Which are the best countries in the world to visit?

Given my travel history, I regularly get asked which is my favourite country in the world….. Honestly, that’s easy. New Zealand every time!

However, I do have a list of places that I highly recommend, many of which I  would go back to (or have gone back to) over and over again. Here it is:

Note – I wrote this in 2018, and it is far to say that Sudan, Mali, Afghanistan and parts of Ethiopia now are more off limits, so obviously do your homework before booking.   I also should have probably included India, which I have spent most of the last six months visiting and loved every minute of it.  It isn’t for everyone, and some parts are overrun by tourists, but the incredible food, diversity of sites and the warmth of the locals is unrivalled.  (9 recent blog posts here, and one upcoming trip planned to Ladakh)

Africa highlights

1. Mali

I totally lost my heart to Mali. Hiking in the Dogon was one of the highlights of my life. No hot water or showers, few cold drinks, filtering my drinking water from the wells, sleeping on grubby sheetless mattresses in the dusty wind on the roof of the chiefs house in every village, and dinner of gritty couscous and mystery meat most nights. I went in summer and sweltered doing 30k hiking days in 40 degree heat for six days (we had to lie down on the shade from 11-3 every day). I would recommend going in December when it’s cooler. But I loved it!!!! The scenery in the Dogon is amazing, the welcome incredibly warm and the history was fascinating. (Djenne was lovely too) I can’t recommend it highly enough

Blog posts here

Djenne mud mosque
Djenne market
Yougoudougourou Dogon

2. Ethiopia

I am torn on Ethiopia. Addis is a crap hole full of touts. And there are more and more busloads of Italian tourists. And whenever you stop to pee, anywhere in the country, you will be surrounded by kids while your pants are down asking for a pen or a sweet. However, there is nothing like going to Bet Giorgis in Lalibela at dawn for the services, or climbing up to the ancient monasteries in the Gheralta (although some are men only, like Debre Damo). I loved it, and have developed a real love for Injera. I have been back several times, most recently early this year.  Blog posts here

Hubby’s photos here.

Yemrehanna Kristos
Woman worshiping at Bet Giorgis (not allowed inside)
Church Guardian
Bet Giorgis

3. Namibia

Sossusvlei alone merits a visit to Namibia. Big red dunes, amazing old trees, and stunning sunrises – if you have extra cash take a balloon ride at dawn. With more time, you can fly up the skeleton coast, cruise around Windhoek (which wins my vote for the most zen capital in Africa), and go on safari in Etosha. Originally colonised by the Germans, the efficiency and organisation remains!

Dead vlei
Desert flowers


4. Myanmar

We went before it got touristy (luckily we did the same in Cambodia). I hope it still retains its charm. Getting up early to see the monks collect alms, watching the sun set over what seems like hundreds of miles of temples, and spending time with very friendly locals. You do need to offset that against a truly oppressive political regime.

hubby’s photos from his recent trip here

Monks going for morning alms
temples in bagan
happy monks


5. Bolivia

The first off the beaten track place I went in South America 20 years ago. It was a lifetime highlight, cycling from La Paz down the death road to Coroico, seeing a black jaguar swimming across the amazon while I was in the rainforest, freezing my butt off at 4,800m while being amazed by the salt plains in Uyuni, and horse riding in the footsteps of the Sundance kid in Tupiza. Often overlooked for neighbouring Peru, I would take Bolivia every time, even when I remember the 24 hours I spent lying on the bathroom floor in La Paz with altitude sickness barfing into a less than clean loo. I recently revisited with the husband, and there were a lot more tourists but it was still amazing

blog post here

hubby’s photos here

Cholita La Paz Salar de Uyuni

Laguna Colorado

Laguna Blanca

Cholita La Paz

Europe/Middle East

6. Georgia

Tbilisi is a trip, great food (Khinkhali and kachapuri) and some terrific architecture. But the joys of Georgia can be found out of town. Apparently it has changed since I went and there are now some posh hotels, but I have amazing memories of hiking in the Kazbeg and loving the locals in their skodas. I also enjoyed David gareji – the ancient monastery. It’s safe, friendly and stunning.  Note we revisited Tbilisi in 2023 and had a fabulous time

Tsminda Sameba
Ananuri Fortress
Bustling metropolis of Kazbeg
Old town architecture Tbilisi
The new Tsminda Sameba in Tbilisi

7. Uzbekistan

Ok it has a totalitarian dictatorship and the food isn’t amazing (plov!). However, the Silk Road architecture is incredible – Khiva, Samarkand, Bukhara. I have been three times and will go again. The first time I went there, ten years ago, there were no tourists to be seen. Last time there were busloads. Try to go off season but pack warm clothes

my husband went recently and took some amazing photos. link here

Tomb of Tajikistan’s most loved son
Chor Minaret – Bukhara

The Minaret late afternoon – Bukhara

8. Afghanistan

It’s little visited and had a horrendous war torn history but the mosque in Herat and the shrine in mazar are breathtaking. The people are amazing! Hubby and I both loved it, and I can’t wait to go back to Bamian.

blog posts here 

hubby’s photo’s here

Kabul Sakhi Tomb Kabul Playground Kabul Friday Mosque Herat Circus school Kabul Hubby at hazrat Ali shrine Hazrat Ali Shrine Mazar i sharif

For a splurge

9. Botswana

For eye watering sums of money, in my view, there is no better place to see big game. You might find leopards more easily in Kenya, but within ten minutes you will be surrounded by other vans bursting with camera toting tourists. Find a leopard in Botswana and chances are you will have it all to yourself. We went top end and stayed at Mombo, and I don’t want to remember what we paid but it was worth it. Flying in the tiny planes between camps, and scanning the runway for elephants before you land also created memories for a lifetime.

Job done!
The baboon tree viewing gallery

Elephants in the Okavango

10. Bhutan

Expensive but worth it! I saved Bhutan for country 182. I spent more in one day in Bhutan than I did in a month of over-landing on a truck in west Africa the year before. I tried not to think about the cost too much and just enjoyed every minute. A highlight of my travels – the most astoundingly friendly people, a culture which is cherished and preserved, and obsession with improving gross national happiness rather than GDP. Add that to outstanding landscapes and stunning monasteries with great hiking and it is my perfect travel destination. And for my husband – the five star hotels with world class food were a big draw! Save up and go!

blog posts here

Tigers Nest Monastery
Archery in Paro
Monks in Punakha Dzong
Paro Dzong

Off the beaten track countries I wouldn’t go back to, but are definitely worth a visit

11. North Korea

Ok this is a controversial one as the oppression is horrendous. However, I can think of few other places as unusual and where you are so tightly scrutinised! The questions the guide asked me made it obvious they had investigated me before arrival. So, the sights aren’t great shakes, you will get heartily sick of the propoganda and bullshit, and you will struggle not to pee your pants laughing when you hear about how the ‘great leader’ solved all the worlds problems. Recommended if you want to see what life without freedom looks like, it’ll make you thankful for whatever your political system is at home.

blog posts here

Pyongyang metro

12. Eritrea

Very hard to get into, and hard to get around without lots of paperwork, but worth it. For any Art Deco fan, the architecture in Asmara is worth making the trip. The coffee is good, the donuts better! Tourists are so rare that you will be warmly welcomed by everyone you meet, and I found it difficult to pay for my coffee at any cafe.

blog posts here

Bowling alley
Famous fiat garage

13. Yap, Micronesia

Ok it’s blimmen hard to get to (and united just made it harder by cancelling the weekly flight) and you aren’t allowed on any of the beaches without the local chiefs permission. And yes you have to carry a leaf when you wander around the island to demonstrate you are not a threat. And women aren’t allowed to wear shorts. And if you want to go to the national festival you have to go in local costume (that means topless!). But Yap has a charm that I rarely found elsewhere, largely because of its isolation. The stone money and paths are amazing. If you are a diver, apparently the manta rays are extraordinary. And I also suspect the excellent Oceania hotel I stayed in in Colonia made all the difference. However the Chinese government had just started big net fishing on their reefs, so I hope their idyllic lifestyle survives.

blog post here

Ancient stone paths
Meeting house and stone money
Stone money
Meeting house

13. Sudan

Far more interesting than its Egyptian neighbour, Sudan has the stunning pyramids at Meroe, the nile, the lion temple at Naqa and the whirling dervishes at Omdurman. It’s hard to get into, completely corrupt and you can’t get cash when you are there. But the entrepreneurial Greek brothers at the acropole hotel (a Khartoum legend) can sort you out.

Women at Omdurman during the Friday service for the whirling dervishes
Meroe pyramids
Meroe pyramids
Meroe pyramids
Naqa Lion Temple

14. DRC

a terrific place to see gorillas, and support the conservation of them.  its cheaper and less touristy than Rwanda, so you might well have the whole family of gorillas to yourself.  And while you are there you can climb Nyiragongo.  Its easy to get to Goma through Rwanda and you can book everything direct with virunga.org

blog posts here


It’s hard not to keep adding countries, as I have had wonderful experiences at most places in the world (largely as a result of the people I meet), so just because I didn’t put it on this list, doesn’t mean I didnt love it.  Honestly, I love France so much, I made it my second home, and everyone should go there, but I reckon most people will go there without my recommendation.   I also love a tonne of other places, too numerous to list. 

I also don’t think my list is for everyone, it’s entirely subjective and solely my opinion. No gripes if you don’t agree, just write your own list!

Happy trails!

The gates of hell

May 4, Nyiragongo Summit Shelters – Democratic Republic of Congo

After a relaxing couple of nights doing precisely nada at Mikeno lodge in the heart of the Virunga National Park, we roused ourselves early this morning to prep our gear for the climb up Nyiragongo summit (3470m), home of Africa’s largest lava lake.  The volcano last erupted in 2002, wiping out a significant portion of the nearby town of Goma as well as killing all of the tourists who were camping at the summit.  Apparently things have improved since then and there are now volcano experts monitoring the situation so we shouldn’t expect an eruption overnight.

We met our hiking fellows, the wonderful Alexei, Sergei and Dimitri from Moscow (who had all left their ladies at home), and the amazing Heather and sardonic Billy from San Francisco (more about them later).    And of course, our whole troup of rangers, guides, cooks and porters who were going to accompany us to the top.  Steph and I felt a bit low key as we only had a cook and one porter (as while we carried all our own gear, I didn’t want to carry the extra 8kg of water we needed), whereas our Russian colleagues were fully prepped with a support crew of five.

Our hiking companions…. and the 25 staff couldn’t fit in the picture

The climb was actually pretty easy (relative to my recent Ironman training). We ascended 1600 metres over 8km with some steep, rocky and muddy sections,  with the DRC rain storms pelting down on us for the last two hours.   Dear hubby had a rough time of it, as he was hit by a bout of altitude sickness relatively early on, with fluid on the lungs, a fever and a pounding headache.  He soldiered on like a good stubborn french man, and the fantastic Heather (conveniently an ER doctor) dosed him with some diomax, and we all eventually made it to the top, albeit with frozen fingers.  The view at this point was non existent, and we were surrounded by pea soup fog, so we were all crossing those frozen fingers hoping that the fog would clear so we could see the lava lake.

Our glamorous accommodations for the evening were small huts with comfy plastic mattresses, and an extremely luxurious outdoor loo with an epic vista over lake kiva (or at least out into the fog…. yes that is the roof of the loo you can see down the slope in the mist).

the long drop with a foggy view

Unfortunately reaching said loo required scrambling down a step rock face holding onto a rope, so most of us figured out how to discreetly pee between the huts.  The wonderful Joshua (our deeply christian and delightful chef) warmed us up with homemade biscuits and coffee, and then whipped up a three course meal of soup, chicken and veg, and cake around the fire.  He even decided to feed Heather as he felt sad that she had only bought some sandwiches with her.   The fog finally cleared by the time we finished dinner, so we all sat by the crater edge checking out the view until we were too cold to stand it anymore.   We were collectively proud of the sardonic Billy for making it out of his hut and sleeping bag to check out the lake….. he was so cold at one point, he told Heather that he would be happy checking out the pictures on wikipedia and youtube when he got home  (he wins my prize for the driest sense of humour I have ever found in an American).

the largest lava lake in the world

After a huge breakfast at 6am the next day, we ambled back down.  I won the award for falling on my butt the most, in spite of having two hiking poles rather than the single wooden sticks which everyone else had.   It was sunny the whole way, and the porters were all clearly keen for a drink as we only stopped twice for ten minutes each.    It was definitely worth the trip, though next time I would take even more wet weather and cold weather gear!!!!

Am pretty sure I am talking some nonsense given the expressions of my companions
Am pretty sure I am talking some nonsense given the expressions of my companions

Note I found out a few days later from a guy at the British embassy in Kinshasa that they don’t advise anyone to climb the volcano – not because of the danger from the volcano, but the likelihood of being kidnapped on the road between Goma and Kibati.  We had no problems, as we had booked direct with visitvirunga.org and were accompanied on all road trips with armed (but friendly) rangers.  If you are interested in checking out Virunga, it is worth checking out the film Virunga on netflix

Gorillas in the mist, rain and thunder

May 1, Bukima Tented Camp, DRC

After a damp cold night at a tented camp at 2400m where hubby and I were the only guests, it was lovely to wake up this morning to a perfect view of Mikeno and Nyiragongo out across the farmlands in the Congo.

View from Bukima

We shared our breakfast with Jacques the mouse catching cat and then headed off for the 8am briefing.  About an hour and a half later, some faffing about the lack of permit documents, a bit of back and forth on what gorilla group we were going to go visit,  the briefing commenced.   5 minutes later we were off, with two rangers (toting the rustiest guns I have ever seen), and two UN workers who have been living in Goma and weren’t exactly the fittest couple we had ever met, so it took us an hour to reach the park boundary.

Mandatory facemasks were donned, and our trusty rangers hacked away lots of the foliage so we could have an amazing 60 minutes hanging out with the gorillas.  The highlight was watching these two little gorillas play energetically, while the rest of the family were snoozing, eating bugs off of each other, and licking their armpits (amazing to think of licking your own armpits).   The hour passes in about 5 minutes, and hubby and I took 300 pictures.   The rain thankfully held off until we had done and then the skies opened up!!!

contemplating life
having a snooze
how delightful to be able to scratch your face with your toes!

After some warming coffee we were treated to a free African massage on the hour long ride from Bukima to Mikeno lodge bouncing up and down in the 4wd.  The national highway in the DRC is a fantastic example of infrastructure development!! (yes this is national highway no.2)

National Highway No. 2

Note – if you come, please tip generously.  Rangers and trackers do a huge amount to support the gorillas and any money you give to them (and indirectly their families and communities) reinforces the value of preserving the gorillas and the national park.   On occasions like this, I tip often.   If in doubt, give more.  As my darling hubby always says, whether we give $10 or $20 makes no difference to us, but makes a huge difference to the recipient.   Being a ranger in the national park is a high risk occupation! see article on  rangers killed! We tipped $25 to each ranger and $25 to each tracker