Libya, North Africa’s second-largest country, is slowly opening up to tourism. If you want otherwordly desert sandscapes, giant dunes, hidden oases and ancient Roman and Greek cities, Libya is the place for you.
Take tea in cosmopolitan Tripoli or gaze at the Mediterranean from the beautifully preserved theatre of Leptis Magna. Away from the coast, don’t miss dining on camel couscous in one of the traditional houses of Ghadames or seeing the 12,000-year-old rock art carvings of Wadi Tashwinat.
Libyans are famed for their friendliness. However, be aware that strict Arab customs are the norm and should be respected. Travellers should dress modestly and cover up in small towns and inside religious buildings.
You should on no account attempt to bring alcohol into the country. Drugs laws are severe. Homosexuality is considered a criminal offence in Libya. Be discreet if you’re an unmarried couple checking into a hotel. If you’re in any doubt about offending local sensibilities check with your guide.
Libya is at its best – manageable daytime temperatures and not too cold at night – in October and November, and March to early May. Be prepared for sub-zero night-time temperatures in the desert from December to February, while summer (mid-May until September) is unpleasantly hot – around the mid 40°Cs – and best avoided.
Tripoli (TIP) 25km from the city; Benghazi –Benina (BEN) 32km east of Benghazi; Sebha (SEB) 11km from the town.
It is just about possible to travel independently in Libya but it isn’t easy. For some of the more remote sights you have to travel with a guide. Although this sounds like a turn-off, most tour companies allow a lot of flexibility and will allow individuals or small groups to design an itinerary and get off the well-worn trail.
In cities such as Tripoli and Benghazi you can often wander alone, but in Ghadames, Leptis Magna and the Sahara, a guide is obligatory. But this is a good thing: a good guide will provide your entry point into Libyan society and initiate you into secrets that are impossible to discover on your own. And after travelling for two weeks with your guide, there’s a good chance you’ll also have made a friend for life.
International standard hotels are on the rise in Libya. Top-end (and to a lesser extent mid-range) hotels are difficult to find outside Tripoli and Benghazi. As Libya is a country of escorted tours, it’s more likely to be your tour company that chooses the hotel.
Hostels – often used by migrant workers – are common in Libya. Some, but not all, have areas set aside for women. Other options are camping or staying in a tourist village – the favourite choice of Libyan holidaymakers.
Once you’ve got your head round the fact that alcohol is banned and that there’s little in the way of nightlife, you can learn to linger over the tasty food. In Libyan restaurants you’ll find plenty of couscous and chicken but little in the way of variety. Speak to your guide about trying some Libyan specialities such as algarra (lamb or seafood cooked with mint, tomatoes and peppers) or fitaat, a type of buckwheat pancake eaten with a thick sauce.
Travellers to Libya should check their travel insurance carefully and speak to a GP or travel health clinic before they go. Libya is generally one of the safest countries to visit in Africa.
The main dangers are the sun – cover up, avoid the midday heat and drink plenty of water – and local drivers. Cross the road with extreme caution, especially in Tripoli as locals drive fast and carelessly.
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