Breaking the stigma: Travel destinations that proved their bad reputations wrong

There are many destinations that have a bad reputation or stigma that they can’t seem to shake. These places get slammed by the travel media, bloggers and tourists who can’t get past the outdated, inaccurate or superficial criticisms. Not every destination is created equally, but I can always find qualities I like in every place that I visit. There have been many times when I’ve told people that I’m heading to a country, for example, Morocco, Bosnia or Cuba and people question why I would ever go there. They are dangerous, war zones or the food is terrible, they tell me.

Below is a collection of posts from travellers who have had positive experiences in destinations that have had a bad reputation over the years. One of them is about Istanbul and since this was written, the city has been a victim of a suicide bombing that killed 11 foreigners in Sultanahmet district. I visited Istanbul in 2014 and would do so again, despite the attack. So, while these stories are positive, remember that any place in the world has its own dangers and no traveller is immune to that. But with common sense and an open mind, most of the world can be experienced in safety.

– Dave S. Clark

Nigeria – Suggested by Ben from Chartered Territory

When I first visited Nigeria media references were generally unflattering and most publications surmised it to be a place in which nobody of right mind would voluntarily set foot. This, I would later discover, with some irony, to be a sentiment shared by most Nigerians! Here was a place which nobody by choice, neither tourist nor trader, unless coerced by considerable arm-twisting, would ever dream of visiting.

Opinion-wise little has changed, which is a shame because it’s a country with enormous diversity in landscape, culture and people. Yes, city traffic is manic, corruption is rampant and many would have you believe that if a Lagos scammer doesn’t get you then Boko Haram will. Not the case at all. As with many countries, it’s good to exercise caution in big cities. Nigeria is no exception but, oddly enough, you can walk the streets untrammelled, free of the pestering traders and con-merchants prevalent elsewhere.

I have to admit that I really like Nigerians, big characters, friendly and with a wicked sense of humour – always joking, always playing the fool, even in the face of blatant adversity which for most constitutes everyday life. Taxi drivers are great, the market traders jolly and the sights, sounds and smells are certainly unforgettable. The people are endearing, I was made so welcome in many homes, so much so that arguments would often ensue as to who would have the last morsel of food or cold beer, resistance being futile, I was left on each occasion with no choice – I remain eternally grateful that I had the opportunity to visit.


Mazatlan, Mexico – Suggested by Nicolás at Nuoric

Last year in June my husband, my brother and I were going to fly to Mazatlan, Mexico and live there for a few months. My brother was a little indecisive because of bad press he had come across earlier in the year about the state of Sinaloa and wasn’t sure if it was a safe place to live. After reading several news articles he decided he wasn’t going to travel with us.

I believe this happens to a lot of people, who misjudge a place because of all the bad press there is out there. My husband and I lived in Mazatlan for three months and we have never felt more safe. We lived right on the boardwalk near downtown Mazatlan. Every night the streets would fill up with tourists from different Mexican states, as well as foreigners. You could feel the familiar, “fiesta” spirit of the Mexican culture as the aurigas passed by full of families shouting and dancing to Mexican Banda music. As you walked down the boardwalk you could taste the different Mexican flavors of the street food vendors. The Malecon is one of the longest seafront walkways in the world where you will encounter bicyclist, rollerbladers, runners and families at any time. There’s also a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, shops, hotels, bars and clubs to choose from at a short walking distance in any direction. Or you could hike up to the lighthouse early in the afternoon and enjoy some of the beautiful sunsets Mazatlan has to offer as you reach the top.

And of course, there is also the famous Carnaval celebrated on the week before Lent. The Mazatlan Carnaval is considered the third largest Carnaval celebration in the world. Unfortunately, we didn’t stay long enough to witness the multi-day Mexican Mardi Gras celebration, but it is definitely one of the many reasons we would love to go back to Mazatlan.



Jordan – Suggested by Kevin at Wandering Wagars

Are you crazy? Aren’t you scared? You’re bringing your children?! These were the standard comments given to us when we mentioned to friends and family our plans to visit the middle-eastern Kingdom of Jordan. Since the Arab Spring began in 2011, the middle-east has been embroiled in horrible civil and international wars and dangerous terrorist uprisings. In the midst of all this chaos, the Kingdom of Jordan offers an oasis of peace and stability.

Jordan shares its borders with Syria, Israel and the Palestinian Territory, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq and while Jordan’s proximity to many volatile environments is obvious from its military readiness and ever present police and security checkpoints, the country remains a very stable, safe and importantly, a very welcoming country for travellers. Jordan boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and though it remains a safe country to visit, its tourism industry has dropped nearly 95%, so if you’ve ever dreamed of having Petra, one of the 7 new wonders of the world, nearly to yourself, then now is the perfect time to visit!



 Naples – Suggested by Karlie at Miss Wanderlust

Italian blood courses through my veins, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the motherland – idyllic landscapes, mouth-watering food, world class art, fashion, cars and more. I’m not the only one who feels this way – almost 50 million people visited the boot-shaped nation in 2014 alone. Yet Naples, a city in the South pulsating with life –  nestled in the breathtaking Bay of Naples with Mount Vesuvius looming over the city, the birthplace of pizza,  home of artistic and archaeological treasures – is frequently and loudly passed over by travelers for the more palatable Sorrento and Capri, or those who avoid the South altogether. Stereotypes surrounding the mafia and media coverage of past garbage strikes plague the city and deter travelers from considering the city.

I visited Naples on my third trip to Italy and immediately regretted not going sooner. I was taken with the grandiose yet crumbling architecture. Busy Italians quickly passed me on the sidewalks, not knowing or caring that I was a tourist in their town. Yet, when I couldn’t find my B&B or needed directions, I was treated to the warmest smiles and helpful hand gestures. Wandering the streets around Spaccanapoli, the main street slicing through the historic centre, I tucked into hole in the wall restaurants and gorged on the most fantastic (and inexpensive) Italian food I’ve had. Roman and Greek antiquities and unearthed treasures from Pompeii and beyond fill the National Archaeological Museum, one of the most important museums of its kind anywhere. There was nary another tourist in sight. Travelers who overlook this city deny themselves a full on Italian experience that engages and delights all of the senses.




Istanbul, Turkey – Suggested by Gabby Beckford at Packs Light

With the current state of the Middle East, most people are very wary to travel to that side of the world. However, despite the warnings from friends and family and despite the civil unrest happening there, I went to Istanbul anyway in June of 2015. I went with fears that I might have to escape to an embassy if the protests spread near me, or that a I would absentmindedly wear a tanktop and be chided for not wearing modest clothes. However, Istanbul proved to be a relaxing and beautiful city, in complete contrast to how the news portrays it.

Beautiful and lively, Istanbul was the perfect mix of European and Middle Eastern influence. And the people proved to be the most kind and respectful I’ve ever encounter: moreso than any European country I’ve been to. I visited the Sultan Ahmed Camii, Hagia Sophia, and the Grand Bazaar and encountered no trouble at all. Tourists wore what I thought would’ve been immodest, and no one stared or even batted an eye. I used the metro and tram system and felt comfortable my entire stay, and blended right into the crowd. I saw no protests, felt no discrimination for being America, never felt in danger, and would go back in ten seconds if I could!



Bali – Suggested by Samantha at Travelling King

Bali is considered dangerous due to the 2002 Bali Bombings and the Bali 9, however resorts and companies have increased their security, including bomb checks under cars and bomb sniffing dogs.

Bali is also thought of as a place that “Bogan’s” from Australia visit (Bogan is – an uncouth or unsophisticated person, regarded as being of low social status.) however my several visits there have shown that Bali is a beautiful cultural country.

At first I was a little cautious travelling to Bali the first time because of all the negative things I had read in the media however I needed a short cheap trip and Bali was my only opportunity, after my first trip, I feel in love with this beautiful tropical countryside and the sweet kind-hearted locals. Can’t wait to go back again!



Tijuana, Mexico – Suggested by Sarah at Home and Away

Tijuana is a Mexican city that borders the United States. It is often known for high levels of crime, violence​, and drug trafficking and therefore has a reputation for being a dangerous place. I can say, from 12 years of travel experience to this area, that I see Tijuana not as a city of crime, but rather a place full of beauty and potential.

It is filled with kind, warm-hearted people, amazing food and music, colourful culture and beautiful scenery. Never have I experienced a feeling of being in danger or unease throughout my travels to Tijuana. This city has an undeserved negative reputation and I encourage everyone to challenge the stigma and see for yourself all that it has to offer.



Daytona Beach, Florida – Suggested by Charles McCool at McCool Travel

When I was a teenager, in the early 1980s (yikes), Daytona Beach Florida was probably the most visited and raucous Spring Break destination for college students in the United States. In 1993 the city decided to clean up its image and officially stopped supporting student Spring Break activities.

Today, the “World’s Most Famous Beach” is a destination much more popular for family Spring Break, retirees (snowbirds), golfers (home of the LPGA), and the speed crowd (NASCAR, Rolex, bike week). Besides 23 miles of beaches, Daytona Beach highlights include magnificent museums (including a Smithsonian affiliate), superb casual fine dining, and other nature activities.




Morocco – Suggested by Yalou van der Heijden from We are the Earth

“Is Morocco safe to travel?!” Many people asked me that questions when I went there to hitchhike all over the country together with my boyfriend. In the five weeks we spent there, I didn’t feel unsafe once. We easily hitchhiked 3000 km from the south to the north and everything in between. We pitched our tent among others at the shore of Taghazout, where a bunch of dogs kept us company during the night. We woke up by the sound of waves crashing against the high rocks and some fishermen invited us to sleep at their place the next day.

All the Moroccans we met where so generous. They invited us to drink the sweet Moroccan tea with them, others bought us dinner or water. And don’t you try to buy them something, because you’re in their country and you’re their guest. “You can treat me when I visit your home” is a phrase I heard many many times. Some of the people who gave us a ride warned us for Moroccans who will try to rip us off, but we didn’t let ourselves be fooled. As long as you keep using your brains, the whole world will be save to explore! Just go out there and experience it yourself.



Is-it-safe-to-travel-to-Russia-nowRussia – Suggested by Nikoleta at The Bonfire Dream

When I was told that we were going to Russia I was terrified. Russia? It’s a place full of slums and military, it’s such an unfriendly place, why would ANYONE want to go there? Before we arrived to the place of our destination, we read numerous articles about safety in Russia, how to behave and how to act, about how to dress and talk. This made me very uncomfortable because I automatically assumed that it will be a place rather dark with almost an army guarding out bus.

But I was wrong. I felt so safe in Russia. I was walking with my mother, both of us blond, tall women with a proper make-up and nice clothes have been walking every day and every night together down the main street and small side streets without proper lighting. Although it scared the hell out of us, there was nobody who would bother us, just the contrary. If they say that we were lost, they would approach us whether we needed help and direct us the right way. I felt very warmly welcomed and very comfortable in Russia. It is a stunning place.
Guimaras-philippinesThe Philippines – Suggested by Thea Tesoro

The Philippines does not usually land in most of travelers’ Southeast Asia itineraries unlike its neighbors, and Manila, the capital, has a reputation for being terribly congested and unsafe due to weather conditions and crime. But in reality, the country has so much to offer, especially outside Manila!

The Philippines, being an archipelago, is blessed with some of the best white sand beaches and islands in the world. For those who are not enticed by the sand and sea, mountain hiking is another option for those who want a different kind of adventure. For the history or culture travel inclined, there’s the walled city of Intramuros, and Vigan, a declared UNESCO World Heritage site.There is so much to do across 7,100 islands, but I think the best part will always be the people. Filipinos are very hospitable and helpful, and they know how to enjoy life. We laugh a lot, all the more so in times of adversity, and we feel like everyone is a part of our family, even if we just met them 10 minutes ago. The Philippines might not be a popular destination yet, but it’s definitely not a place you should miss!




El Salvador – Suggested by Josie at Six Year Gap Year

Last year I travelled though Central America and most people (who had never even been!) were so negative about it all, especially El Salvador. I was nervous about going, but in reality it was an amazing place. The locals were friendly and the public transport was safe. I even hitchhiked to a random village and followed three local kids with machetes into the jungle, we spent the day cliff jumping and swimming, it was great! And it taught me never to judge a place before I visit it for myself.



Dome of the Rock

Israel, Palestine and Jordan – Suggested by Olivia McDonald

The Middle East has a long and complicated history, any attempts to unravel it will do your head in. I traveled to Israel, Palestine and Jordan just before Christmas this year to experience things first hand. I went as a solo female traveler and was given a lot of flak for going, especially as things have been kicking off in recent times and it’s geographic location. I can truthfully say, I’ve felt more uneasy in places in London than I have anywhere in any of those three countries. The food is incredible, the sights are diverse and breath taking, the landscapes are extra-terrestrial (Jordan: Petra, Wadi Rum), regardless of what your religious views are Israel/Palestine’s history is impossibly old; Jericho is the oldest city in the world, it’s over 11,000 years old!

What I took away the most from the trip was the hospitality of the people. Jordanians are impossibly nice, and welcoming people. Every sentence was followed with ‘welcome’ or ‘please and thank you,’ no one was pushy, no one was rude and I felt comfortable in traversing the areas on my own. I urge you to turn your TVs off and check out these locations for yourself to form your own opinions or to find a local Israeli/Palestinian/Jordanian/Syrian and have an honest conversation. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t understand. Give peace a chance.




Israel and the West Bank – Suggested by Odoardo at Queidue

When I told my friend that I was moving to Tel Aviv for a few months I received always the same questions: “Are you crazy? Is it safe?”. After six months I could finally tell them that yes, Israel is a safe country criminality wise and especially Tel Aviv has a very low rate of low criminality. I obviously visited as well the West Bank and found it very safe. I had no fear of walking during the night in the desert Old City of Jerusalem.

Furthermore it is a wonderful country with amazing locations and such a rich history. I definitely recommend a visit to the Middle East and Israel and the West Bank could be the ideal places to start from.




Somaliland – Suggested by Monika at Amused Observer

“It’s Somaliland not Somalia!” – I can’t even remember how many times I tried to explain it to my friends. But how can people know? Although Somaliland has been independent for over 20 years now, it is not officially recognized as a country and because of that it is often not separated from Somalia on the map. For seasoned travelers in search of a totally unusual experience, Somaliland is a must – this is what Lonely Planet guidebook says in its first time ever guide on this country (published as a part of Ethiopia LP guidebook in June 2013).

Experience the bustle and hustle the capital city of Hargeisa, step on the empty beaches of Berbera, discover prehistoric rock paintings at Laas Gaal and simply enjoy meeting people in one of the least visited countries of the world. It is safe and it is an amazing experience to go there.

3 thoughts on “Breaking the stigma: Travel destinations that proved their bad reputations wrong”

  1. An interesting collection of travellers’ tales, very well put together Dave and many thanks for including my piece !

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