To go boldly into the unknown. To plant a flag in new territory. To be the first outsiders in an undiscovered village. Or to simply find a vacation spot where the tour groups are nowhere to be found. These travel goals are becoming increasingly harder as the world gets smaller and the base of global tourists grows ever larger.
But it’s not impossible. Dozens of countries open to tourism just don’t attract much. Factors why vary, but countries with little tourism generally have two things in common: a history of violence and instability, plus a dearth of tourist infrastructure. Few reasons deter travelers more than the possibility of military coups, social unrest, and violent crime. And small, undeveloped nations struggle just to provide basic services to their citizens, let alone paved highways and concrete hotels for tourists.
Yet, adventurous travelers are always looking for the next big place to visit, free from tour buses, hordes of guide-led groupies, and aggressive trinket-sellers. To discover these places, Stacker crunched the numbers from the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) 2019 report, which included tourism data from 2017 or 2018 for 187 countries and territories. Tourist arrivals were not available for 29 countries.
Tourism positively impacts jobs, economic growth, peace and security, environmental protection, and cultural preservation, according to UNWTO. The number of international tourist arrivals grew by 7% from 2016 to 2017—the highest growth since 2010. While it may be no surprise France takes the #1 spot for the most popular countries for international tourists, followed by the U.S. and Spain, some globetrotters may prefer to travel the road less traveled.
From Niue to Brunei, read on to learn more about the world’s least-visited places—and add a few dozen destinations to your own travel bucket list.
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- 2017 tourist arrivals: 416,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: -8.2%
TripAdvisor named Turks and Caicos’ Grace Bay Beach as the world’s best in its 2018 Travelers’ Choice Awards. It’s easy to see why once you set your eyes upon the pristine, ultra-fine sand and clean, turquoise water. So why don’t more people visit? The islands are tiny and can be quite expensive.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 178,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: -55.8%
A visit to this unique island will net you two trips in one, as you can explore both Saint-Martin, the island’s French side, and Sint Maarten, the island’s Dutch side. Unfortunately, the island suffered significant damage in 2017’s Hurricane Irma, but is slowly and surely on the way to recovery for the 2019 tourist season.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 396,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 2.5%
Postcard-perfect, this lush, tiny island is well known for the dramatic pitons that rise from its center. The island’s two airports receive international flights from Canada, the U.S., and Europe, making it easily accessible for visitors.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 375,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: -4.9%
This oil-rich twin-island nation has seen a marked decrease in tourists for several years, which is largely attributed to the island’s lack of investment. For those who make the trip, the island retains its many unique Creole traditions and cuisines, including a boisterous annual carnival held in Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 362,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 3.4%
Tricky to get to from many parts of the world, Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 islands off the coast of Africa. The country is best known for its rich natural reserves and is home to rare animals like the Aldabra tortoise as well as abundant coral reefs.
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- 2018 tourist arrivals: 347,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: -2.2%
This independent city-state is the world’s second smallest country, but with its glitz and glamour, Monaco is anything but understated. You can visit Monaco for the world-famous Formula One Grand Prix, flashy casinos, and stunning beaches. It’s also considered a secretive tax-haven for the uber-rich.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 192,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: -42.5%
Hurricane Irma battered the British Virgin Islands in 2017, causing more than $3 billion in damage. This island experienced a sharp decrease in tourism revenue due to the storm, and is slowly but surely rebounding.
- 2017 tourist arrivals: 299,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: 59.9%
The U.S. Department of State minces no words in its warning on this landlocked African nation: “Violent crimes, such as grenade attacks and armed robbery, occur frequently.” Violence and inadequate law-enforcement resources earned Burundi the second-highest travel warning—a level 3 “reconsider travel” alert, a designation the department expanded on Jan. 21, 2020 to include health warnings after extensive measles, yellow fever, and malaria outbreaks. Overpopulation has driven deforestation of much of the country, so wildlife watchers should continue opting for Burundi’s conservation-minded neighbor, Tanzania.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 295,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 5%
While the overall country has the lowest level 1 warning from the U.S. Department of State, specific locations like Pendjari and W parks received a level 3 warning for fears of kidnapping and terrorism. This is unfortunate because since 2015 Benin officials have prioritized increasing tourism to Pendjari National Park, one of the continent’s best places to see a West African lion.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 287,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 15.9%
English-speaking Guyana is known for its impressive British colonial architecture, including the wooden St. George’s Anglican Cathedral. It’s also home to an ecologically diverse rainforest, making up nearly 80% of the country. Still, election-fueled political unrest has occurred periodically throughout the years, affecting tourism to South America’s only English-speaking country.
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- 2018 tourist arrivals: 282,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 4.6%
This British island territory is easy to get to for most Americans, but still remains one of the world’s least-visited places. The island has a unique blend of British and American culture, punctuated by incredible natural beauty, such as the pink-sand beach of Horseshoe Bay.
- 2017 tourist arrivals: 278,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: 8.2%
This tiny South American country is known for picture-perfect rainforests and exotic flora and fauna. More and more, tourists are discovering the incredible diversity, ranging from vast rainforests and jungle to wild, sandy swaths of savanna.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 278,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 7.4%
This tiny Islamic sultanate occupies a sliver of the Malaysian-Indonesian island of Borneo and has many of the same natural attractions, such as rainforests and water villages, as its surrounding neighbors. Brunei is a dry country—meaning no alcohol is sold or served—with a quiet capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 274,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 7.6%
A visit to Bhutan is only possible through a tour operator and $250 daily fee applies, which includes meals and lodging, so it’s no surprise that this tiny Asian country doesn’t attract hordes of visitors. Still, tourism is on the rise as more and more people discover its magic, which includes the Tiger’s Nest Monastery and the Gangtey Valley, one of the Himalayas’ most beautiful valleys.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 269,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 8.7%
Antigua and Barbuda claim to have the best beaches in the world, as both of these British Commonwealth islands are ringed with golden, sandy shores and cerulean waters. If you visit, you’ll also discover tasty food and plenty to do for active travelers—the island’s home to some of the best kite-surfing in the world.
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- 2017 tourist arrivals: 261,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: -34.3%
A country synonymous with violence and instability since its bloody war for independence from Portugal in the 1970s, Angola has struggled to shake this reputation. Despite vast mineral wealth, much of the country remains deeply impoverished with some of Africa’s highest infant mortality rates and one of the world’s lowest life expectancies (205 out of 224 countries). Petty crime goes hand-in-hand with poverty, so the Department of State warns tourists to avoid travel at night, not resist armed robbery, and “keep a low profile” in Angola’s urban areas.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 257,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 0.6%
Madagascar has incredible wildlife and forests, yet remains largely undeveloped and thus, among the least-visited places in the world. That’s slowly changing, making now a prime time to see the country’s remarkable historic sites and biodiversity, such as the red-bellied lemur.
- 2017 tourist arrivals: 224,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: 0.4%
An overseas department of France, equatorial French Guiana has emphasized growing its tourism sector to diversify away from gold mining, the country’s main export. However, high unemployment and decrepit infrastructure set off a wave of protests in 2017 that led the U.S. State Department to warn against travel to the country.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 216,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 8.7%
French Polynesia comprises over 100 islands in the South Pacific, stretching across a vast expanse of more than 1,200 miles. Getting here can be tricky, but those who do will encounter turquoise inlets, white sands, and overwater bungalows galore.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 203,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 5.2%
Mali is home to magnificent historical sites, including Timbuktu and three other Unesco World Heritage Sites, but tourism to the country has been affected by conflict in northern Mali and ongoing terroristic threats. The majority of the country’s visitors are from France, according to Mali’s tourism office.
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- 2017 tourist arrivals: 192,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: -9%
The Republic of the Congo, not to be confused with its neighbor Democratic Republic of the Congo, is an oil-exporting country; oil accounts for 65% of the GDP, 85% of government revenue, and 92% of exports. The tiny tourism industry centers on its rainforests and wildlife, but the country’s biggest draw—Virunga National Park—is home to armed rebel groups who have killed park rangers and abducted tourists multiple times since 2017.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 169,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 4.6%
Cook Islands bills itself as similar to Hawaii—before all the tourists arrived. And it seems to be working, as the island saw a nearly 20% increase in tourism in 2017. Located in the same time zone as Hawaii, there are even direct flights available from Los Angeles to Rarotonga, the country’s largest island.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 164,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 12.4%
Like its other Oceanic neighbors, sunny Samoa receives few visitors largely because of its remote location. Tourists who travel there will be surrounded by friendly locals during their visit to this South Pacific paradise.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 157,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: -4.3%
Rife with violent crime, Niger earned its level 3 “reconsider travel” warning from the U.S. Department of State, which takes no chances with its personnel: “...all U.S. Embassy personnel are required to travel only during daylight hours and in a minimum of a two-vehicle convoy accompanied by armed Nigerien government security escorts.” A portrait in political instability, Niger has seen seven republics and four military dictatorships come and go since its independence in 1960.
- 2017 tourist arrivals: 162,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: 0.6%
Surrounded by Senegal with a sliver of Atlantic coastline, impoverished and tiny Gambia may only attract 100,000-some tourists every year but that number makes tourism its second largest economic sector behind agriculture. It contributes 20% to GDP and is the single largest source of foreign exchange. After adding 30,000 more visitors from 2015 to 2016, economists predicted an even greater growth rate for 2017, but a post-election political impasse led to 40,000 less visits than expected.
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- 2018 tourist arrivals: 161,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 10%
Called the “Spice Island,” Grenada is known for its numerous nutmeg plantations. Unlike many of its Caribbean neighbors, Grenada is located 800 miles above the equator, situating it squarely outside of the hurricane belt, making it a popular and safe destination for fall travel.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 160,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 10.4%
This former Soviet Republic is slowly charming the world—or at least the 145,000 intrepid travelers who visited in 2017. The capital, Chișinău, is home to Brutalist-style Soviet architecture, whereas more remote parts of the country, such as Nistreana, are home to hosts of vineyards producing top-quality red wines.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 144,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 0.7%
With little tourism infrastructure, a visit to Burkina Faso can be tricky. This African nation is among the poorest in the world, as well as one of the least literate. Those who do visit will be delighted to uncover a rich music scene, including lively festivals, such as the Festival International de la Culture Hip Hop, held every October.
- 2017 tourist arrivals: 143,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: -8.2%
“Crime, civil unrest, health concerns, natural disasters, and kidnapping” prompted the State Department to issue a level 2 “exercise increased caution” travel alert for Papua New Guinea. Mining and resource extraction accounts for over 70% of export earnings, and deforestation is expected to destroy over half the island’s rainforests by 2021. The government’s long-term vision includes growing sustainable industries like tourism, but the sector remains a blip on the rapidly developing country’s economic radar.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 116,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: -5.4%
Palau consists of more than 500 different islands scattered throughout the South Pacific. The real attraction here is what’s beneath the water. Palau is considered one of the world’s best dive sites, boasting shipwrecks galore and diverse marine life, all attracting daring divers from around the globe. Unfortunately, a Chinese ban on tourists caused a significant drop in visitors to the tiny nation.
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- 2018 tourist arrivals: 120,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: -0.3%
Like Palau, New Caledonia is another hot spot for divers. The main island is surrounded by Grand Terre, a massive barrier reef, and a 9,000-square-mile lagoon that is among the world’s largest, and is also registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 116,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 1.3%
St. Kitts and Nevis were the first Caribbean islands to be colonized by the British, back in 1623. Today, the island’s many sugar plantations have been converted into charming, chic hotels and resorts. The islands include attractions like the 18-mile-long St. Kitts Scenic Railway and the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, where, on a clear day, you can see five neighboring Caribbean islands.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 116,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 5.9%
This South Pacific archipelago is made up of 83 different islands, spanning more than 800 miles. Scuba diving is popular here, especially at the wreckage of the World War II-era troopship SS President Coolidge.
- 2017 tourist arrivals: 87,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: -11.2%
Poor, corrupt, and plagued by political violence, Chad should be avoided. Thus, the State Department levied a level 3 "reconsider travel" warning on the country. The violent Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, is active in the Lake Chad region, and extreme poverty means spikes in crimes like robbery, carjacking, and muggings in Chad’s urban areas. The government struggles to provide even basic amenities to its population, like potable water, and is overwhelmed by Sudanese refugees, so building tourism infrastructure isn’t a priority.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 85,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 7.1%
A minuscule German principality, Liechtenstein has a charming blend of picturesque alpine landscapes and incredible medieval ruins. Just 15 miles long, it’s easy to explore everything from Vaduz Castle to the Hilti Art Foundation Collection, a world-class private collection of art, in just a day.
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- 2018 tourist arrivals: 84,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 7.3%
San Marino is one of the world’s oldest republics, with historic architecture dating back to the 11th century. Many of the country’s visitors are Italian, and plan day trips from the surrounding Romagna region.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 80,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 5.4%
Tourism to the tiny island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines rose in 2017, largely fueled by cruise ships making stops to the islands. Whether you like lounging on the beach, sailing around reef-lined islands, or hiking to the top of a volcano, these islands have plenty to offer.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 75,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 1.1%
There aren’t many flights into Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. But, if you manage to make it onto one, you’ll uncover a wholly unique country where a typical day can be spent mountain biking, hiking, whale watching, or simply relaxing on the beach.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 63,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: -11.9%
Situated between Guadeloupe and Martinique, Dominica saw an increase in visitors last year, despite significant damage from Hurricane Maria in August of 2017. Still, the island is thriving, with most hotels re-opened to visitors and 19 of the country’s 23 historic attractions receiving visitors once again.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 55,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: -20.1%
Travel + Leisure has ranked Anguilla its #1 Caribbean island two years in a row, and it’s not hard to see why. While the island was affected by Hurricane Irma, Anguilla still boasts strong tourist numbers as visitors flock to the 33 white-sand beaches and historic landmarks like Big Spring Cave, known for prehistoric petroglyphs.
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- 2017 tourist arrivals: 62,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: 1.6%
Part of Old Polynesia, Tonga is growing in popularity as travelers uncover deserted white-sand beaches, coral reefs, and pristine rainforest. Many of the country’s 170 islands are uninhabited, with the majority of the population and tourist lodging residing on the main island of Tongatapu.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 57,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 11.8%
Engulfed by crisis after crisis, almost all of which have been caused by humans, Sierra Leone bases its economy on extraction mining for diamonds, titanium, bauxite, and gold, so tourism has received little attention. However, the country’s natural beauty still attracts some tourism, which contributes about 5% to GDP. Widespread crime means the State Department issued a standing level 2 “exercise increased caution” travel warning for the West African nation.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 36,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 28.2%
Tourism to these scattered African islands is minimal, largely due to political instability—there have been more than 20 attempted coups in the past few decades. Despite this, the Comoros islands boast idyllic beaches and incredible landscapes, studded with volcanic peaks.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 28,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 8.4%
World War II buffs will delight in a visit to the Solomon Islands, which is home to many historic sites from the war. Guadalcanal, one of the archipelago’s largest islands, is home to a striking memorial and a vibrant market that showcases island produce and crafts.
- 2017 tourist arrivals: 20,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: -0.3%
This beautiful pocket of Polynesia belongs to the United States, but isn’t a part of it. If you make the trek to American Samoa, you’ll discover natural harbors, lush irregular peaks, and beaches a-plenty. American Samoa is also home to the National Park of American Samoa, filled with impressive hiking trails.
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- 2017 tourist arrivals: 10,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: 25.4%
One of the world’s smallest countries, Niue has a population of fewer than 2,000 people. Still, the island has plenty to offer visitors, including one of the largest raised coral atolls in the world and abundant fishing, diving, and snorkeling.
- 2018 tourist arrivals: 9,000
- Change in arrivals from 2017: 0.1%
A mountainous Caribbean island punctuated by an active volcano—it last erupted in the ‘90s—Montserrat is home to stunning swaths of black-sand beaches, as well as Plymouth, the unique remains of a town that was buried during the last volcanic eruption.
- 2017 tourist arrivals: 6,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: -39%
The Marshall Islands are difficult to access, and some of the islands are considered “no-go” zones after being used for nuclear testing. Still, this sprawling band of islands entices visitors with world-class diving and fishing.
- 2017 tourist arrivals: 6,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: 1.1%
While 6,000 tourists doesn’t sound like much action for a Pacific Islands country, Kiribati’s total population sits at about 100,000 and is considered one of the world’s least-developed countries by the United Nations. Low on natural resources with no manufacturing base and little agriculture, tourism holds outsized significance as an economic driver, increasing year-over-year since 2010.
- 2017 tourist arrivals: 2,000
- Change in arrivals from 2016: 0%
Boasting just 2,000 international arrivals in 2017, the tiny island of Tuvalu is officially the least-visited place in the world. Not surprisingly, there’s little infrastructure for tourists here. But if you’re looking for little more than relaxation in an idyllic setting, you’ll find it in Tuvalu.
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