Libya Travel Guide
After years of international isolation, Libya is slowly opening its fascinating towns and old ruins to visitors, but only to those with no Israeli stamps in their passports mind you. Better known for sponsoring plane bombings and terrorism, it has been off the tourist map for years following the military coup led by Muammar al-Gadhafi in 1969. Most sanctions have been lifted in the last few years and travelers have started to trickle back to this incredibly diverse country. Although the land is dominated by desert, there are mountain ranges, lakes and beaches to explore. Libya also has some well-preserved Roman remains and desert cities.
The relatively small tourist industry means that facilities are somewhat limited. The upshot to this means that traveling around the country is inexpensive. There is only one international hotel in Tripoli, although there are several four-star establishments and a host of run-down guesthouses. In the smaller villages, you may well be invited to stay at someone’s home. If you think you will only be eating traditional Libyan cuisine, think twice. Western fare is widely available thrown in with some Lebanese and Moroccan outlets as well as some comedy copies of multi-national fast-food outlets in Tripoli. And if you are desperate for a beer with your meal, be prepared to haggle on the black market, where all forms of alcohol are readily available.
When to Go
Libya’s weather is dominated by the vast Sahara Desert.
Winter is the best time to visit as temperatures are cooler, although some rain can be expected in the Mediterranean coastal areas.
Summer brings scorching temperatures and very little rain, especially inland.
Getting There & Away
Tripoli International Airport is 22 miles south of the city and has regular flights to many European countries. Libyan Airlines has domestic air routes, with flying being the best way of getting around the country. A car ferry sails regularly from Tripoli to Malta and several Italian ports. Libya doesn’t have a train service, but there is a fairly good bus network linking all of the major towns, with plenty of all-important tea-drinking stops on the way. Shared taxis are a quicker way to travel if you can stomach the crazy antics of the drivers. If you really want a challenge, you can try driving across the country, and with gasoline typically cheaper than bottled water, it won’t leave a dent in your pocket.
Health & Safety
Despite its turbulent and well-publicized past, Libya is safer than many other African countries and most visitors shouldn’t encounter any problems. Be aware that dangers do exist and take necessary precautions. The areas bordering Chad, Niger and Sudan are known for banditry and military activity and should be avoided, but you’re unlikely to be going that far south and make it back alive. Be careful when buying bottled water as some of the brands are not very safe. Enquire at your hotel or look out for international brand names. A pass is required if you plan on visiting some of the desert areas and this can be obtained from the Libyan authorities, usually via a tour operator. Unless you want to crash into a roaming camel, avoid driving at night, which is in fact illegal.
Two days in Leptis Magna
Three days in Tripoli and nearby beaches
Two days in Ghadhames
Two days in Cyrene
Two days in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city.
Leptis Magna: a spectacular old Roman city that was once the second largest town of the Empire, after Rome. The huge scale and exquisite architecture make it one of the top attractions in the country.
Cyrene: one of the best-preserved Greek cities, formerly known as Cyrenaica. Visitors can explore the many temples, tombs and theater that were originally based on those at Delphi. Don’t miss the wonderful views overlooking the sea.
Ghadhames: a desert town with unique architecture comprising of white-washed mud walls and covered walkways lit by overhead skylights and open squares. Highlights include the D’jmaa al-Kabir mosque and Mulberry Square.
Tripoli: the capital city has a rich heritage and numerous sites worth visiting. The architecture has many foreign influences and shoppers will love the bustling markets (souks).
Assai al-Hamra (Red Castle): a dominant fortress located on a promontory overlooking Tripoli with a maze of courtyards and alleyways which are fun to explore.
Beaches: both Tripoli and Benghazi have a choice of good beaches nearby which make them ideal for a city and beach break. Ras Alteen has pristine white sands and is the location of the recent archaeological discovery of an underwater city. Don’t bother showing up in your bikini, you’ll get arrested for life.
Walking and trekking: the Green Mountains have some wonderfully lush forests which are ideal for walking, and they provide some protection from the high temperatures.
Salt-lake bathing: the Zallaf Sand Dunes are located near to the desert town of Ghadames, and have saline lakes surrounded by palm trees, perfect for a sand bath and spot of bathing. Great for sand boarding and ‘desert photos’.
Shopping: the lack of tourists make the markets in the medinas ideal for browsing and finding unique handicrafts. There is far less hassle from touts here compared to places like Morocco.