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The world's top ten most desolate countries
According to a Harvard study, the earth's population will hit seven billion humans in a few months. Earlier this summer, Gadling labs profiled the effects of increasing populations on finite land resources by showcasing the world's most crowded islands. The earth is, in its own way, an island, and 21st century humanity will be presented with the challenge of adapting to rising population levels and static resources.
While countries like India have wrestled with the conundrum of feeding and housing booming population levels in Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai, the countries on this list bear no similarities to the billion strong Indian subcontinent. These countries are the ones with open space - lots of it. Countries like Greenland and Mongolia may someday be utilized for their vast expanses of open terrain, but today they are simply great places to go when you have tired of other human beings.
So while this extraordinarily hot summer may have included elbowing your way through thronged midtown Manhattan in 100 degree heat or hesitantly inhaling the stink rising off the sweaty crowd at Bonnaroo, this list is intended to take you way away from the crowds. From riding a horse through the empty steppes of Mongolia to exploring the glacial highlands of Iceland, each of these countries offers exercises in sweet sweet solitude. None of these countries have more than ten people per square mile.
Location: Northwest Africa
Population density: 8.2 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Nouakchott International Airport
Primer: Mauritania is a sand swept country offering desolation and one of the lowest GDPs on the African continent. Even the well-traveled must consult an atlas to correctly place the country on their mental map. Heavily mined in the east with empty beaches in the West, the country is one of the least visited locations on the planet. Credit cards are not readily acceptable, rain is scarce, and desert covers over half of this one time French occupation. Throw in strained African/Arab relations and you get a very challenging country to visit.
Location: Northeast South America
Population density: 7.6 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: The Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport
Primer: Suriname is a whisper of a nation on South America's north-Atlantic coast. Most Surinamese call the coastal region home, and the interior of the country is an impenetrable rain-forest, inhabited by toucans, parrots, monkeys, deer, and the elusive cock-of-the-rock. 60% of Suriname residents speak Dutch with the rest speaking a collection of fourteen other languages, including Sranan Tongo - a creole dialect. Most tourists come to Suriname for the Amazonian rain-forest, though the northern beaches are surprisingly good -- and empty.
Location: North Atlantic Ocean
Population density: 7.5 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Keflavík International Airport
Primer: When multinational aluminum producer Alcoa decided to build a smelting plant in Iceland, they encountered an extraordinary problem. The Icelandic government required Alcoa to pay specialists to inspect and survey the proposed building site for elves, gnomes, trolls, and fairies - so called "hidden people." The situation strained Alcoa's management because paying specialists to search for "hidden people" seemed to be a bit of a boondoggle, especially from a shareholder point of view. But, Alcoa paid for the service. The intricate search process took six months. This is the type of place Iceland is - unique and folkloric, awkwardly straddling the modern and ancient worlds.
Iceland's geographical diversity spans a wide range. From the fires of active volcanoes to glacial carved fjords, Iceland's landscape provides a full suite of awe-inspiring natural features.
Location: South Indian and Pacific Oceans
Population density: 7.3 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Kingsford Smith Airport
Primer: Australia truly needs no introduction. Its inclusion on this list stems from the vast open quarter that consumes much of its central and western landmass. Roughly 80% of Australians live in the eastern states, and while Australia is one of the world's largest countries geographically, the country's entire population equals that of the Bangkok metropolitan area. This human sparseness is evident to those that venture into the country's vast interior. As one of the most visited countries in the world, Australia boasts both open space and cosmopolitan metropolitan areas. Also: koala bears.
Location: Southern Africa
Population density: 6.6 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport
Primer: Namibia is home to an abandoned German mining town, the world's oldest desert, lots of big cats, and an underground lake thought to be the largest on earth. The dunes of the 80 million year old Namib desert rise off of the desert floor like mountains, and cheetahs prowl the nation's back-country, competing with lions and leopards for bush snacks. Throw in penguins, a 50 ton meteorite, and Ovambo tribesmen that oddly cling to the Lutheran religion, and it is easy to appreciate Namibia's diverse offerings.
5 French Guiana (France)
Location: Northeast South America
People per square mile: 6.2 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Cayenne - Rochambeau Airport
Primer: French Guiana is a throwback to the era of European imperialism. An overseas region of France, the country is the last South American country still considered to be part of Europe. It is almost entirely unsettled wilderness, and one of the most notorious prisons in the world was once located just offshore. The foreboding-sounding Devil's Island housed a number of prisoners, including Clement Duval and Alfred Dreyfuss. Today, half of the population lives in the capital city of Cayenne, and many also live in the unlikely space-town of Kourou. The city of Kourou is the launch site for European Space Agency satellites. Space-related business accounts for 25% of French Guiana's GDP and has been a boost to the local economy since Charles de Gaulle opened the space-travel base in 1964.
4 Western Sahara
Location: Northwest Africa
People per square mile: 5 per square mile
Primary Airport: Hassan I Airport
Primer: Western Sahara, a disputed region in northern Africa, is perhaps the epitome of desolation. With a long coastline lacking credible beaches, a heavily mined military zone, and the topography of a vast arid desert, it is a moonish destination for sure. The temperatures soar during the day and plummet at night. Independent travel is commonly restricted in the region. Literacy is thought to be below 50%. Not exactly selling points, but for those with a taste for sandy adventure, a hatred of tourist hordes, or an interest in political conflict, Western Sahara may just be the country for you.
Location: Central Asia
People per square mile: 4.56 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Chinggis Khaan International Airport (Chinggis Khaan is the Mongolian name for Genghis Khan)
Primer: Mongolia is twice the size of Texas, but with less than three million humans and over sixty million heads of livestock. Nestled between Russia and China, Mongolia is an old kingdom of master horseman and nomadic tribes. The mongols first appear in written history as barbarians who invaded China and prompted the construction of the Great Wall. Today, Mongolians are a welcoming bunch, and the capital city of Ulaanbaatar is stationary - it used to move three times per year.
2 Falkland Islands (U.K)
Location: South Atlantic Ocean
People per square mile: .65 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: RAF Mount Pleasant
Primer: With 2,400 people and 700,000 sheep, the Falkland Islands boast a rather robust sheep to human ratio. A storied past includes the Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom, as well as a series of various European occupations. Today, the sleepy chain of 200 islands is visited by expedition cruisers en route to Antarctica. The visitors to the remote island chain are able to observe five different species of penguin, as well as seals, whales, and a rare indigenous bird of prey - the Striated Caracara.
1 Greenland (Denmark)
Location: North Atlantic
People per square mile: .069 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Kangerlussuaq Airport
Primer: The Greenland misnomer hearkens back to the age of Erik the Red - a viking known for his issues with Norse law. Having been exiled from both Norway and Iceland, Erik came upon this hulking breast of an island further west. To entice future visitors, he coined the island Greenland, and it stuck. Many Nordic settlers moved to Greenland at his urging, probably stumped by its misleading name - 85% of Greenland is covered by a thick sheet of ice. Allegedly, the southern coastal region is actually very green, especially in the summer months. Last year, Gadling labs sent an explorer to the island to comment on its greenness. His findings? It is, in fact, quite green.
While the national dish of boiled seal meat may fail to conjure up a sudden urge to visit the Arctic island, the glacial cut fjords, polar bears, and colorful houses make visiting Greenland an extraordinary experience.
top flickr image via Atli Harðarson
Filed under: Arts and Culture, Learning, Stories, Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, South America, Mauritania, Namibia, Mongolia, Ireland, Australia, Suriname, Ecotourism, Airports, Nightlife, Central America