Best countries to visit in the world cover image of Chris at travel bookstore
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Asking Someone for the Best Country to Visit Is Like Asking a Parent Who’s Their Favorite Child

No parent can possibly tell you their favorite child unless they have a screw loose, they only have one child, or their other kids are real losers.

They can, however, tell you how each child is the “best” in certain ways.

That’s what our parents tell us, at least. We’re “unique.”

We don’t have kids, but we do have lots of countries. Here are 16 of our picks for the best countries to visit and why each is unique in its own way.

Be sure not to miss #16!

The Best Country to Visit for Gazing Is…

Kim gazing at a dune in Namibia, the best country to visit in the world for gazing
Wanna know why you should (and why you should NOT) visit Namibia?

🇳🇦 Namibia

There’s not much do do in Namibia.

Only 2.5 million people live in this mostly desert country that’s 20% bigger than Texas.

But there’s a lot to see.

Here’s how a typical day goes when traveling in Namibia:

  • Wake up to gaze at the sun as it comes up over the empty horizon and makes all the rocks and sand go technicolored.
  • Drive all day gazing at peculiar and pretty desert landscapes and the surprising number of animals who survive on it (especially in Etosha National Park).
  • Gaze at an encore performance by the sun at sunset.
  • Gaze at all the stars from your campsite in the middle of nowhere.

How We Rate It

Cost:
6
Food:
4
Ease:
6
Friendliness:
5
Safety:
7
Exoticness:
7

Hot Tips:

  • Consider driving one-way from South Africa to avoid backtracking and have more time in the less-overrun south of Namibia.
  • The roads are TERRIBLE in Namibia, so it’s worth paying more for a rental car that can handle them.

The Best Country to Visit for Time-Travel Is…

Street in Venecia, Colombia with horse parked out front.
Going to towns just outside modern Medellin is like traveling back in time.

🇨🇴 Colombia

Colombia has come so far so fast that some parts of it have yet to keep up.

This makes for a fascinating opportunity to time travel between the modern present and traditional past.

In Medellin, the top city to visit in Colombia (though Bogota is underrated), you can travel from glitzy, gringo-central El Poblado back into pre-tourism era by simply taking a 20-minute bus ride south to Envigado.

You can also walk back in time just by hiking from an urban metro station into traditional Antioquian farmland (or by taking the urban cable car).

Drive a couple hours outside of modern cities and you’ll enter pueblos like Venecia, where men still ride horses to the bar in their traditional attire. Or jump on an hour flight to visit the raw and rustic Pacific Coast, which has no road access and only recently reopened from travel.

How We Rate It

Cost:
7
Food:
3
Ease:
6
Friendliness:
7
Safety:
5
Exoticness:
6

Hot Tips:

  • Colombia’s cool, but if you’re only going to visit one South American country, we’d recommend Peru first.
  • Colombia’s also the best country for partying with sexy people, particularly in Medellin and Cartagena.

The Best Country to Visit for Experiencing a Parallel Universe Is…

Welcome sign in front of an old sake brewery in Saijo, outside Hiroshima, Japan

🇯🇵 Japan

Japan isn’t just a different county; it’s a different universe. 

Everything in Japan looks similar to our own universe, but different.

It’s a world where politeness is prioritized, standing out is avoided, vending machines sell everything, and cuddle cafes are an actual thing.

“Weird” was the word Kim and I most often found ourselves saying while visiting Japan. In a good way. Every day, we’d see something or have an experience that wasn’t quite from our universe but made sense in this parallel one.

Japan isn’t a world we’d want to live in forever, but to visit it’s a truly out-of-this-world experience.

How We Rate It

Cost:
4
Food:
9
Ease:
8
Friendliness:
6
Safety:
10
Exoticness:
9

Hot Tips:

  • Japan’s not as expensive as everyone seems to think. It can be if you want to travel lavishly, but our favorite experiences in Japan included 3 USD onsen (hot springs), 25 USD twelve-course meals, 6 USD mega-ramen bowls, and 35 USD ryokan (guesthouses).
  • No matter who you are or what your budget is, a one or two week JR Rail pass is the best way to see the country.

The Best Country to Visit for Appreciating Africa Is…

Chris and Maasai jumping by Maasai Mara
The Maasai love to jump. So does Chris, so he made friends quickly.

🇰🇪 Kenya

Spend enough time traveling* in Kenya and you’ll appreciate the good and the bad of Africa.

You’ll appreciate:

  • The wildness of the animals and how vulnerable we are to them.
  • The seemingly insurmountable challenge many African nations face to change from a short-term, survival-of-the-fittest mindset to a longer-term one.
  • What amazing innovations, like the M-Pesa mobile payment systems, are coming from the constraints to create hope.
  • The historical importance of coastal cities like Lamu, which retains much of its history and still relies on donkeys as the main form of transport.
  • How pleasant and organized your home country is.

(*By “traveling” we mean not spending a night hiding out in a 5-star Nairobi hotel before helicoptering straight to a luxury game lodge where you sit around as people point out animals for you.)

How We Rate It

Cost:
6
Food:
3
Ease:
2
Friendliness:
5
Safety:
5
Exoticness:
6

The Best Country to Visit for Budget Travel Is…

Chris lost by Lipton's Seat tea plantation in Sri Lanka

🇱🇰 Sri Lanka

Most other crazy cheap countries are dirty, dangerous, and/or disorganized.

Sri Lanka is none of those. It’s just straight-up delightful.

The people are delightful. Multiple times a day a random stranger would approach us just to say “Welcome to my country!” then walk off with a smile on their face for having put a smile on ours.

The food is delightful. Kottu roti, sambol, hoppers, lemon coconut smoothies, and, Chris’ all-time favorite, chocolate coconut roti taste extra delicious when you eat with your hands like the locals do.

The scenery is delightful. For a small island, Sri Lanka’s variety of jungle, safari land, mountains, tea plantations, and beaches was impressive.

Enhancing the delightfulness of all of the above is the fact that everything costs about a quarter of what it does back home.

How We Rate It

Cost:
10
Food:
6
Ease:
5
Friendliness:
9
Safety:
7
Exoticness:
8

Hot Tip:

  • Sri Lanka’s position on this best countries to visit list is endangered, so go before over-Instagrammification of the same cliche photo of travelers dangling from the side Sri Lanka’s super slow scenic train drives its delightfulness to extinction.

The Best Country to Visit for a 7-to-10 Day Road Trip Is…

🇯🇴 Jordan

Maybe Kim and I are biased in saying Jordan is the best country to visit for a 7-to-10 day road trip because that was the first trip we ever did together…

…. but nah.

Objectively:

  • The roads are in pristine condition
  • The country is just the right size to explore without spending all your time in a car (from Amman up north to Aqaba in the far south is only a 4-hour drive)
  • Jordanians are as hospitable as their desert surroundings often isn’t, and,
  • The scenery is out of this world (so much so that Wadi Rum was used as the set of The Martian).

Hot Tips:

  • There’s so much more to Jordan than Petra, which, for us, wasn’t even a top three highlight of our trip. Number one was wandering down a wadi, as pictured above.
  • For a longer, 2-to-4 week road trip, South Africa the best country we know of.

How We Rate It

Cost:
7
Food:
6
Ease:
8
Friendliness:
7
Safety:
8
Exoticness:
7

The Best Country to Visit for Connecting with Nature is…

group shot hiking down from the top of anvil island
Hiking Anvil Island just outside Vancouver on Canada’s West Coast

🇨🇦 Canada

[Full disclosure: We’re proudly Canadian.]

Forget Canada’s cities. They’re better for living in than traveling to.

The real reason to visit Canada is to connect with nature.

There’s a lot to connect to. Our homeland is a big ass place with a lot of trees, gigantic lakes, bigger oceans, mountains, plains, some bears and moose, and not many people.

No matter which part of the country you fly into, you’ll be no more than a two-hour drive away from completely escaping the sprawl of civilization and engaging in a one-on-one meeting with Mother Nature.

Hot Tip:

  • Come during the months just before and after summer, June and September, to avoid huge crowds and huge prices while still enjoying good weather. Or come in the winter to understand why some Canadians (definitely not us) call it their favorite season.

How We Rate It

Cost:
3
Food:
5
Ease:
10
Friendliness:
5
Safety:
9
Exoticness:
4

The Best Country to Visit for A Month-Long Adventure Is…

🇵🇪 Peru

Here’s a somewhat crazy take:

Machu Picchu so overwhelmingly shrouds potential visitor’s impression of Peru that it limits the country’s wider tourism potential.

If Machu Picchu didn’t exist (or hadn’t been discovered), Peru would be famous for so much more:

For its Amazon jungle in the east, for its high-end cuisine in Lima, for its sand dunes to the south, for its surfing beaches in the north, for its Andes mountain ranges in the middle, and for its colorful traditional culture throughout.

Peru’s awesome variety makes it the best country in the world for a month-long backpacking adventure.

You don’t even need to visit Machu Picchu.

How We Rate It

Cost:
7
Food:
8
Ease:
6
Friendliness:
6
Safety:
7
Exoticness:
9

Hot Tips:

  • For a higher-end version of “everything,” go to South Africa, a close runner-up to Peru in terms of having everything.
  • One of my fondest memories of my own month-long Peru trip was floating along the Amazon on a barge from Yurimaguas to Iquitos.

The Best Country to Visit for Eating Is…

el tacoton cdmx eat like a local in mexico city

🇲🇽 Mexico

Other countries arguably have better fine-dining than Mexico, but nobody except royalty exclusively fine-dines when they travel.

Most of the calories us common folk consume while traveling com in the form of informal food.

Taking that into consideration, on an average deliciousness per calorie eaten, Mexico is the best country to visit.

Tropical batidos, fresh ceviche, spicy candies, mouth-watering mole, tacos, tlayudas, tortas… there’s good reason Mexican restaurants can be found all over the world. And the Mexican food tastes even better in Mexico.

The best, actually.

Not the most sophisticated. Not the healthiest. The best.

How We Rate It

Cost:
7
Food:
10
Ease:
8
Friendliness:
8
Safety:
6
Exoticness:
7

Hot Tips:

  • Don’t expect anywhere near the same quality food in neighboring Central American countries. Their food sucks in comparison. Moreover, we wouldn’t recommend visiting any Central American country until you’ve been to Mexico first.
  • Mexico City is our favorite city to visit in the world.
  • Kim will kill me if I don’t mention Japan as a close runner-up for best food.

The Best Country to Visit for a Comfortable Adventure is…

Kim eating grapes at a South African wine farm
Kim couldn’t wait for the grapes to ferment.

🇿🇦 South Africa

Before Kim and I first came to South Africa, we hadn’t heard much hype about it aside from a couple of friends who raved about Cape Town.

Now that we’ve been in the country for four months, we think we know why:

South Africans want to keep it for themselves.

They rather keep the incredibly well-maintained roads empty, not have their views of the incredible scenery marred by others’ heads and selfie sticks, maintain the exclusive feeling of the luxurious wine estates, not scare away all the wildlife, not have all their fynbos wildflowers picked, and always have tables available at their favorite restaurants.

And they want to keep it all affordable, around half the price of what it would cost in Western countries.

How We Rate It

Cost:
6
Food:
7
Ease:
8
Friendliness:
5
Safety:
6
Exoticness:
7

Hot Tips:

  • Safety concerns are definitely the biggest source of discomfort in South Africa, but I also suspect the locals overstate the risk to keep pesky outsiders away. You’ll be fine if you stay out of sketchy areas, don’t walk around dark places at night, and don’t draw undue attention.
  • Instead of doing the Kruger safari + Cape Town combo that 90% of tourists get sucked into, rent a car and explore the country on your own. (But do check out our Kruger Park Safari Tips to see more animals, save money, and improve your experience.)
  • The Garden Route is nice and all (as we share in our 4-part Unearthing the Garden Route Series), but for something different and a broader South African experience, try The Hectic Route between Cape Town and Johannesburg.

The Best Country to Visit in Just a Few Days Is…

Street in Panama City's old town, Casco Viejo
Panama City’s old town, Casco Viejo is worth checking out… briefly.

🇵🇦 Panama

I lived two-and-a-half of the best years of my life in Panama City, Panama.

I loved it and I wish I could say Panama is the best country to visit for all sorts of things, but I can’t. Many other countries have better beaches, more interesting jungles, more exotic cultures, and better (WAY better) food.

What Panama does have going for it is it’s small and tons of flights between North and South America go through it, so I guess it could be the best country to visit and get to know in just a few days.

Spend one day in Panama City eating Panamanian food, another in the surrounding area and visiting the canal, and another day or few on one of the Pacific Beaches or in the Guna Yala (a.k.a. San Blas) or even Bocas del Toro. That’s enough.

How We Rate It

Cost:
5
Food:
2
Ease:
6
Friendliness:
5
Safety:
6
Exoticness:
5

Hot Tips:

  • I highly recommend reading The Path Between the Seas, by David McCullough before you go to get a much deeper appreciation of the Panama Canal and the country as a whole.
  • If crazy Captain Karl is still leading his Jungle Land Panama tours, they’re a fun way to see the canal from a different perspective.
  • Further afield, my favorite weekend getaways were Santa Catalina and Playa Venao.

The Best Country to Visit for First-Time Foreign Travelers Is…

Chris at a Bangkok market in Thailand
Bangkok is exotic but safe and easy, making it the best country for novice travelers to visit.

🇹🇭 Thailand

First-time foreign travelers have a lot to be scared about including language barriers, scams, food sickness, poor internet connection, missing Mommy, and cultural faux-pas.

For them, the best country to visit is one that minimizes those risks while still being exciting and encouraging more travel (and more “risk”) in the future. It adds a dash of spice, but not so much to leave you panting and sweating.

Thailand provides that balance.

Bangkok, in particular, is exotic and spicy, but in a friendly way. The locals are used to dealing with foreigners, they generally speak great English, the prices are low, and the food’s different but familiar. Plus, it’s easy to get to.

And if you get overwhelmed and want to escape and relax, Thailand’s resort beaches and islands are just a short flight away.

How We Rate It

Cost:
8
Food:
9
Ease:
9
Friendliness:
8
Safety:
7
Exoticness:
8

The Best Country to Visit to Understand the World Is…

Kim looking at the Washington Monument from the Old Post Office tower.

🇺🇸 The USA

From movies to music to politics to business, America dominates global culture, whether you like it or not. And that’s exactly why it’s the best country to visit to understand the world.

If you resent America, a visit there will hopefully teach you to at least not hate Americans and find some parts of the country and their culture that you can’t help but admire.

And if you idolize America, a visit there will hopefully help you realize that it’s not all it’s caught up to be and appreciate the many advantages your home country has over it.

Either way, you’ll leave the USA with a different, and hopefully better, understanding of it and therefore the world as a whole.

How We Rate It

Cost:
2
Food:
5
Ease:
10
Friendliness:
5
Safety:
8
Exoticness:
3

Hot Tips:

  • Visit well-known American cities to enhance your appreciation of books, music, movies, and TV shows where they take place. From then on, references to the places in those cities that you visited will bring back fond memories from your trip.
  • Wherever you go, search Facebook groups to connect with and get tips from expats from your home country.

The Best Country to Visit for Getting to Know Locals Is…

rice terraces in banaue philipines the best country for getting to know locals
Even in remote areas like the Banaue rice terraces, Filipinos speak English.

🇵🇭 The Philippines

Generally, the fewer visitors a country receives, the friendlier the locals are. They’re not used to meeting tons of foreigners, so us travelers are as much a novelty to them as they are to us.

In most cases, though, language barriers limit that friendliness to smiles and hand gestures.

Not in the Philippines.

Most Filipinos speak excellent English and most of them aren’t shy to use it to welcome you to their country, which is less overwhelmed with tourists than other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam.

Plus, for whatever reason—all the beautiful island beaches probably help—Filipinos generally have contagiously happy-go-lucky attitudes.

This makes the Philippines the best country to visit to get to know the locals.

How We Rate It

Cost:
8
Food:
1
Ease:
7
Friendliness:
8
Safety:
7
Exoticness:
6

Hot Tips:

  • The Philippines has also got to be the best country in the world for kayaking. There are so many islands to explore and the water’s so crystal clear you can “snorkel” without even putting your face in the water. Consider a multi-day kayaking tour to experience it and escape the crowds.
  • Manila sucks. Spend as little time there as you can.

The Best Country to Visit for a Long Airport Layover Is…

Chris and Kim and the Seoul, Korea airport layover tour group

🇰🇷 South Korea

Ok, we’re not being fair to South Korea here.

Undoubtedly South Korea the best country to visit for more reasons than an airport layover. We just haven’t been there long enough to find out.

Our only experience in South Korea so far has been an awesome 5-hour airport layover tour in Seoul.

They shuttled a group of us downtown in a bus while a (possibly unintentionally) hilarious guide shared all sorts of sometimes culturally insensitive facts, toured us around a castle, fed us, let us wander around town a bit, then brought us back to the airport.

All pretty much for free!

The strategy worked. We really want to visit South Korea now. And we wouldn’t mind another layover in Seoul airport either.

How We Rate It

Cost:
5
Food:
8
Ease:
7
Friendliness:
6
Safety:
9
Exoticness:
7

Hot Tips:

  • Pack something warm if you’re coming through Seoul from Southeast Asia. The layover tour actually gives out jackets, but we were still freezing when we did the tour in January.
  • Taipei, Taiwan may be even better than Seoul for a 24-hour layover. On our way back from Namibia to Vancouver, we spent 24 hours there, ate 24 different foods and only spend $100 all-in.

The Best Country to Visit for ______________ Is…

🏳 You Tell Us!

What countries have you visited and loved and what type of trip would you say they’re the best for?

Even if it’s one of the countries we mentioned, but for a different type of trip, please let us know in the comments below.

If you do, we’d think you’re one of the best readers to visit our site!

The Best Ways to Enjoy the Best Countries to Visit?

The following blog posts can help you enjoy your trip more no matter which country you’re visiting:


Disclosure: Whenever possible, we use special links that earn us a cut if you pay for stuff we'd recommend anyway. It costs you nothing, so we’d be crazy not to.

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13 comments

    1. Indeed! We’re actually considering living there this summer—maybe Spain or Georgia or… well we don’t know yet and are taking suggestions.

  1. You should visit Mendoza, Argentina. I was the last October there and was an incredible experience. You could visit Aconcagua park and the vineyards for drinking some wine.

    I from Colombia, but that place is amazing.

    1. Oooh, that’s a good idea Esneider. We’re actually thinking of spending the next Canadian winter in Brazil and if we do we’d most certainly try to follow your suggestion. Our time here in Cape Town has made us wine-farm-visiting addicts, so the Mendoza area sounds like a good spot for a heavy dose.

  2. Best country to learn a new language, best country for off the beaten path adventure and best country for underwater diving – Indonesia (no, not Bali; that big arhipelago with thousands of islands that almost no one explores, guess most of the backpackers can’t travel without wi-fi)

    1. That’s a really good one, Sandu. Thanks! When we get a couple more suggestions from readers, we’ll add a section to this post with yours and their input.

      I’m curious about why you say Indonesia is the best country to learn a new language. Is that because Indonesian is known to be easy to learn? I do remember reading that somewhere. Or is it because once you get far enough away from Bali you’ve got to learn to get by?

      1. Hey Chris,
        Yes, it’s because the language is fairly simple, it doesn’t have past, present future tenses in the classical way. Time is very relative to the islanders 🙂 the words are not intuitive at all, but once you learn them you don’t have to bother much with sentence structure.
        Also if you want to explore and have a chat with locals you need to learn the language.

  3. Philippines’ food gets a 1? With all possible respect- f*ck you, man. Filipino food rocks, and is a huge part of our culture.

    1. Thanks for chiming in Chrissy. No doubt Filipino food is a huge part of the culture, just as it is in any country, but I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on its quality relative to food in other countries.

  4. USA and Canada both for unique experience? I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong I love both of the countries but the culture is not that different.

    1. You mean the Canadian and US cultures aren’t that different from each other, or they aren’t that different on a global level? In any case, I nominated Canada for its nature, not its culture, which yeah isn’t that exciting. Just friendly. And even if the American culture isn’t that interesting, it’s powerful and not always accurately portrayed abroad, hence my nomination there.

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