From the least visited country in the world. Which one it is? Find out further down. Photo by Lexie Alford.

I have been on the road the last 18 months. And large parts of the 12 years before that. But this time around I have revisited the world’s 20 least visisted countries (and travelled to every country twice, in the process). Why on Earth? To discover new perspectives, to see new places and to meet new and old friends. And not least to research my book “Nowhere” (the Norwegian version is already available to preorder, or sign up for a notification for when the English version comes out). It turned out that there were quite a few changes from the last two times I wrote about the least touristy nations on the planet, in 2015 and in 2013.

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I have also assembled tourism figures for all 198 countries in the world to create the first complete list of annual tourists to every country. My own country, Norway, is for instance the 157th least visited country in the world, with its six million annual tourists. That makes it the 42nd most visited country, if I turn the list upside down. But why would I? To visit the most visited countries out there isn’t particularly original. Find your own country here.

Below I will go through the 20 least visited. That means the top (or bottom) 10 percent, as well as all countries in the world with less than 50,000 tourists per year. They are all in Africa, Asia and Oceania. Not particularly surprising.

Do note that official tourist statistics do not exist for every country. That sort of makes sense. I mean, if you have virtually no tourists, why bother to hire someone to keep track? Except to make the tourism industry grow, of course. But quite a few of these countries have more urgent issues on their minds. UNs World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) publishes tourism figures for most countries every year, but numbers are non-existant or plain wrong for many of the least visited ones. Tuvalu is for instance listed as having 2,000 tourists per year, but that doesn’t add up with their 3-4 propeller weekly flights. Its Bureau of Statistics provided me with the real number for 2017: 800. Whereas Somalia wasn’t even a member of UNWTO until 2017. Other countries are still not members and some seem to deliberately inflate their numbers. I have shown this through interviews with officials, immigration officers, hotel owners and tour operators. I do not claim to present accurate statistics for every country, but I am confident that this is the best researched and only complete overview available.

There are several reasons why such statistics will never be 100 percent correct. Some countries only count tourists arriving by plane, others base their numbers on what hotels report or what the visitors fill out on arrival forms. And quite a few business people say they are tourists to avoid paperwork, whereas many journalists claim the same to be able to enter at all. Ethical? Perhaps not, but for many this is the only way in if they want to cover events is regimes that dislike a free press. A number of countries also only estimate their numbers. Then again, they might not have a choice if the majority of arrivals do not have to register at the borders, as is the case within the Schengen area in Europe.

Another reason to return to these countries has been to go more in depth. To try to understand. And to show what the safe “bubble” many of us live in here in the western world looks like.

From the outside.

The world’s least visited countries can also be seen as the most exotic ones. You are at least virtually guaranteed not to meet your neighbour, boss or ex-girlfriend. Enjoy your travels.

20 Guinea-Bissau, Africa

1.8 million inhabitants (Wikipedia); 44,000 tourists (UNWTO)

Fancy a banana? One of the street markets in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

It is challenging to attract visitors to a country where staging coups comes across as a favourite pastime activity. And as if that didn’t make it hard enough, the country name doesn’t really stand out much in international marketing. Guinea-Bissau competes with Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Guyana and Papa New Guinea. Not to forget French territory French Guyana in South America. I have even left out semi-similar Ghana and Gambia.

Why still visit?

The people in Bissau, the capital, knows how to party. Especially during Carnival. And being a former Portugese colony has influenced the architecture, and guaranteed decent food and good beer. But you haven’t really visited the country until you have checked out the Bissagos Islands, arguably the most outstanding archipelago in Africa.

What else?

Orango Island is famous for its salt water hippos. It is less well known that it is governed by women. There is nothing wrong with that, just be aware that they traditionally select their husband and that men do not have much of a say. Bring your wife, or you might end up with two.

19 Mauritania, Africa

4.3 million inhabitants (Wikipedia); 39,000 tourists (UNWTO)

On the beach just down from the fishmarket in Nouakchott, Mauritania. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

A French family was killed in a terror attack on Christmas Eve 2007. This received massive media coverage internationally, and Dakar Rally was cancelled the following year as a result. The terrorism reputation still makes some people uneasy about travelling here.

Why still visit?

The creative chaos on the beach outside capitol Nouakchott will keep you fascinated and entertained for hours. Fishermen, fish transporters and fish sellers are everywhere, surrounded by colourful wooden boats. And getting in is easy, you can get your visa on arrival.

What else?

Do not confuse the country with Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. And be aware that Mauritania was the last country to outlaw slavery as late as in 2007. Slaves are allegedly still kept in some rural areas.

18 São Tomé and Príncipe, Africa

200,000 inhabitants (Wikipedia); 29,000 tourists (UNWTO)

If you only have one tunnel, of course it becomes famous. It is a favourite postcard motif. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

You have probably only heard about one of the airlines that can take you there. And to travel there by boat may set you back 40 hours.

Why still visit?

São Tomé and Príncipe has everything; incredible beaches for swimming and surfing, rain forest, spectacular mountains, a good selection of hotels and a vibrant nightlife. Not to forget the world’s best chocolate by Claudio Corollo. The restaurants and cafés are not at all bad, either. And the Portugese heritage has contributed to decent infrastructure.

What else?

There is one road tunnel in the country. It is so famous that you can even find it on postcards.

17 Comoros, Africa

800,000 inhabitants (Wikipedia); 28,000 tourists (UNWTO)

Rumour has it a luxury hotel will be built by this beach, just outside the town of Mitsamiouli, Comoros. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

Most people haven’t even heard about the country. And those that have, are likely to have picked up the rumour about its horrid roads. It isn’t just a rumour. Other infrastructure is lacking too, luxury hotels are virtually unheard of there.

Why still visit?

Comoros is among the world’s most underestimated holiday destinations. The scenery is stunning, snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities are everywhere and the beaches are world-class. Yet, hardly anyone visits them. Unless you count turtles and dolphins.

What else?

More airlines are adding Comoros to their route maps. You should explore this incredible country before it gets too crowded. Just get a 4WD rental car if you intend to explore anywhere outside Moroni.

16 Solomon Islands, Oceania

600,000 inhabitants (Wikipedia); 26,000 tourists (UNWTO)

Guadacanal is such a green island. A shame about the awful roads. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

This country used to be a well known hotspot for cannibals. Although not necessarily related, few airlines would take you here. This has however recently changed.

Why still visit?

You may come across some incredible surfing spots, although most of them are quite hard to get to without a boat or hiking boots. Solomon Islands is an up and coming luxury destination, primarily thanks to Australian tourists and a growing number of high-end hotels and lodges. Scuba divers will have a field day on Iron Bottom Sound, between the islands of Guadalcanal and Nggela Sule. 67 ships and around 1,500 planes found their resting places there during WWII.

What else?

Don’t even think about renting a car here. Only pickup trucks, SUVs and helicopters will do, thanks to a horrid road standard.

15 Guinea, Africa

12.4 million inhabitants (Wikipedia); 24,500 tourists (UNWTO)

Small areas on the beaches around Conakry in Guinea have been cleared of plastic, so that kids and youngsters can play football. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

Few beaches around the world contain more rubbish than those around the capital Conakry. Add widespread instances of petty theft and petty corruption, and you are likely to become rather annoyed during your holiday.

Why still visit?

The scenery outside Conakry is just lush. You will also appreciate the warm hospitality, expect to see many warm smiles. They also know how to party until morning comes.

What else?

A handful of internationally renowned airlines fly to Conakry, not far from where Queen Niara Bely ran her slave empire. She played an important part in making Guinea one one of the biggest contributors of slaves to North America and Europe.

14 Federated States of Micronesia, Oceania

105,000 inhabitants (Wikipedia); 24,000 tourists (UNWTO)

Most people in Chuuk live on smaller islands and travel to the main island Weno by small boats for shopping and other errands. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

United was for many years the only international airline serving the country, but Nauru Airlines and Air Niugini have lately expanded the route possibilities substantially.

Why still visit?

Chuuk Lagoon, one of the four states of FSM, claims to have the world’s best wreck diving. And who can deny them that? Operation Hailstone in February 1944 resulted in 250 Japanese planes being shot down. 44 ships and one submarine can also be found on the bottom of the lagoon. The country consists of 600 islands with a total area of only 700 square kilometers, so you are unlikely to run out of new places to visit.

What else?

Air Niugini is allegedly opening a new route between Tokyo and Chuuk in September. The airline also serves Pohnpei, the island where capital Kolonia is located, on its way to and from Port Moresby in PNG.

13 Afghanistan, Asia

34.7 million inhabitants (Wikipedia); 13,400 tourists (garfors.com)

Kabul counts five million inhabitants. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

It is a true shame that so few people get to experience the amazing hospitality and the incredible scenery in this country. But that’s a result of leading the grim statistics of terrorist attacks (together with Iraq).

Why still visit?

There are still safe areas in Afghanistan, and I strongly encourage you to take advantage. Bamiyan is one of the 34 provinces there, and arguably the safest. Which means that it gets 200,000 of Afghan tourists a year, and a few hundred foreign ones. It is best known for snow covered peaks, colourful lakes and the remains of the world’s two biggest Buddha statues. The 1,400 year old rock art was destroyed by Taliban in 2001 for being ‘unislamic’. And believe it or not, there is a ski resort here. Conditions are excellent! There is a yearly ski competition open to anyone with skis or a snowboard. The only rule: “No weapons allowed”.

What else?

It is easy to obtain a visa to Afghanistan, you usually get it in two days or shorter. Be advised that it can be an advantage to know someone on the inside. But most hotels will be happy to organize for you to be picked up.

12 Somalia, Africa

14.3 million inhabitants (Wikipedia); 12,200 tourists (garfors.com)

Catch of today en route Mogadishu Fish Market. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

Somalia has been war-ridden for years and is the world’s most corrupt country. No wonder it also has the world’s lowest GNP, by far, although a big informal economy partly explains that.

Why still visit?

There is a new government in Somalia, and the economy is growing relatively fast. New buildings are popping up everywhere in capital Mogadishu and the long gone positivity seems to have returned. Some travel agencies, such as Visit Mogadishu, welcome tourists in Mogadishu, and will provide you with a guide, a driver and armed guards. You will not be allowed to leave the airport without own security.

What else?

Somaliland is one of 18 regions in the country, but it is also a self-declared state, albeit acknowledged by no countries. It is relatively well-developed, safe and can easily be visited overland from Djibouti and Ethiopia or by plane from several countries in Africa and the Middle East. Somaliland is the reason why Somalia is not number 4 or 5 on this list.

11 Turkmenistan, Asia

5.7 million inhabitants (Wikipedia); 7,000 tourists (garfors.com)

Yes, you do actually have to visit “Door to Hell”, or the Darvaza gas crater in Karakum desert. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

Everyone needs a visa to go there, and it can be a tricky process. A tourist agency will apply on your behalf, but some people have applied 3 or 4 times without luck, others are granted a visa on their first attempt. If successful, you will receive the visa stamp on arrival in the airport or at most land border crossings. Very convenient, given that you are born lucky.

Why still visit?

This is one of the strangest countries in the world. Ashgabat, the capital, has more marble covered buildings than any other city, 543 at the last count. That secured it a Guinness World Record. The white structures cover an area of 4.5 million square meters, but resemble a ghost town as many of them are hardly in use.

What else?

You just have to visit the “Door to Hell” in the Karakum desert. Tourism agencies will drive you there, accommodate you in tents and cook for you near the crater. It’s a bizarre experience and one of my favourite tourist activities, ever.

10 Marshall Islands, Oceania

53,000 inhabitants (Wikipedia); 6,000 tourists (UNWTO)

A double ship wreck in Majuro Atoll. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

Everything is relative. 10,000 is actually twice as many as in 2015. The country is however still hard to get to, and limited competition guarantees high ticket prices for flights.

Why still visit?

If the number of tourists continue to double every few years you wanna visit before it gets too crowded. The 1,059 registered fish species makes it the world’s fishiest nation. Consider it a criminal offence not to dive there.

What else?

The Bikini Atoll is part of the country. The now famous garment was introduced a few days after the United States conducted tests of atomic bombs there in 1946 and received massive news coverage. A marketing genius seized the opportunity of a little name grab.

9 Kiribati, Oceania

110,000 inhabitants (Wikipedia); 3,600 tourists (garfors.com)

I’ve had worse views. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

How can you book a ticket to a country you don’t know exists, let alone know how to pronounce?

Why still visit?

The colours of the sea are truly amazing! It also helps that the very welcoming people here will make you feel at home from day one. Expect to be greeted by “Ko na Mauri” or just “Mauri” accompanied with a big smile. It means “You will be well”.

What else?

The country is pronounced “Kiribass”, not “Kiribati”. A “ti” or a “tu” in a word is pronounced as “s”. So, women named Teretia should be called “Teresa” and the biggest town Betio is of course pronounced “Beso”. You may be surprised to hear that as many as five airlines now operate international routes to and from the country. Seize the opportunity.

8 Equatorial Guinea, Africa

1.2 million inhabitants (Wikipedia); 2,400 tourists (garfors.com)

Justin Jay is the first person to have filmed drills in their natural habitat. The film is called The Lost Kings of Bioko and will be released in late 2018. Photo: Justin Jay.

Why so few?

Getting a visa to Equatorial Guinea can be a daunting task. The process has luckily improved a lot the last few years, especially at the embassies in London and Berlin. Do note that US citizens do not need visas to go here, but all other foreigners do.

Why still visit?

The flora and fauna on Bioko, the island where capital Malabo is located, is unique and very impressive. The reclusive drill monkey had for instance never been filmed in its natural habitat. Not 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. You should certainly visit, but avoid the southern part of Bioko during rainy season. Unless you’re happy with 10,450 millimeters of rain.

What else?

The dictatorship is currently building a new capital in Río Muni, on the mainland. It is being constructed in the middle of the jungle in the new province of Djibloho which was created in 2017. The new capital will be called Ciuadad de la Paz, or City of Peace. No one lives there yet, but 200,000 are expected to call it their home by the end of 2020. Equatorial Guinea has huge oil reserves, which fund such extravagant projects.

7 South Sudan, Africa

8 million inhabitants (Al Jazeera); 2,200 tourists (garfors.com)

People in South Sudan are paranoid about being photographed. Which got me into big trouble with the police. Four times. These outboard engine mechanics by the Nile were however happy to model. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

The civil war in South Sudan has led to a big humanitarian crisis, and over 30 percent of the population has fled the country.

Why still visit?

This is one of the most underestimated countries in Africa for wildlife. Important animal corridors cross the country, and huge herds of animals use them every season. This results in the world’s second-largest land mammal migration. You will see giraffes, elephants, lions and hippopotamuses to name a few.

What else?

Be very, very careful about photographing or filming in South Sudan. Both police officers and random men on the street are likely to harass you and demand money if they see you snap any photos of anyone or anything. A senior police officer brought me in to the Vice Minister of Media, and I had to sign a letter of apology for my outrageous camera activities.

6 Eritrea, Africa

5 million inhabitants (Wikipedia); 2,000 tourists (garfors.com)

Fiat and Fiat in Asmara. You’ll find some of the world’s finest Art Deco architecture here. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

Eritrea has one of the world’s longest serving dictators and the country is second last on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index. Narrowly ahead of North Korea.

Why still visit?

Asmara is Art Deco heaven. Not bringing your camera will annoy you from here to eternity. The country is very diverse, and there are many other places you should also visit, not least Massawa by the Red Sea. Leaving the capital does however require a tourist permit which you can apply for at Ministry of Tourism in the main street.

What else?

You are lucky if there is no Eritrean embassy in your country, as that enables you to get a visa on arrival. You will however need to organize this in advance, I suggest that you contact my friend Tekeste who runs a travel company in Asmara. He is a very nice guy and happy to help with visas and tours.

5 Central African Republic, Africa

4.6 million inhabitants (Wikipedia); 1,000 tourists (garfors.com)

I was invited to visit a pygmy village a couple of hours drive from Bangui, the capital. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

There is a civil war going on in CAR, and a heavy UN presence. Large parts of the country is controlled by different armed groups and rebels, and random killings are commonplace.

Why still visit?

There are 2,000 gorillas and a big population of forest elephants in Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, currently the only safe tourist attraction in the country. Bangui, the capital, has also got a lot to offer, next to Ubangi River with a lot of boat traffic to and from DRC.

What else?

There are some pygmy villages not too far from Bangui. Most of them welcome visitors. Even I came across as tall when meeting the chief and his villagers.

4 Tuvalu, Oceania

11,000 inhabitants (Wikipedia); 800 tourists (garfors.com)

When your country is only 26 square kilometers big, the runway has to be used for more than planes. Kids play sports on it every day. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

Tuvalu is the most inaccessible country in the world. It is served by propeller planes only, which takes three hours from Fiji and even longer from Kiribati. Boats come and go once a month, if that, and they aren’t made for passengers.

Why still visit?

It is projected to be the first country to “sink” if sea levels increase due to global warming. To experience a country with a population of only 11,000 spread over nine islands and connected by infrequent ferries is truly unique. Expect to meet the prime minister on the street.

What else?

Funafuti, the capital, really comes to life every time a plane arrives, which means three or four times a week. People set up street stalls to sell food and souvenirs, and the main topic of discussion is naturally who will be coming to town. The airport code is “FUN”.

3 Libya, Africa

6.3 million inhabitants (Wikipedia); 200 tourists (garfors.com)

Where gladiators used to kill. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

Another civil war explains a bit. But the biggest barrier is the total lack of tourist visas. To visit, you have to fake being on business. Sherwes Travel will help you with logistics and security, at a price.

Why still visit?

Leptis Magna is one of the best preserved ancient cities in the world. Up to 100,000 people used to live in the 2,700 year old city which was abandonded in year 700 and later covered by the Sahara. It was rediscovered in the 1930s. I walked around all alone. Pure magic!

What else?

Tripoli International Airport (TIP) is currently not operational, following the Battle of Tripoli in 2014. To visit the capital by air, you have to fly in to Mitiga International Airport (MJI) which used to be an American air base. Travelling overland is not recommended.

2 Nauru, Oceania

13,000 inhabitants (World Bank); 130 tourists (garfors.com)

If you run the 21 kilometers around the country, you will “always” see the seaside of Nauru. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

Nauru is only 21 square kilometers big, and there is not much to see or do. There is of course a beach around most of the semi-circular island, but even swimming in bluegreen lukewarm waters becomes tiresome after a while. And getting a visa will typically take you 6-12 weeks.

Why still visit?

It used to be the least visited country in the world. That is no longer the case, but being the runner up is not a bad feat, and I expect that it will reclaim its claim to fame when things calm down a bit in the world’s least visited country.

What else?

There are clubs for men (women are not allowed) that tame frigatebirds. Club members lure the birds towards them by using an innovative mixture of particularly smelly fish, and snatch them with an “abio”, some kind of a lasso. A unique pattern is cut into the wings so that anyone can recognize which birds are tamed and which are not when they fly hundreds of meters high.

1 Yemen, Asia

27.6 million inhabitants (Wikipedia), 60 tourists (garfors.com)

Aden from above. Photo by Lexie Alford. She was my photographer in Yemen. You can see more of her fabulous photos in the book.
A short boat ride from Bassem Alwan, west of Aden. Not exactly how you’d imagine Yemen. Creative Commons licenced photo by Gunnar Garfors.

Why so few?

The conflict between the Iranian backed Houthies in the north and the Salafi movement supported by Saudi Arabia and UAE in the south has escalated and led to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in modern times. There is severe lack of food and water in many areas. Most flights in and out of the country have been cancelled

Why still visit?

Yemen is such a beautiful and diverse country with hospitality second to none. Capital Sana’a is located 2,200 meters above sea level and its old city looks like a giant gingerbread town. There are also stunning mountains west of the capital and some truly amazing beaches and picturesque villages along the coast.

What else?

Socotra, 500 kilometers from the mainland, is one of the world’s most unique islands and often referred to as Galapagos of the East. It is rather peaceful, but not particularly easy to get to. Most of the countrys few tourists come here, on own yachts.

What about North Korea?

No, I haven’t forgotten North Korea, Chad or Burundi. You can find a complete list of the number of tourists annualy to every country here. You will not be surprised to find out that France is the 198th least visited country in the world. The most touristy country, in other words.

Want to read the book?

The book about the world’s 20 least visited countries is due to be published this winter. The working title is The World’s 20 Least Visited Countries. Please sign up to receive an email when the book is available to buy.

You can follow the Gunnar Garfors on InstagramTwitter or Facebook. The 43 year old Norwegian has visited every country in the world, is still travelling extensively and shares photos and travel tips from all over the world on social media. 

Gunnar Garfors in Yemen in April 2018.