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Stunning ancient Greek and Roman cities, gorgeous Saharan vistas, and the cosmopolitan joys of Tripoli are sources of wonder for visitors to Libya. It is one of the most beautiful and exciting Saharan countries to visit.
The past decade has brought serious efforts on the part of Libya to rebuild relationships with the rest of the world, particularly Europe and the United States. Although some issues arose at the end of the aughts, when Libya made it increasingly difficult to obtain visas (especially for American citizens), it announced in July 2010 that it was granting travel visas to American tourists once again.
The Top 10: What to Do in Libya
1. Leptis Magna:
Made great by the emperor Septimius Severus, Leptis Magna was one of the most beautiful cities of the Roman Empire. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it abounds in impressive ruins and monuments looking out onto the Mediterranean.
2. Rock Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus:
Comprising thousands of cave paintings spanning from 12,000 B.C.E. to A.D. 100, this site demonstrates the many changes to the area over thousands of years. It is on the border of Libya and Algeria.
3. Old Town of Ghadamès:
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is one of the oldest pre-Saharan cities and one of the best preserved.
4. Nafusa Mountains:
These mountains, in western Libya, are where most of the Berbers of Libya are located. The villages throughout the mountains are home to goats and olive, fig, and apricot trees. The mountains are cooler than the rest of Libya, and snow is not uncommon during the winter. The mountains also harbor ghorfas, or ancient grain storage structures.
An ancient Greek city that was one of the principal cities of its time, Cyrene was later Romanized and remained very important until an earthquake in A.D. 365.
Once a Phoenician trading post, these ruins look out onto the blue Mediterranean. They are another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The medina lies within the old city walls of Tripoli, flanked by the Mediterranean. Chockablock with jewelry merchants, mosques, a few bathhouses, and some good restaurants, it is one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Tripoli. In a market not yet destroyed by tourism, some souks still sell handcrafted and traditional items.
8. Jamahiriya House:
One of the most impressive museums in the world, in the heart of Tripoli, the Jamahiriya House is home to many significant artifacts. UNESCO played a major role in the museum’s collection, which offers a truly impressive tribute to Libyan history.
9. Tripoli Castle:
A fortress has stood on this site since the seventh century A.D.; it has been home to everyone from Christian knights to Muslim pirates. Today much of the castle is devoted to the Jamahiriya museum.
10. Modern Tripoli:
While the medina, with its beautiful, historic mosques, and the Tripoli castle are the major draws for tourists in Tripoli, travelers should also visit the Tripoli of the present day. Much investment is being poured into this city, which is undergoing a massive construction boom.
When to Go
The Libyan climate is divided between milder Mediterranean conditions and harsh desert heat. Tripoli, jutting out into the Mediterranean, experiences less extreme temperatures, although it can get very hot and humid during the summers. The winters are mild, and the thermometer never drops below freezing. Still, the city is close to the desert, and it can be hot and dry. The best time to visit Tripoli is from November to April.
If you are planning to visit the desert, the November-to-April recommendation is even more important. The desert heat during the summer, reaching as high as 131 degrees Fahrenheit (55 degrees Celcius,) can be deadly. Night temperatures in the desert can fall to below freezing, so come prepared.