Salvador: 2,000 murders a year but lovely historic centre

Pack lightly and forget about the travel insurance, here are 10 of the most dangerous cities in the world worth risking your life to visit.

1) Islamabad, Pakistan

Pakistan has long been vaunted as the next big thing, but tourism has consistently failed to take off due to the country’s volatile security situation. And that’s everyone’s loss.

The capital, Islamabad, has the capacity to surprise like few others. A modern metropolis of cutting-edge architecture, manicured parks and world-class cultural attractions, it’s the Pakistan you rarely see in the media.

Art galleries abound, the cuisine is sensational and boutique shops and fashion shows reflect the city’s growing cosmopolitan vibe. Sadly, political instability and sporadic violence means few dare to experience it.

Despite a volatile security situation, Islamabad ain't half bad

2) Detroit, USA

Not just financially bankrupt, Detroit is in the red with the moral bean-counters as well, ball-parking 45 murders per 100,000 people each year. But as with every apocalypse, it’s the artists that have survived the blast, and they’re rebuilding this clapped-out old city.

From the Heidelberg Project, an art endeavour that turns rundown houses into open-air oeuvres, to a contemporary art museum in an abandoned car dealership, creative spirits are redefining Detroit. What’s more, those innovative sparks have plugged into the Motor City’s dining and music scenes as well.

Art in dangerous Detroit has become a wheel-y big deal3) Cali, ColombiaWe’re unsure if Colombia’s third biggest city was an influence on Sophie Ellis-Bextor, but it’s the most likely place to have a murder on the dancefloor. Shouldered by mountains and with sprouts of national park, this is the world capital of salsa – and a throbbing metropolis with a murder rate of 65 per 100,000.

Beyond the ceaseless snake hips, Cali sizzles with swathes of colonial churches, sweeps of gleaming boutiques and sublime botanical gardens. A 26m-high (85ft) statue of Jesus Christ surveys it all from the hills above.

Cali, Columbia’s scariest city, is the world capital of salsa

4) Caracas, Venezuela

This jumbled basin of high rises and sprawl is unlikely to set your heart a-racing with passion on first glance, and its links with drug trafficking means robbery and petty crimes are common too.

But pulsating through the city’s steamy streets is a determined lust for the good life. Find neon-lit clubs and hip bars filled with spirited revellers, and a multitude of restaurants serving some of the best food on the continent. Yes, Caracas is edgy, frenetic and at times pretty damn raw. But stick to the right areas and you’re sure have the time of your life.

Crime isn't the only cloud hanging over Caracas

5) Acapulco, Mexico

Once Mexico’s premier spot for the glam party crowd, Acapulco’s charms were tarnished by its involvement in ongoing drug wars. It has since become more a hangout for holidaying Mexicans than the international draw it once was.

While violent incidents do make the headlines from time to time, this is a city that’s very much considered safe for the visitor, and you’ll be well rewarded by a breathtaking backdrop of golden bays, luminous blue waters and lush rolling greenery. Highlights include the busy beach life of Playa Condesa and the botanical garden.

Its involvement in drug wars tarnished Acapulco’s charm

6) Cape Town, South Africa

By day, Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but by night it’s one of the the most unsafe with high incidences of mugging and general crime rates. But while Cape Town is now outdoing even Johannesburg in the crime stakes, that doesn’t seem to be putting off the visitors, who continue to flock to Cape Town’s sandy bays, world-class vineyards and revamped waterfront.

This is not only South Africa’s oldest city, but also one of the world’s most multicultural, and this ethnic melting pot presents a truly fascinating culinary scene and creative culture.

Are we safe up here? Cape Town in its full glory

7) San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Although San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ industrial capital, has a fittingly notorious reputation for ‘The World’s Most Dangerous City’ it is not the anarchistic warzone it is regularly depicted as, as we found out when we visited.

Though the stats of 171 murders per 100,000 citizens is certain to leave a knot in the stomachs of even the most adventurous travellers, those who brave the city are rewarded with delicious street food, a vibrant nightlife scene (fuelled by its quirky bars made from converted houses) and sublime trekking opportunities in the surrounding mountains. Just stay out of the suburbs.

Armed police are omnipresent throughout the city
8) Lagos, NigeriaUnfairly tarred with the ‘terrorist threat’ brush that sweeps across much of Nigeria, Lagos also has its own tourist hazards thanks to the so-called Agberos, gangs of street kids who extort money from passers-by, sometimes violently.

However, the city is shaking off its treacherous reputation and enjoying an influx in international tourists. The manic metropolis is a stimulating spot for spunky sightseers, with its vibrant music scene (Paul McCartney once recorded an album here), plethora of ebullient year-round festivals, and even a selection of sandy beaches just a stone’s throw away.

Brave Lagos and discover its beautiful beaches

9) Sana’a, Yemen

Saudi airstrikes. American drone strikes. Al Qaeda. Islamic State. If you’re not blown up in Sana’a, you’ll certainly be blown away: this has to be one of the most striking cities on Earth.

Though various warring factions are currently knocking lumps out of this ancient metropolis, its gorgeous Old Town is packed with architectural gems dating back some 2,500 years.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site (albeit one on the danger list), the city is renowned for its ubiquitous earthen towers, which are adorned with elaborate frescos. The Salt Market offers a slice of authentic local life, but you’ll be treading dangerous ground.

Sana’a is one of the most striking cities on Earth

10) Salvador, Brazil

Laid out along a transcendentally tropical coast, the original (and long-crowned) capital of Brazil rivals Rio for good looks. With ornate baroque churches and a historic centre chock with splendidly painted 17th-century houses, the city has much to get architecture admirers in a tizz.

But it’s the passion of the locals that really gives Salvador its salvo: colourful African carnivals collide with capoeiristas; dazzling street artists spray to the sound of speaker-shredding samba. It’s just a weeping shame about the 2,000 or so murders each year.

Salvador isn't as half as bad as its murder rate suggets