Most Dangerous Cities in the World – 2018

5. Maturin, Venezuela

Maturin Venezuela

Maturin, Venezuela – Photo: © Beatrice Murch (License)

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

Acapulco, Mexico

Marines on the streets of Acapulco – Photo: © Borderland Beat Reporter Buggs (License)

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

Mara Salvatrucha - MS-13

Mara Salvatrucha gang member

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

San Pedro Sula , Honduras

San Pedro Sula , Honduras – Photo: © bergistheword (License)

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

Slums in Caracas Venezuela

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

(previous year)
CityCountryTotal no of
City populationMurder rate
(per 100,000)
1 (2)CaracasVenezuela3,9463,292,000120
2 (1)San Pedro SulaHonduras885797,000111
3 (27)San SalvadorEl Salvador1,9181,767,000109
4 (3)AcapulcoMexico903862,000105
5 (-)MaturínVenezuela505584,00086
6 (6)Distrito CentralHonduras8821,200,00074
7 (50)ValenciaVenezuela1,1251,556,00072
8 (11)PalmiraColombia216305,00071
9 (20)Cape TownSouth Africa2,4513,740,00066
10 (4)CaliColombia1,5232,370,00064
11 (17)Ciudad GuayanaVenezuela547878,00062
12 (7)FortalezaBrazil2,4223,985,00061
13 (12)NatalBrazil9211,518,00061
14 (13)SalvadorBrazil1,9963,292,00061
15 (45)St LouisUSA188317,00059
16 (9)João PessoaBrazil6431,101,00058
17 (16)CuliacánMexico518924,00056
18 (5)MaceióBrazil5641,014,00056
19 (36)BaltimoreUSA343624,00055
20 (10)BarquisimetoVenezuela7191,308,00055
21 (15)São LuísBrazil8021,512,00053
22 (29)CuiabáBrazil412849,00049
23 (31)ManausBrazil9852,058,00048
24 (-)CumanáVenezuela199417,00048
25 (8)Guatemala CityGuatemala1,5283,239,00047
26 (23)BelémBrazil1,1012,402,00046
27 (-)Feira de SantanaBrazil281618,00045
28 (24)DetroitUSA295672,00044
29 (-)Aparecida (Goiânia)Brazil8471,953,00043
30 (-)TeresinaBrazil360844,00041
31 (14)VitoriaBrazil8021,910,00042
32 (26)New OrleansUSA164395,71041
33 (19)KingstonJamaica4921,196,00041
34 (-)Gran BarcelonaVenezuela334833,00040
35 (47)TijuanaMexico6681,709,00039
36 (14)Vitória da ConquistaBrazil132343,00038
37 (39)RecifeBrazil1,4923,914,00038
38 (46)AracajuBrazil349926,00038
39 (-)Campos dos GoytacazesBrazil175484,00036
40 (25)Campina GrandeBrazil146405,00036
41 (48)DurbanSouth Africa1,2373,442,00036
42 (41)Nelson Mandela BaySouth Africa4131,152,00036
43 (-)Porto AlegreBrazil1,4794,259,00035
44 (-)CuritibaBrazil1,1213,230,00035
45 (34)PereiraColombia153470,00033
46 (22)VictoriaMexico107351,00031
47 (-)JohannesburgSouth Africa1,3444,435,00030
48 (40)MacapáBrazil138456,00030
49 (42)MaracaiboVenezuela4771,653,00029
50 (-)ObregónMexico90318,00028

Data provided by research from the Mexican institute of Secutiry, Justice and Peace.