15 Vacation Ideas For Tourists With Bulletproof Vests

The State Department regularly posts travel warnings on its website for countries determined unsafe for American tourists abroad. These are typically countries that are dangerous because of drug wars, terrorist attacks, high crime rates and most are countries in which the US embassies are limited in their ability to assist Americans tourists in distress. But that is not to say that all countries deemed ‘unsafe’ should be written off as such. Many of these countries offer destinations that the more adventurous traveler might wish to visit, either because of the inherent risk involved, or because they happen to already be in the region. The following is a brief survey of 15 world-class tourist destinations in unsafe lands:


Band-e-Amir National Park -
High in the Hindu Kush Mountain Range in central Afghanistan, sits Band-e-Amir, a National park consisting of five breathtakingly beautiful lakes. The region became Afghanistan’s first national park in 2008, with a relative return to stability. With the destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas by the Taliban in 2001, Band-e-Amir became the most popular destination in the country’s fledging tourism industry. The pristine lakes of the region are expected to become increasingly popular adventure-tourism destinations in the coming years, as traveling to the country becomes safer.


Bosaso City -
While most would advise against traveling to Somalia since its descent into effective anarchy, others would argue that Bosaso City offers a surprisingly cosmopolitan experience on Africa’s horn. A far cry from war-torn Mogadishu, Bosaso is home to Somalia’s largest port, and is mostly undamaged by the nation’s perennial civil warring. Bosaso offers tourists Caribbean-esque beaches, the beautiful Lake Laag (above), a nascent nightlife industry, and for those more adventurous there is khat - a edible plant that serves as popular amphetamine, and is served at local coffee shops.


Ctesiphon -
Americans are emphatically discouraged to travel to Iraq, and this has been the case since the early 1990s. Arguably, it is less safe today for Westerners, than it has ever been. The country is however, a History enthusiast’s dream as many ancient ruins still exist here, notably The Arch of Ctesiphon. The Arch is the last remnant of the once-great imperial Babylonian city, which during the 6th century was the largest city in the world. The sheer magnitude of the palace visage is evident in the above picture, and the site is a must-visit should one find him or herself in Iraq.


Ein Gedi -
Located near the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi has been a popular Oasis since Biblical times. Consisting of rich wildlife, the site features world famous Botanical Gardens, and is one of the most popular destinations for those traveling in Israel. Unfortunately, much of the national park was destroyed when a tourist dropped a cigarette - nearly two-thirds of Ein Gedi burned. The area has underwent extensive rehabilitation as a result, and today visitors to Ein Gedi can escape the desert heat and go swimming in the parks many natural springs and waterfalls. Even though many parts of Israel are very safe for Western tourists, sewing a Canadian flag onto one’s backpack may still be a good idea.


Labadie –
”Labadie is so nice,” people often muse, “that when you are there, no one bothers to tell you that you are in Haiti.” And while this resort community is usually marketed as an island, it is in fact a peninsula on Haiti’s northern coast. The resort community, is however, separated by walls and protected by security forces, from the rest of the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation. Operated by Royal Caribbean International, it is undoubtedly the safest place to travel to on this list - but only because of a technicality.


The Osun-Osogbo Grove -
Nigeria seems poised to become another failed African state, but that is not to say there are not worthwhile tourist destinations here for the more adventurous travelers. For centuries, Nigeria’s Yoruba people erected sacred groves on the outskirts of their settlements, in which they built statues, shrines and alters in honor of their various mystic deities. Having the religious and cultural significance as a medieval church, synagogue or mosque, the Osun-Osogbo Grove is considered the last of its kind, and was made into a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.


Shibam -
Widely referred to as, “the Manhattan of the desert”, Shibam is a Yemeni city that has been continuously inhabited since 2nd Century AD. The significance on this city, is that it the first implementation of “skyscrapers”, and all of the nearly 500 houses in the city are made of mud bricks. The buildings range from 5 to 16 stories high, and house the city’s 7000 residents. The city was recently the target of an Al-Qaeda attack, but the area has since rebuilt.


Shio-Mgvime Monastery -
Originally founded in the sixth century, Shio-Mgvime was for centuries the most important monastary in Georgia, and arguably, in the region. The building was recently renovated, and only became operational again since the fall of the Soviet Union. Prior to this, the monastery had been destroyed and rebuilt due to invading forces including: the Persians, the Ottomans and the Bolsheviks. Today, pilgrims and tourists from around the world visit Shio-Mgvime, and the site is one of Georgia’s most popular tourist destinations.


Timbuktu -
From the twelfth to the seventeenth century, the Malian Empire encompassed a land mass larger than Western Europe. The commercial and cultural capital of the empire was strangely named city of Timbuktu. Today many of the city’s adobe structures still exist, and the city was recently made into a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For those few tourists that make it to Mali, Timbuktu ranks high on the ‘things to visit” list. In the last several months, the US Department has issued travel warnings to Mali, in response to the area’s Al Qaeda (AQIM) operations having kidnapped several Canadian diplomats in neighboring Niger.


Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá -
While not technically recognized as a church in Catholicism, the ’salt cathedral’ regularly attracts several thousand visitors each Sunday, and thousands more during the week. Officially opened in the mid-1950s, the cathedral consists of fourteen individual chapels and is located in the medium-sized town of Zipaquirá. The church is probably one of the least likely places to cross paths with one of Colombia’s notorious drug cartels, and if you do, it is probably not a bad place to pray for one’s life.

Democratic Republic of The Congo

Kahuzi Biega National Park -
Named after two inactive volcanoes, the ‘Kahuzi’ and the ‘Biega’, this national park is one of the world’s few remaining mountain gorilla refuges. It is estimated that most of the Congo’s gorilla population has been destroyed during The Second Congo War (1998-2003), as well as a result of wildlife poaching. While remote and and difficult to reach, the national park has been listed on UNESCO’s Heritage Sites ‘in danger’ list since 1997, and many fear that the national park might not exist much longer without extensive maintenance and restoration.


Badshahi Mosque -
US residents are warned to steer clear of Pakistan mainly because of the militant/terrorist activity near the Afghan border, but much of the country remains very safe. Located in Lahore, the Badshahi Mosque was the world’s largest mosque from 1673 to 1986 (excluding Islam’s holy cites of Mecca and Medina), and remains one of Pakistan’s most impressive sites. With a capacity of 110,000 Badshahi attracts more visitors than any other site in Pakistan.


Bujumbura Beach -
Most people would not think of a small land-locked African state as having peaceful, white, sandy beaches - but Burundi does. Most of Burundi’s western boarder sits on Lake Taganyika, which is the world’s second largest fresh water lake, and is more reminiscent of the Europe’s Atlantic coast than the surrounding sub-Saharan Africa. Rightly so, the beach is a most popular tourist destination in Burundi, both for ex-pats and Burundians, and it’s also considered far safer than the rest of the country, which is still reeling from a decade of intermittent instability.

Saudi Arabia

Jeddah -
Located on the Red Sea coast, Jeddah is the closest non-Muslims can get to the holy city of Mecca. Traveling to Saudi Arabia can be daunting, as each visitor must be sponsored (basically someone claims responsibility for them) before acquiring a traveling visa, and for women getting around can provide a number of additional challenges. Once in Jeddah, travelers will find themselves in one of the Middle East’s most cosmopolitan cities - it is advised to pay strict attention to cultural norms while in the Saudi Kingdom, as it is not your average Spring Break destination.

Khiva - The central Uzbek city of Khiva was first recorded by Islamic traders in the 10th Century AD, and the old (interior) city’s walls date back to the 1600s. The city was operated as a principality until 1873, when it was captured by the Russian Empire; it was later incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1924. Comprised of Turkish and Persian architecture, it is one of the most well-maintained cities from this era in Central Asia - over 250 houses dating back to the 18th century still exist, as well as a number of museums and other historic sites. Recently, Uzbekistan has become a hot bed for terrorist groups, and the area is known to have a high kidnapping prevalence rate among visiting Westerners.

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