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Journey Through the Worst Countries in the World

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This is a collaboration post where travel bloggers share their personal adventure through the worst countries in the world.

There are countries that have been repeatedly featured in the news media for extremely dangerous environments, poverty, war, and difficult political climates. From the outside, these countries are the worst places in the world to live and travel and one has been informed not travel there for safety reasons. Meanwhile, there is no shortage of travelers going to explore these countries and they come back share their adventures.

Reading their experience tells me that the world is not dangerous as it seems and there are always good parts about a place the news media does not report. Some of the off-limits places are safe to travel, while some of their experiences will surprise you. Join me as they tell their stories and reveal part of the world that is unknown to us.

Haiti by Aireona Raschke from Nightborn Travel
the worst countries in the world to visit

Haiti | Photo credit: Aireona Raschke | Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

I am a Ph.D. student studying whale watching in the Caribbean and, for several years, I was planning on visiting Haiti as a researcher. At the time, I was living just across the border in the Dominican Republic and was longing to visit Haiti. So, I booked a 10-day Highlights of Haiti tour with Tour Haiti.

My mom was terrified and people on social media made fun of me for my choice, because “who goes to Haiti for fun?” Despite my own fears and theirs, I hopped on a bus from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince and started my grand adventure. We visited every major city in Haiti—Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien, Jacmel, and the emerging destination of Port Salut; we got to see historic, natural and artistic sites throughout the country as well. As an outdoor explorer, I found Le Citadelle, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest colonial-era fort in the Caribbean. Bassin Bleu and Grotto Marie-Jeanne were my favorite spots.

Haiti is beautiful and deserves some good press and there is a little something for every type of traveler in Haiti. However, the Land of Many Mountains is also the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  Unless you have extensive experience in this country, opt for a travel company or someone who can take you around. The country is relatively safe but, of course, there are areas you want to avoid and driving here is extremely difficult.

Uzbekistan by Norman Knowitall from Années de Pèlerinage
the worst countries to visit in the world

Registan Square Smarakand, Uzbekistan | Photo credit: Norman Knowitall |Follow him on Pinterest and Instagram

One of the most messed up countries I ever visited was Uzbekistan. Or rather, it was one of the most corrupt ones. From the outside, the country is beautiful beyond belief. Traveling along the ancient Silk Road and visiting famous cities like Samarkand and Bukhara makes you feel like a prince or princess from the Arabian Nights. But, if you take a closer look, things get ugly.

Each and every single day of my two weeks, something ridiculous happened. At the airport, the security guard was checking on the girls with my binoculars for 15 minutes and not letting us pass. The official exchange rate is something along 3.300 Som for one US dollar but there is a thriving black market where you will sometimes get more than twice than that. When touring around the outstanding Registan Square in Samarkand, the ticket vendor asked us if we want to change some money. There was a military policeman standing right next to him. Literally! When I asked him whether the exchange guy was cheating us, he replied that everyone is cheating here but we all have to share with him. He laughed and then offered to show me the minaret for 50 US dollars, which is off-limits to tourists.

Palestine by James Smith from Only By Land
the worst countries in the world

Bethlehem, Palestine | Photo credit: James Smith | Follow him on Facebook and Instagram

I visited Palestine as I am on a personal mission to visit every country in the world.  Owing to the political situation, however, Palestine is technically Israel.

Located in Palestine is Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.  Bethlehem is the place that most children studied about at school.  You would imagine the grotto where Jesus was born would be as busy as Vatican City but, on a recent visit, I was surprised to find it was extremely quiet, as it’s located in Palestine—a place often in the news for bombings and violence.  In fact, when entering Palestine, there is a sign warning Israelis if they enter Palestine their lives will be in danger.

A site that has become just as well known as the birthplace of Christ is the separation wall between Israel and Palestine.  The separation wall has been talked about a lot in recent months with comparisons made to the proposed Trump wall on the Southern border of the US.  The separation wall is a serious wall—5 meters high and protected with barbed wire, it stretches for a massive 440 km.

My experience in Bethlehem was great, I took a tour from Jerusalem and everything was well organized.  I learned a lot about the biblical history; it was interesting and I felt 100% safe the whole time.

North Korea by Agness and Cez from Etramping.com
the worst countries in the world

Agness and Cez in North Korea | Photo credit: Agness and Cez | Follow them on Facebook and Instagram

North Korea is a country that often times receives so much bad press. While we often read the news of nuclear weapons, the antics of their leaders, and their military confrontation with South Korea and the USA, our trip to North Korea is something we won’t forget: a good one. We have learned that there’s much more to the country than Kim Jong Un, nuclear missiles, and political oppression. For us, it was an adventure of a lifetime, to a place not many people get to go,  to see what is an ordinary life is like for its people, and to build bridges between North Korea citizens and the outside world.  We truly believe as long as you are careful about what you pack and follow the rules, it is incredibly safe.

We went to North Korea with Tongil Tours and met the tour group for the first time when we arrived in Pyongyang. Pretty much everyone we met was incredibly nice and amicable. If you like traveling to see a mix of culture and history then North Korea is one of the best places. There are so many fascinating sites to visit, all of which have unique histories. One of the best sites our tour group took us to see was the famous Mansu Hill Monument of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.  Moreover, did you know that North Korea brews incredibly good beer? It’s called Taedong and it really does taste good. Even groups like the BBC can’t deny it.

You also get to see a lot of the people in North Korea too,—whether it’s those commuting to work in the morning or people enjoying themselves at the Kaeson Youth Park. Just prepare yourself for seeing a load of things that will challenge your perception of North Korea: probably for the better.

Venezuela by Claire Sturzaker from Tales of a Backpacker
the worst countries in the world

‘Lost World’ of Mount Roraima | Photo credit: Claire Sturzaker | Follow her on Facebook and Instagram

I was lucky to go to Venezuela in January 2016.  I wouldn’t go back now though.  I only went because a friend of mine from Caracas invited me to visit her for Christmas.  It wasn’t easy at the time, and now, with the escalating protests, it is more dangerous than ever.

The socialist government has mismanaged Venezuela’s resources to the extent that there is no medicine in hospitals, no food in shops, and people are starving. Last year, I saw signs of things to come, with people queuing for bread that would run out and families living in homes behind bars, afraid to go out after dark in case they were robbed at gunpoint.  That was in Caracas though.

Outside of the capital, I caught a glimpse of the real Venezuela, beyond the chaos.  I stayed in a lodge on the Orinoco River and fished for piranha, took a canoe to Angel Falls and swam in the pools below, and hiked the ‘Lost World’ of Mount Roraima, awed by the spectacular horizon as the flat-topped mountains loomed over our camp.  Venezuela’s beauty and the kindness of its people are real reasons to visit.  The situation there has to come to an end soon, and I hope that Venezuela can come through this, and fulfill its potential as the richest country in South America.

Iraq by Joan Torres from Against the Compass
the worst countries in the world

Volunteering at the refugee camp in Kurdistan | Photo credit: Joan Torres | Follow him on Facebook and Instagram

In the most northern part of Iraq, bordering Turkey and Iran, there is a beautiful, tiny piece of land called Iraqi Kurdistan, which is an autonomous region whose inhabitants, the Kurds, have several cultural differences from the rest of their Arab neighbors, represented in their food, clothes, and language.

With plenty of historical sites and cities that date from thousands of years, a beautiful mountainous region composed of snowed peaks and lush green meadows, and some of the most hospitable people in the world, Kurdistan is the ultimate experience and, most importantly, a region where all travelers can feel safe, very far away from what the media says about Iraq.

Besides wandering around the millennial cities, in Iraqi Kurdistan, I strongly recommend volunteering at any of the endless refugee camps, which, today, are filled with tens of thousands of Syrians who ran away from the war in their home country. With two big bags filled with 30 different toys, visiting and helping the children living in these camps was definitely one of the best traveling experiences of my life.

Cambodia by Odo from The Histourist
the worst countries in the world

Cambodia | photo credit: Odo | Follow him on Facebook

On April 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh and took power. In January 1979, they were forced to escape from the capital by the Vietnamese army, leaving behind approximately two million deaths, almost one fourth of the total population four years before. The people killed were intellectuals, city dwellers, and all those who opposed or were believed to oppose the regime. The ways used to kill their own people were some of the most brutal in human history, especially at S-21, the school turned prison in the center of Phnom Penh, and at the Killing Fields, where thousands were killed and buried.

When I lived and worked in Cambodia forty years later, the Cambodians are still trying to recover to what destroyed their development. The most impressive and sad thing is that a whole generation of teachers was exterminated so the following generation could not be educated. This means that for two decades there was no intellectual development in the country. It damaged the recovery from the closed socialist economy that was in place during the Khmer Rouge years. Nowadays, the beautiful Cambodian people are struggling to leave the label of ‘third-world country’, fighting poverty, corruption, and poor political freedom. Even in this situation, they keep smiling and being helpful to any foreigner visiting or residing in Cambodia. The youngsters are the only hope for a brighter future.

Lebanon by Laura Robinson from Passport Collective
the worst countries in the world

Lebanon | Photo credit: Laura Robinson | Follow her on Facebook and Instagram

I was booked to travel to Lebanon to attend a wedding in 2006. Ironically this directly coincided with the war with Israel pushing our trip and the wedding out 5 weeks and resulting in us flying into Beirut mere days after the airport was reopened.

We landed to a post war chaos of half blown up buildings, rebar poking out of concrete where overpasses once stood and a somewhat macabre dumping ground of blown up concrete blocks with personal possessions such as toys and mattresses poking out.

We headed north, where less fighting had occurred and other than some food shortages, life was normal. We could go out and about and sightseeing as we pleased. I felt safe and enjoyed my time. One day however we ended up in the car with a cousin who decided to take us to the south. The damage and international military presence here was far more prolific and honestly I did feel uneasy.

So, is Lebanon dangerous? Yes, a little. But is Paris or Brussels anymore so? Problems in Lebanon tend to be very localised and if you exercise caution about where you visit you can have a great time. I’ve since revisited Lebanon and had an equally great experience. Whilst I probably wouldn’t go back, it is more because there are new places that I want to explore, than any fear of it being a ‘dangerous’ country.

Cuba

I have my own adventure in a country that has received many wonderful reviews from most tourists: Cuba.

the worst places to visit in the world

Havana, Cuba | photo credit: Julie Cao

Cuba is extremely poor and every day I experienced scams and was approached by locals asking for money. Havana sticks out as one of the worst cities I have been, with run-down buildings lined up in the downtown area and homeless individuals pestering you for water and food. Cab drivers will rip you off because you are a foreigner. I stayed in Cuba for five days and did not enjoy it one bit.

Most travelers I met visited Veradero. In my opinion, it is the same as Cancun; visitors indulge in the all-inclusive resorts and sunbathe at the beautiful beach while most hotel workers cannot afford to eat meals and spend a night there.  I would save my trip to somewhere else, even to Mexico or Colombia; I would be happier.

Cuba’s historical buildings, stunning landscapes, and the salsa culture are really appealing. With the embargo gets lifted and Cuba started opening its doors to more travelers, I hope the country can do better economically and develop a better way to welcome its travelers.

Have you visited any of these countries or other places that have received bad press? Feel free to share your experience and thoughts below.

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Travel blogger's adventure into the world's worst travel destinations.

Julie Cao
 

Julie is the creator of Always On The Way. She lived in Hawaii and has made her way to Toronto Canada. In 2017, she went on an overland trip from Bogota Colombia to Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world. She believes travel is not only about visiting tourist attractions but more about getting to know the culture, people and the place.

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