2015 List of 10 Worst Countries For Women Travelers
The 2015 List is not the latest version. For the 2016 List of 10 Worst Countries click here.
We began writing this article in 2014 as an antidote for the many tourist sites that insist that travel to virtually any country is fine with a few commonsense precautions. We felt it was poor advice and ignored the fact that some countries are far more dangerous for women than others and have unique hazards that need to be understood (not to mention, avoided). We had hoped that an update of this article would reveal that many of the ten countries had improved and other countries might possibly have taken their place due to war, etc. Hardly; most of our top ten remain in a class by themselves and getting worse. This year we categorize for two type of problems, dangerous and obnoxious (meaning, particularly annoying or harassing women).
A quick caveat about what this article is about and what it doesn’t cover. This article is for women travelers and the countries they are most likely to consider for travel. That means that we don’t rate or discuss places like Afghanistan which fall under our below “Don’t Even Go There” list.* Although travel is certainly possible in those countries, the only likely reasons women are traveling there are when they have close relatives there, are professional journalists or do humanitarian aid work. This article concerns countries where there is a realistic reason to think a woman would go there as a tourist or for business travel. We find it useful to differentiate between dangerous vs. obnoxious (due to harassment or annoying laws and treatment of women). Also, we won’t do the standard warnings that any idiot should know without referring to an article, though we helpfully footnote a sampling of said warnings.** As to where we get the nerve to say such horrible things, see the footnote at the end of the article.
Women protest against rape in a rally in New Delhi. India has one of the worst records when it comes to women’s safety.
1. INDIA – Dangerous and Obnoxious – India again ranks first as the most dangerous country for a woman to travel. We find it very unfortunate given India’s spectacular cultural sites, art, history and food. However, the situation has grown worse, not better. Last year we noted that there were UK and US travel advisories and warnings, this year the Australia, Canada, and many other governments as well as travel agencies backed by the Japanese and Chinese governments have also issued travel advisories and warnings. Rape rates are 26.7%, according to the latest statistics from the NCRB (Indian government). The United States categorically states that women should not travel alone in India due to the likelihood of sexual assault and harassment but also lists many other hazards in India (including infectious disease, intrareligious violence, terrorism etc.) Australia (Aussie Travel Advisory) warns women to be careful in all parts of India even when traveling in groups and Canada (Canadian Travel Advisory), warns it’s citizens to ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ for going to India in general, and suggests avoiding non-essential travel in a number of regions (Jammu, Kashmir, Manipur, Ghujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab, to list a few). India’s poor safety ranking is due to an unfortunate combination of security threats that are described in our full length article on India . Some of these threats concern all tourists, but unfortunately, some are specific to women travelers. Rape is at epidemic levels for women tourists and native women are increasing, with the National Crime Records bureau reporting 93 rapes a day (See interesting Indian statistics). It’s not clear whether the rates are skewed by increased reporting of the crime or simply because matters have gotten worse, not better. The justice system continues to be abysmal, though some areas are making it easier to report an attack and there are efforts to speed cases through the justice system.If you must go: Rishikesh is a good destination with safe accommodations that is particularly good for women who want to travel to India because of Yoga and for women traveling alone.
Photo Credit: Raj K Raj of Hindustan Times
2. MEXICO – Dangerous – Mexico managed to edge up to number 2 on countries to avoid this year. Yes, it’s still true that millions of tourists go to Mexico without mishap and many areas are safe. However, there is no getting round the fact that kidnappings are up, and drug trafficking and gang violence continue to be a problem, according to the US State Department. Regionally, there is a travel advisory from the Tijuana US Consulate that specifically references that women traveling in Baja must beware traveling alone, particularly at night because of a series of incidents where women have been raped and robbed or kidnapped and held while their credit cards were used at ATMs. . One expert who analyzes violence against women in Mexico believes the rape rate there is worse than India. In terms of looking at your odds of dying as part of your travels, a helpful reference is the US stats of American deaths by country, which means you can look at 2014 to see where Americans die abroad. The stats once again indicate that Mexico is your hotspot for homicide vehicle accidents with the occasional drowning. By way of contrast, no Americans died in places like Iceland in 2014, and in fact, Mexico wins hands down over all other countries we checked, even compared to our other top ten. Carjacking and highway robbery are significant threats to tourists in many parts of the border regions. Additionally, gun battles between drug lords are now a regular hazard in many parts of Mexico for both tourists and natives. Meanwhile, travel to states like Coahuila, Durango, Sonora, Veracruz and Zacatecas are hazardous (check the US state department website for a list of states where non-essential travel is not recommended). In other states, the state as a whole is not at all safe but a specific city might be, so it’s important to check the site for any specific destination. For example, travel to Nuevo Leon is highly hazardous unless you specifically stay in Monterrey in the metropolitan area. In a side note, the environmental condition of air pollution is so problematic that it rises to the level of dangerous in some places in Mexico; primarily Mexico City.
If you must go: Mexico is quite big and there are definitely safe areas, including: Riviera Maya (beautiful beaches, typically warm and humid, March through May is when it is is most hot and humid), Palenque (Ruins, arts and crafts, but note the hottest weather is April thorugh June and it often rains June through September. Generally, bring light clothing with natural fibers and bring a raincoat if you travel in their rainier season), City of Oaxaca (great art), City of Puebla (forts, history), Valle de Bravo (beautiful lakeside community), Santiago de Queretaro (quite historic, world heritage site), Tulum (Mayan ruins, snorkeling, beautiful beaches see weather for Riviera Maya).
Photo Credit: Fox17online.com
3. HONDURAS – Dangerous – This country has the highest murder rate of any country in the world, according to the US State Department which has renewed it’s warning on March 2, 2015 from last years and noted that although the overall crime rate has gone down slightly, it is still very high. The Canadian government has a regional advisory for Valle, Choluteca and Olancho as of March 15, 2015, advising against all travel due to high levels of violence and crime. On the bright side, if you prefer being killed in an auto wreck to being murdered, the odds are now 50/50 (based on American death statistics.) Unfortunately, members of the Honduran national police have been caught perpetrating crimes, which is equally concerning. The UN and Organization of American States calls Honduras the most dangerous country in the world. Its homicide rate is 20 times that of the US. Part of the problem is the extent of the cocaine trade there, but there is also gang violence, and a lot of armed robbery and rape. The National Commission for Human Rights reports that 3,000 women have died in the last decade and 90% of those crimes were not investigated. Worse, yet, 40% of those crimes happened in 2011/2012. Worse, violent deaths of women have increased 263.4% from 2005-2013 according to UNODC data. Even the Peace Corps have pulled out of Honduras (in January 2012). Most sources strongly recommend that women not travel alone. Honduras is also prone to hurricanes, heavy rain and flooding.
If you must go: Copan and the beach areas of Roatan, Tela and La Ceiba are safer than other areas as they are highly touristed areas. Copan is home to an ancient Mayan city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also has a bird park and nature reserve. Roatan is the most developed of the islands but is not overly developed and has great dive spots and beaches; however even Roatan saw significant crime in 2014, although, the government of Honduras has stationed special police at Roatan and Copan for extra security. Keep in mind though these areas are safer than the rest of Honduras, crime is high even here by international standards. Need we stress that wearing capris and long skirts is a good idea? And no jewelry! Note that rainy season is from June to November.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images via Daily Mail
4. BRAZIL – Dangerous – Brazil has fallen in our rankings because the homicide rate continues to fall. As exciting as this may be, Brazil still has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, according to the UNODC. Rape has increased by 157% from 2009 to 2012, according to the Brazilian Health Ministry, although some of that increase is likely due to a change in the law that increased reporting. Significant crime issues include rape, robbery, and kidnapping. Brazil is home of ‘quicknapping’ where a tourist is kidnapped briefly for a stop to the ATM to get cash and then released. Another innovative crime technique is ‘motoboys’ who do armed robbery by speeding up on motorcycles, robbing at gunpoint and then fleeing quickly. Particularly worrisome are some of the hottest destinations for tourists, like big resorts, hotels, discos, etc. Tourists are specific targets in Brazil, particularly at night. Travel is particularly dangerous in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro even in heavily touristed areas like Copacabana and Leme. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the police are increasing their presence in touristed areas since police assistance is still marginal. It’s also dangerous near any of the borders to countries like Columbia are considered hazardous enough that the US government will not let its employees travel within 150 km of the borders with surrounding countries like Columbia. Also worthy of note is that during the summer months of November through March, there are serious landslides and flooding (for example, in 2011 torrential rains in the interior mountains of Rio de Janeiro killed several hundred people). There is a significant malaria problem. Finally, driving in Brazil is a high hazard sport since Brazilians tend to drive fast and the roads are often rough and not well maintained.If you must go: Try Natal, the capital city of Rio Grande do Norte a North Eastern state on the northeast tip of Brazil. According to the Institute for Applied Economics, it is the safest place in Brazil. It is known as the City of the Sun. There are coral reefs, beautiful beaches, a medieval fortress and Dunas State Ecological Park (a very large, urban park).
Photo Credit: BBC
If you must go: There are enhanced security measures at Sharm Al Sheikh (a resort town) and in Hurghada where there are also many resorts as well as tourist sites along the Nile like Luxor and Aswan (incredible ruins), Abu Simbel, Lake Nasser. Because tourism is so critical in these areas, the locals and law enforcement continue allocating extra security to keep things safe despite the turmoil elsewhere in the country. It’s wise to wear clothing that covers you completely and consider wearing a hat or scarf.
Photo Credit: Egyptian Streets
Photo Credit: Daily Mail
7. COLOMBIA – Obnoxious and Dangerous – It is so bad that even women rights defenders who are women have been targeted and raped. Law enforcement has not been helpful in prosecuting attackers. Women who are sexually attacked have difficulty getting adequate medical treatment due to lack of facilities and interest in appropriate care after such an attack. (Source, Human Rights Watch 2014 report.) There is a US travel advisory due primarily to narcotrafficking and crime (primarily, kidnappings). The Aussies have done a security review of Colombia and lowered their warning down a notch to ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ due to improvements in security, but are still concerned about terrorism and criminal activity. There are still a large number of areas that have the higher level of warning: ‘reconsider your need to travel’ due to higher levels of terrorist activities and crime.There is a particular problem with the bus system – the main public transportation is unsafe since the buses are dangerous due to attacks and accidents as well as being filthy. In an amusing side-note, this country is so unclear on the concept of what women appreciate that one mayor hired male strippers to celebrate International Women’s Day. Local women and children were not amused.
If you must go: Cartagena, the Heroic city is rich in history and the most visited city by tourists due to lovely colonial architecture, festivals and nice beaches like Boca Grande. But stay where the tourist attractions are and don’t take the carriage rides (the horses are malnourished, very badly treated and often collapse). Zona Cafetera, particularly Salento, which is a pretty town surrounded by mountains and in the heart of coffee country where you can go tour the Valley de Cocora.
Photo Credit: Zoë Schlanger via Newsweek
Thousands of women across Turkey protest the rape and murder of a young woman
8. TURKEY – Obnoxious and Dangerous – Few have read of the brutal rape and murder of a Turkish woman college student by a minibus driver that was eerily similar to the same incident that happened in India that focused international attention on India’s rape tsunami. Unfortunately, rape and other sexual assault is way up in Turkey for tourists and native women. The British collect statistics on which countries their nationals need assistance from and included, are those Brits who experienced rape and sexual assault. Turkey is the worst, exceeded only by Egypt.The use of date rape drugs is being reported as an issue for female tourists. The Government of Canada, also, has issued warnings regarding travel in Turkey. The murder rate of Turkish women has risen 31% from 2013 to 2014. Sexual assault of native women and tourists is up, which have led to some blaming the ruling party AKPs policies toward women. Unfortunately, for women travelers it’s not just the danger of assault that’s a problem, it’s being harassed, stared, pinched at and followed because you’re female and traveling. To avoid trouble, it’s best to be covered completely unless you’re in a cosmopolitan place (namely, Istanbul), which means the dress code for females is best kept to ankle length skirts, long sleeved shirts a head scarf. Doesn’t that sound like fun in hot weather?
Needless to say, the Syrian conflict means that the area near the Syrian border is particularly dangerous. There has been terrorism due to Al Qaida operatives and the PKK. Street crime
, though, tends to be low.
If you must go: Istanbul (a beautiful, sophisticated city with the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar – best to go with companions, preferably male, to avoid harassment), Ephesus (great ruins but go early and take lots of water due to the heat; you don’t have to hire the drivers and shouldn’t unless you want to spend most of your time at the shops; do not buy relics; it’s illegal!), and Troy. Remember, you need an E-Visa now to travel to Turkey!
Photo credit: BBC
9. SAUDI ARABIA – Obnoxious and now, for 2015, Dangerous – Saudi Arabia makes the list because many women go on the Hajj, in fact 45-55% of pilgrims are women. Women traveling alone cannot easily get visas to get into the country to begin with. The Saudis don’t issue tourism visas so you can only get in through a business trip (a work visa is possible but requirements are tough and even stricter for women, such as being 27 or older) or through a family trip (you’d need to be visiting a relative there) or because you are making the Hajj (there are many special requirements such as the need for a Maharam; close male relatives if you are under forty-five, if you are over forty-five you need a Maharam unless you are part of a sanctioned group). Regardless of how you get in, the requirements are that you need a male sponsor or guardian (depending on your reason for going), you have to have confirmed accommodations for the duration of your stay as well as the usual visa requirements, and entry may be denied if the woman visitor is deemed to be behaving indecently according to Saudi law and tradition. One source informs us that if you are there on a work visa, once your sponsor retrieves you from the airport, you can move freely about most places, but this would likely have to do with the nature of your job (something tells us an accountant would have more freedom than a domestic). And while we’re at it, women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia. Not to mention a host of other laws and practices that are hazardous to women requiring your husband’s permission to leave even if you are a foreign national and even if he isn’t Saudi. Our view is why go to a country that actively discourages tourists, and has laws and practices that are hostile to women? Why spend your tourist dollars in a country that doesn’t respect women? Also of interest is that terrorism has increased since 2014 with more attacks. For example, two US citizens were shot at in the Eastern Province in January, 2015. The problem is primarily with ISIS and Al Queda. Of course, ISIS is particularly known for kidnapping and assaulting women. The US currently has a travel warning for Saudi Arabia for these reasons. It’s our view that the main problem women would face visiting or working in Saudi Arabia is not terrorism but the attitudes and laws affecting them as women.If you must and can go: Duma Al Jundal has amazing waterfalls. Al Hijr has spectacular ancient ruins (an ancient Nabataean archeological site). Usually very safe, except for one Al Queada attack on tourists in 2007. However, the statistics on safety may be rather low since it is very hard to get access.
Photo Credit: Daily Mail
Kidnappings and other crime have infiltrated every aspect of daily life in Venezuela, especially the capital, Caracas, which was recently ranked the world’s third most violent city
10. VENEZUELA – Obnoxious and Dangerous – One of the highest murder rates in the world. Human trafficking is significant and an issue for tourists and local women. Harassment and rape are a serious problem, made worse by the fact that although most of us know to avoid strange men on dark streets, it’s particularly difficult when the perpetrators are hotel workers, taxi drivers and men posing as police officers. Kidnapping has been on the rise, leading to the interesting advice offered by the Aussies to exercise a high degree of caution in most of Venezuela and not to travel near the border areas. to tell your embassy as well as the folks back home where you are, just in case you’re kidnapped. Not surprisingly, there is a December 2014 Travel Warning by the US State Department due to homicides, kidnapping and other violent crime with the additional note that US embassy staff is required to live under strict security due to these threats and that visitors should be very vigilant and travel in twos or more. Robbery continues to be an issue; for example, there was the exciting armed robbery of three hundred tourists on a beach that took place in December 2014, shortly before the tourism minister announced efforts to improve safety and increase tourism.If you must go: Margarita Island is repeatedly listed as a safe destination by a variety of sources but you still need to be careful at night, particularly on the beach.
Photo Credit: Rodrigo Abd/AP via NPR
Conclusion: Perhaps you are thinking it would be better to go where a woman can travel freely and safely, please refer to our 10 safest countries for women tourists.
Footnote Regarding Sources and Threats:
No one is collecting statistics that affect women travelers and international organization data is either dated or no longer being collected. So we’re limited to government advisories, statistics kept by the US state dept as to where Americans die and how frequently, the news and other sources that aren’t nearly as good as data. However, until women’s safety is viewed with the same enthusiasm as soccer, this is as good as it gets. Here are our sources.
* Only Professional Journalists or Humanitarian Aid Workers should go to the following Don’t Even Go There List:
- North Korea
** Do not travel alone at night, keep your doors locked when driving, in fact, lock your hotel door securely, do not carry large amounts of cash or wave wads of it about, don’t wear expensive jewelry or cameras in sketchy areas, do not accept drinks or rides or really anything from strangers, avoid careening around drunk at night, refrain from insulting others deeply held religious beliefs, etc. Seriously, anyone who needs to be told this really ought not be let out of their house unsupervised, much less out of the country, since it’s not safe to do most of these things.