With almost 200 countries in the world, you’d have to be a pretty huge geography geek to know about about each and every single one of them. But every country has a story, and some of the ones you’ve never heard of have incredibly rich histories that are full of radical leaders who tirelessly fought for independence.
Collected here you’ll find 12 countries with very little global recognition—some of them are beautiful secret paradises, some of them are troubled by shaky economies, and a few of them are in very real danger of literally sinking into the ocean and being lost forever. But they all fly their own flag and their citizens all have their own unique sets of customs and practices that have come to define who they are.
A former colony of the German Empire, Nauru is a small potato-shaped island in the South Pacific. Just over 10,000 people live on the 8.1 square mile island. By area, it’s the third smallest state in the world next to Monaco and Vatican City.
Though it was once called Pleasant Island, the country’s current state of affairs probably wouldn’t do the name justice. In the early 1970s it boasted the highest per-capita income of any sovereign state in the world, due largely to its phosphate mining industry. But once the phosphate reserves were exhausted, the money dried up and the environment was left almost completely destroyed. The country is now a shadow of its former self and has become a known center for tax evasion and illegal money laundering.