Tropical paradise islands, lush rain forests, pristine sandy white beaches and laid back lifestyle. You’d think these facts alone would be enough to attract hordes of tourists? Sadly not, many islands are so small that they simply wouldn’t be able to cope with huge numbers of tourists.
As there’s only 12 countries in the whole of South America I decided to compile this list merged with Central America and the Caribbean to spice it up a bit. I’ve removed several islands from the list due to them being British/French/Dutch Overseas Territories, rather than independent countries.
The list is compiled with statistics from the World Bank who calculate overnight stays by International visitors.
10 – Saint Lucia
- 2013 International visitors: 319,000
Well, this entry might be a bit controversial as officially Saint Lucia is a British Commonwealth country, although it is an independent nation. St. Lucia has two main sources of income – tourism and bananas.
So what is there to see? Well, although many people only see the inside of their 5* resorts there’s quite a bit to explore including the Sulphur Springs, climbing one of the highest points of the island on the Gros Piton and also snorkelling is incredibly popular.
9 – Haiti
- 2012 International visitors: 295,000
Haiti has had an incredibly tough few years, officially it’s the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere which was made worse by the terrible earthquake that struck in 2010. However, tourists are now starting to rediscover this Caribbean gem and international visitor numbers are on the rise.
Although there were 295,000 visitors in 2012 many of these would have arrived by cruise ships that are granted permission to dock at Labadie, a part of Haiti that is a private resort and is cut off for local residents. A rather sad fact, although thankfully intrepid travellers are discovering the fascinating sites of this former French colony.
8 – Belize
- 2013 International visitors: 249,000
The only Central American country to make it onto the top 10 least-visited countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Belize is a bit of a surprise entry for me. With world-class diving opportunities, Mayan ruins and lush jungles to explore I’m amazed the country doesn’t receive more tourists.
As a former British colony called British Honduras it’s the only Central American country without a coastline on the Pacific Ocean, however as it faces East the country meets the incredible Caribbean Sea.
7 – Suriname
- 2013 International visitors: 249,000
One of only two South American countries feature in the list, the first is Suriname, often referred to as Dutch Guiana. As the smallest independent country on the South American continent it’s not hugely surprising there aren’t more visitors.
With just over half a million residents, many of whom live on the coast the majority of the country is covered in pristine rain forest with 1/3 of the country being declared as a nature reserve. This could be a huge draw for international tourists to discover the native flora and fauna, hopefully conservation will remain a priority instead of the threat from development.
6 – Antigua and Barbuda
- 2013 International visitors: 244,000
Two islands that form one nation, Antigua receives the majority of visitors to this Caribbean hot spot. With very little infrastructure to cope with tourists, Barbuda is rarely visited although the beaches are just as beautiful as Antigua.
These tiny Caribbean islands are members of the British Commonwealth, however they are officially an independent country. With some of the best diving and water sports opportunities in the region this is main reason tourists visit Antigua and Barbuda.
5 – Guyana
- 2012 International visitors: 177,000
Guyana – the hidden gem of South America. Locally known as the “Land of many waters” this country was first colonised by the Dutch and then later by the British before becoming an independent nation in 1966.
Guyana’s main tourist draw is Eco-tourism, jaguars are often at the forefront of what tourists want to see when they visit. In the North West of the country is Shell Beach, a conservation area where visitors have the unique opportunity to see Leatherback, Green and Olive Ridley turtles laying eggs on the beach.
4 – Grenada
- 2013 International visitors: 116,000
Known as the “Spice Island”, Grenada is a major source for spices including nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and cocoa. Like many other Caribbean islands they were colonised by the French and then succeeded to the British several times.
The country is formed of three main islands with so much to see including historic forts, waterfalls, rum distilleries and nature reserves. With many Caribbean islands having to import products due to lack of resources, it’s wonderful to see Grenada produces world-class chocolate, rum and spices. These will be perfect to bring home as gifts or souvenirs which in turn support the local economy and help it to thrive.
3 – Saint Kitts and Nevis
- 2013 International visitors: 107,000
A pair of tropical islands make up this Caribbean country, a colonial lovers paradise with opportunities to look back into the islands past by visiting fortresses and even a scenic railway. These tiny islands have some of the best diving sites in the Caribbean with impressive ship wrecks and reefs to keep people occupied.
As one of the most reasonably priced islands to see, a visit to Saint Kitts and Nevis may not have previously featured on your bucket list but I’d highly recommend doing so soon before the cruise liners begin to arrive, and believe me it will happen soon!
2 – Dominica
- 2013 International visitors: 78,000
Often referred to the “Nature Island of the Caribbean”, I’m shocked more tourists don’t visit Dominica as it caters mainly to the eco and budget-friendly tourists. Originally owned by the French and then eventually by the British, this country became an independent nation in 1980, but still holds membership status to the Commonwealth.
As the most mountainous island of the Lesser Antilles, you’ll discover lush green rainforests and even volcanos. One of the UNESCO World Heritage sites include the Boiling Lake, the second largest hot lake in the world where the temperature can be up to 40 degrees! Well worth a visit…
1 – Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- 2013 International visitors: 72,000
Just north of Grenada is South/Central America and the Caribbean’s least visited independent country. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are a collection of islands within the Caribbean Sea, although the country is relatively small it’s also not the easiest to get around due to the mountainous landscape.
As a former British colony, the nation maintains its relationship with the UK by remaining a part of the Commonwealth. If you’ve dreamed of visiting the Caribbean and imagine it to feature crystal clear turquoise waters with opportunities to swim with turtles and other marine life then this country will live up to all your expectations and will be your perfect paradise.
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