Travel Destinations With a High Tsunami Risk

Tsunamis don't only happen in Japan

When you think of tsunamis, you probably think of Japan, and for several reasons. First of all, "tsunami" is a Japanese word, which means "harbor wave." Secondly, the most ubiquitous tsunami in recent memory occurred along the east coast of Japan. Plus, who hasn't been in a hipster coffee shop somewhere without seeing some variation on "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa," a classic piece of tsunami art, hung on the wall?

To be sure, even if you're aware of other tsunamis (say, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that devastated reaches of coastal Asia much further south than Japan, from India, to Sri Lanka, to Thailand), it's difficult to imagine them happening outside the region where they occur most often, which is around the Pacific Ocean's so-called "Ring of Fire." Here are six examples of countries and regions where you might not expect tsunamis to be a risk. Some of them are downright shocking!

  • 01 of 06


    Mountains in Atacama Desert
    Robert Schrader

    Fair disclosure: Chile's long coastline very much sits on the Ring of Fire, although the eastern part of this proverbial ring gets much less attention than the western part, to say nothing of its northern reaches—more on those in a minute.

    In any case, I personally remember being on tsunami alert in Chile back in 2011—I was in Santiago, the country's capital, when news of the Japan tsunami broke. Now, Santiago itself is far enough inland that it would be spared in most tsunamis, but dozens of low-lying cities that sit along Chile's coastline, such as Viña del Mar, Valparaíso and Punta Arenas, are totally open to tsunamis, which are totally likely to happen here. 

  • 02 of 06

    The Pacific Northwest

    Pacific Northwest
    Robert Schrader

    "Sleepless in Seattle" has a nice ring to it. "Tsunami in Seattle"? I like it, as a writer, but the thought of it is terrifying. Unfortunately, while you might not associate the evergreen-lined coasts of the Pacific Northwest with tall waves of certain destruction, the fact is that the region is among the most likely in the world to face earthquakes and tsunamis in the near future, thanks to the Cascadia fault line, among other likely culprits.

    The entire American (North and South) west coast is along the Ring of Fire, of course, so this really shouldn't come as a surprise, but the region from far northern California up to British Columbia bears a particularly high risk of tsunami. I sure hope I'm hiking on Mount Rainier and not dining atop the Space Needle in the event that this occurs during my next trip to Seattle!

  • 03 of 06


    Norway Fjord
    Robert Schrader

    As destinations in Europe go, few evoke a calmer state of mind that the fjords of Norway, pristine, calm inlets crowned by majestic mountain peaks. Unfortunately, some of these mountain peaks are extremely unstable, and have historically been prone to rock slides, specifically those along the country's heavily-touristed Geirangerfjord.

    Depending on the height from which these rocks fall, the resulting tsunami could be several hundred feet high, an occurrence many Norwegian scientists see more as an eventuality, rather than a possibility. Scientists, and filmmakers, such as those behind the 2015 drama "The Wave," which is currently on Netflix.

    The bad news about the tsunami threat here? You'd only have about 10 minutes after warning sirens went off to get to higher ground. The good news? Unlike many of the places on this list, Norway has an excellent advance-warning system. And there's plenty of higher ground to get to, as long as you're not afraid to climb.

  • 04 of 06

    Arctic Russia

    Arctic Russia
    Robert Schrader

    Rounding out our list of extremely cold potential tsunami destinations is Arctic Russia—both present Russia and former Russia, i.e. Alaska, and in particular the Aleutian Islands. As is the case in the Pacific Northwest, this barely-mentioned portion of the Ring of Fire features extraordinarily active faults, whose activity are only rarely mentioned due to the lack of human population.

    The good news here, of course, is that you're also unlikely to visit the most vulnerable portions of this region as a traveler, so unless you happen to work in the oil or fishing industries, you don't have much risk. Still, one has to hope that the walruses who live here are in tune enough with nature that they return to the sea when a tsunami is coming, as opposed to lazing on beaches as the seem so keen on doing.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    The Greek Islands

    Greek Islands
    Robert Schrader

    Greece is mostly in the news due to its perpetual economic crises, but what few people realize is that the country's beloved islands are long overdue for a tsunami. Well, not necessarily Mykonos and Santorini, but the Mediterranean as a whole, a region that has a moderate amount of seismic activity and whose concentric coastline is home to tens of millions of people, tourists and otherwise.

    In fact, scientists say that a large tsunami occurs in the region once per century, so whether you're sunning yourself on beaches in Greece, Italy, Israel or Tunisia, you should keep in mind that money might very well become the least of your worries.

  • 06 of 06


    Essaouira, Morocco
    Robert Schrader

    "Tunisia and Egypt are off limits," you might be saying to yourself now, as you ponder a North Africa vacation, "but at least I can go to Morocco." Not so fast, at least not if you're considering tsunamis in your decision.

    Although only a small portion of Morocco's coastline is technically along the Mediterranean, its tsunami risk derives mostly from an unstable volcano in the Canary Islands, which lie relatively close to its shores. Scientists believe a large piece of rock from the volcano will eventually crash into the ocean, and although this future wave would threaten the entire Atlantic, Morocco (and Portugal, for that matter) would have its coastline destroyed decisively and quickly, at that.