12 “Dangerous” Countries That Are Safer Than You Think
Want to head someplace out of the ordinary for your next trip? Try one of these fascinating nations, which have long outgrown their dangerous reputations—or never deserved them in the first place.
Countries That Are Safer Than You Think: Nicaragua
There was a time when war and extreme poverty defined Nicaragua, but this nation has actually been at peace for almost 30 years. Today, tourism is booming, the economy has improved, and Nicaragua is considered one of the safest countries in Latin America, according to both the United Nations and a recent Gallup poll.
While everyone is busy vacationing in nearby Costa Rica, visitors to Nicaragua can enjoy all that lush, tropical beauty without having to navigate hordes of tourists. Marvel at mountain ranges, go on rainforest treks, explore nature reserves, and hike any of the country’s six active volcanoes. If you’re not the backpacking type, park yourself on the white-sand beaches of San Juan del Sur instead, or gawk at the colourful architecture of Granada, the country’s most popular city. Come for the beauty, stay for the friendly locals, vibrant food culture, and dirt-cheap prices.
Check out these gorgeous photos of the most colourful towns in the world.
Countries That Are Safer Than You Think: Nepal
Seasoned trekkers and nature enthusiasts consider Nepal one of the most coveted travel destinations on the planet. But if you only know of this South Asian country from outdated news headlines, you might write it off as a hub for corruption and political uprisings. Despite seeing its share of both manmade and natural disasters, Nepal is considered safe for tourists.
It’s also deemed a Shangri-La of sorts—home to geographical wonders like the Himalayas, Mount Everest, and the Bhote Koshi River. It’s a haven for hiking, birding, kayaking, rafting, and ancient temple- and pagoda-peeping, especially in its popular capital, Kathmandu.
Like most nations with poor economies, though, Nepal may target tourists for petty crimes like pickpocketing. Visitors who keep a keen eye out fare just fine. In general, crime rates here are relatively low, and Nepal’s peace-loving locals (the population is primarily Buddhist) are famous for their welcoming vibes.
Countries That Are Safer Than You Think: Colombia
Forget those three seasons of Narcos you binge-watched on Netflix. Modern-day Colombia is a far cry from the ’80s cocaine cartel culture that put it on the map. Today, Colombia’s crime rates have plummeted, and it’s one the safest and most tourist-friendly places you can find in Central or South America, providing you practice common sense and don’t wander too far off the beaten path.
Once there, prepare yourself for some serious eye candy. Colourful, colonial architecture and stunning street murals adorn popular cities including Cartagena, Bogota, and Medellin. Learn to salsa, indulge in bandeja paisa (the national dish), or take a day trip to the Eje Cafetero region for some of the world’s most coveted coffee, which is plentiful and cheap.
Spend your weekends lounging beside the crystal-clear Caribbean or take a detour to explore the Amazon rainforest. Colombia’s incredibly kind locals will be happy to guide you.
Countries That Are Safer Than You Think: Bosnia-Herzegovina
As the tumultuous downfall of the former Yugoslavia unfolded before our eyes, violent warfare ravaged a slew of territories on the Balkan Peninsula. One of them was Bosnia-Herzegovina and its famous capital, Sarajevo. But that was way back in the ’90s, and a lot has changed.
Today, this independent nation (yes, it’s one country) is a peaceful and culturally rich destination at the base of the Alps and one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Waterfalls, outdoor bazaars, and historical monuments comprise Bosnia-Herzegovina’s main tourist attractions, but what makes this country is truly special is the people—just ask any traveller who’s spent a decent amount of time here.
The country’s tourism board even markets Bosnia-Herzegovina as “the heart-shaped land,” taking its cue from this newfound reputation. Engage the locals in some casual banter over a dish of ćevapi (minced meat) and some Bosnian coffee. Just don’t call their coffee Turkish—and try not to talk politics.
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Countries That Are Safer Than You Think: Kosovo
Another major player in the Balkan wars was Kosovo, the “newborn nation,” as it’s often called. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, and today it stands apart as a culturally rich and extraordinarily safe European travel destination. While neighbouring territories like Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia have become tourism hot spots, Kosovo has remained delightfully off the radar… for now.
Most of the action takes place in Kosovo’s capital city, Pristina, where the nightlife is hopping, the architecture is funky, and the culture is largely bohemian. Try the local drink, rakia, or steep yourself in Pristina’s rich coffee culture. Then venture outside the capital to see mosques, go spelunking, and visit the bear sanctuary. You can even find a statue of President Bill Clinton, who famously ordered NATO forces to defend Kosovo in the late ’90s. Needless to say, the country’s locals are exceedingly kind to foreigners.
Countries That Are Safer Than You Think: Rwanda
The Rwandan genocide of 1994 remains one of the most brutal atrocities in modern history, killing almost a million people in just 100 days. Live media coverage of the mass murders left a permanent imprint on the social consciousness of Westerners and beyond. That’s why it might be shocking to learn that a 2017 Gallup report and 2017 World Economic Report have listed Rwanda as one of the safest countries in the world.
Thanks to a new president, an economic upturn, and advancements in technology, this small country has made a stunning recovery in the past two decades. Though it still has a way to go, its crime rates are very low and the country is known for its cleanliness. Tourism is just what this tiny nation needs to keep rebuilding.
Gorilla trekking is the main attraction in Rwanda, but the nation also has beautiful lakes, national parks, and eight ancient volcanoes to explore.
Countries That Are Safer Than You Think: Sri Lanka
Despite years of civil war, modern-day Sri Lanka is considered a safe place to visit. Petty crimes like pickpocketing are rare here, especially compared to other, more popular Asian countries, like nearby India. Just be wary of local scammers and con artists—and aggressive tuk-tuk drivers, the Asian version of taxi drivers—who tend to target “rich” Westerners.
Your sense of safety will only be matched by your sense of awe; this country is straight out of a fantasy novel with its ancient fortresses, sprawling tea plantations, gilded temples, and a bridge that appears to reach into the clouds. And don’t forget the beautiful beaches and copious whale watching—Sri Lanka is an island, after all.
Ingratiate yourself with the local Buddhist culture by remaining relatively modest in public. Be sure to cover up when entering a temple, for instance, and avoid public displays of affection.
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Countries That Are Safer Than You Think: Israel
The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict may give you pause when considering a trip to Israel, but the country’s political struggle shouldn’t necessarily deter you. The U.S. State Department currently declares Israel a Level 2 threat on a scale from one to four— the same as Spain, the U.K., and Denmark.
You can steer clear of the more turbulent Gaza Strip and West Bank, but still thoroughly enjoy Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for all of their profound religious and cultural significance. Tour sacred sites and ancient ruins, float in the healing waters of the Dead Sea, haggle at street markets, and take in some of the world’s most electric nightlife.
If you find yourself in more conservative parts of this Muslim-Jewish-Christian country, take your wardrobe cue from your environment, and cover up out of respect and safety.
Countries That Are Safer Than You Think: Qatar
Qatar made headlines for its role in supporting the Syrian opposition, but don’t let that scare you away from visiting this Middle Eastern peninsular country. Qatar itself is widely considered one of the safest countries in the world—the U.S. State Department rates it a Level 1, the safest possible.
Its capital, Doha, gives New York a run for its money with breathtaking skyscrapers and prominent nightlife and food scenes. When you tire of the city, head to the desert. Camel rides are par for the course, but if you’re extra adventurous, go sand dune bashing on a dune buggy safari!
It’s important to remember that Qatar is a Muslim country, and sensitivity to its relatively conservative culture (Doha notwithstanding) is the best way to blend in.
Countries That Are Safer Than You Think: Morocco
This African nation has gotten a bad rap in recent years. Some have labelled Morocco dangerous for solo female travellers, and others have raised a red flag about petty theft. But the truth is street harassment and pickpocketing can happen just about anywhere you go to varying degrees.
To put it into perspective, Morocco has been declared a Level 1 risk by the U.S. State Department, basically, as safe as you can get. To call Morocco dangerous would be an exaggeration. And to call it exotic would be an understatement.
Morocco is widely considered the most outlandishly gorgeous country in all of Africa. On a trip here, you can tour the Sahara desert, browse the outdoor markets of Marrakesh and Casablanca, dine on meals cooked in clay, and Instagram your heart out in the blue-painted city of Chefchaouen… and that’s just for starters. Even your accommodations are bound to be breathtaking, not to mention shockingly affordable.
Countries That Are Safer Than You Think: Puerto Rico
Should the devastation of Hurricane Maria scare you off of visiting Puerto Rico? Absolutely not. In fact, consider it even more of a reason to visit this extraordinarily warm and welcoming island, which is still as stunning as ever, by the way. Puerto Rico needs your tourism now more than ever in order to rebuild.
Because tourism is such an important industry for Puerto Rico, it’s doing all it can to make sure airports, cruises, and hotels are fully functioning. Stroll around historic Old San Juan, engage in adventure sports like diving and ziplining, or visit any of the country’s heavenly beaches while you’re there.
Visitors are even encouraged to practice “voluntourism” — the perfect marriage of vacation and relief effort. It can be as simple as bringing an extra suitcase filled with supplies or as involved as joining a volunteer group.
Countries That Are Safer Than You Think: Mexico
Regardless of what you may hear from well-meaning friends and relatives, Mexico is still considered a safe place to travel, especially if you’re planning a resort vacation. Drug-trafficking and gang violence have branded certain parts of this vacation go-to off-limits, and a recent travel advisory by the U.S. State Department raised some major red flags. But overall, Mexico is considered a Level 2 threat by the State Department.
For Canadians, Mexico is a relative stone’s throw of a foreign destination, especially hot spots like Cancun, Tulum, Los Cabos, and Mexico City, which are all relatively safe for travel. Plus, it’s super cheap and appeals to all kinds of travellers, from spring breakers and backpackers to families and beach bums. In 2016, 35 million people visited Mexico to splash around the Caribbean Sea, tour ancient Mayan ruins, and enjoy some of the best tequila on Earth.
When you’re here, consider leaving the resort—but practice caution, of course. Places like Merida, San Miguel de Allende, and Oaxaca City boast colourful, colonial architecture and charming cobblestone streets you won’t find anywhere near a swim-up bar.
Originally published as 13 “Dangerous” Countries That Are Safer Than You Think on ReadersDigest.com.