10 Destinations That Are More (and Less) Dangerous Than You Think

man looks at board of flight times

Before you pick a vacation spot, consider the travel safety first. | iStock.com

Planning a vacation? The last thing you want to do is choose a travel destination that will make you feel unsafe. So you probably avoid booking your family vacations to the most dangerous cities in the world. And you probably judge travel safety not only by the data, but also by your perceptions, which might not be as accurate as you think. Many cities around the world are actually more dangerous than you think. And others are less dangerous than their reputations might have you believe.

To figure out which ones are which, Stratos Jet Charters surveyed 2,000 people. The company asked these people how dangerous they thought 30 cities around the world really are. Then, Stratos compared those perceptions to crime data. The results might surprise you. Read on to check out five travel locations that are more dangerous than you might assume and five that are significantly less dangerous than you’ve been led to believe.

1. Johannesburg, South Africa

View of sunset in Johanesburg, South Africa

Crime rates make Johannesburg a more dangerous travel destination than you’d think. | iStock.com/Thissatan

Johannesburg earned a perceived danger score of 2.49 out of 5 from survey respondents. But this major South African city is more dangerous than you think. Johannesburg actually sees 30.31 murders per 100,000 residents. Lonely Planet reports Johannesburg is rapidly changing “after almost 20 years of decline and decay.” That still doesn’t sound promising if you want a worry-free vacation. And you’ll likely see clear signs of the wealth divide and prevalence of poverty and crime if you visit. But the city does have a lot to offer, especially if you stay observant.

Smarter Travel notes though Johannesburg has a higher-than-average crime rate, you can avoid most problems by staying aware of your surroundings. For instance, you shouldn’t walk around at night. Instead, call a taxi to get to your destination. Another piece of advice to keep in mind: “Walk around with your head held high, and in general, avoid people who come up to you trying to sell you something,” according to Smarter Travel.

2. Tijuana, Mexico

Monumental Arch, Tijuana, Mexico

Many travelers feel safer in New Orleans than Tijuana. But both destinations are more dangerous than you might assume. | iStock.com/f8grapher

Tijuana, Mexico, earned a perceived danger score of 3.12 out of 5. But this border city is a more dangerous travel destination than you assume. The city has a murder rate of 39.09 per 100,000 residents. Stratos notes nearly 94% of travelers surveyed feel safer traveling to New Orleans (a city you’ll read more about in the coming pages) than to Tijuana. But New Orleans has one of the highest murder rates per capita in the U.S. — higher than Tijuana’s rate.

So why do people find Tijuana so much scarier? Stratos has a theory: “Mexico is notorious for its drug cartels constantly making headlines, which may strike a sense of doubt in the average wanderer looking for a scene with a vibrant nightlife. The reality is tourists are rarely ever the targets of crimes beyond petty theft.” Similarly, Thrillist notes, “The biggest thing you have to worry about in Tijuana is being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of good times to be had if you know what you’re doing.”

3. Kingston, Jamaica

Kingston, Jamaica, at sunset

Although it’s Jamaica’s capital and cultural center, Kingston isn’t quite as safe as you imagine. | iStock.com/BenHettrick

Kingston, Jamaica, earned a perceived danger score of 2.43 out of 5. But a murder rate of 41.14 murders per 100,000 residents makes the Jamaican capital city a more dangerous travel destination than you’d think. Smarter Travel notes Kingston, as Jamaica’s largest city and cultural center, is well worth a visit. But you should be aware of a few caveats. Tourists should avoid an area called Spanish Town. The city is divided into two sections: uptown and downtown. You should only go downtown with a local resident. And, like many cities, Kingston has issues with prostitution and theft. You shouldn’t leave your car unlocked or leave any valuables in your vehicle.

Nonetheless, Lonely Planet reports that both halves of Kingston are impressive to see. “Downtown is home to historic buildings, the courts, banks, street markets and one of the Caribbean’s greatest art museums,” it says. And on the other hand, “Uptown holds the city’s best hotels and restaurants, largely confined to New Kingston, with its cluster of tall buildings around Emancipation Park.”

4. New Orleans, United States

New Orleans, LA, USA

Crime rates make New Orleans more dangerous than you probably think. | iStock.com/Sean Pavone

New Orleans earned a perceived danger score of just 1.96 out of 5. But the Louisiana city sees 41.44 murders per 100,000 residents. That makes it a more dangerous travel destination than many travelers assume. Stratos says New Orleans’ status as a more dangerous city numbers among “the more shocking findings from our survey.” Most people head to New Orleans to check out the French Quarter and celebrate Mardi Gras. But Stratos notes these travelers “show no fear” of the relatively high crime rate. (Perhaps they wouldn’t be partying with such abandon if they knew those numbers.)

Nonetheless, a vacation in New Orleans can make a trip of a lifetime. Travel + Leisure reports New Orleans is a city “that has been marinated in its own traditions for centuries, the French, Spanish, African, and American influences all apparent in the fabric of everyday life here.” And Thrillist characterizes New Orleans as “America’s most European city and its most Caribbean city,” with food, bars, music, and parties you don’t want to miss.

5. Detroit, United States

Detroit skyline during the evening

Planning to visit Detroit? Know it’s a more dangerous destination than you probably assume. | iStock.com/Steven_Kriemadis

Detroit earned a perceived danger score of 2.82 out of 5. But the city has a murder rate of 43.89 murders per 100,000 residents. That makes it a more dangerous travel destination than you think. Detroit ranks among the most dangerous cities in the United States. That means it’s probably not an ideal vacation destination. But as Stratos notes, Detroit is working to transform itself into an iconic destination again.

In fact, Travel + Leisure recently named Detroit as one of the best places to travel, noting the impressive way that “formerly desolate stretches of the riverfront, city streets, and buildings have been resurrected for locals and visitors alike.” New hotels, restaurants, parks, and shopping destinations have sprung up in “America’s Great Comeback City.” And The New York Times reports, “Considered a food desert not so long ago, Detroit is now a culinary oasis.”

Next up are five travel spots that are less dangerous than you might think.

6. Mexico City, Mexico

Scenic view at Basilica of Guadalupe

We have some good news, too. Mexico City is less dangerous than most travelers assume. | iStock.com/MartinM303

Mexico City earned a perceived danger score of 2.85 out of 5. But the most densely populated city in Mexico is actually less dangerous than you think. The city has a murder rate of just 8 murders per 100,000 residents. Stratos notes Mexico City earned the title of Mexico’s most populated city and ranks among the most populous cities in the world. But because the capital city has done a good job of cleaning up its act and distancing itself from drug activity, Mexico City “has become a haven for natives and travelers alike.”

Stratos reports when it comes to travelers’ perceptions, many people think cities are inherently dangerous places. But frequent fliers gave the average city a safety score of 3.13 — meaning they perceived populated cities as safe zones. On the other hand, infrequent travelers gave the average city a safety score of 2.98. “Although the difference seems minor, the results acknowledge a gradual increase in safety score based on how well-traveled a person is. This shows that what we perceive is what we believe,” Stratos notes.

7. Istanbul, Turkey

City of Istanbul

Want to see both Europe and Asia? Visit Istanbul. The city is less dangerous than you think it is. | iStock.com/rognar 

Istanbul earned a perceived danger score of 2.61 out of 5. But this iconic Turkish city has a murder rate of just 4.7 murders per 100,000 residents. That means Istanbul is actually less dangerous than you think. Turkey might have topped the list of the most dangerous countries to vacation in. But you don’t have much to fear in Istanbul itself. And this city is well worth the trip — if only because, as Travel + Leisure points out, it’s the only city in the world that’s in both Europe and Asia.

Istanbul also famously straddles the divide between the ancient and modern worlds. “Today the cultural and financial center of Turkey, Istanbul has been the capital of three empires—Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman,” Travel + Leisure explains. The best way to explore Istanbul, according to the publication, is to “allow for unscheduled wandering in between visits to historical sites and museums.” And Lonely Planet notes you don’t want to miss the tea gardens, coffee houses, taverns, and restaurants, in addition to the stunning architecture, museums, and festivals.

8. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

View of Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, is a can’t-miss destination — one with lower crime rates than you assume. | iStock.com/szefei 

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, earned a perceived danger score of 1.86 out of 5. That doesn’t sound so bad. But this Malaysian city is probably even less dangerous than you think. The Malaysian capital city has a murder rate of just 4.4 murders per 100,000 residents. Time calls the city “Malaysia’s green capital,” noting that “monkeys scamper close to skyscrapers and the occasional boa constrictor slithers across six-lane traffic.” That definitely sounds like a destination you don’t want to miss.

Lonely Planet explains despite the “frenetic” pace of life in Kuala Lumpur, the city “has an uncanny way of charming its visitors.” You can admire colonial architecture, modern skyscrapers, and lush parks. Plus, you can visit the mosques and temples of the city’s Malay, Chinese, and Indian communities. And you can feast on diverse food at small stalls and coffee shops that help Kuala Lumpur “retain the laid-back ambience and jungle lushness of the kampung (village) it once was.”

9. Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

In Bangkok, violent crime is rare. | iStock.com/SeanPavonePhoto

Bangkok earned a perceived danger score of 2.39 out of 5. But Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, has a murder rate of just 4 murders per 100,000 residents. That makes it a less dangerous travel destination than you’d probably assume. Smarter Travel notes though violent crime is rare, you might run into scams in the transportation industry. You can lose money if you aren’t careful when booking a tuk-tuk or taxi. And as in most places, you should either keep an eye on your valuables or leave them at home to avoid any problems with theft.

But for the most part, Bangkok is a safe travel destination for culture, food, and beautiful scenery. Travel + Leisure reports the key to getting the most out of a visit to Bangkok is to be willing “to get a little lost in the city.” Bangkok presents a “frenetic jigsaw puzzle of towering skyscrapers, colorful taxicabs, motorcycle taxis, and busy pedestrians.” You can see historical monuments, visit religious sites, relax at a spa, check out a gallery, and, of course, eat and shop.

10. Singapore

Singapore cityscape

The gorgeous island city-state of Singapore boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the world. | iStock.com/AhLamb

Singapore earned a perceived danger score of 2 out of 5. But the country has a murder rate of just 0.30 murders per 100,000 residents. That means it’s a significantly less dangerous travel destination than you’d think. In fact, Stratos points out Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. That might run counter to your expectations. But you’ll be happy to learn Singapore remains relatively free of civil unrest, political instability, terrorism threats, and violent crime.

Travel + Leisure reports Singapore is a popular introduction to Southeast Asia for many travelers. But the publication advises, “Whether you’re stopping in Singapore en route to other parts of Asia or are making it the only stop on your journey, you’ll be greatly rewarded if you delve beneath the city’s spotless surface and get to know the real Singapore.” Museums, gardens, dining, and shopping all provide a window into this island city-state. And Lonely Planet reports rainforest, wetlands, farms, temples, markets, and vibrant streets are all sights you can see in this gorgeous destination.