Some people love to travel and believe it’s one of the few things in life worth spending your money on. Some prefer the comfort of their couch, the safety of their cocoon and would rather explore new cultures through the Travel Channel. Others, are simply not interested in learning about new cultures and don’t think there’s anything worth seeing outside of their country.
Some love adventure, are spontaneous, don’t like to make too many plans and prefer to just go with the flow, while others prefer to plan their journey up to the very last detail. The latter are usually those who like to play safe and don’t really want any surprises. But if you are the adventurous type, you are probably not afraid of any challenges, of traveling to places others might consider dangerous, or even countries that are on the ultimate no-no list (North Korea, for example) and you enjoy the thrill of discovering a location you don’t know much about.
Any country can be dangerous. Sure, there are some more dangerous than others, but bad things can happen anywhere. It comes down to luck. Or bad timing. Or fate, or whatever you believe in. Don’t let fear stop you from doing what you love most, even if that means exploring dangerous places around the world.
13. North Sentinel Island
Somewhere in the Indian Ocean, there is this tiny island, about the size of Manhattan, called North Sentinel Island, part of the Andaman Islands. It is one of the most isolated places on Earth and home to one of the most dangerous tribes in the world: the Jarawas. They are removed from civilization and speak a language no one else can understand. They don’t like to see other humans around and can get pretty violent. They made the news in 2006 after they killed two fishermen who ventured too close to the island. The Jarawas, and the other tribes inhabiting the Andaman Islands, have lived there for around 60,000 years. But civilization and progress lead to a highway built through their reserve in the 70s and that is when the outsiders arrived for the first time. And if there’s a highway, then why not bring more people in, some genius thought, who came up with the insane idea of human safaris. Yes, let’s all get on buses and take a ride through the jungle and stare at those creepy, scary people! Maybe throw a couple of bananas at them, too. Oh wait, it wasn’t bananas. Some tourists brought with them drugs and alcohol in an attempt to exploit the Jarawa women! How messed up is that?
A 2002 Supreme Court ban didn’t discourage tourists and tour companies and it wasn’t until 2013 that human safaris were completely banned. Tourism in such areas is more dangerous than most people realize. And it is not only dangerous for visitors, who could get killed, but for the people who have been living there for generations. Outsiders bring diseases, which could kill entire populations. The vehicles traveling through the reserve disturb the wildlife, which is the tribe’s main source of food. In addition to that, if tourists get killed by locals, that forces the government to step in and force the natives to relocate or worse.
Haiti has been hit hard by numerous hurricanes and earthquakes in the past decade. It is particularly heart-breaking when areas that are already struggling with a lot of poverty get hit by disasters again and again. Haiti has a poverty rate of 77 percent, which makes it the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world. But even the poorest places in the world often have a lot of beauty to offer. And Haiti has both natural attractions (romantic beaches, breath-taking waterfalls) and beautiful architectural landmarks (a mountaintop fortress, cathedrals, palaces).
Poor countries are usually associated with a high crime rate, which makes Haiti rather dangerous for travelers. Cité Soleil is such a beautiful name (“Sun City”) but it is the country’s biggest slum, housing a lot of poverty and crime. It is a commune located in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area with approximately 400,000 residents. It has no infrastructure, there aren’t even any sewers and many houses are built with scavenged materials. Until 2007 the area was controlled by armed gangs who kept people living under terror. Although that doesn’t happen anymore, there are still a lot of shootings, murders, rapes, kidnappings.
So if you happen to travel through Port-au-Prince, make sure you avoid this area but check out Atis Rezistans, a museum that displays macabre sculptures made from human bones and metal scrapes, that tell stories about Haiti’s daily struggles.
11. Darién Gap
The 93-mile stretch of land between Colombia and Panama is also known as “the world’s most dangerous journey”. Any jungle has its number of dangers, but this one seems to be even scarier than others. Imagine really high temperatures and air so thick, it is almost impossible to breathe. And plants like the Chunga palm tree that has very sharp bacteria-covered spines. Or dangerous creatures, like the deadly fer-de-lance snake, fire ants, poisonous frogs, or bot flies, which lay eggs under your skin. The few humans you might encounter on your journey are usually indigenous people, drug smugglers, migrants trying to cross the border or dangerous paramilitary groups. Satellite phones and GPS trackers don’t work, so don’t count on them for this trip.
Well, this doesn’t sound exactly like a hot touristic destination, does it? In spite of all this, a 26-year old Swedish student has embarked on this deadly journey in 2013. And then he disappeared and his family waited for a sign of life for two years. He was an experienced traveler, having visited 50 countries and his goal was to walk through at least one jungle. His body was found two years later, and rebel group FARC admitted to having killed him, as he was mistaken for a foreign spy.
10. Mount Everest
At a little over 29,000 feet, mount Everest is the highest in the world and a dream for many mountaineers, a metaphor for the journey of life and its challenges. Many have attempted to reach its peak, but not everyone has made it. The first recorded deaths were after a British expedition in 1922, when seven people died, due to a group-induced avalanche. Since then, a total of 292 people died on the mountain, from various causes: avalanches, pneumonia, falls, exposure, heart attack, stroke and even altitude sickness. The youngest person to die on Everest was a 19-year-old Nepali. Even though we have access to more information and better technology now than we had in the 1920s, such deaths usually can’t be predicted and prevented. And you really can’t mess with Mother Nature. Disasters can strike at any moment. In 2015, between 700 and 1,000 people were on or near the mountain when a 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, triggering several major avalanches and killing 24 people and injuring over 60.
But, hey, maybe it’s all worth it and when you get up there you really feel like you’re on top of the world. Well, when you’re at such a high altitude, your brain doesn’t function very well anymore. Every little task can take quite a bit of effort and you have to be so much more careful to stay alive.
9. Island of the (Dead) Dolls
Isla de las Munecas is part of the canals of Xochimilco, near Mexico City, that were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. That has a lot to do with the Aztec culture and nothing to do with the creepy story you are about to read. The island is pretty much a junkyard for “dead” dolls. 50 years before this turned into a macabre place, Don Julián Santana Barrera, the former caretaker of the island, claimed he had found the body of a young girl floating in the canal, along with a doll, which he assumed, belonged to her. Barrera decided to hang the doll in a tree, as a sign of respect and it all went downhill from there. The man started hearing voices, footsteps, and wails everywhere around him, including in his hut. He became obsessed with the little girl and was determined to help her spirit find peace. For fifty years, he collected broken dolls (some missing body parts) from the trash and the canals and hung them from the trees. In 2001, Barrera was found dead in the same spot where he found the little girl’s body. After that, the island became a popular touristic attraction and fearless tourists bring more dolls with them, while others claim that the dolls whisper to them. This place might not be dangerous, but it is sure to give you nightmares for days.
Mali, located in West Africa, is one of the countries that the Department of State has issued warnings about. The reasons are the same for pretty much every African country on the list: ongoing terrorist attacks, criminal violence, and potential political instability. Touristic locations have become targets for many attacks. In June 2017 several gunmen attacked a luxury resort near Mali’s capital, Bamako, and five people were killed. In 2015, there were several attacks in which foreigners were targeted. Mali has been having terrorist-related problems since 2009, but it wasn’t until a few years later, that warnings were issued by several governments, including the British one. In 2011, over 200,000 tourists have visited Mali, but in 2012, the number had significantly dropped, to only 10,000.
Mali’s main attraction has been Timbuktu, an ancient city important for the spread of Islam in Africa, along with three other World Heritage Sites: Djenné, where the world’s largest mud structure can be found, the Tomb of Askia, and the great Bandiagara escarpment, home of the Dogon people.
Those brave enough to venture to Mali should try to witness the Antogo fishing frenzy, an event that takes place once a year at the sacred Antogo lake. When the fishing ban is lifted, thousands of Dogon people rush to the lake and empty it within minutes.
Glacial rivers, the Northern Lights, over 100 volcanoes, hot springs, amazing wildlife, and even some secret beaches are just some of Alaska’s attractions. In 2013, 1.96 million people visited Alaska. They might go there with the best intentions, but Alaska isn’t always friendly. So what kind of dangers can tourists expect? Well, we have the obvious: bear attacks, hypothermia, avalanches, natural disasters, and the ones you might not be prepared for, like ATV accidents and moose encounters. Yes, the same moose that is often pictured as a cute animal can be quite vicious. They can get up to six feet in height and weigh as much as 1,600 pounds. Need I say more? In 1995, a female moose ended up on a college campus in Anchorage, was harassed by students (what were they thinking??) and ended up stomping an old man to death (probably a collateral victim). And speaking of Anchorage, they’ve had a few rough years: 34 homicides in 2016! The previous year, an Italian tourist died after a big piece of ice broke from a glacier and crushed him. And did you know how many people simply go missing in Alaska while doing ordinary things? Well, over 3,000 were reported missing in 2004 and since Alaska began keeping records of the numbers, in 1988, over 60,000 missing people reports were received.
Tanzania’s numerous attractions, such as Mount Kilimanjaro and the Zanzibar Archipelago, have been attracting over 1 million travelers from all over the world in the past few years.
Ngorongoro Crater has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978 and was created when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself a couple of million years ago. Other than the crater itself, which is pretty impressive (12 miles diameter), the variety of flora and fauna are another selling point for this area. There are numerous safari tours organized by local companies, but before worrying about the possible dangers of this fun activity, you need to pay attention to who you give money to. Do your research and read reviews to make sure you pick a reputable company. Safaris are a pretty amazing way to get real close to wild animals you otherwise would only see on TV or at the Zoo. But, as you probably know, accidents sometimes happen (even at the Zoo) and people get hurt or killed. In 2013, a San Diego doctor was killed by a herd of elephants during a walking tour. As big as they are, believe it or not, elephants can get intimidated by humans and try to protect themselves, especially if taken by surprise. Elephants are not the only creatures you need to worry about. There are lions, snakes, crocodiles, and the most dangerous one, the mosquito, which causes 100,000 to 125,000 deaths a year. Hippos, although they are not hunters, can get pretty defensive when it comes to their territory and kill about 100 people every year. Oh and also keep an eye out for suspicious people because there has been a number of armed robberies in the area.
5. Playa Zipolite, Mexico
It is also called the Beach of Death and that says enough. If you’re looking to have a nice, peaceful (and safe) vacation in Mexico, you’d better find another place because this one might not suit you. Zipolite ranks as one of the deadliest beaches in the entire world because of it’s high, deadly waves and rip currents. Around 50 people used to drown every year, but apparently, the numbers have gone down a bit thanks to a very experienced team of lifeguards. So the waves are still dangerous, and tourists still venture too far into the water, even when they are warned against it, but the only reason many of them make it out of the water alive is the lifeguard crews, who make over ten rescues a day. While lifeguards might be able to save you from the waves, it is hard to say if they could be as efficient when it comes to sharks. There have been occasional reports of shark attacks in the area.
But there is something about this beach that might make all this dangerous stuff worth it. Zipolite is one of Mexico’s few nude beaches, which made it very popular in the 60s and 70s. One of the older lifeguards at the beach recalls rescue missions being a lot more fun when ladies weren’t wearing a bathing suit.
There are many places with a high crime rate, but Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, makes the top of the list. In 2016, there were 119.87 murders per 100,000 people and a total of 3,946. But Caracas is not the only city in Venezuela with such problems. As a matter of fact, on the list of top five most dangerous cities in the world, three of them are from Venezuela. The other two are Maturin and Valencia.
One of the most horrendous crimes that took place in recent years in Venezuela, involved former Miss Venezuela, Monica Spear, and her husband who were shot on a highway, along with their 5-year old daughter, who survived.
Venezuela has been going through a serious economic crisis for a few years now, and that has caused many problems nationwide: food shortages, closures, and the numerous protests that followed them. So maybe this isn’t exactly the best time for the journey of your life.
Life in Venezuela these days is anything but normal. For these people, life is a daily struggle; it means long lines at the market, a shortage of essential medicines (along with the food shortage) and even a lack of doctors in hospitals. The crisis has created thousands of refugees and Venezuelans are now the top asylum seekers in the U.S. And can you blame them? Who wouldn’t try their best to escape such a life?
3. The Sahara Desert
“Is the Sahara Desert safe?” people often wonder. Well, depends on who you ask. The U.S. Department of State warns tourists that there is a potential for terrorist violence against U.S. citizens. Additionally, Western Sahara poses even more dangers: violence connected to political demonstrations and thousands of unexploded mines. Tour agencies, however, swear that the desert is safe and you won’t even get to Western Sahara. So what exactly should one expect when venturing to the desert? Just like any other desert, it is very hot during the day and freezing cold at night. You have to be prepared for extreme temperatures. There are no roads, so it is very easy to get lost if you are not accompanied by an experienced guide. And speaking of guides, make sure to do your research and pick a reputable company. Now it’s not the time to try to get a bargain. Although it is not a common occurrence, there have been times when tourists were taken to the desert and then demanded additional money from the tour operator. Other dangers of the desert are quicksands, sandstorms and flash floods. In deserts around the world, more people die from drowning (say what?) than from dehydration.
2. Lake Mead, Nevada, U.S.A.
More than 270 people have died in the past 10 years, which makes Lake Mead the deadliest national park in the U.S., and drownings account for most of those deaths. Lower percents of deaths were caused by motor vehicle crashes and boating accidents. Many people underestimate the power of nature. After all, it’s just a lake, not a wild river or an ocean. Some of them think it’s as harmless as a swimming pool. Visitors often swim too far and misjudge distances or dive off cliffs and fail to swim against the wind and the currents. Surprisingly, many of the victims are considered very experienced swimmers.
India offers many unique attractions and some of these can pose serious dangers:
Kishtwar Kailash Road is one of the most dangerous roads in the world. The road is only wide enough to fit just one vehicle, and also very windy, with sharp turns and no guard rails on many portions. Oh, and have I mentioned the 1,900 feet drop?
Kolli Hills Road, while not as dangerous, can be quite scary for some drivers and passengers. With 70 continuous hairpin bends, no wonder this road is somewhat of a unique experience.
If there’s one thing India might hold a record for is the high number of railway accidents. In 2014 alone, 27,581 people died in railroad accidents. One of the worst disasters took place in 1981 when a passenger train carrying more than 800 people derailed and plunged into a river while crossing a bridge. It is estimated that between 500-800 people died. India’s railway network is one of the oldest in the world and probably the unsafest. It is underfunded, inefficient and overcrowded. With that being said, traveling by an Indian train that goes over the sea sounds even scarier, as is the case of 100 years old Pamban Bridge, connecting Rameshwaram to central India.
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