We love exploring – it’s part of human nature. From what’s around the corner to what’s around the globe, we’re always searching for new places. Skilled navigators – whether they be Polynesian islanders or European explorers – have claimed and colonized most (if not all) inhabitable islands across our world. Some islands are popular tourist destinations – Cuba, Ireland, and the Philippines come to mind – while others are barely known. Many of these little-visited islands are remote countries or territories located in the Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean Sea and there’s a few situated just off the coast of Africa. Whether you’re looking for a new travel destination to zone out away from the crowds or you’re looking for a picturesque location for your honeymoon, check out this list of the 25 Least Visited Island Countries in the World. But just in case islands are not necessarily your thing, how about mountain passes like these 25 Beautiful Mountain passes you should make a point of traveling through.
*The ranking has been provided by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Countries which did not provide numbers in the past five years were excluded. All data is from 2014 unless specified otherwise. (If a number has an *, the data comes from 2013.) Happy travels!
Madagascar - 222,000
With 222,000 annual visitors, Madagascar is the 25th least visited island country on our list. Located off Africa’s southeastern coast, Madagascar is one of the most ecologically diverse countries on Earth – 90% of species in Madagascar are only found on the island, largely due to its break-away from the Indian subcontinent 88 million years ago. Madagascar is still a relatively poor island country – though it is developing – but it has highlighted ecotourism as a primary future source of income. If you visit, though, know that you won’t see any lions and zebras as in the “Madagascar” movies.
French Polynesia - 181,000
Technically a French overseas territory, French Polynesia is a collection of 118 islands and atolls distributed throughout the South Pacific. Receiving administrative autonomy in 2004, the islands are often referred to as a pays d’outre-mer (overseas country). Home to the better-known Tahiti and Bora Bora, French Polynesia thrills its visitors with native black Tahitian pearls and sprawling beaches. To get around the islands, Air Tahiti flies out of its only international airport, Faaa International Airport, to the 53 airports located throughout the islands.
Papua New Guinea - 174,000*
Making up the eastern part of New Guinea (the western part is owned by Indonesia), Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries on Earth with 836 languages spoken within the country. One of the least explored countries in the world, Papua New Guinea is thought to harbor plenty of undiscovered species and many unknown cultural traditions. Unique to the country is its constitutional insistence that its traditional villages remain a vibrant and important part of society.
Palau - 141,000
A 250-island nation, Palau has been inhabited for over 3,000 years. Palau’s relatively remote position in the Western Pacific makes it one of the least visited islands in the world. Due to fighting between the United States and Japan during World War II, Palau has plenty of shipwrecks which are popular with divers visiting the sites and barrier reefs. Its limestone islands draw in ocean lovers as does its recently announced shark sanctuary covering an ocean area the size of France.
Grenada - 134,000
The first Caribbean country to appear on our list, Grenada received 134,000 visitors on its coasts. Near Venezuela’s northeastern coast, Grenada is nicknamed the “Island of Spice” due to its wide production of nutmeg and mace. The local population is primarily (82%) descendants of African slaves who have strongly influenced the culture over hundreds of years. The second largest ethnic group – Indian descendants – have also added in their own cultural mix, especially food-wise.
Cook Islands - 121,000
Located in the Southern Pacific Ocean, the Cook Islands are in free association with New Zealand (meaning the Kiwis covers the islands’ defense and foreign affairs and all Cook Islanders are New Zealand citizens). Primarily ethnically Maori, the islands are sustained primarily through tourism followed by offshore banking and agricultural and marine exports. If you’re interested in visiting, it’s easy to catch flights to the remote islands from Auckland and Sydney (and even a direct flight from Los Angeles).
Samoa - 116,000*
Samoa – formerly named Western Samoa and different from American Samoa – is an Oceanian country to the northeast of Australia. Rising out of the Pacific due to volcanic eruptions, the islands are popular with adventurers looking to climb their highest mountain, Mt. Silisili, at 6,096 feet (1,858 m). Unique to any visit is running into the fa’a Samoa: the traditional Samoan way. Despite centuries of colonial rule, Samoans have never lost their strong ties to traditions and their cultural history.
St. Kitts & Nevis - 114,000
The sister islands of St. Kitts and Nevis were among the first islands European explorers settled as they began their conquest of the Americas. (St. Kitts, particularly, housed the first British and French colonies in the Caribbean Sea.) The smallest sovereign state in the Americas (both area- and population-wise), the country is a popular cruise disembarkment port and the 114,000 visitors it received in 2014 (according to the World Trade Organization) may be underestimating the true numbers. Nonetheless, the islands are little-known and just a short hop away from North and South America for anyone looking for a beach vacation.
Vanuatu - 109,000
Vanuatu is a y-shaped collection of 82 islands northwest of New Zealand. Located near #16 on our list, Vanuatu has the highest per capita density of languages in the world. In fact, each language has an average of 2,000 speakers. Formed as a result of Pacific volcanic activity, Vanuatu still has various active volcanoes on land as well as many underwater. The devastating Cyclone Pam in March 2015 was the worst natural disaster is Vanuatu’s history and has sharply harmed its tourism industry so give it a few years before you decide to check out this remote island-group.
New Caledonia - 107,000
Located just west of Vanuatu, New Caledonia is an overseas special collectivity of France. The South Pacific headquarters of the United States Army and Navy during World War II, the islands have endured a tumultuous history, including as a French penal colony in the mid-1800’s, receiving criminals and political prisoners. Some of its 107,000 visitors in 2014 visited for the flora and fauna – the richest and most diverse in the world per square kilometer. Not only species but full genera and families are unique to only the islands of New Caledonia.
Saint Vincent & the Grenadines - 71,000
The fifteenth least visited island country in the world sees a sharp drop in visitors from #16. The Caribbean islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are located in the southern end of the Windward Islands near Venezuela and brought in 71,000 tourists in 2014. The thirty-ninth densest country in the world population-wise, the country has recently received a tourism boost after being a filming location in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films.
Anguilla - 71,000
Formerly part of St. Kitts & Nevis, Anguilla is a popular overseas tax haven since it charges no capital gains, estate, or profit taxes on individuals or corporations. The British overseas territory is one of the only countries in the world that can claim its primary export to be alcohol beverages at 21%. (The next closest is domestic non-electric stoves at 7.6%.) The coral reefs around Anguilla are prime Caribbean diving destinations, drawing in many of its 71,000 tourists.
Timor Leste - 60,000
A former Portuguese colony, the small nation of East Timor (Timor Leste in Portuguese, as it is commonly known) declared independence in 1975. Sharing an island with Indonesia, the Indonesian military invaded this eastern part and declared it an Indonesian province. After decades of war and over 100,000 dead, Indonesia gave up its claim in 1999 and Timor Leste declared statehood in 2002, the first new country of the new century. In the Indonesian and Malay languages, “timur” means “east” so to locals the country’s name is East-East. Tourists often visit the country’s high mountain ranges and northern coral reefs.
Tonga - 51,000*
One of the only countries in the world to have never been taken over by a foreign country, Tonga is an archipelago of 177 islands in the south Pacific. Due to the large amount of Tongans living abroad, at least 50% of GDP in 2002 was solely remittances. Ranked by Forbes as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, Tonga is beginning to develop its tourism sector. Many who come to this rarely visited country do so on cruise ships for whale watching or game fishing.
Federated States of Micronesia - 35,000
One of five countries and three territories making up Micronesia, the Federated States of Micronesia is one of the most spread-out countries on Earth. Its 607 islands are spread over a distance of nearly 1,678 miles (2,700 km). This leads its 271 square miles (702 sq. km) to take up 1,000,000 square miles (2.6m sq. km) of Pacific territory. One of the reasons for its lack of tourists (only 35,000 in 2014) is its geographical remoteness, though a tourist industry is trying to develop. The primary source of revenue at the moment comes from U.S. financial assistance.
Solomon Islands - 24,000*
Starting our top ten of the least visited island countries in the world, the Solomon Islands was a British overseas territory before gaining independence in 1978. One of the bloodiest and most important World War II battles in the Pacific happened on and around its island of Guadalcanal. Though diving and tourism are important industries for the chain of islands, infrastructure and transportation is poor, making it a generally unappealing destination for all but the most hearty traveler.
American Samoa - 20,000*
Taking up residence to the east of Samoa (#19), American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the U.S. in the south Pacific. The southernmost part of the United States, the islands (about the size of Washington D.C.) rarely received tourists (only 20,000 visitors in 2013). The country is becoming better known to mainland Americans since 30 Samoans play in the NFL, including Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
Drawing in only 15,000 tourists in 2010, Comoros is one of three African countries on our list. Located between Madagascar and Mozambique, less than 2% of its total population came to the country as foreign visitors. A highly volatile country, Comoros has experienced multiple coup d’états since its 1975 independence which keeps tourists at bay. Leisure tourism isn’t really a considerable factor for the country, one of the poorest in the world.
Montserrat - 9,000
A British territory, Montserrat is often referred to as the “Emerald Island of the Caribbean” due to its geographical resemblance to Ireland. The active volcano of Soufrière Hills erupted in 1995 and multiple times since, destroying its Georgian-era capital. Most residents fled the country and have never fully returned. With most of the southern half of the island destroyed and the continued threat of volcanic eruption, Montserrat will likely stay one of the least touristed islands on Earth.
Dominica - 8,000
Formerly known as Dominique, Dominica is the youngest island in the Lesser Antilles, still being built by minor geothermal volcanic activity. Referred to as the “Nature Isle of the Caribbean” due to its extensive natural beauty and rare plant, animal, and bird species, Dominica has he world’s second largest hot spring: Boiling Lake. Visitors are taken aback by the lush beach vegetation and inland rainforests. Dominica doesn’t bring in a lot of tourists – but it wants to stay that way. After seeing the natural destruction caused to other islands which have pushed tourism, Dominica is focusing on preserving its natural beauty and only scaling up tourism slowly.
São Tomé and Príncipe - 8,000
The least visited African island nation, São Tomé and Príncipe (the two primary islands of the country) were uninhabited until the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century. (They later became important trade centers on the Atlantic slave trade.) A slave-dependent plantation economy soon developed around sugar, coffee, and cocoa. One of Africa’s most democratic countries, São Tomé and Príncipe does not have a developed tourism industry (only 8,000 visitors in 2010) due to lack of tourism infrastructure but is working to diversify its economy and draw more foreigners to the small nation.
Niue - 7,000
The fourth least visited island country, Niue could be a good option for freelancers – since 2003, Niue has provided free wireless internet throughout the country. (The drawback is its relative isolation.) Bringing in only 7,000 tourists in 2014, Niue has made tourism one of three economic sectors to develop, even offering major tax concessions to foreign investors looking to sustainably build up the tourism industry. Most tourists would be expected to visit Niue’s steep limestone cliffs and coral reefs which surround over 90% of the island.
Kiribati - 6,000*
Thirty-four islands spread out over 1.35 million square miles (3.5m sq. km), Kiribati is the third least visited island country in the world. The remote Pacific islands gained independence from the U.K. in 1979, but their fate has been nearly sealed by climate change. It’s believed Kiribati will be the first country to be completely underwater due to rising sea levels. Thus, since the beginning of the 21st century, Kiribati’s political leadership has been encouraging locals to migrate to other countries.
Marshall Islands - 5,000*
In free association with the United States, the Marshall Islands comprises 29 coral atolls with 1,156 islands and islets. The country’s few natural resources make having a diverse economy difficult. Tourism likely won’t become a major revenue source as, just like Kiribati, the islands are dangerously threatened by rising sea levels. The Marshall Islands are thus the second least visited island country in the world after…
Tuvalu - 1,000
Tuvalu: the least visited island country in the world. Welcoming only 1,000 tourists in 2014, Tuvalu used to be part of one British colony with Kiribati – together known then as the Gilbert and Ellice Islands – until independence in 1978. With just over 150 flights into the country each year (with 68-seats per flight) and minimal accomodation, Tuvalu has essentially a non-existent tourism industry with most visitors arriving for business-related trips. If you’re keen on visiting, catch one of the two passenger cargo ships – the Nivaga II or Manú Folau – to get from the main island to the outer atolls once every three to four weeks.