Monthly Archives: May 2017

Around the world in five posts: D-G

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Denmark

Danmark
  • Official Name: Kingdom of Denmark
  • Capital City: Copenhagen
  • Population: 5,707,251 (5,812,444 including Greenland and Faroe Islands)
  • State Religion: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark
  • Language: Danish (Faroese, Greenlandic and German spoken locally)
  • Currency: Danish krone
  • Continent: Europe (Greenland is in North America)

What’s Denmark like?

A small, low-lying northern European country with a long history, modern Denmark is among the world’s wealthiest countries, with a remarkably high standard of living. The country consists of an archipelago in the North Sea and a peninsula on mainland Europe that borders Germany to the south. The cosmopolitan capital city, Copenhagen, is relatively distant from the mainland territory, which features rolling hills and an abundance of farmland and tends to be more rural than the Danish islands. The Danish realm also includes the autonomous self-governing countries of the Faroe Islands and Greenland, both of which have languages and cultures distinct from Denmark-proper and have fairly significant independence movements.

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Denmark

The country is synonymous with the Vikings and has a long seafaring history based on both warfare and trade. The Denmark of today is world-renowned for the benefits bestowed on the country by the Nordic social model, which involves high taxation and high public spending, and has helped create one of the most cohesive societies in the world. Danes are also among the richest people on the planet. However, citizens living in Jutland – the peninsular region of Denmark – sometimes feel marginalised and remote from the centre of the country’s economic and political life in Copenhagen, and these rural regions tend to be less well-off than those closer to the prosperous capital. In recent years, Denmark has seen quite high levels of immigration. Autonomous Greenland, meanwhile, has the world’s highest suicide rate.

One cool thing about Denmark

The country is increasingly well-known for the phenomenon of hygge, a term which lacks a direct English translation but is often explained as a state of cosiness. Danish dedication to this way of life is often said to be one reason why the country scores well in surveys of global happiness.

One sad thing about Denmark

The country has the highest rate of cancer in the world. This is sometimes attributed to the Danish taste for processed pork, especially bacon (also a major export product).

Neighbours Textbox
Denmark’s only land border is with Germany at the southern end of Jutland. However, the country is connected by road bridge to Sweden. Greenland, meanwhile, lies to the northeast of Canada, across the freezing waters of Baffin Bay. The Faroe Islands are fairly isolated in the middle of the North Atlantic.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

Denmark’s small size, highly-developed road system and efficient public transport make it an easy country to get around. Most visitors head to the capital city of Copenhagen on the island of Zeeland in the far east of the country, connected to Sweden by the world’s longest road bridge. The city is Denmark’s only real metropolis and has all the trappings of a modern European capital, including a lively nightlife scene. Copenhagen is also home to the world’s longest and oldest pedestrianised street, excellent for shopping, while many visitors come to see the canals and enjoy the attractive buildings that line the city’s famous waterways. Architecture and museum enthusiasts are also well catered for in the Danish capital.

Denmark passport
Danish passport

Beyond Copenhagen, the country becomes more rural, and perhaps more authentically Danish. Modest towns and farming villages are the order of the day, while there are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy the scenic Danish countryside. Denmark also has its fair share of high quality beaches – not much fun during the chilly Scandinavian winter, but a lovely way to while away a long, sunny summer’s day. The windswept Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic are popular with birdwatchers and are famous for their striking scenery. Greenland, meanwhile, is the world’s largest island and has a tiny population clinging to existence around its coastline. The Greenlandic interior is covered by an enormous glacier and is uninhabitable. The unique nature of the Greenlandic people and their country’s geography make it a fascinating and worthwhile destination.

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Copenhagen

 

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Djibouti

جيبوتي‎‎ (Jībūtī) • Jabuuti • Gabuuti
  • Official Name: Republic of Djibouti
  • Capital City: Djibouti City
  • Population: 846,687
  • Official Religion: Islam
  • Language: French, Arabic, Somali, Afar
  • Currency: Djiboutian franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Djibouti like?

A small country in the Horn of Africa region, Djibouti is a former French colony with religious, linguistic, ethnic and cultural links to neighbouring Somalia and Ethiopia, as well as to the Arab and Islamic worlds. Most Djiboutians live in and around the capital, where the blistering heat is moderated by coastal breezes. The Djiboutian interior, meanwhile, is desolate, dusty and scorchingly hot. Despite its small size, Djibouti plays an important role in global trade due to its position on the Gulf of Aden, through which major shipping lanes pass.

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Djibouti

Djibouti is made up of multiple ethnicities, and an armed conflict was brought to end by a power sharing deal in 2000. The largest single ethnic group in the country are the Somalis, but there are numerous smaller groups speaking a wide variety of languages. The political atmosphere in Djibouti is authoritarian, and the government has been criticised by human rights groups. Opposition parties do exist, but have chosen to boycott the political process due to a perceived lack of fairness. The Djiboutian economy is relatively stable despite a lack of agricultural land and concerns over access to water. Outside investment is encouraged, while the Port of Djibouti plays a major role in the economy. Djibouti City is one of the Horn of Africa’s more cosmopolitan urban centres. Nevertheless, unemployment is very high and poverty remains a problem.

One cool thing about Djibouti

Poetry is an important tradition in Djibouti (and wider Somali culture), and it is common for local poets to compose and memorise poems exceeding 100 lines.

One sad thing about Djibouti

Unfortunately, female genital mutilation is rife in Djibouti, with an estimated 93% of the female population having been subjected to the practice.

Neighbours Textbox
Djibouti’s longest frontier is with Ethiopia to the south and west. The country also has short borders with Eritrea to the north and Somalia to the southeast. The Bab al-Mandab Strait, where the Red Sea meets the Arabian Sea, separates Djibouti from Yemen.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

A blisteringly hot destination, especially away from the coast, and largely undeveloped outside of the capital city, Djibouti is not a hotbed of international tourism. Visitors should be aware that travel outside the capital is uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. Djibouti City, home to 76% of the country’s people, is by far and away the most straightforward part of the country to visit. The city is architecturally unremarkable, but it does have a certain cosmopolitan appeal, and even has a casino. The city’s beaches offer a pleasant respite from the heat and dust of the busy highways and bustling markets.

Djibouti passport
Djiboutian passport

Banditry is common away from the capital, so care should be taken when planning trips. However, no visit to Djibouti would be complete without an excursion to the salty Lac Assal, the second-lowest point on Earth. It’s a bumpy ride to get there, but the views are worth every potential bruise.

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Lac Assal

 

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Dominica

Dominique • Wai‘tu kubuli
  • Official Name: Commonwealth of Dominica
  • Capital City: Roseau
  • Population: 72,324
  • Language: English, Dominican Creole, French
  • Currency: East Carribean dollar
  • Continent: North America

What’s Dominica like?

One of the most rugged – and arguably one of the most beautiful – of the Caribbean island nations, Dominica (pronounced Dom-in-EEK-ah, with emphasis on the third syllable) is still being formed by geothermal activity and is home to the second-largest hot spring in the world. It is also a haven for a diverse array of flora and fauna, much of which is protected by an extensive national park system. Much of the island is covered in lush mountainous rainforest, with spectacular waterfalls and gushing rivers. Dominica is not as well-renowned for beaches as other, flatter, Caribbean islands, but there are still typical sandy retreats to be found, particularly in the north of the island. The country receives year-round warm Caribbean sunshine. However, it is also prone to hurricanes.

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Dominica

France was the first colonial power to take possession of Dominica in the face of fierce opposition by the native Carib people. In 1763, Great Britain ousted the French and the island became part of the British Empire. English became the main language on the island, but French retains a presence to this day. Independence came to Dominica in 1980, and the country has become modestly well-off, with an economy that relies heavily on tourism, offshore finance and agriculture (particularly banana production).

One cool thing about Dominica

The country’s national bird is the Sisserou parrot, which can be found nowhere else in the world. Indeed, it is can only be found within a 35 sq mi area of the island’s rainforest.

One sad thing about Dominica

The country is regularly hit by powerful hurricanes. In August 2015, Tropical Storm Erika killed more than 30 people, a sizable number in a country of just 70,000 people. The storm also caused catastrophic damage to infrastructure and the economy.

Neighbours Textbox
As an island nation, Dominica has no land borders. It’s closest neighbours are the French Caribbean island territories of Guadeloupe to the northwest and Martinique to the southeast.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

Dominica’s economy relies heavily on the tourist trade, and as a sun-drenched Caribbean island, it is popular with cruise passengers and well-heeled holidaymakers. As such, the island is well used to catering to guests. However, the landscape makes Dominica a more adventurous destination than some of the lower-lying Caribbean islands, with hiking and mountain-climbing among the most popular activities, and there is a remarkably diverse array of jungle wildlife to discover. Nevertheless, beachgoers will have no trouble finding their own slice of paradise.

Dominica passport
Dominican passport

Most visitors to Dominica head either to the beaches or into the mountains, but it is worth taking some time to explore the charming and friendly towns that dot the island, especially around the coast. The capital, Roseau, has a small-town feel, and is home to plenty of traditional Caribbean churches and markets. The historic French Quarter is particularly picturesque.

Dominica
Windsor Park cricket ground, Roseau

 

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Dominican Republic

República Dominicana
  • Official Name: Dominican Republic
  • Capital City: Santo Domingo
  • Population: 10,075,045
  • Language: Spanish
  • Currency: Peso
  • Continent: North America

What’s the Dominican Republic like?

One of the most successful economies in Latin America, the Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean with the much poorer country of Haiti. It’s a mountainous country with a Caribbean climate and significant biodiversity. At one time a Spanish New World colony, the country has also known brutal occupation at the hands of neighbouring Haiti in the late 1800s and was also occupied by the United States after the First World War. The post-World War II Dominican Republic has seen dictatorship, civil war, another period of US occupation and finally a move towards democracy. The Dominican people are a diverse mix of Taino Indian, Spanish and the descendants of African slaves.

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Dominican Republic

The last two decades have seen impressive economic growth in the Dominican Republic, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the western hemisphere. This is in sharp contrast to its poverty-stricken neighbour, Haiti, and a large number of Haitians have become refugees in the Republic, forced across the border by poverty and natural disasters that have ravaged their homeland. Addressing the Haitian influx is a major challenge facing the Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, a large number of Domincans and their descendants live overseas, especially in the United States. The capital city, Santo Domingo, is the hub of the nation’s political and economic life.

One cool thing about the Dominican Republic

Although not widely enforced, it is still technically against the law in the Dominican Republic to share a kiss in front of a police officer.

One sad thing about the Dominican Republic

The country has become home to large number of immigrants from Haiti, and many of these Haitians lack official status as citizens in the country. Since 2015, deportations have been underway, and vigilante groups have become involved in trying to intimidate Haitians.

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The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with its western neighbour Haiti. The US overseas territory of Puerto Rico is a short distance from the Dominican Republic’s southeastern tip.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

There must be a reason why the Dominican Republic is the most visited destination in the Caribbean. For a start, the capital city, Santo Domingo, is home to the first cathedral and castle built anywhere in the Americas. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the city is home to many more remarkable examples of colonial architecture and buildings of historical significance. The country is also the home of the merengue – the Dominican national dance, while lively bars jump to the sound of bachata music.

Dominican Republic passport
Dominican passport

The country also draws visitors to Pico Duarte, the tallest mountain in the Caribbean, while the striking Dominican coastline has seen the growth of beach resorts that have become an increasingly significant part of the economy. The country is also renowned as a golfing destination, with hundreds of high-quality courses to enjoy. The most popular sport in the Dominican Republic is baseball, and a visit to a local baseball game offers a chance to rub shoulders with ordinary Dominicans in an authentic setting.

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Catalina Island

 

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East Timor

Timor-Leste • Timór Lorosa’e
  • Official Name: Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
  • Capital City: Dili
  • Population: 1,167,242
  • Language: Portuguese, Tetum, numerous indigenous languages
  • Currency: United States dollar, East Timor centavos
  • Continent: Asia

What’s East Timor like?

A small former Portuguese colony that shares the island of Timor with Indonesia, East Timor became the first newly-independent country of the 21st Century in 2002. However, decades of war with Indonesia prior to independence left the new country impoverished and unstable. The East Timorese originally declared their independence from Portugal in 1975, but were invaded and occupied only days later by Indonesia. Thus began a long fight between Indonesian government troops and pro-independence militias in East Timor that devastated the country and left up to a quarter of a million people dead. It was in 1999 that a UN-sponsored referendum saw the people of East Timor vote to break away from Indonesia, a result that triggered a civil war and saw Australian and United Nations troops step in to bring order.

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East Timor

Foreign troops and NGO staff have been a common sight on the streets of East Timor in the decade since independence. The desperately poor country has begun to stagger to its feet in recent years, and the number of overseas staff required to keep order and help build the country has been decreasing. Nevertheless, East Timor remains one of Asia’s poorest and least urbanised nations. Hopes that the fledgling oil and gas industry might bring greater prosperity have not so far been realised, and many citizens remain completely dependent on subsistence farming. Portuguese is spoken to some degree in the cities, but the diverse peoples and ethnic groups of East Timor tend to speak their traditional language. Better-educated East Timorese often emigrate, particularly to Australia.

One cool thing about East Timor

The word “Timor” is derived from the Malay word for “east”. This means that East Timor can literally be translated as “East East“.

One sad thing about East Timor

The country is frightfully poor and underdeveloped, and about half of all citizens continue to live in abject poverty.

Neighbours Textbox
East Timor shares the island of Timor with Indonesia, which lies to the west. Indonesia also encloses the East Timorese exclave of Oecusse on three sides. The country also has close ties to Australia, which lies to the south across the Timor Sea.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

There is no reason why, as the country becomes more stable, East Timor should not begin to show up on the itineraries of backpackers in Southeast Asia, especially due to its proximity to Australia and the backpacker hotspot of Bali. However, the country is still in a stage of reconstruction and nation-building, with tourist development a distant ambition rather than an emerging reality. For now, tourists are a rare sight even in the capital city, Dili, and in rural areas would draw considerable interest and attention from curious locals.

East Timor passport
East Timorese passport

The country has serious potential as a tourist destination, with its long history and culture, heavily influenced by Portuguese and Indonesian colonisation, but with a distinctive Timorese flavour. With its tropical climate and mountainous terrain, East Timor is beautiful and will surely one day enchant greater numbers of visitors. Who knows? Now may be the best time to visit.

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Tasitolu, near Dili

 

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Ecuador

Ikwadur
  • Official Name: Republic of Ecuador
  • Capital City: Quito
  • Largest City: Guayaquil
  • Population: 16,144,000
  • Language: Spanish, Quechua
  • Currency: United States dollar
  • Continent: South America

What’s Ecuador like?

Nestled between Colombia and Peru in the northwest of the South American continent, Ecuador is, as its name would suggest, an equatorial nation. It is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries and is especially famous for the Galápagos Islands, home to the unique animal life that Charles Darwin studied in forming his Theory of Evolution. The Ecuadorian mainland is often mountainous, with the capital city, Quito, perched high in the Andes. The Amazonian rainforest also reaches into Ecuador, while the coastal strip is the country’s warmest region and features plenty of attractive beaches. The country is very much a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, which means powerful earthquakes are an ever-present risk that Ecuadorians must live with.

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Ecuador

As with much of Latin America, the people of Ecuador are a diverse mix that reveals much about the country’s history. The majority of Ecuadorians are mestizos, but there are also black Ecuadorians, descended from African slaves, as well as direct descendants of Spanish colonialists and indigenous peoples. The country’s democracy has been volatile and lively. The country has, since 2006, been run by socialist President Rafael Correa, who has steered it in a more leftwards direction and has had some success in improving the economy. However, inequality remains a major challenge in Ecuador. Agriculture and hydrocarbons play a key role in the Ecuadorian economy.

One cool thing about Ecuador

The country ratified a new constitution in 2008 that was the first in the world to recognise the natural world as having legally enforceable rights.

One sad thing about Ecuador

Earth tremors are a sad fact of life in Ecuador, and in April 2016, the joint-most powerful earthquake of the year struck the northwest of the country. At least 673 people were killed, with tens of thousands injured. In a more densely-populated area of the country, the death toll would likely have been considerably higher.

Neighbours Textbox
Ecuador borders two other South American nations: to the north is Colombia, while Peru lies to the east, south and southwest.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

Those with an interest in exploring South America are unlikely to be disappointed by a country as beautiful, diverse and fascinating as Ecuador. The capital city, Quito, occupies a stunning location high amongst the Andean peaks, and features the best-preserved historic centre in Latin America. The mountains themselves offer plenty of opportunities for trekking, hiking and taking in the spectacular scenery. The country is also home to the world’s tallest active volcano. The east of the country is dominated by the Amazon rainforest and features numerous national parks that reveal the country’s biodiversity in all its splendour.

Ecuador passport
Ecuadorian passport

Beachgoers are well-catered for along the Pacific coastline, where the country’s largest city, Guayaquil can be found, as well as plenty of historic colonial cities. The Galápagos Islands, out in the Pacific, are famous for their unique flora and fauna, and are a must-see destination for anybody with a particular interest in the natural world. The cities can be chaotic and often gridlocked, while rural infrastructure varies in quality, but the country’s remarkable scenery and culture make it worth any extra hassle.

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Quilatoa crater lake

 

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Egypt

مِصر‎‎ (Miṣr) • مَصر‎‎ (Maṣr) • Ⲭⲏⲙⲓ (Kimi)
  • Official Name: Arab Republic of Egypt
  • Capital City: Cairo
  • Population: 92,167,000
  • Language: Arabic
  • Currency: Egyptian pound
  • Continent: Africa (the Sinai peninsula is part of Asia)

What’s Egypt like?

At the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, Egypt has one of the longest histories and richest archaeological heritages on Earth. Modern Egypt sits on the site of some of humanity’s oldest and most influential civilisations, and is today one of the most economically and politically significant countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The country’s large population continues to grow, placing ever more pressure on the packed cities of the Nile delta, especially Cairo itself. Most Egyptians live along the fertile banks of the Nile and its delta in the north of the country, and overcrowding is a tremendous problem. Away from the river, much of Egypt is sparsely-populated desert, including the Sinai peninsula, which sits to the east of the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most important waterways.

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Egypt

Today’s Egypt grapples with numerous political and social problems. The Arab Spring of 2011 led to the demise of the authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak. However, the new Egypt that emerged from these events has been wracked with instability as different forces vie for control and influence, from secular liberals to the Muslim Brotherhood and the always-powerful army. Meanwhile, a violent Islamist insurgency persists in the Sinai Peninsula, occasionally spilling out into other parts of Egypt and beyond. The economy has suffered greatly in the wake of the Arab Spring, with the important tourist trade especially hard-hit. Nevertheless, Egypt remains an intoxicating and vibrant country that continues to hold a significant place in the popular imagination.

One cool thing about Egypt

The country’s famous pyramids are often said to have been built by slaves. However, this is a myth disseminated by Greek historian Herodotus. All workers on the pyramids were paid, often in beer!

One sad thing about Egypt

The eruption of the Arab Spring in 2011 brought hope for a brighter future to Egypt. However, the chaos and violence that preceded the fall of the Mubarak regime led to 800 deaths, and democracy has failed to take root since.

Neighbours Textbox
Egypt’s southern border with Sudan and its western border with Libya are mostly straight lines through open desert. The Sinai peninsula in the northeast borders Israel and the Gaza Strip. The narrow Gulf of Aqaba separates the Sinai from Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

Few countries can match Egypt when it comes to cultural and historical treasures, from the Great Pyramid of Giza to the Sphinx, to the ancient tombs of Luxor. Many visitors take the opportunity to cruise the mighty Nile from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan in the south, stopping to take in the various sights that line the banks of the river and to visit traditional Nubian villages. Adventurous types often head off into the Egyptian Sahara on guided tours, stopping to replenish their energies at picture-postcard oases. For sun-worshippers, Red Sea beach resorts such as Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh offer perfect weather year-round, as well as superb watersports opportunities.

Egypt passport
Egyptian passport

Many Egyptians rely on the tourist trade for their livelihoods, so it is sad that, in recent years, the instability that has followed the Arab Spring, as well as a handful of high-profile terrorist attacks in the region, has delivered a major blow to the industry. Unemployment, already a major problem in Egypt, has risen as visitor numbers have dropped. Security at major resorts and tourist sights is heavy, as it is across Cairo and the country’s other cities. Despite the downturn, Egypt remains open for business. Tourists are more welcome than ever, and the absence of crowds at the country’s main sights means now may be the best time to visit.

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The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid, Giza

 

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El Salvador

  • Official Name: Republic of El Salvador
  • Capital City: San Salvador
  • Population: 6,377,195
  • Language: Spanish
  • Currency: United States dollar
  • Continent: North America

What’s El Salvador like?

The tiny, densely-populated Central American country is often associated with gang violence, lawlessness and poverty – issues it shares with several of its larger neighbours. Sadly, the country regularly comes near the top in surveys of global homicide rates, and the capital city, San Salvador, has been ranked as one of the world’s most dangerous cities. A brutal civil war in the 1990s led to tens of thousands of deaths and drove many Salvadorans to seek a new life abroad, particularly in the United States. The political scene is much more stable today as the country tries to shake off its reputation for violence. Efforts to expand an economy that was once heavily dependent on coffee exports have met with some success, while attempts to steer young Salvadorans away from gangs are ongoing. El Salvador is seeking to leave its traumatic past behind and to build a brighter future.

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El Salvador

The majority of Salvadorans are the descendants of European colonists and indigenous peoples. They inhabit a densely-populated country squeezed between Guatemala, Honduras and the Pacific Ocean, a land of lakes, volcanoes, mountains, jungle and a spectacular coastline. Sitting on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, El Salvador is geologically active.

One cool thing about El Salvador

The country’s name translates into English as “The Saviour“. It is the only country in the world whose name directly references a religious figure.

One sad thing about El Salvador

The 1980s weren’t kind to El Salvador. A civil war between government forces and leftist guerillas resulted in the deaths of 75,000 people and led many to flee abroad. The legacy of the war can be seen in the poverty and violence that still mar the country, although great strides have been made over the past two decades and El Salvador is now a politically stable country.

Neighbours Textbox
El Salvador is the only country in Central America without a coastline on the Caribbean sea. In the northwest, it has a border with Guatemala, while Honduras sits to the north and east. Nicaragua is a short distance away across the Gulf of Fonseca.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

El Salvador is an adventurous destination. The issue of safety is prescient, but the violence so often associated with life in the country is rarely aimed at tourists, meaning that normal levels of vigilance when visiting a poorer country are required. Most ordinary Salvadorans are friendly and welcoming: foreigners are still a rare sight in the more remote parts of the country.

El Salvador passport
Salvadoran passport

For such a small country, El Salvador packs plenty into the tourist experience. Colonial towns and villages dot the spectacular mountainous terrain, in which hiking opportunities abound. Mayan ruins give visitors the chance to walk in the footsteps of an ancient civilisation. The country has numerous lakes and volcanoes, and its national parks are largely unspoiled. The coastline is breathtaking, and is becoming increasingly popular with surfers. Should the country’s reputation improve – and there are signs that it is doing so – expect El Salvador to take of as a must-see backpacker and ecotourism destination.

El Salvador
Estadio Cuscatlán, San Salvador

 

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Equatorial Guinea

Guinea Ecuatorial • Guinée équatoriale • Guiné Equatorial
  • Official Name: Republic of Equatorial Guinea
  • Capital City: Malabo
  • Largest City: Bata
  • Population: 1,222,442
  • Language: Spanish, French, Portuguese, indigenous languages
  • Currency: Central African CFA franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Equatorial Guinea like?

The only Spanish-speaking country in Africa, Equatorial Guinea is a small, steamy country in west-central Africa. The country consists of a roughly square-shaped section of the African mainland on the Gulf of Guinea called Río Muni, as well as two islands – Bioko and Annobón – separated from each other by the independent island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe. The capital city, Malabo, is on Bioko island, while the biggest city, Bata, is on the mainland. A new capital city is under construction in eastern Río Muni, to be known as Oyala upon completion. Much of the country is dense equatorial rainforest, with hot and sultry weather all year round. The island of Annobón, though hot, is renowned as one of the cloudiest places in the world.

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Equatorial Guinea

Once one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world, with a history of violent conflict and political instability, the discovery of oil in the mid-1990s has helped bestow Equatorial Guinea with the highest GDP per capita in Africa. This boom has seen major infrastructure projects to all parts of the country, including the area where the new capital is being built. However, the regime of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been criticised for the uneven spread of this new-found wealth, much of which remains in the hands of a small elite surrounding the president. Most Equatoguineans remain poor, often without access to clean drinking water. Meanwhile, the country is also heavily criticised internationally for the almost complete absence of political freedoms.

One cool thing about Equatorial Guinea

A legacy of colonial times, Equatorial Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa. Around two thirds of the population can speak it. Of course, numerous local languages are also spoken, while there are also communities that speak French, Portuguese and an English Creole.

One sad thing about Equatorial Guinea

The country has a tragic past, but perhaps the saddest thing about the Equatorial Guinea of today is its low ranking on the UN Human Development Index. In a country awash with oil money, it is estimated that more than 50% of people lack access to clean drinking water. An astonishing 20% of Equatoguinean children die before their fifth birthday.

Neighbours Textbox
Río Muni – the part of Equatorial Guinea on mainland Africa – is bordered to the south and east by Gabon, while Cameroon lies to the north. The islands of Bioko and Annobón are separated in the Gulf of Guinea by the sovereign nation of São Tomé and Príncipe. Bioko lies just off the coast of Cameroon.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

The oil boom of the last two decades has brought overseas workers from every corner of the globe into Equatorial Guinea, making foreign faces a more common sight than they once would have been. Nevertheless, there is little in the way of tourist infrastructure, and few tourists visit the country. Those who do might be shocked to discover how expensive it is, while getting around can be challenging due to poorly-developed roads and corrupt officials at checkpoints. Travelling with a guide is often recommended.

Equatorial Guinea passport
Equatoguinean passport

The country doesn’t want for natural beauty however, with scenic stretches of beach along the Atlantic coast and lush, often unspoiled rainforest, home to a wide range of African wildlife. The Equatoguinean islands are volcanic in nature. Visitors may enjoy immersing themselves in a culture infused with African and Spanish flavours, and would find the locals friendly and hospitable should they wish to try out their language skills. A visit to Annobón island will also bring visitors into contact with Equatorial Guinea’s significant Portuguese-speaking population.

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Annobón

 

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Eritrea

ኤርትራ (‘Eertra) • إريتريا (‘Iirytria)
  • Official Name: State of Eritrea
  • Capital City: Asmara
  • Population: 6,380,303
  • Language: Tigrinya, Arabic, Italian, English, numerous local languages
  • Currency: Nakfa
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Eritrea like?

A relatively small country in northeast Africa on the Red Sea, Eritrea is a former Italian colony that was annexed by Ethiopia after the Second World War. Independence from Ethiopia was finally achieved in 1993 following a brutal war that left the larger nation landlocked. Hopes that peace would follow were soon dashed, as Eritrea and Ethiopia entered into a border war, and the boundary between the two countries remains disputed and undemarcated to this day. Tensions between the two neighbours remain high and periodically threaten to spill over into renewed fighting. Eritrea requires all citizens, including women, to carry out military service, often for long periods, partly as a show of strength against Ethiopia.

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Eritrea

The country is roughly evenly-split between Muslims and Christians, and is home to numerous ethnic groups. A wide range of languages are spoken, including, to some extent, Italian – the former colonial language. Many buildings in the capital, Asmara, serve as an architectural reminder of the Italian colonial period. Most Eritreans live inland, in the highlands and the fertile northwest. Much of the Red Sea coastline is arid and inhospitable due to the effects of dry, dusty winds blowing in from the Arabian Peninsula. Since independence in 1993, the country has been ruled with an iron fist by President Isaias Afewerki, who has been heavily criticised for his human rights record. Despite the harsh political atmosphere and relatively high levels of poverty, the mining sector has helped fuel strong economic growth in recent years.

One cool thing about Eritrea

The country is the only one in the world to designate its entire coastline a protected reserve in an attempt to halt desertification and protect the many fish and wildlife species that call the area home.

One sad thing about Eritrea

Reporters Without Borders rank Eritrea as the most dangerous environment in the world for journalists – below even North Korea!

Neighbours Textbox
Eritrea has a long, volatile southern border with its long-running adversary, Ethiopia. In the southeast, the country touches Djibouti, while its northwestern border is with Sudan. A short distance away across the Red Sea is Yemen.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

As a young country finding its way in the world, with a fairly restrictive visa regime and an oppressive political scene, Eritrea remains well and truly off the beaten path. However, it would be wrong to suggest that the country is closed to the outside world. Most nationalities can obtain a visa, and those who do make it to Eritrea find a beautiful country of imposing mountain peaks, fertile northern plains, stark, arid deserts in the south and a striking coastline on the Red Sea. The capital city, Asmara, is like a slice of Italy in Africa thanks to the beautiful Italian architecture and presence of the Italian language.

Eritrea passport
Eritrean passport

Diving is growing in popularity along the coast and around the remarkable Dahlak archipelago, a series of islands in the Red Sea notable for the Ethiopian weapons dumped after the war that have created an artificial reef. Away from the coast, the Eritrean interior features many ruins, monasteries and other historic buildings that hark back to the various powers and civilisations that have come and gone in the region. The Eritrean mountains are beginning to open up to hiking, while national parks abound with a diverse range of wildlife. Eritrea, like so many countries in Africa, harbours much potential as a tourist destination, and is just waiting to be discovered.

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Mountains near Asmara

 

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Estonia

Eesti • Эстония (Estoniya)
  • Official Name: Republic of Estonia
  • Capital City: Tallinn
  • Population: 1,317,797
  • Language: Estonian, Russian
  • Currency: Euro
  • Continent: Europe

What’s Estonia like?

The smallest and most northerly of the three former-Soviet Baltic states, with a landscape featuring rolling hills, charming islands and pretty beaches, Estonia has a long history of domination by major powers, including the Soviets, Germans, Danes, Russians, Poles and Swedes. The modern republic gained independence in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the country hasn’t looked back since. Estonia has developed into one of the world’s most successful democracies, with a strong economy, a reputation for innovation in IT, and a highly-rated education system. The country’s move into the Western sphere of influence has seen it join NATO and the European Union, much to the chagrin of the neighbouring Russians.

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Estonia

Ethnic Estonians are culturally and linguistically linked to the Finns, and many Helsinki residents regularly cross the Gulf of Finland to take advantage of the lower prices to be found in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, and other towns along the north coast. However, a quarter of Estonia’s population are ethnic Russians, who retain strong cultural and emotional ties to Russia. Some Estonian towns, especially near the Russian border, are home to more Russian speakers than Estonian speakers. There is some grievance among this section of Estonian society about the direction the country has taken since independence.

One cool thing about Estonia

It may be small, but Estonia is a global leader in information technology. Skype is an Estonian invention, while Tallinn is sometimes referred to as Europe’s Silicon Valley. It was the first country in the world to introduce online voting.

One sad thing about Estonia

As with other countries in the region, Estonia suffered major losses during World War II. Just over seven percent of the country’s population was killed, while another ten percent were sent to Soviet labour camps.

Neighbours Textbox
Estonia has two land borders: to the south is Latvia, while Russia lies to the east. The narrow waters of the Gulf of Finland separate Estonia from Finland.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

The main attraction in Estonia is Tallinn’s old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was built by German crusaders in the Middle Ages. The city’s walls and towers are some of the best-preserved in Europe, and tourists have begun to flock to the city since independence opened Estonia up to the outside world. The advent of budget air travel has helped bring a tourist boom to Tallinn. Outside the capital, there are plenty of historic sites, including numerous medieval castles, that tell the story of Estonia’s history of conquest and resistance.

Estonia passport
Estonian passport

A relatively flat country, Estonia’s countryside is pleasant, with rolling hills inland and a number of beach resorts that become very popular during the short summer season (winters can be bitterly cold). The country also has a large number of attractive islands in the Baltic Sea, some of which are populated by ethnic Swedes. Despite the small size of the country, there are several national parks to explore, and the country also has shorelines on Lakes Peikus and Pskov. Estonia really is a Baltic gem.

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Old Town, Tallinn

 

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Ethiopia

ኢትዮጵያ (Ītiyop’iya)
  • Official Name: Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
  • Capital City: Addis Ababa
  • Population: 99,465,819
  • Language: Amharic, hundreds of regional languages
  • Currency: Birr
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Ethiopia like?

The giant of east Africa, Ethiopia is a remarkable country of diverse landscapes and diverse people. The oldest independent country in Africa, Ethiopia is also the only country on the continent to have never been colonised by outside powers, despite the Italians’ best efforts in the 1930s. Ethiopia is thought by some historians to be the birthplace of humanity itself thanks to the discovery of some of the oldest human fossils ever unearthed. Modern Ethiopians are an incredibly diverse mix of ethnic groups, all with their own customs, cultures and traditions. With such diversity comes a similarly wide range of languages and religious beliefs. Much of the country is mountainous, with the Great Rift Valley making violent earth tremors a regular problem. The further east one goes, the drier and more arid the country becomes.

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Ethiopia

The second-biggest country in Africa by population, Ethiopia came to world attention during the 1980s, when a disastrous famine triggered by war and ruinous economic policies gave rise to the Live Aid charity rock concert. Although the country remains one of the world’s poorest, it has come a long way since those dark days and consistently records impressive economic growth. Nevertheless, the border conflict with Eritrea regularly threatens to spill over into renewed fighting, and the country’s ethnic Somali population, a majority in the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia, remains restive. An insurgency rumbles on in this part of the country. Despite these constant tensions and the ever-present poverty that still persists, Ethiopia is an increasingly assertive and self-confident nation, proud of its history, with a growing urban middle-class.

One cool thing about Ethiopia

We’ve already mentioned that Ethiopia was never colonised, successfully fending off the Italians, and becoming the only African country to avoid this fate. This has made the country a symbol of African resistance in general, and explains how red, green and yellow became the colours of the African resistance movement. These colours are found on the Ethiopian flag, and those of many other African states.

One sad thing about Ethiopia

The infamous Ethiopian famine of the 1980s led to one million deaths. The brutal Communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam had even used hunger as a weapon to maintain his rule and crush opposition.

Neighbours Textbox
Ethiopia has a disputed border with Eritrea in the north, while Sudan and South Sudan lie to the west. To the south is Kenya, while the country’s long eastern border with Somalia is disputed and dangerous. There is also a short border with Djibouti in the northeast.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

Ethiopia teems with historic sites, a legacy of its long history, and possesses numerous spectacular national parks. The east of the country is best avoided, due to the Somali insurgency, and there are other areas where intermittent, localised violence mean caution is required. Despite these challenges, the Ethiopian tourist industry continues to develop, and the country is becoming an increasingly popular destination for adventurous travellers. The capital city, Addis Ababa, is a typically vibrant, chaotic, African metropolis, with a growing middle class and a strong economy.

Ethiopia passport
Ethiopian passport

However, much of what people really come to see lies outside Addis Ababa. The country’s national parks are home to a wide variety of African wildlife and offer breathtaking views of mountain scenery or tropical forest. The countryside is dotted with historic towns with roots that stretch far back in human history. Historic mosques and churches, monasteries and tombs, tell the story of one of the world’s oldest civilisations. To cap it all off is the famous Great Rift Valley, which cuts through the heart of Ethiopia, creating some of Africa’s most spectacular geography.

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Rock-hewn church, Lalibela

 

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Fiji

Viti • फ़िजी (Fiji)
  • Official Name: Republic of Fiji
  • Capital City: Suva
  • Population: 909,389
  • Language: English, Fijian, Hindi
  • Currency: Fijian dollar
  • Continent: Oceania

What’s Fiji like?

An archipelago in the South Pacific that was once a part of the British Empire, independent Fiji combines a tropical climate and landscape with a fractious social and political scene. A part of the wider Melanesian region, a narrow majority of Fijians are indigenous ethnic Melanesians. However, a legacy of British rule is that a large section of the population is of South Asian origin, descended from workers brought over from the Indian subcontinent by the colonialists. Since independence in 1970, Fiji has struggled to marry these two very different cultures, and the tensions periodically lead to political strife. Military coups are not unheard of in Fiji.

Fiji map
Fiji

Over 300 islands make up the nation of Fiji, roughly a third of which are inhabited. The capital, Suva, is a teeming, often troubled, always lively city on the most heavily-populated island, Viti Levu. Away from the capital, Fiji is resplendent with rainforest, idyllic beaches, coral reefs, volcanic mountains and far flung paradise islands. Although the land, particularly coconut plantations, plays an important role in the Fijian economy, tourism is the country’s economic mainstay. Political instability has hindered economic development since independence, so most Fijians are relatively poor.

One cool thing about Fiji

The International Date Line runs right through the Fijian island of Taveuni. This means that you can literally stand with your legs in two different dates.

One sad thing about Fiji

When military dictatorship came to Fiji in 1987 with the intention of preventing the rise to power of an Indian-dominated party, large numbers of Fijians of Indian origin felt forced to leave the country.

Neighbours Textbox
Fiji has no land borders. Its nearest neighbours in the South Pacific are New Zealand, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, plus the French overseas territories of New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

The name Fiji is synonymous with the exotic – warm blue seas, friendly locals, tropical sunshine and spectacular scenery. As a result, it is no surprise that tourism plays a major role in the economy. Nevertheless, the country’s political travails and its turbulent recent history mean that its potential as a tourist destination has not been fully tapped. Most resorts lie well away from the country’s unpredictable capital, Suva.

Fiji passport
Fijian passport

Despite the challenges, tourism still plays a key role in Fiji’s economy, with numerous resorts springing up along the coasts of the main islands. The country has developed a reputation as a destination for romantic getaways and honeymoons, as well as the traditional laidback beach holiday. There is plenty of mountain scenery to enjoy on the main islands. Adventure sports such as kayaking and skydiving are also popular.

Fiji
Nacula Island

 

Finland flag

Finland

Suomi
  • Official name: Republic of Finland
  • Capital City: Helsinki
  • Population: 5,488,543
  • Language: Finnish, Swedish, Sami
  • Currency: Euro
  • Continent: Europe

What’s Finland like?

Lying in the European Union’s chilly northeastern corner, Finland is an affluent country that maintains close ties to the other Nordic countries, while remaining culturally and linguistically distinct from its neighbours. With a history that includes periods of domination and rule by its larger neighbours Sweden and Russia, modern Finland is a peaceful, prosperous nation with a fully-developed, Nordic-model welfare state. The country scores highly on various indices of wellbeing, especially in the areas of social cohesion and education. The majority of Finns speak Finnish, but there is a sizable Swedish-speaking minority, and northern Finland is also home to the Sami people. The Åland Islands, in the Gulf of Bothnia, are a self-governing archipelago that, while part of Finland, are entirely Swedish-speaking.

Finland map
Finland

The majority of Finns live in the southern region, especially around the capital, Helsinki. Much of the country is dominated by forests and lakes, which become very popular with locals during the short summer. The Finnish winters are notoriously harsh, with heavy snow and subzero temperatures, especially in the north. A largely flat country, there is some skiing in Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle, a region that reindeer and Santa Claus also call home.

One cool thing about Finland

The quirky Finns are renowned for strange sporting events and festivities. Perhaps the oddest of all is the annual Wife-Carrying World Championships, which draws couples from all around the world to tackle a challenging obstacle course.

One sad thing about Finland

The country does so well in so many global surveys, you could be forgiven for thinking that everything is rosy. However, Finland’s economy has hit the buffers in recent years, and more Finns find themselves struggling to make ends meet.

Neighbours Textbox
Finland shares borders with its Nordic neighbours Norway to the north and Sweden to the northwest. The country also shares a long eastern border with Russia, while Estonia is a short distance away across the Gulf of Finland.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

The distinctive nature of the Finnish people and their country’s wide open spaces make Finland a fascinating and worthwhile tourist destination. Finland is one of those countries that offers visitors a pretty strong chance of seeing the Northern Lights, if you can stand the freezing local winter. You can also experience the midnight sun in summer, especially in the north. Roughly ten percent of Finland’s land area is made up of lakes, and the country’s rolling hills and vast expanses of open countryside and woodland make for some beautiful summer strolls. In the winter, the northern ski resorts become popular, as does the legendary home of Santa Claus in Lapland.

Finland passport
Finnish passport

The capital, Helsinki, is Finland at its most cosmopolitan, but the city still retains something of a small town feel. Helsinki is a popular stopping-off point for Baltic cruises, and the city is especially welcoming in summer, when the warmer weather lures the locals out to the many cafés and bars that line its streets. Helsinki is somewhat renowned for its lively nightlife. There are also a handful of UNESCO World Heritage sites dotted around the country, including the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress outside Helsinki.

Finland
Helsinki

 

France flag

France

  • Official Name: French Republic
  • Capital City: Paris
  • Population: 66,991,000 (including overseas territories)
  • Language: French
  • Currency: Euro (CFP franc used in New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna)
  • Continent: Europe (with overseas territories in North America, Africa and Oceania)

What’s France like?

A cultural giant with a long history, France is a major European power, one of the driving forces at the heart of the European Union, and has left its cultural and imperial mark across the world. France lay at the heart of the Renaissance, and the political thought and ideals that arose from the period continue to define and shape the modern western world. The country has also been at the heart of some of Europe’s major conflicts, including the World Wars of the Twentieth Century, its own religiously-driven civil wars, and numerous conflagrations with neighbouring powers. Northern France is littered with battlefield memorials to the dead of the World Wars. Modern France’s relations with its neighbours, including the United Kingdom and Germany, are cordial, and often warm. The country also possessed the second-largest empire ever assembled, and continues to wrestle with the legacy and consequences to this day. France was particularly prominent in North and West Africa, where French is still widely spoken, and government is often based on the French system. The French colonial period also left its imprint on North America, especially Canada, where the French language enjoys joint-official status with English. Parts of the United States, too, have been heavily influenced by French language and culture.

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France

The French are renowned for their art, high culture, philosophy and cuisine. French philosophers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Descartes, Derrida and Foucault have left an indellible mark on the country and beyond. France also has a formidable legacy in literature thanks to the likes of Diderot, Jules Verne, Sartre, Camus and many more, and has produced household names in the art world, including Monet, Cézanne, Gaugin and Renoir. The country’s culinary scene is admired the world over, with French chefs in demand in the world’s top kitchens. The French take food very seriously, and even small towns will often have a Michelin-starred restaurant. France is arguably the world’s best-renowned wine producer, with prize-winning vineyards all over the country – especially the Bordeaux region.

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Eiffel Tower, Paris

Modern France remains one of the world’s leading political and military powers. Its cities are architecturally striking, but many also struggle to provide work for their urban young, especially in the so-called banlieues, the tough suburbs mainly populated by people of North African origin. In recent years, the country has struggled to tackle the rise of violent fundamentalist Islam, as demonstrated by a number of significant terrorist outrages. Away from the cities, the French countryside is especially beautiful, featuring rolling hills, open plains, mighty rivers, forbidding mountain ranges and long coastlines. The country also has a number of overseas territories that are considered fundamental parts of the French Republic, including French Guiana, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Martin, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, Mayotte, and Réunion.

One cool thing about France

The most popular tourist destination in the world is… France! The French themselves are not major travellers, as sure a sign as any that what they have at home is pretty special.

One sad thing about France

By some measures, France has the highest levels of depression in the world, with one in five citizens having experienced a depressive episode at some point.

Neighbours Textbox
Metropolitan France (i.e. the part in Europe) borders Belgium and Luxembourg to the northeast, Germany and Switzerland to the east, and Italy to the southeast. There is also a border with the tiny independent principality of Monaco on the French Riviera, and southern borders with Spain and Andorra. The Channel Islands lie just west of Normandy in the north, and there is a link to the UK via the Channel Tunnel between Calais and England’s Kent coast. The French island of Corsica is just north of the Italian island of Sardinia. France also has international borders in other parts of the world: French Guiana borders Brazil and Suriname in the jungles of South America; while the tiny Caribbean island of Saint Martin is divided between France and the Netherlands.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

As mentioned earlier, France welcomes more tourists than any other country in the world. The rich and famous are drawn to the upmarket beaches of the French Riviera, while the long Atlantic coast is one of the world’s surfing hotspots. Camping in the beautiful French countryside is popular with locals and visitors from the country’s near-neighbours, while the French Alps and Pyrenees offer world-class winter sports opportunities. Gourmands find their food heaven in the cafés, restaurants, bakeries and markets of the diverse cities, towns and even small villages up and down the country, while wine enthusiasts are drawn to the Loire Valley and Bordeaux.

France passport
French passport

French towns and cities are famous for their imposing churches and cathedrals and attractive central squares. The former battlefields of the north allow visitors to explore a region that saw such suffering and sacrifice during the World Wars. And at the heart of it all is Paris, one of the world’s greatest cities, famous for its food, its fashion, its architecture and must-see sites, including the Louvre, the Champs Elysées, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc du Triomphe. Paris is considered by many to be the world’s most romantic destination. When all is said and done, there really is something for everybody in France.

France
Strasbourg

 

Gabon flag

Gabon

  • Official Name: Gabonese Republic
  • Capital City: Libreville
  • Population: 1,475,000
  • Language: French, Fang, Myene, Punu, Nzebi
  • Currency: Central African CFA franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Gabon like?

A former French colony on central Africa’s west coast, Gabon has exploited oil riches to become one of the wealthiest countries on the continent. Indeed, only Equatorial Guinea and Botswana have a higher GDP. Unfortunately, the proceeds from this boom have not been dispensed evenly, leaving Gabon with a small but wealthy elite alongside significant levels of poverty. However, these disparities have not prevented the country from avoiding the regular turmoil and strife that often engulf its near-neighbours in west Africa. Gabon did experience a period of autocratic rule, if not dictatorship, from the late 1960s until 2009 under President Omar Bongo. In recent years, reforms to Gabon’s political system have helped to improve governance somewhat.

Gabon map
Gabon

The Gabonese live in one of Africa’s more sparsely populated countries. Roughly half the population lives in the capital city, Libreville, which is comfortably the biggest city in the country. Rural Gabon is almost entirely covered by rainforest, including the highlands, and the climate is sultry all year round. These forests are home to several species of monkey and other African wildlife, and the country has done a good job of protecting its natural environment. The people hail from a diverse range of tribes and ethnic groups, and speak a correspondingly wide range of languages. Nevertheless, French remains widely spoken, a legacy of France’s colonial rule over the region.

One cool thing about Gabon

The country is home to around 80% of Africa’s gorilla population. So if you want to see gorillas in the wild, Gabon seems like the place to start!

One sad thing about Gabon

Despite its large oil reserves, the Gabonese economy has failed to deliver widespread prosperity. Jobs are scarce, and the country has been criticised for over-regulating business and preventing the emergence of an entrepreneurial class.

Neighbours Textbox
Gabon has a long frontier in the east and south with the Republic of the Congo. It also borders Equatorial Guinea in the northwest and Cameroon in the north.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

Gabon has the potential to be one of Africa’s most successful tourist economies. With incredible rainforest, towering mountains, a long coastline and year-round tropical conditions, Gabon has plenty to offer. Unfortunately, it has not yet developed the necessary infrastructure to cater to large numbers of guests. Hotels are relatively rare outside the main cities of Libreville and Port-Gentil, and paved roads are few and far between outside of the main cities. Despite these obstacles, the country’s relative prosperity and stable political climate make it a welcoming place to visit, especially for those new to travelling in Africa.

Gabon passport
Gabonese passport

Gabon overflows with national parks, home to diverse flora and fauna, including gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, exotic birds, turtles and deer. The national parks are arguably Gabon’s biggest draw, but the country’s Atlantic coastline, with its miles of pristine, often deserted, beaches should not be ignored. Gabon also possesses some spectacular mountain scenery, featuring breathtaking waterfalls and plunging rivers.

Gabon
Fruit market, Libreville

 

The Gambia flag

The Gambia

  • Official Name: Republic of The Gambia
  • Capital City: Banjul
  • Largest City: Serekunda
  • Population: 1,882,450
  • Language: English, Mandinka, Fula, Wolof, Serer, Jola
  • Currency: Dalasi
  • Continent: Africa

What’s The Gambia like?

As the map below shows, The Gambia is one of the world’s more oddly-shaped countries. The smallest country on mainland Africa in terms of area, The Gambia is a small sliver of land that follows the course of the Gambia river inland from the Atlantic Ocean and is surrounded on three sides by Senegal. This strange arrangement is a legacy of colonial competition and administration in the region. The first to set up a colony here were the Portuguese, but the territory soon ended up under British administration. An agreement with France, which controlled much of surrounding west Africa, cemented British control of the Gambia river colony. Independence came to The Gambia in 1965. The country joined with Senegal in the 1970s to form the state of Senegambia, but this arrangement quickly unravelled.

The Gambia map
The Gambia

Most Gambians live around the largest city, Serekunda, and the capital, Banjul, at the western end of the country by the Atlantic Ocean. The further inland one goes, the more sparsely populated The Gambia becomes. The country is generally rather poor, with foreign aid an important part of the economy. However, agriculture, industry and tourism have contributed to economic growth. In December 2016, Yahya Jammeh, Gambian president for the previous 22 years, was defeated at the ballot box. Jammeh had declared The Gambia to be an Islamic republic and had instituted harsh social policies that earned him considerable criticism. Despite refusing to hand over power, he was eventually removed with the help of neighbouring Senegal. The Gambia has since renounced its Islamic republic status and has returned to the Commonwealth, from which it had been suspended.

One cool thing about The Gambia

One explanation often given for The Gambia’s odd shape is that, when the British and the French were vying for control of the region, British ships sailed up the Gambia river while firing cannons off either side, and that the cannonball’s landing positions became the borders we know today. It’s unlikely that this happened, but ships did play a part in the rivalry between the two colonial powers in the region.

One sad thing about The Gambia

Why was this part of Africa so highly sought after? In a word, slaves. The Gambia river gave ships access to more and more territory from which local people could be taken as slaves. As many as three million people are thought to have been transported from The Gambia to the New World as part of the slave trade.

Neighbours Textbox
The Gambia has just the one neighbour, Senegal, which it borders in the north, east and South. To the west is a short coastline on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Gambia river.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

The recent disruption caused by the December 2016 election saw tourists fleeing The Gambia en masse. However, the situation is considerably more settled at the time of writing (April 2017), and countries have lifted their travel advisories against The Gambia. This will be a relief to the many Gambians who rely on the tourist trade. The Gambia has become a popular exotic destination for European holidaymakers, drawn by the year-round warmth and pristine beaches. The Gambia’s short Atlantic coastline is the centre of the country’s tourist trade, and the vast majority of visitors head for the resort areas that have sprung up over the past two decades.

The Gambia passport
Gambian passport

Few people venture out of the resorts, which means most of The Gambia is off the beaten track. This is especially the case inland, where tourists are a rare sight. However, those looking for a more adventurous Gambian experience can explore the country’s national parks and take in its remarkable wildlife. Nowhere in The Gambia is far from Senegal, which means it is possible to cross the border, provided you have the necessary documentation.

The Gambia
Mangroves in Makasutu

 

Georgia flag

Georgia

საქართველო (Sakartvelo)
  • Official Name: Georgia
  • Capital City: Tbilisi
  • Population: 3,720,400
  • Language: Georgian
  • Currency: Lari
  • Continent: Europe (Eurasia)

What’s Georgia like?

A mountainous country in the often volatile Caucasus region, Georgia straddles the boundary between Europe and Asia. A former Soviet state, the country gained independence upon the demise of the USSR, and it has experienced a fair amount of turmoil since, including a brief war with Russia in 2008. The country has increasingly looked towards Europe and away from its giant northern neighbour in recent years, an outlook that has drawn the ire of Moscow. There are two breakaway regions in Georgia: Abkhazia in the northwest, which is home to the Abkhaz people; and South Ossetia in the north. Both regions are internationally recognised as part of Georgia, with the exception of a handful of countries, including Russia. Georgia recognises Abkhazia as an autonomous region under Georgian sovereignty.

Georgia map
Georgia

Despite these difficulties, Georgia has achieved strong economic growth since independence. Living standards are still low by European standards, but much improved from the 1990s. The country has been successful in attracting inward investment, and has also shown a keenness to increase the number of people entering Georgia to visit and to study. The country is especially intent on strengthening ties to Europe. The Georgian people themselves are something of an enigma, with a language, script and culture not linked to or derived from any of their neighbours. Some scholars suggest a connection to the Basque people, but little evidence of this has come to light. This makes Georgia a particularly fascinating country.

One cool thing about Georgia

The world’s deepest cave can be found in Georgia. Krubera Cave can be found in the breakaway region of Abkhazia, and plummets to an astonishing 2,197m (7,208ft).

One sad fact about Georgia

Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, better known as Joseph Stalin, was born in Gori – then part of the Russian Empire but now in Georgia – in 1878. He would go on to lead the Soviet Union and was responsible for some of humanity’s worst atrocities.

Neighbours Textbox
Georgia sits in a politically febrile neighbourhood, with the Russian North Caucasus republics on its northern border, Azerbaijan to the southeast, Armenia to the south, and Turkey to the southwest.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

It’s opening up. Indeed, now might be the best time to visit Georgia, before it really takes off. With incredible mountain scenery, a burgeoning wine industry and an alluring Black Sea coast, Georgia’s future as a tourist destination looks bright, and the country has been working to improve its infrastructure to cater to a higher number of visitors. Of particular interest to adventurous guests may be the numerous Orthodox churches that cling to plunging mountainsides and overlook spectacular valleys. The capital city, Tbilisi, is increasingly cosmopolitan and serves as a welcoming, friendly, attractive and interesting hub for travel in the region.

Georgia passport
Georgian passport

It would be wise to consider caution when travelling in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the Georgian government has no practical control. Abkhazia is generally safe, has a beautiful Black Sea coast and a pleasant climate, but consular services are limited should they be required. South Ossetia is a very traditional society made up mostly of poor mountain villages, and security conditions are arguably less amenable to tourism than in Abkhazia.

Georgia
Sameba Cathedral, Tbilisi

 

Germany flag

Germany

Deutschland
  • Official Name: Federal Republic of Germany
  • Capital City: Berlin
  • Population: 82,175,700
  • Language: German
  • Currency: Euro
  • Continent: Europe

What’s Germany like?

A truly global economic powerhouse at the very heart of the European Union, Germany is an affluent, diverse country with a long history and a rich cultural heritage. The country has played a central role in the development of western art, literature, philosophy and medicine, while its classical musicians are some of the world’s most renowned. The country’s 20th century history is dominated by its roles in the two world wars and subsequent division into two separate states, East and West Germany. Since reunification in 1990, Germany has become a key figure in international diplomacy, a desirable destination for immigrants, and a true economic giant. The country is one of the world’s biggest importers and exporters, and is particularly well-known for its efficient motor-vehicle industry and for wine production. Much of the country is forested, but there are also significant mountain ranges, major rivers, wine-growing regions, flat coastal plains and rolling hillsides.

Germany map
Germany

While countries such as Britain, France, Portugal, Spain and The Netherlands were busily assembling and administering colonial empires during the 18th and 19th centuries, Germany as a singular nation-state had not yet formed, and the German people lived in various empires, city-states and vassal states scattered around northern, central and eastern Europe. Germany can trace its roots in part to the Holy Roman Empire, a 19th-century European power that took in large swathes of northern Europe, but this was not a formal German entity. The struggle of the German people to understand their place in the world and to be seen to compete with other European powers ultimately led the German Empire – as it was at the time – to become increasingly militarily assertive, a major factor in the triggering of World War I. The devastating defeat inflicted upon Germany gave rise to the weak, unstable and impoverished Weimer Republic, which was swept away by Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist (Nazi) movement. The Second World War brought further death and destruction to Europe as the Nazis attempted to expand German territory, subjugate other nationalities and even to exterminate certain minority groups.

Germany2
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Germany’s defeat in the Second World War saw the western part of the country subsumed into the western family of nations as West Germany, while the east became the Soviet client state of East Germany. Berlin itself was also divided between the two. Reunification came in 1990. Modern Germany has done much to leave its difficult past behind it, and has recently welcomed over one million refugees from conflicts in the Middle East. The German economy is the engine of the European Union and the single market, though this has led to criticism that Germany is too powerful and too able to dictate to other members. The Germans themselves are increasingly diverse, with large Turkish and Arab minorities in many major cities.

One cool thing about Germany

The city of Reutlingen is home to what is officially the world’s narrowest street. Spreuerhofstraße is 31cm (1ft) across at its narrowest point, so stay trim if you plan to visit!

One sad thing about Germany

The 1972 Olympic Games in Munich were the scene of tragedy when terrorists murdered members of the Israeli team at their hotel.

Neighbours Textbox
As a large country at the heart of Europe, Germany has quite a few neighbouring countries. To the north is a short border with Denmark, which prevents Germany’s two coastlines from connecting. Germany has eastern frontiers with Poland and the Czech Republic, while Austria and Switzerland lie to the south. In the southwest is France, while in the west, Germany borders Luxembourg, Belgium and The Netherlands.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

With its diverse regions, stunning scenery, beautiful towns and cities, and highly developed, efficient infrastructure, Germany can boast a lot. Outsiders may arrive in Germany with stereotypical ideas about the country and its people, but the federal structure and regional identities that prevail mean that what might apply to one part of Germany is completely irrelevant to another. If you’re looking for beer halls and lederhosen, head to Bavaria and its vibrant capital, Munich, in the southeast of the country. But don’t expect to find these things in Berlin or Hamburg, for example.

Germany passport
German passport

There are simply too many attractions to list here, but among the many reasons to visit Germany are its lively cities, superb beers and wines, picturesque towns and villages, majestic castles, scenic mountains and ski resorts, its tasty range of sausages and sausage-based dishes, and its numerous events and festivals. Munich hosts the world’s biggest festival – Oktoberfest – which actually takes place every September and celebrates German – especially Bavarian – culture and, of course, beer. The capital, Berlin, is a fascinating metropolis, particularly for those with an interest in Germany’s 20th century history. Parts of the Berlin Wall still stand, and give a real insight of what Berlin might have been like as a divided city. As for the Germans themselves: whatever pre-conceived notions you may have, you can expect to find a warm and friendly welcome everywhere.

Germany
Hohenzollern Castle, Baden-Württemberg

 

Ghana flag

Ghana

  • Official Name: Republic of Ghana
  • Capital City: Accra
  • Population: 27,043,093
  • Language: English, numerous local languages
  • Currency: Ghanaian cedi
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Ghana like?

Relatively prosperous by sub-Saharan African standards, Ghana is one of the continent’s more stable and successful countries, with an increasingly diverse economy and sound democratic credentials. A former Dutch and then British colony on west Africa’s Gulf of Guinea coast, Ghana was once known as the Gold Coast, and was, for a time, at the heart of the slave trade. In 1957, Ghana became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve independence. Despite early strife and economic problems, the country managed to chart a path to a more stable future, and democracy has developed firm foundations.

Ghana map
Ghana

The Ghanaian people are almost all black Africans, but there are numerous ethnic groups within the country that fall under that umbrella. English is quite widely spoken, but regional and local languages are common. A largely Christian nation, a sizeable Muslim minority exists, especially in the poorer northern regions. Ghana’s north is mostly open savannah, while the centre and south become progressively more humid and more heavily-forested. Numerous rivers flow out of the enormous Lake Volta in eastern Ghana.

One cool thing about Ghana

As has already been mentioned, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence in 1957, with Kwame Nkrumah becoming president.

One sad thing about Ghana

The World Health Organisation and UNICEF have ranked Ghana among the world’s least hygienic countries, with high rates of infant mortality linked to poor sanitation and unclean drinking water.

Neighbours Textbox
Ghana is bordered in the west by Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Burkina Faso in the north and northwest, and Togo in the east. In the south is a coastline on the Gulf of Guinea.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

First-time visitors to sub-Saharan Africa could do a lot worse than start in Ghana. With its friendly people, relatively good infrastructure and moderate levels of poverty, Ghana can prove a less challenging first exposure to the continent for those raised in more affluent parts of the world. The Ghanaian coast is dotted with so-called slave castles – forts built by various European powers to service the slave trade, some of which have received UNESCO World Heritage status. It is also possible to visit mosques, fortifications and other remnants of civilisations that pre-date the arrival of Europeans in what is now Ghana.

Ghana passport
Ghanaian passport

The country is also blessed with national parks, home to elephants, big cats and other African wildlife. The coast offers attractive beaches, while Lake Volta is a natural wonder. The city of Kumasi, in south-central Ghana, offers a glimpse into the history and culture of the Ashanti people. The capital, Accra, meanwhile, is a heaving metropolis that burgeons with lively markets and sights and attractions dedicated to the country’s history, independence movement and local culture.

Ghana
Elmina slave castle, Cape Coast

 

Greece flag

Greece

Ελλάδα (Elláda)
  • Official Name: Hellenic Republic
  • Capital City: Athens
  • Population: 10,955,000
  • Language: Greek
  • Currency: Euro
  • Continent: Europe

What’s Greece like?

A beautiful country at the southern end of the Balkan peninsula in southeastern Europe, Greece is considered the birthplace of Western civilisation, with an ancient culture that gave rise to the concept of democracy, as well as the Olympic Games, Western philosophy, drama and theatre, literature and political thought. Modern Greece may not quite be the mighty civilisation of its ancient forebears, but the country is still an important regional player with a distinctive culture and language. Greeks are some of the most politically active people in Europe. The country was at one time part of the Ottoman Empire during the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries, and has experienced war, population exchange with Turkey, military dictatorship and periods of economic strife. Greeks have suffered some of the worst consequences of the 2008 financial crash, as the country endured swingeing cuts, a ferocious recession, rampant unemployment and wage repression.

Greece map
Greece

While the country is largely at peace with its neighbours, the possibility of conflict with Turkey over Cyprus remains, and the country also disputes the name of the Republic of Macedonia to the north. The country is famous for its cuisine, its long, hot summers, its many ancient sites, its mountainous terrain and its many hundreds of idyllic islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas. The capital city, Athens, is Greece’s main metropolis – a heaving, traffic-choked, cosmopolitan, historic and striking centre of an ancient culture. However, much of Greece is rural, with small, traditional villages, rugged mountains and pleasant forest. The islands in particular are renowned for their beautiful beaches, and play a major role in the country’s economic life.

One cool thing about Greece

The first Olympic games took place in Greece in 776BC, which seems astonishing when you think about it. The first person to win an Olympic event was a cook by the name of Coroebus, who won the sprint race.

One sad thing about Greece

It is estimated that around $1billion was wiped out of Greece’s economy following the financial crash of 2008. The consequences have been devastating: poverty, unemployment, and a national debt larger than the country’s economy. Ordinary Greeks continue to suffer the fallout.

Neighbours Textbox
Greece has a dispute with its northern neighbour, Macedonia, over that country’s name. Greece claims that the use of the name “Macedonia” suggests a territorial claim over the northern Greek region of the same name. Greece’s other neighbours are Bulgaria and Turkey to the northeast and Albania to the northwest. Many of Greece’s most easterly islands also hug the Turkish coast.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

Greece is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and its not hard to see why. The biggest sector within the country’s tourist industry is focused on the beach resorts of the islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas, some of the most significant of which are Corfu, Zakynthos, Rhodes, Crete, Kos, Lesbos and Skiathos. The Greek mainland also includes a long, deeply indented coastline, with the beach resorts of Chalkidiki in Greek Macedonia in the north of the country especially popular. The main appeal of the islands is their warm, sunny weather, moderated by sea breezes, as well as their charming, traditional village communities and sandy beaches. Some islands, most notably Rhodes, Crete and Corfu, also include resorts that cater to the 18-30 party scene and are not always for the fainthearted!

Greece passport
Greek passport

However, Greece is about far more than package tourism. With its ancient history and culture, there are numerous historic sites, including Olympia, where the first Olympic Games took place, and the ancient Parthenon atop the Acropolis in central Athens. The country’s architecture, ancient and modern, is famous around the world, while many are drawn in by the fresh, flavoursome cuisine, heavily influenced by seafood, lamb, olives and feta cheese. The capital city, Athens, offers all the trappings of a modern city, while the country’s second city, Thessaloniki, immerses the visitor in Greek Macedonian culture.

Greece
Akropolis and Parthenon, Athens

 

Grenada flag

Grenada

La Grenade
  • Official Name: Grenada
  • Capital City: St. George’s
  • Population: 109,590
  • Language: English, French, Grenadian Creole
  • Currency: East Caribbean dollar
  • Continent: North America

What’s Grenada like?

The so-called “Spice Island” of the Caribbean due to its substantial nutmeg export industry, Grenada (pronounced Gre-NAY-da) is another small, idyllic island nation in the West Indies. The country is made up of one major island on which the majority of the population resides, plus two smaller islands and a handful of islets. Aside from the spice industry, Grenada shares with other small Caribbean island countries a reliance on high-end tourism, especially from cruise ships. The main point of entry is the capital city, St. George’s, in the south west of the main island, also known as Grenada, on which most of the population resides. The Grenadian interior is mountainous, while the coast is lined with beaches, many of which are black due the island’s volcanic geography. Grenada is the largest island in the Grenadines chain, but is not a part of the separate sovereign state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Grenada map
Grenada

The country shares with many other black Caribbean nations a history as a British colony. It briefly came to global attention during the 1980s, when a Marxist coup triggered an invasion by the United States and other Caribbean nations. The invasion was criticised by the UN and many other countries, including the former colonial power, Britain. Despite the turmoil of the period, Grenada has developed into a stable democracy that has been able to deliver respectable economic growth. However, the country lies in the path of substantial Atlantic hurricanes and has been almost entirely destroyed on several occasions.

One cool thing about Grenada

Despite its small size, the country is the world’s second-largest nutmeg producer, accounting for twenty percent of the world’s supply. The national flag even depicts the crop, such is its importance to the economy.

One sad thing about Grenada

The islands managed to go 49 years without a direct hit from a hurricane until September 2004, when Hurricane Ivan smashed into the country, levelling an incredible ninety percent of homes.

Neighbours Textbox
As an island nation, Grenada has no land borders. It’s nearest neighbour is St. Vincent and the Grenadines, whose southernmost islands lie just north of the Grenadian islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

Grenada shares with many other West Indian destinations a reputation for high-end tourism, attracting well-heeled Americans, Canadians and Europeans, often aboard mighty cruise liners. With its year-round tropical warmth and clear blue seas, it’s no surprise that the country’s beaches are a major draw. But there is plenty more to do in Grenada than laze on the beach. The interior is dominated by spectacular mountains, plunging waterfalls and beautiful lakes. The country’s spice and rum estates also make for popular tourist spots.

Grenada passport
Grenadian passport

Grenada is an increasingly popular location for couples seeking somewhere romantic to tie the knot, with a growing wedding industry. Ecotourism has begun to take off in the country, while diving and other watersports are, of course, a major draw. There a several historic forts dating back to colonial times to pique the interest of history lovers. Grenada also produces some of the world’s finest dark chocolate, which is bound to be worth trying.

Grenada
St. George’s

 

Guatemala flag

Guatemala

  • Official Name: Republic of Guatemala
  • Capital City: Guatemala City
  • Population: 16,176,133
  • Language: Spanish, numerous Mayan and non-Mayan regional languages
  • Currency: Quetzal
  • Continent: North America

What’s Guatemala like?

With a distinctive culture influenced by Spanish colonisation and indigenous Mayan civilisation, the Central American republic of Guatemala makes for a fascinating destination. The country’s remarkable history has left a legacy of historical treasures, while the landscape and geography are often breathtaking. Most Guatemalans speak Spanish and are a mix of indiginous Central American peoples and those descended from European colonisers. The country is mountainous and covered in steaming tropical jungles, but it also possesses attractive coastlines on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Guatemala map
Guatemala

Despite the country’s cultural and natural riches, Guatemala has struggled to shake off a reputation for instability and violence. For much of the latter half of the 20th century, Guatemala was engulfed in a vicious civil war involving state-sponsored murder, particularly of civil rights activists and Mayan peoples. Although the war ended in 1996, Guatemala continues to grapple with high rates of crime, including violent crimes, as well as poverty. The country is also a central player in the drugs trade, serving as a home and a base to various drug-smuggling gangs involves in shipping narcotics to the United States. There is, however, hope that Guatemala’s young democracy will take root and help to deliver both economic growth and a more stable and peaceful existence for its 16 million citizens.

One cool thing about Guatemala

The country can claim one of the most important inventions in the history of mankind – the chocolate bar. The first ever bar was invented during the Mayan civilisation, and chocolate residue dating back to around 470AD has been found in a vessel in Guatemala. Thank you, Guatemala.

One sad thing about Guatemala

The country’s civil war was the longest in the history of Latin America – a region that knows a thing or two about civil war. The fighting involved government forces, right-wing militias and Marxist rebels, and resulted in about 200,000 deaths.

Neighbours Textbox
The country’s longest border is in the north and northwest with Mexico and features quite a few straight lines and some sharp turns. To the northeast is Belize, a country that Guatemala claims in its entirety. Honduras lies to the east, with El Salvador in the southeast. The country also has a Pacific coast in the southwest and a short Caribbean coastline in the east.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

There’s no getting away from the fact that a trip to Guatemala requires careful planning. The biggest threat to visitors is from kidnappings and robberies, which can turn violent. Sadly, events such as these do sometimes occur around popular tourist sites. Nevertheless, with plenty of caution and good planning, Guatemala is a staggeringly beautiful destination for travel. The country is renowned for its numerous Mayan ruins, often in remote mountain locations. Some sites require quite substantial treks across challenging terrain, but it is certainly worth the effort. And the landscape itself, with towering mountain peaks, majestic rainforests and awe-inspiring waterfalls and lakes are just as rewarding.

Guatemala passport
Guatemalan passport

Arguably Guatemala’s most popular tourist attraction is Lake Atitlán, surrounded by volcanoes and remote Mayan villages. The city of Antigua, near the capital, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a rustic colonial gem that was once the capital of Central America. Many tourists also come to see the beautiful Rio Dulce, or Sweet River, which winds its way into the Caribbean Sea through forests and mountains near the borders with Honduras and Belize.

Guatemala
Arch of Santa Catalina, Antigua

 

Guinea flag

Guinea

Guinée
  • Official Name: Republic of Guinea
  • Capital City: Conakry
  • Population: 11,628,972
  • Language: French, Maninka, Fula, Susu
  • Currency: Guinean franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Guinea like?

A former French colony in west Africa, Guinea has had a troubled experience as an independent nation, mired as it has been in corruption, sporadic violence, underdevelopment and high levels of poverty. Furthermore, Guinea has occasionally been destabilised by the spillover of conflicts in neighbouring nations, particularly Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. The various regimes that have ruled Guinea since independence in 1958 have all drawn criticism for their autocratic governance and poor human rights records. The country is only just beginning to overcome the affects of the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

Guinea map
Guinea

Agriculture and mining are at the heart of the Guinean economy. The land is rich in natural resources, but much of this potential remains untapped, and Guineans remain amongst the world’s poorest people. A majority Muslim country, French is still the most widely-spoken language, although many local languages are also spoken by particular ethnic and tribal groups. The country’s landscape is quite diverse, with a tropical coastal strip, forests and mountains, stretching inland to the more arid Sahel region. Pretty much all of Guinea experiences hot, humid weather conditions year-round, with pronounced dry and rainy seasons which differ depending on region. Cooler conditions are not unheard of at higher altitudes.

One cool thing about Guinea

The country’s capital, Conakry, is the wettest capital city in the world, receving nearly four metres of rain a year.

One sad thing about Guinea

The recent outbreak of Ebola, which began in 2014, has taken the lives of an estimated 2,500 people in Guinea. Although the disease appears to have been brought under control as of May 2017, its impact on the country’s economy and society will be felt for years to come.

Neighbours Textbox
For a fairly small country, Guinea has quite a few neighbours. In the northwest is the former Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau, while Senegal lies to the north and Mali to to the northeast. In the southeast is Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), while Liberia lies to the south and Sierra Leone to the southwest. There is also a coastline on the Atlantic Ocean.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

Guinea has little in the way of tourist infrastructure and generally only appeals to the most fervent enthusiast for African travel. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon to see French tourists exploring this fellow Francophone nation, especially around Conakry and along the coast. And the country certainly possesses its share of natural beauty and attractions for the intrepid traveller. Like many west African countries, Guinea has its share of national parks offering the chance to take in the native wildlife, including chimpanzees, elephants and hippos. The Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve on the border with Côte d’Ivoire is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Guinea passport
Guinean passport

The country’s coastline includes miles of largely unspoilt sandy beaches with quiet resorts that are popular getaways for expats based in Conakry. Wildlife viewing is also possible in this region. The area of Foutah Djallon offers spectacular hiking amongst heavily forested hills, with striking geography and scenery. The capital, Conakry, is chaotic, with heavy traffic and the constant hubbub of daily life in a large African city. Its beaches provide locals and expats with a pleasant escape from the frenetic inner city, and many visitors to the city take time to experience the local music scene. It may be a poor country, and the usual precautions required when visiting west Africa certainly apply here, but there is no doubt that Guinea has plenty to offer, including a warm welcome.

Guinea
Foutah Djallon

 

Guinea-Bissau flag

Guinea-Bissau

Guiné-Bissau
  • Official Name: Republic of Guinea-Bissau
  • Capital City: Bissau
  • Population: 1,693,398
  • Language: Portuguese, Upper Guinea Crioulo, numerous local languages
  • Currency: West African CFA franc
  • Continent: Africa

What’s Guinea-Bissau like?

A tiny, impoverished republic in west Africa, Guinea-Bissau is a former Portuguese colony and the only Portuguese-speaking country on the west African mainland. The name of the capital city, Bissau, was added to the country’s name in order to differentiate it from its larger neighbour, Guinea. Guinea-Bissau is one of the world’s poorest and least developed nations, with little in the way of infrastructure. Despite this, recent signs of economic growth have given a sliver of hope that the lives of the country’s citizens may slowly begin to improve. The people themselves are a diverse mix of ethnic and tribal groups who speak a number of different languages – Portuguese, despite being the official language, is not widely understood, especially outside of Bissau. The vast majority of Bissau-Guineans are employed in agriculture.

Guinea-Bissau map
Guinea-Bissau

The country became independent from Portugal in 1974 and has experienced considerable political turmoil ever since. No elected president has ever succeeded in serving a full term. This instability has helped to entrench poverty in the country. Guinea-Bissau experiences hot, muggy conditions all year-round, and is mostly flat coastal plains with mangrove swamps along the complex coastline, which is lined with many tropical islands. There are some forested areas further inland. The country faces numerous environmental challenges, particularly soil erosion and deforestation.

One cool thing about Guinea-Bissau

The country is the world’s sixth-largest producer of cashews – not bad for such a small country with a population of just 1.5m.

One sad thing about Guinea-Bissau

The country has one of the lowest scores for economic freedom in the world, which serves as a reflection of the poverty many Bissau-Guineans sadly have to live in.

Neighbours Textbox
Guinea-Bissau borders Senegal to the north and Guinea to the southeast. The country also has a coastline on the Atlantic in the southwest.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

It may be small, poor and underdeveloped, but the country packs a punch for the adventurous traveller. The Jemberem forests are home to a national park featuring an array of local wildlife. Another great location for wildlife spotting – as well as a warm Mandinka welcome from the locals – is the Boé region in the southeast. Off the coast, the Bijagós islands are an increasingly popular ecotourism destination abounding with tropical scenary, hippos, turtles, beaches and fishing lodges.

Guinea-Bissau passport
Bissau-Guinean passport

The capital city, Bissau, is worth seeing for the Portuguese colonial architecture that makes it feel like a slice of the Mediterranean with an African twist. It is also worth taking in the bombed-out former presidential palace and colonial fort. Other towns dotted around the small country, while much smaller than Bissau, also possess interesting colonial architecture. The country’s deep poverty and numerous endemic tropical diseases mean that the standard precautions when visiting poorer countries should be observed here. However, the vast majority of Bissau-Guineans offer a warm and friendly welcome.

Guinea-Bissau
Jemberem forests

 

Guyana flag

Guyana

  • Official Name: Co-operative Republic of Guyana
  • Capital City: Georgetown
  • Population: 735,909
  • Language: English, Guyanese Creole, regional languages
  • Currency: Guyanese dollar
  • Continent: South America

What’s Guyana like?

Another creation of colonial machinations, Guyana was once a Dutch territory, before falling into the hands of the British. Despite being on the South American continent, Guyana’s cultural, political and social links are with the Afro-Caribbean island nations to the northwest, rather than with neighbouring Latin American nations. Black Guyanese are the descendents of slaves brought to the region to work sugar plantations. Today they rub shoulders with the descendants of indentured servants brought over by the British from the Indian subcontinent following the abolition of slavery. Since independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, the country has struggled to forge a coherent national identity, as the ethnic divide continues to play a major role in Guyanese society. There is also a sizeable Amerindian population, as well as groups of mixed ethnicity.

Guyana map
Guyana

Most citizens live in and around the capital city, Georgetown, and along the coast. The Guyanese interior is almost entirely made up of Amazonian rainforest, often mountainous, with smaller pockets of savannah in the southwest. Despite its small size, areas of the country remain untouched and barely explored due to the challenging rainforest terrain. Guyana enjoys a hot, steamy, humid climate, with spectacular tropical storms. Infrastructure is limited away from the coast. Sugar remains a major foreign currency earner, with agriculture and mining the most important sectors of the Guyanese economy.

One cool thing about Guyana

It might be in South America, but with its distinctly Caribbean flavour, you’re far more likely to find Guyanese playing or watching cricket than football (soccer).

One sad thing about Guyana

In 1978, nearly 1,000 members of an American cult who had evaded law enforcement in the US by escaping to Guyana, perished in a murder/suicide instigated by their leader, Jim Jones. The event became known as the Jonestown Murder/Suicide (or Massacre), and saw parents willingly poisoning their own children before taking their own lives.

Neighbours Textbox
Guyana has a long border through the Amazon rainforest with Brazil in the south and southwest. It also neighbours Venezuela to the northwest and Suriname to the east. The North Atlantic lies to the north.

 

What’s it like for tourists?

Guyana is a truly spectacular tourist destination, with a significant ecotourism sector. With its vast acres of rainforest, teeming wildlife, beautiful coastal strip and awe-inspiring geography, Guyana leaves a profound impression on those who visit. Most tourists head into the rainforest on organised treks, hoping to catch a glimpse of the country’s unique wildlife and to admire the numerous plunging ravines, waterfalls and mountains. However, the country’s beaches are also worth exploring.

Guyana passport
Guyanese passport

The capital city, Georgetown, is more of an arrival point into the country than a destination in itself, but its pleasant colonial core is charming enough and worth a stroll around. The city especially comes alive during carnival season, and also possesses some interesting museums and markets. Guyana’s mix of natural wonders and cultural diversity make it a fascinating destination.

Guyana
Kaieteur Falls

 

Better late than never, that’s a wrap on Part Two. Will Part Three appear before 2018? Stay tuned to find out…