Sophisticated travelers often long to find that one beach without a tiki bar, that one trattoria where mom still rules the kitchen, or that one rural garden not yet discovered by tourists from mainland China wearing US$300 sneakers and wielding selfie sticks. But, given the ease of international travel these days, do those mythically enchanting places even exist anymore?
The folks over at the Priceonomics blog give us hope. It is still possible to get away from the maddening crowds, they claim. You just have to pick the right place. Combing through 2014 data from the World Bank, specifically data about the number of “tourist visits” to countries across the planet, they have unearthed a list of countries where you are least likely to bump into a compatriot. Or a patriot from any other country for that matter.
A “tourist visit” is defined as a visit to a country for less than 12 months for any reason other than work. Comparing that data with a country’s total population gives us a good, if not perfect, idea of just how crowded the place’s main attractions are on any given year. It’s not perfect because even large numbers of visitors will be drowned out in countries with huge populations (like India). But it’s as good a measure as any.
Beginning with the Priceonomics list, we turned to Lonely Planet’s The World; A Traveler’s Guide To The Planet to see what each of the countries that top the Priceonomics list might have to offer the casual visitor.
Here are the 8 countries with the least amount of tourists:
Asia’s Bangladesh, with 125,000 tourist visits for a population of 159 million, tops the list of the least touristy nations with 1,273 people per tourist visit. Outside of the country’s capital of Dhaka, foreigners are said to be a rare sight indeed in Bangladesh. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have much to offer. The riverine country has almost as many miles of river as it does roads, and boat travel is the main attraction here. Among the top places to visit are the mangrove forests of Sundarbans, home to the largest single population of royal Bengal tigers in the world, and the gently rolling hills of the Sreemangal tea-producing region, where bicycling trips are the chosen activity.
The West African nation of Guinea boasts what’s described as a vibrant capital, a world-class music scene and some spectacular scenery in the interior. But you won’t hear much about it. Only 33,000 tourists visited in 2014. And with a total population of 12 million, that makes for 372 people per tourist visit. Decades of dictatorship—President Teodoro Obiang Nguema is Africa’s longest-serving leader—has held Guinea back. Visitors who do make it there often head straight for the stunning beaches on the Atlantic coast, especially those around the former slave-trading station of Îles de Los, or the Bossou Environmental Research Institute, where chimpanzees rule the roost.
Moldova, only vaguely known in Europe and all-but invisible to the rest of the world, is the third least-visited country on the list, with 11,000 tourists visits for a population of just over 3.5 million (323 tourist visits per person). Moldova, a former Soviet republic, has suffered economically and has been racked by civil wars with Russian separatists since the fall of Communism, seeing few foreign visitors as a result. And it’s said to not be terribly well-equipped to deal with those who do come. Awaiting the casual tourist, however, are the largest wine cellars—200 kilometers of limestone caverns—in Europe at Cricova and a spectacular 13th-century cave monastery at Orheiul.
India only makes list thanks to its population of 1.3 billion smothering any sort of statistic about the number of visitors. More than 7.6 million tourists visited in 2014, and there is no shortage of things for them to see. Snowy mountains in the north, amazing beaches in the south, great food, great people, old fortresses, ancient temples, and some of the most colorful festivals on the planet. This is the land of the Taj Mahal, the surreal boulderscapes of Hampi, and the golden temple at Amritsar. You will never be entirely alone in India, but you are more likely to be surrounded by Indians than by other foreign tourists in most places.
Sierra Leone just can’t catch a break. Just as the civil wars involving child soldiers had wound down, it was hit with an Ebola outbreak that would scare away even the most adventurous of travelers. Nonetheless, some 44,000 intrepid souls made their way in 2014 to this West African nation founded by former U.S. slaves. With a population of 6.3 million that’s 144 locals for every tourist. Those who did visit most likely headed for the white-sand beaches around the capital of Freetown, visited the Tiwai Island nature reserve on the Moa River to see the pygmy hippos and primates, or climbed Mount Bintumani, one of the highest peaks in West Africa.
Niger, with 135,000 tourist visits in a total population of 19 million, is a land of contrasts. The country’s greatest attractions, the Air Mountains in the Ténéré desert of the north are largely off-limits because rebellious Tauregs are constantly making trouble, but the trans-Sahara trading post of Agadez can still be reached, and the south is still open as well. Giraffe herds await the visitor in Kouré, and a famous Sunday market at Ayorou is said to be one of the best on the continent. But don’t get too close to the southern border with Nigeria unless you want to come face-to-face with Islamist Boko Haram radicals who make a sport of kidnapping people.
Surprisingly, given what’s on offer, Ethiopia saw only 770,000 tourists in 2014 out of a total population of nearly 97 million. Dominating the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia will be remembered by those of a certain age for the famines that decimated the country in the 1980s. But those have largely passed, and awaiting the folks who venture here is some of the most spectacular natural scenery on the planet, especially in the Danakil Depression, which sports some 25% of Africa’s active volcanoes. Ethiopia was one of the few African countries never conquered by European colonists, so it retains its fascinating mix of Christian, Islamic, and Animist cultures. There’s a reason it is called the Cradle of Humanity.
This rugged, arid, and wind-blasted North African country on the southern edge of the Sahara clearly belongs on this list. Crumbling infrastructure, few hotels, rampant bribery, astronomical costs, mind-melting heat during the summer, and a security situation that is troubling on a good day make it one of the least hospitable places on the planet. Still, 122,000 people made the trek in 2014. With a total population of 13.5 million that’s 111 people per tourist. Those who braved it more than likely visited the desert oases in the north, viewed the elephant herds at the Dzanga-Sangha reserve, or went hunting with pygmy tribes in Bayanga.