1. Cape Verde
Located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of West Africa, Cape Verde is a series of islands and part of the Macaronesia region. With few natural resources, ruinous famines in the past, rugged mountainous terrain in all except three of its islands, and isolation from most countries, Cape Verde doesn’t seem like it would top any travel list. But it does; search interest has risen a whopping 3,000 percent in 12 years, and for good reason. The standard of living here is among the highest in the continent, and Cape Verde boasts of a liberal, stable government. The rugged peaks, green valleys, peaceful villages and pristine beaches add to its charm.
Coming in at number two is a country you would’ve seen in countless other lists: the United Arab Emirates. The federation of seven emirates make up a small but important portion in the east of the Arabian peninsula, right at the entrance of the Persian Gulf. Most of its cities have, quite literally, risen from the sands. Dubai is a mind-bending mix of skyscrapers, malls, ski slopes, beach resorts and world records. And that’s just one of the emirates. Each emirate is nearly independent and has its own character and culture to explore.
Third-ranked Philippines is a southeast Asian country with more than 7,000 islands, stretching from the Philippine Sea to the South China Sea. Naturally, beaches are the most popular aspect of this country. There are plenty of islands for every kind of beach bum, from volcanic ones to long stretches of soft sand to hidden lagoons and the rare pink sand beaches. This is also the largest Catholic country in the world, but on the streets you’ll find a smorgasbord of cultures and foreign influences, impacting everything from the food to the arts.
Surprisingly, our next-door neighbor, Pakistan, comes in at number four. The country enjoys a geographic position right at the crossroads of South, East and Central Asia, surrounded by Afghanistan, Iran, China and yours truly, India. Historically and strategically, it lies along the ancient Bolan and Khyber pass trade routes between Southern and South-Central Asia. It has its political difficulties, to put it mildly, but it is still pretty welcoming to explorers and adventurers from around the world. Its Karakoram mountains are a big draw, arguably its biggest, as is it history that runs in tandem with that of India.
Next up in this unlikely list of most searched destinations is Nigeria, the West African nation that is the most populous in the continent. It is also the largest economy and oil producer in Africa. It is an economical and political powerhouse, and its capital city of Lagos is increasingly on par with other international centers when it comes to arts, leisure and luxury. The rest of Nigeria still has plenty of unpolished edges. Ethnic tension, terrorist activities and lawlessness in Central and Northern Nigeria make the country a dangerous prospect for travelers today.
Right at the southern end of the Arabian peninsula, Yemen has an incredible history. It was the home of the Queen of Sheba, a state that flourished for a thousand years. But despite its rich history and heritage, it has long been the poorest Middle Eastern country. Recent years have seen significant unrest, and even now a civil war rages on. For this reason, Yemen shouldn’t be in your list of travel destinations for the time being.
The peninsular country of Qatar penetrates into the Persian Gulf, surrounded by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Another Middle East miracle nation, Qatar like UAE has risen from the desert thanks to the oil boom. The small country has grown tremendously, and today it offers a nice blend of desert charm and modern-day luxuries. You can go dune-bashing, practice some falconry, relax in a dhow with the Doha skyline on the horizon, or head to the posh clubs and restaurants and hotels of the capital city.
Number eight is Bangladesh, our eastern neighbor that borders the Bay of Bengal and Myanmar. With verdant deltas and rivers running through the country, Bangladesh has a blessed geography. And its culture is equally rich, with warm-hearted folks welcoming travelers around the world. But it is a country where you would come to escape the luxuries rather than bask in them, with a largely unorganized tourist industry. The capital city of Dhaka is busy and full of life, and the Sundarbans down south are an ecological gem. And if you find yourself seeking some solace, take a boat and float down the river.
We move back to the Middle East once more, this time to the country of Kuwait right at the start of Persian Gulf. As such, it has been the home of some of the most ancient civilizations in the world. It hasn’t risen to the limelight as much as other Gulf countries mentioned here, but that just makes it stand out from the rest. The souks and narrow alleyways remain largely authentic, untouched by the need to align to global tastes. You’ll also find fewer travelers here, making it easier to blend in and discover the culture on your own. Plus, there are the usual tourist attractions: bustling restaurants, sandy beaches and some great museums.
Finally, at number ten, we have the Sultanate of Oman right at the southeast tip of the Arabian peninsula. Like Kuwait, Oman too offers travelers the chance to experience Arab culture without the coating of commercialization and opulence found in, say, Dubai or Doha or Abu Dhabi. It is what it is over here, with all of Oman’s rich heritage and ancient cultures open for all to see. Its towns, spread far and low, offer a taste of a culture evolved gradually from the time of the Bedouins. Its people are warm, and Oman is blessed with incredible natural beauty, with a long coastline, expansive deserts and curving, twisting mountains.