The 10 Most Remote Countries in the World

A stunning sunset in Nauru

photography by: Angela Spalding/ Flickr

In an era where ultra-fast aircrafts connect us with faraway continents and islands, it is becoming ever more challenging to find unexplorable places. It should then come as a surprise that some countries remain widely inaccessible even today. Isolated from the rest of the world by dense rainforests, a mountain range or the blue vastness of the ocean, the world’s 10 most remote countries are the closest thing we have on earth to undiscovered lands.

#10 Federated States of Micronesia

Not to be confused with the region of Micronesia which it is a part of, the Federated States of Micronesia as its name suggest is a federation of four semi-autonomous states (Kosrae, Yap, Pohnpei and Chuuk), spanning across dozens of atolls in the South Pacific.

 

Home to a little more than 100,000 inhabitants, Micronesia’s landmass barely exceeds 700 km2. Nevertheless, what the country lacks in land size, it more than makes up for in a gargantuan exclusive economic zone, encompassing an area of a whopping 2,600,000 square kilometers, larger than France, Spain, Germany, Japan and Turkey combined.

 

As a former WW2 battleground between Japan and the US army, its waters are littered with more than 50 shipwrecks, Japanese and American alike. Nowadays, these multiple abandoned vessels provide a shelter for the archipelago’s ample marine life.

 

Despite having four international airports, each of which is located on a different state, Micronesia is one of the least visited countries in the world, with merely 30,000 annual visitors on average. As most flights to and from Micronesia link the country with its other pacific counterparts, and those which aren’t tend to be beyond the reach of most people, traveling to this island nation remains an incredibly challenging task.

A sunken piece of WW2 artillery near the atoll of Chuuk

photography by: NOAA Photo Library/ Flickr


#9 Suriname

South America’s smallest and least populated country, Suriname along with its western neighbor, Guyana, are often perceived as a continental outlier, as both are Caribbean nations in an overwhelmingly Latin region.

 

Formerly a Dutch colony, Suriname is home to roughly 600,000 people, most of whom are descendants of African Slaves and contract workers from the Indian subcontinent or Java. As Suriname is the world’s most forested country, with more than 97 percent of its land covered by virgin rainforest, the majority of the population is concentrated in the capital, Paramaribo, and other towns along the coastline.

 

With no roads beyond a certain point, the only way of traveling south, deep into the dense jungles, is by a boat along one of the country’s formidable rivers, which for all intents and purposes serve as highways.

 

Since the country’s borders either coincide with a mighty river or lie within an inaccessible rainforest, the only way of getting in and out is by ferry or plane. As a result, only a few tourists visit Suriname each year, the vast majority of whom are Dutch, as Amsterdam is the only city outside the Americas with direct flights to the country.

Voltzberg Mountain, towering over the Surinamese rainforest

photography by: Jan Willem Broekema/ Wikimedia Commons


#8 Tonga

Tucked away in the South Pacific, about 800 kilometers east of Fiji, Tonga is the only Pacific nation never to be colonized by a European power, and as such, retains a great deal of national pride and authenticity. The country spans across 171 islands, less than a third of which are inhabited, with the main island being home to almost 70 percent of Tonga’s 105,000 inhabitants.

 

Throughout much of its modern history, Tonga was an absolute monarchy, the only indigenous one among Pacific nations. That has changed in 2010, when the then Tongan king, George Tupou V, relinquished most of his powers, paving the way for Tonga to become a constitutional monarchy.

 

Often dubbed as the Friendly Islands, a moniker coined by the famed explorer James Cook who visited the archipelago in 1773, Tonga is dominated by a fervently Christian society, so much so, that during Sundays, all economic activity is completely shut down while playing sports is strictly prohibited.

 

Only four airlines operate regular flights to Tonga, including Air New Zealand from Auckland, Fiji Airways from Nadi and Qantas from Sydney. This flight scarcity combined with the country’s geographic isolation keeps Tonga fairly remote even in the 21st century.

A humpback whale rises to the water surface around one of Tonga’s islands

photography by: Sylke Rohrlach/ Wikimedia Commons


#7 East Timor (Timor-Leste)

As its name probably implies, East Timor, or Timor Leste as it is known officially, consists of the island of Timor’s eastern half (as well as the exclave of Oecusse). Intriguingly, the country’s name literally means “East East”, as Timor originates from the Malay term for east, Timur.

 

One of Asia’s two predominantly Catholic nations alongside the Philippines, the country was colonized by the Portuguese over the last couple of centuries. Following the decolonization of East Timor, the newly independent nation was immediately invaded and annexed by its gargantuan neighbor, Indonesia. In May 20th, 2002, after decades of brutal occupation, Timor Leste finally gained its coveted independence and as of today, it is the world’s 4th newest sovereign country.

 

While the brand-new country lacks any UNESCO world heritage sites, its tropical waters are brimming with over 2,000 species of fish as well as porpoises, dolphins and whales, making it an exclusive diving destination among intrepid tourists.

 

Nestled in the southeastern periphery of the Indonesian archipelago, the country has a lone major international airport, served by a smattering of small airlines, primarily to nearby cities like Denpasar, Darwin and Kupang. That in turn makes the country incredibly difficult to access, with only dedicated travelers taking the effort to visit the isolated island-nation.

Cristo Rei of Dili, the country’s most famous monument overlooking the capital

photography by: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto/ Wikimedia Commons



#6 São Tomé and Príncipe

Throughout much of its existence, São Tomé and Príncipe was nothing but an inhabited speck of lush land in the middle of the Gulf of Guinea. That all changed in 1470, when this string of volcanic islands was discovered and colonized by the Portuguese. In the centuries that followed, the colony experienced a large influx of African slaves, who were forcefully brought by the Portuguese settlers to cultivate São Tomé and Príncipe’s many lucrative plantations of sugar canes, coffee and cacao.

 

Comprises two archipelagoes, each of which is centered around a main island, São Tomé and Príncipe is home to roughly 220,000 people, making it the second smallest country in Africa in terms of both population and land size. Despite its small size and seemingly insignificant role continentwide, it is one of the most democratic, economically stable and safest countries across Africa.

 

Located 225 kilometers off the coast of West Africa, the country’s main airport in São Tomé connects the small nation with a few of its close-by neighbors as well as its former colonizer, Portugal. The tiny number of international flights and the lack of other alternatives is translated to less than 15,000 annual visitors. The few plucky tourists who do come here, will find a mountainous and forested country, abounds with a plethora of rare bird species.

Cão Grande Mountain in São Tomé

photography by: Paulacastelli/ Wikimedia Commons


#5 Marshall Islands

Stretching across 29 separate atolls in the South Pacific, the Marshall Islands are home to about 60,000 inhabitants, half of whom live in the capital, Majuro. As the country’s territorial waters account for almost 98 percent of its total size, the share of land mass is the smallest among all UN members.

 

In the last couple of centuries, the islands changed hands several times with the last foreign ruler being the Americans, who notoriously conducted a series of 67 nuclear tests from 1944 to 1958, including the world’s first hydrogen bomb. The Marshallese atoll where the first nuclear test was conducted was Bikini. If this name rings a bell, that’s because the renowned French designer Louis Reard was inspired by the former testing site when in 1946, he designed a provocative swimsuit, considered by him as a bombshell, quite literally.

 

In spite of the islands’ endless stretches of pristine beaches, the Marshall Islands are frequented on average by a meager 6,000 foreign visitors. Like all of its pacific counterparts in our list, that has to do with the country’s sheer remoteness and a miniscule number of flights that connect it to the outside world. If you do want to visit this wondrous Pacific archipelago, you should hurry up as by the end of the 21st century, the country, whose average elevation is 4-5 meters, is expected to be completely submerged underwater due to the rising sea level worldwide.

One of Marshall Islands’ dozens of uninhabited islets

photography by: Paulacastelli/ Wikimedia Commons


#4 Kiribati

On paper, the island-nation of Kiribati in the South Pacific has a territory of 811 square kilometers, somewhat unimpressive when compared to the world’s largest countries. Nonetheless, if taking into account its maritime footprint, the distance between its easternmost and westernmost points is a whopping 4,564 kilometers (2,835 miles), roughly the same distance from London to Nova Scotia in Canada.

 

As Kiribati is spread out across the vast stretches of the Pacific Ocean, it is the only country on Earth which lies in all four main hemispheres. In fact, some of Kiribati’s islands are located within the UTC+14:00 time zone, making it the first country to welcome the New Year’s Eve and any other day for that matter.

 

Consisting of 32 atolls as well as a single uplifted coral atoll, Kiribati, like many other Pacific nations, is extremely vulnerable to the looming sea level rise due to global warming, with many experts estimate that the country would be entirely inundated with seawater until the end of the 21st century. Visitors who wish to enjoy the islands’ ample marine life and scenic coastline before they’re gone, would find it extremely challenging to come across affordable flights, and even if they manage to do so, it would most likely entail a lengthy journey of 24 hours or more.

An aerial view of Onotoa Atoll in Kiribati

photography by: Rafael Ávila Coya/ Flickr


#3 Bhutan

Sandwiched between the world’s two most populous nations, China and India, the landlocked country of Bhutan is dwarfed by its humongous neighbors. Be that as it may, what the country lacks in size, it definitely makes up for in remarkable nature and culture, unspoiled by centuries of isolation.

 

As the country lies within the Himalaya Range, most of its territory is exceedingly mountainous, with its highest peak, Gangkhar Puensum (7,570 meters), being also the world’s highest unclimbed mountain. While Bhutan’s extreme geography proved challenging for interconnecting the different parts of the country, it is also what kept foreign powers away, preserving its unique cultural heritage to date.

 

In fact, up until as recently as the 1970’s, tourists weren’t allowed to visit this formerly hermit kingdom. Even today, the country’s main point of entry, Paro International Airport, is served by only two airlines (Drukair and Bhutan Airlines), whereas merely 8 pilots are authorized to take off and land at the airport due to its notoriously dangerous location amid 5-kilometer-tall mountains.

 

Whilst Bhutan still lags behind in many areas, it prides itself as the only country on Earth to achieve a negative carbon footprint, absorbing more CO2 than all annual emissions nationwide. That is possible thanks to Bhutan’s expansive forests which cover over 70 percent of the country, capturing 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide every year.

Taktsang Palphug Monastery in Bhutan

photography by: Bernard Gagnon/ Wikimedia Commons



#2 Tuvalu

Home to only 11,500 inhabitants who live across an area of a meager 26 km2, Tuvalu is the world’s third least populous and fourth smallest country, and as such, it largely remains under the radar. Located in the South Pacific, roughly halfway between Sydney and Honolulu, the country consists of 6 atolls as well as 3 reef islands. Tuvalu’s atolls are particularly slender, so much so, that at its narrowest point, the country is barely 20 meters wide.

 

Its miniscule size combined with the lack of any natural resources forced this Pacific nation to find creative ways to make ends meet. Luckily for the islanders, Tuvalu’s country code of .tv overlaps with the initials of humanity’s most popular mean of telecommunication. That in turn led to a 50-million-dollar contract with American tech giants which leased the coveted domain in 2000 and 2012, accounting for almost 10 percent of the country’s national budget.

 

The country has a sole international airport, situated near the capital, Funafuti. With only 4 weekly flights, three of which are operated by Fiji Airways to Suva and one by Air Kiribati to Tarawa, less than 4,000 tourists visit the islands annually, making it among the planet’s three least visited countries.

Tuvalu’s extreme slender proportions as exemplified by its narrow road running along the atoll

photography by: Bernard Gagnon/ Wikimedia Commons


#1 Nauru

With its nearest neighbor (Kiribati’s Banaba Island) located almost 300 kilometers away, the island-nation of Nauru is by far the most remote country on Earth. Comprises a single island amid the vast Pacific Ocean, Nauru is also the world’s third smallest country as well as the second least populous nation, surpassing only the Vatican City.

 

It might come as an utter surprise, but this seemingly unassuming 21 km2 island-country once hold the highest GDP per capita anywhere in the world. During the 1970’s and early 1980’s, Nauru’s rich phosphate deposits, the result of bird droppings accumulated over millennia, made this otherwise desolate place the wealthiest country across the globe.

 

Unfortunately for Nauru, over-mining soon depleted much of its phosphate, leaving most of the island uninhabitable. To make things even worse, the degradation of arable land and marine life forced the country to import tons of processed food from elsewhere, subsequently triggering an obesity epidemic. It is often the case where Nauru is labeled as the world’s fattest nation, with obesity rate exceeding 70 percent.

 

To compensate for its loss of revenues from phosphate mining, the country decided to host a refugee camp, where asylum seekers captured by the Australian Coast Guard are housed while their asylum request is being processed. This fact alone sparked a great deal of controversy as human right activists harshly criticized the decision, deeming it as cruel and unlawful.

 

Beyond the island’s short fame and somewhat dreadful present, it is widely known as the world’s least visited country. On top of Nauru’s sheer geographic isolation, there are only two hotels throughout the entire country as well as a single airline (Nauru Airlines) which operates flights to and from the small airstrip in Yaren. With all that in mind, it is no wonder that only 200 tourists visit this isolated country each year.

Nauru’s rusting phosphate loading cranes lying abandoned along the shoreline

photography by: Sean Kelleher/ Flickr