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Are These 7 Exotic Vacation Destinations Safer than the U.S.?

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul
The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Traveling to exotic locales can seem intimidating -- and a foremost concern in the minds of many is safety. Even accessible and familiar destinations can be more dangerous than we realize, as we showed recently when we shared 9 popular tourist destinations with surprisingly high murder rates. But we were also shocked to find that the some destinations were far safer than we expected -- at least when it comes to homicide. The following seven spots actually have lower murder rates than the U.S., where the annual murder rate is 5.4 people per 100,000, according to the most recent statistics published by the World Health Organization

There may be other safety concerns for these destinations not related to typical crime, such as terrorist activity, and we'll note that as relevant. In 2014, nearly 18,000 people died in 561 terrorist attacks around the world, according to the U.S. Department of State. Keep in mind, though, that according to the same report, more than 60 percent of all attacks took place in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Nigeria, and 78 percent of all fatalities. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention there are over 33,000 annual firearm deaths in the U.S., which helps put those numbers in perspective a bit. 

Assessing the safety of a potential vacation destination isn't always straightforward, but for many of us, the assumptions we make about which places are "safe" and which aren't might deserve closer scrutiny. 

7. Cuba

Murder Rate: 5 people per 100,000

Why People Go: Excellent music, tasty traditional food, interesting colonial architecture, cool classic cars, beautiful beaches, and fascinating history 

Why You Shouldn't Worry: "The security environment in Cuba is relatively stable and characterized by a strong military and police presence throughout the country. Demonstrations against the United States are less frequent and smaller than in past years. They are always approved and monitored by the Cuban government and have been peaceful in nature," according to the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Why Maybe You Should: "U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba should be aware that the Cuban government may detain anyone at any time for any purpose, and should not expect that Cuba’s state security or judicial systems will carry out their responsibilities according to international norms," the State Department writes.

6. India

Courtesy of Yann, Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Yann, Wikimedia Commons

Murder Rate: 4.3 people per 100,000

Why People Go: Diverse natural landscapes, from massive mountains to stunning beaches, the Taj Mahal, vibrant festivals, great food (including cheap street eats), interesting historic attractions dating to the Mughal Empire and British Colonial times, and a chance to witness the chaos of some of the world's most populous cities  

Why You Shouldn't Worry: "Violent crime, especially directed against foreigners, has traditionally been uncommon, although in recent years there has been a modest increase," according to the U.S. State Department.

Why Maybe You Should: "India continues to experience terrorist and insurgent activities which may affect U.S. citizens directly or indirectly. Anti-Western terrorist groups, some on the U.S. government's list of foreign terrorist organizations, are active in India, including Islamist extremist groups such as Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami, Harakat ul-Mujahidin, Indian Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Lashkar-e Tayyiba," the State Department writes.

5. Sri Lanka

Murder Rate: 3.8 people per 100,000

Why People Go: Colonial-era plantations that are open for tours, beautiful temples, peaceful beaches, ancient city of Anuradhapura (a sacred Buddhist site), surfing, lush rain forest, and outdoor adventures such as white-water rafting 

Why You Shouldn't Worry: "Most violent crime occurs within the local community," according to the U.S. State Department

Why Maybe You Should: "However, reports of violent crime, sexual assaults and harassment directed at foreigners have been increasing in recent months. Police response to assist victims can vary from a few minutes to hours, even in the tourist areas, and particularly in remote areas," the State Department writes

4. Turkey

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

Murder Rate: 2.7 people per 100,000

Why People Go: Fascinating cultural fusion of East and West, Istanbul's jaw-dropping monuments (including the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace), the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, luxury beach resorts along the Aegean coast, renowned rugs, Whirling Dervishes, and famous Turkish hospitality 

Why You Shouldn't Worry: "The rate of street crime remains relatively low in Turkey," according to the U.S. State Department

Why Maybe You Should: "Due to a record of past terrorist attacks in Turkey and a continuing threat from both transnational and indigenous groups, the threat level for the possibility of further terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests remains critical," the State Department writes

3. Morocco

Murder Rate: 2.5 people per 100,000

Why People Go: Maze-like, walled medinas in cities such as Marrakech, historic palaces, Berber villages in the Atlas Mountains, camel rides on the Sahara Desert, and attractive coastal towns such as Essaouira

Why You Shouldn't Worry: "Generally, crime does not pose a significant threat to Americans in Morocco, though the threat is greater in urban and tourist areas," according to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). 

Why Maybe You Should: "Aggressive panhandling, pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, theft from occupied vehicles stopped in traffic, and harassment of women are the most frequently reported issues.  Criminals have used weapons, primarily knives, during some street robberies and burglaries," the State Department writes on travel.state.gov

2. Cambodia

Murder Rate: 2.4 people per 100,000

Why People Go: Incredible ancient temples in Angkor, rich Khmer culture and traditional dance shows, lively nightlife and night market in Siem Reap, jungle and waterfall expeditions, beaches in Sihanoukville, and friendly locals

Why You Shouldn't Worry: "Cultural and personal ties between the United States and Cambodia are strong and growing, and there is very little evidence of anti-American sentiment," according to OSAC

Why Maybe You Should: "Cambodia has a high crime rate, including street crime. Military weapons and explosives are readily available to criminals despite authorities’ efforts to collect and destroy such weapons. Armed robberies occur frequently, and foreign residents and visitors, including U.S. citizens, are among the victims," the State Department writes

1. Israel

Murder Rate: 2.1 people per 100,000

Why People Go: Ancient holy sites, Crusader-era ruins, beautiful Mediterranean beaches, hopping, trendy bars, and the Old City in Jerusalem 

Why You Shouldn't Worry: "Cities throughout Israel generally tend to experience lower rates of violent crime in comparison to most similarly-sized metropolitan cities in the U.S.," according to OSAC

Why Maybe You Should: "Travelers should be aware of the potential for military conflict between Israel and foreign terrorist organizations like Hamas. Such attacks can occur with little or no warning," the travel warning from travel.state.gov says. 

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