(CNN)Unusual travel experiences are nothing new, and some are becoming so common their mystique is losing its luster.
North Korea? No big deal.
Bhutan? Not so secretive any more.
But visiting a country that doesn’t even exist — now that would be niche.
We’re not talking Narnia or Oz, but places here on planet Earth.
And there’s at least 50 of them.
“Everyone’s familiar with the political world map,” says Nick Middleton, travel author and Oxford University geography fellow.
“It looks as if the entire planet’s surface is carved up, every square centimeter accounted for — which it is, in one sense. But what that map doesn’t show you is the large number of wannabe nation states, which are also there, but seldom get a look in.”
Middleton has compiled a collection of these unrecognized nations in his book “An Atlas of Countries That Don’t Exist: A Compendium of Fifty Unrecognized and Largely Unnoticed States.”
It’s a tour of the world’s forgotten, shunned and unrecognized corners.
“They’re all intriguing in their own different ways,” he says.
Some are politically contentious; some, such as Forvik in the Shetland Islands, are microscopic; others, for example Greenland, hide in plain sight.
What’s clear is that many make great destinations for travelers.
So where to go?
Here are the highlights (passport not always required):
Located in the Horn of Africa, the 3.5 million people of Somaliland have sought independence from Somalia since 1991.
The would-be nation is an “island of tranquility, relatively speaking, compared to the rest of the country,” according to Middleton.
There are direct flights available from Nairobi.
Somaliland’s self-declared borders reflect those of the former British Somaliland Protectorate.
Its capital Hargeisa is abuzz with an optimism not always felt by its Somalian counterpart Mogadishu — remarkable considering the former was largely destroyed in the 1980s civil war.
With 850 kilometers of coastline there’s no shortage of beaches, as well as Laas Geel, a collection of 5,000-year-old cave paintings, only discovered in 2002 and located just 50 kilometers from Hargeisa.
Nick Middleton says that “of all the 50 that I’ve included in the book, Greenland probably has the best chance of gaining independence in my lifetime.”
It will come as a surprise to some that Greenland is not a recognized country, but instead a 2.23-million-square-kilometer autonomous part of Denmark — itself over 50 times smaller.
Only in 2009 was Greenlandic — spoken by nearly all 57,000 residents — recognized as the island’s official language, along with the decision by Denmark to allow self-rule (seen as the last step towards full independence).
Ilussant Icefjord is among the UNESCO-recognized highlights of any trip to the territory, or Uummannaq, where the World Ice Golf Championship is hosted every year.
Middleton describes this ancient territory as “straddling parts of Argentina and Chile,” but the Mapuche people, despite formal recognition by the Spanish empire, lost control of their territory to both nations in the 19th century.
Many of the Mapuche — “people of the land” — have forgone their rural lifestyle, moving to cities.
Its nominative capital Temuco, in southern Chile, is now home to a large chunk of the 1.7 million Mapuche population.
Mapuche textiles and craftwork are easily available in Temuco.
Attractions in wider Mapuche include Parque Nacional Conguillio and Pucon in the Chilean Lake District, with its forests of Monkey Puzzle trees.
The Patagonia Highway also passes through the region.
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