re-sized Laos_Landscape_in_Vang_Vieng

The Neglected Beauty of Former War Zones

Remember our post on Extreme Vacations way back in the middle of May?

Well here are some more ideas. Former war zones. There is no better way to help a country recover from the ravages of war than to visit it. Here are four nations now deemed safe for tourists.


The people of El Salvador are “fed up with their nation’s reputation as a place to avoid” says Rob Crossan in The Independent. Their troubles were way back in the Eighties when the country was devastated by a bitter civil war and several horrendous earthquakes. But a truce was signed in 1992 and today there is little evidence of the conflict apart from the occasional shell riddled military checkpoint.

The capital, San Salvador, has its problems – smog, overcrowding and litter being some of them, but beyond it lies a landscape of forested national parks, mountain ranges and a coastline that’s a renowned surfer’s paradise, and near the border with Guatemala, you can visit the spectacular El Imposible National Park with its array of curiously scented plants and flowers. It’s like “walking through nature’s mini bar.”

As Lonely Planet says, “Hiking, surfing, history – and hardly another tourist in sight.”



Sierra Leone was once considered “the jewel in colonial Britain’s West African crown”, but six years after a long decade of civil war, it is blighted by poverty, disease and lack of infrastructure.

While visitors will notice the squalor, they will be mesmerised by the beauty of this extroadinary country, from the sweeping stretches of perfect white sand to the dramatic topography of mountains and lush forest. You can go from the vibrant and chaotic capital, Freetown, to the primitive simplicity of the Turtle Islands.

Many assume that Sierra Leone is a lawless place, but it is now a peaceful and relatively safe country – the biggest hazard probably being malaria – for which prophylactics can be taken! It recently underwent free and fair elections.

Where else can you wander along a deserted beach in a capital city?

According to Clemency Burton-Hill in The Observer “So long as you’re up for a bit of adventure, it’s one of the most rewarding countries to visit in the world.”


Laos was the forgotten victim of the Vietnam war, says Mark Stratton in Wanderlust magazine. In the Sixties, the US dropped more bombs on Laos than it did on Japan and Germany during WWII.

During this “secret war”, the country’s communist leaders retereated into a network of caves at Vieng Zai in the northeast of the country and today it is this “cave city” that is one of Laos’s main tourist attraction bringing valuable revenue to a country still blighted by the “deadly legacy” of unexploded bombs.

Of the 468 caves, there’s a bakery cave, a bank, a circus cave and even a Chinese Embassy!

Above ground, the landscape, which was once blitzed by the bombing campaign, is again green, fertile and exotically beautiful, smelling of jasmine and frangipani. It’t taken 30 years but Laos’s wounds are finally healing.

Laos Landscape in Vang Vieng.jpg

Laos landscape in Vang Vieng.


This one comes as a surprise! I mean, it is only 14 years since nearly a million people were slaughtered in a genocide attempt that went mad. Yet the country is making a remarkable recovery. You can go from the stunningly beautiful Lake Kivu in the west to the southern Nyungwe chimpanzee forest. Everywhere feels safe. “Even in Kigali, the capital, it’s fine to walk about at night,” says Richard Green in The Sunday Times.

Rwanda’s latest line in tourism is the gorilla safari. The Sabinyo Silverback Lodge sits halfway up the extinct Sabinyo volcano and from its veranda you get the “most magnificent” views of the “fabled Mountains of the Moon”. And the gorillas themselves seem “less fearsome… more like benign, slightly comical parodies of themselves.”


The summit of Mount Sabyinyo marks the borders of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda. Mountain gorillas live on these slopes and those of the other Virunga Volcanoes.

Extreme vacations indeed – but all 4 destinations are off the beaten-tourist-track. However, it would be adviseable to check with the necessary authorities before committing yourself to an extreme vacation of this kind – rather be safe than sorry…

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