Earlier this year, the 10th annual Global Peace Index was released – and boy, did it make for depressing reading. The report by the Institute for Economics and Peace (economicsandpeace.org) found that there are only ten countries in the world not currently embroiled in some sort of war or conflict.
So, while everyone else is going hog wild on the bombs, drones and sniper fire, where are these tree-hugging bastions of peace? Well, here are the ten chilled fight-dodgers…
Often cited as a shining example in sub-Saharan Africa, Botswana has one of the continent's highest GDPs per capita, and has avoided ruinous strong-man presidencies since becoming independent in the 1960s. It's also very sparsely populated, so there are plenty of resources to go round. For visitors, those resources include the wild Kalahari desert and the primo wildlife-viewing areas of the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park. The latter boasts the highest concentration of African elephants, although they can't be guaranteed to not pick fights with each other.
A meandering river in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo: jacquesvandinteren
See also: Africa's magical delta of wild dreams
Chile is the clean cut nice guy of South America, or at least it has been since returning to democracy in 1990. Long-running border disputes with Argentina and Bolivia seem to have been filed under "agree to disagree" while the nation's politicians generally opt for international co-operation rather than throwing their weight around. Tourism-wise, it has got plenty to offer – Santiago and Valparaiso are two of the most interesting cities on the continent, while the wild desert landscapes of the north are in stark contrast to the icy glacier fields in the south.
Painted house in the Barrio Bellavista area of Santiago. Photo: iStock
The easiest way to not get entangled in military conflict is to not have a military, and Costa Rica got rid of its army, air force and navy in the 1940s following a short civil war. It has also had uninterrupted democracy since – something of a novelty in Central America – and has developed strong eco-credentials. 93% of the country's energy is renewable, and Costa Rica aims to be carbon neutral by 2021.
This creeps over into its travel industry – Costa Rica is biiiiig on eco-tourism, with lots of rainforest adventures and jungle stays. But there are also a fair few impressive volcanoes to gawp at too.
Like Costa Rica, Mauritius doesn't have a standing army, although some sections of the police force carry out suspiciously army-like duties. Situated comfortably out of the way in the Indian Ocean, it's hardly a prime target for invasion any time soon, either.
There are also few better examples than Mauritius of the link between tourism and peace. The country's plush beach resorts have brought in serious economy-boosting money, to the point where Mauritius is very well off by African standards. But it's not all spas and white sand – Mauritius also has a mountainous, waterfall and gorge-lined interior to explore.
Le Morne mount in Muaritius. Photo: iStock
The most famously neutral place on earth has been self-declared that way since Napoleon's last forays in 1815. And, perhaps more astonishingly, that neutrality has been respected by other European powers who have seen no problem with riding roughshod over other neighbours.
It's hardly an unknown on the tourism circuit, either, with eye-popping mountain scenery and some of the world's swankiest ski resorts amongst the calling cards.
The 1980s were rather, erm, feisty in Panama. And that played a big part in the army being abolished in 1990. The Panamanian Public Forces cover policing and security matters, and although they have small warfare capabilities, they aren't used.
With two and a half decades of keeping its head down, Panama's tourist offerings are similar to Costa Rica's – lot of active, rainforest stuff. But Panama City is arguably the most buzzing capital in the region, and then there's that canal – spectacular even if just visiting the Miraflores Locks to see giant ships pass through.
The Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal. Photo: iStock
Like Panama, Japan saw war and thought better of it. After the horrors of World War II, the country put in force a constitution that expressly forbids it from taking part in wars. But you don't need spurious pacifist reasons to go visit – Japan is one of the most culturally fascinating places on earth, with the big cities packing in huge levels of energy and prodigious quirky subcultures. Throw in bullet trains, hot spring retreats and Mount Fuji, and would-be soldiers have plenty to keep themselves occupied.
Qatar is where the Global Peace Index starts to look a little dubious. It may be getting off the wars in Syria and Yemen on some sort of technicality, but let's not pretend none of its billowing oil wealth is going there. It certainly seems less hugs and flowers inclined than the likes of say, Dominica or Palau.
In terms of tourism, Qatar's not as developed as nearby Dubai, but it wants to be. There are plenty of big cultural projects, several turbo-posh hotels, and it's an option for a stopover on the route to Europe now that Qatar Airways flies from Oz.
Doha, Qatar. Photo: iStock
Consistently getting the best ratings in South America for all manner of goodies such as press freedom and lack of corruption, Uruguay has a strong commitment to peace. It apparently contributes more UN Peacekeepers per capita than any other country.
It's generally happy as the underdog sandwiched between big brother neighbours Argentina and Brazil, charming through colonial architecture in Colonia and Montevideo and a hugely underrated wine scene.
Punta Ballena, Uruguay. Photo: iStock
The final entrant on the list is the one most synonymous with war. And is a measure of how much South-East Asia has calmed down in the last couple of decades that it's not at war now. This isn't a conscious pacifist decision – it's just that there's not a big enough bone of contention to pick battles with the neighbours over.
Vietnam is now firmly in place on the backpacker trail – with Ha Long Bay being the postcard pic magnet, and the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city adding the frenetic and often foodie energy.