Top Tourist Spots Americans Can’t Visit
June 10, 2008 5:56 PM   Subscribe

Top Tourist Spots Americans Can’t Visit. Some will take this as a challenge.
posted by LarryC (56 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can visit Cuba. *waves Canadian passport around mockingly*

LOL BAY OF PIGS
posted by SassHat at 5:59 PM on June 10, 2008 [7 favorites]


Kind of thin. Also this is wrong:

a visit to the Islamic Republic could be a risky move.

I've never been to Iran, but there are scores of anecdotes about how friendly ordinary Iranian citizens are to visiting Americans. They are savvy people who understand that the US government =! average American.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:01 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Four. Four places.

I hope that before I die, going to Cuba will be perfectly legal for US citizens. It's so silly.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:02 PM on June 10, 2008


Plenty of Americans go to Cuba as there are few American beaches where speedos are welcome. Also, the other three places are off-limits to nearly everyone, so saying they're off-limits to Americans is sort of misleading.

Places that 75% of Americans Can't Go: somewhere where you love your President.
posted by GuyZero at 6:06 PM on June 10, 2008


I can't say I'm really that anxious to hit the beaches of Mogadishu (relaxing?) or go to a spiritual retreat in North Korea (hard to get my zen on when I have to ignore the starving North Koreans on my way there). As for Cuba, I know plenty of Americans that have gone there. Persepolis would be cool, but it's been there for over 2000 years and it can wait another decade or 2 for me to show up.

Slim pickings, this post.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:18 PM on June 10, 2008


I wouldn't wanna go any place that wouldn't have me anyway.

Those Cuban cigars are pretty good, though.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:21 PM on June 10, 2008


Cool idea. Kinda thin on content. I suppose Foreign Policy's not exactly a travel periodical, though.

It should include some places that are possible but difficult, like, say, Bhutan. Which I understand is absolutely gorgeous and completely unique. Or maybe North Sentinal Island, where you can go, but the natives will kill you because they've never had contact with the outside world.
posted by echo target at 6:25 PM on June 10, 2008


When you're an American in Mexico, the whole Cuba embargo thing doesn't even seem like a minor obstacle.
posted by smackfu at 6:29 PM on June 10, 2008


The 2010 version of this list will have to add anyplace that one has to buy a plane ticket to get to, since most Americans won't be able to afford those by that time.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:34 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


turgid---
Cuban cigars are ok, but you can get plenty of truly excellent ones from other places in South America that come from Cuban seed and are manufactured by ex-Cubans.
I am eager to see Cuba, but fear that once the floodgates open all the KFCs and GapCastroKids will indelibly reduce the place to ShittyStripMall, USA.
posted by Dizzy at 6:34 PM on June 10, 2008


I read this as "repressive-scary homes several of my friends wish they could go back to someday but are really thankful to have escaped and wish their families could leave too."
posted by Tehanu at 6:35 PM on June 10, 2008


1) Hard to get in. OK.

2) "Technically illegal". Ridiculous, but also widely evaded AFAIK.

3) Anarchy. Which prevents people, including Americans, how? One gets the impression they think that Americans will only visit a country if the mall parking is good.

4) Hard to get visa. Shades of Cuban ridiculousness, but not quite the "can't visit" the title promised.

5) Dangerous place. So why isn't Antarctica on this list? For that matter, by this metric, there are places in America that Americans (of some skin color or other) "can't visit".
posted by DU at 6:42 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I call bullshit. Yes, you could go there and get killed, the people back home don't want you going there, and it could be difficult to get there, but I don't see anything that prevents USians from visiting. Actually, that list is practically a list of where at least a certain type of USian is most prone to go - dangerous places where they're not wanted. Show me places where they actually won't let me in, period - not where there isn't a US consulate.
posted by bartleby at 6:42 PM on June 10, 2008


It's perfectly easy for an American to visit Myanmar/Burma. Applying for the visa was incredibly simple, and while the infrastructure was lacking (a lot of 12-hour bumpy bus rides), in terms of personal safety, it's much safer than any place in the West. And that picture looks like it's from Inle Lake, not Mandalay.
posted by alidarbac at 6:50 PM on June 10, 2008


I have been to Cuba legally. It's awesome. We met scores of people in Miami who claimed they could travel to and from Cuba whenever they wanted by claiming some ridiculous religion or another. They all described the whole charade as a joke. And Cuba will happily take American travelers. The actual technicality that prevents people from traveling is a Treasury Department restriction on spending money in Cuba.
posted by braksandwich at 6:52 PM on June 10, 2008


in terms of personal safety, it's much safer than any place in the West.

You're not the one in danger there. It's everyone who talks to you who is.
posted by Tehanu at 6:53 PM on June 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


One more interesting anecdote about Cuba: Cuban police go WAY out of their way to look out for Americans there and make sure they are safe. We were aware of it every day, one cop even gave us advice on how to avoid getting your stuff stolen while in Cuba.
posted by braksandwich at 6:55 PM on June 10, 2008


"The more adventurous can enjoy trekking, budget-priced skiing, or some wicked rock climbing. Travellers with a deep-seated need for a few brews and/or a spot of heartfelt feminist discourse may want to consider another destination, but Iran has a huge amount to offer."
posted by jaronson at 6:57 PM on June 10, 2008


Would give a new meaning to "invading" Iran, wouldn't it?
posted by jaronson at 7:02 PM on June 10, 2008


I am not an American, but I've been to two of the five on this list - Persepolis & Mandalay - and I call absolute bollocks on this.

Persepolis (Iran): No red tape other than the standard visa application process, and for an Australian, less than would be required for me to visit the USA. Iranians are overwhelmingly friendly, courteous & generous. Not the tiniest hint of danger in the month or so I spent there. Iranians I spoke to went to great lengths to point out that while the respective governments might be at loggerheads, on a person-to-person basis they have no problem with Americans. American travellers I met in Iran told me the same thing. [disclaimer: this was pre-9/11, and pre-Bush / "axis of evil"]

Mandalay (Burma): Western travelers still face a litany of dangers in Burma BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Nothing could be further from the truth. I was there for a month last xmas / NY period, and it's by far the friendliest & safest-feeling country I've visited, out of (I forget) approaching 50 or so Western & developing countries so far. And that was travelling solo, as well.

I can only assume that the author of the article hasn't actually been to the places he or she is writing about, and is therefore pulling assumptions & stereotypes directly out of his or her arse.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:18 PM on June 10, 2008 [6 favorites]


Actually, that list is practically a list of where at least a certain type of USian is most prone to go - dangerous places where they're not wanted.

My BS radar is pinging!

Dangerous? Cuba? When I went, the Cuban immigration control barely looked at us, and put a very small nondescript stamp in my passport. My friend J. has been there three times, and rode his bike almost all the way to the eastern end of the island. As a gringa, I felt safer there than I did in Costa Rica or Guatemala, and the locals couldn't have been more lovely or accommodating. And the scenery was incredible.

And Burma? Please, you're more likely to encounter a bucket shower than any trouble with the authorities. Granted, I was there about 18 months ago. We were in the eastern Shan State, not the area where the big cities are (Mandalay and Yangon), but a region where there is still a bit of regional ethnic resistance to the military govt. We were not the only westerners in town, but certainly the only Americans. Locals loved talking to us (or attempting to), because they wanted to practice their English. It was beautiful!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:18 PM on June 10, 2008


ps - Mandalay is a dump, anyway. Bagan is far & away the clear tourist highlight of Burma, although Lake Inle was also up there.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:21 PM on June 10, 2008


Would love to see Mecca, but not really keen on converting.
posted by RavinDave at 7:24 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mandalay, difficult? Hardly. Hideous government aside, it's a lovely country. I wish I could live there (well, not in Mandalay, actually).
posted by aramaic at 7:28 PM on June 10, 2008


My father went to North Korea (not to Mount Kumgang, so far as I know) last year, and he reported that although he was required to take the "Our Country, Let Us Show You It" tour, customs was far less stringent than in the US. They want you to see their awesome, prosperous communist regime and how much better it is than capitalism &c &c.

I know the point of the North Korea entry was that specific mountain and how you can't get to it because it's not on the tour, but you know, I bet if someone reaaaaaaally wanted to and had the right connections/eloquence, they could get a special guided tour.



DU, Antarctica isn't on this list because thousands of tourists go there every year. Pricey, but totally doable. I wouldn't call it dangerous, either - as a tourist, you can't visit in winter, there's no one there to mug you, and you're closely supervised at all times. Admittedly, it could be a problem if you suddenly discover an allergy to penguin guano, because boy does that stuff penetrate. I went with my parents a few years ago. If anyone wants a tour group recommendation sometime, MefiMail me.
posted by bettafish at 8:16 PM on June 10, 2008


North Korea: After a post in AskMe comments about globalexchange tours, I'm seriously considering going on the visit to the DPRK. I'd love to not be subject to the single-fare tax though; if anyone else would be interested in going, seriously, memail me. Or, if anyone went, I'd love to hear about your experience.

Cuba is such a fantastic and interesting place, and all the rest of you non-Ugly Americans need to find a way to visit before it is overrun democracy, I mean, capitalism, I mean. blah. I had the opportunity to live there for a while during school, and I really appreciate the fact that I could learn from real people what is really going on there and how Cubans feel about it. Not the press (US or other), and not the diaspora. It's exciting to see that there is finally some modernisation in the country, alongside the old system. This is more or less what people were telling me they wanted: Castro had to go, more internationalization, more modernization.
posted by whatzit at 8:23 PM on June 10, 2008


I've been to three and I'm heading to Mt. Kumgang, DPRK in the late summer. Canada, Fuck Yeah!
posted by gman at 8:24 PM on June 10, 2008


I'd love to not be subject to the single-fare tax though; if anyone else would be interested in going, seriously, memail me.

posted by whatzit

Koryo Tours
will not charge you a single supplement if you don't mind possibly sharing with another solo traveller.
posted by gman at 8:35 PM on June 10, 2008


Henry Rollins, if he already knows about this site, has already checked Iran off his list and (I am quite certain) going to hit the rest of them before long.
posted by Sam.Burdick at 8:53 PM on June 10, 2008


Niihau is pretty much closed off to Americans, even though it's part of Hawaii.
posted by RavinDave at 8:58 PM on June 10, 2008


(gman: I take it your summer trip is through Koryo? How's it been, dealing with them? I wonder if the same singles-sharing thing may apply in globalexchange, also. I looked at Koryo but apparently if you are a US citizen you are only eligible to travel on the trips for US citizens which are only open to US citizens and are only 3-4 days long and only during the mass games. Why globalexchange can have different policies, I don't know. I did email with Koryo about these questions. I'll be doing the cost/benefit on it in the next day or two, which one I may go with.)
posted by whatzit at 8:59 PM on June 10, 2008


Is cuba nice?
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:39 PM on June 10, 2008


This list is fucking ridiculous. It makes me want to take what I understand to be a completely safe trip to Cuba via Mexico/Canada just so I can piss in the author's face.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:44 PM on June 10, 2008


I understand that Cuba is easy, if you go through Mexico. The Mexicans will give you an insert to put in your passport for the Cubans to plunk. When you get back to Mexico, throw away the insert. Roundtrip airfare seems to cost about $350.00. Course, everything I know about this is from the internet.
posted by faceonmars at 10:46 PM on June 10, 2008


Technically, it's only illegal to visit Cuba if you spend money while you're there.
posted by delmoi at 12:05 AM on June 11, 2008


I understand that Cuba is easy, if you go through Mexico. The Mexicans will give you an insert to put in your passport for the Cubans to plunk.

Generally, they don't stamp passports at all. My (Canadian) passport has a bunch of tiny little smudges that I know come from Havana's airport, but they're not really identifiable as crypto-Cuban stamps to anyone. At the very least, they're tiny smudges of plausible deniability.

Why do they do this if it's not even illegal for a Canadian to visit Cuba? I'm not sure, but I imagine a passport full of Cuban stamps would be a bother at US security on other trips, though. US Customs is weird that way.

I have also heard other people in line actually say "Can you please not stamp that?". Again, I imagine it's just to prevent future possible hassles in the USA.
posted by rokusan at 12:57 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


OnlyCoolTim, the cheap route for East Coasters is generally via Montreal, from where there are a billion $199 type packages every time I look. So you go "to Montreal" for two weeks, and your passport (see above) reflects that. Pretty watertight.
posted by rokusan at 12:59 AM on June 11, 2008


whatzit - Haven't been to North Korea, although my parents went on a tightly controlled group tour. They said it was one of the most beautiful country sides they have ever seen. And they are serious mountain hikers. Here is a nice comic book about a cartoonist (Canadian) working in Pyong Yang, the capitol of North Korea. The North Koreans are taking over the cell tracers of South Korea!
posted by slyrabbit at 1:42 AM on June 11, 2008


Persepolis

See it before it gets the same treatment as the Ishtar gate.
posted by rodgerd at 2:45 AM on June 11, 2008


I can personally vouch for the fact that Baracoa is indeed lovely, and that Cuba is very safe, even if the authorities' behaviour falls between "rather annoying" and "downright disgusting". Backpacking it is at least possible to minimise the amount of hard currency that the regime will get out of you, while directly benefitting the locals.

On the other hand, my father visited Mogadishu right before the place descended into downright anarchy, and he told me that, although the beach was indeed beautiful, the main slaughterhouse was directly by the seaside, which attracted a large number of sharks, so that swimming was something reserved to the very brave or downright suicidal.

As for anybody who visits Burma or North Korea, quite frankly, he or she deserves to stay there.
posted by Skeptic at 3:02 AM on June 11, 2008


Persepolis would be cool, but it's been there for over 2000 years and it can wait another decade or 2 for me to show up.

Well, if John "Bomb Iran" McCain gets elected, perhaps not.
posted by Skeptic at 3:05 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


As for anybody who visits Burma or North Korea, quite frankly, he or she deserves to stay there.

No thanks. Those places are prone to disaster.

When I went to Burma in 2001, I took a few steps to try to minimize my impact. I waited in the back of the line at the airport and bribed the official $5 so I wouldn't have to buy the government mandated $200 worth of FEC funny money. This allowed me to put REAL money in the hands of the general public (guest houses, markets, etc.). I also went to no sites i.e. Bagan - so as to not line the officials' pockets with hard currency. My biggest contribution to the junta-- the $30 I paid for my visa.

After I left, I then wrote an article offering my opinion as to why tourists shouldn't go- the gist of it being that they are unlikely to take the aforementioned steps and visiting, even if to hear the locals' stories and retell them to a few people, is outweighed by the money being put in the junta's hands to continue the oppression.

To be honest, I did feel a little guilty after I got back and I'll probably feel the same way after North Korea, BUT I will have finished my Axis of Evil tour within Bush's presidency.
posted by gman at 4:25 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


gman: I take it your summer trip is through Koryo? How's it been, dealing with them?

Dude's name is Simon and he's been great. Answers emails immediately. They seem to have their shit together - especially compared VNC in Amsterdam. I actually applied for a North Korean visa through them in 2004, but was denied.
posted by gman at 4:29 AM on June 11, 2008


Having brown skin can have its advantages. It won't get me into N. Korea, but lets me blend in in Somalia better than your average Kakujin (who the article was obviously targeted at), and I've often been asked if I'm Dominican (though whether that's much better than American in Cuba, I dunno. Them Latins is a contentious bunch) and I could easily pass for Muslim. Bean pie, my brother?
posted by Eideteker at 4:43 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Having brown skin can have its advantages.

Damnit, Eideteker, brown people have it so easy!
posted by Pollomacho at 5:52 AM on June 11, 2008


and for an Australian, less than would be required for me to visit the USA

As an Australian, all you need is an Australian passport and a plane ticket to visit the USA for up to 90 days. Australians can no longer get a 7-day upon-arrival visa to Iran.

Still, it is complete bullshit that an American couldn't go to Iran. My dad, who more than anyone on Earth longs to go back before he dies, not so much, but anyone else, no problem.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:06 AM on June 11, 2008


I met a few Americans in Iran. They, like my British travel partner, simply needed a fake letter of sponsorship through an Iranian tour agency. Costs like 100$.

As a side note, this same British pal used to love to tell locals I am not only a Jew, but an Israeli (latter part is untrue). At first, I was apprehensive with this joke, but not one Iranian took issue with it. In fact, most would reply with - "My Yehudi brother!".
posted by gman at 6:49 AM on June 11, 2008


Even as an American I visited Baracoa legally and it is indeed, a very charming and sleepy Cuban paradise. I even stayed at El Castillo which was amazing. I can see a day in the future when it could become an overpriced tourist trap.
posted by JJ86 at 7:08 AM on June 11, 2008


As an Australian, all you need is an Australian passport and a plane ticket to visit the USA for up to 90 days.

Really? Visa upon arrival? Are you sure?

Still, I could expect all kinds of obnoxious security hoops to jump through - fingerprinting, searches etc, right?

One of the most unexpected aspects of notorious police states like Burma & Iran was that - as a tourist - I was effectively invisible, or irrelevant to the authorities. I'd expected to be thoroughly searched upon arrival, for porn, alcohol, subversive literature etc. No such thing. I expected random ID checks from police on the street. Nup. Or constant checkpoints. None of that either. Actually, there was one in Burma, at which other westerners just stayed on the bus & rode through the checkpoint & the military saw them & couldn't care less.

Oppressive as the systems may be, they seem more geared towards controlling their own population. As a tourist, they leave you alone, and actually afford you a great deal of courtesy & respect if you happen to deal with them in any way.

Not that police or the army were even visible themselves in Burma, a fact I found unbelievable so soon after the monks' uprising. Seriously, only one checkpoint, no groups of soldiers on street corners as in Kashmir, no ID checks, nothing. It was as if they didn't even exist. I understand they operate more through informers than an overt presence...?

As for anybody who visits Burma or North Korea, quite frankly, he or she deserves to stay there.

Care to explain? Anecdotally, I bumped into the Australian UNESCO Ambassador to Burma whilst there, and asked whether he thought - as a relative expert on the ground - tourists should visit or not. His answer was unequivocal: absolutely. As long as you avoid government hotels & businesses, you directly benefit the people (with western money which is worth a lot, relatively) and participate in a cultural exchange that might eventually help them. Staying away does nothing to destabilise the government. They're rich enough already from their business deals with China & multinational corporations.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:19 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Really? Visa upon arrival? Are you sure?

Yes, since 1986.

Still, I could expect all kinds of obnoxious security hoops to jump through - fingerprinting, searches etc, right?

Yes, since 1984 (actually since 2003, but 1984 works better for dramatic effect).

One of the most unexpected aspects of notorious police states like Burma & Iran was that - as a tourist - I was effectively invisible, or irrelevant to the authorities.

I've found it rather refreshing when in police states and conflict hot spots when you walk in and ask for a room at a hotel room, they kind of look at you as if to say, "really, you're a tourist, here? Well OK..." before they get out the registry and start signing you in (or not as is often the case since then they'd have record of the foreign currency they just obtained).
posted by Pollomacho at 8:23 AM on June 11, 2008


computech_apolloniajames: "When I went, the Cuban immigration control barely looked at us, and put a very small nondescript stamp in my passport."

A little stamp that says "BANK" and has a picture of a building, by any chance? On page 16?
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:38 AM on June 11, 2008


LOL Political Newsfilter.
posted by y2karl at 12:47 PM on June 11, 2008


I originally read this as Top Tourist Spots in American that Americans Can’t Visit which would have been illuminating at the very least.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 6:08 PM on June 11, 2008


FWIW, to follow up on the N. Korea tour aside that gman and I were having:
* globalexchange (gx) has the same single-room-charge-if-they-can't-find-a-roommate-policy as Koryo seems to.
* the gx trip is 7 days, for about 2/3 the price of the 3 day Koryo trip (as an American, you can only go on the 3 day US-citizen-only trips).
* both trips cover the major attractions. The differences are a) Koryo offers (to non-Americans) trips with special themes or to different parts of the country and b) the gx trip spends the additional 3 or 4 days on social or daily life issues. On the September 2008 itinerary there's an embroidery factory, a clinic, a farm, I think a school, can't remember what all else, and not all in Pyongyang. I also thought it was cool that in signing up for gx, I was specifically asked (once on the application, and once by the coordinator) if there was any particular organization or area of interest I wanted to include, which might be added as a deviation from the itinerary, at my request. Not guaranteed, but that's pretty cool!
* so far, dealing with gx has been fine, though I wish I could ever reach them by phone instead of email (I'm on the other side of the planet, calling options are limited). All correspondence has been fast and professional.
* the gx trip leaves out of Shenyang, China, instead of Beijing, where Koryo does. Shenyang does not even have direct flights from Tokyo, so I can imagine getting there from the US is kind of a pain in the ass.

The more you know! And thanks, kookoobirdz, for posting your comment about gx in AskMe a while ago so I bothered to look if they had a DPRK trip.
posted by whatzit at 9:54 PM on June 21, 2008



A little stamp that says "BANK" and has a picture of a building, by any chance? On page 16?


I don't know if this was meant as a joke or not, but mine says JOSÉ MARTI (airport's name in havana) with some squirrely corner scrolls. It was put on the first available passport page. It does not look like the google image results, and does not say Cuba anywhere. I'm not even sure it had the date on the same stamp (passport's out for servicing or I'd check).
posted by whatzit at 10:00 PM on June 21, 2008




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