World’s worst places: Top 10 places you do not want to visit in 2012

Update: Check out the World’s Worst Places of 2013 here

What comes to mind when you think of the world’s worst place? While it is easy to complain about rural Wal-marts, La Guardia, Applebee’s, and any government office with motor vehicle in its title, none of those places escalate the game from nuisance to immediate danger. All of them can be horrible, yes, but a threatened existence they do not pose.

The places on this list are the bad places. Some have run out of hope. Others have fought war for so long it is the new normal. Most are exceptionally dangerous and heartbreaking. And while none of them are fighting for write-ups by travel bloggers or inspiring travel with the NetJet set, some of these locations may someday be on the travel map. After all, it was not long ago that current hot-spots like Cambodia and Croatia would have made such a list.

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world's worst places

10. Harare, Zimbabwe
Recently voted by the Economist as the world’s worst city to live in, Harare is a unique study in failed fiscal policy. The once acceptable city fell into disrepair during Zimbabwe’s severe bouts with hyperinflation and corruption. The troubles began in the early 21st century when Zimbabwe’s inflation rate increased to 112.1%. Sounds terrible right? As it turns out, those were the sunny days. In 2008, the inflation rate peaked at 231,150,000% per annum. In U.S. terms, this means that if you deposited $10,000, it would be worth about 4 thousandths of a U.S. cent in one years time. That sucks. (For the record, 10,000USD = 46.720 quadrillion Zimbabwe dollars in 2009.)

This sort of economic arrangement allowed Harare to fail. There are not enough printers in Zimbabwe to print enough of its Z100 Billion notes, and when a loaf of bread costs trillions, doom is soon to follow. Unemployment grew to 80% and many services faltered. Today, foreign currencies have been adopted but the damage has been done. Much of Harare is in disrepair, and few foreign companies care to directly invest in the troubled city. That said, it is probably the safest place on this list to visit with flights direct from London on the national carrier – Air Zimbabwe.

world's worst places

9. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
The lone entry from Oceania is the ultra-diverse Port Moresby of Papua New Guinea. PNG is home to over 820 languages – more than any other country in the world. As such, its capital Port Moresby boasts a diverse crew of opportunists and island cultures. It was recently voted by the Economist as the 137th out of 140 places in the livable cities index, making it a tough place to get by.

Rapes, Murders, and HIV are just a few of the daily tragedies that befall this enclave at the edge of the map. Here, even riding in cars is a dangerous activity. Gangs called Raskols are known to rob vehicles transporting foreigners at gunpoint.

Port Moresby is best used as a temporary gateway to nearby dive sites and for flights to PNG’s jungle interior and its solitary treks. Reaching Port Moresby is easy from Australia on PNG’s national carrier Air Niugini.

world's worst places

8. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
37 years ago, Ali and Foreman traded blows in one of boxing’s most historic matches. The match took place in Kinshasa. At the time, the country was known as Zaire, and the future looked hopeful for the mineral-rich nation. But as is common in 20th century African history, corruption at the top derailed the future. The country became a model for African kleptocracy as President Mobutu matched Zaire’s national debt with deposits into his personal bank account in Switzerland – to a tune of 4 billion (1980) U.S. dollars. He was forced to flee in the late nineties.

By 1998, the Congo region was engaged in the Second Congo War – the most deadly military conflict since World War II. In the end, over 5 million perished, and to this day the mineral-rich country has a per capita (nominal) GDP of about $186.

Chinese foreign direct investment has allowed Kinshasa to grow into a more reasonable place over the last decade, though it is not yet ready for its tourist close-up. Violence and political instability still ravage the second most populated city in Africa. It has come a long way from the time of Mr. Kurtz, but the heart of Africa is still an exceptionally complicated place. Just a month ago during the presidential election, thousands fled Kinshasa in anticipation of violence, and tanks rolled in to police the streets.

Tens of thousands of orphaned street children call the slums of Kinshasa home and are also routinely accused of witchcraft by locals. Carjackings are one of the more common types of tourist robbery, especially outside of the city center. And one more thing, photography is illegal.

Reaching Kinshasa is easy from Paris on Air France.

world's worst places

7. Rocinha favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro. While its infrastructure exceeds that of lesser favelas and its view of Rio is truly breathtaking, it is also home to several hundred thousand Brazilians packed onto a steep hillside. It is a playground for modern day little Li’l Zes.

With one of the highest murder rates in the world, Brazil has been cracking down on violence in anticipation of hosting both the Olympics and World Cup. In fact, local authorities have effectively declared war on this slum in an effort to clean it up and push out the drug cartels, and just a few months ago, Rocinha was occupied by the military and police forces. Their aim is to restore government control in the sprawling favela. While progress has no doubt been made, when visiting Rio (which is generally safe), it is wise to avoid favelas unless accompanied by a local guide.

world's worst places

6. Sana’a, Yemen
“Just off the horn of Africa…” is a common statement that generally precedes a story about modern piracy. And just on the other side of the dangerous Gulf of Aden where such piracy goes down is treacherous Yemen – a land frozen in time.

It is a time machine to the modern edge of the Islamic dark ages. On one hand this brings old world Arabian architecture and cultures of antiquity, but on the other, it brings out Islamic fanaticism. It is a place of child brides and a training ground for Al Qaeda. Men walk around freely with weapons per their religious rights, and these weapons range from the ubiquitous Jambiya to battle-worn Kalashnikovs. Sana’a is old, dangerous, and has its share of political unrest. As a westerner, you can keep your travel plans safer by avoiding Yemen.

The tragic thing about Yemen is that it possesses such beautiful sights. It has unbelievable Red Sea beaches, Socotra Island (Similar to the Galapagos and on my own personal travel shortlist), and old forts amid craggy mountains.

Reaching Sana’a, Yemen is possible from Dubai, Doha, London, and Sharjah.

world's worst places

5. West Point, Monrovia, Liberia
Clean water, electricity, basic services – all things we take for granted in the West. In the West Point area of Monrovia, a city named for James Monroe, these are luxuries. West Point, a peninsular slum jutting out into the Atlantic, is home to a special breed of disgusting squalor. Home to 75,000 Monrovians, it is one of Africa’s most notorious and crowded slums. Cholera is at an epidemic level, drug use is rampant, teenage prostitution is a commonality, and toilets are scarce. In fact, since it costs money to use neighborhood toilets, many Monrovians in West Point just crap in the streets or on the beach.

Vice did a great series on Liberia a few years ago. In the series, they meet with with an ex-war leader known as General Butt Naked – the commander of a group of child soldiers called the Butt Naked Brigade. He earned this name by charging into battle wearing only sneakers and his AK-47. Aside from sacrificing humans and partaking in cannibalism, he also regularly communicated with the devil. Today, he is a minister.

Delta flies from Atlanta to Monrovia, Liberia.

world's worst places

4. Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
Just as turbulence occurs where hot and cold air meet, similarly a point of human turbulence occurs in this nasty city where Mexico meets the United States. Drug violence, government incompetence, and poverty mix to form what has been called the murder capital of the world (this dishonor has since been ceded to Honduras). As drug wars continue to rage, Juarez continues to be a dangerous place. The drug cartels continue to fight for one of the most valuable things in the world – access to the United States narcotics market.

Neighboring El Paso, oddly, has one of the lowest murder rates in the United States. In fact, among major cities, El Paso is tied with Lincoln, Nebraska for having the lowest murder rate in the United States. It is indeed strange to have such a dichotomy separated by a river.

Flying to Juarez from a number of cities is easy, but don’t do it. Go to Cancun and fist pump instead.

world's worst places

3. Cite Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Take one of the most damned places on the planet, knock the hell out of it with an earthquake, and you get the worst of Haiti – Cite Soleil. Port-au-Prince is generally a place of ephemeral hope and naked truths, and at its most rotten corner is this heartbreaking slum.

Cite Soleil is one of the largest slums in the northern hemisphere. It is a place where what you see is what you get, and what you see is abject third world poverty. The slum is void of sewers, schools, electricity, or healthcare facilities. It is the kind of place where relief workers are swallowed whole by the earth. In 2007, UN peacekeepers attempted to access the neighborhood and were welcomed with gunfire.

On top of this, many dangerous gang members escaped prison during the earthquake of 2010 and have returned to this crumbling slum. Reach PAP, Haiti from Miami on Insel Air.

world's worst places

2. Kandahar, Afghanistan
Surrounded by gorgeous mountains, it is a tragedy that Kandahar is so awfully dangerous. A one time trading center and strategic foothold, Kandahar is a victim of its perfect location between the world’s of East and West. It has been a point of interest since Alexander the Great stumbled upon it in the 4th century BC. For centuries, traders passed through this city when traveling between Asia and Europe. As result, wars have also passed through and control has changed hands over its centuries of existence, from Mongols to Arabs to Brits and beyond.

Kidnappings, suicide bombings, and other criminal activities have turned it into an absolute monster of a destination. War has a way of creating this sort of general lawlessness. Having a 28% national literacy rate does not help matters.

As a weird footnote, Kandahar has an Armani Hotel, though it is not licensed by Giorgio. Its TGI Fridays, once a bastion of Americana and cheese sticks in Afghanistan, has allegedly been shut down. One can reach Kandahar from Dubai on Ariana Afghan Airlines. During Taliban rule, Osama bin Laden used this airline for Al Qaeda operations including the smuggling of guns, money, and opium. Today, sanctions have been lifted against the troubled national carrier.

world's worst places

1. Mogadishu, Somalia
Still crazy after all these years, “Mog” has perhaps the most terrifying disclaimer (ever) hovering above its entry on wikitravel. It states, “Mogadishu is regarded as the most lawless and dangerous city on Earth and is currently experiencing a major food and refugee crisis. It is not safe for leisure or tourism. If you are planning a visit for international aid work, etc, you will need expert advice and planning.”

Civil War has raged for decades, and the government controls only a few blocks of the city. It is a base for modern pirates, the backdrop for the true story surrounding Black Hawk Down, and it is said that machine guns are frequently used by drivers to negotiate through car traffic. It is a land without law, a soulless place at the edge of Africa. Much of it bears more resemblance to the last level in an especially difficult video game than to life on Earth. It is more modern warfare than modern world.

Oddly enough, several supermodels were born in Mogadishu including Iman and Yasmin Warsame – a footnote of beauty for an ugly place. Flights to Mog can be booked on Jubba Airways from Jeddah and Dubai. Good luck with that. Seriously though, if you decide to go, be sure to wear a bulletproof vest and hire a small army of Ethiopian soldiers.

Top 20 travel destinations – The 2011 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report

top 20 travel destinations Every couple of years, the World Economic Forum crunches a bunch of numbers and releases a list of the top countries in the world to visit. While ranking 139 countries, they measure aspects such as pricing, culture, environmental protection, safety, and infrastructure. For the 2011 report, Switzerland remained at the number one spot – the returning champion from the last report in 2009. Nine out of the bottom ten countries are located in Africa, and seven out of the top ten are located in Europe. Chad ranked in at 139 out of 139. Italy, one of the most visited countries in the world, placed 27th. For the full list, download the PDF at the World Economic Forum website under the ‘reports’ tab.

20. Norway
19. New Zealand
18. Portugal
17. Finland
16. Denmark
15. Luxembourg
14. Netherlands
13. Australia
12. Hong Kong
11. Iceland
10. Singapore9. Canada
8. Spain
7. United Kingdom
6. United States
5. Sweden
4. Austria
3. France
2. Germany
1. Switzerland

flickr image via jeffwilcox

10 Reasons You Must Revisit – what to see when revisiting a destination

Revisiting a DestinationRevisiting a destination is essential to understanding it. Traveling the world is a marvelous thing, but if you’ve only been everywhere once, how can you have a true sense of the nature of any of those places?

Change is one of the few things you can count on in this world. When it comes to destinations, revisiting after a year, or five, ten, even twenty, can be an incredible lesson in what is permanent and what isn’t. What a culture chooses to preserve speaks volumes about that culture, as does what it chooses to demolish. Furthermore, the rate at which technology and commercialism progress is different in different regions; a phenomenon which is fascinating at the very least.

We’ve all had the experience of saying “Oh, I’ve been there,” only to hear that major attractions sprang up in our wake. That’s #1. Here are 10 Reasons You Must Revisit:

1. To see a new attraction.

This was one of the major reasons I chose to revisit Liverpool last year. After attending school there for three years, I revisited to take a look at Liverpool One, the mega-shopping center, as well as the Echo Arena and the burgeoning gastronomic scene. As I wrote in my article Visiting the new Liverpool, it was like a “spaceship [had] landed in the town center.” I could hardly speak about Liverpool with anyone who had lived or traveled there in the past few years if I hadn’t revisited. Its entire town center is completely different, attracting a completely different crowd.2. To check out the new within the old.

Again with example of Liverpool, Albert Dock is a historical site which is constantly in flux. The iconic exterior stays the same, but inside, different shops and restaurants and clubs are always popping up. This is true in most cities with major historical attractions; new things constantly pop up in and around those attractions.

3. To see if your favorite place is still open.

Depending upon how long you’ve waited to revisit a destination, this can be less and less likely to end favorably. Still, it can be heartwarming and oddly rewarding to find your favorite hole-in-the-wall still bumping along successfully; somehow surviving the cold years without you. It makes you feel like you were right.

4. To see what tourism has done.

Even if you went there before it was cool, the tourism industry has a way of spreading itself to even the most remote locations at an exponential rate. For example, heard about all the cruises to Antarctica lately? Unless the place you visited was already a tourist trap, you’re likely to find new shops and establishments catering to tourists when you revisit a place. It’s not always the development you had hoped for, but it is worth seeing what kind of tourism a place you knew now gets.

5. To see what commercialism has done.

Much like with #4, commercialism has an uncanny way of spreading itself. You may find your favorite authentic establishment now serves Coca-Cola — and the locals couldn’t be more proud of it! Seeing a city before the outside world gets in is an amazing thing, but seeing it just after it gets in can be contextually profound. If you wait long enough, commercialism can be a shocking change, even to the way people treat you. It may be sad in some ways, but I prefer to look at it as educational.

6. Because you didn’t like it.

It’s happened to many of us; you have what you consider to be a dreadful time at a destination, only to hear friends come back from the same place with wonderful stories to share. It doesn’t necessarily mean you did it wrong, but you may have had bad luck. If you hate a place, and you’re interested in why it was bad for you and good for others, and you have the time and means, go back. You may be amazed at what you learn about yourself and the destination.

7. Because you loved it.

There are plenty of people out there who go to the same place for a vacation every single year. Many of us consider ourselfes too adventurous to be satisfied with that; unless we are also traveling to new places throughout the year, but there are definitely destinations we’ve all loved and long to return to. Revisiting a place you love can become a very spiritual thing. It becomes a place for you to reset and unwind, but with the comfortability of familiarity.

8. Because you want to show somebody.

Many of us do the bulk of our world-trapsing as singles. It’s just the easiest time in life to get away. Without the ties of love and kids, and that pesky mortgage, you can take off for months at a time if you set your life up for it. But then, when you do find love, and even when you have kids, you may have a love or a kid you think would truly enjoy a place you’ve been. For example, say you’ve been to Vienna, but then you have a child who turns out to be a classical music prodigy — that’s a terrific reason to go back.

9. To visit “in style.”

As time goes on, if we play our cards right (and fate doesn’t have it in for us), we tend to grow more affluent. Thusly, if we visit a place and return there years later, chances are, we can afford to do things we couldn’t before — stay in a fancier hotel, dine at the finest restaurants, indulge in tickets to major cultural events and more.

10. To check in on friends.

It is a special, yet somewhat common experience to meet a local on your travels with whom you stay in touch. Or, even if you don’t stay in touch with them, you can be treated so well by a local shopkeeper or restaurant owner that you swear you’ll return. These promises often fall by the wayside, so this is #10: to check in on friends — or at least people you haven’t forgotten — if only to let them know you haven’t forgotten them. This is an excellent reason to revisit a destination. It may mean even more to them than it means to you.

Have more reasons for revisiting a destination? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.

Photo by Annie Scott on the (temporary) Liverpool Wheel.

10 reasons to choose the cheaper hotel


Top 10 reasons to choose the cheaper hotel

So. You’ve got your upcoming trip narrowed down to a handful of hotels. Do you reward yourself with the loveliest luxury hotel you can afford, or do you quietly, triumphantly select the cheaper hotel?

The quandary itself can feel like a moral dilemma. Websites are designed, whether intentionally or not, to encourage you to buy spendier things. You, the frugal shopper, click “List by Price – Ascending” and immediately assume that the first couple of options listed are below any discerning human being’s taste level. For heaven’s sake, some of them don’t even include photos. Sound familiar? Well, stop right there and check in with what you already know: more expensive does not always mean better quality, and it certainly doesn’t always mean better value for your dollar.

Before you go shelling out for your top or mid-range options, consider why you were shopping online in the first place: to get a good deal. As for that lack of photos, there can be any number of reasons a hotel booking company doesn’t host the cheapest hotels’ photographs (“the hotel didn’t pay to have them hosted” is one of the most common), and you can certainly find photos of it on Flickr or TripAdvisor.

Even if you are looking for luxury, it’s a mistake to assume that the most expensive hotel is going to be the best experience. Here are the 10 reasons to choose the cheaper hotel:

1. You can get a better room.

Do you want the tiniest room in the fanciest hotel, or a fabulous suite in a less expensive hotel? Think about it.2. You’re not going to spend that much time there.

Depending on what kind of trip you’re taking, the hotel may just be a place to sleep. Of course you want it to be clean, but do you need twice daily turndowns and personal butler service just to store your clothes, crash there at night and shower in the morning? Consider.

3. It might be a discounted rate.

As mentioned above, you’re looking for a deal. The less expensive hotels on your list may simply be offering a discount — and normally, they’d be the very most expensive.

4. Location, location, location.

Before assuming that the most expensive hotel is the best hotel for you, look at the location. It may turn out that you wanted a beach vacation, and the more expensive hotels you were considering are located downtown in the business district. Furthermore, cool, up-and-coming neighborhoods often have up-and-coming hotels which haven’t earned the right to overcharge you yet (but one day, they will, fear not).

5. You will never use that gym and you know it.

The pricier options may also feature amenities you just don’t need, like a gym or a 24-hour concierge. If you weren’t going to use those things and they make one hotel more expensive than the other … you get the idea.

6. Airfare.

Airfare is more expensive than ever, and if you can lower the cost of your hotel, you may have a little more room in your budget to keep you off that rock-bottom, all-infant-red-eye flight.

7. Breakfast.

It’s a well-known fact that the more expensive your hotel is, the more ridiculously they will charge you for coffee and a couple of eggs. Unless breakfast is included, you can pretty much assume it will cost you as much as a reasonable dinner at home at an ultra-luxe hotel. Cheaper hotels tend to have cheaper breakfasts.

8. Some places are just plain overpriced.

The most expensive hotels on your list may simply not be worth it. Big-name hotels, for example, can often charge more than a boutique hotel can, even though the boutique hotel offers more personalized service and authentic amenities and experiences. It takes a little time to investigate, but the cheapest hotel on your list may actually be the nicest.

9. Because you don’t have to spend your whole vacation budget.

And, the least expensive hotel on your short list may be the most expensive hotel on someone else’s.

10. Beer money.

Or wine money, cigar money, whatever your pleasure.

Photo by Annie Scott.

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Top 10 reasons that Top 10 lists suck

top 10 listsThe Top 10 list is as prominent in most bloggers’ toolboxes as hammers are in carpenters’, um, toolboxes. Bloggers love to compile lists. Readers love to judge, debate and share those lists. In theory, everybody wins. However, if you’re a fan of travel writing – or any writing, for that matter – the Top 10 list is the embodiment of the death of narrative. Sure, Top 10 lists can entertain readers, share information and convey feelings, but too much of a good thing can be bad. Travel blogger Michael Hodson (aka @mobilelawyer) decided to take on Top 10 lists in a recent post on his blog, Go, See, Write.Hodson points out that “No one even bothers to do them right – A Top 10 lists should be a countdown from 10 to 1.” Well, he has a point there. We should be celebrating number 1. We’ve been guilty of that mistake here at Gadling. Heck, we’re guilty of using top 10 lists often here on the site. Why? Because we think that we have ideas to share. So, while Hodson claims that “Every good Top 10 has been done,” I must respectfully disagree.

I think every bad Top 10 list has been done several times over. I also think that many bloggers use the Top 10 list as a crutch to hide poor writing skills, muddled ideas and laziness. However, I think that Top 10 lists can be helpful. But, as Peter Parker’s uncle once noted, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Top 10 lists written purely for the sake of shock value or to generate some page views are a disservice to readers. Top 10 lists that are well thought out, promote discussion and truly share useful information have a place in the travel blog world. And, yes, so do Top 10 lists that are just plain hilarious.

Hodson’s post is worth a read and should give travel bloggers pause before they write their next Top 10 list.

Photo by Flickr user sam_churchill.