People often ask me about my favourite country or favourite countries. This is not an easy question to answer. Countries in Africa are so different to countries in Asia. Countries in South America are so different to countries in Europe. I’ve had such different experiences in all of them. How can I possibly weigh up my experiences and come up with just a single favourite country?
What I have done instead, my compromise, is to come up with a favourite country per continent, and mention a few worthy contenders.
NOTE: This is my list of favourite countries so far. I might need to update this from time to time.
Why? The mind-bending Takstang Monastery. The masterpiece of architecture that is Punaka Dzong. The charming capital Thimpu. A tiny realm hidden away in the Himalayas doggedly clinging to their traditions. A visit to Bhutan is a step back in time, a trip to another era, to a lost world; the closest you’ll ever get to Xanadu, Shambhala, Shangri-La.
Iran: the engineering marvel of Shushtar, the royal tombs of Naqsh-e Rustam, the tomb of Cyrus the Great, Persepolis, the Zoroastrian sanctuary of Takht-e Soleyman, the inscriptions of Darius the Great at Bisotun, the ziggurat Chogha Zanbil; the cities of Isfahan, Yazd, and Shiraz;
Uzbekistan: the capital of the Timurid Empire Samarkand, the silk road cities of Bukhara and Khiva, the unrivalled Kalyan Minaret, the tomb of Timur Gur-e Amir, the capital of Qaraqalpaqstan Nukus, the Zoroastrian tower of the dead Chilpik;
Continent: North America
Why? Teotihuacan. Oaxaca. The cenotes (X’keken and Samulá). The archaeological sites left behind by the Mayans, such as that found at Uxmal. Chichen Itza. The cuisine (the soft tacos in particular). The beaches. The colonial architecture found in Campeche and Valladolid. The warm, friendly people.
Canada: Québec City, the Gaspésie, Nova Scotia;
Continent: Central America
Belize: diving the Blue Hole, Caye Caulker, ATM Cave;
Continent: South America
Why? The Andes. The Amazon. Cycling the World’s Most Dangerous Road from the Andes into the Amazon. The silver mines of Potosí. Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca. La Paz. The salt flats of Salar de Uyuni. The 4WD trip between Uyuni and the Atacama Desert in Chile.
Why? The Ottoman settlements of Berat and Gjirokastër. Illyrian, Greek, and Roman archaeological sites. The least European country in Europe (is that why I like it most? Europe is a little too developed for my liking). Albania was closed to the world during the reign of Enver Hoxha, and tourism is still only in its infancy.
Georgia: the watchtowers of Ushguli and Mestia, the wine-growing district of Telavi, the Black Sea coast at Batumi, birthplace of Stalin: Gori, Kutaisi and its historic cathedrals, the cave cities of Uplistsikhe and Vardzia
Slovakia: The High Tatras mountains looming over Poprad, exploring Spiš Castle where they filmed Dragonheart, the romantic Bojnice Castle, the historic city of Trenčín, the under-rated capital Bratislava;
Why? The rock-cut churches of Lalibela. The castles of Gondar. The Simien Mountains and the Gelada. And so many other places whose existence I only learnt of when I entered Ethiopia, and to which I need to return to one day.
NOTE: Africa is the continent I’ve seen the least of to date, meaning my sample set is the weakest.
Winner: Easter Island
Why? The enigmatic moai. The Quarry archaeological site. The Birdman cult. Rano Raraku. The most remotely populated place on Earth.
Saipan: snorkelling around WWII Sherman tanks at Kilili Beach, the suicide cliffs, the Grotto dive;
Tonga: Eua Island, whale watching, Mapu’