In this post we will look at the five most visited countries in North America according to official UN figures for global tourism. By North America, we mean USA, Canada and Mexico plus the nations of Central America and the Caribbean.
The figures quoted are for the calendar year of 2018 and rounded up or down to the nearest 100,000. This list covers all countries in the region with the exception of Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, Saba and St Eustatius, none of which have released figures. None of these would likely have featured in any case.
Top 5 Most Visited Countries in North America, Central America & the Caribbean
1. USA – 79.7 million visitors (in 2018)
Unsurprisingly the United States of America ranks as the most visited country in the region with almost 80 million tourist arrivals in 2018. France and Spain are the only countries in the world to receive more visitors each year than the USA.
The US has many world famous travel destinations from the sunshine states of Florida and California to the skyscrapers of New York and the casinos of Las Vegas. Despite its global reputation being at close to an all-time low and tougher immigration policies from the Trump Administration, visitors continue to flock to the US. That being said, there was a slight drop off in terms of tourist numbers in 2019 from the previous year’s figures and clearly 2020 will see a very significant fall.
2. Mexico – 41.3 million visitors
Mexico ranks as the 2nd most popular North American destination with over 40 million visitors in 2018. It ranks as the world’s 7th most visited nation and tourism remains very important to the country as a whole.
The popular spring break resort of Cancun is perhaps its most famous destination but there are many nicer coastal towns where you can get a better taste of the real Mexico. From the sun and surf of the country’s Pacific Coast to the idyllic Caribbean beaches of the southeast, Mexico has a lot to offer even before you delve inland to ancient Mayan settlements such as Palenque and Chichén-Itzá.
3. Canada – 21.1 million visitors
Canada is next and while it doesn’t attract as many visitors as North American neighbours USA and Mexico, Canada still welcomes more than 20 million visitors each year. For a country with a smaller population than the US state of California, that’s still a very significant amount.
Canadian travel highlights include the vibrant cities of Toronto and Montreal, the main metropolises in Anglo and French Canada respectively. Much of Canada’s appeal though lies in its abundance of natural wonders which offer a wide range of options for hiking and often snow sports.
Read more – Canada features prominently in our rundown of the world’s coldest cities.
4. Dominican Republic – 6.6 million visitors
Heating things up a touch, we head all the way south to the Dominican Republic to find the most popular travel destination in the Caribbean and 4th most visited country in the North American region.
This Dominican Republic forms the eastern part of the island of Hispaniola, with Haiti in the west a considerably poorer and less visited country. The vast majority of travellers to the Dominican Republic head to beach resorts which offer dreamy bays and crystal clear waters. The most popular is Punta Cana and the town’s airport is also the most common entry port for visitors to the country, comfortably eclipsing that of the much larger capital Santo Domingo.
5. Cuba – 4.7 million visitors
The largest island in the Caribbean is Cuba and over the past decade it has experienced something of a tourism boom with restrictions on entry into the country eased. Situated less than 200 miles south of the US state of Florida and the travel hub of Miami, visitor numbers could explode further in the coming years should the frosty relationship between Havana and Washington improve, allowing more travel between the two countries.
Visitors to Cuba are drawn to the old world charm of the capital Havana. The nearby 20-kilometre long sandy beach of Varadero is another major hub for visitors to the island with a host of fancy resorts having been constructed in recent years as tourism starts to play a bigger role in the country’s economy.
North America’s most popular tourist destinations continue with Puerto Rico (3.1 million visitors in 2018) and Costa Rica – the most visited country in Central America with 3 million visitors. Jamaica was the 3rd most popular Caribbean island with 2.5 million tourists. The Central American nations of Guatemala and Panama round off the top ten with 1.8 million visitors each.
El Salvador, Bahamas, Nicaragua and Aruba were the only other countries in the region to register more than a million tourist arrivals in 2018.
This article was published in October 2020 although the figures relate to the 2018 calendar year.