Certain cities around the world have at various periods in modern times gained notoriety for being places a person might easily walk into a dangerous situation. When talking about dangerous cities we are usually referring to violent crime, gun crime, and murder statistics, although we should remember elements of danger might also include things such as active war zones or even traffic accidents.
We will focus mainly on crime and violence, while bearing in mind that almost all of the cities are regarded as dangerous cities in this respect are home to one or more fairly safe, affluent neighborhoods.
Here we could take the American city of Los Angeles as an example, a city that has historically been associated with rampant gang violence, but for most Angelenos is safe, providing you don’t go looking for trouble.
10. Cali, Colombia
Full name Santiago de Cali, this city has a population of around 2.4 million people, and a murder rate of 64 out of every 100,000 people. Boasting historical sites and with a healthy tourism economy, Cali still can’t avoid violence after so many measures have been taken to prevent it.
Much of the violence has been blamed on turf wars from opposing cartels, the neo-paramilitary’ gangs of Los Rastrojos and Los Urabeño, both of whom make vast amounts of money from trafficking Colombia’s well known export, cocaine. On top of this, violence has erupted for decades between the guerilla force of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, aka FARC, and the government.
9. Cape Town, South Africa
The gap between rich and poor in this South African coastal city of 433,688 people is well-known. Murders are common, but assault, street muggings, carjackings, and burglaries are also very common.
While many of Cape Town’s residents that live in the metropolitan area of 3.7 million are the victims and perpetrators of crime, the violence does still encroach into the heart of the city. It’s thought around 65 people out of 100,000 were intentionally killed in 2015, a total of around 2,451 homicides, making gang related crime a blight on this popular city.
8. Palmira, Colombia
You might be surprised to see Colombian cities so far down on the list of the most dangerous cities, but in recent decades the Colombian government’s numerous crackdowns on cartels has seen some progress. Drug traffickers, it’s reported, have realized it’s better to attract less attention from government forces, while massive Mexican drug cartels such as the Sinaloa cartel have in some respects taken the focus away from Colombian gangs.
Palmira, the country’s third largest city with 350,000 inhabitants, is the crime capital now. Drug cartels and paramilitary groups have been involved in extortion, kidnapping, and murder over the last few years, and this has led to 70 out of every 100,000 people being killed.
7. Valencia, Venezuela
Valencia has a population of one million in the city area. While it’s notable for its historical architecture and relative economic prosperity, it hasn’t escaped gang violence. Around 72 of 100,000 people were intentionally killed here last year.
Gangs are so rife that there have been numerous reports of mob beatings and lynchings by vigilante groups who’ve long since abandoned hope of the police doing anything to thwart crime.
Thieves have reportedly been doused in gasoline and set alight in recent years. The vigilante groups might be the few people without guns, considering it’s said there is one firearm in the country for every two people.
6. Maturin, Venezuela
Maturin has a population of 401,384. Like much of the country, the city has been badly hit by Venezuela’s current economic crisis, which has given rise to gangs and pervasive crime. With a murder rate of 86 per 100,000, it’s said that the fact that it’s a regional transport hub is the reason it’s in the firing line of drug cartels.
Tourists are told be extra vigilant if they should venture into Maturin as kidnappings can and do happen. It may not surprise you that Tripadvisor’s listings for Maturin are scant.
5. Distrito Central, Honduras
Honduras’ department of Distrito Central has a population of 1,190,230, combining the twin cities of Tegucigalpa and Comayagüela. Here around 90 murders per 100,000 people happened in 2016, with gang violence being to blame.
The U.S. Department of State advises travelers to be aware of high rates of crime, noting that there are no safe areas for western travelers. While violence isn’t quite as bad as in other parts of Honduras, around 620 people were murdered last year in Distrito Central.
4. Acapulco, Mexico
This resort town once famed for its beaches and glamor is now tainted with being a hotbed of gang warfare. This small, beautiful city of 687,000 people saw 104 people murdered per 100,000 in 2016. That same year 461 people were killed in the first six months, and many of these people were not actually in gangs, but were residents that had gotten on the wrong side of gangs.
While Acapulco has in the past been portrayed as a city where stars flocked and moneyed tourists followed, its state of Guerrero is said to be home to over 60 percent of people living in poverty. There are now around 12 murders every day in the city, and sometimes these are not out of sight. The world’s media in 2016 reported gang members arriving at a beach on jet skis and shooting an enemy down in front of startled tourists.
3. San Salvador, El Salvador
The capital and largest city of El Salvador, San Salvador has a city population of 257,754 people, and a much larger metropolitan population of almost 1.8 million. It has a rich historical heritage and plays an important part in the region’s economics. It’s also a hotbed of violent crime.
It’s thought that many of those responsible for gang violence were at one time in gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 (M18) in the United States, and on returning home carried on the tradition of violence. The murder rate in 2016 was 108 for every 100,000 people, with some of these murders being extrajudicial executions carried out by the Sombra Negra death squad.
Perhaps some good news came earlier this year when the national civil police commissioner announced in January that the city had experienced its first day without a murder for two years. Gangs are involved in drug dealing, robberies, extortion, arms trafficking, murder for hire, carjacking, and daylight muggings of tourists and diplomats. In a 2016 poll 24.5% of Salvadorans said they had been a victim of crime in 2015.
2. San Pedro Sula, Honduras
Honduras’ second largest city after its capital, Tegucigalpa, is one of the poorest places in Latin America. Devastated by natural disasters and ensuing ravages to the economy, San Pedro Sula’s city population of 719,063 people has lived under continual threat from crime for years.
Prior to 2016, it was the murder capital of the world, with an astonishing 187 homicides per 100,000 people in 2013. Situated within the nexus of the illegal drug and arms trade, the city is awash with gangs, many of whom were sent to Honduras after being deported from the US for gang activity.
With gangs fighting over territories and a limited and often corrupt police force to deal with this, it might be a matter of sheer coincidence that this year the murder rate fell into second place at 111 per 100,000.
1. Caracas, Venezuela
Located in a valley within the Venezuelan central range, Caracas is home to eye-catching panoramas of mountains and has a year-round warm climate. It’s also home to some of the meanest slums in the world, designated as absolute no-go areas for visitors. From its population of 3.3 million people (3,305,204), 4,308 were intentionally killed in 2016.
That’s more than 130 people for every 100,000. It’s reported the vast majority of killings go unsolved in this city. With high unemployment rates and a shaky economy, “mega gangs” have started to terrorize the city. These gangs, sometimes consisting of 100s of members, are involved with drug dealing, kidnappings, extortion, robberies, hijackings, and of course murder.
This has prompted the Venezuelan government to hire Colombian-style paramilitaries to keep people safe. These security forces have, however, been accused of wrongful violence and extortion themselves. In 2016, a Time magazine correspondent wrote from a local morgue in Caracas, “Every half hour or so, ambulances arrive with new corpses, the vast majority of them homicide victims.”
Other most dangerous cities in the world
Each year dangerous cities trade places on the list of the most dangerous cities, but for some time now Latin American cities have been in front. In the USA, the most dangerous cities are St. Louis, Baltimore, and New Orleans, with St. Louis seeing 60 murders per 100,000 in 2016.
In Europe, some of the dangerous cities are Tallinn in Estonia, and across in Western Europe, Glasgow in Scotland. Notable cities in Asia with high crime rates include Quezon City in the Philippines, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Ulan Bator in Mongolia.