7 Destinations That Are Safer Than You Think
Contentious political climates, terrorism attacks, and devastating hurricanes have all made it a worrisome year for travel. However, some of these “at risk” destinations have a rather misleading reputation. Here, 7 places we’re not scared of shipping off to—and why you should go now.
Chelsea is Brooklyn-based travel writer, editor, and photographer. When not home eating her way through NYC, she's gallivanting across the globe, sailing the coast of Croatia or hiking the peaks of Peru. Her superpowers include booking flight deals and sleeping in small plane seats.
Cuba has been a constant in the news cycle lately, between Hurricane Irma and changing political rules. In September, the island’s main airport and cruise port reopened, but the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning after a health attack on American embassy employees. However, it’s still very safe to travel here, and many Europeans and Canadians have been doing so without the fear found in America. It’s also good to note that flying to Cuba, staying in a hotel, and visiting the sites are all still legal, as long as U.S. citizens book through a government-approved tour company.
Puerto Rico + US Virgin Islands
Hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked double havoc on the Caribbean. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix—got hit the hardest, and have since been working tirelessly to get electricity, clean water, and other necessities back to the majority of the islands. Travelers are encouraged to visit as tourism (especially during the peak season of mid-November to April) boosts the economy, which in turn helps the Caribbean rebuild.
The Puerto Rico Tourism Co. is working with hotels and tour companies (Local Guest, Global Works Travel) to offer discounted “voluntourism” packages that combine vacation days with recovery aid and community service. Puerto Rico’s cruise ship ports (Royal Caribbean) and hotels in San Juan suffered minimal damage and are quickly reopening, and commercial airlines resumed flights to/from Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in September.
In the USVI, almost all the roads have been cleared and the airports on St. Thomas and St. Croix resumed commercial fights in October. St. Croix, which was spared the worst of the storms, has reopened its cruise ports and hotels in early November, while restaurants, shops, and resorts in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas are steadily resuming service. On St. John, officials are working to clean up the popular Virgin Islands National Park.
Sure, South Korea’s northern neighbor can be a bit nerve-wracking for Americans, what with all the political drama between Trump and “Rocket Man” Kim Jong-un. However, Seoul is entirely safe and has so much to offer. Make time to check out the Skygarden, a 55-foot-tall park and walkway, similar to New York’s High Line; Cheonggyecheon, a seven-mile waterway in downtown; and Mullae-Dong, an art district southwest of the city center.
Set in the heart of the Middle East, Iran may give some travelers pause. Yet, in recent years, the country has seen an increase of visitors thanks to higher security (like the nuclear agreement with the UN Security Council) and new tourism regulations (such as less stringent visa rules). The central region is the most tourist-friendly, where you can visit the country’s 22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, take in the gorgeous architecture (mosaic tiled mosques, ancient bathhouses, Persian gardens), and try some local dishes, including fesenjān, a meat stew with pomegranate and walnuts.
St. Petersburg, Russia
It’s safe to say that Americans have heard a bit too much about Russia lately. But, Putin Trump aside (see what we did there?), Russia is a gorgeous country that is entirely safe for Americans to visit. We especially love St. Petersburg, Russia’s capital of culture, where romantic bridges and boulevards lead to elegant theaters (see: Mariinsky and Mikhailovsky), and sprawling squares (Dvortsovaya is especially festive during the holidays). It’s also worth strolling down Nevsky Prospect, the city’s main artery, and checking out the three million pieces of fine art at the State Hermitage Museum.
On November 16, the U.S. State Department issued another travel alert for Europe, warning Americans to be careful when visiting over the holidays (effective until January 31, 2018). This is in part due to the many attacks that have riddled the continent’s major cities like London, Paris, and Berlin. Keep in mind this is not a warning, but an alert, where the purpose is not to deter Americans from crossing the pond, but to urge them to be extra cautious, especially in popular tourist areas and transportation hubs with large crowds. The chances of an emergency situation are extremely low—in fact, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning or win the jackpot lottery than you are to be killed from terrorism. So just because the recent events in Europe have been majorly publicized by the media, you shouldn’t be afraid to hop the pond for charming Christmas markets and holiday festivities.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro may get lots of flack for its street violence, favelas, and ongoing Zika outbreak, but the areas of Ipanema, Copacabana, and Leblon are more than safe for visitors. In fact, much of Rio is nothing to worry about as long as you stick to typical travel rules. Some tips: don’t wear flashy jewelry, keep your money secure, stay aware at all times, know your surroundings, and stay in tourist-friendly areas. Otherwise, enjoy your time drinking caipirinhas, soaking up the sun on the city’s sexy beaches, and snapping an aerial photo over the Christ the Redeemer statue.
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