“Why are we having people from all these shithole countries come here?”
These words of wisdom which recently spewed from President Trump’s mouth were directed at Haiti, El Salvador, and the entire continent of Africa.
Not much this guy says can surprise me anymore, but this one actually made me gasp out loud.
So I took my outrage to social media (as one does). When I asked my fellow travel bloggers to share stories of their favorite “shithole” countries with me, my phone BLEW UP. The enthusiastic, heartfelt flood of responses restored my faith in the world. If you’re having one of those days when Trump makes you want to barricade yourself in your home until 2020, these stories are the antidote.
Read on for a wealth of inspiration to visit some of the most beautiful, welcoming, awe-inspiring shitholes in the world!
» Haiti «
Have you ever been to a place that you’ve craved? I crave Haiti. I crave her in my soul and in my skin. Every time I leave her, I just want to come back. She touched me in ways I’ve never felt before. Maybe it’s because I fell in love in Haiti, or maybe it’s just a magical spell the island puts on you, but there’s no other place that I’ve felt attached to like I do the country of Haiti.
Haiti is resilience, she’s revolution, she’s creativity, she’s authenticity, she’s raw. And she displays it so readily in her streets, her voice, her celebrations, her landscapes. There’s a certain freedom I get taxiing on the runway into the heat of Haiti. As soon you step out of the airplane doors, the humidity surrounds you like getting a warm hug from a voluptuous aunt who is always excited to see you as she rushes you into the kitchen and makes you a meal. She sings to you through the musicians at every corner and her voice in the lyrical Kreyol carries you outside to the chaos of Port Au Prince. But somehow, you always feel home. Like no matter what, you’re at home. The colors, the noises, the business, the utter chaos bombards you, but it’s like pure poetry of the human condition, of how we are made to survive. And that no matter what it looks like to others, this is your home and we’re in this together.
But then you leave Port Au Prince and get greeted by the cool air of Fermathe as you enter the steep hills and wonder how we don’t all crash down into the green forests from the sheer drop. But never mind the heights because Haiti is cooling you down and offers you the juice from her trees: mangos, kenep, passion fruit, what do you prefer? You breathe in the pure mountain air and watch baby goats chase each other down the rolling hills of the land. Then, if you’re quiet enough, you can softly hear the island beat in the air and dance yourself to sleep to the freedom of the African drums that came here so many years ago.
But wait – she said get up, she’s not done with you, yet. So Haiti whisks you out to the beaches of the provinces. The air is tranquil and it’s time to relax. She shows you the artistry of Jacmel and the waving palm trees surround the bay. She puts you in a hammock in Cap Haitienne and tells you to rest while the Palace of San Souci looks down on you in all its grandeur. Then a smiling fisherman comes up to the sand with a fresh lobster he’s just caught with his hands, and grills it in front of you with his lemons and garlic sauce sprinkled with pickliz and wishes you health and prosperity as he dives back into the water looking for more lambi. And then Haiti whispers into your ear, that you’re home now, you can rest.
So now I crave Haiti. And need her humid hugs on my skin, her drums in my hips, her voice in my ear. I need her like I need air. I need to go home.
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» Morocco «
Don’t visit Morocco. It’s a shithole.
There’s no culture here; the Spanish, French, Arabs, and the many faces of the Berber native people have left no mark on life. The food is boring. You can find the same tender and flavorful tagines anywhere in the world.
Definitely don’t visit the north. You won’t find vibrant cities high in the mountains, and there are no famously imposing palaces with towering golden gates. Shopping paradises are nonexistent, and the world’s southernmost Roman ruins with outdoor mosaics that have been declared UNESCO world heritage sites are not there either. There is definitely no mountain
range known for its rich wildlife and beautiful views.
To the southeast, you’ll find the Sahara, a giant desert with nothing in it. There is no beautifully colorful tribal dress, and definitely no food shaped by generations of necessity and invention. Remember, it’s a shithole. The powder fine sand that shifts under the camel’s feet is a deep gold color, but the undulating dunes stretching to the horizon are still not worth visiting. In fact, even the sunset doesn’t transform them into something worth seeing.
The coasts are the worst. There are no pristine beaches on the Atlantic, and no awe-inspiring natural rock formations. The surf conditions are certainly not famous world-wide. Remember, it’s a shithole.
You will absolutely not find amazing beauty products in Morocco – argan oil and ghassoul clay don’t come from here. There is no art, and definitely no incredibly intricate zelij tiles.
The nearly unbelievable hospitality characteristic of Morocco is a myth. No matter where I was, there was no warmth and generosity of the people I met, and certainly no willingness to invite me into their homes and lives. No shop owner gifted me a protection amulet that still hangs in my car; I was not welcomed to any weddings, and there was no young man who went out of his way to accompany me to the market for soaps so I could get the local price. Even the many occasions I expected to find myself being served syrupy mint tea next to fresh French pastries in the home of a chef whose restaurant I frequented never materialized.
Don’t bother visiting Morocco. Remember, it’s a shithole.
Raeesa | Adventurae
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» Mozambique «
Africa is a continent full of vibrant colour, expressive music, diverse wildlife and incredible beauty, visible both in the African people and the dramatic landscapes. Mozambique has all this and more. A ‘shithole country’ it certainly is not!
The coast is simply stunning, particularly in the north; the white sand beaches, crystal-clear waters of the Indian Ocean and life beneath the waves are a paradise for any beach-lover or deep-sea diver. Thanks to conservation efforts following the civil war, the national parks are once again supporting large wildlife populations, and, although poaching sadly remains a threat, they offer jaw-dropping safari experiences. The remains of a Portuguese past exist alongside the culture, traditions and languages of the Mozambican people.
We loved Mozambique so much we chose to get married here, and were delighted that much of the local rural community were able to be in attendance. The blend of our cultures, the kind words of those who led the ceremony, the delicious feast that was prepared for us, and the musicians and singers who had us dancing through the night all made our wedding the incredible day that it was.
We are better when we learn from each other, Mr. Trump. You too should visit Mozambique and support local artists at bustling markets, gaze in awe upon the majestic baobabs, soak up colonial history, dance to the beat of a hand-crafted drum, and relish the beaming smiles of the wonderful people who live here. You will return home with shattered assumptions and a more educated outlook on all that the world has to offer. There are no ‘shithole countries’, just countries that are different to yours.
Joss | Little Green Globetrotter
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» Tanzania «
I found myself reminiscing today about my time spent living in the “sh*thole” country of Tanzania.
I could almost hear the chatter from the Maasai warriors under the mango tree as I walked down the dirt road to my home there. I could almost see the local fisherman carrying their daily catch and white sails gliding through the lake behind them. I’m smiling as I remember being greeted with “mambos” from the children in their proudly worn uniforms as I approached the school.
On one particular day, I entered the library where the creative writing club was working on color poems. Salome, a spunky fifth grader, shouted for my attention so she could show off her poem about the color green that she concluded beautifully, “Green feels like I am at the moon dreaming.”
For me, Tanzania was a warm blur of radiant smiles from locals, magnificent animals grazing in the Serengeti plains, delicious fish and eggplant dishes, and goodnight hugs from 45 girls that I grew to love.
It is a collage of purple sunsets with cotton candy clouds and sunrises that light the sky on fire. It is being mesmerized by the flames of fisherman’s boats, and the twinkle of stars reflecting off the dark water of Lake Victoria. It is the sound of dogs howling at the moon, pigs squealing, locust sirening, the patter of rain on tin roofs, and the hum of hopeful voices singing “Mambo Sawa Sawa” while they clap in unison between the verses.
I saw strength in places where you might expect none, and witnessed kindness from people who have only known injustice. Tanzania is an amazing country with a lot to offer, but the most beautiful part I found was is in the smiles of the 45 orphaned and abandoned girls that opened up their hearts and their home to me. Girls that constantly overcame their obstacles, girls with dreams, goals, and determination to improve their communities. Girls with minds sharp enough, and hearts strong enough, to change the world.
So if Tanzania is a shithole, than all that shit must be fertilizing the soil and growing some of the most resilient, resourceful, and generous people I have ever seen.
Anna | Spin the Globe Project
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» Tanzania (Kilimanjaro) «
Jambo. Jambo bwana. Habari gani? Nzuri sana. Wageni mwakaribishwa; Kilimanjaro. Hakuna matata.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of climbing Kilimanjaro will be familiar with these words. Translated from Swahili, they mean ‘Hello! Hello sir. How are you? Very good. Guests, you are welcome; Kilimanjaro. No worries.’
Much has been written about the incredible experience of climbing Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa and, at 5895m, the world’s highest freestanding mountain, so I want to focus on the people.
While of course the ascent through rainforest, moorland, alpine desert and glaciers is stunning, and the sense of achievement phenomenal, the porters, guides, cooks and toilet staff are the ones who made my trip, and the memory that continues to make me smile the most from my six days on the mountain is this song. Sung as a welcome, a celebration and as a goodbye, we danced, clapped and laughed together.
Our lead guide, Frankie, a big guy with a wide smile and a twinkle in his eye, estimated that he had been up and down Kilimanjaro more than 100 times. He helped me cram my sleeping bag into my backpack each morning and always had a joke to tell, along with words of encouragement, for anyone who was struggling.
As porters bounded past us, this hike no challenge for them, even with a massive backpack on their back and two more on their head, they always smiled and shouted a cheerful ‘pole pole’ (‘slowly slowly’), reminding us to take our time and ascend slowly so as to adjust to the altitude.
On summit night, Good Luck, a younger guide who had been eager to learn about the U.K. as we walked together on previous days, stood behind me and held on to my rucksack whenever exhaustion and altitude threatened to topple me. I learnt of his aspirations to become a doctor and to see the world beyond this small patch of Tanzania. He kindly wrote down the lyrics to the song for me in both languages and we exchanged emails.
When I got to Stella Point on the crater rim and felt like I could curl up in the snow and sleep for a decade, Ricky, our chef, put his arm round me and encouraged me onwards to Uhuru Peak.
I will be back one day to Kilimanjaro for sure, to sleep above the clouds and watch the sun rise from the top of the world. I hope I will meet the friends I made again and I have no doubt that they will welcome me back to their home with the same kindness they did previously. It’s tragic, Mr. Trump, that you cannot extend the same courtesy.
Joss | Little Green Globetrotter
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» Botswana «
Botswana must be one of the ‘shittiest’ countries out there. It has too many colourful animals in its national parks, too many gorgeous landscapes, and don’t get me started on that Okavango Delta. Along with the aforementioned, it is home to the wonderful Chobe National Park.
Chobe was the country’s first national park and it is the most biologically diverse, with many species of animals all living in one ecosystem. It is hard to concentrate on just one part of the park when you know something cool is just around the corner! We spent a couple of days on a safari that brought us up close and personal to a herd of elephants, and even saw a crocodile chomping down on the feast it had caught just before we arrived.
I said not to get me started on the Okavango Delta, but I lied because I really want to tell you about the amazing joys it brings. It is a large inland delta which cycles throughout the year between being a completely dry, salty and barren landscape before filling up in spectacular form when it rains down in Africa (queue song by Toto [editor’s note: I strongly support listening to Toto while reading this post]). The cool thing is that the delta doesn’t connect to any sea or ocean, so all the water either evaporates or transpires throughout the year. The wet and dry seasons bring many benefits to the area which gives the animals much needed fresh food to keep the game park alive. You can cruise the delta in a mokoro (which is a wooden boat carved from a tree trunk) when the waters are high. Just be careful as there are lots of crocodiles and hippos to dodge, but the real pests are the mosquitos, so ‘net-up’ wisely!
The Okavango Delta has been named as one of Africa’s seven natural wonders, and after you visit the area, you can see why.
Okay, so maybe Botswana is not the ‘shittiest’, it has a lot of cool stuff going on, and I have only just mentioned two of them! Get there and see for yourself.
Jeremy | Coming Home Strong
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» Namibia «
One of the questions I’m asked the most is “what’s been your favourite country so far?”. A couple of years ago I struggled to answer that one, but nowadays it’s actually incredibly simple – Namibia.
Namibia is wildly different to anywhere that I’ve ever been. For starters, the landscapes are out of this world – you can literally see Namibia’s famous sand dunes from space!
And as the second least densely populated country in the world, it’s easy to find a quiet corner for just the two of you. Pick up a car from the airport, and the minute you leave the capital city of Windhoek you’ll start to feel the magic of Namibia’s wide open spaces.
If you want to experience true solitude, spend a few days walking the Tok Tokkie Trails in the
Namibrand Nature Reserve. Other than your guide and a couple of others, your only neighbours for miles will be oryx, zebra and giraffe! You’ll sleep between sand dunes, under Africa’s only
International Dark Sky Reserve, and be woken up to a steaming hot mug of coffee in bed. Now that might just be my idea of heaven!
And yes, it’s Southern Africa – so a visit to Namibia wouldn’t be complete without a safari. Etosha National Park, set on a salt pan, certainly doesn’t disappoint. Visitors in the dry season will have the opportunity to idly pass time at a waterhole, waiting for the game to come to you.
Namibia may be off the tourist map for now, but they are all set up and ready for a jump in visitors. And the good news for you is that unlike it’s notoriously expensive African counterparts, Namibia still offers amazing value for travellers.
For us, Namibia was such a great escape from the stresses of real life – like a time out zone away from the rest of the world. To be honest, I’m still trying to recreate the magic of our Namibia trip. This untouched, rugged beauty has a special place in my heart.
Charlotte | Two Streets Back
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» Rwanda «
In the minds of many, the name Rwanda brings back bad memories of an inglorious past. But that past has gone, and we can’t judge a book by its cover. I had the privilege of visiting Rwanda a few years ago and I was fascinated by it.
Rwanda is now described – with good reason – as the Switzerland of Africa. What impressed me the most was that, unlike many places I have visited in so-called “non-shithole” countries, it is organized and well kept. Plastic bags and bottles are illegal, as well as littering. The capital, Kigali, is a clean, modern city that could compete with several European capitals. While my husband and I were there, we were told that it is even prohibited to spit on the streets! The penalty is an expensive fine.
Most remarkable, every last Saturday of the month is the “Umuganda Day”: All able- bodied Rwandan are required to help clean the cities and villages. Traffic stops and roads are closed for maintenance. Rwandans view this task as a patriotic duty for their country and work hard to improve it.
What an important lesson from a “shithole” country, don’t you agree?
Sara | The Bag Under the Bed
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» Zambia «
Immediately after crossing the border from Malawi into Zambia, I was struck by how beautiful the country is. The entire landscape seemed to be painted one of the most vivid shades of green I had ever seen. That first night when the sun went down, I witnessed one of the most intense sunsets in all my years of travel. Right away, I knew that I would treasure my time in Zambia.
One night, our campground was filled with free-roaming zebras. What an experience, camping next to zebras! Zambians themselves are friendly people and take pride in hosting visitors in their country. Zambia is also home to a plethora of national parks with abundant wildlife. Here it is possible to see the “big five” and a multitude of smaller animals, too. On the Zambezi river with vistas of Victoria Falls, also called Mosi-oa-Tunya or “the smoke that thunders,” it is possible to hear the falls from kilometers away. Lusaka, the capital, is one of Africa’s most thriving, cosmopolitan cities. On my final night in Zambia, I fell asleep in my tent to the sound of lions roaring in the distance.
The next day I would depart Zambia for Botswana, but the country firmly cemented a spot in my heart. Zambia has something for every type of traveler. Adventure seekers can bungee jump off the bridge that connects the country with neighboring Zimbabwe. Backpackers tend to love the small city of Livingstone. With several high-end bush camps, luxury travelers will be comfortable while being close to the wildlife. And serious thrill seekers can take a dip in Devil’s Pool, at the edge of Victoria Falls.
A far cry from a “shit hole,” a visit to Zambia should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Karen | Solo World Wanderer
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» Morocco (again for good measure!) «
On the tip of Africa, just eight miles (13 km) south of Europe, Morocco spans from the Sahara to the Mediterranean. It’s home to rugged Atlantic beaches, ski resorts, the Valley of Roses, the oldest university in the world (predating the ‘first’ in the West by some 200 years), and a rich history dating back some 90,000 years. In Morocco you’ll encounter a dazzling kaleidoscope of cultures and influences — Berber, Arab, Sub-saharan African, French, Spanish, Jewish and more — and a population where almost everyone speaks more than one language.
And for travelers? During my two weeks there I was stunned on a daily basis. I wandered around the dreamlike Blue City of Chefchaouen, camped beneath the stars between the dunes of the Moroccan Sahara, cooled down in the shade of palm trees in a desert oasis, stayed in a centuries-old house built into a cave, and marveled at the intricate patterns of doors, walls, pottery, jewelry and other crafts just about everywhere I went.
From remote semi-nomadic villages in the desert, to the labyrinthine souks and ancient kasbahs, to the grand architecture of the imperial cities, the only constant in this diverse land is the warmth and hospitality on daily display by locals. You can hear it in the children calling out ‘good day’ in several languages as you pass, and taste it in the mouth-watering hot mint tea served by families who’ve randomly invited you, a stranger, to join in — just because. It’s in the diligent care with which the long-abandoned Amazrou synagogue is maintained by its Muslim neighbours decades after its congregation migrated to Israel. It’s i the friendly laughter exchanged with people eager to engage you in conversation even without any common language.
Morocco is not a country without its problems; neither is my country, nor yours. But it’s a place unlike any other on earth.
Sarah | World Unlost
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» Zanzibar «
“Jambo! (Hi/Hello in kiSwahili)”: A cheerful greeting welcomes visitors to Zanzibar, a group of islands off the east coast of Tanzania. If you’re lucky, you might even be greeted with the full welcome song. Back home in Alaska, I now teach this greeting song to my seventh grade geography classes and before long my 12- and 13-year-old students are singing and dancing right along with the music!
As part of a team of Fulbright educators from the United States, I studied Indian Ocean trade,
cultural connections between long-time political partners Oman and Zanzibar, and both Arabic and kiSwahili languages. Here are my tips for how a visitor might enjoy the richness of Zanzibar in a deeper way:
• When exploring Stone Town, the main city, be sure to notice the famous doors of Zanzibar.
Each door contains beautifully carved patterns and communicates the status or purpose of
the building. The craftsmanship is stunning.
• The former palace of the Sultan of Oman is open for tourists and tells some of the interesting connection between these two countries. Using traditional Dhow boats, the journey between them took seven days during favorable currents. Zanzibar was an important hub of the spice and slave trades across the Indian Ocean.
• Tarab music is a beautiful example of the fusion of many Indian Ocean cultures. One of my favorite evenings was at the Mtoni ruins, where just twice a week visitors experience a palace ruins tour at sunset and dinner hosted by the “Sultan” complete with Tarab music, stories and dancing. Plan ahead, make reservations, and be prepared to step back in time for one of the most magical evenings I’ve experienced!
• Out in the countryside sits a 1,000-year-old mosque. About 50-60% of Zanzibaris are Muslim, and the presence of this simple mosque is evidence of deep roots with Oman.
• I was there to learn, but also to enjoy the island. I definitely plan to return someday, probably before or after a safari on the mainland – it’s easy to take a direct flight to Zanzibar from many European cities, and of course from Oman.
• Speaking of relaxing, the absolute perfect spot to watch the sun go down is at Mercury’s, a beachside bar in Stone Town, with fabulous views of the ocean. For music fans, the place is full of memorabilia from Zanzibar’s most famous son, Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen.
This small island is a treasure to add in your world adventures. As they say in Zanzibar, Hakuna Matata (no worries)!
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» Burundi «
Burundi is not a well-known tourist destination, but it is a tiny African gem.
This small French-speaking country (23 times littler than France!) is in the central Africa, bordering Lake Tanganyika. Even though many of its people are disadvantaged (67% of them live below the poverty line), they are dignified, polite and kind. I spent three months living there, and it was one of the most significant experiences in my life.
We felt safe and at ease while exploring the country by ourselves, even walking the streets of its capital, Bujumbura. We had the privilege of meeting countless welcoming, warm people everywhere we went. We spent several evenings on the terrace of a small bar by the lake, enjoying the sunset, watching the hippos float in the water.
Burundi has so much to offer: Mountainous regions, amazing beaches on Lake Tanganyika, rich
tea and coffee crops, luxuriant vegetation and ancestral traditions. I deeply love this country and it’s such a perfect example of why less-famous nations are worth the visit. They may just change your approach to life and help you improve who you are.
Sara | The Bag Under the Bed
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» South Sudan «
It is true: The country of South Sudan has some issues, that I cannot negate. Let’s talk about the people, however, because they are absolutely remarkable.
I spent nine months working in a field hospital in South Sudan as the training nurse and was blown away by the urgency and desire with which my staff wanted to learn. They would knock on the door of my hut sometimes late at night because they wanted more research articles or flash cards, anything to expand their knowledge. They live in a country that has never known peace and yet they come to work every day with heads held high, ready to do their best.
Their stories most of us cannot comprehend, and yet amidst war and violence I was showered with love and friendship. I witnessed staff who set aside tribal and cultural differences to treat any patient who came to the hospital, regardless of whether the staff member was from the ethnic group who was being slaughtered at the hands of the ethnic group of their patient. Can you imagine!? This is one sh*thole that I would return to in a heartbeat.
Sarah | Bartimaeus Boldness
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» Egypt «
North Africa has a myriad of beautiful culture and history worth exploring, and I got an experience unlike any other while I was in Egypt. This was during the Arab spring of 2011, when the citizens of Egypt protested the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak.
I was surprised to find Egypt’s treasures not in the museums or pyramids, but in its people. The same people who cleaned up the streets of Cairo every morning after the protests and the cooks at my hotel who guarded the front entrance. I witnessed the strength of citizens who looked over national treasures like the Egyptian Museum when President Hosni Mubarak pulled the police from the streets. They were the same people who made sure that I got to the airport safely when the prisoners of Cairo prison broke out (all the guards left). Yes, the circumstances were hard and chaotic, but the character of Egyptians shined through; the strength of their culture reflects in the strength of Egypt’s people.
Vy | Seven Crossroads
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» Malawi «
I spent two weeks in Malawi in 2017 with the Bhubesi Pride, an organisation that seeks to unite, empower and inspire communities via the sport of rugby. This small, land-locked country is known as the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ and it was entirely apparent to me why. The people here are extraordinarily friendly.
One day I was out running on the rural roads just east of the capital, Lilongwe. I was happily dodging puddles and the many locals going about their daily tasks when I noticed a presence just behind me. A man had decided to abandon whatever it was he was doing and run with me. It was a little unnerving at first as he kept on my shoulder, bare feet slapping along the mud road.
However, it was clear he wasn’t trying to hurt me so I turned and smiled. He smiled back and we continued to run. Language barriers stopped us talking but my running buddy and I carried on for some time. When I reached my turnaround point, we high-fived, he returned to his previous task and I ran home.
On a separate occasion, I was walking through the streets of a small village when a ball landed at my feet. It had come from three tiny kids who were playing football with tins cans for goalposts. I kicked the ball back to them but they beckoned me over to join in. Five minutes of street football with those kids was one of the most joyful experiences I’ve ever had when travelling.
And lastly, the jewel in the nation’s crown – Lake Malawi. This majestic freshwater lake, at close to 30,000 sq km is the third largest in Africa. Its crystal clear water is home to more species of fish than any other lake in the world. You can immerse yourself in all kinds of water sports, from diving to stand-up paddleboarding, but my favourite pastime was jumping off the floating dock into the sparkling water.
I love Malawi.
Fun fact: Malawi means flames or fire in the local language, Chichewa. The name is inspired by the incredible sunsets and sunrises over Lake Malawi.
Tim | Tunnocks World Tour
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» Ghana «
In the summer of 2014, I spent a month in central Ghana. So much of my experience is still vivid in my memory. The red dirt had a hearty, spicy scent, and lush vegetation sprung out of it in town and on the sides of cliffs as we drove through the country. The roadside stands sold us eye-wateringly spicy food and the sweetest pineapples. Market day was the best day of the week with it’s flurry of sights and sounds. Upbeat highlife music blasted as we browsed for printed fabrics, handmade jewelry, and the delicious treat of raw sugar cane.
But what I remember the most is, of course, the people. To start, Ghanaians are bright, resourceful, curious, entrepreneurial – I’ve never seen so much ingenuity in one place. While there was obviously no blending in as travelers from the west, we were met with an endless stream of interest and excitement, something I’m sure would have been different had the situation been reversed in my home country. Children came running to us from all over town wanting to touch our skin, genuinely curious if it felt different than theirs, and giggly to discover it was just the same. Women called to us from their houses, always wanting to know where we were going and what we were doing. There wasn’t a drop of “what are these gringos doing here” to be found, only true interest and welcoming hearts.
They’re a forward bunch, brazen enough to completely shock you, but they’re all the while fun-loving and light-hearted. The children showed this best, with their ear to ear grins, in sync singing, and constant laughter. Our music teachers, the men we came to Ghana to study with, were as much caring mentors as they were sources of uncontrollable laughter from raucous carrying on. Most notably, Ghanaians have a profound understanding of what’s important, and they focus their time and attention only on what matters most.
Ghana has a quirky, fiery personality. It’s intense, vibrant, sometimes downright deafening, and not exactly for the faint of heart, but absolutely worth your while. People can say whatever ignorant, racist things they want to, but take it from someone who’s been there – traveling to this “shithole” country was one of the best experiences of my life. Better yet, go see for yourself the lively, pulsing culture that Ghana has to offer – they’ll welcome you like a long lost friend.
Casey | Carefree Compass (blog coming soon!)
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» Ethiopia «
Ethiopia is one of the most unique countries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. Each area holds something special; from the bustling streets of Addis Ababa filled with the scent of delicious street food, to the historical regions of Tigray and Lalibela which have churches dating back to the fifth century, to the Danakil Depression, referred to as one of the most inhospitable places on earth and home to Erte Ale, one of three lava lakes in the world.
When I arrived in the country I really didn’t know what to expect. But I felt welcome immediately. And safe – it’s something people in the West talk about repeatedly with some of Africa’s less-frequented countries. ‘Is it safe to travel there?’ Of course, like anywhere else in the world – you should be savvy and aware of your surroundings, but otherwise it is completely safe. It is this Western attitude that sometimes keeps people from traveling to places like Ethiopia, this discomfort with the unknown. And of course opinions from arrogant political leaders don’t help. But it is a shame that more people don’t visit.
When I was touring Lalibela – a religious area in the country with rock-hewn monolithic churches chiseled between the 12th to 16th centuries, I visited St. George. It is the most famous church in Ethiopia (one you will see on postcards) and arguably one of the most famous in the world. But there were no other tourists there. While it was a benefit to me to be able to walk around in peace, it struck a chord and made me realize how few people take the opportunity to explore Ethiopia.
When I visited the camel caravans of the Danakil Depression I was floored. Groups of camels carry salt blocks from the Asebo Lake salt mines all the way to Mekele; a distance of over 200kms and a month long return trip. Each camel carries up to 140kgs. The wear and tear on their bodies is evident, and I asked one of the guides if he thought they would ever use more modern modes of transportation, like trucks, for the journey. He smiled, and told me that transporting the salt this way (the same way they’ve been doing it for hundreds of years) is good for the community. Additionally, they are always hoping to increase tourism and want to keep some of their customs the same to be able to show tourists visiting from other countries, to teach them about their culture.
Having been to Ethiopia, I can see that an increase in tourism more than anything else could have a positive impact on their economy. I hope that by sharing some of my experiences I can play some small role in encouraging travelers to consider Ethiopia in the future.
Catie | Catie the Explorer
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» Democratic Republic of the Congo «
As a kid I used to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo for all my school holidays. Many people were always surprised by this because the DRC is not somewhere that is commonly traveled to. I don’t think I ever really appreciated the beauty of the country, until I returned for the first time in seven years last December.
Often when people think of DRC, they think about the headlining news that you see. Conflict, civil war, poverty, and disparity: These are always words that are associated with news stories out of this African nation. What many don’t hear about are the people that travel hours per day to the city, just so they can support their families. They don’t hear about the vibrant culture, filled with dancing, music, and colourful traditional clothing known as kitenge. They don’t see the bustling markets, or busy streets. They don’t witness the dedication of the Congolese people, trying to make the best of their situations.
Most of all what often goes unnoticed is the beauty of the country. From the Congo River, which separates the capital city of Kinshasa by a mere 7km from the capital of the Republic of Congo, Brazzaville, to the amazing natural beauty of the national parks in Eastern DRC. Many people don’t know about the bonobos, only endemic to the DRC, our closest animal relative that share over 99% of our DNA. They don’t know about the breathtaking and very active Nyiragongo Volcano that you can trek through. They don’t realize that you can trek through the forests to see gorillas in their natural habitats. More often than not the beauty of the DRC goes unnoticed.
The DRC may not be on your travel list, but it is a beautiful country where people have managed to stay resilient through some very difficult times. These people have experienced hardships that I could never even dream of, but they persevere anyways. The vibrant culture, beautiful scenery and resilient people are just some of the reasons that the DRC is not a shithole country.
Aleena | Traipse Towards (blog coming soon!)
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» El Salvador «
While in El Salvador, I had the opportunity to interact with so many incredible local individuals and families, all of whom were so generous and showed us the warmest hospitality. Even now, over ten years later, El Salvador is still relatively free of tourism (unlike some Central American hotspots, like Costa Rica), and provides an opportunity for intimate engagement with local people.
One reason few people travel to this Central American nation is because, following a history of civil war and drug crimes, El Salvador is often labeled as dangerous, yet the crime rate here is lower than many major US cities. Speaking of history, El Salvador is a great place to learn about the culture and history of the Olmecs, Mayans, Toltecs, and the Pipil. There are a number of important archaeological sites central to the history of this region.
This country is wrought with beautiful pyramids, volcanoes, crater lakes, beaches and more. It’s a hot-spot for surfing, and has some incredibly beautiful national parks for hiking. Delicious, low-cost food can be found at every turn. I came to fall in love with pupusas, a traditional Salvadorian dish, and still go to eat them every time I find an El Salvadorian restaurant.
Don’t miss out on the chance to visit this beautiful, diverse, and underrated shithole!
Lena Papadopoulos, writer & educator
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» Madagascar «
I remember the moment we drove up to the Avenue of Baobabs in Morondava, Madagascar, and I thought, wow what is this business? I had been building up this image in my head of what the avenue will look like because of Instagram. It always looked unreal, like a painting more than a photograph, so obviously the photographers must have enhanced the photos, but then there I stood on a street lined with trees that look like they had been drawn and painted into the scene.
There are so many places we go to with high expectations because of the way social media uses presets and filters to create a reality that isn’t quite the truth. But the truth of the matter is, I have never seen such a beautiful landscape in my entire life, in person. No picture ever does this place justice. And then to top it off we had our guide, Ludo, with us who was from the area and may have been the nicest man I have ever met.
This man waited around for three hours with us, because we were too early for sunset on the avenue, and I didn’t want to miss it. Sure it was his job, but he could have easily not asked us and just kept the car going and taken us back. But he gave us the choice, on Christmas eve, only to wake up Christmas morning and take us back there for sunrise. I will never forget spending my Christmas among the baobabs, and couldn’t imagine the idea of anyone considering this place, let alone this country a ‘shit-hole’. But then again, I have been there… have you?
Sara | The Life of a Solivagant
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» Sierra Leone «
I spent most of my time in Sierra Leone working in an Ebola Treatment Unit during the outbreak. So I must think Trump got it right, then? West Africa is a “shithole” full of destitution, disease, and disaster?
Wrong. In fact, this ignorant assumption could not be further from the truth.
Every country (the “great” United States included) faces challenges. Natural disasters, disease, and corruption are not limited to any one place (or race). What defines a nation is not whether problems exist within its borders, but rather how its people respond to them.
By that metric, Sierra Leone could put the USA to shame. While many Americans I knew were screeching about closing our borders and sealing off West Africa to burn itself out, the people I met in Sierra Leone were stepping up to save their country. I worked alongside local nurses whose bravery and perseverance in the literal face of death empowered me to overcome my own fears. Friends and family praised me for volunteering to “save” West Africa – but these Sierra Leonean heroes were already saving themselves.
During my month in Sierra Leone, I only had one free day to get a taste of what the country is really like. It left me ravenous for more. While world news told only stories of death and disease, I spent a glorious day sunbathing on pristine Bureh Beach, floating in turquoise waves, and eating delectable lobster fresh from the ocean for the price of a song.
If this is what’s beneath the surface of every shithole country, then sign me up for a world tour. I’ve never visited a shithole yet that I didn’t fall in love with; America has a lot to live up to.
Emily | Two Dusty Travelers
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If you want to see some of these shithole countries responding to Trump with their characteristic awesomeness, check out this collection of comebacks. My personal favorite is Kenya, with: “Your embarrassment of a president is senile, impeach him and save yourselves from never-ending shame.” Can’t really say it better than that.
What’s your favorite shithole country? Tell us why you love it in the comments!
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