Monday 23 September 2019

The least visited country on each continent - and why you should go

Want to escape the crowds on your next trip? These gems are as hidden as can be, says Luke Rix-Standing.

Rocca della Guaita fortress, San Marino. iStock/PA.
Rocca della Guaita fortress, San Marino. iStock/PA.
A bay in St Vincent. iStock/PA.
PA File Photo of an aerial view of the Kaieteur Falls in the Hinterland, Guyana. Chris Radburn/PA.
Tuvalu International Airport. iStock/PA.
St Vincent and the Grenadines. iStock/PA.
A private beach near Moroni, Comoros. iStock/PA.
A mountaintop farm in East Timor. iStock/PA.

Luke Rix-Standing

Modern holidays place tremendous value on getting off the beaten track, and it sometimes seems that the most coveted commodity for today's tourists is staying as far away from each other as possible.

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It sounds obvious, but if you really want somewhere not-too-touristy, go somewhere that doesn't have many tourists.

We looked at the least visited country from each continent - based on the latest annual visitor figures compiled in 2017 by the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) - and found a collection of tourist-neglected nations with plenty to offer intrepid travellers.

Looking for authentic experiences away from the usual tourist trail? Here they are...

1. North America - St Vincent & the Grenadines - 76,000

A bay in St Vincent. iStock/PA.

From the same island chain as Aruba, Antigua and Barbados, this 32-piece archipelago comes complete with sun, sand and salsa.

Thatched beach huts rise over azure seas, emerald palms stand guard above sparkling sands, and colourful corals glint alluringly beneath the waves. It's no shocker that tropical islands have amazing beaches - the shock is that these ones have been neglected for so long.

The limited tourist infrastructure perhaps explains the relatively low visitor count (although with a new international airport - watch this space), but also results in an unspoiled charm rare in this strip of sea. Otherwise, St Vincent is a production-line Caribbean paradise - and we mean that in the best possible way.

2. Europe - San Marino - 78,000

Rocca della Guaita fortress, San Marino. iStock/PA.

A teeny-tiny microstate encased in Northern Italy, San Marino has the population of Brentford, and the floor space of Woking. Nevertheless, it packs plenty of national pride, and with roots dating back to the 4th century AD, it claims to be the world's oldest existing republic.

With hilltop fortresses, duty-free shopping and panoramic views from the peak of Monte Titano, there's plenty to reward the modern tourist. The problem is that most of them don't know it's there.

The irony is that it's proportionally still quite well-trodden. Around 78,000 tourists is a paltry intake, but it dwarfs the native population by more than two to one.

3. South America - Guyana - 247,000

PA File Photo of an aerial view of the Kaieteur Falls in the Hinterland, Guyana. Chris Radburn/PA.

Narrowly beating out next door neighbour Suriname as South America's least visited nation, Guyana is not so much under-touristed, as under-populated full stop. Fewer than 800,000 people fill an area larger than Britain, most of it coated in a thick layer of Amazonian jungle.

No surprises then, that the biodiversity is simply breathtaking. Giant anteaters prowl the forest floor, sloths slowly navigate low-hanging branches, and hook-beaked harpy eagles dive-bomb the canopy above. If you're particularly lucky, you might even spot a jaguar.

There are few roads, so tours employ a mixture of planes, riverboats and good old-fashioned trekking to hop between traditional tribal communities. The screensaver attraction is Kaieteur Falls - the largest single-drop waterfall in the world, which despite its record-setting status is virtually selfie-seeker-free.

It's also the only country in South America to have English as its native tongue, and the locals are famously friendly and helpful.

4. Africa - Comoros - 28,000

A private beach near Moroni, Comoros. iStock/PA.

Bar a few big exceptions - South Africa, Kenya, Morocco - African tourism has yet to fully penetrate the mainstream, so to be its least-visited country is quite a feat. Comoros is tiny, and miles under the radar.

Shaped and reshaped repeatedly by the eruptions of Karthala Volcano, main island Grande Comore is a photogenic cocktail of black volcanic rock and dazzlingly bright white sand. A ferry ride to Moheli Island yields one the world's premier turtle nesting sites, and seasonal visitors are all but guaranteed sightings by land and by sea.

The capital city, Moroni, is a rickety jumble of spiky minarets and crumbling colonial facades, headed up by the 13th century Badjanani Mosque.

Untouched by foreign investment and so cheap it's almost uncomfortable, most current tourists are curiosity-seekers in search of adventure and oddity. And that is exactly the appeal.

5. Asia - Timor-Leste - 74,000

A mountaintop farm in East Timor. iStock/PA.

Go back a few years and it's easy to see why Timor-Leste is not a regular on international bucket lists. At the turn of the millennium, the not-yet-nation was engaged in a bitter independence struggle against Indonesia, and has only been a sovereign state since 2002.

Now peaceful if not prosperous, the island's pristine reefs, jungle caves and misty mountain trails sit waiting for a tourism influx that just hasn't come. Capital city Dili is a tranquil waterfront town perfect for evening strolls, with a smattering of museums and memorials.

To travel in Timor-Leste is to enter a world without tourism, and by land or sea the biodiversity is of the very highest level. Consider the accurate motto of the Timorese tourist board: "Discover the unexplored."

6. Oceania - Tuvalu - 2,000

Tuvalu International Airport. iStock/PA.

The third smallest sovereign state in the world - behind only the Vatican and fellow South Pacific minnow Nauru - this Polynesian nano-nation makes San Marino look like NYC. Some 200 miles of ocean separate Tuvalu from its nearest neighbour, and its 11,000 residents huddle along tiny strips of land carving a narrow path through the sea.

The island is so small, and flights so irregular, that the runway is used as a football pitch and play area by local children.

Getting there is a quest of Arthurian proportions, but your reward is a feeling of almost total isolation, and beaches beyond your wildest dreams.

Unfortunately, there may be trouble in paradise. The whole country has a high point of 15ft, and Tuvalu ranks alongside the Maldives as one of the nations most threatened by climate change.

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