The Allure: Dip your toes into the confluence of the Blue Nile and White Nile, choose one hump or two at the camel market in Khartoum, and visit the Meroë pyramids.
The Warning: The ongoing slaughter and starvation in Darfur and the recent indictment of Sudan’s president for war crimes give a clue to what you can expect here. In January 2008, two American Embassy employees were assassinated while driving in Khartoum. In recent years, Americans and Europeans have been victims of robberies and carjackings. The State Department warns against all travel to Sudan.
Go or No? Seriously?(Nevertheless, all the danger isn’t stopping Raidan Travel & Tours in Omdurman from operating.)
The Warning: As a result of the five-day war following Russia’s invasion in August 2008, numerous unexploded shells remain in the former war zone around Gori. U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to the separatist region of South Ossetia and to remain in close contact with the U.S. Embassy. Political demonstrations are potentially violent.
Go or No? If Russian-Georgian relations improve (or at least if Russian tanks aren’t gunning their engines at the border), a trip is definitely an option. To go, contact Georgica Travel, a Tbilisi-based tour operator.
The Allure: Sightseeing highlights include the ancient temples of Baalbek, the eighth-century Umayyad ruins of Anjar, and the wineries in the Bekáa Valley.
The Warning: Lebanon occupies the hot seat between Israel and Syria, and the State Department urges Americans to avoid all travel here. Hezbollah militants stage frequent roadblocks, and violence in Tripoli has claimed more than 30 lives since August 2008. Al-Qaeda is present in the country. Land mines and unexploded ordnance are rife in the south. The U.S. Embassy can’t promise you assistance if you need to be evacuated.
Go or No? Beirut’s comeback as the Paris of the Middle East was crippled by the 2006 war with Israel. We’ll postpone a visit until it once again becomes a safe, cosmopolitan destination, along with the rest of the country. If you feel differently, though, you can go with the Beirut company Wild Discovery.
The Allure: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) will let you visit the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery, the Monument to Party Foundation, and the captured USS Pueblo (though plenty of spots are, of course, off-limits). Plus, you can sleep in the traditional style (on the floor) at Kaesong’s Folk Hotel.
The Warning: Travelers enter and return via China, so two visas are required. Crime is rare, but that doesn’t mean you’re free to do as you choose. Foreigners’ movements and conversations are monitored, particularly for religious and political activity, and there’s no U.S. diplomatic presence. The DPRK is not on the State Department warning list, but the U.S. has imposed trade sanctions.
AP Photo/Mohmoud Tawil
The Allure: Syria has one of the most important mosques in Islam, the Umayyad Mosque. You can also visit bedouin camps in the desert and Roman ruins at the Palmyra oasis.
The Warning: For more than 30 years, the United States has labeled Syria a state sponsor of terrorism. The past decade alone has seen car bombs, assassinations, an attack on the U.S. Embassy, and violent anti-Western demonstrations.
Go or No? Not for the foreseeable future. Yet those with a sense of adventure can travel with Damascus-based Nawafir Travel & Tours.
Barbara Davidson/Dallas Morning News/Corbis
The Allure: Visit the old city of Sana’a, the capital—a UNESCO World Heritage site—then head out to see bizarre and beautiful flora on the offshore island of Socotra. Elsewhere, you’ll find palaces and vineyards.
The Warning: The State Department recommends that American citizens defer nonessential travel to Yemen. The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a was attacked in September 2008, leaving an embassy guard dead. A convoy of tourists was attacked in January 2008 by suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists; two Belgian travelers were killed. The security threat level in Yemen is high.
Go or No? This will not be the Year of the Tourist in Yemen—you should probably stay away. But if you’re lured by the forbidden, contact Shibam Tours in Sana’a.
The Allure: Travel the ancient Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand. Go on camel treks in the desert and visit historic mosques.
The Warning: The State Department urges caution when traveling here because of a perceived potential for terrorist attacks or localized civil disturbances. However, there has been no such violence since May 2005.
Go or No? Using common sense and a lot of pre-trip research (including updates at travel.state.gov), a smart traveler should be able to visit the ancient sites of Uzbekistan with minimum risk. Contact Sitara International in Tashkent.
AP Photo/Vahid Salemi
The Allure: From museums in Tehran to historic mosques and palaces in Esfahan, the ancient ruins of Persepolis and eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, there are plenty of reasons to visit.
The Warning: Compared with other safety cautions, the State Department’s warning for Iran seems tepid. “U.S. citizens [should] carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran.” The warning specifically mentions Americans of Iranian origin, who may be “targeted by authorities.” The United States has no embassy in Iran, but the Swiss Embassy in Tehran has a “U.S. Interests Section.”
Go or No? Violence is possible in areas where local ethnic groups have been oppressed, but Americans who avoid those areas (and any anti-U.S. protests) should have no trouble. Contact Arg-e-Jadid Travel Co. in Tehran.
The Allure: Top attractions include cave paintings in Tassili n’Ajjer National Park in the Sahara; camel trekking; the well-preserved Roman ruins of Djemila, Timgad, and Tipasa; and the crumbling Casbah, or old city, of Algiers.
The Warning: The State Department restricts the movement of embassy personnel in Algeria because of suicide car-bomb attacks, kidnappings, and assassinations aimed at foreigners. U.S. citizens who travel there should follow “prudent security practices” such as maintaining a low profile and “avoiding predictable travel patterns.”
Go or No? Come with me to the Casbah?Not this year. But if you insist, contact Touareg Voyages in Tamanrasset.
The Allure: Tombs, historic teahouses, ancient market towns, and the country’s first national park are all worth your time. Afghanistan’s director of tourism (yes, that’s right) says many of the country’s old castles and archaeological sites will one day be repaired and open to visitors.
The Warning: Americans are strongly warned against travel to Afghanistan. Much of the nation is a war zone. Foreigners are key targets for kidnappings and terrorist attacks. “Carjackings, robberies, and violent crime remain a problem,” says the State Department travel warning.
Go or No? When peace comes, Afghanistan’s director of tourism may find himself busy. But not yet. In the meantime, hard-core adventurers can contact Pamir Travel in Fremont, CA.