5 Exotic Beach Destinations You’re Scared Of (But Shouldn’t Be)

The world is not a peaceful place. And when disaster strikes abroad, the media circus can make scary situations seem even scarier -- to the point where traveling anywhere can seem life-threatening, even more so when it's to locales that are off the beaten track. So you may be particularly scared of these five beach destinations, which have all made headlines; not in a good way, but instead for serious tragedies from war, to plane crashes, to murder. We understand why some travelers may be tempted to write them off for good, but we'd advise against letting isolated incidents permanently color your perception of these exotic paradises. It's always a good idea to exercise caution when you travel -- and we have plenty of advice for you on what to do in case the worst does happen -- but the risk in traveling to these underrated gems is not as great as you think. And the upside? Well, the pictures speak for themselves... 

1. Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao Bamboo Huts

2014 was not a good year for Thailand tourism. First, the Royal Thai armed forces launched a successful coup against the government in May; while this was certainly unsettling, the change didn’t impact the tourist experience much (there was a nightly curfew for a time, but it was quickly repealed). But then tourists got another scare in September when a British couple was murdered on a beach on Koh Tao, a popular diving and snorkeling destination. The tiny island is smaller and more remote than Koh Samui and Koh Phangnan, neighboring islands in the Gulf of Thailand, but all three have been generally regarded as safe and largely still are. A pair of Burmese immigrants is being charged with the murders, but many believe the two are being used as scapegoats and that the Thai police mishandled the investigation. The case has received widespread international media attention. 

Why You Should Still Go: 

While the incident is undeniably tragic and raises some real concerns, it’s worth remembering that the homicide rate in Thailand was reported by the World Health Organization at 5.5 people per 100,000 in 2012 — compared to 5.4 per 100,000 in the United States. 

2. Nicaragua

Aqua Wellness Resort, Nicaragua

Aqua Wellness Resort, Nicaragua

For Baby Boomers and members of Generation X, “Nicaragua” is often immediately associated with “contras.” (And even Millennials may have read about the “Iran-Contra” affair in history books, in which senior Reagan administration officials helped sell arms to Iran and allegedly used the proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan resistance). But the days of rebel fighting in Nicaragua are long over, and today the country has a warm, welcoming attitude toward tourists, as well as low crime statistics; it is considered by many to be the safest country in Central America, based on data in a report by the United Nations Development Program

Why You Should Still Go:

Its tourism infrastructure isn’t as developed as that of Costa Rica, its neighbor to the south, but Nicaragua offers many of the same natural attractions — lush rainforest, beautiful white-sand beaches, volcanoes, and rich wildlife. The upscale travel market here is emerging, and a high-profile luxury resort, Mukul, opened in the country in 2013. When we visited, we also were fans of the rustic-luxe beach retreat Aqua Wellness Resort

3. Malaysia

The Andaman, A Luxury Collection Resort, Malaysia

The Andaman, A Luxury Collection Resort, Malaysia

We understand why no one is eager to fly to Malaysia right now. First, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in March (Malaysian government officials believe it likely crashed in the Southern Indian Ocean), and then Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over the Ukraine. Both incidents were followed by relentless international media coverage. 

Why You Should Still Go:

“Malaysia” and “plane crashes” shouldn’t become synonymous; statistically, you’re still much more likely to die in a car accident than a plane crash (even if you’re flying to Malaysia). Of the 3.1 billion airplane passengers in 2013, there were 173 fatalities; even though 2014 numbers might be a tad higher, they’re still not high when compared to other modes of transport. You don’t need a statistics degree to understand that the number of fatal car crashes in the U.S. alone (30,800 in 2012) is the bigger concern. Still not convinced? Check out the analysis of this 2013 study that compared fatality risks across U.S. modes of transportation. Spoiler: Driving is over 100 times more dangerous than commercial aviation. Even walking and bicycling are more dangerous. 

And Malaysia has a lot to offer visitors. The Langkawi Islands in particular are known for their beautiful beaches, mangrove forests, and wildlife-rich rain forests. 

4. The Maldives

Kihaad Maldives

Kihaad Maldives

When many people think of climate change, they think of the Maldives — because this island nation is just 1.5 meters above sea level, it’s one of the first places that will feel the effects of rising sea levels. Many warn its 26 atolls (which include over 100 resort islands) could completely disappear

Why You Should Still Go:

Even though the Maldives is at risk of being engulfed by the sea, it’s not going to be an overnight change, so it shouldn’t impact your travel plans. If anything, travelers should prioritize a trip to these stunning islands while they’re still around.

5. Tunisia

SENTIDO Phenicia, Hammamet, Tunisia

SENTIDO Phenicia, Hammamet, Tunisia

The 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia led to the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali — and to a major downtick in tourism. Tourism numbers are rebounding (if not yet to 2010 levels), and though it’s not impossible that protests still may occur in Tunis, they are typically non-violent and not aimed at foreigners. In December 2014, Beji Caid Essebsi won Tunisia’s first free presidential election

Why You Should Still Go:

Tourists to popular beach destinations like Hammamet may encounter some pushy shop salespeople or the odd scammer — but that’s probably about it. Do monitor the warnings on the State Department website (or for UK citizens, gov.uk), but otherwise, just prepare to enjoy sunbathing on Hammamet Beach, riding camels, browsing the local markets, and exploring the historic old city. 

Warning: After the publication of this story, there was an attack on a luxury resort in Tunisia. Please check the U.S. Travel Advisory before your trip to ensure that it is considered safe.