Travel the World
World’s Riskiest Travel Destinations
Narcotics-related violence, gang warfare, pickpockets, killer wildlife and crazy tides: some trips carry more inherent risks than others. Here are seven risky regions that won’t be “easy” vacations per se, but may just rock your world (in a good way)!
1. Australia: If the Crocs Don’t Get You, the Seashells Might
What could possibly go wrong? Oz claims a disproportionate number of animal dangers, ranging from man-eating sharks to man- and shark-eating saltwater crocodiles. Not to mention poisonous jellyfish, and toxic stinger-boasting cone snails. On land, make sure you don’t share your swag (sleeping bag) with poisonous spiders.
How to stay safe(r): Here are some safety tips from SugarBag Safaris owner Hamish Clark, of Humpty Doo, AUS, who has 15 years’ experience guiding travellers through Kakadu National Park and the wilds outside Australia’s northernmost city, Darwin. (He hasn’t lost a tourist yet!)
• Avoid crocodile attack by heeding croc-warning signs. “And keep away from the edge of rivers, creeks, billabongs and the ocean. Remember: even if there’s no sign, doesn’t mean there isn’t a risk of attack,” says Clark. “Salties” thrive in freshwater rivers, streams, billabongs and even “very small water holes,” too, BTW.
• Cut your risk of spider bites by shaking out clothes, shoes and sleeping bags before putting them on (or getting in). “Also, don’t put your hands into holes or logs. [Venomous] red back spiders like to hang around in outdoor toilets, particularly under the seats,” so look before you sit, says Clark.
• There’s only one way to stay 100% safe from jellies, and that’s by “staying out of the ocean” says Clark. If you must go in, wear a rash guard or wetsuit. Look where you walk, wear water shoes, and shuffle in shallow water, to avoid stepping on another toxic terror: the spiky and poisonous stonefish.
• Avoid venomous blue ring octopuses and cone snails by not touching seaside wildlife or abandoned bottles or cans (which blue ring octopus often hide in).
Why you should consider packing your bags anyway: Where else are you going to swim beneath a 200-metre waterfall, wander through sandstone canyons bedecked in ancient Aboriginal rock art, and go on a wetlands tour where you can spot saltwater crocs, Jabirus, storks and sea eagles? And that’s just on one of Sugarbag Safari’s multi-day tours. Stellar surfing, scuba diving (Great Barrier Reef!), hiking, even camel racing – not to mention Sydney’s shopping and culinary scene – make a top-to-bottom tour of Australia an obvious bucket-list must.
2. South Africa: Crime and Shark Attacks Galore
What could possibly go wrong? According to Canada’s ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canadians need to exercise a high level of caution when visiting South Africa, due to violent crime directed at tourists. Muggings take place on the street or even in shopping malls. Armed robberies are sometimes perpetrated by crooks impersonating police. Sexual assault is common.
“The problem is worst in major urban areas, particularly in the townships around Johannesburg, Tshwane (Pretoria), Cape Town, and Durban. Crimes vary a bit by area, but murder, armed robbery, sexual assault, carjacking, and other violent crimes do pose a real threat throughout the country,” says Ed Daly, of iJet.
Other dangers to tourists include aggressive baboons, and, in the False Bay area of the Western Cape, great white shark attacks.
How to stay safe(r):
• “Most crimes are crimes of opportunity, so avoid making yourself vulnerable. If you are a lone pedestrian with a cellular phone, purse shopping bags or other valuables, you are an attractive target for snatch thefts or muggings,” says Daly.
• “Be especially careful around commercial centers, transport hubs, prominent nightspots and other crowded locations,” says Daly.
• Although it may run counter to your Good Samaritan tendencies, get help, rather than helping. “Criminals may use a variety of ruses, including pretending to need assistance. Stay alert in these situations; and contact the police rather than becoming involved,” says Daly.
• Are you being mugged? Hand over your valuables. “Criminals in South Africa tend to be armed,” says Daly.
• “Women should not travel alone,” says Daly. And no tourist should ever walk at night, even on a short stroll.
• “Rely on trusted locals to arrange transportation and provide guidance. It’s almost always better to travel with a local – friends, family or a pre-arranged service – than to travel alone,” says Daly.
• As for game park safety, travel with a guided group tour. Follow your guide’s instructions!
• Avoid shark attack by heeding beach closures and warning flags
Why you should consider packing your bags anyway: Going on safari at Kruger National Park is a bucket-list contender. Surfing the famous right point break at Jeffrey’s Bay is another. Johannesburg is an up-and-coming urban destination thanks to its vibrant gallery, music, design, and shopping scene. And regional culinary, coffee and wine tours will delight jetsetting foodies.
3. Chernobyl: The World’s Premiere “Toxic Tourism” Destination
What could possibly go wrong? A quarter century after the world’s biggest nuclear power plant disaster (30 workers died, and as many as 4,000 people expected to eventually die as a result of radiation from the 1986 leak), Ukraine has opened Chernobyl to tourism. Day tours of Chernobyl and its surrounding ghost town, Pripyat, north of Kiev, are led by guides toting Geiger counters since radiation is still above normal levels.
How to stay safe(r):
• Follow your guide and move along when told to. Those Geiger counters they’re carrying about? They’re because this place is still “hot.”
• Don’t touch structures or vegetation.
• Don’t eat or smoke in the zone.
• Don’t take any “souvenirs” (Dude: they’re radioactive!)
• Don’t wander from the tour group: from wolf packs to giant wild boar and 3-metre long/200kg-foot-long catfish, nature – untamed and radioactive – has come back with a vengeance in this post-Apocalyptic region.
Why you should consider packing your bags anyway: Chernobyl tourism brings money into the local economy, and provides a historical and cultural context for the nuclear tragedy and its aftermath. Expect unusual photo opps too, ranging from the ghost town with its abandoned buildings, homes and ferris wheel; to giant catfish; a red forest (where evergreens changed shades due to genetic mutations), and a quick stop to the tragedy’s ground zero: Reactor #4.
4. Barcelona, Spain: Pickpocket Central
What could possibly go wrong? One minute you’re strolling along Las Ramblas, people-watching and soaking in the vibrant city-scene. But when you stop in a café for a drink, you reach for your wallet to find it gone without a trace… after all you’re in Barcelona, Pickpocket Capital of the World.
How to stay safe(r):
• Blend in with the locals. “The Spanish, in general – and the Catalans, in particular – tend to dress well. Dressing like a backpacker marks you as a tourist, and tourists are targets for petty thieves. Avoid wearing shorts and sandals or flip-flops. Stick with pants and shoes; jeans and sneakers are fine. In fact, jeans, skirts below the knee, and a stylish shoe are timelessly hip in Barcelona,” says Daly of iJet.
• Don’t hang your coat or purse off the back of your restaurant chair, or put them on the floor beside you. Keep them on your lap or right between your feet.
• “Minimize the risk of losing important documents by carrying copies and leaving the originals in your hotel safe” says Daly. Don’t carry all your cash and credit cards in one wallet or pocket: diversify your stash in other pockets and/or a hidden money belt.
Why you should consider packing your bags anyway: C’mon: it’s a sexy, urbane cultural capital. With a thriving arts and culture scene, nightlife, and incredible architecture from Gothic to Art Nouveau, to modern masterpieces by Antoni Gaudi and Mies van der Rohe, it’s worth geeking out for, hidden money belt and all.
5. Mexico: Where Tourists Can Become Collateral Damage
What could possibly go wrong? Mexico’s northern border regions are in the midst of a bloody narcotics and arms trafficking war that has seen 47,515 killed between late- 2006 and mid-2011 – including innocent bystanders. Although travellers aren’t targeted per se, the US Department of State reports 120 American visitors were killed in 2011 .
How to stay safe(r): Educate yourself, says Ed Daly, Director of Watch Operations for iJet International, an operational risks management firm. (They’re the ones who help keep global CEOs and employees safe in dangerous regions like the ones on our list.)
• Avoid becoming collatoral damage by staying out of northern border regions like Ciudad Juarez, Monterrey, Mazatlan or Guadalajara. Pass on Veracruz and Acapulco, too: “They’re too iffy,” says Daly.
• Where can you go? “The Yucatan peninsula continues to be among Mexico’s safest regions. This includes the famous beaches of the Mayan Riviera, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel. It also includes the towns of Campeche and Merida. From these beach towns, one can safely do day trips to various Mayan ruins, including Tulum, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza,” says Daly.
• On the Pacific coast, Puerto Vallarta or Cabo San Lucas are safe destinations.
• Want to hit Mexico City? You can, with a few caveats. “Stick to upscale Polanco and follow basic rules of thumb: have airport pick-up arranged before arrival and only use taxis from your hotel,” says Daly.
Why you should consider packing your bags anyway: With 1.5 million Canadian tourists per year, Mexico remains a top warm-weather destination. There’s still lots to love, from the casual luxe of Los Cabos to the tranquil beaches and ruins of the Mayan Riviera, just a few of the country’s most beautiful low-crime regions.
6. Thailand: Terrorists, Killer Jellies and Riptide
What could possibly go wrong? Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada has identified civil unrest, border disputes, and religious violence, as making certain regions of Thailand unsafe for tourism. Earlier this year, three terrorist bombs injured a handful of people in Bangkok. Meanwhile, poisonous box jellies and irukandji jellyfish have killed swimmers. Trendy Phuket, Krabi, Koh Pha-ngan, Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi are particular hotspots. (Look out for the riptides too: weak or unsuspecting swimmers can be dragged out to sea.) Female travellers have been sexually assaulted and robbed – after being drugged via drinks, cigarettes, food, or even gum – during full-moon parties in Koh Pha-ngan. How to stay safe(r):
• Avoid Thailand/Cambodia and Thailand/Burma border regions.
• Avoid the southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and Songkia (including Hat Yai city). Since 2004, 4,700 people have been killed, many of whom were foreign travellers.
•Ask locals where it’s safe to swim. Don’t enter the water on red-flagged beaches.
•Don’t leave drinks or food unattended in bars and restaurants, and don’t accept beverages you haven’t ordered for yourself. Consult Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada’s In Her Own Way travel guide for more travel safety tips.
Why you should consider packing your bags anyway: World-class beaches, awe-inspiring temples, mouthwatering cuisine, cool night markets, amazing opportunities to volunteer with rescue elephants, historic cities, and really welcoming, friendly locals (it’s known as the Land of Smiles), after all!
7. Honduras: Sand, Sun and Crime
What could possibly go wrong? Um, potentially a lot… An October 2011 United Nations report ranked Honduras as having the world’s highest per capita murder rate: 82.1 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants . (By comparison, Canada’s is 1.85 victims per 100,000, and the United States’ is 5.69). Earlier this year, the US Peace Corps pulled its volunteers amid safety concerns.
How to stay safe(r): Although most murders are drug- and gang-related, tourists have fallen prey to opportunistic robbery, assault, sexual assault and carjacking. Most crime occurs on the mainland, although the Bay Islands of Roatan and Utila have seen an uptick too. A little bit of precaution goes a long way, says Julie Shigetomi, ex-Torontonian and co-owner of Utila’s Alton’s Dive Center. “The criminal element normally stays away from tourists. But be careful, the same way you would in any large city,” she says.
• Don’t flash jewelry, cell phones, watches or wallets.
• “Don’t hike alone in remote areas. Explore in a group,” says Shigetomi.
• “If you have to travel across the mainland, fly, rather than travelling by bus,” says Shigetomi. Avoid Murder Capital, San Pedro Sula, altogether.
• The US State Department recommends avoiding political demonstrations, economy buses, walking alone at night, and driving without locked car doors and closed windows .
Why you should consider packing your bags anyway: From gorgeous reefs to verdant rainforest and ancient Mayan ruins, Honduras has everything soft-adventure travellers desire. (Imagine Costa Rica, only quieter and cheaper.) Roatan and Utila are two of the world’s top scuba destinations. “If you’re flying right into Roatan and staying on a resort, I wouldn’t hesitate to say you’re totally safe. And Utila? It’s in no way as dangerous as Cuba or the Dominican Republic,” says Shigetomi, who has lived there for over a decade.
8. Kenya: Where Even the NGOs Have Claws
What could possibly go wrong? Besides armed robbery, assault, carjacking, kidnapping-for-ransom and terrorist attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa earlier this spring, Kenya also boasts the dubious distinction of being a nation known for turning on do-gooder international volunteers.
“Foreigners volunteering with local NGOs have reported incidents of fraud, threats and mistreatment by local personnel. Other volunteers have been left stranded when the illegitimate NGOs they were working for closed,” reports Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.
How to stay safe(r): Practice the same safety basics you would in any other big city: Don’t flash valuables around, don’t travel alone; avoid travelling at night; hire only reputable tour companies and clearly marked taxis; and watch your baggage like a hawk at the airport and hotel lobby. In addition:
• If you’re eager to volunteer at an NGO, check the National Council of NGOs to see if it’s legit.
• Avoid all travel to northeast Kenya within 150 km of the Somali border. This includes the coastal areas north of Pate Island in Lamu district, and to Garissa district.
• Don’t visit during Christmas vacation: in the cities, violent robberies of tourists climb in the period leading into the holidays.
• Refer to the International Chamber of Commerce’s Live Piracy and Armed Robbery Report before boating along the pirate-targeted coast.
Why you should consider packing your bags anyway: Kenya is truly one of nature’s wonders, blessed with environments ranging from volcanos and snow-peaked mountains, to desert savannah and Indian Ocean coral reefs.
The country’s rich visual arts heritage can be explored in galleries, prehistoric rock art, and living crafts like beadwork and carving. Capital city Nairobi has a thriving music, dance and theatre scene. For many though, Kenya’s about life-changing safari experiences.
Witness the Great Wildebeest Migration at Maasai Mara where the horizon-to-horizon stampede makes the earth rumble.
Or run the annual Safaricom Marathon at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a protected game preserve. At 5,500 above sea level, it follows dirt roads through the 55,000-acre preserve, affording jaw-dropping vistas, and possible encounters with a herd of 80 endangered black rhinos, or elephants, zebras, giraffes, and buffalo. (A team of game wardens, including spotters in a helicopter and plane, are on hand to ensure no one gets more than they bargained for.)
9. Jordan: Historic Dangers
Along with Israel, Jordan is one of the “safer” options in the Middle East – although Canadian travellers should still be aware of a “general terrorist threat throughout Jordan,” according to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada’s Travel Report. Additional dangers include civil unrest and violent protests, sexual harassment and assault of women, and petty crime such as pick-pocketing (particularly in downtown Amman).
How to stay safe(r): Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada recommends lowering your risk of danger with the following steps:
• Avoid political demonstrations and surrounding areas – protests can quickly turn violent.
• Be aware of the potential for terrorist activity; government buildings, public areas and tourist sites have all been identified as potential targets.
•Women tourists should travel in groups whenever possible, as well as dress conservatively and avoid sitting next to taxi drivers (sit in the back seat).
• Avoid landmines by heeding signage advising of minefields.
• Keep passports, travel documents and valuables secure and avoid crowded areas: familiarize yourself with use of the hotel safe and undercover money belts.
Why you should consider packing your bags anyway: Jordan is a land where nature and culture come together in a potent mix that has proven addictive to Western adventure travellers for over a century.
Scuba dive eye-popping reefs in the Red Sea off Aqaba . Tour the incredible, ancient city of Petra, carved into sheer rock face cliffs over 2,000 years ago. Take in the surreal moonscape of the Dead Sea while pampering your skin with its therapeutic mud. And don’t forget to book a day trip to Wadi Rum: its stupendous red rock-scape famously beguiled T. E Lawrence (AKA, Lawrence of Arabia) who called it “vast, echoing and Godlike.”
10. Russia: Watch Out for the Children!
What could possibly go wrong? As with many parts of the world, terrorism remains a low-level concern in Russia.
In 2011, an explosion at Moscow’s Donodedovo International Airport killed 30 people and injured 100.
In 2010, two fatality-causing terrorist attacks occurred on the Moscow subway, although since then, authorities have beefed up security, including security checks. Random ID checks mean you have to carry your original passport with you at all times: which can be a problem given the ubiquity of pickpockets and theft.
How to stay safe(r): Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada recommends lowering your risk of danger with the following steps:
• “Avoid all travel to Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan, the republics of Karachai-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria (including the Mount Elbrus region), and North Ossetia, and the regions of Budyonnosky, Levokumsky, Neftekumsky, Stepnovsky and Kurski, part of the district of Stavropol Krai.”
• Avoid being an easy target: travel in a group with a reputable tour agency.
• Don’t display flashy jewelry and watches, and keep your valuables secure at all times.
• Never leave your food or drink unattended in a bar, restaurant or nightclub, and don’t accept food or beverages from strangers: you could be drugged, then robbed or assaulted.
• Be leery of kids and teens who may distract and pickpocket you as a group. Some ploys play on your desire to help someone in need: call for police and let them help instead.
Why you should consider packing your bags anyway: Russia is one of the globe’s most charismatic countries, its history peppered with war, revolution, cultural upheaval, and romance. Tour St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, one of the world’s finest, home to over three million (!) artifacts and works of art. In Moscow, visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kremlin and Red Square, then catch a performance of the world-renowned Bolshoi Ballet. The city’s vibrant restaurant and nightclub scene beckons, so be sure to pack your appetite, and your sexiest stilettoes!