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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
Wish you were here?
GreenlandMongoliaVietnamNorth KoreaBotswanaUruguay

This week, a top insurance company charted the world's most dangerous places to do business. Unsurprisingly, regions like Iraq, India and Russia were shaded brown on the "risk map", marking them as at severe risk from terrorism.

But while most countries were classified as "guarded" risk or above, by Aon, the world's second-largest insurance broker, it also highlighted, in a calming sage-green, a handful of states dotted round the globe which remain unaffected by the seemingly ever-present terror threat. So where could you go for a relatively risk-free holiday? Here are just six of the "low risk" countries.


Greenland is often badly treated by mapmakers, who, the Los Angeles Times says, "glaze it with white, and move on without citing its villages or capturing the convolutions of its coast, its broad glacial expanse". The clearly smitten author called it a "teardrop of ice."

On the Aon map, it's been coloured a safe sage. The island is politically tied to Denmark (whose threat level is described as "guarded") but the 56,000 people who live there have their own government.

The website of independent travel bible Lonely Planet places the extraordinarily large island - 2.16 million square kilometres - in the Europe section of its world map; a site search reveals raves about the destination, particularly its northern regions of Ultima Thule.

Reassuringly, under the health risks category, the travel gurus list only "hypothermia," and, somewhat obviously, point out that winter is not a good time to visit the island unless you're a masochist or a scientist. Summer, though? Gorgeous.

"The days are long, the tundra is a riot of wild flowers and red berries and there is a general feeling of wellbeing and contentment throughout the land."

Beware, though: It's not perfect.

"The trade off for these fabulous Arctic summers," the authors say, "is mind-bending plagues of mosquitoes that sting all the way through late June to early August."

Getting there can be hard, and expensive. There are flights from places like Copenhagen and Iceland, but the usual route is through the Canadian north or via cruise ship. Even the national tourist board admits that choosing Greenland as a holiday destination "takes courage". But in 2003, about 30,000 people decided to try.


Billed as the "charming birthplace of tango" - though that's debatable, as Argentina also likes to claim the dance as its own - this small South American nation is supposed to be the next travel hotspot and it's also touted as the safest republic in the area.

Uruguay boasts a UN World Heritage Site in the town of Colonia del Sacramento and the charms of the capital, Montevideo, are described as being contemplative, dusty, and with an "air of decay" by Conde Nast Traveller; the beach resorts are touted as a cross of Miami and Ibiza.

But author Ben Box, who penned Footprint Travel Guide's South America guidebook, says Uruguay is an example of the continent's quiet side.

"It wouldn't be my first choice, but that would depend if it was my first visit to South America," Mr Box says. "Most people would head to Brazil for Carnival and the beaches, or to the Andes, for snow or to Peru for architecture.

"Uruguay does tend to figure quite low on the scale, but I think it's one of those places that, once people have been to South America and are comfortable there, to see quiet Latin America."

Like its less-safe neighbours to the north in Brazil (risk level: Guarded), Uruguay boasts a carnival just after Ash Wednesday. It can, apparently, be very raucous. As Lonely Planet says: "Montevideo's staid reputation takes a battering during this time as a brace of drummers and costumed revellers advance along its streets."

But as Mr Box says, "you can't really compare it with Brazil, because Brazil is a continent to itself. The feel of the country is different. The country itself is not busy, and outside the city is quite relaxed. I hesitate to use the word sleepy, but it is very different from the rest of South America."


It might not be top of the White House's favourite countries list, but for travellers North Korea is judged to be as safe as houses. Locals, however, have other problems to keep them occupied.

Amnesty International recently documented that the people of this country, which it called one of the most isolated on earth, have been suffering from acute food shortages and famine for the better part of a decade.

Let's Go travel guides are written by Harvard University students but you don't need a diploma from that august institution to know that access to the country - described as a festival of weirdness by a Let's Go competitor - is extremely limited.

South Korean and US citizens can't even obtain visas, and the UK Foreign Office seems to advise against visiting - without actually saying don't do it. But like Aon, who gave it a safe rating, the FCO does point out that crime is extremely low and the likelihood of a terrorist attack is also pretty remote.

The British government does, however, recommend extensive travel and health insurance, and tells UK visitors to register with the embassy in the capital city of Pyongyang. It also warns that there has been an outbreak of avian flu.

If that doesn't put off the most intrepid traveller, there's this: "Perceived insults to, or jokes about, (North Korea's) political system and its leadership are severely frowned upon. Foreigners have very occasionally found themselves caught up in criminal cases for not paying what is deemed to be sufficient levels of respect."

"Oh, I so want to go there," says travel writer Claire Boobbyer, who documented Vietnam - another very safe country as determined by Aon - for Footprint Travel Guides. "I just love communist countries. I like the fact that it's so closed, and I'd love to see all the communist memorials, the memorials to the dear leader. It's just the most closed society on earth, and that appeals to my curiosity."


There is, according to one tour company, an ancient Mongolian proverb that it is "better to have seen it once than to have heard of it a thousand times".

And more and more frequently, people are travelling to this remote land, home of Genghis Khan, stark landscape, and under three million people - despite a land mass of 1,564,116 square kilometres.

There, you'll be as safe as a kitten according to Aon, and able to experience one of the world's few nomadic cultures, as well as a thriving Buddhist community. In terms of recreation, there's the Gobi desert to explore, the "blue pearl" of Lake Hovsgol, as well as the ancient city of Kharakhoum, which was the seat of the 13th-Century Mongol empire.

Like Greenland, it gets fairly frosty in the winter, but is the only sea of sage green in the Aon map in central Asia, surrounded by the more high-risk areas like China, Russia, Burma and Thailand.

Denise Gogarty, the vice-president of Nomadic Expeditions, which runs tours to Mongolia, says there's no political unrest in the country, "In fact, in 1989 and1990, when Mongolia became a democracy, the revolution was completely peaceful."

Travel guides tout the festival of Naadam, which typically takes place in July, and features traditional pastimes like wrestling, horse racing, and archery. Even though it's summer, don't expect to chill in a bikini by the hotel pool. Temperature fluctuates wildly and it could snow almost anytime.


A big date on the Vietnamese social calendar looms: Reunification Day is 30 April.

The festival celebrates the liberation of Ho Chi Minh City - Saigon - in the spring of 1975, after a bloody and controversial war with the United States. But now Americans, and plenty of other travellers, are returning to Vietnam to soak in the spectacular scenery and culture, and it's on its way to being as much of a destination as neighbouring Thailand.

"I think it's really more interesting," Miss Boobbyer says. "The communism thing is very interesting, the environment captivating, and the food is divine. I think it's the best food in the world. The smells, the sounds, the sights - it's far more interesting than Thailand."

The country was last month's cover feature in Conde Nast Traveller, and the story, "Good Afternoon Vietnam", practically gushed about the destination, calling it "a land that has unified not only north and south, but an honoured past and a rich future".

Miss Boobbyer agrees, saying that the nation has embraced tourism, and that navigation of the cities and countryside in English isn't as challenging as one might expect.

"They're so keen on inviting foreign investment," she says. "They bend over backwards for that. And for tourists, standards are extremely high, even for what is, essentially, a third-world country.

"They have a good background in the service industry, and they know what service means. That is important. There is a good range of services for tourists, from high-class hotels to backpacker's hostels. And I was amazed for what you could get on a budget."

Though Vietnam has also had outbreaks of Avian flu, it's been flooded with international visitors: according to figures on the official tourism website, there were nearly 300,000 visitors in March alone. In the first three months of 2005, there were nearly 900,000 tourists in the country, a more than 20% increase from 2004.


Its capital Gaborone is so obscure it's not even recognised by MS Word's own spellchecker but Botswana's wider appeal lies in its vast wildernesses rather than its "urban" centres.

In a continent dogged by poverty, ethnic divisions and corruption, Botswana is an oasis of tranquillity, some might say mundanity. The combination of diamond money, cattle farming, relatively little bribery and regular democratic elections have marked it out as one of Africa's few stable and successful economies.

Its sleepy capital, described by the Lonely Planet as a "sprawling village", is centred on a post-war shopping street that wouldn't look out of place in a provincial English town. But the outskirts are starting to buzz as new office blocks and shopping centres spring up from the tinder-dry landscape.

Few tourists spend time in Gaborone, heading instead for the wildlife habitats such as the Okavango Delta - said to be the biggest inland delta in the world - where safaris are conducted in dug-out canoes called mokoros.

There have been no recorded terrorist attacks in Botswana. The chief threats, according to one former resident, tend to come from the poor driving standards and wildlife - lion and elephant casualties are not unheard of. Anecdotally, at least, petty crime is also on the rise.

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