The countries we most want to see

Seven years after their original list, Kia and Peter revisit the countries they most want to see

In 2017, during a long trip through Asia, I asked Peter a question: if you could see only five countries before you die, what would they be?

My rule was that he couldn’t choose countries he had already visited, nor stateless territories (e.g. Antarctica). Fast forward seven years and he has seen four out of five countries on his original list, so I asked him to come up with a new one. Given that he has been to 100 countries and all seven continents, it wasn’t easy – but he managed it.

It was markedly easier for me as I’ve seen only one country on my original list, with the remaining four unchanged.

Our new list offers solid inspiration for our future travels. If the countries weren’t scattered across all corners of the world, we may have been tempted to make one big trip of it. Sadly, the economics don’t make sense, but we can dream…

Kia’s choices

Turkmenistan

I have been eager to see Derweze in Turkmenistan for several years now. Known as the ‘door to hell’, this roiling chasm of fire has been burning for nearly 50 years.

Derweze has been burning for nearly 50 yearsDerweze has been burning for nearly 50 years
Iwanami Photos/Shutterstock Derweze has been burning for nearly 50 years

In 1971, while drilling in the gas-rich area of Derweze, Soviet geologists cut into a cavern filled with natural gas. The ground beneath the rig collapsed, leaving a crater of approximately 70 metres in diameter. Experts decided to burn off the gas to avoid poisonous discharge. They lit a fire expecting the fuel to be consumed in a matter of days.

Decades later, Derweze is still burning. To stand on the rim of this surreal crater is at the top of my travel wishlist.

Canada

Canada is one of those countries everyone thinks I’ve seen – but I haven’t. Its sophisticated infrastructure makes it one of those places you can travel to when you’re a bit older and accustomed to creature comforts.

The fantastical Mt Asgard is one of the most beautiful mountains in the worldThe fantastical Mt Asgard is one of the most beautiful mountains in the world
Arthur Stanisz/Used with permission Mount Asgard in Canada

That said, I would be crushed if I never got to see Canada. I desperately want to see Baffin Island with its wild and expansive landscapes. The twin peaks of Mount Thor and Mount Asgard are especially dramatic.

Notably, Mount Thor features Earth’s greatest vertical drop at 1,250m. To put that into context, the Shard in London is 306m high, the Eiffel Tower is 324m, the Empire State Building is 443m and the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, is 829m high.

China

China is another of those countries that people assume I’ve already seen, but sadly it remains on my bucket list. Peter had already been there when we first met and never felt the compulsion to return, which meant it was low priority when it came to choosing our next adventure.

Zhangjiajie National Forest ParkZhangjiajie National Forest Park
Aphotostory/Shutterstock Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

There is so much I want to see there, starting with of course the Great Wall of China, the only World Wonder I haven’t yet seen. There’s also the Terracotta Army, the Forbidden City and the Leshan Giant Buddha, but most of all I want to see Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

This surreal scape of weathered spires was the inspiration behind the floating rocks in James Cameron’s Avatar. In fact, the park’s Southern Sky Column has been officially renamed the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain.

Zambia

Zambia is one of two countries home to the legendary Victoria Falls. While Victoria is neither the highest nor widest waterfall in the world, it is classed as the largest based on its combined height and width, making it the world’s largest sheet of falling water.

Victoria Falls is the world's largest waterfallVictoria Falls is the world's largest waterfall
Vadim Petrakov/Shutterstock Victoria Falls is the world’s largest waterfall

Neighbouring Zimbabwe offers more panoramic viewpoints, but Zambia offers closer access to the falls as well as a chance to swim in the famous Devil’s Pool. This much-photographed spot at the lip of the falls allows adventurous swimmers to take a dip mere feet from the point where the water cascades over the falls.

After mesmerising visits to Gullfoss in Iceland and Iguazu in Brazil, I’m keen to see Victoria. Notably, it is twice the height and well over twice the width of the arguably more famous Niagara Falls which straddles Canada and the USA.

Mongolia

There are few countries that feel as wild and dramatic as Mongolia. Its rugged expanses and nomadic peoples are fascinating, and its remote location promises the seclusion missing from so much of modern travel.

Countries we most want to see MongoliaCountries we most want to see Mongolia
Dreamstime Mongolia is one of the countries we most want to see

I want to see the infamous Gobi Desert and explore the Mongolian steppe. I’m also drawn to the country’s deep-rooted horse culture. Riding on the Mongolian steppe was the stuff of dreams before I gave up horse riding. Luckily, there is plenty of opportunity to admire these majestic creatures at steppe level.

No longer on Kia’s list

Ethiopia: We visited Ethiopia in 2017.

Peter’s list

Uganda

The wildlife of Africa is simply unrivalled. I would love to return to East Africa, this time to explore the savannahs and jungles of Uganda. The Rwenzoris, Africa’s tallest mountain range, the Victoria Nile with the furious Murchison Falls and of course trekking with gorillas are all high on my wishlist.

A silverback mountain gorilla in UgandaA silverback mountain gorilla in Uganda
Jane Rix/Shutterstock A silverback mountain gorilla in Uganda

Found nowhere else in the wild on Earth and once on the verge of extinction, the mountain gorilla – a subspecies of the eastern gorilla – has seen a spectacular revival. A series of conservation measures involving local communities has led to one of Africa’s greatest conservation success stories.

Just over half reside in the Virunga Mountains, the range of eight extinct volcanoes spanning the borders of southern Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. The rest can be found in Uganda’s epically named Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a shroud of tangled green that covers the country’s southwest mountains. 

Kyrgyzstan

Last year, I visited Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and quickly caught the Central Asian travel bug. Like its neighbours, landlocked Kyrgyzstan is a country defined by natural beauty. Within its borders lie unspoilt mountainscapes where imposing ridges tower above rolling pastures and emerald lakes. 

Ala Kul lake in KyrgyzstanAla Kul lake in Kyrgyzstan
Bajla marija/Shutterstock Ala Kul lake in Kyrgyzstan

The landscape is ripe for trekking, particularly the Tien Shan, aka the ‘celestial mountains’, in the north of the country. The region is relatively close to the ​​Eurasian pole of inaccessibility, making it one of the world’s most remote places and one of the most landlocked.

Kyrgyzstan is also one of the few remaining countries where it’s possible to not only observe but embed yourself in the semi-nomadic way of life that Central Asia is famous for. There is a well-developed network of homestays in yurts and other traditional abodes throughout the countryside. 

Madagascar

Megadiverse Madagascar has been on my wishlist for years. The world’s fourth-biggest island is an extraordinarily diverse place with huge swathes of virtually uninhabited land to explore.

Baobab trees at sunsetBaobab trees at sunset
Framalicious/Shutterstock Baobab trees at sunset

It is also home to some stunning scenery and unusual wildlife. In fact, 5% of all known animal and plant species can be found in Madagascar alone. Perhaps the country’s most famous resident is the lemur, a gregarious primate found only on Madagascar and a handful of tiny neighbouring islands. 

The ecosystems of Madagascar include forest, savannah, steppe, wetland and dryland. Its coastal areas are among the richest and most diverse in the Indian Ocean region and include coral reefs, mangroves, phanerogam seagrass beds, estuaries and coastal marshes.

Venezuela

We’ve been fortunate to visit South America on several occasions and even spent five months exploring the continent back in 2015. However, we never made it to Venezuela.

Roraima serves as a tripoint for Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela and is one of the most beautiful mountains in the worldRoraima serves as a tripoint for Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela and is one of the most beautiful mountains in the world
Fair Use Mount Roraima

From Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall, to the striking Mount Roraima, said to be the inspiration behind scenes in the Pixar movie Up, Venezuela is home to some of South America’s most improbable landscapes.

Rich and diverse wildlife can also be found there including manatees, Amazon river dolphins and Orinoco crocodiles, which have been reported to reach up to 6.6m (22ft) in length.

Unfortunately, the country is mired in political and economic instability which makes safety a serious concern. Currently, the FCDO advises against travel to much of the country so, for now, a visit to Venezuela is sadly unlikely. 

Kiribati

This is an outlier of sorts. It has neither the rugged landscapes nor expansive views of my other choices, but Kiribati is surely one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Kiribati is one of the most commonly mispronounced country namesKiribati is one of the most commonly mispronounced country names
Dreamstime

I fell in love with the South Pacific on our 2014 journey across its islands. Kiribati seems like a natural extension to the extraordinary beauty of Samoa, Tonga, Rarotonga and French Polynesia.

It is one of the least visited countries in the world which I hope means unspoiled beaches with excellent snorkelling and diving!

No longer on Peter’s list

  • Namibia: We visited Namibia in 2018
  • New Zealand: We visited New Zealand in 2018
  • Nepal: Peter visited Nepal in 2019
  • Greenland (Denmark): Peter visited Greenland in 2019

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Lead image: Aphotostory/Shutterstock

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