Visiting Travel Warnings List countries

This item appears on page 40 of the September 2015 issue.

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Jeff Carrier of Naples, Florida, had the following request for subscribers (Jan. ’15, pg. 68): “I would like input from readers who have traveled recently to any of the nearly 40 countries that are pretty much always on the US State Department’s ‘Travel Warnings’ list, which appears monthly in ITN. How did they do it and what were their experiences?” A number of responses received appear below, and more will be printed in next month’s issue.

Note that, due to the unstable nature of countries on the warnings list and recent changes to the list, itself, certain countries mentioned below may be more dangerous or less dangerous than when these travelers visited them. For up-to-date information, visit For the current Travel Warnings list, see page 62 in this issue.

Some countries that do not make the Travel Warnings list still earn precautionary notes from the State Department. Visit, click on “Country Information,” type a country’s name in the search bar and, on the page that comes up, click on “Safety and Security.”


During a trip to SUDAN, Feb. 24-March 10, 2015, I enjoyed a terrific 10-day tour focused on archaeological sites along the Nile from Khartoum north to the Egyptian border.

I booked the tour through a company with whom I’ve taken several trips to India, Original World (San Rafael, CA; 888/367-6147,, an ITN advertiser, although our group traveled in Sudan under the auspices of Italian Tourism Co., Ltd. (Milano, Italy;

The tour cost $5,300 and included accommodations, meals, vehicles (Toyota 4x4 SUVs), drivers, guides and entry fees. Airfare was extra.

The tour was seamless. We encountered no hostility, no vehicle problems and no illnesses. The two guides, well-educated archaeologists, were outstanding. The tour group consisted of three Americans, three Spaniards and one person each from France, Switzerland, the UK and Australia. 

We passed through multiple checkpoints on smooth, paved highways with no difficulty. We were not permitted to take photos of bridges, the military or the markets where we shopped for fresh fruits and vegetables. Our guide told us the Ministry of Tourism prohibits market photos because the government does not want “the world” to know how underdeveloped Sudan is.

It was very hot, windy and sandy, but I would recommend this trip to most people. The food was well prepared, and accommodations generally were comfortable, except for one night with “substandard” accommodations.

Sally Campbell, Chicago, IL


My husband and I had always wanted to purchase property in a foreign locale as well as own a house on the beach, so we combined the two dreams into one and purchased a beachfront home in the small fishing village of Chelem, 30 miles north of Mérida in Yucatán State, MEXICO. This was in 2008, and since then we have visited many times and used these trips to explore much of Mexico.

We have explored much of the country’s east coast, including Cancún, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Isla Mujeres, Tulum and other areas, such as Isla Holbox, Valladolid, Izamal, Uxmal, Celestún and, of course, all over Mérida. In the west, we have visited Mexico City, Acapulco and San Miguel de Allende.

We do these trips on our own, mostly in a rental car or sometimes by local airline. As our home is rather remote and bus service to the beach towns doesn’t provide us with the access we would need, we always rent a car on our visits. Some are day trips and some are multiday trips, and on none of them have we ever experienced any type of crime to our person or property. 

We have spent many hours driving across and through Mexico visiting all sorts of towns, both small and large. As flying into Cancún is often a great deal cheaper than flying into Mérida, we have made this 4-hour drive over to our house many times. We have had the occasional gas station attendant attempt a rip-off, but lack of provided toilet paper tends to be our biggest issue on these trips.

We last returned from our beach house in December 2014, and on that visit we included four days in vibrant Mexico City (aka México, D.F.). We took a direct flight on Interjet from Mérida to Mexico City and stayed in the leafy Condesa neighborhood. We walked for many miles and enjoyed the wonderful subway system. 

We felt very comfortable. It was like a Mexican version of New York City, complete with a large central park (Chapultepec Park), great food and great art.

Absolutely, there are some areas of Mexico that are dangerous, and I do not plan to visit them, but, with a bit of research, Americans can travel to this nearby and culturally diverse country safely.

Mary M. Kelly
Baton Rouge, LA


I have visited the PHILIPPINES many times, including three times in 2014, traveling to all of the principal islands except for troubled Mindanao. I feel that the Philippines are safe to visit, and friends living in Davao have assured me that the east end of Mindanao is safe, at least.

At no time have I seen any direct signs of terrorism, and none of my Filipino friends have said they’ve seen any. This doesn’t mean the risk is not visible. There are armed guards in front of most businesses, and people entering malls, large buildings and events go through security searches. The airport security is three layers deep though often rather lackadaisical.

Ed Graper, Goleta, CA


I used to travel with a guy who would immediately sign on to go to a country once it was placed on the Travel Warnings list. Now married and with a small child, he goes to Luxembourg these days. Looking at the countries on the latest list, shown alphabetically, here are the ones I’ve visited.

• I went to AFGHANISTAN with Global Exchange (San Francisco, CA; 415/255-7296,
in March 2008… with Hinterland Travel (39 Clifton Common, Brighouse, West Yorkshire, England, HD6 1QW, U.K.; phone +44 1484 719549, www.
in August 2009… and with Wild Frontiers (based in London, with office in Philadelphia, PA; 844/867-4928, www.wildfrontiers
in June-July 2012.

 The Global Exchange tour emphasized people-to-people contact and was based in Kabul. With Hinterland Travel, we traveled cross-country in minibuses, sleeping in teahouses. The Wild Frontiers trip went into the northern Pamir region by Afghanistan’s border with Tajikistan. Stay out of southern Afghanistan. 

I recommend both Global Exchange and Wild Frontiers. Hinterland Travel can be basic. 

• In April 2010 I went to ALGERIA with Journeys International (Ann Arbor, MI; 800/255-8735, I spent time camping in the south with Tuareg guides and then, courtesy of Iceland’s erupting Eyjafjallajökull volcano and the ensuing disruption of flights, several days around Algiers. There were no problems, and tour groups were going there.

• I went to the backcountry of CHAD on a camel trek with Michael Asher, an explorer and author, from December 2013 to January 2014. The countryside was beautiful. French groups run tours there regularly.

• I was surprised to see DJIBOUTI on the current warnings list. It is a delightful bit of land with a lot of military (some ours) stationed there. There is a lot of French influence.

ERITREA, on the same trip, seemed like an extension of northern Ethiopia, though the locals would really resent my saying that. Again, not a lot of tourism, but the Brits go there. 

I visited both with Spiekermann Travel Service (Eastpointe, MI; 800/645-3233, in February 2013.

• I traveled to IRAN with Imaginative Traveller (Camp Green, Debenham, Suffolk, England, IP14 6LA, U.K.; phone +44 1728 862230, in 2005. I found the Iranian people to be friendly and generous. There were a number of Western travelers touring there. 

I was in IRAQ in March 2009, after the “surge” of US troops. Tour companies still go there, including into the Kurdish portion. Most of the country is unsafe, not only for travelers but for locals too.

• Regarding ISRAEL/WEST BANK/GAZA, I would stay out of Gaza, but the rest of the country seems safe enough, if you pay attention. I went with Global Exchange in December 2009 and was able to get a good idea as to how citizens of the three different areas survive. I met people with varying points of view.

• I was in KENYA in June 2013 on a wildlife tour with Exodus Travels (Toronto, Ont.; 844/227-9087, It was just before the terrorist attack on the Westgate shopping mall.* With guides, Kenya is safe enough, away from (so-called) civilization.

• In 2010 I joined Global Exchange again for a tour of NORTH KOREA. It’s safe enough if you go with an organized group and realize this is a completely paranoid nation still (technically) at war with the US. Oh, and it’s likely the hotel rooms are bugged. There are various tour groups going in, and you should be OK, but be warned: officials do take your passport upon entry.

• I was in LEBANON in between blowups, probably in 2005, with Explore! (Nelson House, 55 Victoria Rd., Farnborough, Hampshire, England, GU14 7PA, U.K.; phone 01252 883 753, I would be cautious there now.

• I was in LIBYA in March 2012, after the 2011 civil war, with Political Tours (Bloxham Mill, Barford Rd., Bloxham, England, OX15 4FF, U.K.; phone +44 843 289 2349, This company specializes in “current affairs” travel. I discovered it in Randy Keck’s “Far Horizons” column (an article on Kosovo, Feb. ’11, pg. 69).

Libya was safe enough then, but a trip there is dubious now, what with the rebels having taken over Tripoli airport. I was to go into the Benghazi area in 2014, but it got called off for obvious reasons. Dicey!

• I took a delightful tour of MALI with Exodus maybe 10 years ago. There was some trekking through lovely countryside. At the moment, I would stay away. Even the French are staying away, other than the army.

• I went to Copper Canyon, MEXICO, for Christmas in 2013. There were no problems. I went with California Native International (Los Angeles, CA; 800/926-1140,, whom I recommend. Be careful where you go in Mexico, as there are some places you need to avoid. Work with someone familiar with the country.

• It was May-June 2007 when I visited PAKISTAN with Sundowners Overland (Level 1, 51 Queen St., Melbourne 3000, Australia; phone +61 3 9672 5300, www.sundowners, whom I recommend. 

There are still tours going into Pakistan, and I would not hesitate to go if with a group. Great country. Good trekking.

• I visited SAUDI ARABIA in 2012 with Caravan-Serai (Seattle, WA; 206/545-7300, The hotels were luxurious, but it was hard to establish contact with locals. You could get away enough to see the countryside. You can’t get in unless you are with a group, which is probably for the best.

• In January 2011, I went on a camel trek in SUDAN’s Bayuda Desert and then traveled back along the Nile to Khartoum. The country was in the process of being divided, but Khartoum was relatively quiet. Some tours run along the upper Nile.

• In 2005 and again in March 2009 I visited SYRIA. It was lovely and quiet both times (and, after several weeks in Iraq, a joy). I hate to think what has happened in and to Homs and Aleppo. What a magnificent country that was! Stay away!

• I was in UKRAINE in July 2014 with Political Tours, just after the demonstrations in Kyiv. I went to Odessa but not the Donetsk region. It’s safe enough if you stay out of the conflicted regions. 

• My VENEZUELA visit was in January 2015 with Global Exchange. You need to be careful in Caracas, where there is high crime, but it’s safe in the countryside. The country is in really bad shape, economically. However, there were tourists at the resorts, which were like another world. 

YEMEN is another lovely area gone to rack and ruin. Even Sana’a isn’t safe. I spent a Christmas in the south, away from the feuding northern tribes. I would love to return. 

I went with Imaginative Traveller in December 2007 as part of the first English-speaking tour group to go there since a hostage shoot-out involving a UK-based tour group left four tourists, a number of Yemeni soldiers and two terrorists dead in 1998.

It has always been a bit feisty in Yemen. Our tour group leader was a 6-foot-plus Egyptian who didn’t take guff from anyone. I felt safe with him, except for a brief moment when we had an army escort. My experience has been that security just draws attention to you; they don’t impress me with their capabilities. 

• Generally, I am cautious and want to make sure my back is covered. I do my research and go with either a group or someone very familiar with the country. 

Also, in 2009 I invested in a 5-day Hostile Environment First Aid Training (HEFAT) course with a British outfit, Centurion (phone +44 1637 873661, It’s the same training given to journalists and NGO workers.

I’m not a kid. I’m a senior and am not interested in country counting. I’m more interested in experiencing the culture and verifying news reports about various areas of our world.

I would be glad to give further information to any interested individuals. You can contact me at

Jo Rawlins Gilbert
Palo Alto, CA

*Closed since September 2013 when al-Shabaab militants killed 67 people in an attack, the Westgate Mall in Nairobi reopened on July 18, 2015.