Libya, Africa - Stein Travel



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Welcome to Libya

*Libya is currently in the aftermath of a civil war that toppled the Gaddafi regime. While fighting in most of the country has ended, safety in Libya is far from certain and all but essential travel to Libya at this time is not advised.

Oil-rich Libya has had a tumultuous history and many have wrestled for control of this fascinating and beautiful land. Tucked between Egypt and Tunisia, and bordering on the Mediterranean Sea, Libya has seen invasions by Turks, Vandals, Byzantines, Romans, Arabs and Italians; only gaining independence in 1951. These various civilisations have left their mark, particularly evident in the striking Roman and Greek ruins at Leptis Magna, Cyrene and Sabratha, though Libya remains quintessentially Arabic - evident in the Medina (old city) of the capital Tripoli, the nomadic lifestyle of desert-dwelling Bedouin and Berber tribes, and the language, culture and customs of the people.

Tripoli, in the northeast, is the country's main port, and is a bustling city dominated by the splendid Assaraya al-Hamra (Red Castle), a large palace complex, as well as the walls and gates of the Medina. Filled with orange groves, grapevines, palms and olive trees, the lush city is home to several interesting mosques, museums and historical sites, as well as modern amenities. Its ideal location on the Mediterranean makes it a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike. Benghazi is Libya's second largest city and is chiefly more modern in flavour, having been all but destroyed during World War II, though one can still enjoy the lively local souqs (markets), and it acts as a good base from which to explore the neighbouring Green Mountain area, as well as several Roman ruin sites along the coast.

Libya is largely an undiscovered tourist destination, due to sanctions imposed on the country through its rocky political history, including participation in several acts of terrorism (including the 1988 bombing of a PanAm flight near Lockerbie in Scotland) and the support by 'Guide of the Revolution' Colonel Mu'ammar al Qadhafi of various international terrorist and revolutionary organisations. Sanctions, however, were lifted in 2003, once the Lockerbie incident had finally been resolved, and the Libyan government ceased production of weapons of mass destruction. This has seen a rise in tourism and an increased interest in the country, with a number of resorts springing up along its Mediterranean coast. Although 90 percent of Libya is desert or semi-desert, there are breathtaking oases to be discovered, ruins to explore, cities to investigate, beaches to laze on and of course, the hospitality and friendliness of its people to enjoy.


Although most business in Libya has traditionally been conducted with state organisations, there has been some movement towards privatisation. All official documents are in Arabic (it is useful to have a translator for this) due to government policy, and although English is often understood official business will usually be conducted in Arabic. Bureaucracy can slow down any business process and one should be prepared for this. Business cards are useful but are not widely exchanged. Suits and ties are the norm, although due to the heat particularly in summer, more casual business wear is accepted. The vast majority of Libyans are Muslim and therefore one should be mindful of Islamic custom, particularly during Ramadan. Women should ensure that they dress modestly.


The Libyan Desert is one of the harshest and most arid in the world, and decades can go by without rain in certain areas, but this harsh interior is tempered by the Mediterranean climate in the north. Summers are hot and dry, while winters are cooler with lower temperatures in the evening, and rainfall is minimal. The desert is more extreme; hot in the day and cold at night. Spring and autumn experience the ghibli, a hot, dry and dusty desert wind that can last from a day to four days, bringing temperatures in the coastal areas up to 122°F (50°C). June to October is the best time to travel to Libya, particularly to the coastal areas, as temperatures are in the more manageable region of 80°F (27°C).


The international dialling code for Libya is +218. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)21 for Tripoli and (0)22 for Tripoli International Airport. There are several Internet Service Providers and Internet cafes are available in Tripoli and other major centres, as well as some towns. Mobile phones operate on GSM 900 and 1800 networks and general telecommunications are being modernised.


Libya is an Islamic country (97-98% of Libyans are Sunni Muslim) and therefore visitors should be respectful in terms of following Arabic customs, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking, smoking and chewing gum in public is forbidden. Swimwear should be restricted to beaches, and women should dress modestly, and avoid Arab gatherings where women are not permitted. Homosexuality is illegal and extramarital sexual relationships are forbidden. Criticism of the Libyan Government, Islam and the country itself is not tolerated. Permission must always be sought prior to photographing people, and it is not recommended that a camera be used or carried near any official or military buildings. Libya is one of the strictest countries in terms of a ban on alcohol and drugs, and neither should be brought into the country, though smoking is very common.

Duty Free

Travellers may enter the country with 200 cigarettes or 250g cigars or 250g tobacco, and 250ml perfume. All alcohol and drugs are strictly prohibited, as well as all foodstuffs (including canned goods). There is also an extensive list of banned items, including any articles manufactured or produced in Israel or countries that trade with Israel, and it is best to consult a Libyan Embassy for more information.

Electrical current is 127/230 volts, 50Hz. Round 3-pin plugs are used.
Getting Around

Bus services operate between Tripoli and Benghazi, as well as other major urban centres and taxis are available. Petrol in Libya is cheap and car rental agencies are available, but there is a high incidence of traffic accidents and driving can be highly erratic; road quality can vary. Permission from Libyan authorities, in the form of a desert pass, is needed for those intending to drive into desert areas. The major urban centres are connected by aeroplane.


There are no major health risks associated with travel to Libya. Visitors travelling from infected areas require a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Travellers are encouraged to get vaccinations for Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Healthcare facilities in Libya are basic and travellers are advised to have full health insurance. In remote areas there may be no health facilities at all, therefore travellers are advised to carry their own basic medications. Tap water in Libya is chlorinated, but it is advised to drink bottled or boiled water.

The official language of Libya is Arabic (used for all official business), though some English is spoken, especially in the cities and tourist-orientated establishments.

The official currency is the Dinar (LYD), which is divided into 1,000 dirhams. Credit cards have very limited acceptance (usually only in five-star hotels) and travellers cheques are not accepted, therefore it is advised to carry cash. ATMs are unreliable, though available in Tripoli. Banks are usually closed on Thursdays and Fridays. Currency can be exchanged at the airport or any bank in Tripoli.

Passport Visa

Most foreign passengers require a visa to enter Libya. Tourist visas must be organised in advance, but can be issued on arrival; provided that travellers are holding a copy of a letter issued by the Libyan immigration authorities, confirming that a visa will be granted to them upon their arrival at the airport. This copy must be sent to the office of the transporting carrier in Libya at least 24 hours in advance. Visitors travelling to Libya for touristic purposes are also required to convert USD 1,000 (or equivalent) in freely convertible cash, or to debit the amount from a valid credit card upon their arrival at the airport. Failure to do so will result in the traveller being refused entry to Libya. Note that admission and transit will be refused to holders of (i) documents containing a valid or expired visa for Israel, or (ii) tickets showing an Israeli destination. All visitors must also hold proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in Libya, and a yellow fever vaccination certificate (if arriving within six days or leaving or transiting through an infected area). Please note that the volatile political situation in Libya means that visa/entry requirements often change abruptly, and as such, travellers should make sure they are in possession of up-to-date information BEFORE leaving home. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.


*Libya remains unstable in the aftermath of the revolution and war that toppled the Gadaffi regime. Safety in Libya is far from certain and all but essential travel to Libya at this time is not advised.

Generally Libya is a safe country to travel in but travellers are advised against all but essential travel to all areas bordering Chad and Sudan, due to instability in the region. With exception to official land border crossings to Tunisia and Egypt, visitors are not permitted to travel in the interior or to border areas without an officially sanctioned guide, or specific permission from the Libyan authorities. Travelling in a group or with an organised tour is recommended in remote regions and travellers should be advised of a threat of terrorism that can occur randomly. Prior permission from the Libyan authorities is required for travel to the desert regions and is in the form of a desert pass; however the oil mining areas of the desert should be avoided. It is highly recommended that one monitor the media and seek advice from the relevant authorities before travelling. Violent crime is generally not a problem, although visitors should avoid carrying valuables in public.

Local time is GMT +2.

Hotels and restaurants usually add a service charge of 10 to 20%. Tipping guides and drivers is expected.

Leptis Magna is one of Libya's top archaeological sites and a series of evocative ruins of what once was a beautiful town. Also known as Lobda and located near the town of Al-Khomas about 72 miles (120km) from Tripoli, the original city was built by the Phoenicians in the tenth century BC and ranks as one of the oldest permanent settlements in Africa. As you enter this awe-inspiring site you will find yourself facing the Hadrianic Baths near the arch of Septimius Severus. These baths are close to 1,900 years ago during the time of Septimus Severus, who was in fact born in the city. The Amphitheatre is 45 feet (70m) wide and offers spectacular views in all directions. Just less than a mile (1.6km) from the main site is the Circus, which was once one of the Roman Empire's largest. There are numerous statues and towering monuments throughout the site, such as Augustus and Tiberius as well as The Nymphaeum, Liber Pater, Rome and The Arches of Trajan.

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