Many people have heard of countries like France, Spain and Italy, and many dream of going there or have already been. But if you’re looking to blaze your own trail and explore hidden gems, then these are the perfect countries to visit. Some of these countries are difficult to get into, but once you’re in, you will get a totally unique cultural and geographic experience.

1. Kyrgyzstan

Located in Central Asia, this country sits between China and Kazakhstan and has a stunningly beautiful landscape with a rich nomadic tradition. One of the most beautiful places to visit in the country is Lake Sary-Chelek, which is wedged within a lush green valley. This small landlocked country has a long history of semi-autonomy. They eventually gained their independence in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR. The best time to visit is between July and September to avoid freezing temperatures and the heaviest rain.

2. Brunei

On the island of Borneo sits a small country called Brunei. It is located on the north coast and surrounded by Malaysia. Brunei is ruled by King Hassanal Bolkiah, whose family has ruled the country for the past six centuries. Their cultural apex was between the 15th and 17th centuries when they controlled large coastal areas. Brunei is home to nine mountain peaks that range from 775 feet to 3,772 feet and many forest reserves for the hiker and adventurer. While you’re visiting, you can catch a baseball game at Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Stadium or spend part of your day checking out the Malay Technology Museum. If you’d like to visit the country, the best times to go are between October and February, as the rest of the year is extremely hot and humid.

3. Vanuatu

Vanuatu can be found in the South Pacific Ocean. It was settled more than 3,500 years ago and was visited by the legendary explorer James Cook in 1774. If you decide to visit the island like Cook, you can explore beautiful beaches and waterfalls, snorkel or scuba dive shipwrecks, hike Mt. Yasur and eat at exotic and exciting restaurants. The best time to travel to the island is between May and October. There are many festivals and sporting contests going on between these months.

4. Kiribati

Located in the Pacific Ocean, Kiribati has an impressive population of over 100,000 people. Kiribati is known for their many WWII Relics along with world class fishing and cultural experiences. The weather is naturally hot year-round. So be sure to bring sunscreen and drink lots of margaritas on the beach to cool yourself down.

5. Tajikistan

Tajikistan is a mountainous landlocked region in Central Asia. Surrounded by China, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyztan, it is the perfect destination for trekkers and other adventurous travelers. You can explore Wakhan Valley, Penjikent and the Fan Mountains. For adventure seekers and nature lovers, the best time to go is during the early Spring and summer when the southern part of the country is in full bloom.

6. Azerbaijan

Resting between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, but belonging to neither, Azerbaijan is known as a Transcontinental Presidential Republic. The country is very rich in oil and has an imperial history dating back to 4,000 BC. Azerbaijan has many amazing historical sites you can visit, including Maiden’s Tower and Khan’s Palace. The best time to go is between April and June when the flowers are beginning to bloom.

7. Mayotte

This Island’ name isn’t even registered in the word processor dictionary it is so unknown. In 1843 France gained control of the Island. It remains under French rule to this day. Mayotte is known to be an expensive place to stay, but if money isn’t your concern, you can have an amazing trip snorkeling, sailing, diving and relaxing on white sand beaches. It’s best to visit between June and November.

8. Nauru

A nautical neighbor of the Island of Kiribati and once known as Pleasant Island, due to the amount of wealth the citizens had, the Island is now called Nauru. The tiny island has a lot to offer when it comes to sites and scenery. There are old phosphate deposits (which made the country rich) and Command Ridge, where Japanese soldiers kept watch during World War Two and, of course, beautiful beaches. The best time to go is after February and before November to avoid the heavy rain falls.

9. Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country located in West Africa between six different countries and is known for the charming and easygoing personalities of the Burkinabe people. While Burkina Faso doesn’t have the traditional tourist atmosphere, if you decide to visit, the country and its people are more than invigorating for travelers interested in other cultures. The best times to go are between mid-October and December to avoid the wet season.

10. Ivory Coast

Another West African country, the Ivory Coast borders Burkina Faso. The coast was once an important trade route between 1,000 and 1,500 AD, when many kingdoms and cultures emerged. Much later, the Ivory Coast was a trade port used by European nations and was claimed by France in 1893. The native inhabitants eventually gained their independence in 1961. The Ivory Coast is home to dense rain forests and white beaches, which are sure to add fun and excitement to your visit. The best times to visit are between November and to early March.

11. Tuvalu

This Polynesian Island, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is halfway between Australia and Hawaii and was once a British protectorate between 1892 and 1916. The land is just barely above the water level, making the current global warming crisis a very serious threat for the longevity of the island. The highest point is just 16 feet above water level. The best time to visit Tuvalu is between May and October to avoid the wettest season and to make the most out of the tropical climate.

12. Andorra

Andorra is a landlocked micro-state nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, providing excellent scenery and hiking opportunities. Andorra, like most European countries, was once ruled by Kings and other ruling families in a feudalistic society and is home to many ancient sites like the Casa de la Val, a manor and tower defense constructed in 1580. Andorra is also known for its excellent culinary culture, restaurants and drinks. It’s best to visit between April and October.

13. Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein is also a landlocked country located in Central Europe between Austria and Switzerland. If the name isn’t indication enough, their primary language is German. Once a member of the German Confederation, it left to become independent in 1866, shortly after it abolished its army in 1968 and has remained neutral since then. What’s truly amazing is that the micro-state is only 62 square miles or 160 square kilometers! If you want to go snowboarding and skiing in the winter, Liechtenstein is world renown for its slopes, or you can enjoy hiking and mountain biking in the summer.

14. Palau

Located in the Western Pacific Ocean, the island country is spattered with beautiful smaller islands. Many countries have claimed Palau as their own, including Spain, Germany and Japan. Palau is considered one of the top diving and snorkeling destinations in the world with a number of coral reefs, ship wrecks from the many wars that were fought off its coast, hidden caves and tunnels, dozens of vertical drop offs and an amazing diversity of water life. The best time to explore what Palau has to offer is February and March.

15. South Ossetia

Found in the South Caucasus, this Russian speaking micro-state is so unknown that even Google doesn’t have many entries for it. Of all the countries in this list, South Ossetia may prove to be the hardest one to travel to, as it is a contested Autonomous Oblast of Georgia. It offers the political explorer much in the way of  interesting stories and intrigue.

16. Futuna

The tiny island of Futuna has 5,000 residents and spans just 50 square miles or 80 square kilometers. The country is in the middle of Polynesia and is paired with an equally unknown country called Wallis. The culture of Futuna hasn’t changed much over the years as the modern world has seemingly forgotten to corrupt it. If you want to take a step back in time, the best times to go are between April and October, but expect to see a good amount of rain no matter when you go.

17. Nagorno Karabakh

Another landlocked region in the South Caucasus,  Nagorno Karabakh is surrounded by Azerbaijan, Armenia and Iran. The region is very mountainous and is covered in beautiful forests. There are many museums you can visit that detail the history of the country, which include a war with Armenian. Nagorno Karabakh is perfect for the history traveler.

18. Federated States of Micronesia

The Federated States of Micronesia consist of the four states Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae in the Western Pacific Ocean. Each state has it’s own culture and identity to explore and the surrounding waters are rich in coral life. Each island has a different climate, Yap, for instance, is very dry, while Pohnpei is one of the rainiest places on earth. Having a long history of switching allegiances between many countries, Micronesia is now under the trust of the United States.

19. Falklands

A British territory and a favorite of many travelers, the Falklands are an archipelago in the Southern Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf. The Falklands are home to penguins, seals, albatrosses and other interesting antarctic creatures. There are plenty of activities to keep you busy from museums to war memorials. Pack warm clothing as the weather year-round rarely gets above 75 degrees Fahrenheit or 24 degrees Celsius.

20. Ascension

An isolated volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean, Ascension is truly unique and one of a kind. Getting to the island may prove extremely difficult as there are not many amenities or travelers who venture there. This is a perfect spot to blaze your own trail The island has 880 permanent residents living in their capital of Georgetown. The island is near the more well-known St. Helena Island.

Featured photo credit: Jeff Laitila via flickr.com

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