Eating your way through South Korea
Ben Groundwater samples a wide and wild variety of Korean food on a foodies tour of South Korea with Intrepid Travel. Video: Ben McNamara/Intrepid Travel
The world's fastest growing travel destination? According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), it's Sierra Leone.
The little West African nation welcomed 310 per cent more overseas arrivals in 2016, compared with the previous year, a steep rise that was no doubt helped by the country being declared Ebola-free in November 2015.
Just 24,000 people visited Sierra Leone in 2015; while UNWTO doesn't have complete data for the year, that is expected to reach 74,400 for 2016 once all the sums have been done.Small numbers, of course (South Africa, the continent's biggest draw, lured more than 10 million holidaymakers last year), but it's a start.
What does Sierra Leone have to offer? "Amazing beaches, idyllic villages and smiling people," says Gunnar Garfors, who has visited every single country on Earth and rates it among his 12 favourites.
It's also an unlikely option for cycle tourism - the West Africa Cycle Challenge takes riders from Bo, Sierra Leone, to Monrovia, Liberia, raising money for the charity Street Child along the way.
Five other surprising nations where tourism is booming
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan, South Korea. Photo: iStock
A whopping 17.2 million people visited South Korea in 2016 – up from just 13.2m in 2015 (that's a rise of 30.3 per cent). Only Sierra Leone, Nepal (which suffered a big drop in visitors after the 2015 earthquake), and Iceland have seen sharper increases.
The country's greatest attractions are its chaotic and vibrant capital, Seoul, and the island of Jeju. Unesco-listed, and billed as South Korea's answer to Hawaii, it's pure Instagram gold, and home to dramatic volcanic landscapes, underground caves, hiking trails and scenic beaches.
See also: How to eat your way through South Korea
Old Orhei, Moldova. Photo: iStock
Only two countries in Europe (San Marino and Liechtenstein) receive fewer visitors than Moldova – but things are going in the right direction. Around 121,000 people went there in 2016, compared with 94,000 the year before. What does it offer?
Orheiul Vechi is a crumbling open-air monastic complex that dates back more than 2,000 years; it is home to an impressive array of birds, with roughly 300 different species calling it home; and its capital, Chisinau, has some truly brutal Soviet-era architecture.
OK, so Kiribati was hardly overwhelmed with visitors last year. Around 5,000 people made the long trek to this Pacific nation, which is comprised of 33 coral atolls stretching along the equator, but that's a 21.6 per cent increase on the previous year.
Second World War battles were fought along the shores of its capital South Tarawa - but today its principle draws for tourists include fishing, diving and private islands.
Sunset in the famous Avenida de Baobab near Morondava in Madagascar. Photo: iStock
The world's fourth biggest island celebrated its independence day this week, and the country's tourism chiefs will have also been toasting a successful 2016, during which it welcomed 293,000 travellers - up 20 per cent from 244,000 in 2015. Why go? Because it's a paradise for wildlife lovers.
According to Conservation International, just 17 countries are considered "megadiverse". Each possesses a vast number of different species – many found nowhere else. And Madagascar is one.
Among its resident animals are more than half the world's chameleons and dozens of species of lemur. Unlike the film Madagascar, however, you won't see any tigers, giraffes or hippo.
Bratislava, Slovakia. Photo: iStock
Largely overshadowed by its neighbours Poland, Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary, which each received more than 10 million tourists last year, Slovakia has some ground to make up. But arrivals rose by an estimated 16.9 per cent in 2016, so it's on the right track.
The country's big draw is the Tatra Mountains. The highest range in the Carpathians, they form a natural border between Slovakia and Poland, are a designated Unesco Biosphere Reserve, and contain some 100 high altitude lakes and a clutch of waterfalls. They can be explored on a number of hiking paths.
"There is a raw, magical quality to the Tatra Mountains: a sense of living folklore," wrote Rosemary Griffith, a reader, after a visit in 2013.
"The air is almost metallic in its purity, the pastures a brilliant shade of green. Houses nestle on the slopes, their red roofs steep and long to accommodate heavy snow. Wild boar, wolves and brown bears roam the forests."
The top 20 fastest growing travel destinations
- Sierra Leone +310%
- Nepal +39.7%
- Iceland +39%
- South Korea +30.3%
- Moldova +28.6%
- Chile +26%
- Vietnam +24.6%
- Japan +21.8%
- Liechtenstein +21.7%
- Kiribati +21.6%
- Kuwait +20.7%
- Madagascar +20%
- Cyprus +19.8%
- Georgia +19%
- Turks & Caicos +17.5%
- Cook Islands +17.1%
- Slovakia +16.9%
- Kenya +16.8%
- Tanzania +15.6%
- Indonesia +15.5%
Three places where tourism has tumbled
Given that it shares a border with Syria, and that terrorist attacks have happened with worrying regularity in its major cities, it is no surprise that Turkey has suffered a big drop in visitors. Almost 40 million went in 2015 – that fell by 28.5 per cent to an estimated 28.2 million last year.
For similar reasons, Egypt has suffered in recent years. While 14.1 million travellers went there in 2010, that fell to 9.1 million in 2015, and, while UNWTO doesn't have figures for all of 2016, is expected to drop a further 42.1 per cent to around 5.35 million for 2016.
The Brussels attacks of March 2016 hit Belgium hard, with tourist arrivals falling 13.2 per cent. That means total numbers for last year will be around 7.3 million - down from 8.1 million.
The 10 countries where visitor numbers have fallen fastest
- Egypt -42.1%
- Afghanistan -36.7%
- Turkey -28.5%
- PNG -25.9%
- Suriname -25.6%
- Palau -14.9%
- Haiti -14.5%
- Belgium -13.2%
- Aruba -10%
- Laos -9.8%
The Telegraph, London
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