There's no denying that some parts of Pakistan are tough prospects for even the most intrepid travelers. The western tribal region is the rumored safe haven of Osama bin Laden; and Karachi, in the south, continues to see its share of violence. But Lahore, just a few hours southeast of the capital, Islamabad, has roots that run deeper than current geo-political clashes. This city of six million was not only the ancient capital of the Mughal empire, but also the capital of the ethnic Punjab state, divided during the creation of India and Pakistan in 1947. Try to visit during Basant, an annual festival known for its "killer kites." For two days each spring, the sky is filled with colorful crafts flown by rooftop pilots determined to bring down their neighbors' kites. Stay alert, though—the falling string is razor-sharp and known to injure to unlucky pedestrians.
FARC rebels still hold parts of Colombia's jungles, but recent years have seen conflict and violence steadily diminish, and the days of cocaine mogul Pablo Escobar running Medellin like a fiefdom are history. Colombia is quickly emerging as a "normal" country—one whose well-policed and safe capital city bursts with world-class dining, shopping and nightlife. A recent advertising campaign claimed that "the only risk is wanting to stay," and it seems to be the truth. Major cruise lines (from Princess to Disney) are again using Colombia's breathtaking seaside city of Cartagena as a port of call. Tourism numbers have doubled in the last four years, but the "new" Colombia is still Latin America's best-kept secret.
Like Pakistan, Bangladesh is a young country with a very long history. The former East Pakistan (and before that, part of the British Empire) sits between India and Myanmar, and below Nepal and China—and all four countries' influences are evident in the food, dress and even architecture. The Sundarbans wetlands in the southwest and Cox's Bazaar in the southeast are the country's main tourist attractions. The latter is famous for its beach on the Bay of Bengal—said to be the longest in the world, at 75 continuous miles. The landscape is unusual but fetching—the wide, white sands and rows of fir trees conjure both coastal Maine and Bermuda, the water is warm and famously shark-free. Local developers are responding to increased tourism (mostly from India) with several new luxury properties, including the Seagull Hotel, where the Presidential Suite costs $250 per night.
Most Americans know Ethiopia for the famines and subsequent unrest that killed more than one million people in the mid-80s. Twenty years later, Ethiopia isn't exactly prosperous, but travelers are welcomed with open arms and safe passage. One of several countries that bills itself as the "Cradle of Mankind," this landlocked nation in northern Africa is naturally a big drawn for archaeology buffs. The rock-hewn churches of King Lalibela, who ruled in the 12th century, are included on most itineraries. Bet Medhane Alem is the largest monolithic rock-hewn church in the world, but the cross-shaped Bete Giyorgis (Church of St. George) is more famous for being carved down into the ground.
Momar Qadafi still rules this Islamic Republic in North Africa, one of our 10 Not-So-Dangerous Destinations, but since he renounced terrorism and opened up his country to Western tourism a few years ago, travelers have raved about the riches of this little-visited country. Don't expect much nightlife in Tripoli, but its elegant mosques and bustling souks are enough to keep you busy. The long Mediterranean coast is home to spectacular ruins bearing the stamp of Phoenician, Roman, Greek and Byzantine civilizations. Inland, the Libyan Sahara is a vast expanse of oasis towns, silky horizons and remote villages that time forgot. In the far south, the Tadrart and the Acacus mountains are home to the world's largest collection of ancient cave paintings and rock engravings. Why spend another vacation staring at the French Masters when you can go all the way back to the masterpieces of the Berbers and Troglodytes?
No tourists ventured to Cambodia during the madman reign of Pol Pot in the '70s. Even after he was driven from power, Pot's jungle insurgency delayed his country's return to normalcy by at least a decade. But Cambodia has since reclaimed its proper role as a "must" on the Southeast Asian travel circuit. The country is at peace. Sure, there are still areas dotted by landmine warning signs, but if you use common sense, there's no reason you shouldn't find Cambodia as safe as Thailand. The countryside is lush, the capital city is colorful and the ancient temples of Angkor Wat are Southeast Asia's finest.
The fighting has been over for more than a decade, but the words "Bosnia and Herzegovina" still scare away travelers who prefer to stick with nearby Croatia and Slovenia. But as a tour through the scarred but charming towns and monasteries of Bosnia prove, Croatia and Slovenia aren't the only Yugoslavia successor states with something to offer. Bosnia offers plenty to do without dwelling on the country's tragic recent past. Any tour of the "heart-shaped land" should include visits to the Adriatic seaside resort of Neum, the stunningly rebuilt Ottoman bridge in Mostar, and the 16th-century dervish monastery at Tekija. For hikers and nature-lovers, Sutjeska National Park is home to one of Europe's last remaining primeval forests as well as Maglic Mountain, Bosnia's highest peak at more than 7,000 feet.
This hospitable country of seven million offers opportunities galore for alpine mountaineering (93 percent of the country is surrounded by mountains), rock climbing, hiking, high-level walking tours and horse or camel riding. After a multiple-day tour of breathtaking peaks and gorges, relax alongside Tajikistan's numerous mountain lakes and lush valleys. After recharging, explore the country's rich store of rare Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian ruins. Even in the capital, Dushanbe, high-end hotels are few. Most travelers arrange homestays with Tajiks when they arrive, or they coordinate their trip through an agency. The latter option can ease the visa process, too; though the requirements change, foreigners often need a letter of introduction from a Tajikistan-based company.
Like Cambodia, Nicaragua's reputation for violent civil war outlasted the war itself—by decades. Though the pro-Marxist Sandinistas haven't really gone away (they were recently re-elected under a different party name), the lure of capitalism proved too strong to resist. Traveling across this volcanic country is now safe and cheap, even on the public buses, and luxury hotels are popping up at every stop along the way. On the Pacific coast, beach towns like San Juan Del Sur are booming with new hotels and restaurants eager for greenbacks and euros. But the true gem of Nicaragua is Granada, the quiet colonial town whose cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages are being stubbornly dragged into the 21st century. Nearby, the stunning Ometepe Island was created when two volcanoes merged in the center of Lake Nicaragua.