Why Travel To Libya?
Ask anyone in the travel world about Libya and you will get a blank stare. It is best known for the terrible conflicts that have occurred over the past few years, but in fact, it has the potential to become one of Africa’s and the Sahara’s greatest travel destinations. Imagine the largest ancient Roman ruins. Lost Saharan Cities. It has some of the most picturesque oasis and largest sand dunes in the world. It also has a rich culture which Libyan people take great pride in. As of now Libya is not the easiest country to get to as they often close their borders, make visa’s impossible to get and spurts of violence occur too often for comfort. But if you decide to head to Libya you will be rewarded with having the entire country to yourself and every curious local willing to help you see and experience this amazing place.
The revolution left Libya broken and leaderless. Countless officials claim power and fight for the throne while rebel militia settle disputes with violence in the same neighborhoods where innocent people are going about their day. On top of this, several terrorist organizations have attacked random hotels, often killing foreigners. Travelling Libya can be incredibly frustrating and downright dangerous, so do not say I didn’t warn you if you still decide to go there. In time Libya will become one of Africa’s great destinations, but current situations are keeping this in the distant future. Yet there is hope. All governments which are in place agree that security is Libya’s main issue and they are doing wonders in training the police and anti-terrorism units. If you decide to travel to Libya it’s best to ask, and strictly listen to, what the Libyans tell you, if they are unwilling to go somewhere it’s for a very good reason. Check your local government websites for updates and keep your ear to the ground if all is well then travel but please be cautious.
Language – Libyan Arabic, Berber
Visa – Difficult to obtain. Contact your nearest embassy
Religion – Islam
Currency – Libyan Dinar LYD
1 USD – 1.40 LYD (Feb 3, 2016)
Typical Costs and Getting Around Libya
Accommodation – Major cities such as Tripoli have a good selection of hotels, however you may find it difficult to find anything budget friendly. In the Medina you may be able to stay at one of the local hotels which are comfortable and the price is low at around 50 LYD. Apart from these smaller hotels there are larger “beach” hotels for around 80 LYD and the five star international hotels like the Corinthian that will cost 250 LYD and up. Outside of Tripoli, towards the smaller oasis towns and coastal villages finding accommodation can be very difficult, most hotels in guide book are closed down due to the lack of tourism. Despite this, there are some places like Jebel Nafusa and Ghadames which do have some very traditional accommodation available, usually at a decent price. In Libya nothing is guaranteed so you will have to either call ahead or arrange to stay with a local family which if this is an option that is available to you.
Food – Libyan food is unique and delicious. Libyan food ranges from 20 LYD fresh seafood (which is caught and prepared the same day) to 3 LYD street Shawarma, and if you’re lucky a free incredible meal from a local family. Libya has also taken a huge liking to western food. Pizza, hamburgers, and all kinds of gelato ice cream are readily available in Tripoli. Leave the city limits and this all but disappears. Traditional Libyan dishes include Bourdim; a slow cooked lamb in a sand pit, Bazin; a large mound of barley dough cooked in red Libyan style curry eaten with your hands, Seafood couscous; popular in Tripoli is miscellaneous seafood cooked in a tagine and dumped on top of beautiful fluffy Libyan couscous.
Transport – Inside Tripoli taxis are readily available and very cheap, they can take you to any corner of the city. There is also a small network of mini buses that run along the coast line from Tripoli to smaller, outlying communities. Apart from this there is a bus line, but due to security problems you will most likely be refused permission to ride the long distance bus and for good reason. If you are wanting to travel to the Sahara or long distances up the coast you will have to hire transport which is also putting yourself at risk, but if you’re in Libya in the first place I don’t imagine you mind taking risks. You also have the option to fly with one of Libya’s few operating airlines. I once flew from Tripoli to Ghadames for about 180 LYD return.
My Favourite Places in Libya
Tripoli – The pearl of the Mediterranean, Tripoli is a unique and complex blend of Libyans, Egyptians, Tunisians and Berbers. The architecture is just as unique, walk from Tripoli’s Martyr square and pass by Moorish style gateways, Ottoman clock towers, Middle Eastern coffee houses and ancient Roman arches. Stay in Tripoli long enough and you will soon discover why this city leaves such an impression on everyone who comes here.
Leptis Magna – Incredible Leptis Magna is one of the largest unspoiled roman cities in existence. The best part? Having the entire ruins all to yourself. That’s right, no picture happy tourists and no postcard selling touts. It’s just you getting lost and soaking up all this ancient site has to offer. Leptis Magna is also very close to Tripoli. It can be reached by day trip so you do not have to worry about accommodation or security.
Ghadames – The long lost oasis city of Ghadames. It almost looks like a mirage when you first set eyes on it after crossing countless dunes and black mountains of the Sahara. Ghadames is one of the best preserved and is widely known as the most beautiful oasis town in all of the Sahara. Its bright white facade and long, almost seemingly haunted alley ways are a great place to explore and wonder about its hidden past. Just outside of town is some of Libya’s largest sand dunes where they often host dune rallies.
Qasr al-Haj – Qasr al-Haj is a great way to delve into local Berber culture. Being another abandoned city, it gives you the chance to walk freely around its crumbling buildings and massive granary. It’s located at the foothills of Jebel Nafusa adding to its sublime beauty. Qasr al-Haj is also very close to Tripoli, and the town of Yefren where you can stay in a underground traditional Berber house.
Sabratha – Sabratha, another Roman city, is almost more impressive than Leptis Magna. It’s huge amphitheatre, set right on the coast, sets you back in time reliving what a grand past this city must have had. Walk through the sandy streets of this site and don’t be surprised if you see broken roman pots and coins just lying about.
Bazin with a local family – Being invited into a Libyan home for dinner is amazing, but what is even more exciting is when your hosts present you with the massive bowl filled with Bazin. Bazin is a huge mound of barley dough covered in red sauce and vegetables. It is amazing. The entire family sits around it and eats it by hand together.
Rally in the desert – Head out to the sand dunes near Ghadames and you will most likely hear the roar of engines as the rallies are very common. Watch this escapade in awe as cars roll countless times down the dunes and seemingly everybody somehow turns out to be ok. Ask a local if you can ride along and you will never be turned down from this adrenaline pumping Libyan past time.
Shopping in the Tripoli Medina – Do you love carpets? How about antiques? Tripoli Medina is a place where you can find just about anything. After shopping till’ your heart’s content sit down and smoke a Nargile or have some very strong Arabic coffee before you remember that last thing you wanted to buy.
Libyan people – While in Libya make friends, a lot of friends. Libyans are incredibly hospitable and love to practice English but most importantly show how proud of their country and culture they are. Don’t be surprised if you are invited on a family trip to nearby sights or a picnic on the beach. The Libyan people are some of the nicest people I have ever met.
Top Travel Tips For Libya
- Always ask locals about security
- Never walk at night. Take a cab instead
- Avoid driving outside the city at night
- Alcohol is forbidden. So don’t ask
- English is not widely spoken. Learn a few Arabic phrases
- Bring a jacket. The desert can get cold
- Have an appetite for BBQ. Libyans love it!
- Avoid all conversation about Gaddafi
- Never leave the hotel without your passport
- Check online government security warnings
- If it seems sketchy don’t do it
- Avoid wearing shorts