The American would like to go adventurin'.
December 22, 2005 5:35 PM   Subscribe

What are some "little known" countries that are worth visiting?

Just checking out a map of Europe, due in part to this question, and it made me think about something.

There are countries that I've rarely heard about, outside of actually looking at a map - particularly Moldova, Algeria, Tunisia or The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Are there any mefiers out there that have been to some of the "little known" countries out there? I'm particularly interested in the ones that you've been to and recommend to others, but I'd like to hear about any experiences. Are there some places out there that most Americans don't know about, but are once-in-a-lifetime experiences?
posted by damnjezebel to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I love traveling to the Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Cheap, fun, great people, little explored.

If you were going to go, I could certainly put you in touch with friends for cheap apartment rental.
posted by k8t at 5:38 PM on December 22, 2005

Zambia. If you want to go on Safari, check out eastern Zambia, in the Luangwa River Valley. (The joke there is that when Kenyans want to find a lion, they just look for a circle of Jeeps.)
posted by alms at 5:38 PM on December 22, 2005



I travelled in Syria -- almost no tourists, fabulously friendly people, cool ruins.

A colleague works in Moldova and it is pretty grim.
posted by Rumple at 5:42 PM on December 22, 2005

I don't know if it's obscure enough for you, but a friend has vacationed in Corsica twice, and has nothing but fantastic things to say about it. It's apparently not recommend by the State Department of the US because of 'internal conflict', but apparently that's totally overblown. Corsicans are apparently just somewhat separatist, akin to Quebec.
posted by hincandenza at 6:06 PM on December 22, 2005

I lived in Romania for almost a year and while it was an odd place to live in 1994, it was a great central location for exploring a lot of Eastern Europe cheaply and easily. You could rent an apartment for a month or two and travel in and out of the country. The language is not too tough to pick up if you're familiar with any other Romance languages (it's similar to Italian) the food was tasty and inexpensive, especially if you like Hungarian type food, or meat, and the people were incredibly friendly and generous. The downsides, when we were living there, was that people tended towards being xenophobic, sometimes verging on racist. My friend who was Japanese got a lot of kids running down the road making finger-slant-eyes at her which she took in stride but I could imagine it could get tiring. I haven't been there in a long time, but it's always a place I wanted to go back to -- lovely countryside, interesting history (our city had the second oldest pharmacy in the country and it dated back to the 1500's) and centrally located.
posted by jessamyn at 6:12 PM on December 22, 2005

I lived in Budapest, Hungary for half a year and travelled through Romania. I guess they're not so little-known, but I don't think they get that many tourists. Romania has beautiful countryside and incredible mountains, though the cities are largely Soviet-style blocks, just about the ugliest architecture ever built. Budapest largely escaped that fate and is a beautiful old city on the Danube. I've never been to Paris, but I don't really feel like I need to now.

While I was there I heard great things about Croatia, and not-so-great things about Moldova.
posted by ScottMorris at 6:15 PM on December 22, 2005

Jinx on Romania, jessamyn.
posted by ScottMorris at 6:16 PM on December 22, 2005

I've been to Estonia and it was frigging amazing. Tallinn is distinctly Finno-Estonian foreign, post-Soviet shabby and Hanseatic League old and beautiful at the same time.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:19 PM on December 22, 2005

I've heard of this place called The Netherlands, but I'm not sure exactly where it is, you'll have to google it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:49 PM on December 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Turkey is a fabulous place to wander for a bit. It's great to head back to Istanbul for a week of city life before exploring the rest of the country.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:59 PM on December 22, 2005

Malta is good for its wild history and ruins. Mauritius Island is also neat for its history and location (Indian Ocean). Comoros, just north of Madagascar, is also fascinating if you want to really see a third-world island nation.

If you want to go someplace where there are few or no Americans I recommend jumping on a KrasAir or Sibir flight to one of the large cities in Central or Eastern Siberia. From there jump on the Trans-Siberian railway to Mongolia and on to Beijing.

Or fly to Hawaii and get on a plane and visit American Samoa and Western Samoa in the South Pacific. Both are out of the way but very easy to visit for the English-only speaker as they are American and British colonies/territories.

Lastly, head on down to Papua, New Guinea or any one of the dozens and dozens of Pacific Island chains that dot the southern Pacific Ocean. You'll find that they are all alike in some ways but very different as welll, depending on which country founded it.
posted by camworld at 8:06 PM on December 22, 2005

Are Bangladesh & Malaysia "little known" enough for you? From my experience, people tend to have the stupidest misconceptions about them.

Macau's quite a nice place to visit.

I've known people from Romania and Macedonia (and my dad studied in Turkey for a while) and they're really cool people.
posted by divabat at 8:19 PM on December 22, 2005

Thanks for the suggestions, ya'll. Keep 'em up.

Divabat, Malaysia and Bangladesh would fit in, I think. I'm just trying to find some place that's not the norm, like Paris or Germany or Rio. Stuff that's under the radar to most people.

StickyCarpet, I've HEARD of The Netherlands, but I can't seem to find it on a map. It's by that big country, right? :)
posted by damnjezebel at 8:35 PM on December 22, 2005

I spent a couple of weeks in Latvia, mostly in Riga, about 10 years ago at this time of year and it was wonderful. At the time they were just in the early part of the transition to a Western economy and there were still odd things like the Maitre D for the Breakfast buffet who wore a tux, and hotels with international floors and local floors with little communication between the two.

I have heard very good things about visiting Slovenia and Croatia, though Croatia isn't really that far off the beaten track any more.
posted by mikel at 8:42 PM on December 22, 2005

My God, go off the beaten track, for no other reason than avoiding crowds.

I've been to thirty countries, and the only one I disliked was Belgium, probably because I understand the dominant language too well. . It's almost as much about how you travel as where. I hear Nambia is great. I've experienced the fun of visiting Croatia, Slovenia, Montanegro, Lithuania. Estonia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and New Zealand. They were all wonderful; as were fashionable places like the Czech Republic, France, the UK and Italy.

Personally the most under-rated country I've been to is Slovenia, but I know there are dozens of other great travel destinations.

I'd avoid the U.S. though. It's expensive and the customs agents hate foreigners and those Americans who choose to travel abroad. Actually, they seem to hate everyone.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 9:02 PM on December 22, 2005

gesamtkunstwerk: Let me guess, you're dutch? ;-)
posted by phrontist at 9:25 PM on December 22, 2005

Fourthing/fifthing Slovenia and nominating the Azores (where I've not been but want to), and seconding Estonia and Lithuania based on visits. (From your question, you're limiting suggestions to Europe, right?)
posted by rob511 at 10:04 PM on December 22, 2005

posted by anadem at 10:07 PM on December 22, 2005

Speaking not from experience, but from jaw-dropping tales from friends, the Central Asian '-stans' are on my list of wannagos (esp. Samarkand). If we can slightly expand it to 'countries Americans know about, but don't know', then Syria should be near the top of the list.
posted by holgate at 10:36 PM on December 22, 2005

Being from the former Yugoslavia myself, I can certainly vouch that it's a place most Americans have not heard of, and although I'm partial to it for subjective reasons, I think you would find it a rewarding place to visit. There are some simply stunning places to see, whether they be natural scenery (like Lake Ohrid in Macedonia, or the River Tara in Bosnia) or cities, especially in Croatia, like Dubrovnik.
posted by Oobidaius at 11:00 PM on December 22, 2005

I've been to Tunisia and would recommend it, although there are plenty of other countries I would visit again before returning there. It's actually quite easy to get to from France. Fans of Star Wars will appreciate it, the original was filmed there. Apparently Lucas took many of his ideas from the local environment-- the Jedi robes are traditional Berber attire. I remember being amused seeing Jedis tooling around town on mopeds.
posted by justkevin at 11:38 PM on December 22, 2005

Where in the world is Divabat?
posted by bephillips at 12:22 AM on December 23, 2005

I was going to say "Croatia, esp. the gorgeous city of Dubrovnik", but Oobidaius beat me to it.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:39 AM on December 23, 2005

I'll second (third?) Estonia. A friend of mine is Estonian, and he goes every year for like a month or so... it is DIRT cheap, and great partying, and the people are amazingly friendly
posted by antifuse at 1:39 AM on December 23, 2005

i've just returned from Sudan (in and around Khartoum). although being the largest country in africa i'd say it was relativelly "little known".

there is absolutely no tourism there and my first impresions were that it was one of the most boring places on earth. really, khartoum has very little going for it in terms of places to visit - the meroe pyramids are 3 hours drive away - and the guy outside the museum of sudan told me to come back in a year because some of the displays had been stolen.
but then i started talking to locals i met whilst walking in the markets. i've never been anywhere in all my travels where the people were so friendly. i was invited, and went, to peoples homes for late breakfasts and tea. they were genuinly welcoming and as inquisitive about my life in the UK as i was about theirs in Sudan. for the first time in a long time I have come back from a country feeling I actually got to see a bit of what the country was really like rather than what the tourist brochures and travel guides told me.

getting into the country and sorting out a Visa is a real hassle though.
posted by tnai at 3:02 AM on December 23, 2005

Slovenia is awesome. It's a very small country with an equally small population, but it's beautiful, diverse, and CHEAP. The north is very Austrian, the west is very Italian, the south is very Croatian, and the east is very Hungarian. They have great wine and food, skiing, etc. It's a cool country that most people wouldn't think to go to.
posted by TunnelArmr at 4:04 AM on December 23, 2005

I travelled in Syria -- almost no tourists, fabulously friendly people, cool ruins.

Same here, and I highly recommend it. Palmyra (Tudmur) is one of the largest, most amazing ruined cities around, and there's nobody there! (Day trip from Homs; you'll want to reserve your bus the day before.) And spend time in Aleppo, which has an incredible medieval citadel on an artificial hill in the middle of town, right next to the ancient souk (covered markets), where I saw bedouins in full desert array shopping for new paraphernalia. You might also want to visit Qal'at Sem'aan, the ruins of the churches built around the pillar on which St. Symeon Stylites sat for decades, having provisions sent up to him on baskets and dispensing advice to all comers (including emperors)—the pillar has been worn down to a nubbin by generations of worshipful/curious visitors.

Also, Taiwan is wonderful and too little known (except as a geopolitical pawn); after you've had the food there, you won't be able to tolerate what passes for Chinese food in the West until the taste memory wears off, and the National Palace Museum has one of the greatest art collections in the world (they basically brought all China's ancient treasures over from the mainland before the Communists took over)—they have so much stuff they completely change their exhibits every few months.

tnai: Sudan?! I respect your courage and spirit of adventure, but it's hard to think of that as a tourist destination right at the moment.
posted by languagehat at 6:22 AM on December 23, 2005

No one has any suggestions for South or Central American countries?
posted by cass at 6:42 AM on December 23, 2005

Belize and, perhaps better known, Costa Rica are both gems in the Americas.

Belize is cool partly because it's the only Central American country whose national language is English. There are very few tourists in Belize, but the country is trying to encourage tourism. Not a lot of great beaches, but some really nice diving opportunities.

Costa Rica is amazingly beautiful and has been really going after the eco-tourism market segment. It's really Anglo-friendly and probably the most politically stable of the Central American states.

Either place is easily worth a week or two visit, and aren't overly expensive from North or South American starting points.
posted by bonehead at 6:51 AM on December 23, 2005

I'll second Corsica if you're looking for someplace Americans don't know, but if you want to really be off the beaten track you should avoid it. Lots of people from continental Europe — especially France — vacation there. Still, it's got lots of pretty scenery, nice beaches, and an absolutely fascinating folk singing tradition if you're into that sort of thing.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:11 AM on December 23, 2005

Funny, I was thinking of Corsica (was there many years ago and it was great) but it's not a country (although they'd like to be). It's part of a very well-known country called, umm, what was that country... Oh yeah, France.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 7:16 AM on December 23, 2005

Well, the point is, TO, that while I'm well aware that Corsica is a part of France, and they don't want to be (hence my separatist comment), I was implying what nwp noted: it's a place many Americans don't think of. Which was part of the original question, where do Americans not think to vacation.
posted by hincandenza at 6:28 PM on December 23, 2005

It doesn't get much further off the map than Bhutan, one country I am determined to see. Few people have even heard of the place, fewer still know where it is. Think of Nepal without all the scrungy backpackers and hippies stumbling about, without the shoddy guesthouses blasting Terminator DVDs and HBO specials. The deeply Buddhist culture is intact, as are the pristine Himalayan views. While it used to be quite difficult to get in, it's beginning to open up a bit -- although it still ain't cheap.
posted by soiled cowboy at 8:03 PM on December 23, 2005

bephillips: ha, I randomly click through old "travel" posts and find your comment. I'm currently in Johor, Malaysia (right opposite Singapore) and my family is from Dhaka, Bangladesh. :)
posted by divabat at 10:49 PM on January 27, 2006

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