Cool Countries to Visit
Google sent me a report showing that people have been finding this website by searching for “coolest countries to visit” and “cool countries to visit” which is funny, because I’ve never before written about the coolest countries to visit. So here you go – a post 100% inspired by what people are searching for!
I should note that the coolest countries to visit are very subjective. Who am I to tell you what’s cool? So I came up with the following criteria:
- It should always get excellent engagement when I post about it on Instagram. People don’t comment on photos of places they’ve seen thousands of people posting from.
- It shouldn’t be among the most popular countries for Americans to travel to. For 2019 those were, in order: Mexico; Canada; UK; Italy; France; the Dominican Republic; Spain; and Germany.
- It can’t be popular to the point of being annoying. For me this is Iceland. I like Iceland, but I think it’s been significantly overhyped by travel bloggers. Its “coolness” stage has passed – unless you’re going just to see the volcano that’s currently erupting. That’s very cool. I’d add Croatia and Costa Rica to this category too – definitely worth seeing, but too popular to be cool anymore.
So in no particular order, here are my ten coolest countries to visit. Feel free to comment below on what you agree or disagree with!
Kenya’s amazing for safaris and for culture. The Maasai Mara is probably my single favorite place in the world to go on safari. And then upping Kenya’s coolness factor is Giraffe Manor. We visited before it was popular on Instagram, and I didn’t go out of my way to take photos for social media, but nevertheless my Giraffe Manor posts have been my most popular. Travel there for everything Kenya has to offer. Spend at least a week or two at different parks. And then add breakfast with giraffes to the end of your trip to make you feel like you were just in one of the coolest countries on earth.
The Faroe Islands
A lot of people still haven’t heard of the Faroe Islands, yet they’re incredibly beautiful and fairly easy to get to, located between Iceland and Scotland and just a short flight from Copenhagen or Reykjavik. While your friends are booking trips to Prague (cool 30 years ago), head to the Faroe Islands instead and post photos of lakes, cliffs, waterfalls, puffins and a stunning coastline.
Istanbul’s amazing, with its sites and its mix of cultures, and Cappadocia is even cooler. I don’t mean the Cappadocia from the photos of breakfast on a rooftop with hot air balloons – that’s become cliched, and a lot of those photos enhance the number and size of the balloons. Skip the sunrise photo shoot and just enjoy the (real) balloons, and then explore the entire area. We loved our canyon hikes and going into cave homes and through the underground cities.
Chile’s incredible no matter where you go, but to be somewhere truly cool, head to Easter Island. Everyone’s seen photos of the giant Moai statues, but how many people do you know who have actually visited? And it’s easy – just fly to Santiago (one of my favorite South American capitals) and then take a five-hour flight out over the Pacific to Easter Island. You can see all of the famous sites in just a day or two, but hang out a little longer and enjoy the Polynesian culture, the beach and the food.
OK, Greenland’s not a country, but it’s the world’s largest island and it’s truly unique, so I’m including it. There are roads, but they’re very local – you can’t travel from city to city via road. You either have to hike, fly or take boats. We did all three, and we slept on sheep farms and in tiny villages, and went kayaking and fishing with icebergs. How many people get to say that they’ve kayaked around icebergs? Definitely one of the coolest places we’ve visited on every level.
I almost didn’t include Japan, since it’s one of Asia’s most popular destinations, but it’s not an easy country to experience – there’s not a lot of English, and Japan doesn’t cater to tourists. To some extent it’s more difficult than places like less-traveled Laos and Cambodia where there’s a large tourism industry of English-speakers and English menus. If you’re willing to dive in and get through any embarrassment and be comfortable with discomfort, you’ll find the cool, from anime to digital art to amazing temples. And if you feel like Tokyo and Kyoto are too popular, head to the more rural areas. Hokkaido’s supposed to be amazing and it’s high on our list to see post-COVID.
It doesn’t get any better than being on a remote island surrounded by turquoise water. Of the three countries we’ve been to that match that description – French Polynesia, the Seychelles and the Maldives – the Maldives are our favorite, and definitely one of the coolest countries to visit. The sea planes (float planes) add a fun/cool element, as do the bicycles at the resorts. At Six Senses Laamu you can ride your bike around the entire island in 15 minutes and then head to the ice cream parlor for unlimited free ice cream. At other resorts like Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani you can have your own waterslide at your overwater villa. Seriously cool.
Every time I post from Vietnam I get comments from people that they still associate the country with the war in the 60s/70s. That’s a shame, because it’s an amazing country with some of the best food in the world. And yes, it’s cool, especially Hue, Hoi An, Hanoi, Sapa and Ha Long Bay. Only 700k Americans were visiting annually pre-COVID, compared to 4 million heading to the UK, and to me it has just as much to offer. Note: I highly recommend against visiting the Golden Bridge – it looks cool in photos, but it’s not, in the middle of a theme park and crowded.
Morocco’s another country that’s popular, but to me it’s still authentic – so close to Europe and so different. The cities are amazing culturally and architecturally, the Atlas Mountains are stunning, and the Sahara is spectacular. Go camping in the desert for several nights – you’ve never seen so many stars – and head out on a camel ride. Plus saying you’re going to Casablanca just sounds cool!
Blog Post: One Week in Morocco with Kids
I almost included Ecuador here, since the Galapagos and cloud forest are seriously cool, but I’m going for Brazil and the Amazon Rainforest instead. I know a lot of people who have visited the Galapagos, but far fewer who have been to the Amazon. Heading down the Rio Negro with my daughter on a boat was one of the best weeks of my life, and she can tell people she’s fished for piranha in the Amazon!
Antarctica’s the definition of cool. Everyone’s heard of it, it’s hard to get to, it’s a winter wonderland for kids and adults alike, and there are penguins and whales everywhere. Still one of my favorite trips ever. Book far in advance – there are only so many ships and there are only a few months every year when you can visit. And take the kids! My 8-year-old loved it.
Blog Post: Antarctica with an 8-Year-Old
What’s the coolest country you’ve been to? What did I get wrong? Let me know! The countries that barely missed this list are Ecuador, India and Norway. And I should note that there are a lot of places on my travel wish list that I expect to be cool, including Iran, Uzbekistan and Namibia. So this list will likely change in the future.