Frankly, it's outrageous: Ten of the world's least visited countries

Some destinations get all the love. But often they have a neighbour with just a much potential that, for one reason or another, only a handful of tourists bother to explore. These include ...

Comoros

While Indian Ocean rivals Mauritius, Reunion and the Seychelles do a relatively roaring trade, the Comoros just hasn't managed to cut a slice of the luxury island escape pie. It has the beaches, it has the green, mountainous interiors, and it has the wildlife – particularly bats, turtles and dolphins. What it doesn't have is the infrastructure or the marketing – and there's probably a chicken and egg factor to this given the country's distressingly high poverty levels. According to World Tourism Organisation figures, the Comoros received just 28,000 visitors in 2017.

The Philippines

In a just world, the Philippines would get as many visitors as Thailand – but the World Tourism Organisation shows the south-east Asian archipelago pulling in 6.6 million compared to Thailand's 35.6 million. It has the beaches – especially on Palawan – plus plenty of quirks such as World Heritage-listed rice terraces, dramatic volcanoes and swimming with whale sharks. It's also bags of fun, with the people easily the most exuberant in the region. Alas, the infrastructure is not what it could be.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

While neighbouring Croatia draws in 15.6 million annual visitors, Bosnia and Herzegovina manages less than a million. Given the consistently spectacular mountain landscape, this seems more than a little unfair. Capital Sarajevo is one of Europe's most underrated cities, combining history, a fun hostel scene and a spectacular setting. Meanwhile, Mostar does the east-meets-west thing, with Ottoman-style markets to the side of its famous bridge.

Dominica

Sure, Dominica isn't the conventional idea of a Caribbean island paradise, but it deserves way more than 72,000 visitors a year. While its regional neighbours specialise in beaches, Dominica's strength is in its lush, mountainous interior, which makes for great hiking, river tubing and geological oddities such as the frankly weird Boiling Lake. There's also some top-notch diving to be done off the coast. But it's volcanic, so expect black sand on beaches rather than white in many places.

Madagascar

Long-term isolation has made Madagascar's flora and fauna genuinely unique, and as such it should be one of the world's top wildlife holiday destinations. But with just 255,000 annual visitors, the lemurs and baobab trees aren't being seen by nearly enough people. With landscapes that quickly switch from rainforest to desert and rice paddies to karst, the tourism potential of the world's fourth largest island is huge. But road conditions, alas, make getting around hard work.

Palau

If there's a better snorkelling and diving destination on earth, then it is very well hidden. The entire country of Palau is a marine sanctuary, with some of the most incredible reef life and clear water imaginable. There's also the notorious Jellyfish Lake to swim through, and hundreds of dazzling rock islands to sail around. Yet annual visitor numbers are around the 120,000-mark, which is frankly outrageous.

Tonga

Some Pacific nations – Fiji and the Cook Islands especially, Samoa and Vanuatu to a certain extent – have embraced tourism. But Tonga has always been curiously ambivalent about it – pulling in just 62,500 visitors in 2017 – even though it has many of the same attributes that make the other islands so popular. The star attraction is swimming with humpback whales from Vava'u.

Moldova

Aside from the micronations, Moldova is Europe's least-visited country, with just 145,000 annual visitors. Capital Chisinau is a weird mix of old school Soviet brutalism, quirky bars and dodgy characters with flash cars. But it's the wineries that are really worth coming for. The best known – Old Orhei and Cricova – come with miles of underground cellars, and it quickly becomes apparent why Moldovan wines fill the glasses of the former Soviet bloc.

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Laos

The unsung hero of south-east Asia, Laos pulls in just 3.3 million annual visitors. It may not have the beaches, but in Luang Prabang it has arguably the region's most gorgeous, graceful city. In the south, Wat Phu is a most extraordinary temple, climbing up a mountainside, and the 4000 Islands have taken over from Vang Vieng as the backpacker hangout of choice.

Belize

About 39.2 million people visit neighbouring Mexico each year, while just 427,000 make it to Belize. Which, given the rainforest and Mayan ruins inland and the reef system running along the coast, seems a bit of an oversight. Part of the problem is transport connections. To get to the holiday-friendly islands such as Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye requires a boat transfer from less-than-appealing Belize City.

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