If I was to create a bucket list of places never to go then this list would probably make a good starting point. It has to be said the cities listed do not represent the last word in the most dangerous places on Earth as a number of criteria were used in choosing them. The research only considered cities that were not in recognized war zones and that had a population of more than 300,000 people. Also the statistic used to rank the cities was the homicide rate – which admittedly is probably a fairly good indication of how violent a city is.
When looking at this information there are really two facts that are particularly striking. Firstly, all but nine of these cities are in Latin America and secondly, out of those remaining, four are in the United States, the richest country on the planet. You could probably write a book on the socio-economic causes but the short version is poverty, drugs and gangs.
The other shocking statistic is the level of violence seen. At the higher end of the scale the murder rates are over 1 person in every thousand being killed every single year. That’s higher than cancer and over 10 times the average global homicide rate.
As well as the shocking headline figures and the murder rates in some of these virtual failed states is another story – Brazil. Whilst none of the top 10 most violent cities are in Brazil 21 of the top 50 are. Given the relative size of the South American nation it would suggest more murders occur here than any other country.
Whilst the list of cities below is very informative and well researched there are quite a few places that we might have expected to see on the list. It is possible though that some places are so lawless and downright dangerous that statistics are the last thing to be collected…
10. Cali, Colombia
Crime in Colombia is at epidemic levels – In fact it is so bad that there is a page entitled Crime in Colombia on Wikipedia. Close to the top of the list of Colombia’s most violent cities is Santiago de Cali, the largest in south west Colombia with a population of 2.3 million.
Violence in Cali is a largely attributed to the ‘mafia war’ on steroids that rages across Colombia. This turf war is between, not only militarized drug cartels, but the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), a left-wing insurgency that has battled the government and right-wing militia for over 50 years. So not only are there the usual shootings in this city of an estimated 1,700 hit-men, but there are regular bomb attacks on public buildings.
9. Cape Town, South Africa
It’s not just the man-eating sharks you need to look out for in Cape Town, this is statistically Africa’s most violent city. I suspect there are a few more likely candidates that have been excluded for various reasons, for instance Mogadishu but the fact remain the murder rate in Cape Town is shocking, and increasing .
This is not what you would expect to read about what is one of the world’s premiere tourist destinations. However, to a large extent the violence is contained within the poorest areas of the city, townships such as Khayelitsha, Gugulethu and Nyanga. Much of the crime here is drug and gang related but this can spill over to the wider city with crimes such as car-jacking and burglaries often resulting in violence.
8. Palmira, Colombia
Colombia’s second entry on the list is Palmira. This city of 300,000 people is just a stone’s throw from Cali but suffers even more from the same violence that plagues the region. The narco-paramilitary groups and guerrilla militias have been engaged in tit-for-tat battle of extortion, kidnapping, murder and even terrorism in Palmira as they fight to secure the lucrative Pacific coast drug trafficking routes.
It is the crossover of military groups and drug cartels (e.g. the Urabeños, Rastrojos and the FARC) that have led to this part of Colombia become one of the murder capitals of the world.
7. Valencia, Venezuela
If you thought Colombia sounded bad then Venezuela is in another league. Occupying no less than 4 of the top ten spaces in this list of the World’s most dangerous cities this is a country on the brink. In the last 20 years murder rates have quadrupled – in fact things have gotten so bad that the Venezuelan government have refused to publish the official statistics since 2011. According to one source Venezuela is the most weaponized places on earth with one firearm for every two people.
And if you thought the homicide rate was bad, kidnappings rose over 10 times during the rule of Hugo Chavez, and show no signs of abating.
The city of Valencia has a population of nearly a million. It is one of the wealthiest in Venezuela, but this has not saved it from the raging violence with well over a thousand murders last year alone. It is also near Valencia that one of the most notorious crimes in Venezuela’s recent history was committed when former Miss Venezuela, Mónica Spear, and her husband were shot dead in front of their five-year-old daughter. Ironically, another beauty queen, Genesis Carmona, was shot dead in the city during an anti-government demonstration in 2014. But you don’t have to be beautiful to be a victim of Venezuela’s out of control violence…
6. Distrito Central, Honduras
I don’t know if the mayor’s were thinking what I am when they twinned Honduras’ capital city with Caracas in Venezuela. Whatever else these two Latin American cities may share it is the outrageously high level of violence that most of us will recognise. And it seems the similarities don’t end here; there appears to be a penchant for killing beauty queens in both countries. In 2014 Miss Honduras, Maria Jose Alvarado and her sister were shot dead.
Whilst there may actually be more dangerous cities throughout the world nowhere comes close to Honduras’ average homicide rate. At over 90 murders per 100,000 people it is almost double that of even Venezuela (and 10 times that of ‘normal’ countries). The capital of Honduras is Distrito Central which is actually two cities (Tegucigalpa and Comayagüela). Strangely enough the homicide rate in the city is actually lower than the national average, but that still gets it a place in the top ten.
5. Maturin, Venezuela
The northern city of Maturín has a population of around half a million. An important base for oil exploration, the city is also an important regional transport hub – and that is possibly where the problem lies. With easy access to the Caribbean Sea and the U.S. beyond this is a drug trafficker’s paradise. The combination of Venezuela’s ineffective, corrupt law enforcement and drug cartels fighting for supremacy have propelled Maturín into the top five deadliest cities on Earth. Unlike all the other cities in the top 10, Maturín is a new entry for this year with a murder rate of 86 per 100,000 – around 9 times the international average.
4. Acapulco, Mexico
In happier times the mention of Acapulco would have conjured up pictures of sitting on palm-fringed beaches, sipping cocktails and watching the cliff-divers defying death. These days you can still do all this but you may have to step over a body bag or two to get to the beach and cliff diving is way down the list of dangerous activities on offer. Despite a veneer of paradise this once celebrated Mexican tourist trap has become the most murderous city in an already blood-soaked nation with an average of 12 murders every day.
For many years visitors to the seaside city were spared the hyper-violent war waged by the drug cartels but over recent years things have spilled over. Most recently the cartels’ hit men have been turning up at busy beaches by jet-ski and carrying out executions in broad daylight. The government’s response – send in the marines. Not my idea of a destination for a relaxing beach holiday, although there are probably a few bargains to be had…
3. San Salvador, El Salvador
Around 30 years ago El Salvador was engaged in a civil war. Things improved briefly before sinking back into violence as gang culture replaced armed struggle. The story goes that many thousands of those fleeing the violence in their home country ended up in Los Angeles where they formed gangs. The most notorious of these gangs, or maras as they are known, are Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 (M18). Once the civil war was over many of these Salvadorans were sent back to El Salvador where they took root not only here but throughout neighbouring Honduras and Guatemala.
With such good contacts in the U.S the illegal drugs trade from El Salvador is extremely lucrative and to the gangs well worth fighting over. Back in 2012 there was actually a truce between rival gangs and the murder rate immediately dropped to being just pretty bad. However, in 2015 this began breaking down and the rate has shot up to truly shocking levels.
Nowhere is this violence seen more than in the capital San Salvador and in particular the Soyapango district. Here more than 1 in 1,000 people are murdered every single year. Whilst these numbers are largely the result of gang-on-gang violence there is another force at work – death squads. These vigilante groups such as the Sombra Negra (Black Shadow) target gang members for extrajudicial executions.
2. San Pedro Sula, Honduras
Things have apparently gotten better in San Pedro Sula, but there is still very little to celebrate. The good news is Honduras’ second city is no longer (statistically) the most violent place on Earth outside a war zone. Then again with a murder rate of 173 per 100,000 residents in 2014 it is hard to imagine how it could have become any worse. Even in a country where violent crime is at epidemic proportions these figures are shocking. Those figures are over 100 times the murder rate in Western Europe.
So this year the figure is down quite significantly to a mere 111 per 100,ooo – from staggering to just shocking. Whilst the majority of these deaths are gang related the culture of violence is so entrenched no one is safe. A corrupt, ineffective police force, broken legal system and non-existent gun control mean there are around 3 murders a day in a city of 800,000 people. The government here blame the problems on neighbouring countries and the fact Honduras lies on the main drug trafficking routes north. To some extent this is the case and the main gangs that blight this country are Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 which originated in El Salvador.
1. Caracas, Venezuela
So, to the winner of this ugly contest. Up from number 2 last year is Caracas the world’s murder capital. Whilst this may be by default and the fact that things got slightly better in San Pedro Sula, the murder rate did actually go up in Caracas. Of the 20,000+ murders last year in all of Venezuela nearly 4,000 of these were in the capital, Caracas.
Now, you probably don’t need any convincing that these figures are pretty horrific, but to put things into context this pretty similar to post-war Iraq, and actually worse than Bagdad over recent years.
It is hard to identify the exact cause of this nation’s lust for violence but it is unlikely that imported ‘imperialist’ imported action films like Spiderman are the root cause as suggested by President Maduro. Most cite the massive inequalities between rich and poor as the driving factor, which is ironic as under the socialist government of Hugo Chaves violent crime increased exponentially. This would appear somewhat of an indictment given the country’s potential oil wealth.
Of course there is the underlying issue of the drugs cartels and gangs but critics put some of the blame at the door of the Chaves and Maduro governments who have not made fighting crime a priority. Figures suggest that only 8% of those arrested are ever convicted, and with an underfunded corrupt police force, what percentage even get arrested?
The 50 most dangerous cities in the world
Just to put the figures in context, the murder rate in the UK is around 1.2 per 100,000 and even in the U.S. it is a comparatively tiny 4.7 per 100,000
|City||Country||Murder rate |
|2 (1)||San Pedro Sula||Honduras||111|
|3 (27)||San Salvador||El Salvador||109|
|6 (6)||Distrito Central||Honduras||74|
|9 (20)||Cape Town||South Africa||66|
|11 (17)||Ciudad Guayana||Venezuela||62|
|15 (45)||St Louis||USA||59|
|16 (9)||João Pessoa||Brazil||58|
|21 (15)||São Luís||Brazil||53|
|25 (8)||Guatemala City||Guatemala||47|
|27 (-)||Feira de Santana||Brazil||45|
|29 (-)||Aparecida (Goiânia)||Brazil||43|
|32 (26)||New Orleans||USA||41|
|34 (-)||Gran Barcelona||Venezuela||40|
|36 (14)||Vitória da Conquista||Brazil||38|
|39 (-)||Campos dos Goytacazes||Brazil||36|
|40 (25)||Campina Grande||Brazil||36|
|41 (48)||Durban||South Africa||36|
|42 (41)||Nelson Mandela Bay||South Africa||36|
|43 (-)||Porto Alegre||Brazil||35|
|47 (-)||Johannesburg||South Africa||30|
Data provided by research from the Mexican institute of Secutiry, Justice and Peace.