Five years ago, a British globetrotter’s travel wishlist might have included the cultural wonders of St Petersburg and the cosy cafes of Lviv. The enthralling architecture of Isfahan and the tranquil gardens of Shiraz were on the radars of more ambitious holidaymakers, along with the lesser-known pyramids of Meroe. Beirut and Tel Aviv were options for a hip city break. This reporter, in late 2018, spent a weekend in Chernobyl.
Trips to all of these places are now either impossible or extremely ill-advised. Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Sudan, Lebanon and Israel, along with Belarus and the Palestinian territories, represent the eight newest additions to the Foreign Office (FCDO)’s travel black list, where trips to the entire country are deemed perilous and which now numbers a depressing 24 destinations, representing 30,965,383 square kilometres – or 20.8 per cent of the world’s landmass. A further 42 countries are partially out of bounds. It is hard to recall a time when so much of the world was off-limits due to war, terrorism and unrest.
It isn’t all bad news. The security situation has improved in two countries. Back in 2019, Burundi and Mauritania – while never likely to star in travel brochures – were also entirely off-limits. Now most of Burundi is deemed safe to visit, as is a significant chunk of Mauritania, including its coastal areas and capital, Nouakchott.
But the overall picture is one of diminishing horizons. The wars in Ukraine and Gaza have been the most obvious factors. Ukraine, Russia and its close ally Belarus were added to the travel black list in February 2022. Israel, Lebanon and Palestine were added in October 2023.
Iran, which appeared on the brink of a tourism renaissance a few years ago (British Airways even resumed direct flights from Heathrow to Tehran), has been entirely off-limits since late 2019. And the FCDO now advises against all travel to Sudan following the onset of armed clashes between rival military factions last year. The eight new additions represent around 15 per cent of the world’s landmass.
The risk level has risen elsewhere. Mexico, a burgeoning winter sun favourite, continues to face serious problems with violent crime, and the FCDO now advises against all but essential travel to large swathes of the country, including most of the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Zacatecas, Colima, Guerrero and Michoacán, as well as the border city of Tijuana. Tanzania, previously rated entirely safe, now has no-go zones: namely its border with the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique, “due to attacks by groups linked with Islamic extremism”. Uzbekistan and Moldova, previously problem-free, now too have danger zones: the Termiz district and Transnistria, respectively. And escalating gang violence has seen Ecuador’s no-go areas swell, with seven coastal regions (Esmeraldas, Manabí, Santa Elena, Guayas, El Oro, Los Ríos and Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas) now deemed unsafe.
The FCDO advice, compared with 2019, has also tightened for five other countries that had pre-existing warnings, with the addition of new no-go regions. They are: Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tunisia.
While Telegraph Travel urges readers to follow the guidance of the FCDO, not everyone does. We’ve previously reported on the rise of the “danger tourist” – globetrotters who make a beeline for countries like Syria and Iraq, often motivated by social media likes – and a handful of established UK operators run group tours to places the FCDO would rather you didn’t visit. They include Wild Frontiers, founded by Jonny Bealby more than 25 years ago. He said: “While the world may seem like a more dangerous place, with 24/7 rolling news bringing us hourly updates from troubled regions – particularly from the Middle East – it’s worth remembering that statistically the chances of British travellers coming to harm virtually anywhere in the world is remarkably small.
“The Government’s advice is just that, advice, and while one should certainly take it seriously, and be aware that it might affect your travel insurance, the acceptable risk any traveller is prepared to take will vary. Iran is advised against, yet we ran two very successful group tours there in 2023 with no issues at all. It also advises against travel to the Kashmir region of India; I was there last year, as were many of our clients, and we all had fabulous trips.”
Bealby added: “We recognise the FCDO has a difficult job evaluating risk – sometimes we feel they get it spot on, sometimes we feel they are overcautious, and it’s always going to be impossible to please everyone. We also understand the issues of travelling against FDCO advice, and why people might want to avoid doing so. Besides, there are still countless fabulous destinations that are not advised against that will still offer an incredible adventure – Guatemala, Oman, Kyrgyzstan and Cambodia, to name a few.”
The 24 ‘black list’ destinations (six more than in 2019)
The Foreign Office advises against travel, or all but essential travel, to the whole of these territories:
Central African Republic
The Palestinian territories
In: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Sudan, Israel, Iran, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories
Out: Mauritania (down to red), Burundi (down to red)
The 42 ‘red list’ destinations (equal to 2019)
The Foreign Office advises against travel, or all but essential travel, to parts of these territories:
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Papua New Guinea
Republic of Congo
In: Burundi (down from black), Mauritania (down from black), Mexico, Moldova, Tanzania, Uzbekistan, Indonesia
Out: Iran (up to black), Russia (up to black), Ukraine (up to black), Sudan (up to black), Lebanon (up to black), Israel (up to black), Palestinian territories (up to black)
Other changes since 2019
More no-go zones:
10 world wonders you cannot visit in 2024
1. Leptis Magna, Libya
What is it? A proper Roman city with a hippodrome, a theatre, baths and temples, a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean.
Why can’t I go? “Local security situations are fragile and can quickly deteriorate into intense fighting and clashes without warning,” says the FCDO.
2. Timbuktu, Mali
What is it? An intellectual and spiritual capital that reached its zenith in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its three great mosques, Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, recall this golden age.
Why can’t I go? The FCDO says: “Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Mali, including kidnaps. A series of recent attacks in central and southern Mali demonstrate a deteriorating security situation.”
3. St Petersburg, Russia
What is it? Long regarded as Russia’s premier cultural hub, it offers an endless array of artistic thrills that span over 200 museums (including the Hermitage and the Russian Museum) and world-class ballet, opera and classical music.
Why can’t I go? The FCDO says: “On 24 February 2022, Russia launched a large scale invasion of Ukraine which is ongoing. International and domestic response to this action is affecting conditions within Russia and for those traveling to Russia in a number of ways.”
4. Angel Falls, Venezuela
What is it? Found in Canaima National Park, in the easterly Gran Sabana area of Venezuela, it is the world’s tallest waterfall, plunging 3,212ft, including an uninterrupted drop of 2,648ft.
Why can’t I go? The FCDO says: “Almost all states outside Caracas are experiencing increased crime and instability, including prolonged power cuts as well as water and fuel shortages and a general lack of essential services.”
5. Sana’a, Yemen
What is it? Located in a mountain valley at an altitude of 2,200m, Sana’a is famous for its tightly-packed, multi-storey rammed earth and burnt brick towers, each strikingly decorated with geometric patterns.
Why can’t I go? The FCDO says: “The security situation in Yemen remains unstable. Fighting continues across the country, which has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and damaged key infrastructure.”
6. The Minaret of Jam, Afghanistan
What is it? A soaring 12th-century minaret covered in elaborate brickwork, with a blue tile inscription at the top, and in a dramatic location in a deep river valley between towering mountains.
Why can’t I go? The FCDO says: “The security situation in Afghanistan remains extremely volatile. There is an ongoing and high threat of terrorist attacks through Afghanistan, including around the airport.”
7. Ennedi Plateau, Chad
What is it? An expanse of hard sandstone assailed on all sides by the Sahara. It is sculpted into rugged spires, pillars and columns of rock that are not wholly dissimilar to the monoliths more famously found far across the Atlantic in Utah.
Why can’t I go? The FCDO says: “There continues to be potential for instability in Chad, particularly in its border regions and in the run-up to and during major political events, such as during Chad’s ongoing political transition and ahead of elections, due to take place before the end of 2024.”
8. Isfahan, Iran
What is it? A city of stunning mosques – decorated with exquisite blue mosaics – and with a breathtaking, 33-arch 16th-century bridge, popularly known as Si-o-Seh Pol, spanning the Zayandeh River.
Why can’t I go? The FCDO says: “There is a significantly high risk that British nationals and British-Iranian dual nationals could be arbitrarily arrested, questioned or detained in Iran.”
9. Palmyra, Syria
What is it? One of the greatest sites of the Roman world, but sadly damaged in recent years by Islamic State militants.
Why can’t I go? The FCDO says: “The situation in Syria remains volatile and dangerous owing to a decade of ongoing conflict and insecurity.”
10. Meroe, Sudan
What is it? “The motherlode of Kushite heritage, amounting to 177 pyramids – more than are found in Egypt.”
Why can’t I go? The FCDO says: “There is now fighting in various locations across Sudan. Khartoum International Airport is currently closed.”
This story was first published in May 2023 and has been revised and updated.