Beyond livestock-packed buses and vanishing money belts lies a whole other set of daunting travel woes, like errant tornadoes, insurgent guerrilla armies, and drugproof diseases. These more serious hazards are not necessarily reasons to deny your hankering for adventure. But do check out what's going on where you're going (e.g., this is not the year to visit Chechnya) and educate yourself on State Department travel warnings (202-647-5225; travel.state.gov) before heading into uncertain territory. Below, a selective roster of adventure-travel destinations where you might get more than you bargained for.
DISEASE OUTBREAKS/ HEALTH THREATS
Solomon Islands: An island traveler's biggest worry used to be UV-cooked skin—a blessing compared with the mutating strains of drug-resistant malaria being freighted around the South Pacific by mosquitoes. The World Health Organization lists 101 countries affected by malaria, but the Solomons (along with Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, and Myanmar) are considered "high risk." So be sure to choke down oral mefloquine with your mai-tai, add topical deet when you slather on suncreen, and spend your nights under bug-proof nets.
Malaysia: First came England's mad cows, then Hong Kong's tainted chickens. Now it's the pig's turn to wreak a little havoc. More than 100 Malaysians have died from a previously unknown disease, the Nipah virus, which is thought to be transmitted through the consumption of pork. Take a pass on bacon when you're visiting.
Kenya: With the rainy season comes Rift Valley Fever, a virus transmitted by the Aedes mosquito and in the meat of infected animals. Until a vaccine is available, use insect repellent religiously, and subscribe to vegetarianism for the length of your trip.
Myanmar: When the draconian Burmese government declared 1996 "Visit Myanmar Year," it managed to woo some 200,000 foreigners to ogle its golden pagodas. But repression and paranoia are hard habits to break. Last September, a 28-year-old British woman was sentenced to seven years of hard labor for singing revolutionary songs in public (she served just over a month, thanks to British diplomatic efforts), and some human-rights groups urge tourists to take their dollars elsewhere. If you go, stay off your pro-democracy soapbox or be prepared for trouble.
Ecuador: When Guagua Pichincha blew its top in October, blizzards of ash coated Quito. Since then, the 15,092-foot volcano has continued to rumble at random, belching cinders over the city and dusting nearby trekking routes. The exhalations are expected to continue for several years, as are the power outages and the particle-choked fallout, which occasionally disrupt flights to the Galápagos. Also keep an eye on Tungurahua, near the town of Baños—at press time, an eruption was imminent.
Cambodia: With one land mine for every two of its 11 million people, Cambodia is a world leader in mine-infestation. A national effort is in the works to uncover and destroy mines in the most populated areas, but it could take decades to complete. Locating the devices, however, isn't a problem: They currently litter many roads, rice paddies, and forests. "If you visit, don't even walk off the road to pee," warns Susan B. Walker, government relations liaison for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Uganda: Ever since a group of Hutu rebels slaughtered eight unsuspecting tourists on a gorilla-tracking expedition in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest last March, Uganda has struggled to coax foreigners back into the woods. The latest strategy: a government-sponsored entourage of soldiers, armed rangers, and machete-wielding trackers that will accompany tourists on their excursions. (The Ugandan president himself travels with less protection.) Still, in-park overnights are considered unwise as rebels continue to bunk in the jungle.
El Salvador: The bloody 12-year civil war ended in 1992, but during peacetime this country has developed one of the world's highest crime rates. The war left many combatants jobless and armed, and hence robberies and carjackings of foreigners in former military zones are frequently reported. Travel after dark is strongly discouraged by the U.S. State Department. Still, surfers flock to the famous point break at La Libertad, where consistent five-foot swells run 300 yards to shore. Most hotels padlock their gates at sundown, but come morning, surf's up again.