Around the world in five posts: A-C

If I had one wish (forgoing the usual three), it would be to visit every country in the world. But seeing as I’m unlikely to come into the millions of pounds needed to make this happen, here’s the first of five posts offering a virtual tour of our planet’s sovereign states, based on what information I could be bothered to cobble together from freely available online sources.

Obviously I haven’t been to most of these countries, but I’ve done my best to provide a brief outline of what they’re all like and what tourists who visit might expect. So sit back, relax, and get ready to visit every country in the world with me.

Defining the term “every country in the world” is problematic. There are plenty of countries that aren’t sovereign or independent, but still qualify as countries. For this reason, I’ve decided to stick with Wikipedia’s list of sovereign states, with a couple of exceptions that will come to light in due course. Thanks!




افغانستان (Afġānistān)
  • Official Name: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
  • Capital City: Kabul
  • Population: 32,564,342
  • Official Religion: Islam
  • Language: Dari, Pashto, Uzbek, Turkmen
  • Currency: Afghani
  • Continent: Asia

What’s Afghanistan like?

Forbidding. The country has a long history of conflict, much of it involving various local tribes and ethnic groups, but also dragging in outside powers, from the British and the Russians during the so-called Great Game of the 1800s, to the Soviet Union in the 1980s and the Americans and their allies in the wake of the September 11th attacks in 2001. Those attacks were planned from Afghanistan for a reason – its remote landscape and lightly-governed territory made it a perfect base for terrorist organisations to operate from.

Afghanistan map

Everyday life for ordinary Afghans is dominated by the strict social mores and religious codes that have been the cornerstone of the various peoples living within the country’s borders for centuries. The country remains one of the poorest and least developed in the world, while a weak central government struggles to project its authority beyond the capital, Kabul. The south of the country, as well as the Pakistani border region, is dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group and is the homeland of the Taliban. However, Afghanistan is home to numerous ethnic and religious groups, including Tajiks and Uzbeks in the north, Persians in the west, and the oppressed Shia Hazaras in the centre.

One cool thing about Afghanistan

It may be one of the world’s poorest countries, but Afghanistan has two KFC restaurants, which apparently stands for Kabul Fried Chicken.

One sad thing about Afghanistan

The country is the world’s leading exporter of opium, the plant from which heroin is derived. While many Afghans literally depend on the crop to survive, there’s no doubting the untold misery it causes around the world.

Neighbours Textbox
Afghanistan’s borders bring it into contact with regional and global powers. To the northwest is Turkmenistan, to the north is Uzbekistan, and to the northeast is Tajikistan. The Wakhan Corridor in the northeast has a short border with China. In the east and south, the Durand Line separates Afghanistan from Pakistan, while in the west, the country borders Iran.


What’s it like for tourists?

Challenging. Although not all regions of Afghanistan are as volatile as others, the lack of governmental authority much beyond the capital, the poor and often dangerous infrastructure, the lack of basic services, including medical facilities, and all the usual hazards associated with mountainous countries make it an off-the-beaten-track destination. In particular, the south and east of the country are best avoided. However, each year, a few hardy souls do find their way to Afghanistan, usually as part of a well-planned organised tour group involving specialist security arrangements.

Afghanistan passport
Afghan passport

By far the safest part of Afghanistan for visitors is the Wakhan corridor, a strip of remote, rugged territory that protrudes from the country’s northeastern corner between Pakistan and Tajikistan, touching China’s western border. Far removed from the conflicts that have plagued the country for so much of its history, this beautiful region does draw in adventurous tourists seeking solitude, clean air and breathtaking scenery.

Kabul and the Hindu Kush




  • Official Name: Republic of Albania
  • Capital City: Tirana
  • Population: 2,886,026
  • Language: Albanian
  • Currency: Lek
  • Continent: Europe

What’s Albania like?

The country is still emerging from decades of isolation during the austere socialist rule of Enver Hoxha in the latter half of the 20th century. Under Hoxha, life for most Albanians was tough. With the fall of communism and the collapse of the socialist state in Albania, the country has opened up to the world, and living standards have been rising since the 1990s. In 1997, the country took a major hit when protests broke out after a series of pyramid schemes collapsed.


Despite the progress that the country has made and the improvements in everyday living standards that came with the fall of communism, Albania continues to grapple with corruption and gangsterism, and remains one of Europe’s poorest countries. However, the country will need to tackle these issues head on as it pursues a journey towards European Union membership at some point in the future. Most Albanians are Muslim, but the state is secular, and minority rights are protected in law.

One cool thing about Albania

Albanians nod their heads to say ‘no’ or to disagree, and shake their heads to answer in the affirmative, which can get confusing for unsuspecting visitors!

One sad thing about Albania

In some of Albania’s more remote regions, stunting still exists due to malnutrition, which seems hard to believe for a modern European country just a short hop across the Adriatic Sea from Italy.

Neighbours Textbox
Albania borders Montenegro in the northwest, the partially-recognised republic of Kosovo in the northeast, and Macedonia in the east. To the southeast is Greece, while Italy lies a short distance away across the Adriatic Sea.


What’s it like for tourists?

Closed off from the world for much of the 20th century, Albania is finally being discovered by adventurous tourists, and those who visit enjoy a warm welcome, beautiful weather (in the summer, anyway) and breathtaking scenery. Albania’s coastline has much to offer in the way of sunshine and sand, while the interior is often mountainous and resplendent with stunning river valleys and dense forests.

Albania passport
Albanian passport

Architectural and historical sights abound. The capital city – Tirana – is a happening, up-and-coming destination, while many visitors to the nearby Greek island of Corfu take day trips aboard ferries to the country’s southern beaches. It seems likely that interest in Albania as a tourist destination will only grow, so the time to visit may be now, before the hoards discover everything it has to offer.





الجزائر‎‎ (al-Jazā’ir) • ⴷⵣⴰⵢⴻⵔ (Dzayer) • Algérie
  • Official Name: People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria
  • Capital City: Algiers
  • Population: 40,400,000
  • Official Religion: Sunni Islam
  • Language: Arabic, Berber, French
  • Currency: Dinar
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Algeria like?

Most Algerians are a mix of Berbers (considered to be the country’s indigenous people) and Arabs, and the country very much identifies with the Arab world. At one time the jewel in the crown of the colonial French, a vicious civil war following independence made the country one of the most dangerous and unstable Arab states. The 1990s saw terrible internecine strife when elections were cancelled after it appeared Islamists would win them. Low-level violence continues to this day, and militant Islamist organisations remain a significant threat. Nevertheless, Algeria is a more peaceful and stable country than it used to be.

Algeria map

The majority of Algeria’s 40-odd million inhabitants live along the rocky coastal strip, while much of the vast interior is uninhabitable, dominated by the mighty Sahara desert. Surprisingly, the country remained pretty quiet during the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, and the country’s political life is dominated by the elite that surrounds the authoritarian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The country is rich in natural gas and is a major supplier to European markets. Pressing problems include a rapidly expanding population, chronic unemployment (especially among the young) and the delivery of reliable services.

One cool thing about Algeria

Despite the patriarchal culture prevalent in many Arab countries, women play a major role in the Algerian economy. As an example, an impressive 70% of the country’s lawyers are women.

One sad thing about Algeria

Estimates suggest that up to 150,000 people were killed in the Algerian civil war from 1991 to 2002. Let’s hope that the worst of the violence remains in the past.

Neighbours Textbox
Algeria shares borders with fellow Arab states Morocco in the northwest, Tunisia in the northeast and Libya in the east. Meanwhile, the country has long, largely undemarcated desert borders with Niger in the southeast, Mali in the southwest and Mauritania in the west. It also has a very short border in the west with the disputed territory of Western Sahara.


What’s it like for tourists?

Western governments continue to issue pretty scary-sounding warnings about visiting Algeria. However, with the improvement in the security situation since the end of the war, visitor numbers have increased and Algeria is beginning to emerge as a tourist destination. As one would expect from such a large country (the biggest in Africa by area), Algeria has plenty to offer visitors. Roman ruins are a particular draw in the north, as are the colonial buildings of the towns and cities, while the coastal mountain ranges are being opened up to hikers.

Algeria passport
Algerian passport

The sparsely populated deserts of the south and centre also receive a modest stream of tourists on guided trips, usually by 4×4, or involving camels. While most visits to these areas are trouble free if carefully planned in advance, occasional kidnappings and sometimes lethal attacks against tourists do, sadly, still occur.

Constantine – the “city of bridges”




  • Official Name: Principality of Andorra
  • Capital City: Andorra la Vella
  • Population: 85,470
  • Language: Catalan, Castillian Spanish, French, Portuguese
  • Currency: Euro
  • Continent: Europe

What’s Andorra like?

Tiny Andorra – one of the very smallest countries in the world – is perched high in the Pyrenees mountains on the border between France and Spain. The country has an unusual system of government in which the highest office in the land – that of Co-Prince – is held jointly by the president of France and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Urgell in Catalonia. Most Andorrans communicate in Catalan, but Castillian Spanish and French are also commonly heard.


One of the wealthiest countries in the world, Andorra’s economy is heavily geared towards tourism, and the country’s geography makes it a perfect winter sports destination. The small population of just over 85,000 enjoy some of the world’s highest living standards, with very little in the way of crime or pollution. The principality’s tax haven status also plays a major role in the economy.

One cool thing about Andorra

According to some sources, Andorra has the highest life expectancy in the world at 81 years, an obvious benefit of the country’s prosperity and excellent healthcare facilities.

One sad thing about Andorra

There isn’t much to be sad about in Andorra, but despite having almost no agricultural land to speak of, the country produces a quantity of tobacco well in excess of what one would expect for such a small country and remains a key European smuggling hub for tobacco products.

Neighbours Textbox
High up in the Pyrenees, Andorra borders France in the north and the autonomous community of Catalonia in Spain in the south.


What’s it like for tourists?

Something of a playground, to be honest, with steep mountains and plunging valleys. The country receives about 10 million visitors a year, which is incredible for a land of just 85,000 people. Winter sports are the mainstay of the Andorran economy and the main reason people visit the principality, but the warm, sunny summers have a pull of their own as well.

Andorra passport
Andorran passport

Traditionally, tourists have also been keen to take advantage of Andorra’s duty-free status. However, the tourist economy did take something of a knock during the global economic crisis of 2008, when a drop in prices over the border in Spain reduced Andorra’s competitive advantage in this area.

Andorra la Vella




  • Official Name: Republic of Angola
  • Capital City: Luanda
  • Population: 25,789,000
  • Language: Portuguese, numerous indigenous languages
  • Currency: Kwanza
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Angola like?

Poverty is widespread in the southwest African state that was once a Portuguese colony. The country’s development was held back for decades thanks to a brutal civil war that broke out on independence in 1975 – a war which didn’t end until 2002. Many rural citizens were displaced during the conflict and now struggle to get by in slums in the capital, Luanda. The country is blighted by a lack of basic services, especially outside the capital, food insecurity, low literacy levels and a violent insurrection in the exclave of Cabinda, which is cut off from the rest of Angola by a sliver of territory belonging to Congo (DR). Despite these troubles, Luanda is often ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live.


Angola does, however, have one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies thanks to a resource boom focused mainly on diamond mining and oil production. Luanda in particular has seen an explosion in construction as shiny new towers emerge and more and more roads are paved. While these resources offer hope for a brighter future for a more peaceful Angola, much of the wealth they have generated so far rests in the hands of a tiny minority, while most Angolans continue to live in abject poverty, especially those living outside Luanda.

One cool thing about Angola

Angola is the only place in the world where one can find the giant sable antelope. The species was only recently discovered, and the really cool thing is that it had been believed to be extinct!

One sad thing about Angola

The country has the highest mortality rate on the planet. Every year, 23 out of every 1,000 die. Will the economic boom help to bring health and prosperity to Angola?

Neighbours Textbox
Angola has a long border in the north and northeast with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It also borders Zambia in the east and Namibia in the south. The Angolan exclave of Cabinda is separated from the rest of Angola by a small piece of territory belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and also borders the Republic of the Congo. Angola has a long coastline on the Atlantic Ocean.


What’s it like for tourists?

Decades of war kept Angola firmly off the tourist trail for much of its post-independence history. Whilst the country is more peaceful nowadays, its onerous visa requirements discourage all but those most determined to visit. Indeed, those who do travel to Angola are trailblazers and, should they explore beyond Luanda, will almost certainly meet people who have never encountered foreigners before.

Angola passport
Angolan passport

Luanda itself is sometimes referred to as the “Paris of Africa“, but it is also one of the most expensive cities in the world. Beyond the capital, the large country has several spectacular national parks and an abundance of wildlife. Angola’s long Atlantic coastline and warm climate mean there is much scope to expand and develop the tourist sector.




Antigua and Barbuda

  • Official Name: Antigua and Barbuda
  • Capital City: St. John’s
  • Population: 91,295
  • Language: English, Antiguan Creole
  • Currency: East Caribbean dollar
  • Continent: North America

What’s Antigua and Barbuda like?

The island nation in the West Indies comes pretty close to what many people think of as a tropical paradise. Year-round sunshine, unspoilt sandy beaches, warm deep-blue sea, palm trees and Creole culture make this small nation a magnet for well-heeled tourists. Much of the country’s economic and cultural activity centres on Antigua, with its smaller companion Barbuda a little less developed and slightly more isolated.

Antigua and Barbuda

The islands are a Commonwealth realm that gained independence from the British in 1981 after more than 350 years of colonial administration. The islands have a history of slavery linked to sugar plantations, although the practice was abolished in the 1830s. Today, the people of Antigua and Barbuda live relatively comfortable, if not always affluent, lives.

One cool thing about Antigua and Barbuda

The country’s highest point used to be called Boggy Peak until August 4th, 2009, when it was renamed Mount Obama after the 44th President of the United States. He may not yet have his face on Mt. Rushmore, but there’ll always be a piece of him on Antigua!

One sad thing about Antigua and Barbuda

The country’s national sea creature – the Hawksbill turtle – was once hunted for its shell and, although the practice has now ceased, the species is considered to be endangered.

Neighbours Textbox
Antigua and Barbuda is an island nation with no land borders. It’s nearest neighbours are Montserrat to the southwest and St. Kitts and Nevis to the west.


What’s it like for tourists?

See above! Antigua is, by some measures, the most prosperous of all the Caribbean islands, and owes much of this to the advent of high-end tourism. Gigantic cruise ships are a common sight in the harbour at St. John’s. The island’s beach resorts, with their five-star hotels and pristine sands, cater to affluent guests seeking the archetypal Caribbean idyll.

Antigua and Barbuda passport
Antiguan passport

Barbuda is much less developed than its larger counterpart and is often visited by daytrippers making the short ferry hop from their base on Antigua. However, it does have a number of exclusive resorts of its own. Much effort has been made on Barbuda to maintain its quieter, more laid-back demeanour.

A beach on Barbuda




  • Official Name: Argentine Republic
  • Capital City: Buenos Aires
  • Population: 43,417,000
  • Language: Spanish, various regional languages
  • Currency: Peso
  • Continent: South America

What’s Argentina like?

Stretching from the subtropical centre of the South American continent to its chilly southern tip, Argentina is a land of geographical contrasts. From the scorching deserts of the far north, to the strident peaks of the Andes in the northwest, to the temperate Pampas region surrounding the capital, to the sparsely populated plains and spectacular glaciers of Patagonia and the rocky,  remote Tierra del Fuego in the far south, Argentina’s borders encompass a wide variety of climates, topography and geographical features.


The country gained independence from Spain in 1816 and has, by and large, been one of the more prosperous in Latin America. However, political and economic turmoil have been constant features of Argentine life, and protests and demonstrations are a common sight, especially in Buenos Aires. Argentines are not shy about making their views known, especially when it comes to the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas), over which the country fought with Britain in 1982. Football (soccer) is also a national obsession. Economic crisis in the early 2000s ravaged the country, and although things have improved in recent years, inflation remains a problem.

One cool thing about Argentina

There is a small Welsh-speaking community in Argentina in a relatively remote area of Patagonia. Place names such as Y Wladfa, Trelew and Trevelin stand out in this otherwise Spanish-speaking part of the world.

One sad thing about Argentina

It may be among the richer nations of Latin America, but since 1913, Argentina has gone from being the world’s 10th richest country to its 54th richest. Economic mismanagement and political instability are at the heart of the country’s difficulties.

Neighbours Textbox
Argentina has a border stretching 5,300km (3,300m) with Chile in the west – the world’s third-longest international border. It also borders Bolivia to the north, Paraguay and Brazil to the northeast and Uruguay to the east. The British-administered Falkland Islands, known to and claimed by Argentines as Las Malvinas, lie in the South Atlantic off Argentina’s southeastern coast.


What’s it like for tourists?

As befits the eighth-biggest country in the world, there is lots to entice visitors to Argentina. Walking and hiking opportunities abound, and there is skiing in the Andes during the winter months. The country’s vast national parks offer scenic beauty, including the chance to see and explore glaciers in the south.

Argentina passport
Argentinian passport

Most visitors will spend at least some of their time in the vibrant metropolis of Buenos Aires. Colourful, open, tolerant and welcoming, Buenos Aires is the lifeblood of the country and always leaves an impression. Argentina is also not the easiest place for guests to keep vegan – the country has the world’s second-highest consumption of beef, and the meat plays a central role in Argentine cuisine.

Ushaia, Tierra del Fuego




Հայաստան (Hayastan)
  • Official Name: Republic of Armenia
  • Capital City: Yerevan
  • Population: 2,998,600
  • Official Religion: Christianity (Armenian Apostolic Church)
  • Language: Armenian
  • Currency: Dram
  • Continent: Europe (Eurasia)

What’s Armenia like?

Armenia is a small, landlocked republic in the often volatile Caucasus region. Much of it is mountainous, though there is also an abundance of forest and even borderline desert in the far south near Iran. The country also has a shoreline on Lake Sevan. Culturally and linguistically unique, Armenia straddles the blurred lines between Europe and Asia. Often linked culturally to the former, it sits geographically in the latter.


The Armenians are an ancient people with a unique language and script. The vast majority of the population adhere to the Armenian Apostolic Church – the oldest Christian church in the world. Armenians have experienced much strife in their history, including the Armenian Genocide in Anatolia during the First World War, and the hardships of life as a Soviet republic until independence in 1991. The country’s relations with Turkey are frosty, and a war with Azerbaijan in the 1990s hindered its post-Soviet development.

One cool thing about Armenia

Armenia has a large diaspora, especially in the United States. Notable ethnic Armenians include the Kardashians, and in 2015, Kim and Khloe holidayed in Armenia to learn more about their ancestry. And yes, they were joined by Kanye West.

One sad thing about Armenia

It is estimated that 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the Armenian Genocide, which took place in 1915 while under Ottoman rule. The legacy of the Genocide lives on in Armenian identity and folklore and continues to poison relations with modern Turkey.

Neighbours Textbox
Armenia borders Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Azerbaijan to the east and Iran to the south. It also borders the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan in the southwest.


What’s it like for tourists?

The country is far from the radar of mass tourism, but it is a very rewarding destination for those who do visit. Stunning mountain scenery, ancient churches, historic buildings and friendly people make Armenia a welcoming place to explore. While the capital, Yerevan, has all the trappings of a modern, mid-sized city, much of Armenia is rural and unspoilt.

Armenia passport
Armenian passport

Yerevan lies in the shadow of the magnificent Mount Ararat, the holiest site in Armenian Christianity, which lies just over the border in Turkey, and on a clear day  makes for some superb views. Armenia, especially Yerevan, also makes a great place to take in café culture and watch the world go by.

Yerevan and Mount Ararat




  • Official Name: Commonwealth of Australia
  • Capital City: Canberra
  • Largest City: Sydney
  • Population: 24,200,000
  • Language: English
  • Currency: Australian dollar
  • Continent: Oceania

What’s Australia like?

One of the world’s largest countries in terms of area, Australia’s interior is mostly desert, with rainforest in the tropical north. The vast majority of Australians live around the coast, especially in the southeast. The country is one of the most urbanised in the world, although some Australians do make a living from the harsh Outback. In much of the country away from the populated coastal areas, it is possible to go for days without seeing civilisation. The country is well known for being home to some unique wildlife found nowhere else on Earth, including kangaroos, wallabies and some of the world’s most venomous spiders.


Australia performs consistently well in various measures of national well-being and is considered to have some of the highest living standards anywhere in the world. Modern Australia is very multicultural, with 25% of its residents born overseas. The Australian economy is buoyed by a booming mining sector, and has ridden out the global economic downturn well. However, the country’s Aboriginal peoples have not shared in the prosperity and remain marginalised, and a slowdown in the Chinese demand for raw materials is one major problem Australia will need to be prepared for.

One cool thing about Australia

Estimates suggest that Aboriginal people have been in Australia for up to 60,000 years, making it the oldest culture in the world.

One sad thing about Australia

Australia has the highest rates of gambling in the world. While this does contribute to economic growth and most Aussies who gamble do so responsibly, it nevertheless comes with all the usual downsides associated with impulsiveness and addiction.

Neighbours Textbox
Australia has no land borders. Its nearest neighbours are New Zealand across the Tasman Sea in the southeast, New Caledonia in the Coral Sea to the east, and Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the north.


What’s it like for tourists?

Australia has a very highly-developed tourist economy. The country is especially popular with adventurous young Europeans, who will often travel up or down the east coast, or perhaps explore the Outback, before heading to Southeast Asia. The country offers vibrant, multicultural cities, unique landscapes and wildlife, beaches with world class surfing and the majesty of Uluru, or Ayers Rock. Care is, of course, required when travelling around Australia, where distances between settlements and potential assistance can be enormous. The country’s natural wonders, from its diverse wildlife to the remarkable Great Barrier Reef, are also a major draw.

Australia passport
Australian passport

While the country is often seen as synonymous with beautiful warm sunny weather, the southwest and southeast of the country do have discernible winters, and there are plenty of opportunities for winter sports enthusiasts in the mountains of New South Wales and Victoria. Australia’s major cities have developed into youthful, vibrant multicultural metropolises that provide excellent bases for those exploring the country, and offer plenty of amenities to those who enjoy the buzz of the urban environment.





  • Official Name: Republic of Austria
  • Capital City: Vienna
  • Population: 8,726,000
  • Language: German
  • Currency: Euro
  • Continent: Europe

What’s Austria like?

A prosperous, mountainous, German-speaking Central European republic perhaps best known for The Sound of Music, Mozart, winter sports and it’s beautiful capital city, Vienna. The country has played a major role in European military and political history and was part of one of the world’s most powerful empires in the shape of Austria-Hungary. The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand is widely seen as a key trigger for World War One, and the country was also invaded by Nazi Germany in 1938. Since the restoration of full sovereignty in 1955, the country has pursued a policy of neutrality.


Modern Austria is a wealthy country with high living standards. Most Austrians speak Bavarian German dialects, and the country has in recent years welcomed economic and political migrants, particularly from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia. The country’s cities are world-famous for their classical architecture and long histories. However, Austria also has one of the most influential far-right movements of any European country.

One cool thing about Austria

Arnold Schwarzenegger is originally from Austria, which is pretty fantastic. He lives in California now, though, and hasn’t confirmed he will ever “be back”.

One sad thing about Austria

Adolf Hitler was originally from Austria, which is not quite so cool. Hitler may, for obvious reasons, be more heavily associated with German history, but he was born and raised in Austria and saw the distinction between different German-speaking peoples as phony.

Neighbours Textbox
Austria may be small, but its location at the heart of Europe means it has plenty of neighbours. Germany and the Czech Republic lie to the north, Slovakia is to the northeast, with Hungary to the east and Slovenia to the southeast. To the south is Italy, while Switzerland and the tiny principality of Liechtenstein are to the west.


What’s it like for tourists?

Some of the highest peaks in the Alps are in Austria, and the country is one of the world’s most popular winter sports destinations. Outside of the skiing season, the mountainous nation offer spectacular views to walkers, hikers and climbers.

Austria passport
Austrian passport

Each year, millions of tourists are attracted to the country’s capital, Vienna, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with a rich cultural heritage and a proud history. The city is renowned for its stunning Baroque architecture and its prominent role in the history of classical music.

Belvedere Palace, Vienna




  • Official Name: Republic of Azerbaijan
  • Capital City: Baku
  • Population: 9,754,830
  • Language: Azerbaijani
  • Currency: Manat
  • Continent: Asia

What’s Azerbaijan like?

A former Soviet republic in the southern Caucasus, Azerbaijan is rich in oil and natural gas, and has used these commodities to achieve impressive economic growth since independence in 1992. However, much of the wealth that this boom has delivered is concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite surrounding the country’s authoritarian president, Ilham Aliyev, who has been accused of human rights abuses. Most ordinary citizens remain poor.


The country also smarts from the fallout of its war with neighbouring Armenia and the loss of control over a substantial swathe of territory in the west to the de facto independent ethnic Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Despite these travails, the country is increasingly ambitious and has begun to raise its international profile, while the Tour of Azerbaijan has become one the most prestigious events on the cycling calendar. Football fans may have seen the country’s tourist board advertised on the shirts of FC Barcelona.

One cool thing about Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan is known as the Land of Fire, and fire is a big deal in the country. The first known fireplace – dating back as far as 700,000 years – was discovered in a cave in the country, and there is a mountain which is permanently ablaze due to escaping natural gas.

One sad thing about Azerbaijan

Human rights groups have criticised President Aliyev and his government for cracking down increasingly harshly on dissenting voices and failing to tackle corruption as the country’s resource boom fails to improve the lives of most ordinary Azerbaijanis.

Neighbours Textbox
Azerbaijan borders Georgia to the northwest, Russia to the north, Iran to the south and Armenia to the west. There are several tiny pockets of Azerbaijani territory surrounded by Armenia, and vice versa. Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhchevan also gives the country a short border with Turkey.


What’s it like for tourists?

The government is ambitious about developing the country’s fledgling tourist industry and has dedicated itself to making Azerbaijan a popular tourist destination. The country is beginning to restore its reputation after the Nagorno-Karabakh war of the 1990s had a negative impact on its tourist industry.

Azerbaijan passport
Azerbaijani passport

Visitors will find Baku to be an increasingly modern and shiny oil city on the Caspian Sea, but it still retains the charms of its attractive mosques and Islamic history and culture. Outside of the capital, winter is a great time to visit the mountains of Azerbaijan, where the country’s ski resorts continue to develop and expand. Meanwhile, the Tour of Azerbaijan draws cycling enthusiasts from around the world.




The Bahamas

  • Official Name: Commonwealth of the Bahamas
  • Capital City: Nassau
  • Population: 392,700
  • Language: English
  • Currency: Bahamian dollar
  • Continent: North America

What’s The Bahamas like?

Often thought of as a typical Caribbean nation, the hundreds of islands and cays that make up The Bahamas actually lie in the North Atlantic, just to the north of Cuba and the island of Hispaniola, and to the south east of the US state of Florida. However, despite this geographical distinction, the people of The Bahamas share much in common with other Afro-Caribbean nations of the West Indies in terms of culture, history and identity.

The Bahamas

The islands became a British colony in the 18th century and went on to become a new home for freed African slaves either rescued from slave ships or brought over by “owners” fleeing the US following the American War of Independence. The majority of Bahamians are the descendants of freed African slaves. Today, The Bahamas is one of the wealthiest countries in the Americas, with an economy built on financial services and a high-end tourist industry that takes advantage of the islands’ idyllic setting.

One cool thing about The Bahamas

When Christopher Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, his first landing point was in The Bahamas, rather than on the American mainland, although this was probably less cool for the native Arawaks, who were to be forcibly relocated to Hispaniola by the Spanish.

One sad thing about The Bahamas

The islands are sometimes subjected to some pretty hefty hurricanes. In August 2004, Hurricane Frances became the first hurricane since 1928 to pass over the entirety of The Bahamas, almost wiping out the country’s agricultural sector and causing widespread damage to property. Earlier this year, Hurricane Matthew landed a direct hit on The Bahamas.

Neighbours Textbox
The Bahamas is made up of hundreds of islands and cays and, as such, has no land borders. The US state of Florida is nearby to the northwest, while Cuba lies a short distance away to the southwest. The British overseas territory of Turks and Caicos lies to the southeast.


What’s it like for tourists?

The occasional monster hurricane aside, The Bahamas offers year-round sunshine, warm seas, excellent diving opportunities and an array of upscale beach resorts. The harbour at Nassau, the country’s capital, often resembles a car park for cruise ships, and luxury cruise passengers make up just shy of three quarters of the islands’ annual visitor numbers.

The Bahamas passport
Bahamian passport

Nassau itself dominates the islands’ cultural, economic and political life, and is home to enormous hotels and casinos, although most come for the more tranquil atmosphere and picturesque setting of the islands and cays beyond the capital.

Long Island




البحرين‎‎ (al-Baḥrayn)
  • Official Name: Kingdom of Bahrain
  • Capital City: Manama
  • Population: 1,378,000
  • Official Religion: Islam
  • Language: Arabic
  • Currency: Bahraini dinar
  • Continent: Asia

What’s Bahrain like?

Bahrain is a small island nation in the Persian Gulf that lies just off the coast of Saudi Arabia – to which it is linked by the King Fahd Causeway – and to the west of Qatar. The country is a major oil producer, but its reserves have never been as vast as those of its neighbours. Bahrain has attempted to address this by developing its tourism sector and attracting financial institutions to its capital, Manama. Like other countries in the Gulf, its imported labour – mainly from the Indian Subcontinent – are considerably less well-off than native Bahraini Arabs.


By Gulf standards, Bahrain’s absolute monarchy is relatively permissive, and it is common for young Saudis to cross the causeway to take advantage of the relative freedoms on offer in their near neighbour. However, Bahrain became restive during the 2011 Arab Spring, when the Sunni Muslim monarchy suppressed protests that emanated particularly from the country’s Shia Muslims, who make up a large majority of the population and, especially outside Manama, tend to live less comfortably than their Sunni compatriots. While things are quiet again now, the grievances for many have not subsided.

One cool thing about Bahrain

The British School of Bahrain holds the world record for the largest simultaneous coin toss after 1,117 staff and students participated in the effort in 2010 to mark World Maths Day.

One sad thing about Bahrain

It seems a shame that in a hot island nation, only 5% of its beaches are open to the public. The rest are in the hands of the ruling family or private investors.

Neighbours Textbox
Technically and island nation without land borders, Bahrain is directly linked to Saudi Arabia in the west via the King Fahd causeway. Meanwhile, Qatar lies a short distance away across the Persian/Arabian Gulf to the southeast.


What’s it like for tourists?

Bahrain’s summer heat can be oppressive, with temperatures sometimes reaching 50c. However, outside the hottest part of the year, Bahrain is a great winter sun spot that blends modern Middle Eastern culture with a wealth of archaeological treasures. Most visitors come from surrounding Arab states, but the country draws visitors from further afield with its opportunities for diving, birdwatching and sailing.

Bahrain passport
Bahraini passport

Bahrain is also on the Formula One motor-racing calendar, although its circuit has come in for criticism from some quarters for not being demanding or exciting enough. The country’s comparatively relaxed social scene make it something of a playground for young partygoers from more conservative nearby states, especially Saudi Arabia.

World Trade Center, Manama




বাংলাদেশ (Bāṃlādēśa)
  • Official Name: People’s Republic of Bangladesh
  • Capital City: Dhaka
  • Population: 168,957,745
  • State Religion: Islam
  • Language: Bengali (or Bangla), English
  • Currency: Taka
  • Continent: Asia

What’s Bangladesh like?

An intoxicating, crowded country, Bangladesh is roughly comparable in size to England, but with a population bigger than that of Russia! The land is extremely fertile thanks to two of Asia’s mightiest rivers, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, both of which flow into Bangladesh, forming a huge delta system as they empty into the Bay of Bengal. However, the country is prone to severe storms and often devastating flooding.


Bangladesh began life as an independent nation in 1971 when, following a vicious war, it broke away from Pakistan. After the British gave India its independence in 1948, partition gave rise to two new states – India and Pakistan. The latter was made up of two wings – a western wing and an eastern wing. However, the more populous eastern wing remained restive, eventually rising up and breaking away from Pakistan to form a new country – Bangladesh. Whilst progress has been made, and the country has considerable natural resources, poverty remains an endemic problem in the bustling, crowded country. In recent times, a rise in attacks by Islamists, especially against secular bloggers, has presented a new challenge, although most Bangladeshis practice a tolerant brand of Islam.

One cool thing about Bangladesh

Bangladesh is home to the world’s longest beach at Cox’s Bazar in the southeast country, near its border with Myanmar (Burma).

One sad thing about Bangladesh

The country is very agricultural, but it is also one of the world’s leading textile and garment manufacturers. Sadly, worker protection and safety standards are often poor, and a huge fire at a garment factory in the capital, Dhaka, in 2012 killed over 100 staff and resulted in more than 200 injuries. Then, in 2013, a complex that was home to multiple factories collapsed and 1,100 workers lost their lives.

Neighbours Textbox
Bangladesh is bordered by India to the west north and east. The border between the two countries becomes mind-bogglingly complex in places, with parcels of one country’s territory often surrounded by the other. There are many enclaves within enclaves. It’s a fascinating border for those with an interests in quirky political geography. Bangladesh also has a short border with Myanmar (Burma) in the southeast. Nepal and Bhutan are separated from Bangladesh in the north by narrow stretches of Indian territory.


What’s it like for tourists?

Bangladesh’s chaotic infrastructure, political volatility and endemic poverty make it a challenging destination for tourists. However, the country does receive a steady stream of visitors every year, and it has an abundance of natural, cultural and historic treasures.

Bangladesh passport
Bangladesh passport

The vast Sunderbans mangrove swamps is a UNESCO World Heritage site, while Cox’s Bazar is home to the world’s longest unbroken beach. The country’s national parks are home to a fascinating array of flora and fauna, while the intense, frenetic, colourful and, occasionally, dangerous capital, Dhaka, boasts a number of impressive forts and mosques.

Cox’s Bazar




  • Official Name: Barbados
  • Capital City: Bridgetown
  • Population: 277,821
  • Language: English
  • Currency: Barbadian dollar
  • Continent: North America

What’s Barbados like?

The island of Barbados is a former British colony, technically in the North Atlantic, but widely considered to be a quintessential Caribbean nation. A relatively low-lying island, especially when compared to some of its neighbours, Barbados lies outside the path of most Atlantic hurricanes, and its year-round warm weather, multitude of beach resorts and laid-back Caribbean pace of life make it a hugely popular tourist destination.


Most Barbadians enjoy a relatively high standard of living in one of the western hemisphere’s wealthier countries. However, small pockets of poverty do still exist in some parts of Barbados, and the country’s reliance on tourism does put it at the mercy of industry downturns. The vast majority of Barbadians are of Afro-Caribbean descent, but there also South Asian and Chinese minorities on the island.

One cool thing about Barbados

The pop star Rihanna was born in the parish of Saint Michael and raised in the Barbadian capital, Bridgetown. Since 2009, she has been an honorary ambassador for youth and culture on the island.

One sad thing about Barbados

In 2006, a “ghost” ship was brought into port in Barbados. The eleven occupants had been adrift in the Atlantic for four months and died from starvation. The boat appeared to have originated in west Africa and to be attempting to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.

Neighbours Textbox
Barbados is a fairly remote island in the North Atlantic, geographically separate from the chain of Caribbean island nations it is generally seen as being a part of. It’s nearest neighbour is St. Vincent and the Grenadines to the west.


What’s it like for tourists?

Barbados is something of a tourist mecca, with the majority of visitors well-to-do Brits looking for some guaranteed sunshine. The island is also popular with Americans and Canadians. For most, the chief appeal of Barbados is its luxury beach resorts, but the country also contains interesting towns and villages featuring attractive colonial buildings.

Barbados passport
Barbadian passport

The island’s less visited east coast is an altogether different affair as giant waves crash against rocky cliffs, making this one of the most scenic parts of the island.

The Barbadian parliament, Bridgetown




Беларусь (Biełaruś)
  • Official Name: Republic of Belarus
  • Capital City: Minsk
  • Population: 9,498,700
  • Language: Russian, Belarusian
  • Currency: New Belarusian ruble
  • Continent: Europe

What’s Belarus like?

Often referred to as the last dictatorship in Europe, Belarus has been run since independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union by its authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko. The country retains strong ties with Russia, with some observers speculating that the two may reunite one day to form a single state. However, relations between the two have soured somewhat in recent years. Belarus’s relations with the West have been tetchy due to criticisms of the regime’s human right record. One of the better-off parts of the Soviet Union during the Cold War period, the country experienced an economic crisis after independence, but rebounded fairly well in the late 1990s, and has a relatively low rate of unemployment.


Geographically, Belarus is heavily forested, with a fairly flat landscape featuring numerous lakes and the occasional rolling hillside. Most people speak Russian in everyday life, although there is a Belarusian language, and both language have official status. The term “Belarus” literally translates into White Russia.

One cool thing about Belarus

The massively-multiplayer online game World of Tanks was created by a Belarusian firm, and a Belarusian was also heavily involved in developing the popular instant messaging app, Viber.

One sad thing about Belarus

The 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine, severely impacted Belarus, which received about 60% of the nuclear fallout. The country continues to struggle with the affects of environmental pollution.

Neighbours Textbox
Landlocked Belarus borders Poland in the west, Lithuania in the northwest, Latvia in the north, Russia in the east and Ukraine in the south.


What’s it like for tourists?

Tourism is a very small sector of Belarus’s economy, and the country receives relatively few Western tourists. Most visitors come from Russia. Many Western visitors find the presence of such an authoritarian state in Europe surprising, but tourists are unlikely to run afoul of the authorities during a brief stay. Getting a visa to enter Belarus can be tricky.

Belarus passport
Belarusian passport

The country does have plenty of pleasant countryside to enjoy, while there also UNESCO World Heritage sites waiting be discovered and an array of attractive churches, historic fortresses and imposing castles. Belarus is not without potential as a tourist destination.





België • Belgique • Belgien
  • Official Name: Kingdom of Belgium
  • Capital City: Brussels
  • Population: 11,250,585
  • Language: Dutch, French, German
  • Currency: Euro
  • Continent: Europe

What’s Belgium like?

Home to major European Union institutions, the site of infamous First and Second World War battlefields, modern Belgium is a prosperous northern European country with a growing immigrant population. Belgian politics and society are somewhat fractious, with three different language communities – Flanders (Dutch-speaking), Wallonia (French speaking) and the small German speaking community – often pulling in different directions. On occasion, this has left Belgium without a functioning government, and the possibility of break-up in the future cannot be ruled out. The country is renowned for its waffles, beer and especially for producing high quality chocolate.


In common with the other Low Countries (Netherlands and Luxembourg), most of Belgium is low-lying, with coastal plains and a central plateau that gives way to the rolling hills of the Ardennes in the southeast. The coast is lined with beach resorts that become very popular in the summer months, while the country’s towns and cities – especially Bruges and Antwerp – are a particular draw for tourists. The port of Zeebrugge is one of Europe’s busiest.

One cool thing about Belgium

The first person to publish what is now known as the Big Bang theory was a Belgian physicist (and, somehow, priest) by the name of Georges Lemaitre. Small country, major contribution to our understanding of the universe!

One sad thing about Belgium

The country was occupied by Germany during both World Wars and is home to many war graves, especially around Ieper (Ypres).

Neighbours Textbox
Belgium has an intriguing border with the Netherlands in the north, which includes a number of enclaves and exclaves and even runs directly through the middle of buildings in places. The country also borders Germany in the east, Luxembourg in the southeast and France in the west.


What’s it like for tourists?

Belgium packs a lot into its relatively small territory, and possesses world class infrastructure, making it a simple country to get around. The major towns and cities, including Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp, feature numerous Gothic-style buildings and attractive central squares, although Brussels itself is not always considered Belgium’s most enticing destination. Nevertheless, the quirky (some might say bizarre) Atomium is worth a look.

Belgium passport
Belgian passport

Arguably the most scenic part of Belgium is the Ardennes, where hillsides, valleys and forests host tiny villages and impressive castles. The Belgian coast becomes popular during the summer months and is served by the world’s longest tramline. French fries, despite their name, were invented in Belgium, and they are delicacy when served with mayonnaise.





  • Official Name: Belize
  • Capital City: Belmopan
  • Largest City: Belize City
  • Population: 368,310
  • Language: English, Spanish, Belizean Creole
  • Currency: Belize dollar
  • Continent: North America

What’s Belize like?

A small Commonwealth realm and former British colony on the Central American isthmus, Belize is remarkably diverse, and possesses an impressive array of land and marine life. Culturally, the country has taken on much from the British and Spanish influences in the region and retains strong links to both Latin America and the Caribbean nations. Belize is considered a middle-income country, and social inequality is less pronounced in Belize than in other countries in the region. A constant thread running through the country’s post-independence history is its tense relationship with neighbouring Guatemala.


The country’s jungles and coastal waters are home to a wide variety of plants and animals, and has taken some steps to try and protect its ecosystem. However, pollution and global warming remain a constant threat. The country is regularly hit by severe hurricanes and earthquakes are also a risk.

One cool thing about Belize

A culinary delicacy in Belize is gibnut, which is a type of rodent. This appetising treat is sometimes referred to as the royal rat, having once been served to Queen Elizabeth II!

One sad thing about Belize

Relations between Belize and its western neighbour, Guatemala, are so bad that the countries do their best to shame each other on the world stage, and Guatemala lays claim to more or less all Belizean territory.

Neighbours Textbox
Diminutive Belize borders two other Central American nations – Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south. To the east is a long Caribbean coastline.


What’s it like for tourists?

Tourism is an important part of Belize’s economy, and it has plenty to offer. The country draws visitors from all around the world to explore its many Mayan ruins, to marvel at its diverse flora and fauna and to experience world class diving off its coast. Belize is home to the Great Blue Hole – the world’s largest sinkhole – a paradise for keen divers.

Belize passport
Belizean passport

The country is a thriving ecotourism destination, and the government of Belize has made further development of the sector an important goal.

Great Blue Hole




  • Official Name: Republic of Benin
  • Capital City: Porto-Novo
  • Largest City: Cotonou
  • Population: 10,879,829
  • Language: French, Yoruba, Fon
  • Currency: West African CFA franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Benin like?

A small, relatively narrow country on the Gulf of Guinea in west Africa, Benin was once the centre of the great Dahomey kingdom, one of the most powerful and influential west African realms. It is also the birthplace of the Verdun faith, perhaps better known as Voodoo. The country abounds with historic palaces and temples that serve as a reminder of its glorious past, while the French language and colonial architecture of the big cities recall the country’s days as a French colony.


Most Beninese live along the narrow coastal strip in the city of Cotonou and the official capital, Porto-Novo. Much of the country is tropical, but there is an arid region in the far north. Agriculture is hugely important, with subsistence farming commonplace. The country has experienced political turbulence in the past, and spent the early part of its post-independence history under a Marxist government, before transitioning to multiparty democracy in the 1990s. The majority of Beninese remain poor.

One cool thing about Benin

In 1990, Benin became the first African country to make a successful transition from dictatorship to democracy when the Marxist regime of Mathieu Kérékou fell.

One sad thing about Benin

Southern Benin was part of what was once known as the Slave Coast. The powerful Kingdom of Dahomey, of which Benin was a large part, is estimated to have made £250,000 per year selling Africans to European traders.

Neighbours Textbox
Benin borders Togo in the west, Burkina Faso and Niger in the north and Nigeria in the east. It also has a short coastline on the Atlantic Ocean.


What’s it like for tourists?

As a poor country with underdeveloped infrastructure, not many tourists make their way to Benin each year. However, the country’s colonial history and the legacy of the Kingdom of Dahomey mean their is plenty to reward those that do. Especially, in the south, Benin is blessed with numerous ruins that tell the story of the country’s past, while the palaces at Abomey are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Benin passport
Beninese passport

The country also has some small national parks for those looking to enjoy typical west African savannah scenery, and the coastal resort town of Grand Popo, near the border with Togo, is popular with locals and visitors alike.

Royal Palaces of Abomey




འབྲུག་ཡུལ་ (druk gyal)
  • Official Name: Kingdom of Bhutan
  • Capital City: Thimphu
  • Population: 742,737
  • Official Religion: Buddhism
  • Language: Dzongkha
  • Currency: Ngultrum
  • Continent: Asia

What’s Bhutan like?

Spectacular Bhutan is a small, somewhat isolated, kingdom straddling the borders between India and China (specifically Tibet), dominated by the peaks of the eastern Himalayas, but with subtropical plains in the south. The country never became part of the British Empire per se, but it did cede some authority to British India, and has spent much of its history as an absolute monarchy. However, in 2008, Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy, increasing the degree of freedoms open to ordinary citizens and reducing the role of the royal family.


The country has jealously guarded the isolation afforded by its location to preserve its culture and traditions, much of which remain intact, and the Bhutanese follow a unique strand of Buddhism. A poor country, Bhutan has devised a philosophy referred to as Gross National Happiness, which recognises that the well-being of a society can be measured in more than just economic terms, and regular surveys find Bhutanese to be among the happiest people in the world. However, there is much anxiety about the pace of change as the country gradually opens up.

One cool thing about Bhutan

Thimphu is the only city in the world without traffic lights. A system was piloted in 1995, but Bhutanese drivers found them too impersonal, so they were removed. The city’s road junctions are managed by smartly-dressed officials in white gloves.

One sad thing about Bhutan

Society in Bhutan is pretty harmonious, but keeping it that way can come at a cost. In the 1990s, the government became concerned about a lack of conformity from the country’s ethnic Lhotshampa people and forcibly expelled them all.

Neighbours Textbox
Bhutan’s northern border is with the Tibetan autonomous region of China. To the east is Arunachal Pradesh – administered by India but claimed by China. India also lies to the south and west. Nepal and Bangladesh are separated from Bhutan by small sections of Indian territory.


What’s it like for tourists?

Historically, Bhutan did not allow tourists to visit out of concern that such contact with the outside world might permanently alter and damage their unique way of life. However, things began to change in the 1970s, and the country is now open to guests. You’ll need plenty of disposable income, though, as the Bhutanese government requires all tourists to be on an organised tour, and a visa costs $250 a day(!) for the duration of your stay.

Bhutan passport
Bhutanese passport

Those lucky enough to have the means can enjoy incredible trekking opportunities in the Himalayas and to take in the country’s charming and often spectacular dzongs, ancient fortresses that often cling to mountainsides, while the scenery is spectacular wherever you are in Bhutan.

Taktsang Dzong, near Thimphu




Buliwya • Wuliwya • Mborivia
  • Official Name: Plurinational State of Bolivia
  • Capital City: Sucre (constitutional capital), La Paz (seat of government)
  • Largest City: Santa Cruz de la Sierra
  • Population: 11,410,651
  • Languages: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, Guarani
  • Currency: Boliviano
  • Continent: South America

What’s Bolivia like?

Landlocked Bolivia, by some measures the poorest country in South America, is diverse in terms of both landscape and society. Much of the country’s centre and east is a hot, subtropical plain, while the western part is dominated by the Andes mountains. The Andean region was once part of the Inca empire, and the civilisation’s legacy is evident in the many ruins and temples that remain. A former Spanish colony, modern Bolivia is named after independence hero, Simón Bolívar, who played a major role in the various regional wars for independence from Spain.


Bolivians are a diverse ethnic mix, and Bolivia is the only country in South America in which indigenous peoples make up a majority of the population. However, much of the country’s wealth and influence lies with the elite, mainly the descendants of European immigrants. Poverty is a major challenge. In 2006, Bolivians elected their first indigenous president, Evo Morales, who is still in power today. Morales has embarked on a programme of renationalisation, and has also altered the country’s constitution in an attempt to begin addressing the huge inequalities in Bolivian society.

One cool thing about Bolivia

Despite being landlocked, Bolivia maintains a navy. This is because the country harbours hopes of one day reclaiming land lost to Chile in the late 19th century, which would give it access to the Pacific Ocean.

One sad thing about Bolivia

The Camino de las Yungas in the Andes is famous – or perhaps infamous – as the most dangerous road in the world. This narrow, unpaved, winding route through the mountains is open to traffic in both directions, despite the precipitous, mostly unguarded, drops. Every year, as many as 300 people are killed on a stretch of road only 50 miles long.

Neighbours Textbox
At the heart of the South American continent, Bolivia has a long border in the north and east with Brazil. It also borders Paraguay in the southeast, Argentina in the south, Chile in the southwest and Peru in the northwest.


What’s it like for tourists?

Bolivia is a backpackers dream and has become an increasingly popular part of South American itineraries. Bolivia’s relative remoteness when compared to much of the rest of the Americas, along with its indigenous culture, make it a particularly interesting destination to experience. The Andes hide remote villages, while the city of La Paz is unofficially the world’s highest capital. Everywhere in Bolivia there are stunning vistas to be enjoyed. Bolivia also has the largest salt flats in the world, perfect for attempting to break land speed records or filming Top Gear.

Bolivia passport
Bolivian passport

The country’s Inca and colonial legacies mean there are plenty of interesting sites, both remote and urban, from Spanish colonial buildings in the major cities, to the ruins of ancient Inca palaces and forts. And if you’re really brave, you can take a drive along the aforementioned “death road”, but you’ll need nerves of steel!

La Paz



Bosnia and Herzegovina

Боснa и Херцеговина (Bosna i Hercegovina) • Bosna i Hercegovina
  • Official name: Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Capital City: Sarajevo
  • Population: 3,531,159
  • Language: Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian
  • Currency: Convertible mark
  • Continent: Europe

What’s Bosnia and Herzegovina like?

Bosnia sits at the heart of the Balkans and was a constituent republic of Yugoslavia until 1992, when the collapse of the authoritarian socialist Yugoslav state precipitated a succession of independence declarations and violent conflicts in the region. The war in Bosnia was particularly vicious, as ethnic Serbs, Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats pulled in different directions, each turning on each other in the process. The war raged for three years before the signing of the Dayton Agreement in Ohio brought the conflict to an end and created a state based on a loose confederation of two entities, both of which largely look after themselves.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Most Bosnian Serbs live in the Republika Srpska, a majority Serb entity, while Bosniaks and ethnic Croats mostly live in the Federation. These two entities together form Bosnia and Herzegovina, but in reality, they largely take care of their own affairs. Bosnia’s constitutional arrangement is complicated and cumbersome, a direct consequence of the conditions needed to bring about peace. At times, Bosnia remains a highly dysfunctional place, hindering governance and economic prospects. Nevertheless, Bosnia is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination.

One cool thing about Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Bosnian men’s volleyball team won gold at the 2004 Summer Paralympics. Many of the players had lost limbs during the Bosnian War of the early 1990s.

One sad thing about Bosnia and Herzegovina

There were many atrocities during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, but perhaps the most shocking of all was the Srebrenica Massacre, when 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, mainly men and boys, were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces. The tragedy was compounded by the fact the UN had declared the town a safe zone, and its forces failed to act to prevent the bloodbath.

Neighbours Textbox
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s longest border is with Croatia, which runs the western and northern lengths of the country. It also has borders with Serbia in the east and Montenegro in the south. The country has a tiny section of coast on the Adriatic Sea.


What’s it like for tourists?

Bosnia was fairly popular with tourists while part of Yugoslavia, but the break-up of that country and the wars that followed ravaged Bosnia’s infrastructure and made it categorically unsafe. After the war, the threat of landmines remained a serious problem. Happily, the country is beginning to reemerge as a tourist destination, both in its own right, and as a day-trip from the Croatian resort of Dubrovnik. Travel guides increasingly espouse the beauty and cosmopolitan atmosphere of the capital, Sarajevo. Meanwhile, the city of Mostar is famous for its Ottoman era bridge, which was destroyed in the war and restored after the conflict’s end.

Bosnia and Herzegovina passport
Bosnian passport

The country is mostly mountainous and does have a handful of ski resorts. The scenic countryside is full of Ottoman era forts and traditional villages, and the country also has the last remaining jungle in Europe in the beautiful Sutjeska National Park.

Stari Most bridge, Mostar




  • Official Name: Republic of Botswana
  • Capital City: Gaborone
  • Population: 2,155,784
  • Language: English, Tsetswana
  • Currency: Pula
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Botswana like?

A landlocked, sparsely populated country in southern Africa, Botswana is a former British colonial possession that has gone from being one of the poorest countries in the world to something of an African success story. A mining boom has driven economic growth and made Botswana one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most prosperous nations. Politically, the country has achieved remarkable stability and has a solid democratic record. Despite the positives, Botswana has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world, and although government initiatives have had some success, HIV/AIDS remains a substantial problem.


The country is mostly flat, and is dominated by the Kalahari Desert. Traditional ways of life remain strong, especially in rural Botswana. The Batswana (as the people of Botswana are known) are quite diverse, although the ethnic Tswana make up about 80% of the population. The capital city, Gaborone is a small, modern, fairly affluent and strikingly low-rise city.

One cool thing about Botswana

Botswana is the third biggest producer of diamonds in the world, which partially explains its economic success. Only Russia and Canada produce more diamonds than Botswana. The country also has the world’s single richest diamond mine.

One sad thing about Botswana

HIV/AIDS has had a devastating effect on Botswana. The country used to have Africa’s highest life expectancy at 65 years, but by 2006, this had plummeted to just 35 as a result of the epidemic. However, life expectancy has been rising in recent years.

Neighbours Textbox
Botswana borders Namibia in the west and north, Zimbabwe in the east and South Africa in the south. It also makes the tiniest contact with Zambia in the northeast, across the Zambezi river.


What’s it like for tourists?

Tourism is a key component of Botswana’s economy, with visitors drawn to its extensive national parkland and the wide variety of wildlife that live there. Botswana has more elephants than any other country in the world, and there are also sizable populations of hippos, lions, crocodiles, antelope and all manner of bird life. Many tourists also come to see native tribesmen – especially the Bushmen of the Kalahari – in their native attire, although they will often only dress ceremonially for tourists.

Botswana passport
Batswana passport

Botswana is also home to the unique Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland delta, which is formed by a river flowing not into the sea, but into the Kalahari Desert. The delta system attracts a remarkable array of African wildlife from thousands of miles around.

Okavango Delta




  • Official Name: Federative Republic of Brazil
  • Capital City: Brasília
  • Largest City: São Paulo
  • Population: 206,440,850
  • Language: Portuguese
  • Currency: Real
  • Continent: South America

What’s Brazil like?

The fifth-biggest country in the world by both area and population, Brazil is a vibrant, diverse, sometimes chaotic, soccer-mad federal republic – the only Portuguese-speaking country in Latin America. Economically, the country has made incredible strides in the last two decades, and its global influence and profile has been growing. However, the country is politically volatile, while the overheated economy has hit the buffers in the last five years. Many Brazilians live in ramshackle, illegal shanty towns known as favelas on the edge of the big cities, where crime and poverty remain intractable problems, and the country has a vast gulf between the haves and the many have-nots in society.


Brazil is an increasingly urbanised country as more and more rural people seek a better life in the big cities. Descendants of Portuguese settlers rub shoulders with Afro-Brazilians whose ancestors were brought to the country as slaves, as well various mixed race groups and indigenous peoples. Remote Amazonian Brazil has the highest number of uncontacted tribes anywhere in the world. The Amazon Basin itself dominates northern Brazil, where tropical conditions prevail, but the further south one goes, the cooler the country becomes. Winters in the southern city of Porto Alegre can be rather chilly.

One cool thing about Brazil

Brazil has been the world’s leading coffee producer for more than 150 years. No country has done more to help generations of sleepy workers around the globe kick-start their day!

One sad thing about Brazil

Vast sections of the Amazon rainforest are being cut down all the time to create new farmland. This results in the daily extinction of over 100 species and, at the current rate, will have completely destroyed the rainforest by the 2060s.

Neighbours Textbox
The giant of South America, Brazil borders more countries than any other on the continent. In the west, the country borders Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru. In the northwest is Colombia, while in the north, Brazil borders Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and the French overseas department of French Guiana. In the far south, Brazil borders Uruguay, while in the far southwest, there is a relatively short frontier with Argentina. Brazil has one of the world’s longest coastlines on the Atlantic Ocean.


What is it like for tourists?

Over six million tourists visit Brazil every year to take in the iconic sights of Rio de Janeiro – Copacabana beach, Christ the Redeemer statue, Ipanema and much more – to experience the hustle and bustle of the country’s biggest metropolis, São Paulo, or to camp in jungle lodges and boat along the Amazon, and many, many other reasons besides. The country’s reputation for passion and exuberance, embodied in the tradition of the samba and the love of soccer, make Brazil an intoxicating destination. Guided tours of the favelas are becoming increasingly popular, and give tourists the chance to see the real Brazil as lived by many of its poorest citizens.

Brazil passport
Brazilian passport

Those with an interest in colonial times will find plenty of interest from Brazil’s days under Portuguese rule. The major cities all possess examples of fine colonial architecture and historic sites, but there are treasures to be discovered in smaller provincial centres too, especially the old gold mining towns.

Rio de Janeiro




Negara Brunei Darussalam
  • Official Name: Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace
  • Capital City: Bandar Seri Begawan
  • Population: 415,717
  • Official Religion: Sunni Islam
  • Language: Malay, English, Chinese
  • Currency: Brunei dollar
  • Continent: Asia

What’s Brunei like?

A small absolute monarchy surrounded by the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, Brunei was historically the centre of a powerful Southeast Asian empire, before eventually entering decline and becoming a British colony. Independence was achieved in 1984, and economic growth driven by offshore oil and gas reverses has transformed this once poor nation into one of the world’s richest. Brunei’s absolute ruler – Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah – is one of the wealthiest people on Earth – and while his comfortably-off subjects enjoy almost nothing in the way of political freedom, there is little dissent.


The state religion of Brunei is Sunni Islam, which most Bruneians follow. Ethnically, most Bruneians are Malay, but there are also small numbers of Chinese, Indians and indigenous Borneans. The country also has a sizable expat population working mainly in the oil and gas industry. The country itself is made up of two small slivers of mostly forested, mountainous territory in northern Borneo, separated from one another by a strip of Malaysian territory.

One cool thing about Brunei

According to Forbes magazine, the Sultan of Brunei has a personal wealth of $25billion (other sources go as high as $40billion). He lives in one of the world’s largest palaces and owns hundreds of expensive cars. He also provides free universal medical care for every Bruneian citizen.

One sad thing about Brunei

The country does have a parliament, but no elections have been held since 1962, when a revolt led to the implementation of emergency powers that are still in use today. Even if elections were held, women would likely be barred from voting.

Neighbours Textbox
Brunei sits in the northweat of the island of Borneo and is divided into two sections by Malaysia to the west, south and east, the only country with which it shares land borders. However, Indonesia is relatively close by to the south.


What’s it like for tourists?

Brunei is a popular, if rather expensive, destination that often appears on backpackers’ Southeast Asian itineraries. Ecotourism is a growing sector of the industry, and many visitors join tours of the Bruneian rainforest to see the various animals – such as monkeys, crocodiles and birds – that call it home. It is also possible to visit Istara Nurul Iman, the world’s biggest currently occupied residential palace to marvel at the opulence in which Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah lives and to admire the stunning views it offers.

Brunei passport
Bruneian passport

The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is the only major city, and has plenty of beautiful mosques to take in. However, Brunei is a strictly Islamic country, and Bandar is no party city. The sale of alcohol is prohibited. But who needs booze in such a beautiful setting?

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, Bandar Seri Bagawan




България (Bǎlgariya)
  • Official Name: Republic of Bulgaria
  • Capital City: Sofia
  • Population: 7,202,198
  • Language: Bulgarian, Turkish, Roma
  • Currency: Lev
  • Continent: Europe

What’s Bulgaria like?

A former Ottoman province and eastern bloc country, the fall of communism and the introduction of democratic and market reforms have improved the lot of many Bulgarians in what was once a very poor country. However, economic growth has been uneven, corruption and sclerotic government have hindered progress, and the country remains one of Europe’s poorest. It is also wrestling with a demographic crisis, as more and more Bulgarians leave the country for more prosperous parts of the continent. However, the country became a member of the European Union in 2008, and efforts to clean up government have met with some success. It is also a developing tourist destination.


Bulgaria is a highly urbanised country, but agriculture still plays an important role in the economy, though efforts to modernise this sector have been hit-and-miss. The country has a beautiful coastline on the Black Sea, while much of inland Bulgaria is mountainous. The capital city, Sofia, is in the far west of the country. Most Bulgarians are a Slavs, and the country uses the Cyrillic alphabet. However, the country has a Turkish community dating back to Ottoman times. There is also a sizable Roma population, who continue to face discrimination.

One cool thing about Bulgaria

The country has a decent track record when it comes to innovation. Bulgarians invented the first electronic computer, the digital watch and car airbag system. Not bad.

One sad thing about Bulgaria

A 2015 survey found that Bulgaria was comfortably the most unhappy country in the European Union. Government corruption, poverty and a high rate of unemployment, coupled with the demographic problems triggered by the country’s “brain drain” have been blamed for Bulgarians’ dissatisfaction.

Neighbours Textbox
Bulgaria borders Romania to the north, Turkey to the southeast, Greece to the south, and Macedonia and Serbia to the west. It also has a coastline on the Black Sea


What’s it like for tourists?

The country’s natural beauty, rich history and culture, and pleasant summer weather make it a popular destination. Sun-seeking northern Europeans are discovering the hedonistic Black Sea resorts that provide a cheaper – often much cheaper – alternative to the more established summer getaway locations of the Spanish Costas and Greek islands. But the country’s towns and cities also have plenty to offer: Plovdiv is Europe’s oldest inhabited city with a historic ancient heart and a striking Roman amphitheatre. The capital, Sofia, is an increasingly modern, cosmopolitan European metropolis.

Bulgaria passport
Bulgarian passport

Rather like its Black Sea beach resorts, Bulgaria’s ski slopes also offer a more affordable alternative to pricier Alpine destinations. The country also has a thriving wine industry, with plenty of opportunities to explore its vineyards and try the local vintage.

Roman amphitheatre, Plovdiv



Burkina Faso

  • Official Name: Burkina Faso
  • Capital City: Ouagadougou
  • Population: 17,322,726
  • Language: French, Mossi, Fula, Mandinka, Bambara
  • Currency: West African CFA franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Burkina Faso like?

A dusty, landlocked country in west Africa, Burkina Faso has been the centre of influential African kingdoms in the past, and was also a French colony. The country gained independence in 1960 under the name “Upper Volta“, and has experienced much political and economic upheaval. About 90% of Burkinabé – as the people of Burkina Faso are known – are involved in subsistence farming, and the country is one of the poorest in the world with a scarcity of natural resources. Large numbers of Burkinabé have gone abroad to find work, mainly to France and parts of north Africa.

Burkina Faso

As a rule of thumb, the further north and east one goes, the more arid the country becomes, with the far north forming a part of the Sahel region. Western Burkina Faso is greener, while the south and centre, around the capital, Ouagadougou, is the most heavily populated. The country can be extremely hot, and has distinct rainy and dry seasons, with frequent droughts in the far north. Most goods and resources consumed in Burkina Faso have to be imported, and tackling poverty remains an enormous challenge.

One cool thing about Burkina Faso

While the name of the country’s capital, Ouagadougou, might be a bit of a mouthful for those unfamiliar with the Mossi language, translation to English reveals it to be arguably the most appealing name of any capital: Ouagadougou literally means “you are welcome here at home with us.” How lovely!

One sad thing about Burkina Faso

Despite its poverty and political turbulence, Burkina Faso has historically been a pretty safe country. However, things took a turn for the worse when, in January 2016, terrorists attacked a hotel and restaurant, killing 30 and wounding at least 56.

Neighbours Textbox
Burkina Faso has a long northwestern border with Mali. In the northeast, the country borders Niger, while Benin lies to the southeast, Togo and Ghana to the south, and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) to the southwest.


What’s it like for tourists?

A beautiful, friendly and welcoming country with a rich cultural heritage, Burkina Faso receives only a trickle of tourists, but it has much to offer those with an interest in west Africa. The country is arguably the heart of the west African music scene and hosts an array of music festivals throughout the year. Most towns and cities have traditional markets where excellent bartering skills will be required. There are also numerous excellent hiking spots, and the country offers the chance to see hippos and crocodiles in the wild.

Burkina Faso passport
Burkinabé passport

Many visitors to Burkina Faso head to the country’s second-largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, to see one of the most iconic buildings in west Africa, the mud mosque. Built in the late 1800s (the exact date is debated), the mosque is a fine example of Sudano-Sahelian architecture. Guided tours of the mosque are available.

Grand Mosque, Bobo-Dioulasso




  • Official Name: Republic of Burundi
  • Capital City: Bujumbura
  • Population: 11,178,921
  • Language: French, English, Kirundi, Swahili
  • Currency: Burundian franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Burundi like?

A small, densely-populated country shaped vaguely like a human heart, Burundi is in east Africa’s Great Lakes region. A former colony of Germany and, after World War One, Belgium, most Burundians live in poverty, and, at the time of writing, the atmosphere in the country is tense following violent political unrest in 2015. Burundi shares a similar ethnic make-up and social tensions that helped lead to the 1994 genocide in its northern neighbour, Rwanda. However, while Rwanda has made a great deal of political, social and economic progress since, Burundi has remained blighted by instability, corruption, poverty and occasional bouts of violence. Other major problems include HIV/AIDS, sex trafficking and child labour. Many Burundians have gone abroad to seek a better life.


The country’s main ethnic groups are the Tutsi and the Hutu. Inter-communal relations are fraught, and in 1972, spilled over into a genocide that led to more than 250,000 deaths. The country is heavily forested and fairly mountainous, with deforestation and soil erosion major problems. Burundi’s national parks are home to a wide variety of African wildlife.

One cool thing about Burundi

Burundian athlete Venuste Niyongabo won gold in the men’s 5,000m at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, making Burundi the poorest nation to have ever won a gold medal.

One sad thing about Burundi

The 2016 World Happiness Report ranked Burundi as the world’s most unhappy nation. The poverty in which most Burundians live, coupled with the ever-present threat of civil unrest, violence and the corruption and authoritarianism of the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza, make life extremely tough for most citizens.

Neighbours Textbox
Burundi borders three other countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the west, mostly across Lake Tanganyika; Rwanda in the north; and Tanzania in the east and south.


What’s it like for tourists?

Most governments advise against visiting Burundi at this moment in time due to the risks posed by the still simmering unrest in the country. In any case, Burundi remains off the beaten path and receives very few tourists. But this should not detract from the fact that Burundi is a beautiful country with people who may not always see eye-to-eye with each other, but who welcome guests with open arms. Political stability, should it ever be achieved, would help Burundi to begin tapping into its considerable tourism potential.

Burundian passport
Burundian passport

Burundi’s main attractions are its national parks and nature reserves, where tourists get to see all manner of African wildlife – from chimpanzees to hippos – as well as the stunning waterfalls, peaks, forests, valleys and views. The capital city, Bujumbura, is the country’s liveliest population centre and lies on the eastern shoreline of Lake Tanganyika.

Kayanza province




កម្ពុជា (Kâmpŭchéa) • Cambodge
  • Official Name: Kingdom of Cambodia
  • Capital City: Phnom Penh
  • Population: 15,458,332
  • Official Religion: Theravada Buddhism
  • Language: Khmer, French
  • Currency: Riel
  • Continent: Asia

What’s Cambodia like?

Located on the Indochina peninsula of Southeast Asia, Cambodia is a land of awe-inspiring temples, rice paddies, the mighty Mekong river and bustling towns and cities. Despite its rich cultural heritage and beautiful landscape, Cambodia must surely be a candidate for one of the world’s saddest histories, the impact of which is still felt today in one of the poorest corners of Asia. Following independence from France in 1953, Cambodia has had to contend with the overspill of the Vietnam War, the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge under the infamous, savage dictator Pol Pot, a decade-long war with neighbouring Vietnam and the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1997.


So much turmoil has made economic development almost impossible, and although a degree of stability has taken root, political freedoms are few, and most Cambodians are poor. And it’s not just the Cambodian people who suffer. The country’s forests, wildlife, national parks and environment are at serious risk thanks to a wide range of illicit activities, from illegal logging to construction projects that destroy important natural habitats. On a more positive note, although Cambodia remains extremely poor, its economy has been growing quite rapidly in recent years, and there is even some oil and gas potential still to be exploited.

One cool thing about Cambodia

Cambodians don’t celebrate, and barely acknowledge, their birthdays. Although young Cambodians have begun to take up the practice, many older citizens have no idea of what age they are.

One sad thing about Cambodia

The sheer brutality and mercilessness of the communist Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s is impossible to ignore. In an attempt to realise their dream of a classless, agrarian state, the party carried out a genocide targeting anybody deemed intellectual – wearing glasses was enough of an indicator – and buried them in what became known as “killing fields”. Almost two million people were murdered by the regime in a four-year period.

Neighbours Textbox
Cambodia’s neighbours are Thailand in the north and west, Laos in the northeast and Vietnam in the south and east. It also has a coast on the Gulf of Thailand.


What’s it like for tourists?

Tourism has become a major foreign currency earner for Cambodia, and the country receives around two million visitors every year. The biggest draw of all is Angkor Wat, the magnificent temple complex at Siem Reap, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Cambodia abounds with historic and beautiful temples and has found its place at the heart of Southeast Asia’s backpacker trail.

Cambodia passport
Cambodian passport

The capital, Phnom Penh, is a lively, chaotic, but friendly city with a number of worthwhile museums and the splendid Royal Palace. Beach lovers, meanwhile, tend to head to Sihanouk, Cambodia’s main resort area on the Gulf of Thailand. Cambodia is a once-seen-never-forgotten destination that enchants those lucky enough to see it.

Angkor Wat




  • Official Name: Republic of Cameroon
  • Capital City: Yaoundé
  • Largest City: Douala
  • Population: 22,534,532
  • Language: French, English
  • Currency: Central African CFA franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Cameroon like?

Sometimes referred to as “Africa in miniature” due to its wide variety of ethnic and religious groups, languages and landscapes, Cameroon is a west African country that emerged when two colonies – one French, one British – came together in the early 1960s. The country has achieved a high degree of political stability and social cohesion which have helped in tackling poverty. However, the current president, Paul Biya, in power since 1982, dominates Cameroonian political life, and most citizens, especially in rural areas, are poor. Furthermore, the country’s English-speaking areas are increasingly restive and complain of marginalisation. Some campaign for secession from Cameroon.


The remote, sparsely-populated far north of Cameroon is arid, approaching desert conditions. Cameroon’s Muslims live mainly in the north. The further south and west one goes, the lusher, more tropical, more densely-populated  the country becomes. Equatorial conditions prevail along Cameroon’s relatively short coastline. The seat of government is the city of Yaoundé, but the economic and cultural heart of the country is the coastal city of Douala, which is also the biggest city.

One cool thing about Cameroon

The name “Cameroon” is derived from Portuguese and means Shrimp River. This is because the sailors noticed an abundance of shrimp as they explored the Wouri River.

One sad thing about Cameroon

One of Africa’s most stable, peaceful countries, the last few years have seen a spate of kidnappings and terrorist attacks in the north by militant group Boko Haram, based in the northeast of neighbouring Nigeria.

Neighbours Textbox
Cameroon has a long northwestern border with Nigeria. It also has an arid frontier with Chad in the northeast, as well as borders with the Central African Republic in the east, the Republic of the Congo in the southeast, and Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in the south. The island of Bioko, also a part of Equatorial Guinea, is just off the Cameroonian coast.


What’s it like for tourists?

Cameroon does not receive huge numbers of visitors, but with its diverse society, varied landscapes, political stability and relative safety, it is a worthwhile destination for those with an interest in west African culture. Most of those who do venture into Cameroon at the moment are French and Belgian, but the country has potential to develop wider interest. Many visitors take the opportunity to visit Mt. Cameroon, the tallest mountain in west Africa and a relatively short trip from the country’s biggest city, Douala.

Cameroon passport
Cameroon passport

The country’s national parks offer a great way to experience its geography and landscapes, as well as its diverse array of colourful and fascinating wildlife. Indeed, Dja Faunal Wildlife Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The country’s cities are not particularly geared towards tourism, but they do provide a good opportunity to visit frenetic local markets and to experience thriving west African city life. Douala is a good base for exploring the country’s beaches.

Mount Cameroon




  • Official Name: Canada
  • Capital City: Ottawa
  • Largest City: Toronto
  • Population: 36,286,425
  • Language: English, French
  • Currency: Canadian dollar
  • Continent: North America

What’s Canada like?

The second-largest country in the world by total area, much of Canada is wilderness, from Arctic tundra to expansive plains, untouched forest and majestic mountain ranges. A highly urbanised country, most Canadians live within 100 miles of the border with the United States, but small communities do exist even in the harshest Arctic climes. Canadian society is diverse, and its cities, especially in the east, are home to communities from many different corners of the world. Canada scores highly in surveys of economic performance and prosperity, and ranks as one of the richest countries in the world. Its cities are often regarded as some of the world’s most livable, especially Vancouver. This has been helped by exploitation of the tar sands of the province of Alberta, in which vast quantities of oil lie. However, controversy surrounds the environmental impact of extraction.


Wealthy and stable as Canada is, some tensions do exist. An increasingly significant gulf has developed between the liberal east of the country centred on Ontario and Quebec, and the more conservative west, particularly the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. But perhaps the biggest divide in Canada is between French-speaking Quebec and the rest of the country, where English predominates. Culturally distinct from the rest of Canada, Quebec maintains its own identity centred on the French language, and periodic calls for greater autonomy or even independence do arise. However, on the whole, relations remain cordial. Elsewhere, the country’s remote northern communities, often made up of First Nation Canadians, must contend with relative poverty and tough living conditions.

One cool thing about Canada

The world’s most northerly permanent settlement is in Canada. The research station and military base of Alert on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, is populated year-round by Canadian military staff and research technicians. Winter temperatures have been known to drop as low as -50c (-58f), which I think we can all agree is pretty “cool”.

One sad thing about Canada

In 1989, a mentally disturbed young man with a hatred of feminism carried out a massacre at a college in Montreal, Quebec, in which 14 young women lost their lives. The incident led to a tightening of Canadian gun laws.

Neighbours Textbox
Canada has the longest international land border in the world to the south, which it shares with the United States. It also borders the US state of Alaska in the northwest. The nation of Greenland – an autonomous island within the Danish kingdom – lies to the northeast. To the west of the island of Newfoundland in Canada’s southeast is the French overseas department of Saint Pierre and Miquelon.


What’s it like for tourists?

Canada is an extremely popular tourist destination and offers a wide variety of attractions and activities. The Canadian Rockies are home to some of the world’s most famous ski resorts and the country is a world class winter sports destination. However, the summer months are also an ideal time to head into the mountains to admire the breathtaking scenery and enjoy superb hiking opportunities. Ontario is also home to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Quebec is a great place to head for a taste of something different, where the French language predominates and the culture is discernibly unlike the rest of Canada.

Canada passport
Canadian passport

The country’s major cities offer the usual array of museums, cuisines, architecture and nightlife one would expect from modern North American cities. The country’s compact bilingual capital, Ottawa, is home to the iconic, striking parliament building. Cross-country trips are popular, usually originating in Montreal or Toronto and terminating at Vancouver city or on Vancouver Island. The vast expanses of the great Canadian north are much less traveled and require lengthy planning. Distances between settlements are enormous, but the Arctic scenery and unique Native cultures make for a fascinating off-the-beaten-track experience.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa



Cape Verde

Cabo Verde
  • Official Name: Republic of Cabo Verde
  • Capital City: Praia
  • Population: 525,000
  • Language: Portuguese, Cape Verdean Creole
  • Currency: Cape Verdean escudo
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Cape Verde like?

A volcanic archipelago in the mid-Atlantic off the coast of West Africa, Cape Verde is a former Portuguese colony that won its independence in 1975. The majority of its people are a mix of European (mainly Portuguese) and black African. The country lacks resources and has been forced to focus economically on developing service industries, from financial services to tourism. Despite the challenges this poses, Cape Verde has become arguably the most successful and stable democracy in Africa, winning praise for its governmental transparency and tolerant society. Although still a developing country, living standards are higher than in most parts of the African mainland.

Cape Verde

As a Portuguese colony, the islands grew rich on the slave trade. However, the abolition of slavery – welcome as it was – caused an economic downturn that brought hardship to the islands and triggered a wave of emigration. Today, a greater number of people of Cape Verdean extraction live overseas, especially in Portugal and Brazil. The islands are mostly rocky and volcanic in nature, with beaches that are beginning to attract European tourists.

One cool thing about Cape Verde

It is considered rude in Cape Verdean culture to eat in public without sharing. This increases social interactions, but does mean that those feeling particularly hungry are better off eating in private!

One sad thing about Cape Verde

The land in Cape Verde doesn’t offer much in the way of resources. Very little of it is suitable for agriculture, and desertification is a mounting problem.

Neighbours Textbox
Cape Verde is a chain of islands in the North Atlantic, off the coast of west Africa. It has no land borders, but its nearest neighbours are Senegal and Mauritania on the African mainland to the east. 


What’s it like for tourists?

With year-round warm sunshine and beautiful beaches, it’s no surprise that more and more tourists are discovering Cape Verde. In a country unable to rely on much in the way of natural resources, expanding the tourist industry is a key policy, as attested to by the growing number of resorts throughout the islands. The eastern islands of Sal and Boa Vista are especially popular with sun worshippers, and most of the country’s resorts are laidback getaways rather than hedonistic party destinations.

Cape Verde passport
Cape Verdean passport

Watersports and hiking are popular activities, while the cultural capital, Mindelo, and the modern political capital, Praia, offer a slightly more urban pace of life. Some of the more remote islands are especially tranquil and traditional.

Boa Vista, Cape Verde



Central African Republic

République centrafricaine •  Ködörösêse tî Bêafrîka
  • Official Name: Central African Republic
  • Capital City: Bangui
  • Population: 4,709,000
  • Language: French, Sango
  • Currency: Central African CFA franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s the Central African Republic like?

The modern borders of the Central African Republic encompass mostly African savannah, with arid Sahelian conditions in the far north, and are home to a diverse mix of African ethnicities, languages and religions. At one time a French colony, the Central African Republic achieved independence in 1960, and has suffered under the yoke of autocratic leaders. Violent conflict has been an almost constant in the country’s post-independence history. Although the CAR has considerable mineral wealth and hydrocarbon reserves, it remains one of the poorest, least developed and most unstable countries in the world.

Central African Republic

In recent years, the country has been accused of ethnic and religious cleansing, targeting in particular its minority Muslim population living mostly in the north. Whilst the country’s capital city, Bangui, is relatively peaceful, much of the countryside is dangerous thanks to armed groups and persistent fighting. A major difficulty in the CAR is getting the 80 various ethnic groups to share and recognise a common identity, living as they do within borders created through colonialism that pay little regard to realities on the ground. Despite the potential for economic development, a lack of clean, reliable and stable government, combined with constant conflict, keeps the country mired in poverty.

One cool thing about the Central African Republic

It may be a sign of the country’s lack of development, but National Geographic has described the Central African Republic as the country least affected by light pollution, making it a great place to be to do some stargazing.

One sad thing about the Central African Republic

There are numerous problems in the Central African Republic. Violence, forced labour, child labour, female genital mutilation – it all goes on. Perhaps the most symbolic example is that there is a law against “witchcraft”, and many women continue to suffer the consequences of accusations.

Neighbours Textbox
The Central African Republic borders Chad in the north, Sudan in the northeast, South Sudan in the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the south, the Republic of the Congo in the southwest, and Cameroon in the west.


What’s it like for tourists?

As things stand, the Central African Republic should be considered unsafe for tourism. The country teeters on the brink of civil war, particularly in rural areas. Even in Bangui, access to medical care, in a country with a high rate of disease, is basic. As such, few tourists venture into the Central African Republic – arguably one of the most remote destinations on earth. Once inside the country, moving between towns and cities can be perilous due to the poor quality of the roads and the presence of armed groups and fake roadblocks.

Central African Republic passport
Central African passport

Nevertheless, the country does have plenty of natural beauty, and the handful of visitors that do make it to the Central African Republic enjoy an authentic African experience in its natural parks and amongst its outgoing, friendly people. The country’s potential for development as a tourist destination is real.

Boali Falls




Tchad •  تشاد‎‎ (Tshād)
  • Official Name: Republic of Chad
  • Capital City: N’Djamena
  • Population: 13,670,084
  • Language: French, Arabic
  • Currency: Central African CFA franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Chad like?

A fairly large country in north-central Africa, Chad can be roughly divided into three clear zones. The northern third is sparsely populated desert, where the Sahara meets the Sahel. The centre of the country is where most people live (though still sparsely) and is dominated by the arid plains of the Sahel. The south, meanwhile, is mostly subtropical lowlands and is the wettest part of the country. Most Chadians are subsistence farmers. There are more than 200 different ethnic groups, many of whom barely identify with the Chadian state. Poverty is deep and widespread. The country’s main export has traditionally been cotton, but this has been replaced in the last decade by crude oil.


Chad’s post-independence history has been marred by stratospheric levels of corruption and a string of coups and attempted coups, making it one of the world’s most poorly governed countries. The current autocratic president, Idriss Déby, has a firm grip on power, although his ability to project influence beyond N’Djamena is limited, and his forces have had to fend off a number of attempts to overthrow him. Eastern Chad is also the scene of one the world’s least known humanitarian crises as the war in Darfur in neighbouring Sudan spills over the border and vast numbers of refugees attempt to survive in camps. Violence against women and female genital mutilation are officially illegal in Chad, but are sadly still widespread, as is polygamy.

One cool thing about Chad

Camel racing is popular in Chad, and the Tibesti mountains in the far northwest of the country play host to some of the best camel racing in the world.

One sad thing about Chad

Despite being among the poorest countries in the world, the country hosts a whopping 500,000 refugees who have fled to the country to escape violence in Sudan, Nigeria and the Central African Republic.

Neighbours Textbox
Chad’s northern border with Libya is a long, straight line through the Sahara with one moderate deviation in the northwest. In the east it borders the volatile Darfur region of Sudan, while the Central African Republic lies to the south. In the southwest is Cameroon, while Niger and a short border with Nigeria lie to the west.


What’s it like for tourists?

Tourists are a rare sight indeed in this remote, poverty-stricken land. Most Westerners in Chad are diplomats in N’Djamena or humanitarian workers in the refugee camps.Western governments are clear that, although there is no specific threat in Chad, the country’s instability and sporadic bouts of violence make it a risky destination. However, as with almost all countries, some tourists do decide to brave it. Trips to Chad require considerable advance planning and armed guides should be considered. Distances between settlements are enormous and the chance of encountering corrupt officials or armed militia is high.

Chad passport
Chadian passport

Most visitors come to experience Chad’s remarkable landscapes and wide open spaces. Lake Chad is a popular destination, while the Ennedi desert draws a handful of hardy souls to admire its stunning sandstone formations. However, this region of Chad – in the far northeast – is especially isolated, with medical facilities potentially thousands of miles away, and there is the ever-present risk of banditry or armed ambush.

Lake Teli, northern Chad




  • Official Name: Republic of Chile
  • Capital City: Santiago
  • Population: 18,006,407
  • Language: Spanish
  • Currency: Peso
  • Continent: South America

What’s Chile like?

One of the world’s most unusually-shaped countries, long, thin Chile extends for thousands of miles from South America’s bone-dry Atacama desert in the north to the rainy, rocky, isolated Cape Horn in the continent’s far south. Chile has a diverse array of landscapes, from Andean mountains to long, Mediterranean-esque beaches, the world’s driest desert and dramatic fjords. The population is most heavily concentrated on the centre of the country, where the capital city, Santiago, as well as the major cities of Valparaíso and Concepción, are located. Chile’s far south includes some of the most remote communities in the Americas.


A former Spanish colony, independent Chile’s politics have been dominated by a fierce struggle between left- and right-wing viewpoints. Perhaps the most significant period in the modern country’s history was the 1973-1990 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, who toppled a left-wing administration and attempted to purge the country of intellectuals and left-wing political and academic figures. Thankfully, since Pinochet’s demise, Chile has developed a stable and successful democracy, although the age-old bitter left-right divide persists. Modern Chile is South America’s most prosperous country.

One cool thing about Chile

It’s been mentioned already, but Chile’s Atacama desert is the driest place on the planet. Some parts of the desert have never seen a drop of rain since records began and are thought to have been completely dry for most of history.

One sad thing about Chile

The country forms part of the Pacific “ring of fire“, which makes it prone to sometimes devastating earthquakes. In 1960, southern Chile was rocked by the most powerful earthquake in recorded history, killing 1,500 people. In a more heavily-populated area, the death toll would have substantially higher.

Neighbours Textbox
Chile has a very long eastern border with Argentina that stretches from South America’s subtropical centre to the continent’s cold southern tip. The country also borders Bolivia to the northeast and Peru to the north. To the west and south is a long, heavily indented Pacific Ocean coastline.


What’s it like for tourists?

Chile is a remarkably beautiful country that is well used to receiving and accommodating tourists. Culturally, its major cities are modern and increasingly cosmopolitan, but with plenty of colonial squares and buildings that help them to retain their charm. By South American standards, Chilean cities are deemed pretty safe.

Chile passport
Chilean passport

Away from the urban centres, Chile has much to offer. The Atacama gives visitors the chance to experience stark, arid desert landscapes, while the Andean mountains provide great hiking and winter sports opportunities. Chile has also become one of the world’s most significant wine producers, and the country’s central region, where conditions closely resemble the Mediterranean, should be of interest to wine enthusiasts. Further south, lakes, rivers, glaciers and fjords become the main attraction. And, of course, there is Easter Island, the mysterious home of the famous giant stone-carved heads.

Torres del Paine




中国 (Zhōngguó)
  • Official Name: People’s Republic of China
  • Capital City: Beijing
  • Largest City: Shanghai
  • Population: 1,376,049,000
  • Language: Mandarin Chinese, numerous regional languages
  • Currency: Renminbi (also known as yuan)
  • Continent: Asia

What’s China like?

The world’s most populous nation and one of its biggest by area too, China is a political, economic and military heavyweight, famous around the world for its unique cuisine, ancient civilisation, distinctive languages, wildlife and packed cities. Since 1949 and the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War, the country has been a one-party state under the control of the Communist Party. Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s brought about severe famine and resulted in millions of deaths. However, in the last two decades, the party has reformed the economy and opened China up to the world, and the subsequent economic growth has had a transformative effect on Chinese society.


Vast swathes of the rural Chinese population have headed for the cities, making China’s eastern seaboard one of the most densely-populated, urbanised, environments on earth. All this progress has also resulted in creating some of the world’s most polluted cities. China is also a centre of global manufacturing, and many countries have experienced the loss of industry to China. The infamous one-child policy – an attempt to control rapid population growth – has recently been liberalised, and has been widely criticised ever since its inception. The country is also looking to increase its international influence and has invested heavily in developing the natural resources of Africa.

hong-kong-sar-map  macau-sar-map
Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Areas

While most Chinese now live in cities in the east and south of the country, much of China’s interior remains rural, with traditional ways of life still strong. Significant minority groups include Tibetans of the southwestern plateau and the restive Uighur Muslims of the far western province of Xinjiang. China also has sovereignty over the economic powerhouse of Hong Kong and the former Portuguese colony of Macau. It also claims sovereignty over the island of Taiwan, although it does not currently have control. Much of China experiences warm summers, with the southeast rather subtropical and the northeast bitterly cold in winter. Earthquakes are relatively common and occasionally devastating, while the coastal regions are sometimes subjected to powerful typhoons.


One cool thing about China

The Chinese discovered and began using natural gas for heating and energy roughly 2,300 years before it was discovered in the West.

One sad thing about China

The country’s one-child policy, introduced in 1979 by then-leader Deng Xiaoping, was a controversial approach to managing population growth that said couples could only have one child. While debate continues about whether the policy was successful and/or necessary, the negative effects include a skewed sex ratio that means there are far more men than women, and a legacy of forced abortions and punitive sanctions against citizens.

Neighbours Textbox
The People’s Republic of China ties with Russia as having the most amount of bordering nations, some of which are partially or wholly disputed. In the north, China has a long border with Mongolia, while Russia lies to the northeast and northwest. There is also a border with North Korea in China’s northeast. In the south, China borders Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar (Burma). China also has a southern and southwestern border with India, which is disputed in places, especially at Jammu and Kashmir. China has a smaller dispute over a part of its southern border with Bhutan, and also borders Nepal in this region. As with India, China’s southwestern border with Pakistan is disputed in the Kashmiri region. A tiny section of China’s western frontier makes contact with the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan also lie to the west, while Kazakhstan is to China’s northwest. The island of Taiwan, claimed in whole by the People’s Republic of China but not under its jurisdiction, lies across the Taiwan Strait to the southwest.


What’s it like for tourists?

With an ancient civilisation, a rich heritage, famous culture, delicious cuisine, vibrant modern cities, ornate, beautiful temples and almost too many sites of historical interest to count, few countries can boast a tourist scene as awe-inspiring as China’s. Only Italy and Spain have more UNESCO World Heritage sites than China. Perhaps the most obvious site of interest is the Great Wall, the famous fortified barrier stretching across a swathe of northern China that was built to protect the country from raiders and warriors to the north. The Wall stretches for thousands of miles and is widely accessible to tourists, though also prone to degradation due to the number of visitors. Beijing’s Forbidden City is a must-see. This former imperial palace was home to numerous emperors, including from the Ming and Qing dynasties, and today hosts a museum. The incredible Terracotta Warriors in the city of Xi’an are designed to recall an imperial Chinese army.

China passport
Chinese passport

China’s cities are choked with traffic and increasingly polluted, but still worth exploring. The capital, Beijing, is the country’s political centre, while its largest city, Shanghai, is China’s principal economic and business centre. Hong Kong falls under Chinese sovereignty, but is largely self-governing, as is Macau. Those looking to enter Tibet should be aware that a separate permit is needed and all visitors must be part of a guided tour. However, the region’s Buddhist culture and temples, and stunning scenery, make it a worthwhile experience. China’s far west is much less-visited, but it is still worthwhile for those looking to experience something a little bit different. The province of Xinjiang is home to the Uighur, a Turkic people of Islamic faith. Visiting Xinjiang can be difficult due to the security situation, but the region is strikingly beautiful.

Hong Kong passport  Macao passport
Hongkonger and Macanese passports

The country also has incredible mountain scenery, from the Himalaya along its borders with Nepal, India and Bhutan, to the Jiuzhaigou nature reserve, with its remarkable karst landscapes. The country abounds with sacred and famous mountains, including, of course, the northern face of Mount Everest.

Great Wall of China




  • Official Name: Republic of Colombia
  • Capital City: Bogotá
  • Population: 48,786,100
  • Language: Spanish, numerous regional languages
  • Currency: Peso
  • Continent: South America

What’s Colombia like?

In the northwest corner of South America, Colombia is one of the world’s most linguistically, ethnically and geographically diverse countries. A former Spanish colony, and named after Christopher Columbus, the country’s recent history has been turbulent thanks to a long-running armed conflict between the Colombian state and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist militant organisation seeking to turn Colombia into an egalitarian, agrarian society by force. The conflict has died down substantially in the last ten years or so, allowing a degree of stability and economic growth – albeit somewhat uneven – to take hold.


Most Colombians live in the big cities of the Andes mountains, where temperatures are moderate to cool year-round. Coastal Colombia tends to be much warmer, with tropical conditions prevailing. The Amazon Rainforest also extends into southern Colombia. The people of Colombia are diverse, descending from the original indigenous inhabitants of the region, Spanish colonists and later European and Middle Eastern immigrants. Some are also descended from Africans brought over as slaves. An unequal society ravaged by decades of violence and the influence of drug cartels, rural Colombians remain poor. City dwellers are generally more prosperous, but areas of deprivation are still found.

One cool thing about Colombia

Surveys suggest that Colombia is the happiest country in the world. Despite its poverty and decades of conflict, it seems that the passionate, dance-obsessed Colombians are pretty happy with their lot in life.

One sad thing about Colombia

Football is a national obsession in Colombia, and the national team went into the 1994 World Cup in the USA with a team many believed could win the tournament. Sadly, the Colombians flattered to deceive and, after returning to Colombia following the tournament, defender Andrés Escobar was shot dead, apparently for having scored an own goal against the hosts. He was only 27.

Neighbours Textbox
Colombia borders Panama in the northwest across the remote Darién Gap. To the east is Venezuela, while Brazil lies to the southeast, Peru to the south and Ecuador to the southwest.


What’s it like for tourists?

Colombia’s forbidding reputation for violence and drug trafficking has served to keep it off many travelers’ South American itineraries, and the country is still underdeveloped for tourism. However, this seems unlikely to last as Colombia inches closer to long-term peace and more and more people set out to discover the secrets of this incredibly beautiful, exciting and enchanting country.

Colombia passport
Colombian passport

With its remarkable cultural and geographical diversity, Colombia has something to offer almost anyone. The capital city, Bogotá, is a teeming, intoxicating metropolis high in the Andes and is an obvious cultural and economic locus. Beautiful Cartagena on the Caribbean coast features a stunning old town and offers a great hub for exploring the region’s beaches. The city of Cali, meanwhile, is a draw for salsa lovers, with a reputation as a real party city. Southern Colombia features endless miles of lush Amazonian jungle, some of it barely explored. However, any travel in rural districts requires care and meticulous planning, as nefarious groups do still operate and pose a risk to safety.




The Comoros

Comores • Komori •  جزر القمر‎‎, (Juzur al-Qumur)
  • Official Name: Union of the Comoros
  • Capital City: Moroni
  • Population: 798,000
  • Official Religion: Sunni Islam
  • Language: Comorian, French, Arabic
  • Currency: Comorian franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s the Comoros like?

One of Africa’s smallest countries, the Comoros is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, between Mozambique and Madagascar, constituting a federal union of three islands. Geographically, the Comorian archipelago also includes the French island of Mayotte, and the Union has claimed sovereignty over it since achieving independence from France in 1975. Instability has been a constant feature of Comorian life ever since, with two of the three islands in the union declaring independence in 1997, before the rebellion was brought to a close two years later. The country struggles to find jobs for its growing, young population, and lacks much in the way of natural resources. The Comoros ranks as one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world.


The volcanic islands that make up the Comoros – Grand Comore, Mohéli and Anjouan – are largely mountainous and rocky, with beautiful beaches and a tropical climate. The country is also home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and its small area of rainforest is under existential threat. The influence of contact with the Arab world is evident in the prominence of the Arabic language and Islamic faith, while the former French colonial masters have also left their distinctive trace on the islands. Despite the challenges that the modern country faces, it has much potential as a luxury and ecotourism destination.

One cool thing about the Comoros

It may not be blessed with a bounty of natural resources, but if you use cosmetic products enriched with ylang-ylang, chances are you’ve been applying a little piece of the Comoros to your skin. The country is the world’s largest producer.

One sad thing about the Comoros

Half of all Comorians live below the international poverty line, making the country one of the poorest on Earth.

Neighbours Textbox
As a nation made up of islands in the Indian Ocean, the Comoros has no land borders. It’s nearest neighbour is the French-administered island of Mayotte to the southeast, which the Comoros claims in its entirety. Beyond Mayotte is Madagascar, while Mozambique lies to the west on the African mainland.


What’s it like for tourists?

Tourism is of some importance to the Comorian economy, but the sector is still underdeveloped and the country remains off the beaten track. Most tourists come from France and Arabic-speaking countries. Despite the lack of tourist infrastructure, the islands natural beauty and warm, tropical climate mean there is plenty of untapped potential, and those who do venture into this relatively remote culture will meet a friendly people not jaded by the influence of mass tourism in a country that offers a genuinely unique travel experience.

Comoros passport
Comorian passport

The islands’ beautiful blue Indian Ocean waters are great for diving, as well as observing dolphins and, if you’re really lucky, giant sea turtles, who come ashore on Mohéli to lay their eggs. It is also possible to trek to the Karthala volcano crater, to get a close-up look at one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

Moutsamoudou, on Anjouan



Congo (Democratic Republic of the)

République démocratique du Congo • Repubilika ya Kôngo ya Dimokalasi • Republíki ya Kongó Demokratíki • Jamhuri ya Kidemokrasia ya Kongo • Ditunga dia Kongu wa Mungalaata
  • Official Name: Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Capital City: Kinshasa
  • Population: 81,680,000
  • Language: French, Lingala, Kituba, Swahili, Tshiluba
  • Currency: Congolese franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s DR Congo like?

Africa’s second-largest country is a vast land that sprawls across equatorial central Africa. It is all but landlocked, save for a short strip of coastal territory on the South Atlantic Ocean. Much of the country is remote rainforest, often barely explored, that serves as home to all manner of exotic species and isolated human communities. Indeed, the Congolese rainforest is second only to the Amazon in terms of size. The mighty Congo river serves as the country’s lifeblood, while eastern Congo is dominated by spectacular mountain ranges. The southeast of the country in particular is blessed (or cursed) with a wealth of minerals that offer the prospect of great prosperity. However, this is also one of the world’s most blighted, chaotic, poverty-stricken and war-ravaged countries.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

During the period of European colonial expansion, this massive swathe of African territory and its diverse people had the particular misfortune to be subdued, ruled and exploited by Belgium’s King Leopold II, and became known as the Belgian Congo. Leopold saw his colony as nothing more than a resource to be plundered, and his administration brutalised the local population in the process. Since independence in 1960, the country has proved a fractious beast, at times straining to remain together, and has experienced periods of autocratic rule – including under the infamous President Mobutu – as well as bitter conflicts on a scale not seen since the Second World War, often partially fomented by, encouraged by and involving neighbouring countries. Many eastern Congolese still live in refugee camps. Despite the country’s mineral wealth and a gradual improvement in recent years, this remains a remote, difficult-to-govern and extremely poor part of the world.

One cool thing about DR Congo

The country is home to Africa’s oldest national park – the Virunga National Park – which is home to rare and endangered species including mountain gorillas and African elephants.

One sad thing about DR Congo

Take your pick – it’s a sad fact that the Congolese are no strangers to hardship. The country is unfortunately somewhat synonymous with the recruitment of child soldiers, and as recently as 2012/2013, the UN reported 1,000 children being conscripted to fight.

Neighbours Textbox
A vast country in the heart of Africa, the DR Congo has a large number of neighbouring nations. To the north and northwest is the Central African Republic, to the northeast is South Sudan and Uganda, to the east is Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania, to the southeast is Zambia, to the southwest is Angola, and to the west is the Republic of the Congo. The country also has a tiny stretch of coastal territory in the far west, which separates Angola’s Cabinda province from the rest of that country.


What’s it like for tourists?

Even the hardiest, most experienced backpackers find the DR Congo a challenging country to explore. Although some especially adventurous Westerners do venture into the country’s rainforests, mountains and chaotic cities each year, this poverty-stricken, underdeveloped nation has little in the way infrastructure aimed at the tourist trade and requires extremely precise, careful planning and a willingness to part with any vestige of creature comforts in order to be fully enjoyed. Despite its remoteness and sad, brutal history, the Congo remains a beautiful country with an array of treasures to share with the intrepid few who head there.

DR Congo passport
Congolese passport

The country’s remote, volatile eastern provinces bordering Rwanda and Burundi play host to towering, misty equatorial mountain peaks and even offer the chance to sleep on the rim of an active volcano (if that sounds scary, remember – this is the Congo). The Congolese jungles also allow tourists occasional access to endangered mountain gorillas in their lush and mysterious redoubts. The fast-flowing Congo river and its many tributaries give especially adventurous Westerners the chance to travel by barge alongside innumerate curious Congolese passengers. The capital city, Kinshasa, is located in the far west of the country, facing the capital of the other Congo (the Republic) across the Congo river, and offers arguably the most comfortable experience for visitors to the country. This enormous metropolitan expanse is booming and Chinese investment is bringing development to the city.

DR Congo



Congo (Republic of the)

République du Congo • Republíki ya Kongó
  • Official Name: Republic of the Congo
  • Capital City: Brazzaville
  • Population: 4,662,446
  • Language: French, Kituba, Lingala
  • Currency: Central African CFA franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Congo Republic like?

The former French colony is a lot smaller, considerably less unstable and somewhat better-off than its giant neighbour and namesake. The country is one of Africa’s most urbanised, with most of the population living in and around the capital city, Brazzaville, and close to the Congo river along the border with the DR Congo. Away from this region, the country is mostly endangered tropical rainforest. Congo also has a short Atlantic coastline.

Republic of the Congo

The Republic of the Congo gained independence from France in 1960 and entered the Soviet sphere of influence as a Marxist one-party state. However, market reforms and multiparty elections came to the country in 1991, and it has managed to avoid the violence and instability that has plagued many of its neighbours. However, despite these reforms, President Denis Sassou Nguesso has ruled the country since a brief civil war 1997 and has faced a number of criticisms in that time. Although rich in minerals and with strong hydrocarbon potential, the Republic of the Congo remains poor, with political and societal tensions bubbling just below the surface.

One cool thing about Congo Republic

The Congolese rainforest is home to numerous tribes, but perhaps the most famous are the Pygmy. The average height of a Pygmy man is just 4ft 10in tall, with Pygmy women shorter still!

One sad thing about Congo Republic

In October 2015, a referendum was held to allow the government to change the constitution to allow the president to stand for a third term in office. When the result came through as heavily in favour, street protests broke out that saw 18 people killed by security forces.

Neighbours Textbox
The smaller of the two Congo nations borders Gabon to the west, Cameroon to the northwest, the Central African Republic to the north, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the east and southeast, and the Cabinda exclave of Angola to the south. It also has a short Atlantic coast.


What’s it like for tourists?

As with many fellow central African nations, tourism is an underdeveloped sector of the economy. Most visitors come from France, with whom the country has historical and linguistic connections. Those who do visit, however, are rewarded with an authentic African experience in a beautiful and friendly country.

Congo passport
Congolese passport

The Congo’s jungles and national parks offer the chance to see gorillas and other highly endangered species in their natural habitat, as well as some challenging hiking. The Congo river – the deepest in the world – is itself a particular draw to this part of the world. Meanwhile, the vibrant capital, Brazzaville, gives a flavour of modern urban Africa and offers views across the river to Kinshasa in DR Congo.

Brazzaville, with Kinshasa visible across the Congo river



Costa Rica

  • Official Name: Republic of Costa Rica
  • Capital City: San José
  • Population: 4,586,353
  • Official Religion: Roman Catholicism
  • Language: Spanish, Mekatelyu, Bribri, Patois
  • Currency: Costa Rican colón
  • Continent: North America

What’s Costa Rica like?

The poster boy for peaceable nations and political stability on the often volatile Central American isthmus, Costa Rica is also incredibly biodiverse, drawing visitors from around the world to explore its jungles and enjoy opportunities for adventure. The country is fiercely protective of its remarkable natural environment, and almost a quarter of Costa Rica’s land area is given over to national parks and specially-protected areas. The country consistently scores at the very top of world rankings in the area of environmental policy.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is also one of Latin American’s most stable, prosperous and equal societies, with an economy that continues to grow and diversify. A former colony of Spain, the country has a proud and longstanding democratic tradition as an independent nation and has been able to avoid the strife, chaos and violence that mars other Central American countries. Its citizens rank among the happiest anywhere in the world. Despite the many positives, future challenges include delivering further development while protecting fragile ecosystems, and tackling a still stubbornly high crime rate.

One cool thing about Costa Rica

The country is one of only a handful of nations without a standing army, having abolished its forces all the way back in 1949. It pursues a pacifist foreign policy.

One sad thing about Costa Rica

The country is a bit of an all-round goody-two-shoes, which makes it hard to find much to lament. This is, of course, a good thing. However, it is home to the Arenal volcano, one of the world’s most active, which destroyed the town of Tabacón in 1968.

Neighbours Textbox
Costa Rica has two neighbours in Central America – Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the southeast. To the east is the Caribbean Sea, while to the west is the Pacific Ocean.


What’s it like for tourists?

Costa Rica, with its abundant national parks, diverse wildlife, thick jungles and idyllic beaches, is one of the world’s leading ecotourism destinations, as well as a haven for adventure tourists. Some sources suggest that this tiny country could possess as much as 6% of the world’s animal and plant life, a startling statistic that helps to illustrate the country’s ecotourism credentials.

Costa Rica passport
Costa Rican passport

For those who’ve had enough of exploring the national parks and taking in the country’s awe-inspiring flora and fauna, the capital city, San José, and other towns dotted about this small country, offer a warm, relaxed and friendly welcome. Costa Rica has coasts on both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean that continue to entice enthusiasts of exotic beaches, and the active Arenal volcano can be safely explored on a guided tour.

Arenal volcano




  • Official Name: Republic of Croatia
  • Capital City: Zagreb
  • Population: 4,190,700
  • Language: Croatian
  • Currency: Kuna
  • Continent: Europe

What’s Croatia like?

Two decades on from the collapse of Yugoslavia and the subsequent Balkan Wars, Croatia has emerged as a modern liberal democracy and has experienced impressive economic growth. The days of Yugoslav socialism under the autocratic rule of Marshal Tito (himself a Croat) have been left well and truly behind as market forces have taken root in Croatia and the country has developed into one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. Croatia is also the most recent new member of the European Union, having joined in 2013. Despite clear progress, life in rural Croatia can still be quite traditional, with ramshackle farming villages and old fashioned agricultural methods still visible. Meanwhile, the global economic downturn has hit Croatia hard, and the economy has stalled in recent years. Many Croats have very quickly become disillusioned with the EU.


The country’s capital and largest city, Zagreb, has developed into a vibrant, modern and relatively well-off city, but Croatia is perhaps best known for it’s magnificent Adriatic coastline and the historical city of Dubrovnik. The Croatian coast abounds with rocky islands on which perch tiny traditional villages, while spectacular fjords cut miles into the mainland. The country also includes the attractive Istria peninsula in the northwest.

One cool thing about Croatia

Film director Alfred Hitchcock seems to have liked Croatia, and once described the sunset in the seaside resort of Zadar as the most beautiful in the world.

One sad thing about Croatia

The 1991-1995 war resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Croatians, and a further 170,000 had to leave their homes. After the war ended, the newly-independent nation’s ethnic Serbs had little choice but to leave.

Neighbours Textbox
All but one of Croatia’s bordering nations are former Yugoslav republics. The odd man out is Hungary to the northeast. Serbia also lies to the northeast, while Bosnia and Herzegovina lies to the east. In the far south is a short border with Montenegro, while the country also borders Slovenia in the north. Croatia almost makes contact with Italy in the northwest, but is prevented from doing so by a tiny slice of Slovenian territory. Croatia has a long coastline on the Adriatic Sea.


What’s it like for tourists?

Aside from a few areas where landmines remain, war is no longer a factor to consider when visiting Croatia. The country is peaceful and very popular with tourists. The majority of visitors head to the long, breathtaking coastline on the Adriatic Sea to sample world-class seafood, relax on numerous beautiful beaches, island-and-fjord hop and, of course, to explore Dubrovnik, the superbly preserved walled city in the far south that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other popular destinations along the coast include the Roman ruins at Split, the resort town of Zadar and the Istrian town of Pula, which features a well-preserved Roman amphitheatre. However, Croatia’s coast is so remarkable that there is barely an inch of it that is not worth seeing.

Croatia passport
Croatian passport

Away from the seaside, Croatia’s north is mostly rolling hills and open plains, punctuated by rustic towns and villages. However, the capital, Zagreb, with its attractive old town, is also one of the country’s more popular tourist destinations and features architecture that gives the city the feel of a central European capital.





  • Official Name: Republic of Cuba
  • Capital City: Havana
  • Population: 11,239,004
  • Language: Spanish
  • Currency: Peso, convertible peso
  • Continent: North America

What’s Cuba like?

The largest island in the Caribbean and a former Spanish colony, Cuba has been a one-party Marxist-Leninist state since 1965 and is one of the world’s few remaining centrally planned economies. The country has been in a state of almost constant hostility with its near neighbour the United States since the overthrow of nationalist President Batista in 1959 and the subsequent coming to power of Fidel Castro, who set about attempting to create a classless, agrarian society and grew close to the Soviet Union in the process. The country is synonymous with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when the world is often acknowledged to have come as close as it has ever done before or since to nuclear war.


The US is home to a large Cuban diaspora, especially in Florida. Recently, the Obama administration has shown tentative signs of attempting to bring Cuba in from the diplomatic and economic cold, although this may change when Donald Trump takes office. While the government’s policies have achieved some successes, especially in healthcare and education, most Cubans remain relatively poor. The ailing Fidel Castro handed power to his younger brother Raúl in 2008, and some small steps towards greater political and economic freedom have been made. The outcome of the 2016 US Presidential Election will have been of particular interest to Cubans.

One cool thing about Cuba

Although the Cuban political system has received decades of criticism and its economy has stagnated, the country scores extremely highly in ratings of international healthcare. Indeed, Cuba trains so many doctors that the country exports many to parts of the world with shortages.

One sad thing about Cuba

Few Cubans are allowed to access the internet, and the punishment for doing so without permission can be up to five years in prison.

Neighbours Textbox
You might think that Cuba, as an island nation, lacks land borders, but this would technically be inaccurate. This is because a tiny southeastern portion of the island of Cuba belongs to the United States as its Guantánamo Bay military base and high security detention centre. The US state of Florida lies to the north, across the Florida Strait, while The Bahamas are to the northeast, Haiti is to the southeast, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands are to the south, and Mexico lies a short distance away to the west.


What’s it like for tourists?

Sadly, Cuba does not allow United States citizens to visit as tourists, although this may change depending on future developments in US-Cuba relations. More happily, the country has begun to open up to the rest of the world, and more and more visitors are arriving to experience this slice of socialism in the Caribbean or just to soak up the sun on one of the island’s pristine beaches.

Cuba passport
Cuban passport

The country is renowned for its cigars and rum, both of which can be found almost anywhere on the island. The capital city, Havana, is a swinging town with a happening nightlife, and many visitors are fascinated by the decaying colonial architecture and array of American cars that pre-date the 1959 revolution. Cubans are masters of make-do-and-mend. Away from the more luxurious beach resorts, Cuba’s infrastructure is creaking, with power outages a common problem. Nevertheless, the country is on the up as a tourist destination – imagine the windfall if they started letting Americans in!





Κύπρος (Kýpros) • Kıbrıs
  • Official Name: Republic of Cyprus
  • Capital City: Nicosia
  • Population: 1,141,166
  • Language: Greek, Turkish
  • Currency: Euro (Turkish lira accepted in the north)
  • Continent: Asia (but culturally and politically European)

What’s Cyprus like?

A beautiful sun-drenched island in the eastern Mediterranean, the Cypriot political situation takes some explaining. The country is politically and militarily divided between its two constituent ethnic groups – Greeks and Turks. The south and centre is home to the Greek Cypriots, while the Turkish Cypriots live in the north. This division came about in 1971, when a Turkish invasion of the island triggered a brief war, a mass movement of the population, and the setting up of a UN buffer zone between the two sectors. The Republic of Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960 and is still the legally recognised authority over the whole island. However, it is, in practice, a Greek-only state with control over the south, while the north is the self-declared independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The Green Line, as the buffer zone is known, was once closed, but it is now possible to cross between the two sides. Efforts to reunite Cyprus have thus far been unsuccessful, but hopes remain that the latest round of talks could lead to a settlement.


The southern (Greek Cypriot) part of the island is a modern European country with a thriving tourist industry and numerous resorts appealing to package holidaymakers from northern Europe. It also features the country’s only ski resort, in the Troodos mountains. Exposure to the Greek economic crisis has hit the economy hard after a period of sustained growth. The Turkish north continues to open up, but this is still one of Europe’s wilder frontiers, and parts of the north retain a traditional, rustic feel that is less prevalent in the south.

One cool thing about Cyprus

The island is known as the “playground of the gods due to its key role in Greek mythology. Aphrodite is said to have risen from the sea in Cyprus. She probably didn’t, but it’s still worth visiting her purported birthplace near Paphos.

One sad thing about Cyprus

Although the armed conflict in Cyprus ended in the mid-1970s, it is estimated that as many as 2,000 people remain missing to this day.

Neighbours Textbox
Rather like Cuba, Cyprus, despite being an island nation, does technically have land borders. This is because of the British Sovereign Base Areas in the south – Akrotiri and Dhekelia. The UN Buffer Zone separating territory controlled by the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus also forms a de facto border.


What’s it like for tourists?

If you live in Britain, or some other gloomy, windswept corner of northern Europe, chances are you’ve either already been to Cyprus or know somebody who has. The country is one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations, with its year-round sunshine, fascinating history, Greek and Turkish cultures, delicious cuisine, glorious beaches and lively nightspots. The town of Ayia Napa has developed into one of Europe’s premier summer party destinations, while Paphos is a package holiday mecca. You can even ski in the Troodos mountains in winter.

Cyprus passport
Cypriot passport

It’s not all go in Cyprus, though. Much of the island away from the tourist centres remains quite traditional, and even the larger cities have quieter, more authentically Cypriot districts. The island is also strewn with a wealth of archaeological treasures, and there are still plenty of peaceful, remote beach hideaways off the beaten track. The Turkish north is relatively underdeveloped and offers visitors a very different experience to the Greek Cypriot side. It’s worth heading to the capital, Nicosia, to cross the Green Line before reunification is finally agreed and the fortifications are dismantled.

Petra tou Romiou, or Aphrodite’s Rock



Czech Republic

Česká republika
  • Official Name: Czech Republic
  • Capital City: Prague
  • Population: 10,553,443
  • Language: Czech
  • Currency: Czech koruna
  • Continent: Europe

What’s the Czech Republic like?

The modern Czech state came into being after the fall of communism in Europe and the so-called Velvet Divorce, which saw Czechoslovakia split into two new countries – the Czech Republic (sometimes referred to as Czechia) and Slovakia. What is today known as the Czech Republic is small in size, but its position at the heart of Europe has resulted in a rich history. The country’s capital, Prague, has been an important centre of power, but the Czechs have also known invasion and occupation (not least by Nazi Germany during the Second World War), and Czechoslovakia became part of the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence after 1945. The Velvet Divorce saw the Czech and Slovak people go their separate ways in a peaceful separation, following the collapse of communism.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is now a prosperous liberal democracy and became a member of the European Union in the 2004 enlargement. Democratic politics have taken firm root since the demise of communist Czechoslovakia, and the Czech Republic has experienced considerable economic growth since opening up to world markets. The country has achieved relatively low unemployment, even during the recent economic crisis. The Czech landscape is remarkably diverse for such a small country, featuring mountains, flat plains and river valleys.

One cool thing about the Czech Republic

The country is sometimes referred to as the castle capital of the world owing to the presence of more than 2,000 castles that dot the landscape.

One sad thing about the Czech Republic

The Prague Spring of 1968 saw a reformist movement emerge in Czechoslovakia intent on liberalising the communist state. This began in January, but ended when troops from the Soviet Union and other communist countries rolled in to crush the uprising.

Neighbours Textbox
The Czech Republic is situated at the heart of Europe, which Germany on its western flank, Poland to the north, Slovakia to the southeast and Austria to the south.


What’s it like for tourists?

People from all across Europe and beyond flock to Prague to experience its beautiful architecture, fascinating history, UNESCO World Heritage-listed centre and its somewhat hedonistic nightlife scene. The city has become popular (and perhaps even a little infamous) as a destination for boisterous mainly British stag and hen parties. But both Prague and the wider Czech Republic are about far more than that. The country’s historical medieval towns enchant those who choose to explore beyond Prague, and Czech spa resorts are world renowned.

Czech Republic passport
Czech passport

The beautiful Czech countryside abounds with medieval castles and monasteries, while the mountains are great for hiking. The country’s natural parks draw visitors off the beaten track. The Czech Republic is also world famous for beer, and quality Czech brews can be sampled throughout the country. The city of Plzeň is the birthplace of Pilsener.



So that’s Part One out of the way. Those familiar with the alphabet will no doubt know that we’ll begin Part Two with the letter D – Denmark, to be precise. I’ll see you then.




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