Few would argue with the claim that we’re living through strange times. Ten years ago, we knew where to look for the most dangerous places on the planet. It was easy to avoid them. Now, the words ‘danger’ and ‘risk’ have taken on a different meaning, because global terrorism is a much bigger threat to travelers than it used to be. The knowledge of this can be a scary thing, especially if you’re a keen explorer. However, most travelers have responded with a wonderful sense of stoicism. They are well aware of the risk, but they take extra precautions. They stay vigilant. They learn about what to do and how to help in the event of an emergency.
Most importantly, they are never deterred. The truest globetrotters and international adventurers find it easy to see the beauty of the world, even when its clarity is marred by hushed warnings and bad headlines. If travel is strongly discouraged, they hold out hope for a better day, when it’s possible to wander freely through these once maligned landscapes.
Choosing to Visit a Dangerous Country
Before, we discuss the countries that have been officially labeled as ‘dangerous,’ let’s talk about what that means for travelers. It’s a complex label because some of these regions are considered so risky that all travel is dissuaded. Others have no official recommendations, but tourists are advised to be extremely cautious. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide. It’s very rare for travelers to be prevented from entering a country unless there is a war or political conflict between their two nations. So, it’s a matter of personal choice and the level of risk you’re willing to tolerate. It’s also worth noting that some parts of a country can be very dangerous, while others remain relatively safe.
Thailand is a good example. It is one of the most visited countries on earth. Millions of tourists flock to its beaches every year. There are many safe areas, and the vast majority of people leave the ‘Land of Smiles’ with nothing but happy memories. Nevertheless, travelers are advised to avoid certain places and be extra vigilant, particularly at night.
So, let’s dive into our discussion of the most dangerous countries on the planet. And don’t forget they all contain great beauty, if you look in the right places.
The story is the same for much of the Middle East, Afghanistan included. It is home to some of the most precious archaeological sites on the planet, but they are either damaged or cut off by internal terrorism. It’s a sad reality because the country is more beautiful than most realize. Afghanistan is filled with tombs, historical teahouses, ancient market towns, and national parks. However, the threat of terrorist attack is very high. Explosions occur on a regular basis, and most governments strongly advise against traveling here. There are warnings in place for Kabul, Kunduz, Balkh, Helmand, Zabul, Kandahar, and many other Afghan cities. If you must visit, you’re warned to take extreme care and stay in protected zones. Foreigners are key targets for kidnappings and terrorist attacks.
Syria is in the midst of the deadliest civil war in modern history. The situation is so bad that only aid workers, journalists, and political activists have any viable reason to enter. Large parts of the country have been destroyed by fighting, terrorist activity, and state-sponsored violence. If you visit, you are at risk of attack in the form of kidnapping, assassination, car bombs, and anti-western aggression. Sadly, even if the war in Syria does end in the next few years, it will take the country many decades to repair its infrastructure and become a safe destination. Yet, there is hope that it will happen one day. There is a good chance that a united Syria will rise from the ashes and invite the world back in. With some of the oldest mosques and Roman ruins found anywhere on the planet, the loss of this destination has been nothing short of catastrophic from an anthropological perspective.
There is much to see in Algeria. There are incredible cave paintings in the Tassili n’Ajjer National Park. You’ll also find Roman ruins at Djemila, Timgad, and Tipasa. Don’t forget the extraordinary city of Algiers. Unfortunately, the level of terrorist activity is high, as it is in neighboring nations. The US State Department limits the movements of its own embassy staff. So, it’s prudent to assume tourists should be just extra cautious. Where possible, avoid all travel close to the borders. To be specific, most governments advise against travel within 100km of Libya and Tunisia. The same applies to 100km within Mauritania and 450km from Mali and Niger. Tourists planning an extended stay are warned to maintain a low profile at all times.
Now, we move to South America, which many people are unaware has a very high level of crime. In Honduras, civil conflict isn’t a risk, but the homicide rate here is one of the most severe of any country. In fact, it is often dubbed ‘the murder capital of the world.’ In 2015, there were sixty killings for every 100,000 inhabitants. This is due to the presence of violent street gangs and drug cartels like Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha. In many areas, the risk of attack is compounded by the threat of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.
Sadly, Iraq has become synonymous with civil war, terrorism, and global conflict. It’s a crying shame because the country is home to almost 12,000 archaeological and historical sites. There’s the location of ancient Babylon, for one thing, and the first-century ruins of Hatra. At Ur, you’ll find the 4,000-year-old Ziggurat temple. So, Iraq has plenty to offer in terms of anthropological artifacts. The problem is it’s been at the center of a global fight against terrorism for more than a decade. Kidnapping, bomb attacks, and armed robberies are common.
It is only in recent years that Egypt has joined the list of dangerous destinations. Before 2011, the country was run by an oppressive government. Then, the Arab Spring occurred, and its dictators began to fall. Unfortunately, this left a power vacuum, and extremism flourished. Since 2015, there have been several high profile terrorist attacks in Egypt. Some have targeted tourist attractions, in order to cause mass casualties. Despite this, there is no official travel warning in place. The resorts continue to be very popular, and many have been afforded extra protection.
India is another country that continues to attract huge numbers of tourists. In most areas, the threat level is minimal. However, regions like Manipur, Kashmir, and Jammu are regularly troubled by armed conflict. Governments advise a ‘case by case’ determination of the risks. Women should be particularly careful when traveling through any part of India. There is a much greater danger of robbery and sexual assault. Where possible, travel as part of a pair or group. Stick to populated areas. Keep your belongings close and stay vigilant.
The Middle East is most commonly associated with terrorist activity. However, large parts of Africa are also prone to armed conflict. Western governments strongly advise against travel to Mali, as there is an increased risk of attack. Kidnappings and car bombings are rife. The most dangerous parts of Mali are Kayes, Segou, Koulikoro, Tombouctou, Gao, Kidal, and Mopti. Extremists regularly target tourist sites such as hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and resorts. There are stringent security checks and roadblocks in many of the towns and cities.
Kenya is another country that seems to have a dual personality. It is a very popular destination, but it also has a reputation for crime and violence. It is generally agreed that, if you stay close to tourist resorts and within heavily policed areas, you are in no great danger. Outside of these areas, the incidence of burglary, violent assault, kidnapping, and carjacking is high. Nairobi is the most dangerous city, but crime is a problem in all regions of Kenya. Avoid traveling alone, if possible, and stick to well lit, populated areas.
Western governments warm against travel to Somalia. The region is extremely unstable, with an elevated risk of kidnapping and terrorism. Most people know piracy is a big problem here because they’ve seen high profile cases on the news. Foreigners, particularly westerners, are easy targets. Kidnapping wealthy, white tourists creates an international furore, and the world gets to hear their demands. So, at this time, the best way to avoid an incident is to steer well clear of Somalia.
North Korea is a curious case. The risk of being targeted for violent crime or terrorism is virtually non-existent. In fact, the only real danger is posed by the state. The recent case of Otto Warmbier has amplified this and forced many to reconsider their travel plans. If you are keen to visit North Korea, you must be willing to adhere to its rules, regardless how extreme or strange they may seem. Tourists are kept under heavy surveillance. It’s not always clear what happens to those who shirk their minders or try to enter forbidden areas.
Venezuela has the dubious accolade of ‘second-highest murder rate’ in the world. In 2013, there were 23,763 homicides. This translates to around 79 murders for every 1000,000 citizens. Mexico, which is also known for its high crime rates, had just 22 for the same amount of inhabitants. There are many reasons why Venezuela is such a dangerous place to be. Its problems are numerous and complicated. The prison system is wildly overcrowded. There is a huge quantity of unregistered guns in the country, and the police force is notoriously corrupt.
There’s no doubt Burma (or the Golden Land) is a stunningly beautiful country. It is home to some incredible landscapes and fascinating cultures. While the threat of Islamic terrorism is relatively low right now, there is a good chance this may change. Hundreds of people are murdered by the Burmese government on a weekly basis. There is a significant risk of getting caught up in the civil conflict. Politicians also fear the chaos is leaving Burma open to extremists like ISIS.
The Democratic Republic of Congo
According to the US and UK governments, all travel to the eastern and northeasterly regions of the Congo should be avoided. In areas west and north of Goma and North Kivu, the danger of kidnapping for ransom is particularly high. There is a great deal of civil conflict and political instability. Demonstrations can turn violent very quickly, so visitors must steer well clear of political rallies and riots. Also, be wary of anybody offering to sell you something they don’t already have in front of them.
The Central African Republic
The Central African Republic is a landlocked country in the middle of the continent. It has been highly unstable since its split from French rule in the sixties. The region is full of diamonds, gold, oil, and uranium. However, despite this, it has one of the poorest populations on the planet. Perhaps the most dangerous factor of all is the lack of a US or UK embassy. If you do get into trouble here, there’s nobody to help you but the local authorities. As the country also has a very poor human rights record, it’s best to go elsewhere for your holiday.
Strangely, Guatemala is only really considered unsafe for women. For the most part, crime is moderate, except where offenses against females are concerned. In fact, the country ranks third in the world for the highest number of homicides against women. According to the UN, two women are killed here every single day. So, you may want to reconsider your travel plans. Women who must visit or pass through Guatemala should stick close to a male chaperone or companion whenever possible.
The Danakil Depression, alone, makes Eritrea a truly fascinating destination. It is a geological wonder and one of the most remarkable sights on earth. Unfortunately, its position on the border with Ethiopia makes it vulnerable to armed conflict and political turbulence. The Afar region is particularly dangerous and western governments warn tourists against traveling there. This doesn’t stop people from making the trip, of course. Many believe the unique geological wonders in Eretria are worth the risk.
It’s quite rare, these days, for regions of Europe to be considered too dangerous for travel. Georgia bucks the trend though, because it is in the midst of a fierce conflict with Russia. The disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia should certainly be considered off limits. Both are out of control of the Georgian government, so it’s not clear which state (if any) would provide assistance to travelers. Within secure areas, Georgia is actually quite safe. Just make sure you know where your embassy is and avoid all political demonstrations. They can turn violent very quickly.
Just like Iran and Afghanistan, Pakistan is home to some incredible mountain ranges. Over the last decade, however, they have become inaccessible as a result of terrorist activity. Taliban and Al-Qaeda troops are known to occupy these areas, so they are very difficult to explore. In 2008, there were a staggering sixty suicide bombs. In 2016, the number of terrorist attacks was significantly lower at twenty-three. However, just one of these incidents killed over seventy people. Pakistan is not a safe place to visit now, but there are hopes that this will change in the future.
You might be surprised to see Jamaica on this list, what with its reputation for laidback music, food, and culture. It’s true that many areas of the country are perfectly safe for tourists. There is an abundance of luxurious resorts on the island, and it is a dream destination for many. The problem is the difference between safe and dangerous can be as trivial as a couple of blocks. In areas like Kingston and Montego Bay - which are very well known - shootings and violent crime are not uncommon. Visitors are advised to stay well within recommended areas and avoid straying too far from their resorts.
Like most of Africa, Sudan is perfectly placed to offer some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet. Here, you’ll find the point at which the Blue and White Niles converge to create the longest river in the world. There are ancient ruins, historical markets, and entire settlements of pyramid structures. Unfortunately, it is not a safe place for westerners to spend time. Terrorist groups operating in the country have been forthcoming about their plans to target tourists, aid workers, and political visitors. The risk of bomb attacks, kidnappings, and violent assault is high, especially in Darfur.
The beautiful country of Colombia has been notorious for a long time. It was the epicenter of an international war on cocaine trafficking. Today, it is much safer than it was in the eighties and nineties. However, tourists should still be very cautious and stick close to resorts and areas popular with visitors. There is no specific threat to tourists, but it’s possible to get caught up in cartel violence, particularly outside the busier districts. The country is on the up. However, change doesn’t happen overnight, and the murder rate continues to be very high.
The main threat in Bangladesh is, for once, not related to crime. The region is dangerous because it is perfectly placed for cyclones, flooding, earthquakes, landslides, and other natural disasters. At certain times of the year – for example, monsoon season – the risk to life can be very high in some places. Compared to the rest of Asia, the level of terrorist activity in Bangladesh is low. However, security experts believe it is on the rise. Extremism is growing, and governments are revising their travel warnings and advice. If you would like to visit the country, make sure you know what your government thinks about it first.
Lebanon is considered a risky destination for a number of reasons. The first is its proximity to Syria. As a result of civil strife next door, it is dealing with a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. This is alone is a good reason to avoid travel to or around the region. Extremism may not be as prevalent as it is in Syria, but terrorist groups operate here. The danger has increased in recent months, as ISIS fighters flee from Syrian and Iraqi forces. There is a good chance that things will change but, for now, put your plans to explore Lebanon on hold.
Finally, the ancient kingdom of Uzbekistan is one of the best places to experience the legendary Silk Road. You’ll find three of the major stops here, at Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand. They were once the center of the world for traders, and each location has been painstakingly restored to demonstrate its former glory. However, the threat of terrorism looms over Uzbekistan, as it does most countries in the East. Violence is common, particularly in the border regions of Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic. Attacks against tourists are not unheard of, so exercise vigilance at all times. You should even ask to see credentials when stopped by the police.
The Beauty and Pain of the World’s Most Dangerous Countries
Every one of the countries discussed here has an abundance of beauty and majesty to offer visitors. It’s just that, in many cases, access is restricted as a result of armed conflict, political turbulence, religious extremism, or state corruption. These are destinations we should all keep firm in our minds and ambitions. Bad times end and, for many of them, there will come a day when tourism is frivolous and risk-free. Until then, there are books and documentaries, magazines, and television reports. So, keep watch and know that your dream destination could be on the cards sooner than you think.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker