Every country in the world has something to offer—think local cuisine, groundbreaking architecture, and much, much more. But beauty is a hard thing to quantify, which is why we let the World Economic Forum do much of the work for us: Every year, the foundation releases their Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report, a survey that ranks the world’s countries based on various factors, from safety to life expectancy—and yes, even natural resources. The latter takes into consideration details like total animal species, a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, and “attractiveness of natural assets”—and 2019’s results are as stunning as ever.
These countries offer a plethora of natural and human-made sights that are only captivating. Whether you’re drawn in by rolling countryside, unspoiled islands or soaring mountain peaks, there’s sure to be a country in this list that you’ll fall in love with.
1# Costa Rica
It’s easy to sink into the pura vida (pure life) when you’re surrounded by misty waterfalls, deserted beaches, and protected jungles. In fact, more than a quarter of Costa Rica enjoys some form of environmental protection. Cocos Island National Park, the only island in the eastern Pacific with a rainforest, is a world-class diving destination replete with hammerhead sharks, giant manta rays, sea turtles, and dolphins. La Amistad National Park is another uniquely diverse site, with cloud forests, glacial valleys, and a rare tropical alpine grassland (say that five times fast). It’s also home to Cerro Chirripó, the highest mountain in Costa Rica.
2# New Zealand
New Zealand is no stranger to breathtaking landscapes, with towering mountains, turquoise lakes, and more than 9,000 miles of windswept shores. Just look towards the resplendent fields of pink and purple lupins at Lake Tekapo; or Milford Sound, a mountainous fjord where you can live out all of your Lord of the Rings fantasies. The splendor also extends below the surface to the Waitomo glowworm caves (leave it to New Zealand to make even worms look beautiful).
Switzerland flaunts several breathtaking sceneries and natural surroundings that make it one of the most beautiful countries in the world. From urban cities like Zurich and Geneva to lakeside towns of Montreux and Vevey, Switzerland won’t leave a chance to mesmerize you completely. The tall mountains, vivid wilderness, and pristine lakes of this country deserve international attention. It won’t come as a surprise that Switzerland welcomes lakhs of tourists from across the world every year.
Aside from its world-class beaches (like Playa de Las Catedrales in Galicia, pictured), Spain is home to 15 national parks, including five in the Canary and Balearic Islands. Doñana National Park is home to five threatened bird species, plus scenic marshes and sand dunes. Teide National Park has the tallest mountain in the country (Mount Teide) and third-tallest volcanic structure in the world (Pico Viejo).
Home to 67 national parks, more than 5,000 miles of coastline, and landscapes ranging from deserts to snow-capped volcanoes, Mexico ranks high on this list for a reason. The state of Oaxaca lays claim to wild, crowd-free beaches and Hierve el Agua, a set of natural rock formations and mineral springs. Down in the southern state of Chiapas, the Sumidero Canyon astounds with 3,000-foot cliff walls, caves, and waterfalls. Mexico also takes great lengths to protect its wildlife: the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve northwest of Mexico City welcomes millions of butterflies every autumn, while the whale sanctuary in El Vizcaino is an important reproduction site for grey and blue whales.
Australia’s natural beauty is unrivaled—from the Great Barrier Reef to the wild isolation of the Outback to the Winelands of Victoria. Witnessing the majesty of Uluru should be on every traveler’s bucket list, whether viewed from above by helicopter or from a distance at ground level during the technicolor sunset. Another must-see? Tasmania. The island state’s mountain wilderness and a pristine coastline are remarkably beautiful.
Greece may be best known for the architecture of Athens and coastal scenes of Santorini, but there’s a lot more to the country than its immediate associations. Each of the 6,000+ islands and islets offers swoon-worthy vistas, from the cliff-lined beaches of Zakynthos to the epic sunrises in Mykonos. Not a beach bum? Pay a visit to Epirus, the mountainous, forest-filled region in northwestern Greece.
There are plenty of reasons to head to Kenya, and we’re not just talking about its bevy of resorts and safari camps. The Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley is the ultimate place for wildlife spotting, with cheetahs, giraffes, black rhinos, and some of the highest bird diversities in the world. Mount Kenya is the second highest peak (after Kilimanjaro) and one of the most impressive landscapes in Africa, with glacial lakes and forested slopes.
The number of foreign visitors to Thailand has doubled in the past ten years, and it’s easy to understand why. There are literally hundreds of islands offering something for every type of traveler, whether it’s the lush jungles of Ko Kut or the crystal-clear diving waters of Ko Tao. To catch sight of wild elephants and tigers, dramatic waterfalls, and some of the world’s oldest rainforests, venture inland to the wondrous Khao Sok National Park.
There are more than 7,000 islands in the Philippines, and they easily number among the most beautiful in the world. The Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan encompasses mangrove forests, one of the world’s most impressive cave systems, and an underground river. The Chocolate Hills of Bohol Island consists of an estimated 1,776 grass-covered domes that are mysteriously uniform in shape. The rice terraces of both Banaue and the Philippine Cordilleras provide panoramic views of every shade of green imaginable.
Poised between the Balkans and central Europe, Croatia is a land of limestone caves, undulating fields, and white pebble beaches. The country’s most famous waters are found inland at the Plitvice Lakes National Park, a system of waterfalls, caves, and 16 terraced lakes that cover the entire blue-green color spectrum. The Adriatic Sea coast is truly unrivaled, speckled with more than 1,000 islands surrounded by impossibly clear water. The Dinaric Alps provide even more sublime views and help contribute to Croatia’s overall landscape—the craggy peaks and caverns near the coast transition to rolling farmland in the northeast Hrvatsko Zagorje region.
The poet Lord Byron once called Montenegro’s Adriatic coastline “the most beautiful encounter between land and sea”—and we tend to agree. The entire country has a population roughly the size of Stockholm’s, but it more than makes up for its small size in unadulterated stretches of sand, surf, and green spaces. The curving Bay of Kotor is a mash-up of Lake Como and Norway’s fjords and is dotted with ancient Turkish and Greek settlements and UNESCO World Heritage sites. Further inland, Biogradska Gora National Park is home to one of Europe’s three remaining virgin forests, which have mature ecosystems as a result of being more or less untouched by man. Visit now, before everyone else starts to catch on.
There is no shortage of grandeur in Brail, whether you’re standing below the horseshoe-shaped falls of Iguaçu, kayaking through the incomparable Amazon, or looking out from the peak of Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro. Fernando de Noronha, an archipelago off the northeast coast, features some of the best beaches in the country. Lençóis Maranhenses National Park boasts blindingly white sand dunes juxtaposed against turquoise lagoons. Then there’s the biodiversity—the greatest biodiversity on the planet, to be exact. It’s not uncommon to spot jaguars, spider monkeys, piranhas, giant water lilies, and mangroves (among several other million species).
Machu Picchu’s panoramic views and mysterious stone walls are worth a plane ticket to Peru alone, but the country has more to offer than just Incan ruins. The Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world, is known for its terraced agriculture and epic birdwatching (find everything from flamingos to giant hummingbirds here). The Paracas Natural Reserve (an easy day trip from Lima) is another ecologically rich area, where Humboldt penguins waddle freely on red sand beaches. And don’t forget about the shimmering, deep blue waters of Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia.
15# Sri Lanka
It’s been just over a decade since the end of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war, but the country has bounced back to become one of the most favorite travel destinations, complete with rambling temple ruins, leafy tea plantations, and wide, golden beaches. Animal lovers should take particular note, as the country has tons of options for wildlife viewing. Both Udawalawe National Park and Gal Oya National Park contain hundreds of elephants, while Yala National Park is home to the world’s highest concentration of leopards. And tea lovers, this advice is for you: Base yourself at Thotalagala, a seven-suite hotel near Dambatenne, the world’s most famous tea estate, planted in 1890 by Sir Thomas Lipton (yes, that Lipton).
Japan is at once serene and exhilarating, ancient and unexpected. The subtropical Ogasawara Islands offer pristine beaches, exceptional snorkeling and whale watching, and forests packed with 195 endangered bird species. Solitary Mount Fuji is the country’s most iconic landmark, rising above villages and reflecting on lakes’ surfaces. Even the cities here are bursting with natural beauty: see Kyoto’s scattering of cherry blossoms and Arashiyama bamboo forest or the calm, grassy parks of Tokyo.
17# The United States of America
You could spend a lifetime exploring the sites of America, all as beautiful as they are diverse. Hawaii’s vertical Na’Pali Coast is easily one of the most beautiful coastlines on the planet. Denali National Park in Alaska is worth braving the extreme low temperatures. And perhaps you’ve heard of a charming little tourist destination known as the Grand Canyon?
Few parts of the world can claim so intense a range of natural beauty, from craggy peaks and verdant hills to coasts of jaw-dropping beauty. There’s nothing quite like driving through the winding, Cyprus-lined roads of Tuscany, past rolling green hills and golden fields dotted with sunflowers. The Dolomites are some of the most beautiful mountains you’ll find anywhere, too; San Pellegrino Pass is one of its best spots for rock climbing, skiing, and, well, just being in awe.
19# South Africa
South Africa is one of the best safari destinations in Africa, offering easy access to the “Big Five” (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros) at places like Kruger National Park. Looking for penguins? Boulders Beach is just an hour’s drive south from Cape Town. If you can believe it, the landscapes here are even more diverse than the wildlife, from wildflower-filled Namaqualand to the soaring Drakensberg Mountains to the Blyde River Canyon. Even in urban Cape Town, you need only look up to see iconic Table Mountain and Lion’s Head.
Home to Himalayan peaks and Indian Ocean beaches, India’s terrain can only be described as breathtaking. Kerala is easily one of the most country’s most beautiful states, with elephants and tigers, lush lagoon networks, and tea plantations. There are incredible stretches of sand even outside of Kerala, like Marina Beach in unsung Tamil Nadu, or Chandipur Beach in Orissa, where tides recede nearly three miles out to sea. The Valley of Flowers National Park is spectacular, as hundred of species of alpine flowers carpet the western Himalayas in chromatic glory
Morocco has some of the most colorful, exciting cities in Africa, but even Marrakech and Fez play second-fiddle to the country’s natural scenery. First of all, you have the undeniable magic of the Sahara, where rose gold dunes become almost pink and purple as the sun dips closer to the horizon. The High Atlas range separates the Sahara from the sea with epic ridges and secluded valleys. You even have two different coastlines to choose from: the Atlantic, with arched sandstone and wild beaches; and the Mediterranean, where views of Spain are startling reminders that you aren’t as far removed as you might have imagined.
France is both the largest country in the EU and one of the most varied. Consider the snow-capped peaks of the Alps, the lush green of the Pyrenees in summer, the vibrant purple lavender fields, golden stone chateaux, windswept beaches, and half-timbered houses. And we haven’t even mentioned Paris. As one reader commented, “Every turn you take brings picture-postcard scenery.” If you’re prone to discounting France as good for nothing beyond family camping holidays, take a deeper look – you’re sure to be intrigued by what you find.
From the ethereally beautiful fjords to the compact capital, Oslo, there’s so much to discover in Norway. As one of you said in our survey, Norway boasts “Stunning mountains, glorious coastline, breathtaking fjords, and a madly underrated and quirky capital city.” Tromsø, in the Arctic Circle, is emerging as one of the country’s top cultural hubs, and also makes a great place to start your northern lights excursion in the winter months. In summer, the eerie glow of the midnight sun bathes everything in red-gold colors. Further south, boat trips along the fjords will provide endless photo ops.
Dropping from second to fifth place in this year’s poll is Canada: home of lumberjacks, beavers and maple syrup (if you believe everything you read). Of course, there’s much more on offer in Canada, not least its mixture of raw beauty and majestic landscapes. The Yukon Territory is a place of great wilderness, while B.C. mountains draw skiers and snowboarders in their thousands. The turquoise colours of Lake Louise are an Instagrammer’s delight, and the East Coast cities of Toronto and Montreal charm with their great restaurants and cosmopolitan atmosphere. You praised the “Majestic scenery, laid back lifestyle, wildlife [and] great outdoors.”
25# The United Kingdom
Some of you on social media lamented our choice for grouping the United Kingdom together, but we chose to do so this time around to highlight the diverse beauty that the different corners of our collective nations offer to visitors. Many of you praised the “amazing variety of landscapes in a small area”. Of your favorites, the Lake District, Scottish Highlands and Welsh coastline were recurring themes. If you live in the UK and tend to travel abroad for holidays why not plan a staycation and explore some of the beautiful places right on your doorstep.