It’s that time of the year again! A time to look back and reflect on our experiences. In 2016 I visited 21 new countries mostly in the Pacific and Central Asia. This is due to the fact that as I am reaching my last ten countries, they are becoming increasingly difficult to visit for various reasons. But that is a story for next year.
I’d like to countdown my top five new countries visited in 2016 based on my overall experience and on the uniqueness, fun, and memorability of the country.
Palau like Fiji has a reputation as an island paradise in the middle of the pacific with beautiful beaches and luxury hotels. I found Palau to be less developed and more original. It also has plenty of other interesting and unique activities like the Jellyfish Lake, Peleliu Island for WWII history and mysterious monoliths.
Despite the difficulty in obtaining visas and not so tourist friendly environment, Uzbekistan holds some of the most magnificent sights along the silk road. The soviet styled capital of Tashkent juxtaposes the colorful city of Samarkand which alone is worth the trip!
Another Pacific island nation, Vanuatu is even less developed than its neighboring countries which adds to its charm. Though other countries like the Solomon Islands or the Marshall Islands offer historic sites and pristine diving, Vanuatu has some of the best and most easily accessible. Dive the SS President Coolidge, snorkel Million Dollar Point and sip on a cocktail while watching the sunset on Bali Hai.
Central Asia has become one of my favorite destinations given its little tourism, unique culture, and friendly locals. Kazakhstan the most developed of the nations is a great hub and hosts some really impressive sights. Check out Astana, the futuristic capital, Almaty, the cultural capital, the ancient ruins of Sauran, ships swallowed by the desert in Aralsk, Shymkent, the old capital and for those that enjoy some risk, Baikonur the active Russian space station. The 2017 expo will also be in Astana.
1. New Zealand
The country closest to where I was born is also one of my last visited ones. These islands offer some of the best choices for outdoor enthusiasts and vacationers alike. You can easily spend a couple of weeks exploring the country and visiting sites like Milford Sound, Lake Wanaka, Lake Taupo, the Waitomo Caves, the hot springs of Rotorua, Hobbiton for LOTR fans, and of course the major cities like Auckland. This was my favorite destination due to the wealth of activities, sights, and how easy and enjoyable it was to explore the beautiful country.
Not a known tourist destination due to perceived dangers of visiting, Pakistan pleasant surprised me with their friendly open culture and extraordinary sites. Contrast the new capital of Islamabad to the old commercial capital of Karachi and step back in time in the old city of Lahore.
Another little known country holds one of the best road trip routes in the world along the Wakhan Valley on the border of Afghanistan. Spend days driving in a Land Cruiser with incredible scenery, nature, wildlife and stay with the most hospitable locals all while witnessing glimpses of rural life in Afghanistan over the border.
Papua New Guinea
One of the few “wild-west” countries left in the world, I felt like anything could happen at any moment while visiting this unknown destination. PNG has very few visitors but those that dare to venture here will find some of the world’s most pristine and untouched natural environments. I will definitely be back one day to tackle the historic Kokoda Trail.
Here are my countries visited this year from which I selected my top five!
165 New Zealand
166 Papua New Guinea
167 Solomon Islands
175 Marshall Islands
178 East Timor
10 more to go! Here comes 2017!