15 Tiny Countries You Never Knew Existed
From island paradises to little lands tucked away in Europe, these small nations are big on scenery and culture.
This nation of hundreds of tiny islands near the Philippines comprises only 177 square miles of land with a population of 21,000. Its varying topography, which ranges from the mountainous main island of Babelthuap to low-lying coral islands, makes it the perfect destination for hiking and off-roading, as well as snorkeling and diving. World War II relics dot the islands both above and below the sea. To protect its ecology, Palau now requires visitors to sign a stamped passport pledge to “tread lightly, act kindly, and explore mindfully.” Palau is also one of the world’s most incredible beauty destinations to add to your bucket list.
Located on China’s coast, Macau is autonomous although technically still a Chinese “special administration region” like its neighbor across the South China Sea, Hong Kong. Its glitzy casinos, hotels, and shows have given Macau the nickname “the Las Vegas of China.” Only about 11 square miles, Macau is also the world’s most densely populated, with 606,000 residents. A former Portuguese colony, Macau retains the charm of its heritage in its historic center, and the fusion between east and west can be seen in everything from the architecture to the cuisine. Not surprisingly, it’s also one of the most popular travel destinations in Asia.
The small South Asian island nation of the Maldives floats in the Indian Ocean south of Sri Lanka. Its 115 square miles of land make it the ninth smallest country in the world. Home to a growing number of luxury resorts, the country is also the world’s lowest, rising to only six feet above sea level, so its priorities have wavered between environmental protection from increasing sea levels and mass tourism. Visitors to the island can (responsibly) explore the islands’ crystal waters and even swim with whale sharks, year-round residents who regularly come to the surface. Just keep a safe distance from these gentle giants. The Maldives features one of the most breathtaking underwater hotels around the world.
Not to be confused with nearby Slovakia, this little county in central Europe is one of the continent’s best-kept secrets. Part of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia has been an independent nation since just 1991. It’s the largest country on our list, but still only the 45th smallest nation in the world—and most people have never heard of it. From snowy mountains to aqua-colored rivers to charming castles, it features spectacular, off-the-beaten-track destinations.
We’re back to the South Pacific for our final tiny country, the 277-square mile islands of Tonga, near Fiji. The only remaining monarchy in the Pacific, the country is unique in the region for never totally losing its indigenous government, and many cultural traditions remain today. Known as the “Friendly Islands,” Tonga and its population of 106,000 are welcoming. Visitors to Tonga will discover an authentic Polynesian experience along with active volcanoes, “fishing pigs” (yep, these feral porkers actually catch fish), migrating humpback whales, and truly incredible beaches. Don’t miss these other secret island escapes around the world.