In my quest to travel to every country in the world, I honestly believe if I don’t do the most difficult ones when I’m young and free I might lose my ambitions later in life. My current focus on travel has been knocking out what I believe to be the most dangerous countries in the world. Before we get into the list I think it’s important that we define what is dangerous. I say this because I’ve seen countless websites create a list of the world’s most dangerous countries and include places like South Africa or Brazil; absolutely ridiculous! With some common sense you can easily travel to those countries and minimize your risks. Countries like these actually have very high levels of tourism, with the vast majority of travelers having no issues. Getting punched or robbed is a likely worst case scenario, and while that’s not enjoyable it’s nothing compared to what can happen to you in a truly dangerous place.
So what are the consequences of traveling to a dangerous country? You’re gonna die… probably even a horrible death. Some of these websites use South Africa’s high murder rate to justify it’s inclusion on their list. But in my case I must emphasize, this list applies to the risks specifically to you as a traveler. While certain countries might have very high levels of murder, these are often internal problems that are isolated to parts of the country. Travelers to these countries generally have nothing to worry about and are rarely targeted. Send a thousand travelers to South Africa and they’ll almost all definitely return home without a single incident. Send a 1,000 travelers to Syria… well hopefully by now you get the idea.
You can sit back at the comfort of your own home and check back from time to time to see if I survive vacationing to all of these places or not. But for the record, my goal is to see what is beautiful or unique in these countries, not to visit battlefields or intentionally put myself in danger. For example, if Australia somehow became one of the most dangerous countries in the world, my travel goals would still remain the same. I’d want to see Ayers Rock, scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef, and check out Melbourne or whatever might remain of it. At one point I felt I made some good progress but suddenly the world changed. A few countries that I had once labeled as dangerous where no longer so scary and meanwhile Syria, which was possibly one of the safer destinations in the world, skyrocketed to the top of my list. It’s a very dynamic and ever changing situation, which makes this list difficult to maintain and even harder to predict. the countries with photos to the side mean I’ve visited them, and you can visit those pages to see my actual travel experiences there.
1) Syria – For years now, Syria has been engulfed in one of the most brutal wars in recent memory. In 2011 the Arab Spring brought on protests in Damascus, which later turned into skirmishes, and finally an all-out civil war. The rebellion that started the war began in good faith, but like most countries in the region, terrorist groups were quick to jump in and take up strongholds. Some of the groups have been the most ruthless the world has ever encountered. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also called ISIS, has been known to crucify people, behead journalists and other acts that are so extreme that even other terrorist groups want nothing to do with them. Case in point, ISIS’s willingness to go as far as beheading children belonging to other Muslim sects was enough that even Al Qaeda decided to cut off ties. Traveling to Syria is particularly dangerous because there are so many different militias and alliances, and all have been accused of kidnappings, torture and other human rights violations. With neighborhoods spontaneously becoming battlefields and cities being randomly shelled, it’s impossible to avoid the front lines of this war. Furthermore, the terrorist elements are actively looking to kidnap foreigners and have already succeeded in killing dozens of journalists.
2) Somalia – Holding the title as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for decades, Somalia descended into chaos and anarchy inwhen rebel groups removed their dictatorship like government in the late 1980s. Government leaders and militias have come and gone, but none have had any true control over the entire country. Most of Somalia is divided up into tribal clans who struggle to gain power through violent confrontations. At one point, Mogadishu was so dangerous that for many years the Somali president could not even stay in the city, and instead ‘ruled’ from neighboring Kenya. Tribal wars take place in the capital on a daily basis, while hostage taking and murders are also very common. At the end of 2006, Ethiopian troops entered Somalia and took the capital which led to the worst fighting seen in 15 years. Nearly another decade later, the capital has seen improvements but is still effectively a war zone. Anti-American sentiment is especially high in Mogadishu, so any American who is taken hostage is all but guaranteed to die. However, it really does not matter where you’re from as most militants here have no sympathy for their own citizens much less for any other nationality. Aid workers and journalists have been killed from all nations, and many times for no apparent reason. Anyone crazy enough to travel to Somalia is very likely to be targeted by extremists or criminals who know that they will face no consequences for their actions.
3) Afghanistan – With the past few decades of Afghanistan’s history filled with nothing but war, it’s not surprising that this country is one of the most dangerous in the world. Though the extremists certainly lost their stronghold on the entire country, remnants of the Taliban as well as other terrorists groups like Al Qaeda still operate in all regions of Afghanistan. Suicide bombings, hostage takings and other terrorist attacks are frequent in the capital, and especially in the southern and eastern parts of the country. Like Iraq, no one from any religion, race or country is immune to becoming a victim of kidnapping or violence in the country. Travelers will be targeted by Taliban and Al Qaeda militants as well as hard core criminals seeking financial gain or to make political statements. Any traveler who is unfortunate enough to be captured by any of these groups is likely to face a terrible death.
4) Mali – Once considered a legendary destination, Mali’s image has been tarnished by several forces at hand. The country’s once stable land began to decline into chaos as rebels in the north fought for independence. Soon after, travelers from all parts of the world who once frequently visited the beautiful deserts and Oasis’s of Mali became scarce. The few that did venture to Mali disappeared only to surface up later in the hands of rebel groups or dead. Al Qaeda took advantage of instability and offered alliance to the rebel group in the north. They effectively drove out the government and immediately began to impose Sharia law in areas they controlled. Harsh restrictions on the populations, reports of stoning for those who don’t obey, and destruction of ancient sites deemed not Islamic have led some experts to call Mali the Afghanistan of Africa. Many parts of the north such as Timbuktu fell into extremist’s hands making travel impossible. Finally to top everything off, the capital which was the last place with some sanity fell victim to a coup. This led to even more chaos and further empowering the rebellious north. Only weeks after the new president took office of his troubled country, he was nearly beaten to death by an angry mob. Travelers to Mali face the general dangers of anarchy in the south, and terrorism and kidnapping in the north. Al Qaeda has even gone as far as to offer payment to locals for reporting foreigners. As these events all occurred in the past few years there is still sadly room for things to further deteriorate.
5) Iraq – Naturally lots of people point to Iraq as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to travel to. Iraq was actually a relatively safe place to visit before the U.S. invasion, but now the country is one of the most unstable on earth. Iraq earned its name on this list because no matter what religion, race, or country you are from, someone would like to see you dead. Multiple terrorist groups plant bombs in markets and along the road sides often targeting innocent people. They are also known for frequently taking hostages and murdering them. Normally on western media you’ll hear about a Westerner being taken hostage and beheaded, but the Iraqis themselves have it much worse. While hundreds of foreigners have been taken hostage, for each Westerner you hear about probably a dozen more Iraqis were taken as well. It’s not uncommon for police to discover bodies in a mass grave, usually showing signs of torture until they were finally killed. The people doing the hostage taking and killing are actually extremely organized and efficient at what they do, so as a traveler you’ll have a hard time keeping a low profile and outsmarting your enemies. With the Islamic State having established itself in the north, Iraq is now how to the most dangerous terrorist group ever known by mankind.
6) Yemen – While the western world sees the Yemeni government as a friend and ally in the fight against terror, several tribes and organizationsin the country are unhappy with their government. Grievances range from being sympathetic to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or taking up arms and fighting the government for secession. Making the situation even more difficult, Yemen has one of the highest numbers in the world for having firearms readily available; which means nearly all tribes and a significant part of the population are armed and ready to go. While terrorist groups usually reserve most car bombs for military or political targets, some terrorists in Yemen seem happy to make exceptions. A car bomb was driven into a group of tourists from Spain who were traveling in a convoy leaving all seven dead. Similar attacks against foreigners have occurred in multiple parts of the country. With no western military or significant NGO presence in Yemen, travelers visiting this country will be getting all the unwanted attention from secessionists and terrorists.
7) Nigeria – Nigeria is home to some of the most educated and brightest minds in Africa, but it’s also plagued with every nightmare a nation could imagine. A major issue within Nigeria is the corruption by government officials; despite all the challenges you are likely to face here, calling the police could make your situation even worse. The largest cities are dominated by gangs, thieves, and con artists that have been so damaging and effective they have made Nigeria infamous worldwide. As a matter of fact, if you’re reading it’s very likely that you were contacted by Nigerian scam artist sometime in the past decade. While gangs and corrupt officials may own the cities, the rural areas of Nigeria are controlled by rebel forces and militias known for kidnappings and occasionally having small battles with government forces. With Nigeria split in half by a Christian and Muslim population, many civilians take their religious differences into their own hands by doing armed raids on other villages where hundreds of deaths are not uncommon. Even if you were to escape the mainland by taking a boat into the ocean, Nigeria’s waters are some of the most dangerous in the world in regards to pirates. And if all of this isn’t enough already, Islamic terrorist groups like Boko Haram operate in the country where they deploy suicide bombers, bomb government buildings, and target foreigners. While Boko Haram has always been a brutal terrorist group, in 2014 they shocked the world by killing innocent villagers by the hundreds and abducting over 200 schoolgirls.
8) Central African Republic – The Central African Republic formed a transitional government in 2003 after the previous government had been overthrown by a military coup and then yet another coup in 2012. The country remains very unstable and the majority of the nation is lawless. Central African Republic is no second Somalia, but rebels and rogue troops that are located in all parts of the country often are known for ruthless tactics such as burning villages to the ground, setting up fake road blocks, highway banditry and other acts of violence. Military skirmishes occur frequently while thousands of rebels still fight in the capital. In the Central African Republic, traveling without security is actually said to be safer because armed escorts are almost always. One group of Westerners traveled with the military only to drive into a fire storm of bullets when rebels unloaded on their convoy killing them along with their escorts. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, the Central African Republic has virtually no international presence or even attention for that matter. Recently the situation further destabilized when rebels were successful in taking over the capital bringing war to Bangui. Any traveler who ventures deep into the country will be entering a no man’s land where very few foreigners have ever traveled. The chance of returning back home safe and unharmed is slim to none.
9) Pakistan – Pakistan is a very diverse country in terms of safety, but some areas such as visiting the border regions along Afghanistan are perhaps the most dangerous places on earth. Some of the most violent religious extremists in the world take refuge here. Brutal clashes with the Pakistani army are common while the region is constantly bombarded by U.S. drones. Foreigners that have been taken hostage in various parts of Pakistan are almost always brought to this militant safe haven. Meanwhile Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi is nearly lawless with some of the highest crime rates in the continent. The Taliban even launched a brazen attack against Karachi’s international airport in the summer of 2014. Political assassinations and car bombings are literally a weekly occurrence throughout the country, while Karachi itself has one of the highest murder and kidnapping rates in the world, and often foreigners are seen as prime targets. Islamabad is the safest area of the country, but even it suffered a massive truck bombing that targeted an international hotel claimed by Al Qaeda.
10) Libya – After the fall of Gaddafi, Libyans were all united in celebrating the removal of their dictator and looking forward to their bright future. After the celebrations ended and it was time to get organized, the major differences in ways to move forward and how to run the country created serious tension. Unable to peacefully agree on how to form a new government and respect each other’s differences, tensions escalated and political parties soon became dangerous rivals. With the country still heavily armed after the civil war, many cities and neighborhoods effectively became self-ruling city states. In the capital of Tripoli, various armed groups and political parties still fight for power while random bombings and skirmishes take place throughout the country. Libya is now an extremely dangerous place for foreigners and reporters to visit. Because of all the chaos, terrorists once again have taken advantage of the lack of stability and are more easily able to carry out attacks against the Libyan government and western interests.