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, number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, and "attractiveness of natural assets"—and 2019's results are as stunning as ever. We pulled the top 30 countries from the "attractiveness" section of the WEF's report, and then polled Traveler editors for their personal picks (consider them bonus entries, if you will) to put together this list. Get ready to swoon.
This article was originally published in June 2017. It has been updated with new information.
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.
Situated just outside the Arctic Circle, Iceland has emerged as one of the world's most desirable tourist destinations. Travelers flock to the island nation by the millions to bear witness to some of the world's most awe-inspiring vistas, from towering volcanoes to gushing waterfalls and expansive underground ice caves. Jökulsárlón, the deepest glacial lake in the country, is famous for its floating blue icebergs and gatherings of seals. Down in Vik, the black sands and basalt columns of Reynisfjara Beach are just begging to be photographed.
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).
Austria is the stuff fairytales are made of. Honestly, we can't believe Disney hasn't produced something exclusively inspired by the lakeside village of Hallstatt. The country's slice of the Alps beckons travelers from all over the world, whether it's to the ski slopes of Tyrol, the hiking trails of Innsbruck, or the ice caves of Eisriesenwelt Werfen. If you're hoping to belt out some Sound of Music tunes, head directly to Hohe Tauern National Park. It's close to Salzburg, and features that perfect combination of snow-capped mountains and rolling green hills.
You'll be hard-pressed to find a Caribbean island with as much action as the Dominican Republic, thanks in large part to the country's expansive list of must-visit beaches and jungles. On the Samaná peninsula, the aptly-named Playa Bonita has crystal-clear waters ideal for snorkeling and diving—and plenty of palm trees for your classic tropical 'gram. If you prefer green to blue, head to Los Haitises National Park on the island's northeast coast. With its unique limestone rock formations and mangrove forests, the park is easily one of the most beautiful places in the Dominican Republic—and perhaps even the entire Caribbean.
Oh, Canada. The world’s second-biggest country has almost too much spectacular scenery to single out favorites. But if we had to pick, we'd start with the remote Torngat Mountains National Park, a land of polar bears and caribou, glaciers and fjords, and a stretch of mountains you're not likely to ever forget. Truly all of the country's 48 national parks are worth a visit, from Alberta’s serene Banff to Yukon’s extreme Kluane.
Norway is the land of glaciers, mountains, the Northern Lights, and fjords—so many fjords. The UNESCO-listed Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord in southwestern Norway are among the most scenic anywhere, with steep rock walls and dense forests. For something a little more unique (and daring), there's Trolltunga at Hardangerfjord. This protruding rock sits about 2,300 feet above Lake Ringedalsvatnet and provides some of the most spectacular panoramic views in the country. And don't forget about the Lofoten Islands, sitting pretty off the country's northwestern coast.
Tucked away in the Alps, Switzerland is easily one of the most beautiful countries in the world, no matter when you're visiting. Come wintertime though, it becomes a veritable wonderland, with powdery ski slopes and frozen lakes galore. For the best vantage point of the country's natural beauty, stay in the village of Zermatt, a ski town so pristine that people actually buy bottles of air from the surrounding mountains (including Switzerland’s iconic Matterhorn mountain). Not a fan of skiing? A summer visit to Switzerland is always a good idea, where Lake Geneva's picturesque banks and Zurich's badi (natural swimming pools along the lakes and rivers) are waiting to host your next family vacation.
A short, four-hour flight from Johannesburg (South African Airways offers daily, nonstop flights), Mauritius is one of the most beautiful and accessible tropical islands off the east coast of Africa. Instagram and Pinterest have created renewed interest in the country, thanks to its “underwater waterfall”—a visually stunning runoff of sand and silt best viewed from above. Add to that some turquoise lagoons and seas rich with marine life, and it's easy to see why our readers voted Mauritius one of the absolute best islands in the entire world.
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 pristine coastline are remarkably beautiful.
Greece may be best known for the the architecture of Athens and coastal scenes of Santorini (if we had a dollar for every Oia snapshot on our Instagram feed), but there's a lot more to the country than its immediate associations. Each of the 6,000+ islands and islets offer 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.
When it comes to sheer natural beauty, few countries in Africa come close to Namibia. The Namib desert is the country's shining star, from the otherworldly landscapes of the Skeleton Coast, to the shifting dunes of the Namib Sand Sea, to the eerie, sun-blackened trees of Deadvlei. The Brandberg, Namibia's highest mountain, is a granite massif that glows in when the sun sets (Brandberg means "Fire Mountain" in Afrikaans). And this is a coastal country, so you better believe there are beaches. Don't forget about the stunning Fish River Canyon (the largest canyon in Africa) or the rivers and wetlands in the Caprivi Strip.
Most of the best vistas in Finland are found in the country's northern Lapland region, where frozen lakes and snow-covered evergreens—not to mention the occasional Northern Lights appearance—are each visitor's own enchanted fairytale: winter edition. Around 65 percent of Finland’s total land area is covered in forest, including hot spots like Nuuksio National Park, which is less than an hour from Helsinki and is filled with valleys and gorges formed by the Ice Age. In 2017, Finland celebrated its centennial year by unveiling its 40th and biggest national park: Hossa, a massive natural area near the Russian border beloved for its clear lake waters.
Chile occupies some of the most pristine landscapes on our planet: the moonlike dunes of Valle de la Luna; the swirling, cerulean surfaces of the Marble Caves; the gurgling geysers of El Tatio. But when you think of Chile, you most likely think of Torres del Paine. The national park is like a microcosm of all the things that make Patagonia such a spectacular place: sky-high mountains, blue icebergs, and mythical lakes galore.
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 (in fact, Siargao is our readers' number one pick). 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 consist 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.
After soaking up all that Lisbon has to offer, venture outside of Portugal's capital city to really experience how stunning the country is. The Algarve region is ideal for road trips, where you can pull over and appreciate some seriously gorgeous beaches lines with steep cliffs (we recommend Praia da Marinha). Our travel specialists dubbed Portugal’s Douro River as one of the best places to visit (i.e. cruise) in 2019, thanks to spectacular views created by the steeply terraced vineyards at the river’s edge—similar to those found in the Moselle in Germany or the LaVaux vineyards in Switzerland. And don't forget about the Azores, an Atlantic island chain of nine volcanic islands overflowing with hedges of blue hydrangeas.
European tourists have flocked to Cyprus's beaches for years, and Americans are finally catching on. With average daily temperatures in the 80s, Cyprus is beach-friendly as late as October—but pack a sweater, as nights can get chilly. If you tire of the Mediterranean sun and sand (yeah right), you can head further inland into pine- and almond-filled countryside.
Few countries come close to Venezuela in terms of sheer natural beauty. It has the world's highest waterfall, for starters, and the 3,212-foot cascades of Angel Falls (that's 19 times taller than Niagara), located in the lush Canaima National Park, are by far the country's most popular attraction. Mount Roraima also dazzles, with vertical cliffs stretching all the way through the clouds. The archipelago of Los Roques has white sand beaches, mangrove swamps, and spectacular reefs and underwater life.
Botswana has plenty of national parks and safari camps for travelers, but the country's primary draw is definitely the lush Okavango Delta—a 49-million acre river delta in northern Botswana. The area is real-world eden, where cheetahs, zebras, buffalo, and rhinos roam freely. Visit during Africa's winter (our summer), after the rains when the delta floods: The savanna’s grasses are low, while growth along the waterways attracts tons of wildlife.
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.
This tranquil country on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula is nothing like what you'd expect. Although Oman does have sand (yes, a lot of it), it is mountainous, coastal, and even pastoral depending on where you visit. Former editor-at-large Hanya Yanagihara recommends establishing base in Muscat, then venturing a few hours out towards the Jabal Akhdar mountains, which are covered with dusty green olive trees and refreshingly brisk air. Another visceral treat? The area's rose bushes and apricot trees, a dizzyingly rich addition to any hiking trip.
In Nepal, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and breathtaking landscapes go hand in hand. Home to eight of the world's 10 tallest mountains (including Mount Everest, the highest point on earth), the country is famous among hikers and adventure seekers. The Gokyo Lakes comprise the world’s highest freshwater lake system, where vibrant, glacier-fed waters are surrounded by snowy peaks. Chitwan National Park is home to rare populations of rhinoceros and Bengal tigers, while Sagarmatha National Park is the place to see snow leopards and red pandas.
There is no shortage of grandeur in Brazil, 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).
Yet another stunning island nation in Africa, Seychelles is beloved by our readers—plus Prince William and Kate Middleton, who spent their honeymoon here in 2011. Aside from its celebrity status and super-luxe resorts, the nation's ultimate draw is its natural beauty, with crisp white beaches and untouched jungle ecosystems. In fact, the UNESCO-listed Vallée de Mai is so transcendently beautiful, many locals believe it to be the true site of the Garden of Eden.
Tucked between Italy and Austria, with a chunk of the Alps and an opening onto the Mediterranean, Slovenia seemingly has a little bit of everything. The Julian Alps are striking from all angles, but they become especially impressive when serving as backdrop to the emerald-green waters of Lake Bled. And then there are the forests, which cover half the country's surface and, as described previously by Cristina Nehring for Traveler, are "so many kinds of green they [resemble] a patchwork quilt—olive green, apple green, neon green, yellow green, dark green, khaki green, mint green, sea green."
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.
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 our 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.
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.
Turkey's landscapes are diverse, breathtaking, and even a tad peculiar. Most of the best vistas are found in Asian Anatolia, like the fairy chimneys and rock pillars of Cappadocia, or the craggy peaks and alpine pastures of the Kaçkar Mountains. In the Aegean region, the frozen waterfalls and stacked pools of Pamukkale (pictured) ensure you'll never be satisfied with your hotel's infinity pool again. The Turquoise Coast (or Turkish Riviera) is another prime location, especially if perfect beaches, mountain views, and a Mediterranean climate is what you're looking for.
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.
Colombia's incredible landscape deserves to be recognized, and not just because it contains parts of the Amazon rainforest and Andes mountain range. Tayrona National Park is one of the most picturesque places in South America, with beaches dotted with coconut palms and rainforests sitting nearly 3,000 feet above sea level. The ochre desert meets the aquamarine sea at Cabo de la Vela, a unique cape surrounded by rocky cliffs—it's hard to get to, sure, but absolutely worth it.