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”. 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.
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.
Cypus is one of the most beautiful countires in the world, offering local cuisine,breaking views, sandy beaches and much, much more. 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 tired of the Mediterranean sun and sand (yeah right), you can head further inland into pine- and almond-filled countryside.
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).
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.