautiful and home to the country’s only national park. When it comes to wildlife, the mongoose lemur is one of the Comoros’s biggest draws, along with other incredible species such as giant turtles and Livingstone bats – the biggest in the world.
DJIBOUTI: 51,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
This tiny east African nation lies on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Its strategic position by the Suez Canal made it a bustling trading post but it’s yet to be a big hitter on the tourism scene. However, that may change as it’s listed as one of Lonely Planet’s top places to visit in 2018 for its otherworldly beauty.
The vast saline Lake Assal is just one of the surreal sights of the country’s spectacular and extreme landscapes that range from rugged mountains and low desert plains to pristine coral reefs. It sits on the Afar Triple Junction – a meeting point for three of the Earth’s tectonic plates. Djibouti’s undeveloped beaches are appealing too, as are its waters – it’s one of the best places in the world to swim alongside the gentle giants of the deep, whale sharks.
SIERRA LEONE: 54,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
Sierra Leone may have relatively few visitors compared with other African nations but with just 24,000 tourists visiting in 2015 and 54,000 in 2016, it’s growing as a holiday destination as it leaves behind its war-torn past and the scars of the Ebola outbreak heal. And for good reason – its undeveloped coastline boasts the best beaches in west Africa. Island hopping is a fantastic way to enjoy some of the country’s gorgeous coast. Start at the Banana Islands, a short hop from capital Freetown’s harbour.
The west African nation also has a lot going for it from a tourism point of view beyond its palm-fringed beaches. It has a fascinating history and culture in abundance, while its national parks and lush rainforests are home to an array of wildlife including chimpanzees, elephants, the rare pygmy hippo, bongo antelope and gola malimbe birds.
SAN MARINO: 60,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
Set in central Italy, bordering Emilia Romagna and the Marche, this little republic is as hilly as it is historic. At just 24 square miles, it’s the third-smallest country in Europe (after the Vatican and Monaco) but bursting with charm. However, according to the UNWTO’s statistics it’s Europe’s least-visited country, with only 60,000 tourists in 2016.
Encircled by hefty medieval stone walls, the old town of the eponymous capital city has a dramatic setting on top of Mount Titano at almost 2,500 feet above sea level. Lose yourself in the traffic-free narrow streets that are dotted with historic churches, monuments, palaces and squares. Seek out a traditional restaurant to try one of the country’s other big draws – the hearty gastronomy. The tiny state’s eight other castelli, ancient small towns, are also fascinating.
TIMOR-LESTE: 66,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
The least-visited nation in Asia, according to the UNWTO’s 2016 statistics, Timor-Leste is also one of the world’s newest countries. Formerly known as East Timor, it achieved independence from Indonesia in May 2002 and remains somewhat politically unsettled. That likely explains why it sees relatively few tourists, given its abundant natural beauty and appeal for adventurous travelers.
The marine life is second to none with numerous exceptional dive sites where you’re likely to spy endangered dugong, hammerhead sharks, turtles, manta rays, frogfish and ghost pipefish. Dolphins are commonly sighted along with humpbacks and sperm whales in October and November. Away from the largely empty white sand beaches, much of the country is mountainous, with some mind-blowing hikes and exhilarating bike rides to be had among its steep green hills.
LIECHTENSTEIN: 69,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
Straight out of the pages of a fairy tale book, little Liechtenstein may be minuscule but it’s also one of the world’s richest countries. However, it had just 69,000 arrivals in 2016, making it Europe’s second least-visited country. Home to 37,000 people, the German-speaking principality sits between Switzerland and Austria and is surrounded by seriously majestic alpine scenery.
Winter sports, mountain hiking and biking are all good reasons to book a holiday in this bijou principality, as are its arts scene and beautiful fairy tale fortresses – its best-known landmark the 12th-century Vaduz Castle overlooks capital Vaduz and is the residence of the Princely Family. You can’t go inside but you can visit medieval Gutenberg Castle in the southernmost municipality of Balzers, pictured.
ANGUILLA: 79,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
Gorgeous beaches, amazing marine life and lots of lovely laidback beach bars are some of Anguilla’s highlights, but it’s surprisingly low on tourist numbers. That could be because there are no direct flights to Anguilla from the UK, despite it being a British Overseas Territory. Sadly, the numbers may take a dent this year as Anguilla was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma. Despite that, it’s well on its way to recovery with lots of hotels and resorts open for business.
The tiny island in the lesser Antilles is only 15 miles long by three miles wide but leaves a big impression on those lucky enough to holiday here. With plenty of exclusive resorts and villas, it’s become something of a celebrity hangout – Robert De Niro, Paul McCartney and Justin Bieber have all escaped here. However, there are lots of options for those on a more average budget too. It also punches above its weight on the food scene with sensational seafood and over 100 places to eat.
MOLDOVA: 121,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
The little landlocked country of Moldova, wedged between Romania and Ukraine, is Europe’s third least-visited destination. It’s also one of the poorest countries so a trip here is definitely going to be cheap. Despite its budget beer and potential for low-cost partying, Moldova is very untouristy compared with some other eastern European destinations and even more appealing for it.
Capital Chisinau is small and stark in places with its ex-Soviet architecture, but it’s not without charm – there are elegant parks, interesting museums, lively bars and smart restaurants. Just outside of the city, Orheiul Vechi (which includes an ancient cave monastery) is Moldova’s most important historical site. Its unspoilt countryside is dotted with vineyards: Moldova’s wonderful wines are another plus point of the place. And Cricova’s vast underground wine cellars are a must.
BANGLADESH: 125,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
One of the most densely-populated, poorest and ecologically-fragile countries on Earth, Bangladesh is little visited by tourists – only 125,000 tourists arrived in 2015 (the UNWTO does not have figures for 2016). But those that do make it here find that it’s an incredibly rich and rewarding destination, despite the limitations of the tourism infrastructure.
As well as a fascinating history and deep-rooted cultural traditions, it has plenty of natural assets: incredible beaches, vast wetlands (the Sundarbans are the largest mangrove forests in the world), lush jungles, pretty tea plantations, and phenomenal wildlife – if you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of a majestic Royal Bengal tiger roaming the Sundarbans, which are home to around 500. Also keep watch for dolphins and otters.
BHUTAN, ASIA: 155,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
This isolated Himalayan kingdom prides itself on keeping mass tourism away – it has sought to preserve its traditional culture and natural environment by regulating the number of visitors. It charges tourists between $200 (£150) and $250 (£186) per day to ensure the numbers stay low and those that do visit are respectful of its traditions.
This is a place to bask in the pristine natural surroundings – all mountains and monasteries where people come for peaceful high-altitude treks into the spell-binding, snow-capped Himalayas and around the country’s breathtakingly beautiful valleys.
FRENCH GUIANA: 199,000 VISITORS PER YEAR
This French department, located between Suriname and Brazil, was the least-visited country in South America. Guiana may be way off the radar for most tourists, but it’s a fascinating country with a rich Creole heritage, fantastic beaches, spectacular waterfalls and vast areas of unspoiled jungle. However, few roads and limited public transport make travel into its jungle-blanketed interior difficult and its use of the Euro means it can be an expensive place to visit.
Populous capital Cayenne has a distinct Gallic feel about it with its café culture, French cars and elegant buildings, despite the steamy climate. The tropical outpost was once the site of France’s notoriously harsh penal colonies, including Îles du Salut, a group of benign-looking off-shore islands. You can take a boat to see the particularly hellish Devil’s Island (pictured) or take a river trip along the Maroni River to Laurent du Maroni, another 19th-century prison camp that’s now a historic monument.