The Best Countries in the World: 2019 Readers' Choice Awards

(VOVWORLD) - Proving once again we have the world's best traveled readers.

For our 32nd annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey—yes, more than three decades—a record 600,000 registered voters weighed in on their favorite countries around the globe. If travel is an engine fueled by imagination, the far-flung spots voted on by our readers—like Cambodia, perennial classic Italy, and ever-intriguing Japan—represent the dreamiest travel wish lists come to life. Below, the complete results of the world’s best countries from the survey. The time to book a flight is now.

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20. Croatia

Leave Italy for the hordes of tourists; Croatia is the relaxed Mediterranean getaway of your dreams. With hundreds of miles of pristine coastline dotted with islands, the country is tailor-made for a beach vacation of lazy days in the sun. The capital city, Zagreb, is a pedestrian fever dream, with immensely walkable streets, an ancient walled city, large open-air markets, open-air cafés, even a Museum of Broken Relationships. National parks like Mljet and Krka offer acres of greenery if you’re just so tired of looking at the sapphire blue waters of the Adriatic, while the stunning medieval city of Dubrovnik—which gained fame as King’s Landing in Game of Thrones—is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and offers both history and television buffs plenty of Instagram fodder. But to reiterate: If you’re not lounging on a beach in Croatia, you’re doing something wrong.

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19. Cambodia

Cambodia beguiles. Witnessing dawn break over the ancient temples at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap rivals viewing the Taj Mahal or Petra in Jordan. Ancient sites such as the wat contrast with the modernity of the capital, Phnom Penh, where travelers can meander through temples and tea rooms, even the Royal Palace—that is, when they’re not artfully dodging traffic. For a different pace of life, the country’s southern coast offers a more laid-back experience, with tiny fishing villages on the region's islands. And don’t be afraid to wander: There’s more to this verdant country than meets the eye. Venture away from the crowds and you’ll meet devout monks, find hidden walled cities, and colorful temples that will awe as much as inspire.

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18. Ireland

If there’s one positive cliche about Ireland it’s that it’s a land of some of the friendliest people you’ll encounter. Of course, it’s downright beautiful, to boot: From postcard-perfect Kerry and Cork to the dramatic Causeway Coast, to imposing Skellig Michael, it’s as if Ireland has no bad angles. Flights via Aer Lingus to this green land are affordable and plentiful, and a balance of whimsy and modern luxuries (hotels, restaurants, and culture) ensure there’s something for everyone. The home of Joyce, Shaw, and Beckett, Dublin is also growing into a tech hub for the likes of Google, Facebook, and Airbnb—a boon for local businesses and an inducement for more global, cultural development. Nearby Belfast (an hour-and-a-half north from Dublin by car) may be part of Northern Ireland, but it too is a draw as its come into its own.

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17. New Zealand

A perennial favorite, New Zealand is whatever you want to it to be. Looking for adventure? Launch yourself—literally—500 feet across a valley from the Nevis Catapult, a contraption invented by the creators of bungee-jumping. Or you can, you know, just take a hike through the country’s expanse of green fields, high mountains, and gorgeous beaches. Being outdoors is a way of life in this island nation, which also just happened to serve as the backdrop for Middle-earth in Lord of the Rings. The thing with New Zealand—whether you’re on the North or South Island—is that it’s all one giant scenic route. Take the long way, whether by top-to-bottom road trip through valleys and vineyards, swing by beaches (Hawke’s Bay, anyone?), meet the locals, like the dynamic Maori. Get out of your car to sip some wine—the country is renowned for its pinot noir—or meander through comfortably appointed Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. In this laidback country, there’s no wrong choice.

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16. Colombia

Colombia cannot be pinned down. Caribbean coast, sky-high Andean summits, jewel-toned Amazonian jungles, former colonial metropolises, and ancient ruins: It’s all here. The sheer diversity of landscapes and natural experiences is enough to entice travelers to visit, but throw in energetic, sophisticated cities like Bogotá and Cartagena and you’ve got the makings of a real destination. In the latter, you’ll find colorful, beautifully preserved colonial streets, Caribbean beaches, and some of the best food the country has to offer—arepas, aguardiente, you name it. Ecotourism, meanwhile, has helped the country recover from years of violence, attracting young backpackers to the countryside to explore forests and hike mountain trails.

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15. Israel

A hotbed of complicated politics, millennia of history, awe-inspiring vistas: Israel is as likely to confound as it is to delight. From cities like Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, modern politics are never far from one’s mind, but an influx of modern services, hotels, and restaurants are shifting the conversations. The government continues to encourage development, essentially marketing that the country is open for business. In Tel Aviv, the country’s de facto capital for food, this is certainly true: Frenetic, lively markets hawk fresh and local foods, while international chefs like Israeli-born Michael Solomonov and London’s Yotam Ottolenghi continuously draw inspiration from the region’s cuisine. In Jerusalem, you’ll find some of the world’s most sacred sites, like the Wailing Wall, but beyond the well-worn pilgrimage trails, you’ll also see an influx of modern life amid the luxury hotel boom. If nothing else, visiting this country at a crossroads of religion and culture will always be memorable.

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14. Tanzania

Thanks to booming tourism, English-speaking locals, and political stability Tanzania doesn’t exactly fly under the radar. But as a teeming source of natural wonder and experiences, it’s a draw for anyone looking to suck the marrow out of life. If you’re planning a safari in Tanzania (and you should), you'll have a great shot to see all of the Big Five, as the flat, never-ending Serengeti provides endless opportunities to witness nature’s bounty. Roaming wildebeests, elegant giraffes, baobab trees: they’re all here, as if straight out of the original Lion King, but in stark, live technicolor. Seeking more than bush and plains? Head to the miles of coast along the Indian Ocean, where you’ll find white sand beaches, palm trees, and languid, lazy sunrises. Of course, Tanzania is also home to Mt. Kilimanjaro, a seductive quest for intrepid mountaineers seeking to climb the highest peak in Africa.

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13. Mexico

Mexico has long been the first destination of many Americans who want to travel but don’t know where to go begin. For starters, consider Mexico City, the sprawling jewel of a capital. If you're planning to come only for the food—whether it be humble-but-mighty al pastor street tacos or the show-stopping dishes at Pujol—you’re guaranteed a great trip. But between meals you’ll find sophisticated shopping streets and wide, tree-lined boulevards leading to museums and galleries. For a completely different side of Mexican culture, head to the emerald green coast of Yucatan and capital city, Merida. Here, a European past (think 18th century Spanish and French mansions) is juxtaposed with native markets and local artisans, supported by a growing number of tourists and expats. Elsewhere, Oaxaca continues to draw fans of its native spirit, mezcal, while travelers are increasingly drawn to design-forward second cities Puebla and Guadalajara.

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12. Japan

Many people think Tokyo is the world’s best city, and frankly, who’s arguing? The mega-metropolis has everything you can ask for—sophisticated urban living, impeccable dining (even in the form of vending machines!), and a dizzying array of culture, spanning fashion to music. But Japan isn’t limited to Tokyo. From relaxing country onsens to rural towns hiding cultural gems, like incredible architecture, Japan is a fascinating gift worth taking the time to unwrap. The legendary efficiency of Japanese train travel makes it a dream to get around and see the sights—think Shinto temples, museums, and of course, iconic cherry blossom trees. While Japan has long been famous for its food and sake, it is also a rising destination for modern cocktails, wine, and spirits like gin and whisky. Is there anything the Japanese don’t do?

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11. Turkey

While there have been State Department warnings to exercise caution when traveling to some parts of Turkey over the last few years, the country remains a top destination for global travelers. Istanbul, for instance, will never go out of style, especially in districts like Karaköy, where a burgeoning arts scene is attracting students and bohemians with new galleries and museums. But let’s be real: You may never even leave the glimmering Istanbul New Airport—fast-becoming a literal destination unto itself, thanks in part to its massive duty-free shopping zone, already stocked with 1,000 luxury brands like Gucci, Celine, and Prada. And while Istanbul offers everything in the way of food and history, there’s no question that glamorous seaside escapes to the country’s Turquoise Coast does a world of good.

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10. Vietnam

Vietnam is a country that pulses with energy and has plenty of well-trodden paths. While bustling metros Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hoi An are renowned for their vibrant street food, markets, and cultural offerings, head away from urban centers and you’ll find peaceful natural surroundings and sacred temples. The country has long been known as a bastion for intrepid backpackers, but that’s fast changing. For starters, more than 2,000 miles of coastline holds to some of the best beaches in the world, while a countryside of undulating rice terraces and hills provides serenity away from the crowded, chaotic cities. Here, you’ll find architectural wonders as well—ancient imperial temples, forts, and tombs, which are in direct contrast to the hive-like buzz of scootered metropolis of Hanoi. The dichotomy is energetic and striking.

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9. Italy

What’s there to say about evergreen favorite Italy? The Eternal City of Rome—from the iconic Coliseum to its incredible restaurant scene—isn’t going anywhere, and its art capital Venice is still with us. While these ancient, gorgeous cities continue to attract tourists and travelers looking for a taste of the past, they’re also embracing the present and future with open arms. Inspired museum curators and artists, for instance, are leveraging technology—think VR and other multi-media—to bring the country’s history into the 21st century, and the travel experience is all the better for it. Florence, meanwhile, is experiencing its own renaissance, whether in its modern eateries that go beyond old-school trattorias, or hip bars that serve everything from natural wine to killer cocktails. Even that famed sparkling wine region, Prosecco, is stepping into the limelight, as the area’s steep, verdant vineyards were recently recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. We’ll cheers to that.

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8. Philippines

Not only is the Philippines one of the world's top countries according to our readers, it also happens to have one of the top five islands—and this, coming from an archipelago nation of 7,000. The idyllic Palawan is a mere one-and-a-half hour flight from capital Manila, and is a knife-sliver of an island offering pristine beaches and untouched forest interiors for those looking for a true escape. (Don’t miss the UNESCO-recognized Puerto Princesa underground river, an otherworldly tour of hanging limestone formations and deep caves.) Head to the little-known Calamian islands in the country’s north, where you can seek out your own stretch of sand on any of 100 isolated islands, or find a local fisherman to enjoy their grilled catches-of-the-day. Back on the mainland, colonial influences from Spain, Japan, China, and the U.S. may shape Manila’s past, but it’s defining its own future, fast-becoming a hub for international travelers, tech corporations, and urbanites. For years, the city has been attracting top chef talent while traditional cuisines (with dishes like adobong and halo halo, as well as literal boatloads of seafood) continue to thrive. The artsy Fringe festival has also taken up residence here, and hotels like The Amelie and The Luneta offer refuge from the city’s pulsating energy.

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7. Greece

In recent years, Greece has been recovering from one financial or political crisis after another, but the country is bouncing back. This is most apparent in capital city Athens—that birthplace of western civilization, and cradle of literature and ancient philosophy—where the massive Renzo Piano-designed Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center houses the National Opera and National Library, along with everything from free yoga classes to soccer matches in its grand plazas and gardens. And while the city’s stonework dates to 400 B.C., in the form of still-stunning columns and sculptures, a contemporary, hip renaissance of restaurants, bars, and hotels are attracting more and more travelers. Greece is, of course, famous for its islands, namely living postcards Santorini and Mykonos, but if you’re looking to avoid their moonie-eyed newlyweds or delirious club kids, whisk off to seemingly untouched Milos and Patmos. Leave it to the locals to steer you in the right direction.

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6. Peru

Peru’s national tourism board predicts the country will attract 7 million tourists by 2021, which means now’s the time to get down to the South American country if you haven’t already. While overtourism threatens iconic sites like Machu Picchu, the city of Cuzco, and the Sacred Valley—such that the government has mandated restrictions for visitors—this country offers plenty to adventurous travelers, if you know where to look. Start in capital city, Lima, where you’ll find an incredible international food scene, local markets, traditional artisans, and charming hotels. Or head 350 miles northwest, where you’ll find the sleepy beach town of Huanchaco, which has an ancient history of surfing—it’s believed that since at least 1,500 B.C., locals have been riding caballitos de totora, which may have been the world’s first surf boards. Take that, Hawaii. Want the bragging rights of hitting up Machu Picchu but also want to avoid the crowds? Consider a laid-back cruise that includes excusions up to ancient Incan cities rarely visited by landlubbers. You’ll experience views of the Andes and waves of the Pacific, while learning about the up-and-down twin histories of Peru and neighboring Chile.

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5. South Africa

Poised on the tip of Africa, South Africa is one of the continent’s most dynamic countries, a land of wild safaris, impeccable wines, and awe-inducing beaches. Cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg attract international crowds to this hard-to-reach corner of the world, but once you’re here, you won’t regret it. For a dose of the party life with a touch of ocean spray, head to Cape Town’s famous party beach, Camps Bay, where you’ll find a buzzing promenade of hotels, bars, and restaurants set against the stunning backdrop of the Twelve Apostles mountain range, or escape to the quieter Winelands, touring vineyards and wineries in world-renowned regions like Hemel-en-Aarde, known for its Burgundian-style pinot noirs that speak to South Africa’s rising prominence in the wine world. Head west from Cape Town and you can check out stunning national parks and stylish, secluded hotels, while in Jo’burg, you’ll discover a city whose food scene is heating up. You'll also find historical sites like the Apartheid Museum that takes on the country's complicated, and modern offerings like the Keyes Art Mile, studded with boutiques and art galleries that celebrate the city’s contemporary renaissance.

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4. Sri Lanka

When terrorists attacked Sri Lanka in early 2019, the island nation’s hard-earned reputation as an idyllic escape suffered a blow, especially affecting locals employed in the tourism trade. In the months since, the country has made efforts to once again attract travelers—like offering tourists free travel visas—and slowly, they’re returning. With countless sacred sites, boundless crystal blue waters, and picturesque jade green tea estates, Sri Lanka offers myriad charms to those willing to explore. The axiom “big things come in small packages” certainly applies here: The island nation is full of post- and pre-colonial history in capital city Colombo, and eight UNESCO World Heritage sites. In recent years, a hotel boom has led to the opening of wellness resorts and high-end spas that all put you within arm’s reach of your dream vacation.

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3. Portugal

With increased flights to capital city Lisbon, a buzzing creative scene in hip Porto, incredible wines throughout the Douro Valley, and the green islands of the Azores, Portugal has it going on. Gawk at the historical tile-work, known as azulejos, in picturesque Lisbon while you search out a cafe or lounge featuring live fado performances, the country’s signature music style. In Porto, eat your weight in pastel de nata, the country’s famous egg tart, before checking out the sculptures at the Serralves Foundation, the floor-to-ceiling shelves at Lello book shop, or any number of more stomach-bursting bistros. While you’re at it, escape the city for the coasts, or even better, indulge in a wine country trip to the soulful, stunning Alentejo region, a short drive from Lisbon. Alentejo’s vineyard vistas rival those in Italy or France and its wines—made with robust indigenous grapes like Touriga Nacional and Aragonez—are a draw unto themselves, but paired with chic boutique hotels housed in restored 19th-century buildings and impeccable regional cuisine, you may never want to leave.

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2. Thailand

Long a destination for gap year travelers and backpackers, Thailand’s combination of bustling metros, unforgettable street food culture, and blissed-out historical sites is attracting travelers of all stripes. Thailand can be described with one word: Energetic. From internationally renowned gatherings like Songkran, the five-day-long new year celebration, to the infinitely photogenic lantern festivals, tourists can experience firsthand Thai customs and traditions. Adventurous types can island hop to a cluster of jungle-covered islands off the coast—perfect for a day trip—but if you’re seeking creature comforts, urban centers like Bangkok and Chiang Mai offer plenty of cultural immersion. You can’t go to Thailand though, without experiencing the country’s spirit-lifting sacred sites, like Wat Pho, where you’ll not only find the country’s largest Buddha, a 150-foot sculpture of golden calm, but also a renowned massage school, open to walk-ins and appointments.

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1. Indonesia

Indonesia is fast becoming the new travel destination for nomads. People are catching on to its modern resorts, secluded beaches, and awe-inspiring temples. The semi-secluded trio of the Gili islands beckon with sleepy, sun-drenched beaches—alongside spas and vacation homes. Bali continues to lure aspiring yogis and partygoers alike, with healers and spa retreats coexisting peacefully with popular beach clubs. It’s no surprise  Indonesia scored the highest among our readers. We have a feeling the mix of ancient temples, world-renowned surfing, and inviting spirituality have something to do with it.