Air pollution does a lot more than cause canceled or postponed vacations—it kills millions of people worldwide every year, according to the World Health Organization. Some of the worst places for air pollution are also home to bucket-list-worthy sights. But missing them might be the least of your problems if smog ramps up during your visit: Symptoms of air pollution sickness include nausea, coughing, headache, itchy eyes—and air pollution can cause long-term breathing problems.
Destinations with Air Pollution
Here are some of the worst destinations for smog, especially if you already suffer from asthma or other respiratory problems.
The Taj Mahal attracts thousands of travelers every day, but the city it’s in is one of the worst in the world for air pollution. Smog in Agra can cut visibility so dramatically that you can’t see much more than an outline of the giant tomb, and visitors who don’t cancel their trip during a period of heavy smog can be seen wearing face masks to visit.
Agra, however, isn’t the worst place in India for smog: Delhi, Mumbai, and Calcutta are known to have some of the worst air quality in the world. Even lesser-known India destinations are affected by smog: the city of Jodhpur, which attracts tourists to its colorful and quaint “blue city,” has also been known to suffer from poor air quality.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Hoping to spot historic forts and towering skyscrapers that draw travelers to Saudi Arabia’s financial hub? Harmful emissions paired with dust storms can create near-unbreathable air conditions that might keep you from visiting. Riyadh is a manufacturing hub rife with cars that, when sand kicks up around the Saudi capital, can see thick smog that greatly blurs visibility and irritates lungs.
Los Angeles, California
It’s not just developing countries that suffer from poor air quality. Los Angeles is the worst place in the U.S. for ozone pollution, according to the American Lung Association, and the state of California is home to many of the other worst-ranked cities for air quality. Thanks to a combination of cars, the Golden State’s weather and topography, and added smog from less rainfall and more frequent wildfires in recent years, the air quality index is often over 100, which is considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The third-largest city in South America, Buenos Aires can get thick with smog on hot summer days thanks to the fact that many cars in the city run on diesel fuel, which burns particularly dense emissions. The city ranks slightly worse than Los Angeles for air quality, according to data from the World Health Organization, and slightly better than Paris and Rome.
Crowded China has a reputation for smog, so most travelers to Beijing might know what to expect: crowds in gauzy face masks and buildings with heavy grade air filtration systems. Why? The air quality index here can get as high as the 400s—and have even surpassed the maximum grade of 500 before.
Paris, which has gone so far as to ban old-model cars (pre-1997) in an effort to go green, is still striving to fight car emissions that contribute to its poor air quality. Paris public transit is free to passengers on days with high smog, a move meant to encourage residents and visitors to ditch their vehicles and instead use the sprawling Metro system to get around. Recently, legislators have even proposed making free public transit permanent to improve air quality.
Thailand is a popular bucket-list vacation for its awe-inspiring natural wonders and religious sites, but flying into Bangkok brings a heavy dose of urban air pollution. Air quality in the Thai capital can hit dangerous levels that cause residents–especially children—to stay inside until the smog lifts, and make masks commonplace.
The largest metropolis on the continent of Africa is in the country ranked worst in the world for air pollution: Nigeria. Lagos is infamous for traffic and home to an unreliable electrical grid that means many residents rely on diesel generators instead. The intense sunlight near the equator only worsens the air quality index, making for thick smog and health problems for many of its residents. Lagos’s resort-addled Victoria Island is no exception.
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