Travel at its best can be exciting, stimulating, thrilling and breathtaking. Discovering new places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures often requires an effort to break out of your comfort zone, and, in doing so, travel becomes a learning experience.
Some of that education may come from things going wrong: A bus breaking down in a remote rainforest in Mexico for five hours or an airline losing your luggage for a week-long vacation to London can teach you a lot about patience, how to make the best of a bad situation, and to travel lighter.
Travel can also be dangerous, especially if you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories keeps tabs on the world’s “danger zones,” listing the most dangerous countries you should avoid.
Here, we take a look at the most perilous of them, so you can skip the dangerous places and keep the exhilaration of travel on the positive side.
10. Middle East: Watch Out for War-Torn Countries
Unrest in the Middle East has been a way of life for quite some time, with Americans urged extreme caution in Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, where wars continue to rage and religious freedom is not commonplace.
Terrorist groups in the region have been known to target government facilities, public sites, shopping areas and transportation hubs in Yemen.
Kidnappings, hostage-taking, suicide bombings, and insurgent and terrorist attacks are at “critically high levels” in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. In Iran, the arrest and detention of U.S. citizens is a frequent occurrence, the State Department warns.
9. Keep an Eye Open in South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe
Although much of South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe are safe and welcoming to travelers, these countries do still come with their own cautions.
Tanzania is targeting and attacking members of the LGBTI community with harassment, unwarranted examinations and detention, and charges of unrelated crimes.
Zimbabwe and South Africa are experiencing crime and civil unrest as well, so if you visit you should monitor the news for breaking events and stay away from political rallies, demonstrations and crowds.
8. Use Precaution in Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Congo and Sudan
Besides the countries marked absolutely unsafe to visit, there are several countries that have higher security risks, which Americans are urged to reconsider visiting.
The government warns of any travel to Sudan’s Darfur region, Blue Nile state and South Kordofan state; also be aware that other parts of the country are experiencing civil unrest and terrorism.
Niger is experiencing higher levels of crime and terrorism, and armed robbery is common. This is also the case in neighbouring Nigeria, where civil unrest and piracy are on the rise. Do not visit Borno and Tobe states or the northern Adamawa state of Nigeria due to terrorism.
Minefields along the borders of Libya and Sudan make Chad unsafe, along with its carjackings, muggings and crime, also found in Mauritania.
7. Africa: Watch Out for Countries of Unrest
The State Department views a number of African countries as unsafe for American travel.
In Somalia, there are reports of “schools” being used as “cultural rehabilitation facilities,” holding people against their will with physical abuse rampant. In Mali, terrorist and armed groups have targeted night clubs, hotels, restaurants and other places frequented by visitors with attacks and kidnappings.
Kidnappings and murders of civilians are common in the Central African Republic, while political and ethnic fighting in South Sudan is so escalated, journalists have been killed in the line of duty. U.S. citizens and government officials are especially targeted in Libya, where kidnapping for ransom is commonplace.
6. Use Precaution in Brazil and Colombia
Brazil is a popular place for vacations, especially to Rio de Janeiro. However, crime can be a big issue in Brazil, including Rio. The State Department warns tourists to steer clear of the areas that border Venezuela, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and other countries due to higher crime than the coastal cities. You should also be cautious at night and stay away from Brazil’s informal housing developments known as favelas, Comunidades, vilas or conglomerates.
Although Bogota is booming, you should exercise caution in Colombia, avoiding Arauca, Cauca, Choco, Narino and Norte de Santander due to high crime and terrorism. Popayan, Nuqui and Cucuta in these areas are safe if you can travel directly to them.
5. South America: Watch Out for Venezuela
There is political upheaval currently taking place in Venezuela, which lands a top spot on the State Department’s “Do Not Travel” zone. The country is experiencing high violent crime rates, poor health infrastructure, and political rallies and demonstrations, not to mention the arbitrary arrest and detention of Americans.
With food, medical supplies, water and electricity shortages, the situation in Venezuela is so dire, thousands of residents are seeking asylum in neighbouring countries.
4. Use Precaution in Central America
In Central America, the State Department urges Americans to reconsider traveling to Nicaragua, which has limited healthcare availability and arbitrary enforcement of laws that lead to more crime, while San Salvador has a higher level of violent crimes. Honduras has a heightened alert due to crime, but it isn’t widespread across the country and tourist-centric zones may be safer than off-the-grid travel.
If you do decide to visit these countries, stay aware of your surroundings, avoid walking and driving at night, keep expansive jewellery and signs of wealth hidden, and only use certified tourist authority companies and guides.
3. Use Precaution in Turkey and Lebanon
Lebanon’s coastal areas are safer than its borders. An advisory remains not to visit the borders of Syria, due to terrorism, and Israel, due to armed conflict. Refugee settlements from Syria also carry heightened concerns for conflict.
Borders are an issue in Turkey, as well, where Syria and Iraq have been plotting terrorist attacks in highly populated areas such as shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, churches, sporting events, airports and more. The risk is so great, even cruise ships have alerted routes to skip the Turkish coastline and Istanbul.
2. Asia: Watch Out for North Korea
Spanning more than 57 million square miles in size, Asia offers endless travel possibilities. The only Asian country the U.S. wants you to steer clear of is North Korea.
The U.S. does not have any official diplomatic relations with the country to assist with emergencies, and U.S. passport holders are not allowed to travel to, in or through North Korea without special validation from the Department of State, and these special validations are limited.
1. North America: Watch Out for Mexico
Stories of travelers catching a taxi to be whisked off somewhere remote and left stranded after being robbed in Mexico circulate in the news, as do reports of bloody cartel wars. The dangers are real.
In fact, a U.S. Department of State “Do Not Travel” advisory is in effect for the Mexican states of Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa and Guerrero due to widespread violent crimes that include homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery.