Most Dangerous Countries to Visit (and Safe Alternatives)
When traveling, it's important to break out of your comfort zone, but you also want to know where it's safe to travel.
Most Dangerous Countries to Visit (and Safe Alternatives)
Travel at its best can be exciting, stimulating, thrilling and breathtaking. Discovering new places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures often requires an effort to break out of your comfort zone, and, in doing so, travel becomes a learning experience.
Some of that education may come from things going wrong. A bus breaking down in a remote rainforest in Mexico or an airline losing your luggage for a week-long vacation to London can teach you a lot about patience, how to make the best of a bad situation and to travel lighter.
But travel can also be dangerous, especially if you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories keeps tabs on the world’s "danger zones," listing the most dangerous countries you should avoid.
These are the most perilous of them, so you can skip the dangerous places and keep the exhilaration of travel on the positive side.
North America: Watch Out for Haiti
The Travel Advisories list rates countries on a scale of one to four, with Level 4 being the most dangerous, "do not travel" advisory. Haiti has been given a Level 4 rating in recent years because its socioeconomic and political crisis has not gotten any better, with kidnapping, crime and civil unrest listed as key reasons for not visiting. Those came to a head when President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in July 2021.
Add to that another huge earthquake that happened in August 2021, and the country's economic conditions have only worsened, with protests and violent crimes continuing to increase.
Note: U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories are subject to change. Make sure to check for the latest information about countries before making travel plans.
Do Visit: Other Caribbean Islands
The Caribbean is made up of 28 countries, a majority of which are perfectly safe to visit and are very much worth the trek. Take the sister islands of Saint Kitts for example. The rainforests here are particularly impressive, alongside an abundance of beautiful beaches.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is another country that attracts visitors from all over the world. In fact, it's where Princess Margaret vacationed, as highlighted in the television show, "The Crown."
Use Precaution in Central America
In Central America, the State Department urges Americans to reconsider traveling to Nicaragua, which has limited healthcare availability and arbitrary enforcement of laws that lead to more crime, while San Salvador has a higher level of violent crimes. Honduras has a heightened alert due to crime, but it isn't widespread across the country and tourist-centric zones may be safer than off-the-grid travel. Same can be said for Guatemala.
If you do decide to visit these countries, stay aware of your surroundings, avoid walking and driving at night, keep expensive jewelry and signs of wealth hidden, and only use certified tourist authority companies and guides.
Now Safe: Mexico
Stories about travelers catching a taxi, only to be whisked off somewhere remote and left stranded after being robbed in Mexico circulate in the news, as do reports of bloody cartel wars. The dangers are real.
However, the U.S. Department of State has different advisories for different parts of this vast country, mainly because the most dangerous areas are not actually frequented by vacationers. You can still delve deep into Mexican culture in safer states like Oaxaca, which is home to the city of the same name. Here, you’ll find multicolored colonial buildings dating back to the 16th century as well as colorful foods in open-air markets.
Experience a lively central square, shop for handmade arts and crafts, and dine in intimate, authentic Mexican restaurants that won’t even know what queso dip is — Oaxaca is worlds away from overcrowded tourist destinations like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. With a mountainous setting, you won’t find beaches and all-inclusive resorts, but you will learn about the history of the region, particularly when reviewing the murals at Palacio de Gobierno.
Of course, Mexico's beaches and coastal cities are also worth a visit. Just check to see which ones are the safest.
South America: Watch Out for Venezeula
There is political upheaval currently taking place in Venezuela, which lands it in the State Department’s “Do Not Travel” zone. The country is experiencing high violent crime rates, poor health infrastructure, and political rallies and demonstrations, not to mention the arbitrary arrest and detention of Americans.
With food, medical supplies, water and electricity shortages, the situation in Venezuela is so dire, thousands of residents are seeking asylum in neighboring countries.
Do Visit Bolivia and Argentina
That said, much of South America is safe for travel, including Bolivia and Argentina as well as some parts of Peru (although its advisory has been heightened due to crime along the Colombian border).
Both Peru and Bolivia straddle Lake Titicaca, which is the highest navigable lake in the world, rising more than 12,500 feet above sea level. Be sure to sample the local delicacy, which is guinea pig, served whole and skinned (not for the faint of heart!).
In Argentina, the cosmopolitan Buenos Aires is South America’s business hub, as vibrant and exciting as any capital.
Use Precaution in Colombia and Peru
Although Bogota is booming, you should exercise caution in Colombia, avoiding Arauca, Cauca, Choco, Narino and Norte de Santander due to high crime and terrorism. Popayan, Nuqui and Cucuta in these areas are safer but only if you can travel directly to them. Demonstrations are held regularly throughout the country, and in 2021, several cities experienced looting and destruction during national protests.
For similar reasons, travel to Peru is also at a Level 3 advisory. It's best to avoid travel to the northern parts of Peru as well as to the Valley of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers (VAEMR), where the far-left terrorist group, Shining Path, is operating.
Now Safe: Falkland Islands
Under British rule for generations, the Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentina in the 1980s. The islands, just off the coast of Argentina, were claimed to be part of their land. Britain won the brief war, but in the minds of Americans, the remote Falklands received a bad rap for being a place of unrest.
This is absolutely not true.
These very safe islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean are gorgeous and filled with wildlife (and tout a Level 1 travel advisory). From stunning beaches to maritime exploration to colonies of penguins (the islands are near Antarctica, after all), there is much outdoor beauty to enjoy and explore here.
Africa: Watch Out for Countries of Unrest
The State Department views a number of African countries as unsafe for American travel.
In Somalia, there are reports of “schools” being used as “cultural rehabilitation" centers, holding people against their will with physical abuse rampant. In Mali, terrorist and armed groups have targeted night clubs, hotels, restaurants and other places frequented by visitors with attacks and kidnappings.
Kidnappings and murders of civilians are common in Central African Republic, while political and ethnic fighting in South Sudan is so pervasive, journalists have been killed in the line of duty. U.S. citizens and government officials are especially targeted in Libya, where kidnapping for ransom is commonplace.
Do Visit Namibia, Botswana and Zambia
Did the warnings in Africa scare you? If you have always dreamed of taking an African safari, don’t be shy.
Namibia, Botswana and Zambia, far removed from the aforementioned dangers, are in completely safe zones, according to the State Department. Home to national parks and multiple game preserves, the countries offer a chance to see lions, giraffes, zebras, elephants and more in their natural environment.
You'll find friendly tribes of bushmen still living the same way of life that their forefathers lived for centuries. Take the San Bushmen, for example, who have lived in Southern Africa for 80,000 years. Children in the tribes especially love meeting — and are fascinated by — foreigners. Visiting a tribe provides a cultural experience like no other.
Use Precaution in Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Congo and Guinea-Bissau
Besides the countries marked absolutely unsafe to visit, there are several countries that have higher security risks, which Americans are urged to reconsider visiting.
Niger is experiencing higher levels of crime and terrorism, and armed robbery is common. This is also the case in neighboring Nigeria, where civil unrest and piracy are on the rise. Do not visit Borno and Tobe states or the northern Adamawa state of Nigeria due to terrorism.
Minefields along the borders of Libya and Sudan make Chad unsafe, along with its carjackings, muggings and crime, also found in Mauritania.
Keep an Eye Open in Egypt and Ethiopia
Egypt and Ethiopia have also been upgraded to Level 3 travel advisories in recent years, mainly due to terrorism. Terrorist groups have targeted diplomatic facilities in Egypt as well as tourist locations and transportation hubs. Plus, the U.S. Embassy in Egypt has "limited ability to assist dual national U.S.-Egyptian citizens who are arrested."
Ethiopia's Addis Ababa state seems to be stable, but several other parts of the country are dealing with armed conflict and civil unrest, making it unwise to visit at this time.
Now Safe: Morocco and South Africa
In recent years, the State Department has advised heightened precaution in Morocco due to reports of travelers being mugged and attacked. However, there were no terrorist attacks reported in 2019, as the African country doubled its number of arrests from 2018.
Precautions are still in order, and you shouldn’t let your guard down in the markets. You should also stay in heavily populated areas unless with a tour operator, and be respectful to locals. The people of Morocco aren’t thrilled with having their photo taken, and they expect foreigners to cover their skin when visiting.
With this awareness, you can safely visit this country that's home to staggering mountains, expansive desert and the bustling city of Marrakesh, which Winston Churchill once called "the last paradise on Earth." The same can be said for South Africa, which is also under a Level 2 travel advisory.
Middle East: Watch Out for War-Torn Countries
Unrest in the Middle East has been a way of life for quite some time, with Americans urged not to travel to Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, where wars continue to rage and religious freedom is not commonplace.
Kidnappings, hostage-taking, suicide bombings, and insurgent and terrorist attacks are at "critically high levels" in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. In Iran, the arrest and detention of U.S. citizens is a frequent occurrence, the State Department warns.
The killing of Iran's top military commander as well as a major Iraqi militia leader in January 2020 has led to increased airstrikes and attacks against U.S. citizens in Iraq, who are warned to stay away from the country. Public consular services at the U.S. Embassy remain suspended until further notice.
Do Visit Qatar
Not all of the Middle East is closed off to the west, and Qatar just proved that by hosting the 2022 World Cup. While extremely safe, the country's strict laws caused much criticism during the tournament.
Regardless, Qatar's increasing number of high-end resorts, shopping and over-the-top grandeur found in Doha make it a top tourism destination in this part of the world. While it may provide only a limited view of the complexities of the Middle East, it's a fascinating place to explore.
Use Precaution in the UAE, Turkey and Lebanon
While the United Arab Emirates was once perfectly safe, it has since been upgraded to a Level 3 travel advisory, encouraging American citizens to reconsider travel here. The possibility of attacks from rebel groups in nearby Yemen has become an increasing concern. Lebanon has similar issues, in that its coastal areas are safer than its borders. An advisory remains not to visit the borders of Syria, due to terrorism, and Israel, due to armed conflict. Refugee settlements from Syria also carry heightened concerns for conflict.
Borders are an issue in Turkey as well, where Syria and Iraq have been plotting terrorist attacks in highly populated areas such as shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, churches, sporting events, airports and more. However, Turkey has received a downgrade in its threat level and is deemed safer than the UAE and Lebanon. Turkey is now a Level 2 country, with travelers advised to exercise increased caution.
Now Safe: Oman
Oman’s neighbors of Saudi Arabia and Yemen may be the reason some travelers don’t think the country is stable enough to visit. But actually, Oman is a neutral country that tries to avoid the conflicts of other Middle Eastern nations, and it currently carries only a Level 2 security risk from the travel advisory.
Crime is very rare in the country, and terrorism is relatively uncommon. Americans should avoid travel along the borders but can otherwise enjoy this country's 2,000-mile coastline along the Arabian Sea, Indian Sea and Gulf of Oman.
Other highlights can be found in the Sharqiya Sands desert and Jebel Shams mountains. The capital city of Muscat touts a fantastic golden-sand beach, beautiful mosques and palaces, and lively markets and shopping.
Asia: Watch Out for North Korea, China, Macau and Hong Kong
Spanning more than 57 million square miles in size, Asia offers endless travel possibilities. However, the government urges travelers to stay out of North Korea.
The U.S. does not have any official diplomatic relations with the country to assist with emergencies, and U.S. passport holders are not allowed to travel to, in or through North Korea without special validation from the Department of State, and these special validations are limited.
The China Travel Advisory still remains at a Level 3 due to its zero-tolerance approach to the coronavirus. Travelers should prepare to be tested for COVID upon arrival, with quarantines a strong possibility. Macau and Hong Kong also have Level 3 ratings for the same reason.
Do Visit Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan
Asia is an expansive continent, made up of nearly 50 countries that provide as many unique travel opportunities for wanderlusters.
One of the safest countries is South Korea, with 5,000 years of history and an exotic, bustling capital city, Seoul. Another excellent choice? Taiwan, which was ruled by Japan for 50 years and by China since 1945, and offers a blend of both cultures.
There is no unusual need for caution when visiting Japan, a mix of old and new, home to thriving, fast-moving Tokyo and the temples and geisha culture of Kyoto.
Vietnam is also a combination of lush mountains and beautiful beaches paired with the historic Ho Chi Minh City and Mekong Delta.
Use Precaution in Azerbaijan, India, Nepal and Tajikistan
Overall, Asia is a welcoming and safe place for Americans. But travelers are asked to exercise a bit more caution in some areas.
Nepal's slight increase in political violence has landed the normally safe country on the precautionary list. An increased risk of terrorism has also moved the nations of Azerbaijan, India and Tajikistan onto the list, with civil unrest taking place near the India-Pakistan border and the states of Jammu and Kashmir. It's advised that especially women should not travel alone.
Now Safe: Singapore
Singapore's strict laws have earned it a bad rap in the past, but as of Oct. 5, 2022, it's completely safe to travel to this city-state.
Its blend of cultures makes it particularly interesting and a haven for foodies looking to indulge in Indian, Chinese and Singaporean food. And don't forget to try the Singapore Sling in one of its famous, historic hotels.
Europe: Watch Out for Russia and Ukraine
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has landed both countries on the Level 4, "do not travel" list. American citizens traveling in either the European or Asian parts of Russia will have limited help from the U.S. Embassy, and they should note that U.S. credit and debit cards no longer work here.
Of course, the active armed conflict in Ukraine also makes it a country that travelers should avoid until military attacks and civil unrest stop.
Do Visit Eastern Europe and Scandinavia
Terrorist attacks are not taking place in Eastern European countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia, which are all experiencing a boom in travel with more adventurous Europe-lovers branching deeper into the continent.
Switzerland's notorious gendarmerie, neutrality and wealth have kept the country on the safe list, and the country has not experienced any terrorist attacks.
Scandinavian countries, with the exception of Denmark, also appear on the State Department's clear list. Enjoy Norway, Finland and Sweden's natural beauty, as the countries are revered for their outdoor activities. In the winter months, hordes of tourists visit in hopes of catching the northern lights.
Use Precaution in Touristy Cities
Terrorism targeting unsuspecting tourist areas in Europe has increased over the years. While formerly the alerts were in larger cities like Paris and London, more and more attacks have been occurring in cities such as Munich, as well as Nice, France and Manchester, England.
When visiting Western Europe, use caution if visiting crowded areas and public venues; stay aware of your surroundings and watch the news for any alerts, especially in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium.
Now Safe: Albania
In the late 1990s, Albania went through a civil war that toppled its government. The war consisted of riots, civil unrest and deaths. Since then, Americans have been wary of traveling to the country.
You may be surprised to learn, then, that Albania is deemed a fairly safe country by the U.S. government, with low violent-crime rates and minimal attacks on foreigners. With a Level 2 advisory, more and more travelers are beginning to uncover this welcoming country along the Adriatic Sea on the Balkan Peninsula.
Like its northern neighbors of Croatia and Montenegro, Albania is filled with castles and archeological sites. This mix of history and stunning scenery, plus warm people, makes Albania a true uncovered gem.
Oceania: Watch Out for Papa New Guinea
The idyllic islands that makeup Papua New Guinea have a Level 3 travel advisory due to crime and civil unrest as well as volcanic activity.
Travelers should avoid Southern Bougainville and The Highlands region as well as remote parts of the country.
Do Visit Palau
The island nation of Palau is deemed a low-level threat to American visitors and is listed as a Level 1 country.
Visitors will want to snorkel its aquamarine waters, dotted with reefs and filled with underwater caves, or to kayak along its coastline.
Use Precaution in Indonesia
Although the travel advisory for Oceania remains low, the U.S. State Department does feature a Level 2 alert to exercise increased caution in Indonesia.
Terrorism and natural disasters such as tsunamis, volcano eruptions and earthquakes are reasons for the extra precautions, although, in Central Sulawesi and Papua, civil unrest is also causing some trouble.
Visitors are advised to use caution when in crowded areas, nightclubs and bars, shopping areas and restaurants.
Now Safe: New Zealand
The terror attack on a mosque in New Zealand in March 2019 scarred a country renowned for its hospitality. While the attack reminded people around the world that such horrors can take place in even the most beautiful settings, the country reacted quickly to ensure foreigners would continue to feel safe and welcome, including by implementing a successful gun buyback program.
The country’s outstanding natural landscape is ideal for outdoor-loving travelers looking to hike, mountain bike, kayak, fish and more. The capital city of Wellington and exciting city of Christ Church offer many modern luxuries, while guests should make an effort to meet and interact with the Maori, who love to show off Polynesian dances, songs and traditions.
Bottom Line: See the World
Remember, some vacations may be about relaxation, but travel at its best is an immersive experience. It can be rewarding to seek out new experiences and get uncomfortable. But take precautions to make sure you have a good time and get home safely.
Trust yourself and stay aware of your surroundings, and you'll find plenty of places to explore in this complicated world that contains ample risks and rewards.