Disputed countries and territories around the world worth visiting

Don't let political squabbling put you off visiting the world's most disputed nations, which have plenty to offer the adventurous traveller.

If you want to tackle the ultimate travel challenge and visit every country in the world, good luck. Your first problem is working out how many nations to include on your bucket list.

The United Nations claims 193 member states plus 13 others for a total of 206 sovereign nations. The US State Department recognises 195 states and one "other", Taiwan. As for the Australian government, it's utterly confused. The Department of Foreign Affairs refers to 202 heads of government yet "almost 240 countries", and gives travel advice for "170 countries and destinations", all on the same website.

Still, why limit yourself? The world's most disputed nations have lots to offer, so ignore politics and get visiting.

TAIWAN

Only 19 countries recognise the Republic of China as an independent nation, while the rest say it's part of mainland China. Overshadowed by both China and Japan, Taiwan gets relatively few visitors – just under 46,000 Australians last year.

Yet Taiwan is a safe, friendly destination with natural beauty, a long history and lively contemporary food and fashion cultures. It's an invigorating clash of serene temples, ear-slitting karaoke bars, lantern-lit teahouses and raucous night markets. Taroko Gorge National Park, a marble canyon gushing hot springs, is one of Asia's top natural wonders.

In Taipei, the National Palace Museum houses the world's largest collection of Chinese cultural objects. The city is crammed with street markets, shopping malls and temples. Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan has transformed its riverbanks with parks and cultural precincts, while pavilions and Buddhist temples on Lotus Lake provide serenity. See taiwan.net.tw

See also: Twenty reasons to love Taipei

PALESTINE

Western Wall at the Dome Of The Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel SunAug19covercities?- A city for every occasion - Brian Johnston CREDIT: Shutterstock

The Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Shutterstock

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Palestine, which includes the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem, is recognised by the UN and many countries as a sovereign nation, but is mostly under Israeli control. Though hotly contested and often in the news, the West Bank packs in an astonishing cultural and religious heritage, is easy to get around, and has an increasing number of tourist hotels.

Jerusalem is the highlight, containing prominent religious sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Christian), Dome of the Rock (Moslem) and Western Wall (Jewish). Other cities worth visiting for their bazaars, coffeehouses and old towns include Nablus, Hebron and Jericho, whose ruins date back 10,000 years.

Bethlehem hums with religious fervour as Christian sects jostle along the pilgrim route, but also offers great souks and street art. Ancient Mar Saba monastery in the Judean desert is astonishing. See travelpalestine.ps

See also: Why you should visit Palestine

NORTHERN CYPRUS

Tourists visit a 14th century seaside garrison in the coastal city of Famagusta, Turkish-controlled north Cyprus on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Greek and Turkish Cypriot politicians on Wednesday pledged to preserve Cyprus? rich cultural heritage after touring a 14-century seaside garrison that is the fictional setting of Shakespeare?s play ?Othello? and was recently restored. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

A 14th-century seaside garrison in the coastal city of Famagusta in northern Cyprus. Photo: AP

The northeast of Cyprus is recognised as independent only by Turkey but operates as a de facto nation, separated from the rest of Cyprus by the Green Line border. Northern Europeans come to seek sun and beaches. Prominent old towns are Girne/Kyrenia, Famagusta and Lefkosa/Nicosia.

Settlers from major ancient Mediterranean cultures have influenced Cyprus, including Greeks, Phoenicians, Persians and Romans. The result is abundant archaeological sites, brooding tombs, crumbling Venetian fortresses, Byzantine chapels and fusion cuisine. Ancient Salamis is an entire ruined city.

The mountains offer great hiking, wonderful in spring when wildflowers bloom. Bird populations flourish, since Cyprus lies at the crossroads of migration routes between Europe and Africa. Eagles circle in the sky overhead, turtles breed on the beaches, and you may spot mouflon (curly horned wild sheep) or rare griffon vultures. See welcometonorthcyprus.co.uk

KOSOVO

PRIZREN, KOSOVO - APRIL 7, 2017: Old stone bridge and mosque in Prizren, Kosovo.
 SatSep15cover - ALBANIA / KOSOVO / MACEDONIA - Belinda Jackson
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Prizren, Kosovo. Photo: Shutterstock

About two-thirds of UN members recognise this Balkan country, which declared independence in 2008. That makes it Europe's newest nation, yet it receives only a trickle of tourists despite bargain prices and the convenience of the euro (though Kosovo isn't an EU member).

People are friendly, the culture a blend of medieval Serbian and Ottoman influences, and much of the food Turkish in origin. A highlight is medieval Prizen, a huddle of old terracotta-roofed houses, Ottoman-era hammams and several churches, all topped by a castle and fronted by a river.

Capital Pristina is youthful, arty and filled with cafes but otherwise unexciting, so get into the countryside for charming towns, abundant Orthodox monasteries (some World Heritage listed) and lovely hiking. A 192-kilometre hiking route links Kosovo with Albania and Montenegro. Go in winter and you can ski at Brezovica. See beinkosovo.com

See also: The new 'old Europe' is a land of blood and honey

MARSHALL ISLANDS

Shallow coral reef at Majuro, Marshall Islands. 

Photo: Shutterstock

Nobody argues that this UN member and Pacific archipelago of just 54,000 inhabitants is a country. It's an odd one, though, with a Compact of Free Association with the United States that allows its citizens to live there, and hands responsibility for defence to the US armed forces. US government assistance underpins the economy, which runs on American dollars.

Its most famous island is Bikini Atoll where atomic bombs were tested in the 1940s and 1950s. Some 20 naval vessels sunk in the testing are now available to scuba divers, including the Japanese battleship Nagato and aircraft carrier USS Saratoga. It's the only place in the world where you can scuba dive to a sunken aircraft carrier.

Other attractions are the glorious Laura Lagoon and reef on Majuro Atoll, and deep-sea fishing for yellowfin, sailfish and marlin off Arno Atoll. See visitmarshallislands.org

See also: Ten countries you (probably) haven't visited - but should

See also: Not France or Italy: Fastest-growing destinations in Europe revealed

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