'Dangerous' countries for tourists: Three amazing countries with bad reputations

There's a hotel in the desert town of Tozeur that makes you realise just how far Tunisia has fallen.

It was probably once a beautiful resort, with date palms dotting its extensive grounds, and wing after wing of fancy apartments. Now, however, it's a crumbling shell, an abandoned ruin that's been left to slowly decay. The date palms are still there, but there's not another living soul visible from over the brick wall on its perimeter.

You can still visit all of these so-called bad places and have an experience that you'll probably never have anywhere else: the feeling, as a tourist, of being different.

Tozeur has a few of these places, once grand resorts that now lie empty. They were probably filled with holidaying Europeans a few years ago, the French and Brits who came here to avoid their own cold winters. But ever since the political revolution that sparked the Arab Spring, those tourists have stopped coming to Tunisia.

It's not just in Tozeur that you feel it, but in the rest of the country as well. In the capital, Tunis, you feel like an alien in the city centre, a very obvious outsider wandering a medina where once you would have just fit into the touristy crowd. You can hear the cries of the souvenir shop owners get that little bit more frantic when they realise there's an actual souvenir shopper in their midst.

In the town of Matmata, a spectacular place of rocky hills and troglodyte houses, there are tourists, but they're all domestic. It's a similar story in the coastal city of Sousse, where the Surfers Paradise-like beachfront is a mix of local visitors and once-beautiful resorts that are now all chipped paint and faded glory.

Tunisia has a problem with its reputation. People hear words like "revolution" and they don't readily forget it. They glance at the DFAT warnings and see that parts of the country are rated "do not travel". They hear of tragic incidents such as the recent shooting in the Bardo Museum and cancel their plans.

All of this is fair enough. I'm not saying everyone should travel to countries where they feel uncomfortable about their safety.

But the reality is that you can still visit Tunisia, and still have a great time. Same goes for many parts of this region. You can still visit Egypt, despite the recent years of unrest. You can still visit Iran, despite its alleged place in the Axis of Evil.

You can still visit all of these so-called bad places and have an experience that you'll probably never have anywhere else: the feeling, as a tourist, of being different. Like you're the only one in the country. Like you're a lone adventurer exploring a brave new world.


A friend of mine just got back from Egypt, where she wandered around the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx in the company of four people and a camel. Four people and a camel? When I was there in 2005 you could barely move in the crush. Now, you get one of the wonders of the world all to yourself. Tourists don't go to Egypt anymore.

In Iran, a place with some of the most spectacular sights in the world, places like the ruins of Persepolis and the mosques and bazaars of Esfahan, Western travellers are welcomed like touring celebrities, purely because they're about as common. Everyone wants to know who you are, what you're doing there, how you're finding your experience. It's amazing to feel so appreciated and so interesting (even if you're really not).

And then there's Tunisia, which used to be Europe's playground, a mainstream holiday spot that is now a destination purely for the adventurous and the brave. Just like in Egypt and Iran, you feel different as a tourist in Tunisia. You can wander the medinas and immerse yourself completely in a strange land, where there are no other foreign faces.

There are plenty of places in the world that have no tourists, but few that you'd actually want to visit. In the likes of Tunisia, Egypt and Iran, however, you have three amazing countries that are virtually empty of travellers.

It means you have the opportunity, like I did, to sit in a coffee shop in the medina of Sousse, on a plastic chair on the cobbled lane, surrounded completely by laughing, yelling Tunisians sipping strong coffee and puffing on shisha pipes. No tourists. No touts.

You can visit a place like the Shah Mosque in Esfahan and wander its tiled corridors in complete solitude. You can walk through the Temple of Karnak in Egypt and imagine you're the only person in the entire crumbling kingdom.

It's a small risk to visit these areas. But the reward is self-evident. You get the place to yourself. And a welcome you won't forget.


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See also: Is Egypt safe to travel to?
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