Although international borders themselves aren’t very thick, they often outline the boundaries of security for whole nations in our minds. Typically, entire countries aren’t dangerous but once they’re associated with the word, booking a trip to one of them doesn’t seem like a sane decision. For those of you who enjoy adventure without risking your life, these are the regions I’ve traveled to that you can carefully visit, in countries that have an unsafe reputation.
Socotra Island, Yemen
I’ve written quite a bit about Socotra Island, because if there’s any reason to travel to Yemen, this archipelago is it. Socotra is technically a part of Yemen but it’s nearly 300 kilometers (~190 miles) off the mainland’s coast. There’s so little crime on Socotra that it doesn’t even have a police force. Despite this, due to its nominal connection to Yemen, Socotra remains one of the most neglected tourist destinations in the world.
Actually this advice goes for much of western Ukraine, which is unaffected by the conflict in Donetsk and other eastern regions. Here’s the longer version to the question: is it safe to travel to Kiev right now but in short, outside of the capital city’s Maidan, you’ll see life has returned much to normal.
Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Iraq
Despite their proximity to Syria and territory captured by ISIS, these heavily fortified cities have stayed protected within the areas controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Both cities have international airports but before you go read more about safety in northern Iraq, what it’s like to travel there, and this digital pocket guide to traveling in Iraq.
Most Places South Of The Border, Mexico
Mexico is a country whose economy is booming and crime rate is falling in areas tourists are most likely to visit; though maintains a reputation of lawlessness. Much of this has to do with a series of highly publicized kidnappings as well as the murder of 43 students in 2014. A large percentage of these crimes are related to local drug trafficking, away from tourist areas so you can discover the ciudad under Mexico City and swim in enchanted cenotes without fear.
The political turmoil in Egypt has crippled the country’s tourism industry. You may be weary of visiting Cairo but the biggest worry anyone has in the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada is whether there’s a good wind for surfing that day. (The answer is usually, yes.) Turkish Airlines has direct flights from Istanbul to this paradise town that might not look anything like you imagine when Egypt comes to mind.
Texas, United States
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United States has a homicide rate on par with Yemen. The high murder rate in Yemen and the United States shouldn’t be entirely surprising as those two countries have the first and third highest gun ownership rates per capita in the world. The surprising part is that a quarter of America’s 20 safest cities are located in the Lone Star State known for its cowboy culture.
You Can’t Put A Border Around Safe
Just as you can’t put an imaginary line around dangerous, the same is true of safe. Although both the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan and Somaliland in the horn of Africa are considered safe, they’re not ideal places for inexperienced or unprepared travelers. Sometimes it’s best to cancel your travel plans because of unfolding circumstances in places that were safe or take a look back at somewhere like Sarajevo whose recent history might be keeping you away needlessly.
What are some of the safest places in “dangerous” countries you’ve visited? I’m curious to hear your comments below!
Although there isn’t a lot to see at from the back entrance of the United States Air Force’s not-so-secret military installation Area 51, it’s one of the many stops along the Extraterrestrial Highway that makes for fun photos. Point your lens in the wrong direction however and it could affect your life for years to come, starting with one very bad day.
There Are No Accidents
You could easy drive down Nevada State Route 375 (also known as the Extraterrestrial Highway) completely unaware of your proximity to Area 51. There’s no chance of you accidentally driving up or on to restricted government land because unsurprisingly, this covert base isn’t the easiest place to find.
Let’s be clear – you can’t really visit Area 51 – which covers nearly 1,500 square kilometers (~932 square miles) around Groom Lake. There are two entry points on to the restricted area, the main gate and the back gate entrances, which are located on desert roads cutting the Nevada sands several kilometers off State Route 375.
Those two gates are as far as you’ll get but it’s also where many people get into trouble every year. You don’t want to be one of them.
Advice From A Little Ale Inn
Extremely remote, most of the things worth seeing along the Extraterrestrial Highway stand out. Keep your eyes open for the Black Mailbox, which has become something of a pilgrimage stop for science fiction fans and UFO hunters. Next, halfway on State Route 375 is the town of Rachel, Nevada, the only one anywhere close.
- Gas Up Before The E.T. Highway – There isn’t a petrol station within 161km, roughly 100 miles of Rachel.
This Is What Happens If You Break The Rules
Little Ale Inn staff will tell you stories of the small but significant number of idiots who decide to not take top secret air bases seriously. Crossing in to Area 51 anywhere beyond the gate could seem innocent enough, especially since it’s in the middle of the desert, there isn’t a fence, and the gate isn’t manned. Violating the perimeter however means agents will detain you face down at at gunpoint, until the local sheriff picks you up, which usually takes a few hours.
In the meantime your vehicle is taken to a holding facility a two hour drive north but you’re sent to jail an hour south. Lots of forms will be filled out. As if this wasn’t bad enough, you’re also placed on the United States terror watch list, meaning you might not be allowed to fly, even though your pockets will be much, much lighter. The fines can total thousands of dollars.
When you hear all of this, it can be intimidating to head toward the gates at all. Keep in mind that there really is no way to unintentionally drive on to the base despite rolling over a lot of empty desert road before getting to the gates. You’re not going to haphazardly stumble upon an alien having tea with Barack Obama in front of a warp drive without some real (foolish) effort.
The Signs To Heed (Others You Don’t)
The gates of Area 51 denote government property, don’t pass, go beyond, or step around them. You will spotted by cameras (or that suspicious vulture that followed me the entire time) and picked up by someone before you get to the main highway. A few other guidelines:
- White Vans – There might be vehicles around the gates, keeping an eye on you. Do not photograph them.
- No Photos But You Can Take Photos – The signs that say photography is not allowed, mean for those who are actually in Area 51. You are on public land so you can take pictures of the gate all you want, keeping the rule above in mind.
One thing you are free to do however is to conjure up all of the conspiracy theories you like. Still, I wouldn’t necessarily do it right outside the gates of Area 51, hanging around too long just feels creepy, even if you do take the advice above.
In the middle of the Arabian Sea off the coast of Somalia’s pirate waters, is the Yemeni archipelago Socotra. Of its 4 islands, the main Socotra island is one of the most remote, visually stunning, culturally intriguing, and least visited places on Earth.
You might be wondering is it safe to visit Yemen – and while that’s a bigger question – the answer for Socotra is a flat yes. Socotra isn’t the easiest place to get to but a few irregular flights don’t correlate with an expensive trip. Being Yemeni territory and the nominal connection to the mainland has hurt a Socotran tourism industry that’s never properly gotten off the ground. Only 4,000 tourists visited in 2011 which means many of the world’s travelers are missing one of the best reasons to visit Yemen.
If there were a mascot for Socotra, it would be the dragon blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari). Throughout Socotra’s interior, dragon blood trees grow all over sharp cliffs and rolling hills. Their “blood”, red resin from the tree, is used locally to cure a number of medical problems – remedies famous even to the ancient Greeks.
The pink flower of a bottle tree (Dendrosicyos) – one of three hundred species of plant that can only be found here.
A grown bottle tree, about 2.5 meters tall (~8.2 feet). They begin flowering when they’re quite short so I didn’t have to climb this one to get a nice flower closeup.
Meals in Socotra are a simple matter eaten with hands, preferably under shade, and often in the company of good conversation. Though unlike a good raki night, there’s no alcohol around. Socotris are strict Muslims.
Although Socotra is a part of Yemen, Socotris have a distinct culture set apart from the blend of African, Indian, and Arab influences surrounding it.
Not technically required, visiting Socotra without a guide you’ll likely end up missing local hiking trails, plants that only grow in one square half-kilometer in the universe, as well as hidden pools to cool off during the hot days. Annual temperatures average in the high 20s Celsius (mid-80s Fahrenheit) with humidity 70% or higher.
For a guide, I can highly recommend Saaber Aamer, pictured above (email: firstname.lastname@example.org tel: 00967-771-969-576).
The remnants of ancient lava flows roughly 5 million years old in Socotra, which is located between the Arabian and African tectonic plates.
As you can imagine, fish is a staple food on Socotra.
There aren’t a lot of people in Socotra and only one settlement you could call a city, is the capitol (called Hadibo) near the airport. Everywhere else there are tiny town, where there’s not a lot going on. Most Socotris live in the countryside.
The way to make a living is by fishing or through tourism.
Workers at Socotra’s only harbor.
There couldn’t be a more nondescript plant on Socotra but the healing powers of its sap are known to locals; put on cuts it has a mild pain relieving effect.
These aloe perryi plants might be one of the reasons Alexander the Great wanted to conquer Socotra 2,400 years ago.
Although Hurghada, Egypt is one of the best places I’ve snorkeled in the world, Socotra is a close second. The fish don’t expect to see humans which gives you the opportunity to see a lot of curious sea life up close.
An endangered Egyptian vulture takes a break from the heat. There are only an estimated 21,000 mature adults left in the world and the population of Egyptian vultures has fallen by half over the last decade.
A large lake I’m told you can climb down into for a better look. I’m still not convinced it’s feasible.
Sand with pockmarks from a light rain shower along a beach where the water comes up only to your ankles 5oo meters inland.
The most remarkable part of Socotra is how much it makes you feel like you’re on the edge of Earth, far from problems and Internet connections in a little explored piece of the world.
Eventually the tourists will come, inevitably changing what Socotris themselves want to preserve about what makes Socotra so special. Socotra is definitely one unexpected travel destination you should visit before it becomes a hit – but if you still aren’t convinced – you can take a look at more of my pictures from Socotra and around Yemen here.
I first met Romain Carre when I was traveling in eastern Ukraine, back in April right before civil war broke out in Donetsk. It’s a lot easier for a travel blogger like myself to stay conspicuous with this small camera in my hands but for professionals like Romain, photographing times of turmoil is much more dangerous. In Romain’s own words,
Born in Paris in 1983 I was first was into computers from the age of 10 and changed direction at 20. After different orientations (such as art school, medical school and faculty of history) I decided to orient myself on the field of photojournalism. During five years I’ve covered different fields such as Turkey, Greece, Tunisia, Libya, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and others, mainly focusing on conflict fields. You can see some of my photography from these places on my site, RomainCarre.com.
Leave your questions for Romain in the comments below, he’ll be by later today to answer anything you want to know!
Romain’s work has been published in Al Jazeera, ParisMatch, VSD, Time, Elle, Le Figaro, Le Monde, le Parisien, Vesti Reporter, and FranceTv – he’s also worked for WostokPress and Sipa Agency. He’s currently in Kiev, Ukraine and will be here live chatting for two hours, from 12pm-2pm US EST to answer any and all questions you have about photographing conflict zones – all in the comments below!