Guyana

Its name means ‘land of many waters’, and Guyana lives up to it completely, with a stack of watery sights worth a squizz. There’s Kaieteur Falls, which is five times the height of Niagara, as well as the aptly named Shell Beach where four of the world’s most endangered species of sea turtles come to nest. Aquatically, you won’t be disappointed.

On land, too, there’s no shortage of natural wonders, since Guyana has developed some of the most ambitious conservation practices anywhere in the continent. There’s the Iwokrama Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, for instance, where thousands of square kilometres of virgin rainforest are home to jaguars, bats, otters, anteaters, caimans and lots more creatures. Visitors can stay on site and go on excursions to Amerindian villages, walk in the canopy and spot caimans at night.

If things start to get too peaceful and meditative though, the rollicking capital Georgetown awaits, with a wild Caribbean nightlife and vibrant food scene.

Guatemala

Within the mountains of Central America lies Guatemala, a country rich in history, culture and natural appeal. This is the birthplace of the Maya civilisation, and despite many of the rainforest cities having been abandoned hundreds of years ago, the Maya still live and thrive in the highlands. Visitors can easily get to the Ixil Triangle in the western highlands to experience this culture for themselves.

Guatemala boasts one of the most beautiful cities in the Americas, Antigua, with its backdrop of volcanoes. Here the colonial architecture is unmissable, and its markets and squares are pulsing with energy. On a day trip from the city, you can hike up the rumbling, lava-oozing Volcan de Papaya, the most active volcano in Central America.

Travel to Tikal, an incredibly well-preserved collection of soaring Maya temples set deep in the rainforest, or spend a few days exploring the villages on the shores of Lago de Atitlán. The lake itself is huge and one of the most spectacular you’ll find. Panajachel is the main town, then take the boats that crisscross the water to other villages.

For adventurous types, this is a country with plenty to offer, from multi-day hikes across the Sierra Las Minas, with its untouched cloud forests, to kayaking on the Caribbean coast. The only thing stopping you will be a lack of time left on the itinerary.

Georgia

Travellers who like to get high – no, not like that – should definitely add Georgia to their lists of places to visit. This country at the crossroads of Asia and Europe is dominated by the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountain ranges – it’s so picturesque visitors have been known to pinch themselves to ensure they’re not dreaming. Lush green valleys rise to huge peaks – at 5201 metres, Mount Shkhara is the second highest peak in Europe – offering a huge number of opportunities for anyone who hikes, mountain bikes, rides horses or fancies visiting villages that seem as though they haven’t changed for a decades. In the country’s east, the Black Sea laps on pebbled beaches backed by mountains near the holiday city of Batumi.

Not surprisingly, given its location on a narrow neck of land that joins Europe via Russia with the Middle East, this is a place of many cultures. In fact, the welcoming locals claim this is where wine-making began, so ensure you try a tipple from the region. Take a wander around Mtskheta, one of the oldest cities in Georgia, having been inhabited since before 1000BC. It’s only 20 kilometres from capital Tbilisi, and its collection of medieval churches has earned it a UNESCO World Heritage listing. In fact, the whole country is a must for those who dig religious relics – the fourteenth-century Tsminda Sameba Church, one of the country’s most photographed landmarks, sits with a backdrop of Mount Kazbek about a 90-minute walk from the village of Kazbegi.

Gabon

Huge steps have been taken to preserve the outstanding natural resources of this equatorial African nation. Rainforest covers about 80 per cent of its land mass, and, in 2002, former president Omar Bongo Ondimba set aside about 10 per cent of the entire country to national parks.

The best known of those is Loango with its surfing hippos and elephants grazing by crashing waves. Humpback whales splash off the shore on their migration (mid-July to mid-September).

Pirogue (canoe) trips up the Ivindo River take travellers into a land of heavy forest and waterfalls. In the trees above, you’ll catch glimpses of monkeys and African grey parrots, while hippos are resident in the water. Ivindo National Park is also home to Langoué Bai, a forest clearing discovered by Mike Fay in 2000, where there’s a research centre to track the animals – elephants and gorillas among them – lured by the rich food in the area.

There are large populations of gorillas and chimpanzees in the Lopé National Park, but for wildlife lovers this is also where you can find the world’s largest gathering of primates – about 1350 mandrills hang out together here in the dry season from July to August. Hornbills and forest kingfishers can also be spotted in the trees.

Libreville (named thus for the freed slaves who built it), stretched along the northwest coastline, is the country’s only city. Gabon is flush with money from oil, and this town is neat, trim and tidy, unlike almost all of the rest of Africa. For a true taste of the continent, head to Mont-Bouët market or to L’Odika, a popular restaurant in the Quartier Louis that serves French-African fusion dishes.

French Polynesia

English explorer Samuel Wallis wouldn’t have believed his luck when he landed in Tahiti, the future crown jewel of French Polynesia, in 1767. It would take some time, but eventually islands like Bora Bora would become renowned as a honeymooner’s barefoot bliss. But it’s not all snogging and snorkels, and you don’t need to be loved up to escape here.

The more adventurous will be rewarded for leaving their seductive villas, with the chance to crawl through lava tubes and swim with sharks dotted among the 118 islands. The dramatic peaks and valleys of the main island, Tahiti, beckon climbers, while cascading waterfalls yearn to be abseiled and rocky outcrops need someone to catapult off them. After all that, camping on a deserted beach is a delicious flirt with isolation. Francophiles will love the ability to practise their French and cycle around Papeete with a baguette in the basket.

Further afield, Hiva Oa, the first port of call for those crossing the Pacific from the west, is known as Gauguin’s Island. The artist is buried here in a cemetery overlooking the town of Atuona. Moorea, in the Windwards, is spectacular, with rugged peaks erupting from its gin-clear lagoon. James Michener’s Bali Hai in Tales of the South Pacific was inspired by it. It’s also one of the best islands for adventure and activities.

However you spend your time here, the Tahitian catchcry aita pea pea, meaning “not to worry”, will infect your way of being.

Estonia

Humans have lived in what is now called Estonia for about 6000 years, making it one of Europe’s oldest continuous settlements. Spend a little while here and you’ll realise why folks never left and, more than that, why it’s fast becoming one of the most talked-about travel destinations. It has plenty going for it, not least that it’s very affordable. It’s also one of the greenest countries in the world, according to the Environmental Protection Index from Yale and Columbia Universities, Literally too, with 50 per cent of the country still covered in forest that harbours critters from brown bears to wolves. Summer is a great time to explore, with hiking and camping popular, along with canoeing on and swimming in lakes. There are also more than 2000 islands scattered along its coastline.

Once you’ve come in from the wild, it’s easy to accidentally get stuck gawking in awe on the streets of old Tallinn. Not only is this Europe’s best preserved medieval city, it’s also blessed with a burgeoning gourmet and nightlife scene.

Denmark

From the eighth to the tenth centuries, this was the land of the original Vikings. From here they set forth across Europe, raping and pillaging as they went. A lot has changed since those days. Denmark in the twenty-first century is one of the most socially progressive nations in the world, and constantly tops lists of both the most liveable and happiest places on earth.

The country itself consists of one large peninsula, known as Jutland, and 443 named islands. If you ever wondered where ‘Old’ Zealand was, you’ve found it. To Jutland’s east, this large island is the location of the Danish capital, Copenhagen. If cutting-edge design, fashion, art and cuisine are high on your list of favoured amenities in a destination you’ve come to the right place. Once you’ve been wowed by the monumental form of the Royal Danish Opera House or shopped till you dropped in the local fashion and design stores around Kongens Nytorv (the King’s New Square), settle at a table at one of the world’s most acclaimed restaurants, Noma.

Of course, it’s not all about the contemporary in this exciting city. It’s also been home to the country’s royal family for about 900 years. The outstanding Tivoli Gardens was the inspiration for the various Disneylands, Nyhavn Harbor is lined with colourful gable houses, and, just a short walk away, at Kastellet, you’ll see Edvard Eriksen’s The Little Mermaid statue.

On Zealand, you’ll also discover Roskilde, famous for its World Heritage-listed cathedral and eponymous rock festival.

Jutland, connected to mainland Europe at Germany, is a land of contrasts. Its rugged west coast is buffeted by winds from the North Sea, its Lake District is a picturesque landscape of forests, hills and, of course, lakes, while the region around Ebeltoft is a beachside summer refuge for many Danes.

Aarhus, the country’s second largest city (although it is more like a large town), is on Jutland’s east coast. It’s an excellent place to discover hygge, an altogether Danish ‘feeling’ that lies somewhere between cosiness and contentment.

Costa Rica

Burt Bacharach and Hal David weren’t referring to the Costa Rican capital when they wrote the hit ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose’, but any visit to Costa Rica will no doubt include some time in its heaving capital. It’s charms aren’t obvious, but dig deep and you’ll find galleries and boutiques in neighbourhoods layered with history like Barrio Amón, amazing museums (guests enter the National Museum of Costa Rica through a butterfly house), and great nightlife.

The reason you’ve come to this Central American country, however, has nothing to do with discovering the urban charms of Chepe, as it’s known. Open the dictionary at ‘tropical paradise’ and you’ll spy a photograph of Costa Rica. It is the epitome of what travellers began looking for once Alex Garland stuffed up the tiny pockets of Thailand that had yet to be overrun by keen beachgoers. Here, you’ll find soft eco-adventure – from horse riding along palm-fringed beaches to rafting down fast-flowing rivers – in plentiful supply. Marvel at the volcanic peaks of Poas and Arenal before heading to the white-sand, palm-fringed coastline of Manuel Antonio National Park. (For lovers of lazy wildlife, this is one of the best places in Costa Rica to see sloths.)

Those eager to explore the rainforest and its creatures – squawking scarlet macaws, giant anteaters, sleek jaguars – should head to Puerto Jimenez. Located on the Osa Peninsula, it’s not only handy for Corcovado National Park, but, should you head south, you’ll also discover the tiny village of Cape Matapalo, with its pristine beaches and great waves.

Inland is the spectacular Monteverde Cloud Forest, a 10,500-hectare reserve consisting of 90 per cent virgin forest. The site has the largest number of orchids anywhere in the world (about 500 species in all), as well as huge numbers of birds – the rare and scared quetzal is still regularly seen here – frogs and even bigger animals like the agouti (a large rodent). The continental divide runs right through the reserve, so you can put one foot on the Caribbean side and other on the Pacific.

Republic of the Congo

Before we get started, let us tell you this: Republic of the Congo shouldn’t be confused with the place across the river called the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is mired in violence and poverty and was the setting for Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It’s true that both are jungle-clad environments, but it’s only in the former travellers can journey safely to the best of what these domains offer. In fact, some of the forests in the Republic of Congo are almost intact and, with the value in protecting them from harm acknowledged, places like Parc National Nouablé-Ndoki and Parc National d’Odzala are some of the best eco-friendly destinations in Africa.

You’ve got to be on the intrepid side to venture here, but chances are you’ll be heading to either one of these parks to view the lowland gorilla populations. Also on the wildlife list are forest elephants, crocodiles, dwarf buffalos, leopards and lots of different birds.

The country’s coastline is the starting point for Parc National Conkouati-Douli, where you can do river tours and forest walks. The population of chimpanzees has been threatened in most parts of the country, but here there’s a rehabilitation sanctuary for youngsters orphaned by poaching, as well as wild families living in the thick jungle.

Turkmenistan

Where else would you find a city called Merv, which was once considered the ‘Queen of Cities’ worldwide, and the second most important in Islam. Now, it’s an awesome introduction to the archaeological ruins, culture and secrets of the ancient Silk Road, where exotic silks and spices, tea and gold where carted from the east to the west.

A member of the ‘stan’ community of Central Asian countries (the suffix means ‘land of’), among them Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, the country is almost covered by the Karakum Desert (it takes up more than 80 per cent of the land) with the Caspian Sea forming its western edge. Everyone from the Mongols to Alexander the Great and the USSR has ruled the region and left an indelible mark on the people and landscape.

It may not be five-star, but what it lacks in material creature comforts Turkmenistan almost makes up for with a millennia of history. It’s probable this nation isn’t at the top of (or even on) your bucket list, since it still suffers from the excesses of its former leader President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov, even though he died in 2006. You still can’t, for instance, play video games or have long hair if you’re a man. It’s only really possible to travel here as part of a guided tour, and you’ll be watched diligently by military personnel and the police.