A story involving the intrepid writer back in the day whilst living in Mexico he and his friend – a rather large and imposing Norwegian man, had been warned by Mexican locals not to walk down a particular street in the city, and they said especially don’t think you can enter that male-only swinging-door cantina at the end of the street. That, said our Mexican buddies, could be a hostile place and definitely not a place where naive foreigners would go.
They went of course, and the giant Norwegian soon got into a raw chili eating contest with some rather grizzly-looking men, while they plied him with a heroic quantity of tequila. Your humble writer had to carry the large man out, and we were helped by some fine young men that turned out to be not-so-fine pickpockets.
When this writer felt a hand in his pocket he berated these men, who then looked at them, likely deciding whether to just beat them up and mug them. Instead, they ran, which came as quite a surprise given the giant Viking was blind drunk and this writer looks as useful with his fists as Shaggy from Scooby-Doo.
The storyteller has been mugged on two other occasions, once at knifepoint and once at knuckle-point. Nonetheless, when you hear what we have to tell you today, being robbed at knifepoint doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
First, let’s add a disclaimer and tell you that times change, but crime and violence have indeed recently plagued the places we are about to tell you about. In terms of danger, let’s just imagine how things would turn out if you were to hang around these dangerous streets and neighborhoods as an outsider.
Baltimore – N Monroe St / W Lanvale St, United States
We’ll start with the USA, and we know some of you will argue that there are more dangerous places in America.
Maybe you might think that a tourist armed with an expensive camera taking shots of the homeless on LA’s Skid Row might find themselves in more danger. We are aware that some streets and neighborhoods in St. Louis or Detroit might be no-go areas for newbies, but we’ve picked Baltimore today.
The violence and drug problem in certain parts of this city have been well-documented by David Simon, a seasoned journalist and later the co-writer of the series “The Wire”. The city since then has tried to revitalize some of the more notorious neighborhoods, but some places still look apocalyptic.
A trip down these streets late at night could be a bad decision if you are just there to hang around, see the sights, and look at locals. We don’t want to offend anyone from this part of Baltimore, but just do a Google Maps tour right now and you can see how many buildings are boarded up and looking like they should be pulled down. This neighborhood needs a bit more revitalizing.
It has a violent crime rate 19 times higher than the U.S. national average and your chances of walking around here at night alone without any incident we think is quite low. We even found a long list of incidents in which police were accused of wrongdoing, with some recent incidents of officers being charged with fraud and second-degree assault.
Areas of Kingston, Jamaica
In 2019, the U.S. State Department said just avoid certain neighborhoods of Kingston in Jamaica and then added, “violence and shootings occur regularly.” Even U.S. government personnel are not allowed to drive outside some Kingston neighborhoods during the night. It’s that bad.
Beautiful Jamaica has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and usually, when tourists visit the country they only visit areas where they are told to go or are chaperoned there by locals.
Let’s just say that tourists walking around at night in strange neighborhoods might be beaten, mugged, or killed, and you can find instances when that has happened.
Some people in poorer neighborhoods are living in appalling conditions, while armed gangs roam the streets in numbers. The police force is understaffed, and Jamaican police have at times come under scrutiny and been accused of corruption as well as their own style of brutality.
In 2018, because of rampant violence and murders, the government of Jamaica declared a state of emergency. The U.S. government has said there are areas that should be totally off-limits, areas it calls “M-Zones.” These aren’t just pockets of Kingston, but two-thirds of the city.
In case you’re planning to go, some of those areas are Mountain View, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, Standpipe, Cassava Piece, Grants Pen, and Arnett Garden.
We went looking for an actual Jamaican to tell us about the danger in Kingston, and we found a man who said he knew only too well where the worst places were because he was brought up in them. He said many of the areas are kind of interconnected, so you should be able to stay away from them.
He said he left Kingston because of the mayhem, but also said there are lots of decent folks there just trying to make a living. As for visiting his family, he wrote, “I only visit when it is absolutely necessary and only in the days because of the possibility of being robbed or being caught in a gang shootout or drive by.”
He seemed to agree with the U.S. Embassy as to where not to go, but he also added a few more places. Those included, “Jones Town, Dunkirk, South Side, Hannah Town, Whitfield Town, Rose Town, Water House and Two Miles.”
We just looked at local crime in Arnett Gardens, aka, the concrete jungle, and found a lot of bad news, including a child being killed and then set on fire.
In fact, we found an article from 2018 that talked about Jamaican expats who’d left the country a long time ago but returned there to retire. These people seem to have become soft targets for criminals. According to the Guardian, from 2012 to 2018, 85 Britons, Americans and Canadians were murdered in Jamaica.
One Jamaican who’d spent most of his adult life in the UK but later retired in Jamaica had this to say, “This country is anarchic, there’s no law here.”
We imagine they didn’t pick the most violent and downtrodden areas to live in. An outsider walking around some of the worst areas of Kingston would certainly be putting their life at risk.
Vila Aliança in Bangu, western Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
There are lots of favelas in Rio, but as for which is the most dangerous, well, some are said to be better than others. They are all perhaps a little unpredictable. Favela just means something similar to a shanty town or slum, although some are in a much better state than others.
The one we are talking about today, Vila Aliança, is said to be totally lawless. Armed thugs rule the roost there, not the police. While families get on with life, go to work, enjoy their free time as much as possible, there are also “bandidos” that run the favelas and they also help run the drugs trade in Rio. If you enter one, you might see teenage boys armed with machine guns.
They might not kill you, since they are usually just on the lookout for other armed gangs that want more territory. We say might, but it’s perhaps not worth trying to find out.
Shoot-outs with police or other gangs are common, and one young man said he hated seeing his friends die. He said because life in Brazil offered him little to nothing, the gang-business was what he went into.
An Australian man a few years ago actually asked a taxi driver to take him to this most dangerous favela, and the driver said the best she could do was drop him off about 500 yards away. He said people were just on their way to work since he entered in the early morning, but as he got farther in he was met by three young men armed with machine guns.
Believe it or not, once they found out he wasn’t a cop, he was invited into the middle of the favela. There he met one of the bosses and had an all-day drinking session with him and the community.
But don’t go thinking that you can just wander into a favela, mainly because the crime rates are through the roof and you might arouse suspicion.
One journalist who had spent years writing about the favelas said this: “Brazil’s favelas are not inherently dangerous places and offer a different perspective on life, but in the pockets where drug gangs dominate, intruders and outsiders are taken very seriously.”
Cape Flats, Cape Town, South Africa
It’s hard to pick one street here since it covers such a big area, but we found locals saying anywhere around the “Flats” is a no go area for tourists, especially walking around the streets during the night.
One writer said the place was virtually “quarantined” to keep the violence inside, and the police were fighting a losing battle. The place, which covers a lot of ground, is overrun with gangs, and according to one of those gangsters who was interviewed by The Guardian, the police don’t give them any trouble – not exactly a good thing.
A guy that wrote a book on gangs in Cape Town said over the last five years things have gotten much worse. He said, “Until now, the government seems to have been willing to let the Cape Flats burn.”
The Flats in Cape Town saw 1,000 murders in the first six months of 2019. That’s a lot, for just one part of a city. The reason that writer said, “until now” is because armored convoys were sent in by the army.
This is how one local put it, “Every weekend round here, we hear someone is dead, shot, sexual assaulted, stabbed.” Another local said, “You hear gunshots and hope it’s not your child.”
When the army went in to patrol in 2019 there was some really good news after the first weekend of them being there. Only 46 people were murdered that weekend…ONLY!! The government said it was actually good news because it was a payday weekend, and usually 50, 60, or 70 or more people are murdered on those weekends.
The township Nyanga, which is also in the Flats, had one less murder than the city of Baltimore in 2017, but Baltimore’s population is more than ten times the size. Yep, we don’t recommend you go walking around some streets in the Cape Flats at night.
As locals will tell you, there are places you can go in San Pedro Sula, and places that you should stay away from. There is widespread poverty here and as industries and jobs disappeared, some people either headed out and tried to look for work elsewhere, or stayed and earned money through crime or became victims of crime.
Some neighborhoods are incredibly run down and some of the people face dire living conditions. The New York Times did a long piece on this neighborhood, saying dead bodies on the tarmac were common and the battered streets at nights were almost empty besides the presence of rival gangs, those of Mara Salvatrucha, aka MS-13, and the 18th Street gang.
The older gang there is called Casa Blanca, which is now fighting among those other two gangs.
All the gangs are busy trying to take over certain areas, areas that we think would likely be a no-go place for an outsider at night or in the day. Of course, a tourist is not involved in the gang warfare, but still, you guys might want to give this neighborhood a miss.
We can’t point out one street, but thanks to the New York Times we have a map of which areas are run by one of those three gangs.
If you walk around some of those streets you might get mugged, extorted, or worse, killed. There are no police in the streets and the government has left the place to its own ruin. 95 percent of homicides are unsolved, or were in 2019 at least. We doubt things have suddenly changed till now.
One of the gang members said there is no way out. They have nothing, no work, and so they vie for control in the drugs trade or extortion. Nightly the gangs kill each other. As one gang member put it, “Either they kill us or we kill them.”
A few years ago, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world and the city of San Pedro Sula had the highest homicide rate in Honduras…and the worst part of that city was the Rivera Hernández neighborhood. From what we can see, things got better, and then they got worse again. We doubt you’d enjoy a trip to this neighborhood.
Catia, Caracas, Venezuela
Venezuela has had one of the highest murder rates in the world for some years, just like another South American country called El Salvador. But the street gangs and very high murder in the Catia area have made the headlines for years now, a neighborhood said to be full of grieving mothers. A few years ago it was said killers were using chutes to dispose of bodies, and the murderers were very rarely arrested.
Catia is called a barrio by the way, which is similar to the favelas that we have already talked about. This means there is a certain amount of lawlessness, and unlike a place like Baltimore, the cops might not come running to your aid if you decide to enter there and then get into trouble.
Robbery is common, but more worrying are the reports of armed kidnappers. The country itself is still said to be one of the friendliest places you can visit, but there are these no-go areas. The UK government says don’t stray out of the city at night and gives it the highest level of security risk for travellers.
The Canadian government said the same, stating, “Organized criminal groups and gangs are rampant. Many criminals carry firearms, and victims are often injured or killed for failing to cooperate.” It even says the cops have been found to have extorted money from tourists.
It’s no longer the most dangerous city in the world in terms of murders, but warnings are still issued stating that Shanty areas around the city of Caracas such as Catia are off limits. You might be robbed, beaten, extorted, kidnapped, or killed.
Neighborhoods of Tijuana, Mexico
So, the last place we’ll talk about is Tijuana, the city on the American border where many young Americans have visited to throw down tequila shots or look for certain things they wouldn’t be able to buy on the other side of the border.
The city right now has the highest murder rate of any city in the world, but since that’s mostly gang-related, does that mean it’s dangerous for you, our dear non-gang-related viewers?
Well, this writer has visited Tijuana and despite warnings, he visited some places he was told not to go…way past where all the nightlife entertainment is for one-night border crossers. He stayed in the cheapest, dirtiest places we doubt a tourist has ever frequented. In one place, the doors didn’t even lock and you could see guys gambling in the other rooms.
And no, this wasn’t the city where the pickpocketing incident took place, that was on the other side of Mexico in the Yucatán Peninsula.
But, this writer did find out that there are some really sketchy places in Tijuana, and that was before it became the world’s most dangerous city.
It all depends how deep you go. Looking at blogs, many people say it’s no more dangerous than San Diego and you shouldn’t believe the hype, but we can assure you, if you get off the tourist trail you will find some shady places and shady police. This is a fact, and we can say that with experience.
You might get robbed, or certainly get scammed…get “taxed” by the cops, and worse, you might bump into gangsters that are wondering what you are doing in a certain part of town. You might also want to give taking photos a miss since cartel members are everywhere…and as for taking notes on your laptop…give that a miss, too.
Then you can find bits of recent news reports, like this one, “The bodies of four U.S. citizens were found strangled, beaten and stabbed in a van in Tijuana, two days after they reportedly left their Southern California homes for a night at the Mexican clubs.” They were all just young folks looking for fun. One U.S. cop said the two young men and two young women must have “bumped into the wrong people.”
Or you can read the beginning of this 2020 report, “A fifth body has been located on a property in Tijuana where two Americans were found dead earlier this month.”
In 2018, two teens from California were found dead in Tijuana. They had been tortured and then shot execution style in the back of the head.
We won’t go on, but we will say that while party town Tijuana can be a lot of fun, there is a much darker side and we think you need to stay well away from that. As it’s the murder capital of the world, you should really already know this.
As you leave the bars far behind and the dance music fades out, there might just be some really bad people around the next corner. It actually gets darker in some parts of the city if you keep going. We’ve seen it with our own eyes.
Tijuana might not be as in-your-face dangerous as some places we’ve mentioned, but it’s certainly got a “missing body” potential.