Yes, you have to hike up to Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan. I can not guarantee that the dog still lives there, though.

Millions and millions of people have read my article about the world’s least-visited countries, but I get a lot of feedback that are just too weird, scary or remote as actual destinations for “most people”. That pretty much sounded like a challenge, so here we go: 10 countries less-visited that won’t scare the shit out of you – but where you’re still guaranteed not to meet your neighbour.

 

I will also throw in another guarantee. These countries will all give you something you won’t usually experience in touristy countries; Closeness to the people living there, a feeling of being a friend not a walking bag of cash and a sense of experiencing a real country, not a theme park. Of course, this will only happen if you are open to meet, greet and talk to the locals. Leave your stereotypes at home and bring a dash of humbleness instead. It goes a long while, especially with a smile.

I have listed the countries by the number of tourists per year, starting with the highest number. And to put things in perspective, the world’s most visited country is France with 84.5 million tourists in 2015 (2016 figures not available yet). That is 152 times more than the most visited country among these 10.

Nepal, Asia: 555,000 tourists per year

Mount Everest seen from the only flight that passes
the world’s highest mountain. Fly between Kathmandu and
Paro in Bhutan to see it. Just remember to sit on the right
side of the plane. Window seat or bust!

Why so few

Over half a million visitors sounds like a lot, but the figure has actually dropped by 30 percent from 2014 to 2015. A lot of that is due to the powerful earthquake which killed 9,0000 and injured more than twice as many.
Why still visit
First of all, the scenery of Nepal is extraordinary! And keep in mind that extra tourism dollar will benefit a struggling economy and help towards rebuilding the country. Did I mention that this is the home of Mount Everest? Most people will never be able to climb the world’s highest mountain due to physical or economical limitations. Expect to pay 100,000 USD for an attempt to ascend it. And you will also need to have climbed at least two of the other seven summits (the highest mountain in each of the seven continents) first in order to qualify. Perhaps screw that macho plan? The Mount Everest basecamp is still on a lot of bucketlists, and going there might get you talking to someone who has actually been 8,848 meters above sea level. Too touristy? Well, there are also a couple of other mountains in Nepal. Consider yourself dared to hike to the top of one of them.
What else
The nightlife in Kathmandu, the capital, is actually not bad. Perhaps not so surprising, when you think about it. Just imagine hundreds or thousands of beer deprived mountaineers that hasn’t seen a pub in months. No wonder dress code doesn’t really apply in town, even in fine restaurants.

Visa policy
Nepal is one of the easiest country to visit, visa wise. Only citizens from 12 countries need to get their visa in advance.

Tajikistan, Asia, 414,000 tourists per year

Fifty-fifty! We stayed in the house of a local teacher
in a small village high up in the mountains.

Why so few
This is one of the poorest countries in Asia, and the poorest among the former Soviet Union republics. Much of it is thanks to a civil war that lasted from 1992 and went on for 5 dark years.

Why still visit
The landscape around here is simply incredible! The Pamirs on the border to Afghanistan, is one of the world’s highest mountain ranges, with several peaks of above 7,000 meters. And you won’t even have to hike or climb any mountains to enjoy it. The drive down Paramir Highway is indescribably beautiful.

What else
For some serious partying, go to Dushanbe, the capital. It actually means Monday, named after a market that used to operate in the area on that particular day of the week. This used to be a tiny village, but 800,000 people now call Dushanbe home. And when a nice man, or woman, gives you a cup of vodka and says fifty-fifty, be aware that means bottoms up. And do as you’re told. To not drink what is offered to you, and fast, is seen as an insult. I discovered. The hard way.

Visa policy
Tajikistan has opened up quite a bit the last few years, and citizens from many countries can now get visa on arrival.

Mongolia, Asia: 386,000 tourists per year

Overlooking Ulaanbaatar.

Why so few

The Silk Road goes through Mongolia, but the country has since the invention of the aeroplane been rather poorly connected to the rest of the world. At least for aviators. But of course there is the Trans-Siberian railroad, which has traditionally been the biggest source of foreign travellers. Not anymore, more and more airlines opening routes here, especially from Asian hubs.
Why still visit
This is a country of contrasts. Ulaanbaatar is an urban city with everything you’d expect from a capital. And more. Whereas most of the rest of the country is almost empty of people. Truly fascinating! And yes, you have to venture outside UB. Mongolia is also the home of infamous Genghis Khan who at one point ruled large parts of the world. The Mongol Empire was actually the largest contiguous land empire in history, so don’t be surprised to see statues of him all over the place. But one stands out. You absolutely have to check out the Chengis Kahn Equestrian Statue. The 40 meter high landmark stands in the middle of nowhere, 50 kilometers east of the capital.
What else
Mongolia is huge. It is the 18th biggest country in the world and is not to be rushed through. We are also talking about one of few countries where nomadic tradition is still going strong. How about staying in a yurt? And yes, you must taste kumis, fermented horse milk.

Visa policy
For a while it was easier for many countries thanks to a visa-waiver scheme, but this has now ended. Most people need a visa. But notably not Canadian, German, Russian, Turkish and US citizens.

Togo, Africa: 273,000 tourists per year

The seafront in Lome is great for running.

Why so few

They speak French.
Why still visit
Some people speak a little English.
What else
Jokes aside, Togo is a super friendly and very charming country. Do not let its small size trick you into thinking there is nothing to see here. Togo is admittedly a very narrow stretch of land between Ghana and narrow colleague Benin. You can actually drive from east to west of Togo in litteraly less than an hour. Its French legacy virtually guarantees some great gourmet experiences, in particular in Lome, the capital. But do also by all means try fufu, akume and other traditional dishes. It is furthermore a crime not to visit the markets of Lome, to stock up on voodoo merchandise and African wooden masks. Togo is, together with Haiti, arguably the most famous vodoo country of the world. I would also recommend that you venture outside of Lome, which means northwards. The northern regions are less accessible, but comes with ace views, lush forests, waterfalls and coffee plantations. Not to forget a lot of elephants. To go to Togo or not to go to Togo? Nah, it isn’t really a question. Just go.

Visa policy
Anyone can get a visa on arrival for stays up to seven days. This makes Togo one of the easiest country in the world to visit, visa wise.

Madagascar, Africa: 244,000 tourists per year

It is mandatory to go by an ancient 2CV taxi in Tana.

Why so few

Not many airlines fly to the huge island country, and those that do usually charge quite a lot for their service. The most convenient flights for most visitors fly in from Johannesburg, Nairobi, Istanbul and Paris. And Marseille, surprisingly.
Why still visit
Madagascar is often called the 8th continent due to its size and its diversity of unique fauna and wildlife. You just have to see the lemurs, probably the cutest animals I have ever seen. And don’t forget the several thousand year old baobab trees on the West Coast. They are often called upside-down trees. I’ll give you a million points if you can guess why.
What else
Antananarivo, the capital, is usually shortened to Tana by locals. Go figure. Just try to say it out loud three times. Antananarivo. Antananarivo. Antananarivo. Hell, it’s even hard to write it three times.
It does nevertheless have some of the best restaurants I have tried in Africa, the only other cities than can compete are Johannesburg and Cape Town. The only difference is the price. On every occasion I was sure they had forgotten to charge me for most of my meal. They hadn’t.
Visa policy
No problem, visa on arrival for everyone.

Suriname, South America: 228,000 tourists per year

There’s something Dutch about Paramaribo.
Go figure.

Why so few

The Dutch speaking country in the north east of South America has long struggled with a reputation for being less than safe, and has primarily drawn visitors primarily from the Netherlands.
Why still visit
Those rumours were totally unfounded. I have rarely visited a more friendly country with smiles to be seen everywhere. Add the amazing scenery and the spectacular outdoor experiences just waiting to be made into memories that will never fade. Surinam is still very much unknown to most, hurry before that changes. And do set aside time to go inland to explore the tropical rainforest in the Amazon inland.
What else
Paramaribo, the capital, is fun, fun, fun. Expect parties and good restaurants. Half the population live here. In the city you will even find a perfect example of the tolerance that is sadly lacking in so many other countries. A synagogue and a mosque are next-door neighbours in the middle of Paramaribo.

Visa policy
People from Western countries won’t need a visa or will get one on arrival. Most others need to apply in advance.

Palau, Oceania: 162,000 tourists per year

Palau is scuba diving heaven.
But it isn’t bad over water either.

Why so few

Have you even heard about Palau?
Why still visit
Almost no one has heard about Palau. It gives you bragging rights to visit. Just keep in mind that people don’t generally like braggers.
What else
Palau has the smallest capital in the world. Less than 400 people live in Ngerulmud. It is a little bit of a detour to go there compared to Koror where most people are heading, but certainly worth it. Go there during weekends or holidays, and it feels like a ghost town. Diving is incredibly good in Palau, and you can expect seafood out of this world. Yes, it’s an island nation.

Visa policy
No problem unless you are from Myanmar or Bangladesh.

Bhutan, Asia: 155,000 tourists per year

Just another boring dzong.

Why so few

It is considered a bit of a hassle to visit, as you need to sort out both a visa and a tour guide company in advance. You also need to pay between 200 and 300 USD (depending on the season) per day to stay in the mountain kingdom. This will however cover accommodation, all meals, the guide and a driver. All you need money for is in other words souvenirs and drinks.
Why still visit
The mountains will make your jaw drop. Not to forget the fortresses (dzongs) and monastries. Some of them are huge, all are reminders of architectural masterminds. They are often built in locations so beautiful that your camera is likely to overheat. Bring a backup.
What else
You may want to leave your mother-in-law at home. Penises are painted on many houses, especially in rural areas. Don’t be too alarmed. They are only innocent symbols of fertility and good luck.
Visa policy
Almost everyone will need to sort out your visa and pay for your entire trip in advance through a local travel agency. Inconvenient, but not difficult. Bhutan is one out of only three countries that require visiting tourists to travel around with a guide (Turkmenistan and North Korea are the other two).

Grenada, North America: 141,000 tourists per year

By the fortress in St. George’s.
The bay is in the background.

Why so few

The little island nation in the Caribbean is so small that you cannot really see it on a world map. Even most airline executives have been unable to spot it, although the number of big airlines flying here is on the increase. You can now even get her on direct flights from London and Frankfurt.
Why still visit
The colourful capital lies around a beautiful bay surrounded by hills and is worth a trip on its own. But add beaches, waterfalls, rum destilleries and amazing seafood (yeah, including lobsters) and you will be spoilt for choice. And fishlovers, you must visit Gouyave on the west coast for its weekly Fish Friday event.
What else
This is spice heaven! Do visit the spice market in St. George’s, or better yet, visit spice estates in the countryside.
Visa policy
Stricter than many countries in the Caribbean, but very far from being the most difficult country to enter.

Moldova, Europe: 94,000 tourists per year

Exploring ‎Chișinău‎.

Why so few

The ex-soviet republic is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Flights are scarce.
Why still visit
To experience a Sovjet feel in a democracy isn’t all bad. And they sure know how to party. Just don’t be surprised if strippers suddenly start performing in the bar you’re in. I was gobsmacked to suddenly see male and female strippers start their performances while I was having a beer with friends. No one but me found it strange, though. I was the only tourist.
What else
Moldova is a major manufacturer of wine. And they make quite good stuff too, although you won’t find it for sale in many countries. Most is consumed in Moldova or exported to Russia. So take advantage of the opportunity while visiting. It’s very affordable too. No wonder Moldovans drink more alcohol than anyone else.
Visa policy
Most people from Western countries can enter visa free.

The visitor numbers are from the 2016 edition of UNWTOs Tourism Highlights report.