10 forgotten corners of the Commonwealth you’d never thought to visit

Dominica is one of the Caribbean

The Commonwealth is, of course, the last vestige of a British Empire which once straddled the globe. This much many people know. And yet – that this reminder of a different era still stretches to six continents (only Antarctica stands askance) and 53 countries is often overlooked. There was a saying that the sun never set on Queen Victoria’s realm – but nor does it disappear over the modern descendent of that colonial expanse in the reign of Elizabeth II.

Today (March 11) marks Commonwealth Day – the celebration of this collection of nations that is held on the second Monday of every March.

This seems an apposite moment to peer closely at the map, and pick out those members of the family on whom the travel spotlight does not always fall. Because, for every Commonwealth giant – notably India and Canada – there is a fragment of the South Pacific or an underappreciated segment of Latin America. The following ten destinations – all fascinating, all unheralded – are wholly worthy of your time if wanderlust strikes soon.


While Antigua, Barbados and St Lucia – all members of the Commonwealth – are popular parts of the Caribbean, little Dominica (not to be confused with the decidedly larger Dominican Republic) is less known by sun-seeking tourists. Partly this is because, instead of white-sand beaches and mega-resorts, it deals in nature, wildlife and untrawled vistas. At just 290 square miles and 71,000 people, it is a speck in the ocean, still heavily clad in rainforest. It was a rabbit caught squarely in the headlights of Hurricane Maria back in 2017, but has largely recovered from the chaos.

Essential sight: For those who fancy a spot of exercise under the tropical sun, the Waitukubuli National Trail is the first long-distance trail of its kind in the Caribbean – a winding route which stretches to a leg-sapping 115 miles (waitukubulitrail.com).

Dominica is one of the Caribbean’s lesser-known gems


Travel package: Motmot Travel (01327 359 622; motmottravel.com) proffers a 12-day “Dominica Nature Holiday” which dissects the island in detail. From £1,995 per person – including all international flights (changing in either Antigua or Barbados).

Further information: dominica.dm


Colonial Britain’s reach into Latin America did not overly intrude on the continental carve-up between Spain and Portugal – but it went far enough to ensure lasting ties with this humid delight of a country, which sighs in the heat-haze under a jungle canopy. It remains a niche concern for travellers, trapped between its giant neighbours Brazil and Venezuela, and overshadowed by both – but those who venture in discover a state whose Amerindian genetics are gloriously visible. Indeed, Iwokrama International Centre – a preserved tranche of rainforest at the heart of the matter (iwokrama.org) – resembles some sort of survivor of a South America which never met a conquistador.

Essential sight: Kaieteur Falls – neither as tall as Angel Falls (in Venezuela), nor as feted as Iguacu Falls (in Argentina and Brazil), but perhaps more wonderful than both.

Kaieteur Falls


Travel packages: Guyana specialist Wilderness Explorers (020 8417 1585; wilderness-explorers.com) offers a 14-day “Guyana Nature Experience” which takes in both Kaieteur and Iwokrama. From US$5238 per person – not including flights. KE Adventure Travel (01768 615864; keadventure.com) offers a 15-day Discovering the Hidden Guianas tour that costs £4,695, with flights to Paramaribo with KLM (020 7660 0293; klm.com) starting from £778. Departures in March, September and November.

Further information: guyana-tourism.com


It is often forgotten that Britain also dipped its colonial toes into Central America – although the footprint was small. Belize was once known as “British Honduras” – and slotted onto the map as a territory squished between Mexico and Guatemala. Thirty-eight years after independence (as recently as 1981), it still is, and remains a less-heralded segment of the region – partly because it is currently impossible to fly in directly from Europe (a change at a hub such as Miami is required).

This, though, has helped to preserve Belize’s beauty. It has not embraced beach tourism in the mass-market manner of, say, the Riviera Maya to the north – but it does have some lovely properties along its 240 miles of Caribbean shoreline. Pay a visit during April, May and June, and you have every chance of spotting whale sharks in the oceanic swells.

Rainforest in Belize


Essential sight: Caracol, a vast Mayan archaeological site which is every bit as impressive as Chichen Itza near Cancun – but nowhere near as drowned in visitors.

Travel package: Last Frontiers (01296 653000; lastfrontiers.com) sells a 10-day “Classic Belize” itinerary which combines Mayan heritage with days on the beach, and time in the capital Belize City. From £2,740 per person, including international flights.

Further information: travelbelize.org


This sliver of south-eastern Africa is unusual (though not unique) among Commonwealth nations – in that it never lived under the British flag. It was ruled by Portugal until its independence in 1975, but signed up to be part of the Commonwealth in 1995. Eviscerated by its civil war (1977-92), it has slowly established itself as a mainstream travel destination since the turn of the millennium – thanks to its recovering safari zone Gorongosa National Park, but also its 1,430 miles of sumptuous coastline along the Indian Ocean.

Essential sight: Ibo Island – a fabulous nugget of past and present in the Quirimbas archipelago, where a modern African village nestles alongside the remnants of the Portuguese town which once administered the area. Some of the merchant mansions here have been restored – including the exquisite Ibo Island Lodge (iboisland.com).

Ibo Island


Travel package: Expert Africa (0203 405 6666; expertafrica.com) sells a nine-day “Ibo Beach Holiday” which spends three nights at Ibo Island Lodge (and four on a dhow sailing the Quirimbas) – from £3,145 per person, including flights from the UK.

Further information: visitmozambique.net


Mozambique’s colleague directly to the north is a little behind its neighbour in terms of tourism development, but more than rewards travellers who relish the Africa of bumpy roads, long days in hot vehicles, and immersion into local life. It is also a place whose historical connections to the UK are more pronounced than you might expect. Blantyre, its second biggest city, and the country’s financial capital, was founded by Scottish missionaries in 1876 – who named it after the birthplace of David Livingstone. Somewhat appropriately, it sits in the Shire Highlands, at an elevation of 3,409ft (1,039m) – which gives the air an occasional chill that any Scot would recognise.

Essential sight: It would be an act of astonishing strangeness to go to Malawi and not see Lake Malawi, the ribbon lake – one of Africa’s Great Lakes, and the ninth largest lake on the planet, no less – which stretches north-east to south-west across the country’s torso. Here is an inland sea, where little fishing boats set out before dawn from villages on the shore – and, in certain places, luxury hotels find their groove. Pumulani Lodge, at the bottom of the Nankumba peninsula, is one such case (pumulani.com).

Lake Malawi

sabino.parente – Fotolia

Travel package: TravelLocal (0117 325 7898; travellocal.com) offers a 14-day “Cultural Malawi” jaunt which trawls the country in detail, calling at Blantyre and the lake, and going on safari in Liwonde National Park. From £2,240 a head (flights extra).

Further information: visitmalawi.mw


In some ways, this diminutive parcel of southern Africa is the answer to a quiz question. It is the largest of the planet’s three “true enclaves” – independent states which are surrounded on all sides by a single other country. But while the other two – tiny Vatican City and the not-much-bigger San Marino – are enveloped by Italy, Lesotho is wrapped entirely by its big brother South Africa. Not that this entity of 11,720 square miles is lacking in its own identity. For one thing, it can claim a certain unexpected loftiness. It is the only independent state in the world which sits entirely above an altitude of 1,000m (3,281ft). As a matter of point, no, Nepal does not fit in the same elevated category – the Himalayan kingdom slopes down to as low as 59m (194 ft).

Lesotho even sees snow

Essential sight: Maletsunyane Falls – a water feature where the river of the same name crashes 192m (630ft) – about four times the height of Niagara Falls – near Semonkong.

Travel package: Responsible Travel (01273 823 700; responsibletravel.com) operates a regular “South Africa Scenic Route Small Group Safari” which spends two of its 18 days forging across Lesotho. From €1890 a head – not including international flights.

Further information: visitlesotho.travel

Sierra Leone

Not so long ago, the suggestion that you might take a holiday in Sierra Leone would have been laughable. This troubled portion of West Africa was wracked by one of the continent’s most pernicious civil wars between 1991 and 2002. But since the end of hostilities, the country has taken faltering steps towards stability. True, it is still a place where only the most adventurous travellers go, but seeing its sights is not impossible. And while it is always sensible to check the latest travel warnings for most states in the region, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office currently has no specific concerns about visits to Sierra Leone – its advisory map for the country is an unblemished green.

Sierra Leone has remarkable beaches

Essential sight: Some of Africa’s most stunning beaches, on the Freetown Peninsula. Bureh Beach, in particular, is the sort of sandy strip which demands a thousand photos.

Travel package: For those on a mission to collect passport stamps of the “wow, look where I’ve been” variety, the “Dakar to Freetown” jaunt sold by Intrepid Travel (0808 274 5111; intrepidtravel.com) will surely appeal. This 23-day group odyssey cuts south from Senegal to Sierra Leone, dipping into the Gambia, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau en route. Two departures are slated for November 2019, from £2004 a head (flights extra).

Further information: sierraleonenationaltouristboard.com

Papua New Guinea

If Papua New Guinea has flickered on your radar recently, it is probably for reasons which underscore its essential wildness – back in November, British explorer Benedict Allen vanished off the map for three days while exploring its jungle-shrouded interior in search of the Yaifo tribe. You do not need to go quite so far off the beaten track to see a country which shares the island of New Guinea with Indonesia – although trips here are likely to come with a few bumps and bangs. But for those who want to head where few other tourists dare – while glimpsing fluttering bird-life and one of the planet’s last unspoiled corners – Australia’s swarthy neighbour will certainly suffice.

Port Moresby

Essential sight: Rabaul, a town on the adjacent island of New Britain, which looks neither very British nor very new thanks to the hulking presence of Tavurvur, a very much active volcano which rears above it, frequently belching smoke into the heavens.

Travel package: Cox & Kings (020 3813 9518; coxandkings.co.uk) sells a 14-day “Papua New Guinea Highlands Discovery” break which dallies in the capital Port Moresby, visits the Melpa people in the Wahgi Valley, and hops over to Rabaul for two days of gazing at Mother Nature’s ferocity. From £8,395 per person, with flights.

Further information: papuanewguinea.travel/UK

New Brunswick, Canada

The planet’s second biggest country could never be described as a hidden destination, but its vastness, and the wonders which dot its map – Vancouver, the Rockies, Montreal and Toronto among many others – ensure that some parts of it receive less attention than others. That might be the case with New Brunswick. Only the 11th biggest of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, it brings a relative element of smallness to a nation of near-incomparable scale. It can be explored in a few unhurried days, on a road trip which focuses on a coastline that flanks both the open Atlantic and the Bay of Fundy – a renowned haven for sightings of humpback whales.

Hopewell Rocks are part of the New Brunswick coastline

Essential sight: Incorporated in 1785, Saint John is deemed to be Canada’s first city. Pitched on the Bay of Fundy, it wears its history with pride – Fort Howe dates to 1777. Reversing Falls, meanwhile, does as its name says. When the tide from the Bay is at its strongest, the Saint John River boils with rapids which turn in on themselves.

Travel package: Bon Voyage (0800 316 3012; bon-voyage.co.uk) offers “Atlantic Canada – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island” – a road trip which rolls through the three “smaller” provinces at Canada’s south-eastern corner, across 15 leisurely days. From £1,795 per person, including international flights, car and hotels.

Further information: tourismnewbrunswick.ca

Gujarat, India

For Canada read India – a Commonwealth nation known to everyone, but so sizeable that some of its glories have been unpublicised. Gujarat is a case in point. It is tucked into the north-west corner of the country, so that it shares a border with Pakistan – but is more generally overshadowed by its Indian neighbour Rajasthan, whose palaces and pageantry are more often appreciated by international travellers. Those in on the secret are, though, aware of the loveliness of Gujarat’s coastline – it has a full 992 miles of it.

Ahmedabad’s Old City is Unesco-listed

RCH – Fotolia/Rafal Cichawa

Essential sight: Ahmedabad, the state’s largest city, and its former capital, is attracting growing attention. In 2017 its Old City was added to the Unesco World Heritage list.

Travel package: Steppes Travel (01285 601 751; steppestravel.com) offers “Lions and Leopards of West India”, a 14-day group odyssey which goes in search of big cats in the wild places of Rajasthan and Gujarat – including a visit to the latter’s Gir National Park. From £6,295 per person, including international flights. Next tour in November.

Further information: gujarattourism.com

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