Hotspot destinations – part one

There are often sensational lists of the ‘world’s most dangerous countries’ which revel in the chaos and violence that plagues many nations. While interesting to see just how bad, bad can get, such lists are not useful for leisure and business travellers. Were you really planning a trip to soak up the historic sites in downtown Mogadishu or planning on trekking through Pakistan’s scenic tribal areas? Even for business travellers, PJ O’Rourke aside (below) and not including those dealing in AK47s and RPGs of course, such destinations are generally avoided.

Rather than the usual suspects – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen – it is more useful to look at how some normal travel and business destinations are actually unconventionally dangerous places.

The following list of 10 countries takes a critical look at places which aggressively market themselves as tourist destinations despite the fact that crime, political unrest, and armed conflict within their borders doesn’t exactly jive with their glossy and reassuring tourist brochures.

In part one; we look at Mexico, India, Kenya, Turkey, and the Philippines.


Tourist slogan: Vive Mexico!

U.S. State Department warning: “Kidnapping in Mexico has become a lucrative business”










Beaches, bullfights, and burritos might be stereotypical ideas that come to mind when contemplating a visit to Mexico. Alternatively, one might think of a brutal war with heavily armed drug gangs in which more than 16,000 murders have been committed since President Felipe Calderón began combating drug-related crime in 2006. Such is the ferocity of fighting that up to 50,000 balaclava-wearing-troops have descended upon high crime areas effectively making parts of Mexico resemble a war zone. If the drug war doesn’t bother you, violent street crime and proliferation of kidnapping might. Armed robbery is particularly high in major cities such as Mexico City, Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, and Nuevo Laredo with some estimates claiming there are more than 4000 criminal incidents each day in Mexico City alone. Finally, the threat of kidnapping is very real for locals and foreigners alike with an estimated 60 to 70 incidents each month. A particular speciality is the so-called “express kidnapping” in which victims are temporarily detained and taken from ATM to ATM until their available funds are completely withdrawn. Instead of learning how to ask for a beer in Spanish, consider remembering the phrase “secuestro express” before you arrive.


Tourist slogan: Incredible India

U.S. State Department warning: “Incidents of violence by ethnic insurgent groups, including bombings of buses, trains, rail lines, and markets occur with a degree of frequency…










From the snowy Himalayas to the deserts of Rajasthan to the beaches of Goa, India certainly measures up to the hype of being an incredible country. Unfortunately, the incredible geographic and cultural wonders are also tempered by the incredible range of dangers.

The first danger that might come to mind is terrorism after the shocking attack by Islamic extremists in Mumbai on November 2008 which witnessed ten coordinated attacks across the city claiming 173 lives and wounding 308. India remains on high alert for further attacks. Yet attacks by extremists are only one of a myriad of dangers. Insurgent warfare with Naxalite rebels, Maoist inspired leftists with approximately 20,000 armed cadres dispersed over 40% of India’s territory, have claimed an ever increasing number of casualties with 1134 deaths in 2009 alone. And don’t forget the looming specter of nuclear war with neighboring Pakistan. The scenarios of a possible nuclear exchange are truly staggering with estimates into the tens of millions and the conflict remains one of the most fragile balances between peace and nuclear holocaust in the word.


Tourist slogan: Discover Kenya

U.S. State Department warning:“Violent criminal attacks, including armed carjacking and home invasions/burglary, can occur at any time and in any location, and are becoming increasingly frequent, brazen, vicious, and often fatal”

Is it the savannahs, snow-capped mountains, or wildlife that comes to mind when thinking of Kenya or is it ethnic violence, carjacking and terrorism? While Kenya offers all of the above, tourist brochures obviously don’t like to emphasis the last three. In 2007, controversial elections triggered long-running ethnic tensions between Luo and Kikuyu tribes resulting in vicious mob violence that claimed about 1000 lives. The ethnic tensions hark back to unresolved land issues from the colonial period and have resulted in communities being partitioned along tribal lines and a simmering unease between neighbours. Crime, with a particular penchant for carjacking, is another concern. Nairobi is a hotbed for carjacking with assailants well armed for the job and not hesitant to assault or kill victims should they resist. Should rampaging mobs and violent crime not bother you, the risk of terrorist attack remains a final consideration. It’s hard to forget the attack on the U.S. Embassy in 1998 which claimed 212 and wounded around 4000 in downtown Nairobi. Particular concern is with fundamentalists and al-Qaida members crossing the porous border from Somalia to launch attacks in Kenya against government and Western targets.


Tourist Slogan: Turkey Welcomes You

U.S. State Department warning:“In Istanbul, small-scale bombings and violent demonstrations, and more recently vehicle arsons, have occurred regularly since 2006”

The caves of Cappadocia, the mesmerizing inner sanctum of the Hagia Sophia, or the range of culinary delights certainly do warrant a visit to Turkey. Yet there also a host of less desirable, and downright dangerous, issues which will also welcome you. Recent reverberations from an alleged military coup are a reminder of the often tumultuous political environment in Turkey. National soul searching over the issue of secularism vs. political Islam often results in violent demonstrations and acts of terrorism on the streets. Yet the primary danger is from the long-running secessionist struggle largely conducted by the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, struggling for a homeland called Kurdistan. The insurgency has claimed more than 40,000 lives in the last 25 years and large swaths of Eastern Turkey remain no-go areas.


Tourist Slogan: Philippines, More than the Usual

U.S. State Department warning: “Some foreigners who reside in or visit western and central Mindanao hire their own private security personnel”

With 7000 islands, the Philippines certainly offers much in the way of an exotic backdrop. Adrenalin junkies are also equally in luck with a myriad of dangers which include armed insurgencies, poverty fuelled crime, and political violence. Insurgencies, both separatist conflict on the island of Mindanao and a nation-wide communist conflict, have claimed more than 160,000 people and has displaced up to 2 million. In the case of conflict in Mindanao, peace talks between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have been ongoing but there are serious doubts whether a lasting peace will emerge. Crime remains another problem with the capital Manila being particularly dangerous. Confidence scams, pick pocketing, and credit/ATM card fraud are reported to be common problems. Finally, political violence and a culture of impunity for the wealthy ruling elite remains a serious issue. As previously written about in the Journeywatch blog, the Maguindanao massacre was an audacious slaughter of political activists and journalists allegedly by a powerful clan called the Ampatuans who are politically linked to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. A political risk analyst recently told this blogger that it would be very doubtful for justice to be served despite the notoriety of the case. Political violence is likely to spike soon with general elections coming in May this year.

To be continued…

Photos: Vive Mexico aeroplane, Incredible India, India Tourism Board. The Taj Hotel Mumbai, Nov 2008. Nairobi and giraffe, Turkey, Turkish tourism board. Philippines ‘more than the usual..’,

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