by Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, September 5, 2018
Gunnar Garfors made headlines with his first book in 2014 describing how he managed to set foot in every single country on the planet by the time he turned 37.
Now, the insatiable traveller is back, having turned his focus to a select number of nations - those visited by the fewest people each year.
“Trips to the least touristy countries in the world are vastly different from any other travel experience, let alone compared to tourist hotspots such as New York, Paris and Bangkok,” says the 43-year-old Norwegian.
“There are no other tourists which means that you will not be treated like one either. People are very welcoming, and see you as a valued guest - not as someone they would rather rip off. Do expect a lot of questions on your home country, as well as on why you chose to visit.”
Garfors, who in 2012 broke a Guinness World Record by being the first person to visit five continents on one day, said that though some of the lesser-known countries have little infrastructure, they can still offer luxuries.
“There are top chefs and quality restaurants in Yemen, Eritrea and Kiribati, too,” he says. “I recently had the best lobster I ever tasted in Yemen.”
Mapped: The countries where tourists outnumber locals
Yemen, of course, is not on the radar of most UK globetrotters. Not least because the Foreign Office urges Britons to avoid all travel there. Garfors says he stayed safe by relying on the advice of local guides and contacts.
“Some or all of these countries may come across as scary to many, and I expect that I will travel on behalf of 99 per cent of my readers,” says Garfors. “If I can still inspire the remaining one per cent to at least consider a trip, then I am more than happy. Because nothing opens eyes to other people, ways of life and mindsets than travel.
“After all, those who live in the least touristy countries in the world have broad smiles and big hearts too.”
Garfos says he used figures from both the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and local statistics to uncover the least visited nations for 2017. Here, he explains why each of the 10 more undersubscribed is worth a trip. We have included notes on the Foreign Office’s travel advice where relevant.
10. Marshall Islands, Oceania
Visitors per year: 6,000
“This is the world's fishiest nation with 1,059 registered species and it is, needless to say, simply amazing for diving. You will probably see people sailing outriggers in the lagoons. Ask them if you can try the fast traditional canoes - people here are very friendly. This is also the home of the Bikini Atoll [site of nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War], although it is very remote and hard to get to.”
9. Kiribati, Oceania
Visitors per year: 3,600
“The colours in the lagoons are incredible - you are obliged to go for a swim or to hitch a ride on a boat. I strongly suggest that you set aside time to visit one of the outer islands to experience traditional island life. Don't expect electricity or running water. Do note that the country is pronounced “Kiribass”, not “Kiribati”. A “ti” or a “tu” in a word is pronounced as “s”. So, the biggest town Betio is of course pronounced “Beso”.”
8. Equatorial Guinea, Africa
Visitors per year: 2,400
“The flora and fauna on Bioko, the island where capital Malabo is located, is unique and very impressive. The reclusive drill monkey had, for example, never been filmed in its natural habitat, until Justin Jay, a film-maker I met there, managed to track them down. His film, The Lost Kings of Bioko, will premiere in late 2018. The beaches on the island are stunning, too - don't leave your swimming costume at home. Getting a visa can be a bit tricky, though.”
7. South Sudan, Africa
Visitors per year: 2,200
The Foreign Office advises against all travel to South Sudan, on account of a deteriorated security situation. For more information see here.
“You may want to wait a bit until you visit with the ongoing civil war here, but the country has incredible wildlife, in part thanks to important protected corridors that cross the country. And be careful about taking photos, I was towed in by the police twice in two hours for snapping things I wasn't supposed to. Juba, the capital, has a surprisingly vibrant nightlife.”
6. Eritrea, Africa
Visitors per year: 2,000
The Foreign Office advises against all travel to areas of Eritrea bordering Sudan and Ethiopia. For more information see here.
“Asmara, the capital, is Art Deco heaven. Not bringing a camera should be outlawed. You will unfortunately need to get a governmental permit to travel outside the city, and many parts of the country are off-limits to foreigners. I love Massawa by the Red Sea, and the drive from Asmara, 2,235 meters above sea level, is quite a ride. There is also a tourist train that runs between the cities on occasion.”
5. Central African Republic, Africa
Visitors per year: 1,000
The Foreign Office advises against all travel to the Central African Republic on account of ongoing tensions between armed groups and security forces. For more information see here.
“Bangui, the capital, is relatively safe, but this is again a country with an ongoing civil war. Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, is considered to be the only safe tourist attraction in the country, and the 2,000 gorillas and many forest elephants here make it a worthwhile destination. I visited a pygmy village less than two hours' drive from Bangui, where the tribes were happy to show me their way of life.”
4. Tuvalu, Oceania
Visitors per year: 800
“This is the most inaccessible country in the world. It is only served by propeller aircraft from Suva in Fiji and Tarawa in Kiribati. Both flights take more three hours. Only 11,000 people live here, and you'll likely see the prime minister on the street. I was invited into his office for an interview next to the airport terminal. The 26 square km island nation is projected to be the first country to disappear if sea levels increase due to global warming.”
3. Libya, Africa
Visitors per year: 200
The Foreign Office advises against all travel to Libya on account of intense fighting and a fragile security situation. For more information see here.
“Libya does not issue tourist visas, so it can be a bit tricky to obtain access. My solution was to travel in as a businessman. I love Leptis Magna, one of the best preserved ancient cities in the world as it was covered by sand for hundreds of years. Walking the streets of it entirely on my own was a fantastic experience. The old city of Tripoli, the capital, is also great to walk around in. Just expect a lot of people, all of them friendly and curious about why you are there.”
2. Nauru, Oceania
Visitors per year: 130 tourists
“This tiny island in the Pacific is best known for housing asylum seekers on behalf of Australia. It is circular and only 21 square km. I have run around it twice, and so should you. I mean, running around a country gives you bragging rights. And the brownies at the Capelle and Partners Café are the best I have ever tasted and worth the trip on their own.”
1. Yemen, Asia
Visitors per year: 60
The Foreign Office advises against all travel to Yemen, including all islands, and has done so since 2011, on account of the ongoing civil war. For more information see here.
“Only five tourists visit war-torn Yemen per month. Most of them visit the incredible island of Socotra, although there are some country collectors that cross over from Oman too. I flew in to Aden in April and had an incredible time in the beautiful and very diverse country. I was taken on a boat ride to a secluded beach. It was pretty surreal to go swimming in the green water, only an hour after driving through several military checkpoints. Hospitality is second to none here. Sana'a, the capital, is in reality cut off from the rest of the world, especially from foreigners, but I visited before the war. The old city is like a giant gingerbread town in the mountains. So picturesque.”
The World’s 20 Least Visited Countries by Gunnar Garfors (garfors.com) is out later this year.
Have you been to any of the least-visited countries in the world? Tell us about your trip by leaving a comment below or emailing [email protected]