The World's Most Dangerous Travel Destinations

To travelers, hearing the names of various nations often resonates in the same way as great poetry. Some of us consume travel guides the way that gourmets absorb cookbooks, letting the national monikers fill our minds with the possibility of exploration and adventure. As we pore over lists of nations such as Cape Verde, Tonga, or Vanuatu the dulcet tones resonate in our brains, hinting at the exotic and exciting.

There are other places, though, that even the most hardened traveler won't even consider. And it's these places that Forbes recently named in its list of Most Dangerous Destinations. After interviewing security and risk management firms who specialize in corporate globalization, Forbes has produced an extensive list of places the average traveler won't be heading anytime soon.

I have found that advice to American travelers is often far more cautious than security announcements for, say, Aussies or Brits. So I cross-referenced Forbes' list with Lonely Planet and the Australian government's smart travel site. With few exceptions, the Forbes list does indeed appear to consolidate some of the globe's most dangerous nations.

The Forbes article points out that "'The risks are changing. Civilians and business travelers are more in the firing line.' For one thing, we go to more places we didn’t used to, thanks to globalization, easier and cheaper travel and, according to Smither, some very specific market forces."

So unless you are a professional mercenary, here is a list of nations you should avoid, and why:

Democratic Republic of Congo
As news stories about the Congo's bloody civil war have grown in frequency, this area tops most nation's list of deadliest places. Lonely Planet notes that "Instability Rules", stating that the Ituri district is especially dangerous and that absolutely no attempts should be made to cross the border from Uganda or Rwanda.

Government travel alerts state that the capital city of Kinshasa is the only part of the Congo considered even remotely safe. In the same breath, these advisories urge extreme caution and all but prohibit travel after dark. As recently as last month, heavy fighting broke out in the streets of Kinshasa.

Forbes notes that more international firms want to do business in the mineral-rich lands of the Congo. Because of this, western professionals are sometimes required to travel to the Congo for business. (Personally, I would quit, effectively immediately.) What these people find upon landing in the Congo is a contingent of U.N. troops. But their role is that of "observer forces," meaning that they are unable to prevent or intervene in any pillaging, carjacking, rape, kidnapping, or murder.

Again, this one comes as no surprise. Lonely Planet refers to Iraq as "Not a place for a holiday." Even if you did want to travel in the midst of an active war zone, LP notes that commercial flights are few and far between, and visas are currently only given to journalists, business people, and aid workers.

The Australian government is very specific in its warnings: risk of westerners being kidnapped is high; avoid all unnecessary movement and remain indoors; risk of avian influenza; and my personal favorite, "Due to the risk of surface-to-air attacks against aircraft, we advise you not to travel over Iraq on aircraft without self-protection capabilities"

Sharing a border with a highly unstable country will take its toll, and this is certainly the case with Burundi. As one of the Congo's neighbors, Burundi has experienced cross-border attacks and banditry. As if that weren't bad enough, Burundi has maintained a dozen years of its own civil unrest.

At the moment, the capital city of Bujumbura is incredibly volatile, where senior officials linked to an alleged coup plot are being detained. Within the capital, curfews are enforced, but sporadic fighting between the government and rebel forces continues.

The Forbes article cites Pakistan as one of the world's deadliest travel destinations. But the rest of the world doesn't necessarily agree. Certainly, the border region near India has been extremely dangerous for over a decade, with residents and visitors alike avoiding the region in both countries.

Lonely Planet includes a number of warnings, but does not specifically advise travelers against traveling to Pakistan. Specific threats include a series of suicide bombs in Karachi, sectarian violence and the massive 7.6 earthquake in 2005.

The Australians are a bit more specific, with numerous citings of suicide bombings in Quetta, Islamabad, and Peshawar. The circular also urges travelers to avoid Baluchistan, the federally-administered tribal areas, and all Pakistani borders.

Lonely Planet minces no words when it comes to Somalia, calling it "one of the world's most dangerous destinations." As Forbes points out, the federal government recently wrested control of the country away from the Union of Islamic Courts, but fighting between clans remains the norm.

Government warnings point out that travel by land and sea are equally dangerous. Piracy is common around the coastal areas, while kidnapping and terrorist attacks are frequent on land. In the most chillingly poetic warning I've ever seen on Lonely Planet, the guide warns that "A traveller to Somalia is spoilt for choice in the number of things that can go wrong."

Yet another destination that most Americans aren't considering traveling to anytime soon. LP says that Afghanistan was once a place of unparalleled hospitality, fantastic food, great hiking but has devolved into a land where kidnapping, assault and murder are common, particularly in Kabul.

What you might not know about Afghanistan is that it is one of the most heavily land-mined areas on the planet, providing an extra element of danger to an already unstable environment.

Commonly called the Ivory Coast, the northen part of the nation is being held under the control of armed rebels. Forbes warns that the capital city of Abidjan is the site of repeated violent conflicts after a years of civil unrest, despite the presence of U.N. troops in the southern part of the nation.

Sharing a border with Liberia certainly doesn't help Cote d'Ivoire's situation, nor has the presence of toxic waste, which was dumped in the capital in September of 2006. Several surrounding neighborhoods are affected, and even more have experienced toxic fumes traveling through the air.

The country had experienced a resurgence in tourism, after decades of being known as
one of the worst human rights violators on the planet. But a breakdown in the ceasefire between the government and the separatist group the Tamil Tigers has made the nation unstable. Government warnings report that intense fighting can break out at any time, and Lonely Planet notes that parts of the north and east are rich with landmines.

This African nation is experiencing a spillover from the conflict in neighboring Darfur in Sudan. To add to its troubles, Chad has its own ethnic fighting in the east and civil unrest between the government and rebel factions. All travel outside the capital city of N'Djamena requires a permit from the Ministry of Interior.

But at the same time, Lonely Planet says that "A state of emergency has been declared in the capital N'Djamena." According to LP, Chad is a nation built on conflict. Its remote location, lack of natural resources and infrastructure, combined with its weak economy make an ideal climate for political upheaval.

With the world's increased demand for oil, more companies are tryng to do business in Nigeria. In 2006, this resulted in 120 foreign oil workers being kidnapped. The nation's 250 different peoples, languages and religions create an already volitile backdrop. Government warnings point to potential terrorist attacks or mass civil unrest around April 21, 2007 (tomorrow) when the country holds Presidential elections.

There are currently 8,000 peacekeeping forces in Haiti, according to Forbes. This is in response to the fact that Haiti has no effective police force. Lonely Planet says that this has created an opportunity for kidnappers and heavily-armed street gangs to run the capital city of Port-au-Prince with impugnity.

The country exists mostly in poverty, is overpopulated and has a long history of civil unrest. In recent years, this has culminated in a proliferation of firearms as well as corrupt police officials and judges.

When most Americans hear the word "Beirut," we imagine fighting in the streets. This is not entirely untrue, as there have been clashes between rival factions in the capital city. Throughout the country, car bombs, grenade attacks and bus bombings occur. In July of last year, the country was bombed by Israeli warplanes, in response to the presence of Hezbollah.

When Lebanon is not one of the world's most dangerous travel destinations, it has a reputation of being an incredibly interesting place to visit. Beirut claims to be the nightlife capital of the middle east, while the rest of the country boasts ski resorts, amazing food and architecture.

There are currently 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Liberia, following the ousting and exile of former President Charles Taylor. After fourteen years of civil war, the nation hopes to rise from the ashes, but is left with very little infrastructure.

Lingering political unrest and social tensions have resulted in mass crime throughout the country, including theft, rape, and murder. In the capital city of Monrovia, governmnet warnings discourage traveling anywhere after dark.

The active warzone in Darfur has captured public attention throughout the world. Militia attacks in this area have killed and displaced tens of thousands of residents. As government-backed militias, local insurgents and government troops engage in active combat with one another, kidnapping, sexual assault and murder are common.

The capital city of Khartoum is also extremely dangerous, with civil unrest breaking out suddenly and curfews being imposed with little or no warning. Threats of terrorist attacks are common, particularly against Westerners, many of whom are unfortunately aid workers. In outlying areas of the country, unexploded landmines are buried in rural areas.

While it is highly unlikely that the average traveler will be headed to these hot zones, it is difficult to not think of the citizens who are caught in the cross-fire of these greusome conflicts.

I'll spare the pontificating here, other than to say that many of us have really won some sort of geographic lottery, thanks to the region of the world that we were lucky enough to be born in.


Schnapps said...

Bang on with the last paragraph, Aspeth. Bang on.

I actually edited a paper on so-called "conflict diamonds" a few years back before Hollywood got ahold of "Blood Diamond". It was quite traumatizing. All my diamonds are now Canadian diamonds. I donated the proceeds from any that could be conflict diamonds to various charities (well, except for the princess set sapphire and diamond that I can't find a copy of here; and I don't know where the diamonds came from - what can I say? I'm shallow). And its a good excuse to support my country's economy :)

Its unfortunate, really. All of those experiences, and different ways of just BEING - and its inaccessible. Or sterilized.

I took a course on developing countries in university; the professor used a term: "tarmac diplomats" - those who visit the country, but don't step out off the tarmac or out of the hotel without police/diplomatic/army security forces, and are shown various places in town - all sterilized.

Aspeth said...

Thanks, Schnapps. I'm with you on the diamonds. The only ones I have are inherited pieces. My long-time fascination with Africa has caused me to view that industry (and several others) with a jaded eye.

When I was younger, I dated a fine young man whose daddy was a prominent figure at the World Bank. It's really crap to know that loans are made to 'developing' nations with such tight restrictions that they have virtually no chance of repayment. But, you know, that's where industry steps in....

For the small minority of politicos, militias, and other shades of 'evil-doers', there exist millions of human beings who are just trying to do the things that we take for granted everyday--attend school, work, have a home, raise families. It's truly overwhelming to consider.

Schnapps said...

And the key, really, is not to take them for granted. Ultimately, school, work, time for family - its all a privilege. Unfortunately, most "Northern" states take all of that for granted. There is such a thing as being "too" comfortable.

Aspeth said...

True; but it's difficult to not take those things for granted and get too comfortable, when that's your reality everyday.

One of the biggest challenges I find is to try to maintain the feeling of wonder that comes from reverse culture shock.

I wind up reminding myself every day to enjoy the smell of the jasmine as I go for a run; to be thankful for the washing machine...the longest I've been able to be truly appreciative of those things was for a few months at a time before the routineness of these things took over.

If there is an afterlife, I hope I never have to explain that to a girl who grew up in Darfur.

Akubi said...

Hey guys,
As far as Africa is concerned, its all good because Casey plans to buy those problematic countries and build Casey Land Diamond Resorts. Its in the works:)

Aspeth said...

Hi Akubi ;-) I'm sure that someone out there is dying to sell him that deed...

Akubi said...

Oh, I wish I had mad Photoshopping skillz. I could have a field day with images at hand, but I completely separate my artistic life (manual, old-fashioned paint "and stuff") from my working life and prefer not to mix the two. I see Casey Diamond Land as a combination between Oz, Disney Land, and vintage Candy Land and Monopoly board cames with some highlighted hair "mogul" in the Trump variety backing the fantasy.

Aspeth said...

Holy hell, Akubi...I can totally picture that! You're right, that would be an absolute scream!!!

Schnapps said...

Ooh, that would be hilarious.

Perhaps Steph J. can put something together?

Gypsy Pete said...

I've been to both Sri Lanka and Pakistan recently and neither are what I would personally consider dangerous. Yes - alertness is required and it's best to have in country contacts but they're not exactly impossible places to go. I'm an Aussie BTW and the Australian Govt's advice is self serving to prevent Aussies suing them for bad advice (as many threatened to after the Bali bombings).

Aspeth said...

PMS...good point about Bali. I have actually noticed a shift, that the Aussie warnings have become much more dire than I've seen them in the past, sounding more like the US warnings.

Not that the US warnings aren't accurate...there are a lot of places that are a huge hassle w/a US passport. But I always interpreted them as being so blustery because, other than a passport renewal, the US embassies don't do a damn thing for US citizens abroad.

It's good to hear from someone who's actually traveled those places recently. Thanks for the info!

travel said...

Has anybody been to Zimbabwe, Harare used to be the sunshine city, but its more like a real trash can these days

Darrel Cooper said...

It's a bit interesting that there's no North Korea in the list. This is where things like life insurance come in. For the risk-seekers, visiting a dangerous destination based on curiosity sure has its own rewards. There are travel shows that show the culture and people, things that are very much behind all the conflicts and dangers.