Coolest Places You Can't Visit (Right Now)

Coolest Places You Can't Visit (Right Now)

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Iranian authorities have shown a penchant for detaining Iranian-American and American citizens under espionage charges, and because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Iran, the government’s ability to help you in an emergency is limited.

Once the country becomes safe, however, it could be the next hot spot for culinary vacations. Iran grows 90 percent of the world’s saffron, the planet's most expensive spice, and the local cuisine is known to use fresh ingredients like rose water, pomegranates, dried limes and cinnamon. A farm-to-table retreat could include a jaunt through crocus fields.  

Work off your decadent meals with hiking or skiing in the Alborz mountain range or simply digest on one of the beaches along the Persian Gulf or Caspian Sea. 

Flickr / DanJLove

Surfers, like these pictured in Busan, South Korea, may become a common sight in North Korea if that “hermit kingdom” were ever to open its borders. Wave riders have already made the beach just south of the 38th Parallel a hot spot, and are reported to check out the swells on the other side of the barbed wire with binoculars.

Photographer Shannon Aston, of The Inertia, has a beautiful photo essay on surfing 38th Beach, leaving one to imagine what might be possible only a few miles to the north. The blog Arctic Surf has also used satellite images to identify new waves off North Korea’s shores. Don’t expect a rush on its beaches any time soon though: although the country has allowed South Korean tourists to its Mount Kumgang Tourist Region, one woman was shot there for wandering too far on the beach.

Mandjou Mara

Due to an unstable government and the potential for violent demonstrations, the U.S. State Department advises travelers in the West African country of Guinea to be extremely careful.

When legislative elections are finished and the atmosphere settles down, Guinea will be a fabulous place to travel. While you can go inland to visit the National Park of Upper Niger, one of the best attractions is off the coast of the capital Conakry. The Iles de Los is a group of islands, including Roume—the location said to have inspired the novel Treasure Island. With beautiful beaches and a forested interior, it’s a popular place to explore. 

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Mali, straddling Africa's North-South divide between the Sahara and the savanna, currently faces several significant issues including food shortages, internally displaced persons, fighting in the north and central regions and the presence of factions linked to Al-Qaida. For westerners, there's a constant threat of attacks or kidnappings.

Although Timbuktu has historically been the most popular destination, you might one day consider a trip to Dogon Country. The Dogon live on the Central Plateau and are known for their wooden sculpture, architecture and mask dances, which are often done on stilts. The Dogon homes are tucked into the Bandiagara Escarpment, a 93-mile-long sandstone cliff. Even today, local guides can take you on a series of trails through the villages where you'll stay at local hostels, however we highly recommend you hold off until the country settles down.

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The 500-miles of gorgeous peaks in the Hindu Kush are a paradise for skiiers, but for the moment they remain out of reach.The Taliban and Al-Qaida are still active in certain areas of the country and there is a serious risk of banditry, military combat operations, landmines, kidnapping and insurgent attacks.

Someday, we may be able to explore the two prime skiing areas, Koh-e-Baba and Band-e-Amir. Because there are no ski lifts in these area, visitors will need to make a trek to the top of the mountains or plan a cross-country ski expedition. As for lodging, there are already a variety of hotels and village guest houses. For some amazing photos and stories of this area, check out Afghan Scene.

Flickr / Peter Eichenauer

The tiny central African country’s years of civil war may have abated, but persistent low-level unrest and banditry—with attendant curfew laws—make Burundi a dangerous place to visit, especially given that safer Tanzania is just a short boat ride away.

What Burundi lacks in security it has in potential: ecotourism to the chimpanzee- and bird-rich mountain forests of Kibira National Park; capital city Bujumbura’s white sand beaches; the UNESCO short-listed Karera Falls. Safari operators already combine Burundi with neighboring Rwanda on great ape tours, but this mountainous, lakeside country is beautiful in its own right.

Flickr / jmcfall

Iraq needs no introduction. U.S. Forces may have left in 2012, but the country is as dangerous as ever and is still, essentially, a war zone.

Already well known for its archaeological wonders—the ruins of ancient Babylon, for one—this one-time cradle of civilization is home to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which join on their way to the sea in what was once one of the world’s great marshes. Thanks to some restoration efforts the marshes are making a comeback, and practically beg for paddlers and bird-lovers to explore their reedy, lake-dotted expanses.

Flickr / United Nations Photo

Back in the 1970s, Pakistan was a popular tourist destination as part of the hippie trail. However, the presence of Al-Qaida, the Taliban and indigenous militant sectarian groups now pose a serious threat to travelers. Once the country opens back up, the Khyber Pass—one of the ancient world's famous invasion routes—will see a resurgence of visitors. In this northeastern part of the Spin Ghar mountains, you can trace the steps of the traders who traveled the Silk Road or the warriors who helped invaders such as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan expand their kingdoms.

Flickr / Azani Manaf

Like Somalia and Afghanistan, Sudan often comes after descriptors like “war-torn,” and is currently most infamous for genocide in Darfur. There are safer spots than others within this massive country, specifically the capital city Khartoum, but word from the State Department is still “stay away.”

Rich with coral reefs, Sudan’s blue-water Red Sea coast once attracted none other than Jacques Cousteau, and is even currently open for diving tours. The savannah of the enormous Dinder National Park, bordering Ethiopia, is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, home to lions, gazelles, migrating birds, and dozens of other species that make it ripe for eco-tourism once this country recovers from its decades-long conflict.

Among Sudan’s other would-be attractions are its pyramids, and, of course, the Nile.

Flickr / United Nations Photo

This East African country boasts thousands of miles of pristine white sand beaches, unexplored reefs, undiscovered surf breaks, gorgeous sea-cliffs, mangrove swamps and juniper-fringed mountain ranges packed with rock climbing and wildlife. This may sound like a joke, but give Somalia long enough not to be the scariest place on Earth, and it could have one of the booming-est tourist economies in the world.

With the longest coastline in mainland Africa, this pirate-ridden failed state is arguably the most dangerous place in the world for tourists, and yet already has attractions for daring travelers. The northern region of Somaliland had been de facto independent for nearly 20 years, and is reported to be safe—if you stick to the program and hire armed guards to leave the cities. The islands north of Zeila on the Gulf of Aden are ringed by coral reefs. For those interested in archaeology, further in the interior are the prehistoric Laas Gaal cave paintings.

Visit Somaliland now, if you dare, but don't expect much help from the U.S. State Department if something goes wrong.

Coolest Places You Can't Visit (Right Now)