Travelers talk a lot about their must-see places; top-ten lists abound, often listing the same destinations over and over. Almost everyone has a bucket list. Less talked about, however, are the countries that travelers would do better to avoid—especially for the time being. Whether it’s political unrest, economic turmoil or concerns about disease outbreaks, you might want to take these 10 countries off your 2016 travel itinerary—and they should probably stay off your bucket list until further notice.
10. Sierra Leone
The countries of Africa’s west coast, including Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, were the epicenter of the 2014 Ebola epidemic. While Guinea and Liberia have been removed from some lists of travel advisories, Sierra Leone remains on the U.S. Department of State’s watch list. Although the agency has issued a general warning for parts of West Africa, which include Sierra Leone, the coastal country is the only one to have a separate travel warning of its own. A new cluster of Ebola cases broke out in August 2015 and, although authorities have been working to contain the outbreak, the continued presence of the virus makes travel to Sierra Leone dangerous. Ebola is highly contagious, so the U.S. advises against all non-essential travel to the country, as new infections may occur. Many medical services are either unavailable, temporarily suspended or provided at ill-equipped hospitals and clinics. Ambulances are generally unavailable.
In early November 2015, a funeral in Bangladesh was bombed by a terrorist faction. The bombing occurred during a stretch of four days when violence seemed to uptick around the globe: Beirut and Paris were also under attack. While the U.S. Department of State’s current travel warning expires early in 2016, it seems unlikely that concerns about extremist violence in Bangladesh will dissipate any time soon. Since 2014, a string of attacks have seen both Bangladeshi nationals and foreign visitors killed by terrorist violence. Throughout 2015, writers, publishers and journalists were also threatened, and at least one American blogger was murdered in Bangladesh. The threat of violence against visitors appears to remain credible. Since the controversial 2014 elections, there has been ongoing political turmoil as well, with protests and violence occurring in the spring of 2015.
On April 2, 2015, 147 people were killed when gunmen opened fire on a college in Nairobi. The terrorist group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility, and the attacks are part of a larger narrative of extremist violence that have plagued Kenya since 2011, with attacks becoming more prevalent from 2013 on. Kenya faces threats from insurgent groups originating in Somalia, the country’s next-door-neighbor, among others. Although many people visit Kenya without incident every year, there does seem to be growing violence, with many attacks directed against locations that tourists frequent, such as airports and resorts. Even nightclubs and shopping areas may be targeted, as well as public transportation and religious institutions, all of which may be used or visited by travelers. Kenyan security has managed to detect or stop other plots, but heightened security may cause disruptions for travelers, especially those of Somali descent.
Somalia is a “failed” state and entered into a state of near-lawlessness in the 1990s. Although the country does have a democratic government, it is weak and not recognized as legitimate by many. As such, the Somali state is often ineffectual. Large areas are controlled by extremist groups such as Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate, which has planned and carried out many attacks, including a December 25, 2014, operation at Mogadishu International Airport. Many countries do not maintain embassies and so cannot help their citizens should they decide to visit Somalia. Due to the country’s weak government, many Somalis are suffering, particularly during an ongoing famine in 2015, which heightens risks of violence. Somali waters have become notorious as a refuge for pirates, who have been known to attack in international waters out to 1,000 nautical miles. Somalia remains incredibly dangerous today.
Tensions between supporters of the policies of Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, and opposition parties continue to cause civil unrest in Caracas and other areas of Venezuela. Chavista policies have led to chronic shortages of basic goods and high inflation rates. Both have contributed to violent crime in Venezuela; the country is the homicide capital of the world and “express kidnappings,” where victims are held for only a few hours while their loved ones gather funds to free them, are common. Demonstrations and riots continue as people protest the problematic policies that have caused living conditions to deteriorate and crime to soar. Armed robberies and other forms of street crime also occur frequently. Upscale neighborhoods and tourist areas are frequently targets for crime, so while many continue to visit and conduct business in Venezuela with little issue, visitors must be aware of the risks to their safety.
Although tourism to Istanbul, Turkey’s capital, has been increasing over recent years and interest in visiting Turkey in general has been rising, so too has the risk of violence been increasing over the past few months. While Turkey has yet to encounter the level of violence witnessed in many Middle Eastern and African countries, the country has been a target for terrorist organizations, especially due to its proximity to Iraq and war-torn Syria. An influx of refugees fleeing violence in these countries also has the potential to create unrest in the region. Turkey has initiated military operations in some of its bases near Adana, in the south of the country. Turkey has also experienced internal political unrest in recent years. Demonstrations are common and can turn violent; border areas are best avoided.
While some of the Ukraine may be safe to travel to, including western regions and the capital city of Kiev, ongoing tensions in Crimea and the Donetsk region have made traveling through Ukraine’s eastern reaches much more dangerous. In late 2013, civil unrest broke out, affecting the capital and other areas. While the government responded, rebels in Crimea allegedly broke with the state and requested Russian support. Crimea was occupied and annexed by Russia in early 2014. Fighting continued in the rebel-controlled Donetsk region throughout 2014. A ceasefire agreement between the Ukrainian government and the rebels created a dividing line between territories controlled by either group, but clashes continue in Donetsk and Luhansk. Airspace has been restricted since mid-2014, when a Malaysian Air flight was downed over the region, killing everyone on board. Ukraine remains in a state of unrest.
Located on the Arab Peninsula, the country of Yemen has been teetering on the edge of civil war for years. The country experienced an Arab Spring revolution in 2011. Unrest and violence continued through 2014, and the government resigned en masse in January 2015. The country has been in a state of civil war since March 2015 as two governments attempt to claim supreme power. The U.S. Department of State closed their embassy and have warned Americans living in Yemen to depart as soon as they can. Airports have been closed, limiting travel to and from the country. Yemen, like much of the Arab Peninsula, has been plagued by terrorist operations that threaten the safety of civilians and travelers alike. Piracy in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean pose additional threats, with many pirate operations taking shelter in Somali waters.
Most people are more than well aware of the situation in Syria right now; the outflow of people from the country has been headline news for months. If so many citizens are trying to escape the conditions of their country, it’s probably not a place you want to be traveling to. The situation in Syria has deteriorated since the outbreak of the civil war and the ongoing conflict has made living in the region dangerous. While some people may want to travel here to offer humanitarian aid or to connect with relatives and ensure they are safe, most will be better served by finding other ways to help, rather than traveling into an active conflict zone. The U.S. Department of State advises that communication is difficult and kidnappings, as well as security check-points operated by extremist groups, pose serious threats for travel.
1. Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has a turbulent and troubled history, stretching back decades. Although the DRC is currently in a period of relative peace, instability has long plagued the country and its grasp on security is indeed tenuous. In 2015, major protests demanded the resignation of President Joseph Kabila. Elections are scheduled for 2016, which could bring more civil unrest. The country was ravaged by the Congolese Civil Wars, which began in 1996 and are ongoing today. Armed groups continue to roam the countryside, committing violent crimes against civilians and foreign nationals. Travelers are often stopped at both official and unofficial roadblocks. Bribes are common and if a traveler refuses to pay a bribe, they may be attacked or even killed. Infrastructure in the DRC is minimal, with few highways or railways. Boat transport is common, but often unsafe. Diseases, including Ebola, malaria and yellow fever are common.