Megan Bryant is a passionate writer and traveler who has combined her two loves to help others fulfill their traveling dreams. When she isn’t writing, she’s usually curled up with her 3 Dachshunds and a good book or planning her next adventure—wherever that may be.
Some cities throughout the world stand as a stark reminder that the world isn’t as safe as most people think.
With high crime rates and gang-related violence, these 12 cities and their dangerous environments are ones that travelers should avoid at all costs.
Acapulco may just be Mexico’s most notorious city, and it can thank its resident drug cartels and organized crime groups for that unwanted title. Once a popular tourist destination on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Acapulco has turned into a city with high homicide and crime rates that local law enforcement struggles to manage.
While Acapulco still possesses natural beauty and cultural charm, persistent safety concerns have resulted in travel advisories being issued by many governments, warning visitors about the potential risk.
Situated on Colombia’s Pacific coast, Buenaventura has long been a strategic location for drug trafficking and illegal activities. High levels of poverty and limited access to education and job opportunities have resulted in increased crime rates that have only been made worse by the presence of powerful criminal organizations and armed groups, such as paramilitaries and guerrilla factions.
Homicides, disappearances, and incidents of extortion have become all too common in Buenaventura, generating fear and vulnerability for its local residents.
Cape Town, South Africa
You can’t disagree with the fact that Cape Town is a beautiful city with a vibrant culture and stunning natural surroundings. However, things aren’t always as they seem.
Cape Town has an infamous reputation for danger and crime. High levels of unemployment, income inequality, and inadequate access to basic services have led to gang-ridden neighborhoods, robberies, assaults, and homicides. Despite efforts by the local government and law enforcement to address these issues, Cape Town is still a city plagued by crime that instills fear in those that live in and visit the city.
Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, has earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. With drug trafficking, gang violence, widespread poverty, and a rising homicide rate Caracus has become a breeding ground for criminal activity that scares both locals and tourists alike.
Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
Ciudad Juárez, located in Chihuahua, Mexico, has gained notoriety as one of the most dangerous cities in the world due to its long-standing association with drug cartels and organized crime. And really, the city’s location is partly to blame for the high levels of drug trafficking and human smuggling.
Situated along the U.S.-Mexico border, the city’s strategic location, combined with ongoing territorial battles between rival cartels, has resulted in a rise in homicides, kidnappings, and extortion.
Detroit has gained notoriety as one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. Thanks to decades of economic decline and a loss of population, many parts of Detroit have been left in disarray resulting in abandoned buildings and vacant lots that provide havens for criminal activity.
Throw in high rates of poverty and unemployment, and Detroit residents have been driven to desperation, turning to crime and violence as a means to survive. Gang activity and drug trade in the city have also contributed to elevated homicide rates, which the already understaffed police force struggles to control.
Johannesburg, South Africa
South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg, is yet another area in the country that has gained notoriety for its high levels of crime and safety concerns. Johannesburg has a vibrant, enticing culture, but its deep-rooted issues of socio-economic disparities, unemployment, and a history of inequality have led to crime-ridden neighborhoods, armed robberies, carjackings, and assaults.
Jamaica’s capital city, Kingston, is known for its culture and rich history, but also its increasing crime levels in areas such as Trench Town and Spanish Town. High crime rates—particularly related to gang violence and drug trafficking—have been persistent issues throughout the city, spoiling Kingston’s reputation and deterring tourists to other Caribbean islands.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, a city of unparalleled beauty and vibrant culture, sadly carries a reputation for danger and crime that tourists can’t overlook. A complex mix of gangs, drugs, and limited resources has seen a rise in Rio’s crime levels, especially in the city’s favelas.
Favelas are slums that are riddled with powerful drug gangs who frequently clash with rivals and law enforcement in a bid to gain control over turf. And although there are tourist areas in Rio that are far safer than the slums, pickpocketing and petty theft are prominent issues meaning no one is truly safe—no matter where you stay.
St. Louis, Missouri
Joining Detroit as one of the most dangerous cities in America is St. Louis in Missouri. For years St. Louis has been plagued by crime thanks to high poverty rates, racial segregation, and illicit drug trade. But on top of that, gang violence and gun-related incidents have factored into the city’s notoriety.
Mexico sadly has many cities that are high up on the world’s most dangerous list; however, Tijuana is one of the worst. The city’s location near the U.S. border, combined with its role as a major transit point for drug trafficking, has contributed to a rise in organized crime and violence, including human trafficking and illegal immigration.
Street gangs and drug cartels throughout the city battle for control over the lucrative drug trade, leading to frequent confrontations and turf wars that spill into public spaces. Although efforts have been—and still are being made—to improve safety in Tijuana, there are certain parts of the city that travelers should exercise with extreme caution.
Of all the cities in Mexico, Zamora in Michoacán has the highest homicide rate, with an estimated 200 deaths per 100,000 people. Many of those deaths are related to gang violence as rival gangs clash against each other in a bid to assert dominance.
And although homicide is Zamora’s biggest problem, the city also has high levels of kidnappings, extortion, and petty theft despite law enforcement’s efforts to combat the issues.
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