8 Beautiful Places Prone to Natural Disasters

Risky places worth a visit

Photo: Wead/Shutterstock

Natural disasters are a fact of life for almost every person on the planet. Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and the like are Mother Nature's newsmakers, and most people live in a region that is affected by at least one of these destructive forces.

Even travelers must take the possibility of natural disasters in stride — it’s just part of the package. If you want to vacation in the Caribbean in the late summer or early fall (when hotel rates and airfares are at their cheapest), you keep an eye on the hurricane forecast and consider buying trip cancelation insurance. Spending the summer in the Central Plains? You find out where the nearest tornado shelter is. Travelers should be prepared for the worst and be confident that the worst probably won't happen.

That said, there are some popular travel destinations that are at risk for more than one type of natural disaster. Where are these hot spots? And why are they worth visiting despite the dangers? Let’s find out.

Japan

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In a recent survey by insurance firm Swiss Re, metro Tokyo was named as the urban area that is most prone to natural disasters. Japan, as a whole, has been hit hard in the past century by powerful earthquakes and, of course, the recent tremor-triggered tsunami that brought extreme damage and loss of life to country's eastern coastline.

In total, three areas in Japan made the top 10 of the Swiss Re list. The Osaka/Kobe metro and Nagoya, both of which have millions of inhabitants, are also considered among the most disaster prone cities in the world. The good news: many of the structures in Japan are built to withstand strong tremors, and because quakes are so common, virtually everyone knows exactly what to do to maximize their chances of survival. In fact, experts think that Japan's earthquake preparedness saved tens of thousands of lives during the 2011 disaster. So if you are worried about earthquakes, this land of deep history and unique and exotic culture is arguably one of your safest options.

The Philippines

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No place along the Pacific Ocean's so-called Ring of Fire gets battered quite as hard by natural disasters as the islands of the Philippines. Quakes are commonplace, but the country lacks the infrastructure to deal with them the same way that places like Japan and Taiwan do. The islands also often find themselves in the crosshairs of the powerful typhoons that sweep across the ocean. Time Magazine recently called the Philippines the most storm-exposed country on earth. Winds and storm surges are a danger along the coastline, but virtually everywhere in the country is vulnerable to flooding. Even central Manila, the teeming capital of the Philippines, finds itself underwater from time to time.

On the positive side, the islands have some of the world's most beautiful beaches. Also, most Filipinos, even those you come across on the street, can speaks English very well, making getting around easier than virtually anywhere else on the Asian continent.

Bangladesh

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Sometimes it seems like Bangladesh was tailor-made for natural disasters. An almost totally flat country crisscrossed by the waterways of the Ganges River Delta, Bangladesh is always at risk for serious flooding during the monsoon and cyclone seasons. Large portions of the country are virtually guaranteed to be flooded each year. In 1998, over half of Bangladesh, a nation of more than 150 million people, found itself under water.

Admittedly, this underdeveloped corner of South Asian is not as accessible as the other destinations on this list, but it is certainly an attractive place despite the demands that it puts on travelers. The landscapes are unique, the people are generally quite welcoming, and the culture and history provide an almost limitless amount of attractions.

The Caribbean

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Much of the Caribbean sits in the so-called Hurricane Alley. Strong tropical storms batter the islands every year. Even those that don't make headlines can bring dangerously high winds, storm surges, flooding rains and deadly landslides. During hurricane season, off-season prices still bring plenty of travelers to places like Jamaica, Barbados and Puerto Rico. Since hurricanes come from all the way across the Atlantic, you will know well in advance if one is headed in your direction.

Earthquakes are also a possibility in the West Indies, as the 2010 devastation in Haiti demonstrated. The U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are vulnerable to tremors and especially to the tsunamis that can be spawned by a major quake. Some of the most-active volcanos in the Americas are also found in the Caribbean.

The francophone island of Martinique (pictured) was the site of one of the worst volcano disasters in the Americas. More than 28,000 people were killed when Mont Pelee erupted in 1902. There has been little activity since, however, and the volcano is now closely monitored. In more recent times (1995), Montserrat's Soufrière Hills erupted, destroying the capital city and making large portions of Martinique uninhabitable. The volcano here remains active and many people who were evacuated from the island during the '90s eruption never returned.

Indonesia

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The vast island nation of Indonesia is deeply affected by Mother Nature's muscle. The famous volcano Krakatoa (pictured) brought great destruction to the country in the late 19th century, while the more recent 2004 Asian tsunami stands as one of the most lethal natural disasters in history (more than 100,000 people in Indonesia's Aceh Province were killed by the wave).

Volcanoes and powerful tremors continue to make headlines in Indonesia, namely on the heavily populated island of Java. Mount Sinabung, in central Sumatra, has been very active recently, while one of the most prolific volcanos on Earth, Mount Merapi, sits a relatively short distance from the Javanese city of Yogayakarta. The massive metropolis of Jakarta, also on Java, is prone to serious flooding and also sits in an earthquake zone.

Disaster dangers aside, Indonesia is a wonderful place to travel. With tens of thousands of islands to choose from and a diverse population, this country is one of Asia's most interesting and underrated destinations, so it is worth looking beyond the nation's one tourist hot spot, Bali, to experience the archipelago's endless list of attractions.

U.S. Central Plains

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The Central Plains of the U.S. have always been known for their tornadoes. Twisters, like the famous fictional one that carried Dorothy to Oz, roll across Kansas (pictured), Oklahoma and other central states each year. Because of the frequent funnels, this region is often referred to as Tornado Alley. Though these states are not battered by multiple types of natural disasters, severe storms are quite commonplace.

However, the level of preparedness is quite high in the Plains States. Building codes are more strict and storm shelters are common. The most damaging tornadoes often take place to the east and south, where the level of preparedness is lower and fewer people have access to storm shelters.

Chile

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Chile is very active seismically and volcanically. However, it is more sparsely populated than many other places along the fault lines of the Pacific, so disasters do not leave as much carnage. A violent 2010 quake, however, showed that Chile is definitely a hotspot. One of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded, it was felt all over this long, thin South American country. The offshore epicenter spawned a tsunami that swept away several coastal towns. The initial shaking was so strong that aftershocks were felt for more than a year after the initial quake.

Volcanic eruptions also occur in Chile, with the 2011 eruption of the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano complex causing widespread evacuations and creating an ash cloud that swept across the southern part of the continent to Argentina and Uruguay. When it comes to tourism, Chile is a very popular adventure destination. It is a land of stark natural beauty, with a long wildlife-rich coastline, virtually untouched valleys and mountains and glaciers that few people have ever set foot on.

China

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Some of history's worst natural disasters took place in China. The 1931 flooding of the Yellow River is widely considered the deadliest natural disaster of all time. It is thought to have killed as many as 4 million people (though “official” numbers given by the Chinese government were much lower). Other Yellow River floods during that same era also brought about staggering casualty statistics. Even today, floods are an almost annual occurrence in the central and southern river valleys of the Middle Kingdom. However, death tolls are much lower thanks to better preparedness and infrastructure.

Sichuan Province, a popular destination for tourists because of its wildlife and unique culture, sits along a fault line and was damaged considerably by a 2008 earthquake. Yunnan, another nature-rich province in central China, is also vulnerable to earthquakes.

Because of its diverse landscapes, non-Western culture, deep history and long isolation, China is considered the ultimate travel destination by many people. The virtually limitless list of attractions means that a tourist could spend a lifetime here and not see everything, so despite the long list of recent disasters, travelers still flock here.