Here’s a way to really impress people at the next cocktail party you attend. Share with them that you have been spending time visiting countries that, according to the United Nations, don’t exist. The UN recognizes 193 member countries. The following three countries don’t make the list (even though Americans need a visa to enter them).
A monument from the war of independence in downtown Hargeisa (Photo: Ric Gazarian)
Remember Blackhawk Down? Somaliland is a breakaway country that declared independence in 1991 from Somalia during the anarchy of the Somalian civil war. It is not recognized by any country.
A khat seller (Photo: Ric Gazarian)
Why Go: Stroll the dusty, jammed streets of Hargeisa and let your senses soak in the scene. Consider joining the throngs and chewing khat, an amphetamine-like stimulant found on the Horn of Africa. Feel like a millionaire, and change some U.S. dollars into the local currency: a $100 bill equates to about six pounds of local currency. And finally, science nerds might geek out visiting a former back-up runway for NASA space shuttles.
Somaliland ATM (Photo: Ric Gazarian)
Getting there: You can fly to Somaliland via Djibouti, Mogadishu, or Addis Ababa. You can also take a bus from Ethiopia or Djibouti. If so, beware of the occasional land mine.
Timeless cave paintings at Laas Geel with your personal bodyguard (Photo: Ric Gazarian)
Risk: Several risks might make you reconsider visiting Somaliland. The U.S. State Department has warned: “U.S. citizens contemplating travel to Somalia, including Somaliland, are advised to obtain kidnap insurance, as well as medical evacuation insurance, prior to travel.” Some of the Somaliland community is virulently opposed to photography, and even holding a camera may result in physical harm. When you leave the capital of Hargeisa, don’t fret: the soldier bearing an AK-47 and accompanying you is there for your protection. Members of the LGBT should take heed, for homosexuality may be punished by execution. Lastly, Somaliland is dry — no alcohol.
Don’t Miss: Laas Geel is a series of cave complexes that are considered to be the best preserved rock paintings in Africa. These paintings date back between 9000 and 3000 BC.
Beautiful Dadivank (Photo: Ric Gazarian)
Nagorno-Karabakh was an ethnically Armenian autonomous region of Azerbaijan during the Soviet Union. The citizens of NK voted for independence in 1991 while the Soviet Union was disintegrating. This ushered in a war between Azerbaijan and NK, with support from Armenia. With the defeat of Azerbaijan, a 1994 cease fire led to the creation of this independent nation. Today, NK is recognized by a trio of unrecognized countries: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria.
Burnt-out tank from war of independence from Azerbaijan (Photo: Ric Gazarian)
Why Go: Nagorno-Karabakh is known for its mountainous beauty and cultural richness. Ancient monasteries and churches are found throughout the country. Karabakhi hospitality is well documented in the region. Don’t be surprised to find yourself eating a family meal in a local village with numerous oghi (homemade mulberry vodka) toasts. Hike the Janapar Trail, an untouched walk that crosses the country and takes two weeks to traverse. In the ancient Armenian walled-city of Shushi, you can wander the streets and gaze at the majestic Ghazanchetsots Cathedral.
Getting There: NK is only accessible via Armenia, a winding, five-hour drive from Yerevan to Stepanakert, the two capitals. The non-operating airport was recently renovated, but the callous Azerbaijan government has vowed to shoot down any civilian flights entering its “territory.”
New friends on a picnic (Photo: Ric Gazarian)
Risk: Ilham Aliyev, the warmongering Azerbaijan president, has frequently threatened to invade NK. Stay clear of the border between the two countries, where sniping and the occasional kidnapping take place. Thousands of mines were also laid during the conflict from 1991-1994 and some are still present.
Don’t Miss: The ancient Gandzasar Monastery (its name means “hilltop treasure”), which sits on a mountain offering panoramic views. Dadivank Complex is hidden in the hills and dates back to the 9th century.
Lenin stands guard in Transnistria capital of Tiraspol (Photo: Bohemian Blog)
In 1990, this toothpick-thin country in Eastern Europe gained independence from Moldova, arguably another breakaway country, with a little help from its friends: Russia. Transnistria is recognized by South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Why Go: Take a step back in time. The Soviet Union is alive and well in Transnistria: a sickle and hammer is still found on passports here, and a statue of Lenin lords over the capital of Tiraspol. Spend some time at the Kvint distillery and enjoy the VIP cognac tasting. This award winning distillery dates back to the 19th century.
On the march (Photo: Bohemian Blog)
Getting There: You can take a car, bus, or train from Moldova or Ukraine. There is no airport in Transnistria.
Risk: Russia just gobbled up Crimea, snatching it from Ukraine. It is rumored that Transnistria might be next on the list. Visitors report issues when entering Transnistria, and corrupt border guards enjoy receiving bribes from western tourists. This unrecognized country is also a clearinghouse for black market items like liquor and guns.
Looking for their husbands (Photo: Nate Robert)
Don’t Miss: Plan your trip during Independence Day in September and partake in an old-school Soviet military parade. Enjoy soldiers marching and the military band keeping the beat. Even more entertaining are the wanna-be-brides in wedding dresses parading down the street searching for their future husbands.
WATCH: France Says Armenia, Azerbaijan To Hold More Talks On Nagorno-Karabakh
Ric Gazarian shares his travel experiences at GlobalGaz. He is also the producer of the travel-adventure documentary, Hit The Road India.