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If you’re a seriously adventurous traveller and you feel like you might have done almost everything there is to do, why not push the boat out a bit and go with heading somewhere a bit unique and strange? Have you ever considered visiting countries that don’t officially exist? By that we mean countries that aren’t actually recognised by other countries and those that aren’t necessarily recognised by the UN (some are). Sound like a cool challenge? Check out some of these awesome ‘countries that don’t exist’.
A breakaway state in the country of Moldova, Transnistria is a unique and challenging place for those who are looking for something a bit more on the adventurous side. Nestled on the eastern side of Moldova between the Dniester River and the Ukrainian border, Transnistria isn’t recognised by Moldova, but has its own border crossings, passport, anthem, flags and money. As part of Mikhail Gorbachov’s perestroika in the 80s and 90s, small groups throughout the USSR developed to promote individual separation, with Moldova being one of the strongest supporters of secession from the Soviet Union. Their desire to go back to their more ethnically Romanian roots set the foundation for the development of a Transnistrian separatist group, and as a result, eventually the region fought for its own independence against the newly formed Moldovan state. Clashes started as early as November of 1990 and lasted into 1992, with Moldova eventually agreeing not to interfere with Transnistrian authorities during a ceasefire which as remained in place to this day.
If there’s one thing Transnistria loves, it’s its Soviet history and it shows through its large collections of Lenin statues throughout the country. The capital, Tiraspol is a hub of different types of industry and is the seat of Transnistrian government. Visitors are only permitted to stay in the country for 24 hours, however, once you’re in, you can extend it.
Want to visit? While there are no direct flights to Tiraspol, you can hop a cheap flight to the likes of Odessa or Chisinau (Ukraine or Moldova) and then take one of the daily buses.
Located south of Morocco and north of Mauritania, this country has a history of receiving interest from other countries, including Spain. In the 1700s, Spain had its eye on the Western Sahara to use it as a port base for the slave trade, but soon changed its focus from slave trading to commercial fishing. During the Berlin Conference in the 1800s, European powers discussed in depth their spheres of influence in Africa as it pertained to colonial control over various regions. It was at this time Spain took control of the Western Sahara and established it as a Spanish colony, with Spanish Morocco presiding over the region.
After World War II when the European influence over African began to wane, Morocco and Mauritania both expressed an interest in the Western Sahara joining its territory, resulting in somewhat of a backlash when not just Morocco and Mauritania got involved, but Algeria as well. All argued that the European colonisation of the area had resulted in parts of their countries being separated from their control. As a result, the Western Sahara fell into a bit of a limbo with regard to who actually it belonged to, with the UN attempting to gain some order in 1975 through a visiting mission, which eventually resulted in the actual invasion by Morocco into the Western Sahara in late 1975.
Getting there can take a bit of work, but isn’t impossible. Catch a flight to one of Morocco’s major cities and then usually a bus, taxi or train can be taken down south to the likes of Agadir, from which you should be able to get to the border and across to Western Sahara. Direct flights are available, but aren’t very common so be sure to look ahead of travelling there. No visa required if entering from Morocco. Borders from Mauritania and Algeria are both closed.
Republic of Artsakh
This area, internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, is actually home to majority ethnic Armenians. After the fall of the Russian Empire in 1918, the region became unstable and the instability resulted in a number of clashes and a brief war in 1920 which was eventually halted once the Soviet Union took control of the area. Disputes in the area remained largely quiet until 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union when they broke out again and led to an ethnic conflict between 1991 and 1994, eventually ending in a ceasefire. Today, Artsakh is a presidential democracy and still heavily relies on Armenia, despite it keeping its unstable and unrecognised sovereignty. As a result, it’s considered a de-facto part of Armenia, but lies within the Azerbaijani border region.
If you’d like to visit Artsakh, you will need to do so via Armenia. Visas are required in advance which can be attained in Yerevan or by visiting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Artsakh’s capital, Stepanakert once you’ve arrived.
So if you’ve been looking for some cool places to check out to add to your growing list of weird and wonderful places, hopefully this short list of unique, unrecognised places will help you make a decision on where to visit for your next adventure. Enjoy!