Want to avoid the crowds? Head to a city or country on the State Department watch list. Want to avoid crowds and stay safe? Head to a city that used to be.
History moves faster than the travel industry and the best places to visit are often yesterday's war zones. The main reason the pendulum swings so far so fast is that tourists are a tremendous boon to struggling economies and are generally welcomed with open arms in places where unrest has led to instability. That makes traveling to formerly dangerous places smart for both selfish and humanitarian reasons.
Panama City, Panama
Why You Didn't Want to Go: When smuggling constitutes a significant portion of your local economy, there's bound to be some violence. Panama City has long struggled with crime statistics that don't make it an attractive destination. The number remain considerable courtesy of gangs, but the violence is far more contained than it used to be.
Why You Want to Go Now: Panama City is easy to get to, beautiful, and diverse. You do not want to wander into the wrong neighborhood (that would be Balboa or Cerro Ancón), but Casco Viejo, the oldest part of town, and the booming new downtown area are wonderful to visit. The city also offers access to paths that run along and – in the case of the Amador Causeway – into the Pacific. Savvy travelers check into the gorgeous, welcoming Las Clementinas and make a long weekend of it.
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