As of the time of this writing, there are 195 recognized countries on the planet. This includes recent newcomers to the international scene, such as South Sudan, and venerable nations with centuries of history, like the United Kingdom. Of those many nations, the majority are safe to visit and the American traveller should by all means explore the world and come to know their fellow global citizens firsthand. On the other hand, there are a number of countries you should absolutely never visit unless you like being robbed, sickened, beaten, kidnapped, tossed in prison, killed, or some blend of all those horrible things and more. The sad truth is that much of the world is anything but safe, especially to an outsider unfamiliar with the customs and culture of the place he or she visits.
Some of the countries on the list of places never to visit will be no surprise; one general rule of thumb is that if the leaders of country frequently refer to America as the “Great Satan” and/or regularly threatens us with nuclear annihilation, don’t plan a visit there. Other places are unsafe for travel for subtler reasons, such as the prevalence of diseases to which foreigners are particular susceptible or based on the potential for endemic conflict to boil over, affecting local and tourist alike in an upwell of violent strife. So… happy reading. And safe travels! Just never to these places.
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15. Saudi Arabia – Sand and/or Executions
Unless you love hot, arid conditions and hate equal rights for women and minorities, there are not a lot of reasons for pleasure travel to Saudi Arabia. (Oil export business-related visits, sure, go ahead.) Aside from ongoing threats posed by terrorist groups scattered about this vast desert nation, there is also the matter of the ongoing Yemeni civil war right across the border. According to some Saudi media sources, more than 40,000 military projectiles have been fired into Saudi Arabia from Yemen in the past two years. So play it safe and stay the hell away.
14. El Salvador – #1 in Murder
The diminutive Central American nation of El Salvador has a dubious distinction indeed: it is the murder capital of the world. The violence is primarily committed by members of the massive MS-13 and M18 gangs, which have roots in and connections to North America. Most of those who end up murdered in El Salvador are members of rival gangs, but robberies, kidnapping, and killings of people visiting the nation are far from unheard of. Basically just remember that whichever country is considered in the top three or four murder capitals is probably best viewed in photographs.
13. Ethiopia – Government Is the Problem
Anyone who calls the American government dysfunctional or corrupt or inept or any other blanket derogative would be well advised to consider the governments of various other nations before jumping to conclusions. The US State Department has singled out Ethiopia as particularly unsafe for American citizens based on its governments tendency to frequently shut down telephone and cellular networks in order to control the flow of information, and because Ethiopia refuses to inform the American embassy when a US citizen is arrested or detained.
12. Bangladesh – Civil War, Terrorists, and Floods
That well-meaning concert notwithstanding, Bangladesh has never had an easy history. This Indian Ocean nation has long been plagued by violence on many fronts, and when people aren’t being killed by civil strife or terrorist attacks, they’re drowning or having their homes and livelihoods washed away by horrific floods. And then last year ISIS militants specifically targeted Americans, including on their list tourists, diplomats, sports teams, missionaries, and expats, just to name a few.
11. Kenya – Robbing Hood
There is no shortage of thieves in Kenya, nor is there a shortage of people who seem to enjoy stabbing other people with knives, often with disparate religious beliefs as their motivation. The primary crimes that threaten foreigners in this east African nation are, in no particular order, mugging, carjacking, home invasion and robbery, burglary, and kidnapping. But plenty of people are murdered there also, often by knife as noted, and sometimes by grenade blast, too.
10. Syria – Just… Don’t Go to Syria
In case you just woke up after a half-decade-long coma, things aren’t going that well in Syria. There has been a civil war rending the nation apart for years, with the corrupt government of Bashar al-Assad fighting various rebel groups, terrorist organizations, and unarmed innocent civilians all at once. Multiple extremist factions hold swaths of territory. The Russia military conducts frequent operations as does the US, albeit usually covertly. There are a million ways to die in Syria, and according to a stark statement from the State Department, “no part of Syria is safe from violence.”
9. Afghanistan – Still Not So Much
Well, sixteen years of war later… and still Afghanistan is pretty much a mess. Though to be fair, it’s not like 2001 was the first year this central Asian nation saw strife; most of its history has been filled with war, invasion, rebellion, and scores of warring factions jockeying for regional primacy. According to the State Department, “travel to all areas of Afghanistan remains unsafe due to the ongoing risk of kidnapping, hostage taking, military combat operations, landmines, banditry, armed rivalry between political and tribal groups, militant attacks, direct and indirect fire, suicide bombings, and insurgent attacks, including attacks using vehicle-borne or other improvised explosive devices.” So yeah, don’t go there.
8. Congo – Combat On All Sides
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, as this nation is properly called, is far from democratic and in many areas is hardly a republic. Both rebel groups and rogue detachments of the Congolese military rove around much of the massive central African nation committing atrocities including rape, murder, mutilation, and more. Travel anywhere outside the capital city of Kinshasa is considered unsafe, and even being there is touch and go.
7. Yemen – Latter Day No Man’s Land
The impoverished gulf nation of Yemen is in a pretty bad place there days. Since the early spring of 2015, the country has been riven by civil war and no stable government has yet emerged from the quagmire. To make matters worse, many of the rebels engaged in the fighting there specifically target foreigners, in particular Americans, but to exact perceived retribution and for the purpose of ransoms. There is no American diplomatic or consular presence in Yemen at all, so if you go there, you’re on your own. So… don’t go there.
6. Egypt – The Pyramids Will Still Be There Another Time
If you were thinking of planning a trip to Egypt to see the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Sphinx, the purported site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, or any other of the wonders spread around this ancient region, do yourself a favor and instead take a trip to the library and read about them in books. Not only are these and other major tourists attractions likely targets for terrorist attacks (heavy security efforts made by the Egyptian government notwithstanding), but the FAA also warns of dangers posed to planes traveling to, from, and around the country.
5. Russia – Well, Saint Petersburg Is Nice
If you want to visit Russia, book a curated visit to Saint Petersburg and enjoy seeing sites like the Winter Palace, the Hermitage Museum, and strolling by the Neva River. It’s relatively easy to get a tourist visa to this cosmopolitan city, but of you want to visit the rest of Russia, as an American you have some hoops to jump through. These include disclosing information including the names of your nuclear family members, your last several places of employment, the places you went to school, and more. So basically you turn over your private life in order to visit. But at least you know a Russian operative would never use anything like that against you, right?
4. Iran – Death to America Is Kind of Their Thing
Iran is a complicated place: much of the populace is well-educated, peace-loving, and in fact has warm regards for Americans. But enough of the people who control the government and military of this scion of Persia hate the United States through and through. All too often, Americans who enter the nation (often those who have passports both to Iran and America, being of Iranian birth or descent) are detained, imprisoned, or simply prohibited from leaving. The country is also hemmed in by some nations in which conflicts simmer, others in which the fighting is red hot.
3. Haiti – When It’s Not the Violence, It’s the Hurricanes
At the time of this writing, Haiti faces a harrowing hurricane season, led off by the Category 5 storm Hurricane Irma. Bereft of adequate infrastructure and emergency response services, a natural disaster hits Haiti harder than most places. But even when the weather or an earthquake is not wreaking havoc on this half of Hispaniola, Haiti is plagued by frequent civil unrest that threatens whole swaths of the country, while individuals face robbery, rape, murder, and more.
2. Venezuela – Spiralling Out Daily
Relationships between Venezuela and America haven’t exactly been rosy over the past couple of decades. Today, things are even worse on the ground in this South American nation than at any point in recent years. The leftist government is facing near constant protests from a population fed up with shortages of food, clean water, proper medical care, labor opportunities, and more. The government has responded with frequent violent crackdowns, and multiple Americans have been swept up in these responses, facing arrest and detention without any access to legal assistance or due process.
1. North Korea – The Hermit Kingdom
Not only is travel to the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea foolhardy, but now it is actually illegal for Americans to travel there, and not based on DPRK law, but based in American law. In the past, many Americans have ventured into this arcane, reclusive nation for reasons ranging from the religious to the journalistic to the adventurous. But in light of the recent death of an American long detained there and as the countries regularly threaten each other with nuclear attack, it’s clear that North Korea is one location to scratch off your planned itinerary. Try North Carolina, instead.
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