There are numerous exclaves and enclaves around the world on a national or subnational level, many of which are in the US and Canada or Western Europe, so we won’t bother you with those except to plug our Microstates of Europe Road Trip where we visit the Catalan exclave of Llívia and Italian exclave of Campione d’Italia!
Instead, here’s YPT’s Guide to the top exclaves you should have on your travel bucket list.
6. Nahwa (UAE) and Madha (Oman)
Here’s a good one to kick us off. Nahwa is part of the Emirate of Sharjah of the United Arab Emirates. However, it is entirely surrounded by Madha, which belongs to Oman. Madha itself is an Omani enclave because it is completely surrounded by the territory of the UAE.
The reason for this is down to which state the local Sheikhs of the time were loyal to, when the question of independence was coming around and state lines were being drawn. And everyone seemed to think that was all plainly sensible.
Cabinda – or Kabinda – is a semi-exclave of Angola, counting as a province, which is cut off from the rest of Angola and borders the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Atlantic Ocean. Cabinda is an oil-rich, wealthy part of Angola that was taken by the Portuguese, home to stunning rainforest and of course an exclave liberation movement for independence.
The most recent time Cabinda hit the international news was in 2010 with a gun attack on the Togolese international football team who were travelling to a match, with amongst others, Emmanuel Adebayor on the bus. The “Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda-Military Position” claimed responsibility and that the attack was aimed at the Angolan guards not the Togolese players themselves.
Here we will make a mental note of the Front’s name, because perspective is important: from Luanda’s perspective Cabinda is an exclave, but the people who actually live there consider it an enclave.
4. French Guyana
You’ll notice by now that the history and current state of enclaves and exclaves around the world is very much linked to the history of colonialism. So here we come to French Guyana, an “overseas department” of France and which is pretty much fully integrated into France, even while tens of thousands of kilometres away from Paris. It’s therefore also part of the EU and its currency is the euro. It is also there a semi-exclave of France, bordering Suriname, Brazil and the sea.
Guyana was a massive French-run slave colony that became an official part of France in 1797. It was then made into a massive French-run penal colony, with prisoners from France proper being sent over to do forced labour.
There were huge riots in 2017, but so far French Guyana has not looked like following the path of its neighbours of Guyana (formerly British Guyana) and Suriname (formerly Dutch Guyana) in looking toward independence.
Oecusse is a semi-exclave of East Timor, separated from the rest of the country by West Timor, Indonesian territory, and the sea. Like Angola, it was the Portuguese who first reached this part of the world from Europe, and when they reached Timor they landed first in Oecusse.
In colonial times East Timor belonged to the Portuguese, while Indonesian West Timor belonged to the Dutch. During the Second World War it was occupied by the Japanese. When the Portuguese granted East Timor its independence in 1975, in came the Indonesians in a bloody invasion that left tens of thousands dead. Before invading East Timor proper, they of course raised the flag in Oecusse.
Oecusse is well worth a visit though; as an exclave of the least visited country in SE Asia, its history and tourist-free streets are fascinating. It’s now connected by air to Dili, the capital, as well as having a ferry route – or you could of course cross Indonesian West Timor to go by road.
One of the most famous exclaves is the Russian oblast of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania and cut off from Russia proper. To be absolutely precise, Kaliningrad is a semi-exclave, because it is cut off from its main national territory by two other countries and also the Baltic Sea.
Formerly a German city called Konigsberg, after the Second World War the USSR incorporated the area into its own territory and renamed it Kaliningrad, after Mikhail Kalinin. Kalinin was a Bolshevik, member of the Politburo and nominal head of the USSR, who died that year. The German population was mostly expelled over the next few years with Russians moving in.
Kaliningrad was a key city for the USSR during the Cold War, hosting the Soviet Baltic fleet and Russia’s only ice-free port in the Baltics. Because of its strategic importance, it was also completely closed to tourism.
This has of course all changed now, with visa-free entry now possible for many nationalities. It is well worth a visit to this Russian exclave for its WW2 and Cold War history, and the beautiful Curonian Spit.
Finally, the true exclave of Nakhchivan, separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenia and also bordering Turkey and Iran. In fact, it’s still at war with Armenia, so don’t expect to cross the land border. During the Armenia-Azerbaijan War, Nakhchivan’s geographical location meant it was blockaded from the rest of its country, giving it a strong sense of self-reliance and uniqueness.
The Nakhchivani village of Karki, an exclave within Armenia, has been under occupation since the war. Another quirk of politics is that the Nakhchivan parliament recognised the independence of Northern Cyprus – recognition not given by the Azerbaijani government in Baku. Sharing a border, Nakhchivan has close relations with Turkey, whereas Baku may be more concerned about Cyprus recognising Nagorno-Karabakh, the Republic of Artsakh.
Nakhchivani people are strongly proud of their history on the crossroads of empires, with mosques and fortresses lining its stunning scenery, and their entrepreneurial inventiveness. Today Nakhchivan is an autonomous republic with its own prime minister and parliament, and the finest example of an exclave we can bring you.