Depending on where you stand, this is either the last travel list of 2013 -- or your first one for 2014! Every week, in the course of book signing engagements, travel talks or media interviews, I always, and I mean always get asked, "Where are you traveling to next?" Well, mum is usually the word for me, but IMHO, here is the short list of 2014 Go and No-Go destinations for serious travelers looking for authentic, challenging and participatory adventures. But remember, no matter where you go. it is always better than not going anywhere.
Here's the fun one to read: My 2014 No-Go List. Forget all those hyper-sensitive (and highly-politicalized) state department travel advisories, warnings and bulletins. And remember, those annual insurance company risk assessment lists are only trying to save payouts on K&R (kidnapping & ransom) insurance policies. Heck, the world is a 95-percent conflict-free zone! So, aside from the middle seat on a long-haul flight, here would be my 2014 No-Go List of destinations.
Obviously you have: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Central African Republic, Sudan, Congo and Somalia.
1. Mauritania: The slave capital of the world. Yea, slavery! An estimated four percent of the population are bonafide slaves. Then there is the sand, the nasty nomads, land mines, the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Adrar "red zone" region and indiscriminate attacks on everything foreign. Other than that it's beautiful!
Sadly, the whole Sahel region stretching from west Africa to east Africa has become the world's last remaining lawless pocket of resistance: Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia. You could say they are in transition between modernity and medieval times, between the Arab/Berber Muslim north and black African/Christian south. Terrorism, arms trafficking, khat smuggling, slavery and a "nasty, brutish and short" life awaits the 50 million people living here in what may be the poorest place on the planet!
2. Saudi Arabia.: Not that you could actually get in as a tourists -- no spiritual pollution here allowed in this modern-day medieval kingdom. It is a country rich in potentially amazing heritage sites, but when you have what may be the most restrictive travel policies in the world (even worse than USA's), they don't want you to see any of it. As the great unifier King Abdul Aziz bin Saud once said "My Kingdom will survive only insofar as it remains a country difficult to access, where the foreigner will have no other aim, with his task fulfilled, but to get out." 'Nuff said. So, I guess we all miss out on their lethal driving and sexual harassment.
3. Russia: We usually promote the Olympic spirit... but not this year for the Putin Games at Sochi (which is a Black Sea resort area with actually very little snow!). This $50+ billion boondoggle of corruption (Putin's Palace nearby is estimated at upwards of $350 million -- not bad on a life time civil servant salary!) will be no fun for a lot of reasons: extensive paranoid security, meaningless bureaucracy, $140 visas, lack of amenities, probably lack of snow, bad food, bad service... and worse, there will be no good parties because of Russia's anti-homosexual laws. Hey, they won't even let Gandalf in the country. Gandalf, really?
4. Turkmenistan: This tightly-controlled police state has some of the most arduous tourist visa requirements on the planet. And they have succeeded too -- only 7,000 tourists visited the place in 2012. Aside from the 11 p.m. curfew in this not so party central country, it is not a good place to get into a political discussion or walk with a woman on the street. Trust me, stay away!
5. Venezuela.: We thought it might make it off this annual No-Go List after Chavez died. It is such an amazing country to visit. But, nope: It only got worse! Caracas is the closest thing to modern-day dystopia that Kurt Russell could make a movie called Escape from Caracas -- not set in the future, but now! It is the murder capital of the world, and other violent crime like kidnappings, car-jacking (of taxis!), the spiking of drinks and daylight muggings are a constant -- kind of like New York City in the '70s! Just stay away.
6. Nigeria: Speaking of modern-day dystopias, Nigeria maybe be one of Dante's original rings of hell. Overcrowding, corruption, clogged sewers, traffic beyond belief, sectarian violence, etc... They make it easy enough to enter their country -- although touts will start badgering you as the aircraft door opens, but leaving is another thing. In what may be, no is, the world's most corrupt country, you will be repeatedly asked to pay bribes to get to the airport to leave... many bribes. And you will happily pay them too!
7-10. Galapagos Islands: Leave it alone, it needs a rest. There are just too many eco-tourists wrecking havoc on the environment. In fact, let's round out this last spot with a few other tourist destinations that we are clearly ruining (aka Loving It to Death Syndrome) with our industrial-strength tourism, including: Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Petra and Venice. We are indeed short-sightedly killing the goose that lays the golden egg. They all should begin a limited daily visitor policy via a lottery system. They, and many other global sites are in dire need of hardcore sustainable tourism polices and aggressive protection/preservation management techniques. Heed this warning.
Take 'em or leave 'em, but do travel a lot in 2014. See you somewhere, someplace, sometime! Happy New Year.