With 7.8 billion people in this world, it can be hard to find quiet, untouched places. It seems with the advent of the internet, social media, and geotagging in particular, beautiful places that were once unknown are now fully on the tourist circuit. Luckily, there are still (somehow) places that have avoided the crowds, have kept their natural beauty, and are perfect for an off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Here are 12 countries that will give you all the amazing views, adventures, and excitement as other popular tourist places - just without the crowds.
As the world’s second-largest island nation, Madagascar has a lot to offer travelers. In fact, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot - over 90% of its wildlife (including the popular and very cute lemur species) are found nowhere else on Earth. While it is not exceedingly difficult to reach, Madagascar rewards visitors with diverse landscapes, national parks, and beautiful beaches.
Best Adventure: head out on a dirt road and be prepared to be amazed at the giant trees that await you - you have found the Avenue of the Baobabs, a road framed by dozens of rare and ancient baobab trees, creating a setting so beautiful and unique that it may become the country’s first official natural monument. And then there is Isalo National Park, home to sandstone massifs that have been wildly eroded by wind and rain into bizarre ridges (known as “runiformes”). You can also find impressive gorges and canyons and tiny stalagmite pinnacles, as well as animals such as ring-tailed lemurs, brown lemurs, sifakas and 14 other nocturnal lemurs that hide along the stream beds.
Composed of 118 geographically dispersed islands and atolls, which together stretch over an expanse of 2,000+ kilometers, French Polynesia is actually separated into 5 different groups of islands - including the Society Islands archipelago, home to Tahiti, the most populous island of them all (69% of the total population resides there). With so many islands to explore (and amazing waterfalls to adventure to), you really can spend weeks there and not see it all.
Best Adventures: exploring the island of Moorea, the more rugged sister island to Tahiti (and amazing for rainforest exploration). Other things you shouldn't miss is a guided walking tour of Tahiti’s Old Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, and exploring the Lagoonarium on Bora Bora, where you can discover dozens of top-notch snorkeling spots.
Part of what is known as the Dutch Caribbean, St. Maarten is a small island nation: the country is only 34 square kilometers(!). This stunning tropical island was hit hard by Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 storm, in 2017 and has been rebuilding ever since. Though, surprisingly, the country has the 14th largest GDP per capita in the world (including territories) when measured by purchasing power parity - three times as high as its French counterpart (the island is half French and half Dutch).
Best Adventures: Mullet Pond, a section of Simpson Bay Lagoon, is home to 70% of Saint Maarten's mangrove population on the Dutch side of the island. Also don’t miss Mullet Beach, an awesome white sand beach nearby. Similarly, no trip to the island would be complete without stopping at Maho Beach - famous for its proximity to the airport and very low flying planes.
This small island nation is made up of two main islands: Savai'i and Upolu (home of the capital and 75% of the population). As well as two smaller inhabited islands, Manono and Apolima, and several smaller uninhabited islands. Samoa lies about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, in the Polynesian region of the Pacific Ocean. Like many islands in the area, it was created due to volcanic activity - though only Savai'i, the westernmost island in Samoa, remains volcanically active. That has led to iridescent seas, jade jungles, and crystal waterfalls - aka plenty of adventures to be had.
Best Adventures: you really can’t go wrong in Samoa in terms of adventure and exploration. But some of the best places to check out are Apia and Aleipata, especially if you are into snorkeling.
As a small, landlocked country in Eastern Europe - and surrounded by much bigger and more well-known countries like Ukraine and Romania - it is no surprise that many visitors don’t take a pit-stop in Moldova. But that is good for you - off-the-beaten-path traveler - as there is a lot to explore. Including, the Moldavian Plateau, which geologically originates from the Carpathian Mountains, the Dniester and Prut Rivers, and the capital of the country, Chișinău. But one of the best reasons to visit Moldova is for its wine. The country produced around 2 million hectoliters of wine in 2018, making it the 11th largest wine-producing country in Europe.
Best Adventures: staying with the wine theme, the Moldovan wine collection, known as "Mileștii Mici", has almost 2 million bottles - making it the largest wine collection in the world. The cellar stretches for 250 kilometers, of which only 120 kilometers are currently in use. Similarly, the Cricova winery also has an extensive network of tunnels that stretch for 120 kilometers (there is even a 10k race through the cellars every year).
Another landlocked country - this time in West Africa - is named after the Niger River. It is the largest country in Western Africa, with roughly 80% of its land lying in the Sahara Desert. The country consistently ranks near the bottom of the United Nations’ Human Development Index (it was ranked 189th out of 189 countries in the 2018 and 2019 reports). This can be attributed to the fact that the majority of the population lives in rural areas with little access to advanced education (among other issues). While the country is still very much developing, it is also home to some incredibly beautiful areas. Including, one of the largest reserves of the world, the Aïr and Ténéré National Nature Reserve, which was founded in the northern parts of Niger to protect rare species such as addax antelopes, scimitar-horned oryx, gazelles, and Barbary sheep.
Best Adventures: besides checking out the Aïr and Ténéré National Nature Reserve, you should also head down south to the W National Park (which also lies partly in neighboring Burkina Faso and Benin). Here you can spot the rare West African lion and (hopefully) a Northwest African cheetah (this park houses one of the last population groups). Other common animals in the park are elephants, buffaloes, roan antelopes, kob antelopes, and warthogs.
Located in the Western Pacific, this small island nation (in total, only 466 square kilometers) contains approximately 340 islands, the most populous being Koror. The islands have a tropical rainforest climate, with the average temperature hovering around 82 degrees (though the humidity is often at 82%). Interestingly, Palau has a history of strong environmental conservation. For example, the Ngerukewid islands are protected under the Ngerukewid Islands Wildlife Preserve, which was established all the way back in 1956. Also, somewhat random, but Saltwater crocodiles are also indigenous to the nation and occur in varying numbers throughout the various mangroves and in parts of the rock islands (the largest crocodile ever recorded measured was just over 14 feet(!).
Best Adventures: if visiting the country, you have to check out the world’s first shark sanctuary. Created in 2009, it is approximately 230,000 square miles of ocean (similar in size to France). The country is the leader in the fight on banning the hunting of sharks, something other countries have (thankfully) taken up as well. But honestly, you can’t visit Palau and NOT go scuba diving. In fact, many divers have dubbed the area the “Underwater Serengeti” thanks to its huge array of underwater scenery.
Another volcanic island, this archipelago is situated about 1,000 miles east of northern Australia. It consists of about 83 relatively small, geologically newer islands of volcanic origin, of which 65 of them are inhabited. And of those 83 islands, only 14 of them have surface areas of more than 100 square kilometers or 39 square miles. And because the islands are volcanic, they are quite steep (a study done in 2005 showed that only 9% of total land was used for agriculture). Finally, Vanuatu is recognized as a distinct terrestrial ecoregion (ecoregions are classified by biome type, which are the major global plant communities determined by rainfall and climate), known as the Vanuatu rainforests.
Best Adventures: this island nation has a great mix of things to explore, including hiking up to active volcanoes like Mount Yasur, or snorkeling in world-class reefs. There is also a rich history to explore, either on foot or on mountain bikes (rentals can be made on a couple of the islands). For the most bang for your buck, head to Tanna Island.
This small European country is actually a German-speaking microstate situated in the Alps of the southwest area of Central Europe. It is bordered by Switzerland and Austria and is Europe’s fourth-smallest country (it is only 62 square miles). Also, somewhat interesting, Liechtenstein is one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world (the other being Uzbekistan). Thanks to it being located in the Alps, it is a popular winter destination. Also, while there are 155 miles of paved roads within the country, there are also 56 miles of marked bicycle paths (so maybe it is a great spot for winter and summer adventures).
Best Adventures: thanks to its location in the Alps, and long European history, you would be excused for thinking Liechtenstein is the setting for a number of fairytales. In fact, besides winter sports, a large number of the best sites to see are castles. Including, Schloss Vaduz, a fortress built in the 12th century and now the official residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein. For something a bit more “outdoorsy” head to Malbun, a high-mountain oasis with skiing in the winter and awesome hiking trails in the summer.
Also known as East Timor, this island nation in Southeast Asia is only half of the larger Timor Island. The small nation became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century in 2002 and joined the UN soon after. Interestingly, it is the only Asian nation completely south of the Equator. Much of Timor-Leste is mountainous - the highest point is Tatamailau (aka Mount Ramelau) at 9,721 feet. The northern coast of the country is home to many coral reefs, while the eastern portion contains the Paitchau Range and the Lake Ira Lalaro area - where you can find the country's first conservation area, the Nino Konis Santana National Park.
Best Adventures: according to Lonely Planet, Timor-Leste “offers some of the world’s last great off-the-beaten-track adventures” - so what are you waiting for? Some of the best diving can be found on Atauro Island, a short distance from the capital of Dili. Or head up into the mountains to hike either Mount Ramelau or Mundo Perdido, aka ‘Lost World’, or check out the amazing mountain town of Maubisse.
A highly diverse country located along the Southwest coast of Africa, Sierra Leone is a pretty unknown country - with lots to offer. The country gained independence in 1961 from the UK and declared itself a Republic ten years later. Today, the country is regarded as one of the most religiously tolerant countries in the world: Muslims and Christians collaborate and interact with each other very peacefully, and religious violence is very rare. The country relies heavily on mining, including being a large producer of diamonds. It is also one of the largest producers of titanium, bauxite and gold.
Best Adventures: Sierra Leone has four distinct geographical regions, each full of things to explore. One great spot is Banana Island, a remote island with diving and shipwrecks, or Tiwai Island, home to a protected rainforest. Or head north to explore Outamba Kilimi National Park, which sits along the northern border and is known to be a refuge for chimpanzees and other animals (like hippos).
Heading back to where we began, this small island country lies in the Indian Ocean and is located at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel, off the eastern coast of Africa. The capital and largest city in the country is Moroni (population: 41,557). The majority of the population follows the Sunni Islam religion - it is also the state religion. Finally, Comoros is a member of the Arab League - and is the only country in the Arab world to sit entirely in the Southern Hemisphere. The three islands that make up Comoros vary from steep mountains to low hills (and like many island nations they were all formed due to volcanic activity).