Check out the most dangerous places for tourists right now, which hops from Somalia to South Africa, Afghanistan to Mexico.
There are umpteen travel blogs out there focusing on the best places for visitors in the coming year. They flaunt the white sands of Thailand, the divi-dotted beaches of Aruba, and the tequila-sloshing pueblos of Mexico. But what about the most dangerous places for tourists in the world?
That’s what this guide is all about. It homes in on the more sketchy corners of the globe; spots where you can’t expect an aloha hibiscus garland or a friendly kia ora on arrival. It’s got towns with soaring crime rates, places in the throes of political upheavals, and spots known for their stratospheric counts of kidnappings and violent crime. Not good.
You’ll notice that some of the most dangerous places for tourists are in destinations that are actually pretty darn popular – Mexico, South Africa. Those are probably the spots you’ll need to be wary of the most, since they host POIs that travelers are regularly drawn to, at least in a way that they aren’t to the likes of Somalia or war-torn Afghanistan.
Set on the pine-sprouting, cacti-dotted central highlands in the heart of Mexico, where canyons carve the sierras, the winding Laja River weaves between the meadows, and the scents of sizzling tacos drift from the cantinas, Celaya is hardly the sort of city that you’d expect to find topping this list of the most dangerous places for tourists.
Sadly, the stats don’t lie, and this one also topped Statista’s list of metropolises by highest murder rate in 2022. Yep, the streets of Celaya, plunged into the throes of a brutal drug war that was playing out right across Mexico, witnessed a whopping 750+ homicides throughout the year, totting up to a total rate of 109 murders per 100k of population.
That’s brutal. In fact, it’s as brutal as it comes, since even the rough-and-tumble border city of Tijuana and South Africa’s crime capital of Cape Town sit lower on the list. It’s a shame, too, since Celaya sits amid some of the most fascinating locations in the country – the charming expat hub of San Miguel de Allende to the north, the moody city of Santiago de Querétaro to the east.
Despite laying claim to the world’s largest oil reserves and a thriving coffee and cocoa export sector besides, Venezuela really has struggled in the current century. There have been major social upheavals, more than stoked by former president Hugo Chavez, and stoked again by current president Nicolas Maduro. They’ve translated into out-of-control inflation and an nigh-on total collapse of the country’s social system.
It’s not proved good on the crime front, either. Caracas, the capital of the nation, is up there among the most dangerous places for tourists for a whole host of reasons. Take the murder rate – it peaked at a high of 122 per 100,000 head of population back in 2013. Theft, muggings, car jackings, armed robberies – the whole lot is extremely common in these parts.
The UK Foreign Office still advises against all but essential travel to the city. It recommends that anyone heading to Caracas stick only to more-visited neighborhoods, such as the Chacao district, use only pre-booked cabs, and never set foot in barrios.
Back in the 1990s, Mogadishu was up there with Sarajevo as one of the cities that would probably least make it into Lonely Planet’s most recommended for the year. The reason? Like it’s Balkan counterpart, it was at the center of a brutal war and was invariably hailed as the most dangerous national capital in the world.
Fast forward to today and there have been some tentative movements towards something more stable. The extremist group of Al-Shabab have been successfully pushed out of many parts of the town. There have been democratic elections. Even new coffee joints and eateries are starting to open.
But not so fast. Before you go booking those tickets down to Somalia, bear in mind that virtually everyone here still carries a gun, sightings of AK-47-touting militias in open-top 4X4s are still common, and there are still clear FCO travel warnings in place to avoid all travel. That’s that, then.
Cape Town, South Africa
The appearance of Cape Town on this list of the most dangerous places for tourists might strike you as a touch strange. But, truth is, this salt-washed city on the rugged fynbos headlands of South Africa is the murder capital of the whole continent.
Yep, the stats show that Cape Town counted a disconcerting 3,542 homicides between 2021 and 2022. On a per capita basis, that means it’s worse than aforementioned Mogadishu (which was struggling with an extremist insurgency!) and worse than Bangui (the capital of the Central African Republic, which hosted the infamous Russian mercenary group, Wagner).
The good news is that the gun crime and knife crime that’s so prevalent in Cape Town is largely limited to certain districts and townships. Avoid the areas of Nyanga, Khayalitsha, and Gugulethu at all costs. Stick instead to the tourist-friendly areas of the Waterfront or Muizenberg Bay, where sharks are probably the bigger threat!
No list of the most dangerous places for tourists could possibly be complete without a mention of the Afghan capital. The disastrous withdrawal of American and allied forces at the end of 2020 once again plunged this city of 4.3 million into complete chaos, as the Taliban, held at bay for two full decades by the presence of NATO troops, descended once again.
Things have gone from bad to worse since that happened. The Taliban have imposed an extremely strict interpretation of Islamic law that means women are banned from working, educational institutions, and even beauty parlors. They’ve also reinstituted public executions and torture, shut out many NGOs, and destroyed the country’s economy.
It should hardly come as a surprise that both UK and US foreign office departments now advise against all travel to the country. They cite high rates of kidnapping, ongoing civil strife and armed conflicts, and soaring crime rates across the city. Put simply: It’s not one for this year’s holiday.
Ukraine has been battling an unprovoked Russian invasion for over a year now. It’s really taken its toll on the country, which was once one of the great economic prospects of Eastern Europe, responsible for some of the highest grain and food oil exports on the globe.
Since an initial offensive by Putin’s forces across the north and south of the country, the fighting and frontlines have since been pushed further east into the Donbas and Luhansk regions. They’re obviously no-go territory for visitors, but so too are most cities in Ukraine, including the enthralling capital of Kiev.
The reason? Regular Russian missile strikes and drone attacks that come out of nowhere mean that basically not a single spot is safe. Buildings and restaurants, schools and supermarkets – it’s all been targeted in an apparent disregard for international law. The hope is that current Ukrainian counteroffensives can help shift the direction of the conflict and pave a way for the gold-glimmering Orthodox cathedrals a literary cafes of the capital to be on the travel map once more.
Iraq really has been through the wars in the last 20 years. An invasion by the US and UK in 2003 destabilized the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein but ushered in a period of great uncertainty in the region. The worst of it came in 2014 as so-called Islamic State, also known as Daesh, conquered huge portions of the country and even threatened the capital.
Truth be told, Baghdad and the whole country is still reeling from all that. The city sees almost weekly protests throughout its International Zone, which regularly turn violent. There are also frequent attacks aimed at Westerners and Western government offices, including assassinations of US officials as recently as 2022.
It’s a real shame this one, since Baghdad is the gateway to some of the most mystical treasures of the Middle East. For example, the ruins of ancient Babylon beckon just to the south. Many of the great treasures of that site have since been removed to museums in Europe and North America. But it would still be special to stand under the mighty walls and walk through gates that once witnessed Alexander the Great.
The most dangerous places for tourists – our conclusion
Many of the most dangerous places for tourists that we feature here should hardly come as a surprise. From cities in war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq to crime-ridden towns in the midst of Mexican drug battles, they’re the sort of spots that you’d probably be avoiding anyhow.
Some might be a shock though, such as Cape Town at the end of SA’s iconic Garden Route. Our advice would be to always check foreign office recommendations and travel warnings before you book your trips. They offer the most up-to-date news on where’s okay and where’s not.