The world’s most murderous cities

Hamza Ali, special to CNBC.com

The world’s most murderous cities

Orlando Sierra | AFP | Getty Images

Travel to Ukraine and Israel hit the headlines this year with people pointing out the obvious danger of traveling to these regions. However, war zones are not the only risky places to do business or visit.

Click ahead to view some of the most dangerous cities to vacation or do business. High rates of homicide, associated with everything from gangs to corruption, have made these destinations among the riskiest in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

—By Hamza Ali, special to CNBC.com on September 22, 2014.

10. Kingston, Jamaica

Ratiba Hamzaoui | AFP | Getty Images

Murder rate: 50.3 per 100,000 in 2011

Jamaica has the sixth highest murder rate in the world.

Nearly one-third of Jamaica's murders take place in the capital city of Kingston. Although the number of homicides in the city has been steadily falling from a 2007 peak of 727, Kingston is still struggling with gang and drug-related violence.

According to the CIA's "World Factbook", Jamaica is a "transshipment point for cocaine from South America to North America and Europe". Other concerns include corruption and "substantial money-laundering activity".

9. San Salvador, El Salvador

Jose Cabezas | AFP | Getty Images

Murder rate: 52.5 per 100,000 in 2012

El Salvador saw a dramatic 40 percent reduction in its crime rate in 2012, and a similar drop in its murder rate. Nonetheless, the murder rate in its capital, San Salvador, is still among the highest in the world.

El Salvador, along with neighboring Guatemala and Honduras, is one of central America's "Northern Triangle" countries that are plagued by violence related to transnational criminal gangs known as Maras. According to UNODC, there were 20,000 members of Maras in El Salvador in 2012.

"The presence of transnational drug-trafficking organizations whose membership outnumbers police forces, a proliferation of illegal weapons, a widespread culture of impunity and state institutions all contribute to San Salvador's high murder rate," said Paz Zarate, Latin America analyst at Oxford Analytica.

8. Panama City, Panama

Elmer Martinez | AFP | Getty Images

Murder rate: 53.1 per 100,000 in 2012

Panama City had more homicides than any U.S. city in 2012, in a city with a population of 1.64 million people in 2014, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Its murder rate is linked heavily to the rise of the Maras in the nearby Northern Triangle.

"Violent crime has been a rising problem in Central America since the 1990s," said Zarate.

"Gang growth in Northern Triangle countries has had important spillover effects in more relatively peaceful countries (including Panama and Belize)."

7. Cape Town, South Africa

Gianluigi Guercia | AFP | Getty Images

Murder rate: 59.9 per 100,000 in 2007

Cape Town in South Africa is Africa's most deadly city by total number of murders (2,018 in 2007). High levels of organized crime, drug violence and violent robbery are the main contributors to the homicide rate.

According to the CIA's "World Factbook", South Africa is a major cultivator of marijuana, which it transports internationally along with cocaine and heroin. Use of the latter two drugs is also increasing among South Africans.

The CIA adds that the country is attractive for money-launderers, "given the increasing level of organized criminal and narcotics activity in the region and the size of the South African economy".

6. Maseru, Lesotho

Mujahid Safodien | AFP | Getty Images

Murder rate: 61.9 per 100,000 in 2009

Although the actual number of murders is much higher in South Africa, the homicide rate in the tiny neighboring country of Lesotho is the worst on the continent. Lesotho's capital, Maseru, is a hotspot for murder.

A U.S. Overseas Security Advisory Council report on Lesotho stated: "The limited amount of police data available indicates an increase in more violent crimes, including armed robberies, sexual assaults, homicides, and residential break-ins."

In addition, "Criminals are not averse to using violence in order to achieve their objective, especially when they encounter any type of resistance from a victim."

5. Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Orlando Sierra | AFP | Getty Images

Murder rate: 102.2 per 100,000 in 2011

Honduras in central America has the highest murder rate of any country on UNODC's list, with 92 murders per 100,000. The capital of Tegucigalpa is a major contributor to this figure, with the number of homicides dwarfing all but Caracas in Venezuela.

Much like Guatemala and El Salvador, Honduras suffers from a large problem with organized criminal gangs. In 2012, there were 12,000 Maras members in the country, according to UNODC.

4. Belize City, Belize

Nick Miroff | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Murder rate: 105.1 per 100,000 in 2011

Crime-torn Belize had a murder rate of 44.7 per 100,000 in 2012, the third highest in the world.

More than half the murders in this small country came from the capital, Belize City, according to UNODC.

Regarding crime in central America, Zarate said: "The lack of a coherent multinational approach will continue to hinder efforts to improve security throughout the region."

3. Guatemala City

Johan Ordonez | AFP | Getty Images

Murder rate: 116.6 per 100,000 in 2010

Guatemala has one of the highest violent crime rates in central America, with the majority occurring in its capital, Guatemala City. The U.S. State Department calculated there was roughly 25 murders per week in 2009.

Guatemala is part of the "Northern Triangle", a hub for organized crime in Central America.

"The Northern Triangle countries are centers of operation of the Maras," says Paz Zarate, Latin America analyst at Oxford Analytica.

"Murder is one of the criminal activities of the Maras. It is generally carried out as part of gang-on-gang warfare, although civilians are frequently caught in the crossfire, or attacked as part of extortion or arson attacks."

2. Caracas, Venezuela

Uan Barreto | AFP | Getty Images

Murder rate: 122 per 100,000 in 2009

Latin American cities have six of the top 10 highest murder rates in the world. The Venezuelan capital of Caracas is chief among them, with 2,550 recorded homicides in 2009.

"The government was ideologically predisposed to see crime and violence as a product of poverty and inequality, and believed that falling poverty would lead to a commensurate fall in crime," Jill Hedges, senior analyst for Latin America Oxford Analytica, told CNBC via email.

"The principal problem is the cultural institutionalization of a 'low risk/high reward' matrix: only eight of every 100 murders are solved, security is increasingly privatized (exacerbating the profusion of weapons) and fragmented and underpaid police forces are involved in kidnapping and extortion."

1. Basseterre, Saint Kitts and Nevis

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Murder rate: 131.6 per 100,000 in 2011

Basseterre, the capital city of Saint Kitts and Nevis, is the murder hotspot of the world by number of deaths relative to the size of the population.

The West Indian island, with a small populace of around 15,500, suffers from drug- and gang-related violence like nearby Jamaica.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was robbed at machete-point during his vacation in St. Kitts and Nevis in 2012, according to media reports.

According to the CIA's World Factbook, the island is a transshipment point for South American drugs destined for the U.S. and Europe and also the focus of some money-laundering activity.


Correction: An earlier version incorrectly cited the population of Panama City.