Not all countries in the world have the same attitude when it comes to tourism. Some governments make getting a visa such a protracted experience that only the most die-hard travellers can be bothered. From drawn-out applications to geographical impracticalities, these are some of the hardest places to visit in the world.
The world’s most secretive country welcomed just 100,000 visitors in 2016 and deported a fair few for perceived transgressions against the state. In North Korea you’re not allowed to travel independently and must be accompanied by a guide from one of Pyongyang’s three state-approved tour operators. You may be surprised to hear that acquiring a tourist visa for North Korea isn’t too tricky (although it does take six to eight weeks to arrive), but you’re limited to a pre-planned itinerary once you’re there.
Before 1974, people were unable to visit the Kingdom of Bhutan. Mountainous Tibet to the north and the dense jungles of West Bengal to the south made it very inaccessible. Today there are two airlines that fly to and from Bhutan (Drukair and Bhutan Airlines) and the roads have been drastically improved if you’re travelling by car. However, you will need to pay for your trip in advance – not just the plane ticket but an all-inclusive package through a Bhutanese travel agent.
In order to reach the unspoiled beauty of Kiribati you have to make a series of connections through other equally remote Pacific islands. According to seasoned travellers you have to begin your journey from either Fiji, Honolulu, Brisbane, Manila or Taipei and hop across a number of islands in progressively smaller planes and airports until your reach Kiribati. Entering Kiribati isn’t easy either unless you’re from one of the 60 countries that are allowed to pay for a visa on arrival, otherwise you’ll have to apply for a tourist visa at one of Kiribati’s few foreign consulates. The UK consulate is conveniently located in the small village of Llanddewi Rhydderch in Wales.
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The island of Nauru has courted controversy over the last few years as the site of Australia’s notorious refugee detention centre. There’s only one airline that flies to Nauru, Air Nauru, and only embassies and consulates in 10 other countries including Australia, Fiji, Taiwan and Thailand.
The world’s largest country isn’t that hard to visit but does require plenty of forward planning. You’ll need an invitation, which can usually be arranged through the hotel you’re staying at. It can also take some time for the visa to arrive and don’t be surprised if your application is given even further scrutiny on landing. A useful tip to remember is that you don’t need a tourist visa if you’re staying for under 72 hours and arriving by cruise ship or ferry.
Like Russia and many of the other former Soviet countries you’ll need a letter of invitation before applying for a visa. Again – this can usually be obtained from a hotel or tour operator but it’s another step in the process that no doubt dissuades countless visitors from visiting. You’ll also have to clear any stay exceeding three days with the local department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
You’ll need to be accompanied by a guide for the duration of your stay in Turkmenistan. While this isn’t too expensive, it’s an unwelcome cost for any traveller, however there are ways around it. If you’re arriving by car or bike through another country you can apply for a transit, as opposed to tourist, visa and explore the country without an official chaperone. That being said, in such a complex country as Turkmenistan having someone there to explain everything isn’t a bad thing.
Somalia has struggled with internal conflicts for many years and while the governments of most countries (including the United Kingdom and United States) warn against all but essential travelling, visiting is a possibility. A Somalian embassy recently opened in America, but seasoned travellers advise using the one in Turkey and flying via Turkish Airlines.
Like Somalia, most foreign offices warn against travelling to Libya, but it is not impossible to visit. Libya’s land borders with Algeria, Niger, Sudan and Chad are closed to non-Africans so you’ll need to enter via Egypt. There are no direct flights to Libya from either the UK or US, but Afriqiyah Airways flies from Istanbul to Tripoli or you could take a connecting flight through Tunis. The ancient Roman ruins of Leptis Magna (approximately 80 miles east of Tripoli) are meant to be stunning.
This is a country many avoid because of state-oppression and a terrible record of human rights abuses. The hostility towards its own people extends to visitors and as a result Equatorial Guinea is a very difficult place to enter, unless you’re American. Bizarrely United States citizens are the only foreigners in the world who don’t require a visa. Once there, getting around can be hard and the hotels are expensive when compared to neighbouring countries.
The visa process for Angola can take several weeks so apply with plenty of time to spare before you visit. Many seasoned travellers are drawn to Angola simply because it’s so hard to get to. You’ll need a formal letter of invitation and proof of a prepaid hotel – and that’s before you even know whether or not you’re allowed to visit.