Traveling is supposed to be about leaving the frustrations of job and home life behind for a week of relaxation and invigoration. Sure, there are inherent risks whenever you travel to different parts of the world, but some countries can be downright dangerous for the unaware traveler. Travel dangers come in all shapes and sizes. One country may be war-torn and full of desperate marauders. Another may be known for petty theft and street violence. Some dangers are inherent in the land itself, with wildlife, terrain and weather conditions that could prove perilous. The problem is that some places are still worth visiting despite these dangers. Not every traveler wants an umbrella drink in their hand and their toes in the sand. Some people crave danger up close and personal. Others find the reward outweighs the risk. We'll look at 10 dangerous places that are still on the list of must-sees for the adventurous traveler.
Brazil is one of the most beautiful countries on planet Earth. It's also a pretty dangerous place to tour. The main trouble in Brazil is the epic crime rate, with a murder rate four times that of the United States [source: Department of State]. Murder is just the tip of the iceberg in Brazil. High numbers of rapes, robberies and "quicknappings" occur. These are a new kind of crime where a person is abducted for a short amount of time with a quick payoff, typically from a drive to an ATM machine. Economically depressed areas like Sao Paulo and Salvador are some of the most dangerous spots on Earth for gang violence. The crime doesn't just stick around the barrio though. Rio de Janeiro, one of Brazil's premier tourist vacation destinations is also a hotbed of criminal activity. The growing chasm between the upper and lower classes in Brazil threaten to keep the violence going for the foreseeable future.
Venezuela is home to beautiful beaches and rugged mountain terrain perfect for the willing adventurer. But the dangers of this South American country should inspire tourists to keep their heads on a swivel. The murder rate in the capital city of Caracas is said to be the highest in the world, and most of these murders go unsolved [source: Department of State].
The poor neighborhoods of Caracas rarely see police and are on the list of areas to avoid as a tourist. Pickpockets, armed robbers, hotel thieves, scammers, grifters and con men abound. Beware of fake police check points set by gangs of nefarious ne'er-do-wells and of the "express kidnappings" that are commonplace. Crime is even rampant at the airport, which itself is said to be rife with corruption. Things are so bad near the Venezuela-Colombia border that the country advises against traveling within 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) of it, and U.S. Embassy members are flatly prohibited from doing so.
Aside from all this, the food is great and the surfing is good -- just do so at your own risk.
Mount Everest, even from afar, is one of the most breathtaking sights you might ever see in your lifetime. Ascend to the summit and you'll never look at the world again through the same eyes. But there are some dangers that come along with seeing the famous peak. The weather is a force to be reckoned with. Just a climb to the first overnight base camp will reveal a trail of frozen dead bodies along the way. Many of those that Everest claims each year were experienced climbers who weren't prepared for what they were about to face. The good news about traveling in Nepal is that the rate of violent crime is fairly low. However, you are at risk for the types of crimes typically associated with travel abroad -- robbery, pickpockets and scams. So while you may lose a camera or some sunglasses to a sticky-fingered local, the real danger of visiting Everest is Mother Nature.
Since the end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union, tourism in Russia has climbed dramatically. Moscow and St. Petersburg in particular are both popular destinations for tourists interested in seeing striking architecture and experiencing Eastern culture. Both of these cities have their issues with nonviolent crime, and they've also seen a rise in violent hate crimes, mainly by skinhead groups targeting ethnic tourists. Travel to the southern states of Russia like Chechnya can be extremely dangerous because of political unrest. Terrorist bombings and kidnappings are common in these areas. While American citizens are typically not targeted, they are at risk to become a casualty of circumstance. You should also be wary of the Russian police force. They can stop you without cause and there have been reports of harassment and extortion against tourists.
The landlocked country of Zimbabwe is home to a few of Africa's most popular tourist destinations. Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi River, is known to locals as Mosi-oa-Tunya -- the smoke that thunders. It's one of the most breathtaking natural wonders of the world, and along with the popular big game parks, makes Zimbabwe a prime spot for tourism. Zimbabwe is also a highly volatile region, and the socio-political climate can best be described as unpredictable. Political upheaval happens fast here, and before you know it, you could be swept up in a genuine coup. Because of the deteriorating economic conditions, Zimbabwe has a lot of desperate people seeking a quick score. Armed robbery, carjacking, mugging and "quicknapping" are common crimes on the streets of Zimbabwe's most populous areas. You should also be aware of typical tourist scams, mainly with unscrupulous taxi drivers looking to make an easy buck.
Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, a top vacation destination. And while the latter may have its own problems with crime, it's nothing compared to Haiti. It's one of the least developed and poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, which almost always means that crime is rampant. The U.S. State Department is on record as saying that there are no "safe" areas of Haiti. The same agency also estimates that eight percent of the cocaine that enters the United States comes through Haiti -- another indicator of some serious crime. Most of the crime in Haiti -- carjacking, murders, armed robbery and kidnapping -- are committed against other Haitians. But in 2008, 27 American citizens were reported missing in kidnapping cases. These victims also generally report being beaten and raped after their abduction. So with all the unrest and danger, why would you want to visit Haiti? Because there are some resort areas that offer some of the most striking natural settings in all of the Caribbean. But if you go, be cautioned to stay close to the hotel.
Yemen, though still a developing country, offers modern amenities in the tourist resort areas along its southern coast. The beaches of Socotra, Aden and Kamaran Island are sights to behold. The good news about crime in Yemen is that it's usually limited to carjackings, and of those, almost all involve the theft of a four-wheel drive vehicle. The downside of Yemen is that the U.S. government believes that the extremist organization Al Qaeda has set up camp there. The U.S. State Department is worried about the safety of American tourists in Yemen considering Al Qaeda's suspected presence. In September 2008, a terrorist attack on a United States embassy building resulted in the death of an American tourist [source: Department of State]. Other attacks in March and April of 2008 yielded injuries to American tourists as well. The State Department cautions tourists to stay away from areas where political demonstrations are taking place. Stick to the resort areas, and whatever you do, don't rent a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Kenya is a natural wonder. Nairobi National Park in this East African country offers some of the best big game viewing in the world. If safaris are your thing, you can't do much better than the Republic of Kenya. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most crime ridden countries in Africa. Major tourist destinations in Kenya are home to all manner of armed assailants, pickpockets and scam artists. Violent crimes are also rampant, and many times fatal. Carjacking, hotel room invasions, kidnappings and rape are also in the mix for potential crimes against tourists. In addition, the political climate in Kenya is uneasy and there are victims of random terrorist attacks. One such bombing in 1998 killed 225 people and injured another 5,000 [source: Department of State]. The organization responsible was, not surprisingly, Al Qaeda. Violence has also erupted in recent years as a result of political unrest.
Lebanon and its capital city of Beirut had a pretty lousy reputation in the 1970s and 1980s thanks to the civil war that gripped the country. Things leveled out somewhat after 1990, and tourism saw a rise in Beirut, the "Paris of the Middle East," and along the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. Lately, the war with Israel has escalated to the point that the U.S. State Department cautions American citizens from visiting at all. Americans, unlike in some other countries, are often the target of terrorist organizations. Palestinian groups and militant organizations like Hezbollah operate unchecked in some parts of Lebanon. In May 2008, Hezbollah militants blocked the road to the airport, effectively shutting down traffic into and out of the country. Since then, things have calmed somewhat and new elections have yielded a president and cabinet, but U.S. officials remain cautious about the potential for violence. Crime is limited to petty street crime mainly, although carjacking and armed robberies do occur.
Somalia is home to the largest coastline in Africa, good hotel and food bargains and the beautiful Almadow mountains. One thing you won't find in Somalia -- tourists. In 2004, Abdi Jimale Osman, Somalia's minister of tourism, claimed that the country hadn't had an officially-acknowledged tourist in 14 years. The problem? Somalia is one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Civil war and fighting among warlords seeking to gain control of drug and weapons trafficking has left Somalia a burning wreck of what was once a beautiful country. Since the civil war broke out in 1990, Somalia is divided into no less than two dozen warring groups. The proprietors of the Sharmo Hotel in Mogadishu may serve lobster on the roof overlooking the sea, but they also advise that visitors hire at least 10 armed guards to get them from the airport to the hotel. The United States doesn't even operate an embassy in Somalia, so you're truly on your own. Terrorist attacks, cross-border warring and brutal, violent street crime wrack the country on a daily basis. So why would you want to visit Somalia? Maybe until things stabilize somewhat, this one should be on the "do not visit" list after all.
If you love spine-tingling fun, you'll love these eerie locations. How much do you know about the scariest places on Earth? Take our quiz to find out.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Top 5 Celebrity Chefs
- Top 5 Things Your Nails Say About Your Health
- Top 10 Items You Should Have in Your Medicine Chest
- Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Memory
- Top 10 Myths About the Brain
- Top 5 Alternative Therapies for Heart Health
- Top 10 Ways to Avoid a Heart Attack
- Curiosity Project: 10 Amazing Geological Features
- Curiosity Project: What dangers does Mount Everest face besides Global Warming?
More Great Links
- "Brazil." Travel.state.gov. 2009. http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1072.html
- "Far from the madding crowd." Economist.com. March 4, 2004.http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=2482161
- "Lebanon." Travel.state.gov. 2009.http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_948.html
- "Russian Federation." Travel.state.gov. 2009.http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1006.html#safety
- "Travel Picks: the worlds top 10 dangerous destinations." Reuters.com. Jan. 25, 2008.http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSN2426062420080125
- "Venezuela." Travel.state.gov. 2009.http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1059.html
- "Visiting Haiti." Nytimes.com. Dec. 24, 1995.http://www.nytimes.com/1995/12/24/travel/l-visiting-haiti-033464.html
- "Yemen Tourism." Yementourism.com. 2009.http://www.yementourism.com/tourism2009/interests/section.php?IBLOCK_ID=104&SECTION_ID=290
- "Zimbabwe." Travel.state.gov. 2009.http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1063.html
- Kellett, Fransisca. "20 of the world's most dangerous places." Telegraph.co.uk. Nov. 28, 2008.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/3533883/20-of-the-worlds-most-dangerous-places.html
- O'Malley, Zack. "World's most dangerous destinations." Msnbc.com. March 18, 2006.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29640016/
- Ruiz, Rebecca. "World's most dangerous destinations." Msnbc.com. Jan. 17, 2008.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22709564/