When I heard this month’s travel link up topic was travel fears and scares, the first thoughts that popped into my head were about destinations I worry about visiting.
Having heard Mexico City horror stories of muggings at gunpoint and tourist kidnappings, I’ve always been scared to go there, and after my own uncomfortable experience of lecherous Egyptian men in Cairo, I’ve been put off returning to any North African destinations, for fear of being cat called or leered at by locals.
Then, as I was musing over this post idea, I heard that Trip.com had released a list of its ten most unsafe destinations for female travellers, which includes countries such as Turkey, Colombia, India, Morocco and even The Bahamas.
All of us hear terrible stories about locations around the world, but it made me think, do all of these destinations really deserve the reputation they’ve been given?
Sure, some do, and you can’t deny that heading into war zones or areas of political unrest or high crime is never a good idea, but sometimes stories get blown out of proportion and we end up missing out on discovering an amazing destination, friendly local communities, and all they have to offer.
So I had a look at five destinations many people class as unsafe, and with some help from other female travellers, discuss why they might have been given an unfair rep…
Jamaica is known for its music, food, palm trees and smiling faces, but sadly also its gun crime and drug cartels, which has given it one of the world’s highest murder rates.
It continues to be a popular tourist destination for some, whereas others choose, for the above reasons, to avoid it entirely. Petty theft is one of the biggest reported issues facing tourists and there are also stories of police corruption, and cartels using unsuspecting tourists to smuggle drugs out of the country.
There are also many areas, including in and around tourist destinations, that visitors are told to avoid, including inner Kingston itself and Montego Bay, especially at night.
Doesn’t sound like a relaxing destination for your big summer holiday, right?
A friend of mine, Isabella, recently went to Jamaica on holiday, also taking the time to visit some of her husband’s family while there. She found her visit the total opposite from the bad press she’d seen and says that people shouldn’t be put off.
“The reality was warm and hospitable people, good vibes and amazing food – and yes, this was all outside of the ‘safe’ confines of a tourist’s all inclusive haven,” she notes.
Yes, Jamaica clearly does have problems, and there are areas tourists should definitely avoid, however, it sounds like these bad factors are in the minority and stopping many people from discovering the beauty of not just the island, but also it’s people.
Before and after Noelle from Noelle Across the Pond went to Panama, quite a few people asked her if it was safe, assumed it wasn’t, or asked if she had only stayed at her resort (she didn’t stay in a resort at all)!
In reality, Noelle reports that the majority of Panama is safe.
“I walked around alone with my (at the time) 8-year-old son during the day and night in Panama City and didn’t encounter any issues,” she says. “I never got a bad vibe or felt worried. There’s also a decent size expat community, particularly in Boquete and Bocas del Toro.
“The only exception to this was that I was told not to visit Darien National Park, which is on the border of Panama and Colombia. Because of rebel groups and drug trafficking, it is advised not to visit this area – and there isn’t much of reason to, anyways.
“I found people I interacted with to be friendly, and quite a few Panamanians speak English which also made it a bit more convenient for me, although brushing up on some basic Spanish words does help.
“I would say that next to/similar to Costa Rica, Panama is actually one of the most safe places in Central America. The only ‘safety’ advice I’d offer is just be generally alert and precautious – as you would in most destinations. People assume that because it is Central America, and some countries in this region are not necessarily as safe (El Salvador, Honduras, etc), that Panama is not as well, but that’s just not true.”
For travellers interested in visiting Panama, Noelle has a few recommendations.
“I visited Panama City and Chagres National Park, which I highly recommend. I have also heard Boquete, in the mountains, and Bocos del Toro, on the Caribbean coast, are well worth a visit as well.”
Mexico has a long history of violence and crime, but despite travel warnings, holidaymakers continue to flock there – in 2016, it received a record breaking 35 million visitors!
But as I mentioned, I’ve got some preconceptions of my own about Mexico, and stories about several shootings in nightclubs and even tourist destinations like Cancun – happening this year – don’t particularly put my mind at ease.
In response to this, however, there’s now an increased presence in Cancun, especially around the hotel area and the region is still classed as one of the safest for tourists in the Caribbean.
Researching safety in Mexico it appears that although crime is still an issue, rates are lower here than many other Caribbean countries, and that actually you’re more likely to be a victim of crime in the US than Mexico. Has it potentially been given an unfair rep?
This stat’s a bit old, but keep in mind that in 2010 Disney World’s Orlando saw 7.5 murders per 100,000 residents – higher than tourist destinations like Cancun (1.83) and Puerto Vallarta (5.9). Food for thought!
The Philippines is becoming an ever more popular tourist destination and I can understand why. Visiting Bohol and Palawan, I discovered a tropical paradise and I’d recommend a trip to the Philippines in an instant.
Even so, many people still believe the Philippines is unsafe for travellers. The reality? There are some issues going on across the country, with fighting increasing between the government and militants, and there have been stories of tourists being kidnapped by terrorists.
However, the majority of its islands are safe for travellers – the main area to avoid is the southern Philippines, which is currently under marshal law.
I’ve only experienced a whirlwind tour of the Philippines, but during my stay I felt entirely safe and found the people to be some of the most welcoming I’ve ever come across.
With so much natural beauty to see, from the Chocolate Hills through to underground rivers – and of course not forgetting those amazing beaches, the Philippines is a worthy destination choice.
Turkey’s had a bad time of it recently – with political instability, bombings and terrorist attacks that included at Istanbul airport, it’s easy to see why tourists might feel unsafe. However, Sue from Kalkan Magic continues to be a big fan of the country, and as someone who has a house on the Turkish coast, can vouch for the feeling of safety felt in both Istanbul and the Turkish coastal resort in recent months.
“The image of Turkey has been so misrepresented when really the Foreign and Commonwealth office (FCO) only advises against all but essential travel to small pockets including danger zones like the Syrian borders including places like Gaziantep and Diyabakir,” she highlights.
“The coastal resorts are a vast distance from any troubled areas on the Syrian border – the FCO advice is the same as it is for the UK!
“I would recommend travellers visit cities anywhere in the country other than those places mentioned in the FCO advice. Turkey has so much to offer and is unlike any other country for its culture, diversity, the welcome of the people, the fascinating history and the overall energy that it emanates.
“However, as with London and other English and European cities, one must be vigilant and avoid large crowds. This is advice I would take myself. In the case of coastal Turkey, tourists can enjoy the place freely but take any personal safety measures they would do anywhere in the world and at home.
“People can be guilty of ‘holiday brain’ and leave common sense at the airport. Still keep doors in hotels or private villas and apartments locked and use a safe for personal effects. No one wants to be without their passport or credit cards when they are on holiday – your holiday time is far too precious to spend it obtaining crime numbers!
“The biggest danger in coastal Turkey? People not using a high factor sunscreen!”
Is travel safe at all?
In reality, no destination is 100 per cent safe. Yes, some places are more unsafe than others, and at any one time there will be places you simply should not visit. The best way to discover what these are is by visiting official sites like the UK’s FCO foreign travel advice.
It’s important to remember than even in countries with particular issues, you’re not always going to come across violence. In my opinion, the best thing to do is thoroughly research your destination, be aware of any risks and respond accordingly.
The main thing is to always be careful and use your common sense, whether you’re at home or away. Be aware, be respectful and be safe!
Are there destinations you feel have received an unfair rep for being unsafe? Or perhaps there are places you believe deserve their bad reputation? Maybe you disagree with everything I’ve said above?! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic and you own experiences, so please do feel free to comment below!