Libya Travel Guide

Libya

Travel & Tourism

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.

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.

5. Cyrene: 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.

6. Sabratha: Once a Phoenician trading post, these ruins look out onto the blue Mediterranean. They are another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

7. Medina: 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.

11. Gabal El Uweinat: This mountain range in the area of the Egyptian-Libyan-Sudanese border. The Karkur Talh is the largest valley of the mountain. It’s mouth, is marked by two acacias visible for many kilometers. Situated in the flat Libyan Desert Gabal EL Uweinat stands out like an island from the surrounding plain. The mountain’s height is enough to capture a little precipitation. The precipitation is from the summer monsoon clouds of the Sahel belt.

12. Red Castle Museum: The Red Castle Museum, also known the Archaeological Museum of Tripoli, is a national museum in Libya. It is located in the historic building known as the Red Castle, or Red Saraya. Designed in conjunction with UNESCO, the museum covers 5,000 years from prehistory to the independence revolution (1953) era. It is located in Tripoli’s Assaria al-Hamra or Red Castle fortress, on the promontory above and adjacent to the old-town district with medina Ghadema. The museum has an entrance on historic As-Saha al-Kradrah, the Martyrs’ Square.

13. Gaberoun Desert Lake : An oasis with a large lake in the Idehan Ubari desert region of the Libyan Sahara.It’s an inspiring natural art formed deep in the Libyan Desert, which managed to survive the Great Sahara’s harsh conditions and sand effects throughout the age.The lake stands as a precious blue diamond amid the golden dunes, with palm trees on one side and on the ruins of the old village on the other.

14. Martyrs’ Square: The Martyr’s Square is a significant spot in Libya’s recent history. Before the 2011 Revolution, it was called “Green Square” and the memory of that era brings back a lot of pain and nostalgia. Today the Martyr square is a peaceful and friendly place to visit. It is a clean, wide open space with all the adjoining streets in the city starting out from there. The locals are cool, calm and collected while going about their normal day-to-day activities. The square is in close proximity to the harbour and tourists can indeed enjoy beautiful vistas of the Mediterranean Sea.

15. Arch Of Marcus Aurelius: The Arch of Marcus Aurelius is a Roman triumphal arch in the city of Oea, modern Tripoli. Possibly the last remnant of the ancient Roman city of Oea. Arch of Marcus Aurelius is a perfect example of Roman colonial architecture and the sight is indeed mind-blowing. Tourists can find the arc near the Ex-Green Square, now called Martyrs Square, on the sides of the Old Medina. There are no restrictions to the arch so you can have a field day taking pictures and experiencing the arch up close.

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.

Getting In and Around

Visas: Libya has begun opening its borders more widely to outside nations. In July 2010 it announced that it would be issuing visas to Americans again, after a brief moratorium on visa granting, and the United States embassy opened a visa office in the country for the first time since 1980. One caveat: You must register with an officially sanctioned Libyan tourist company. Often the tour company will help you with the visa application, as there are only a handful of companies you are allowed to use.

Libya also requires biometric information, so all visa applicants must visit the Libyan embassy for fingerprinting. You must contact the embassy to learn what the requirements are; be prepared to provide evidence of insurance, hotel reservations, and proof of a round-trip flight. Difficulty has occurred in the past over a requirement that all travelers have an Arabic translation of their passports. That may no longer be necessary, given the new movement to allow visitors, but it is still recommended.

In sum: Contact the Libyan Embassy well before you would like to travel to the country, in order to begin the visa application process.

Transportation: If you book your trip through an agency, your tour company will organize any transportation. The primary forms of travel are automobile and motorcycle. Even if you find yourself alone with a vehicle in Libya, be aware that there are certain parts of the country to which you are not allowed to travel, such as the Tibesti region, in the southeast.

Safety and Security

Concerned about your safety as you plan travel to Libya? We at Africa.com, together with our friends, family and colleagues, travel extensively throughout the continent. Here are the resources we consult when thinking of our safety in Libya:

• UK Government Libya Travel Advice Guidance

Africa.com comment: Very timely and frequently updated. Perspective assumes that you ARE going to travel to Libya, and seeks to give you good guidance so that you understand the risks and are well informed.

• Mo Ibrahim Personal Safety & Rule of Law Score for Libya

Africa.com comment: An annual ranking of the 54 African countries based on their relative personal security as determined by a highly qualified staff of an African foundation, funded by a successful African philanthropist. See where Libya ranks relative to the other 54 nations in Africa.

• U.S. State Department Travel Advisory on Libya

Africa.com comment: Can sometimes be considered as overly conservative and discourage travel altogether to destinations that many reasonable people find acceptably secure. On the other hand, they have the resources of the CIA to inform them, so they know things that the rest of us don’t know. See what they have to say about Libya.

Local Advice

1. The Saharan desert constitutes 90 percent of Libyan territory (though the percentage threatens to become higher owing to desertification) and is home to some splendid natural oases, classical ruins, and Neolithic rock art.

2. Arabic, Italian, and English are all spoken throughout the city of Tripoli, the capital of Libya.

3. Libya is home to the largest irrigation project in the world, known as the Great Manmade River, which supplies water to Tripoli residents from an aquifer below the Sahara.

4. A dusty southern wind, known as the ghibli, comes twice a year, in the fall and the spring, and lasts for a few days. Dust storms are also very common in the desert.

5. The full name of Libya is the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

ADC Editor
ADC editors curate, aggregate, and produce news and information for Africa. Contribute stories by sending an email to media@africa.com.