A recent online article has uncovered the top ten least visited places in the world. A land covered mainly by desert, Turkmenistan was until 2006 ruled by the dictator Niyazov, famous for renaming the months after his own family, banishing dogs from the capital and outlawing opera. His successor is altogether less eccentric, and gradually more are coming to discover some very hospitable locals, the world’s finest carpets and the spectacular fires of the Darvaza gas crater, known as ‘The Door to Hell’.
Afghanistan’s plight needs no introduction: the country has been ravaged by conflict since 1979, and with NATO troops due to exit in 2014, there is a real possibility of a re-emergence of the Taliban. Terrorism and kidnapping are rife, and many areas highly unsafe. A great shame, as Afghanistan has some world treasures like the Jam Minaret, Khyber Pass and Panjshir Valley.
An island nation between Mozambique and Madagascar, the three islands of Comoros have a rich heritage: Swahili settlers, Arab merchants and Portuguese traders have all left their influence. More recent history has been blighted by coups, but Comoros’s appeal is undiminished: highlights include vanilla and clove plantations, the world’s largest active volcano, idyllic beaches and hiking in rainforests.
Sao Tome & Principe
Why these two islands in the Gulf of Guinea get so few visitors is something of a mystery. Those who do make it will find secluded beaches, orchids galore in the rainforests of the Obô National Park, faded colonial plantations, laid-back fishing villages and some of the world’s best chocolate. Presumably those who have been prefer to keep it a secret?
A country of a thousand islets in the North Pacific, the Marshall Islands was occupied by the US after World War II and used for nuclear weapons testing (as a consequence the island of Bikini remains uninhabitable). Away from the contaminated areas, it’s one of the world’s top destinations for beaches, reef diving and sports fishing. Expect an expensive flight.
Home to the South Pacific’s largest marine reserve, the 33 atolls of Kiribati stretch 4000km across the ocean. Communities are on the whole very traditional, the economy highly dependent on coconuts and fish, and the pace of life horizontal. Snorkelling, diving and fishing are first-rate; travel connections less so.
A cluster of nine islands north of Fiji, Tuvalu is the country perhaps most threatened by global warming (its highest point is a little over 4 metres above sea level). Getting there is half the fun – there is one flight service, often delayed by days – but your patience will be rewarded with postcard-worthy beaches and perfect coral atolls.
Political instability, decades of infighting between rival militias, the threat of kidnapping and widespread famine make Somalia a no-go area for tourists at present. There is some hope though: In August 2012 Somalia’s first formal parliament in two decades was sworn in, and open warfare in Mogadishu has for now ceased.
If you can somehow get a visa, aren’t too riled by constant hassle from the police and military, and are willing to overlook its appalling human rights record, Equatorial Guinea offers a spectacular wildlife reserve in Monte Alen National Park, and a chance to see turtles hatching on Boiko island. Most famous resident? Eric the Eel.
The world’s smallest republic at 8 square miles, this minuscule Pacific island is the only country without a capital city. Given that much of the island is devoted to phosphate mining, only one airline flies there and you’ll need a visa, it’s easy to see why it takes the crown. Nice beaches though.