Libya is a fascinating country in many ways. Having been at the crossroads of history for millennia, there are many layers of civilisation to discover – amongst them the Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Turkish and occupying forces prior to, during and just after WWII.
While Libya has been a troubled country in recent times, their tough political past is behind them and the people themselves are keen to get on with the good life they have been missing. The Berber goat-herders in the mountains, the stunning Tuareg tribesmen in the desert and the urbane citizens of Tripoli will all make you feel comfortable and welcome as a visitor. Libya is relatively new to tourism, and still feeling its way in some regards. Libya can only be visited as part of an escorted group tour and Ryan Turner, our Assistant Destination Manager for the Middle East and North Africa recently checked this amazing country out.
What was the absolute highlight:
Leptis Magna – by far, the best Roman ruins I have visited. Only about 15% of the whole site has been uncovered, but there is a real sense of what the city would have felt like at its peak. Surrounded by beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea and with very few tourists, it’s a great place to spend several hours.
Tripoli - it’s almost like a city waking from a long sleep. It’s a mix of Ancient Rome, colonial Italy and Islam all mixed up. Tripoli is on the water, has an amazing museum and a great medina where you can wander for hours. Surprisingly for a Middle Eastern or African country, prices are fixed! Shopkeepers seem to prefer to have a chat about the football rather than sell you a rug. In another surprise, tourist chintz is unseen. Tripoli is definitely one of the friendliest cities I have visited.
Favourite local experience:
Talking football, life, Libya and the world with a friendly carpet seller for an hour, only then did we start to discuss the carpets. The people are lovely and it’s a friendly and safe place to explore and meet the locals.
Most unique thing you saw:
Being an Islamic country, there is absolutely no alcohol in Libya... however, it’s amazing how quickly you forget about a beer when there is absolutely none on offer!
There are Gaddafi posters everywhere. Billboards, posters, you name it, his face is everywhere. It’s his 40th year of power next year so everyone is getting ready for the big event.
Libya has about 1700km of coastline - most of it is unspoilt and some of it overlooked by ancient cities. All is devoid of tourism.
The Tripoli medina is the best place to go for an awesome seafood feast – crabs, prawns, lobster, calamari, salads. The local coffee is really good too.
What shouldn't you miss?
For Ancient Greek ruins - Cyrene and Apollonia
For Ancient Roman ruins - Leptis Magna Tripoli Medina to understand what was actually there and to enjoy wandering through the fascinating and ancient alley ways.
If you’re into WWII history, visiting Tobruk is a very interesting and sobering experience.
Drinking coffee with locals in an Italian style café.
Why should people go to Libya?
It’s just such a rich destination – ancient sites, beautiful blue Mediterranean, fantastic towns to wander around and the Sahara desert. It’s the kind of country that will surprise you each day.
Any travel tips for Gecko’s travellers:
The big one is that you have to go NOW - before mass tourism hits.
Secondly, Libya can only be visited if you are travelling on an escorted group tour.
Thirdly, there are no ATM’s outside of Tripoli and the few in Ghadames.
The best time to go is September through to April as it’s far too hot in the summer.
Thanks Ryan! Libya really does sound like a wonderful place to visit. Gecko’s has five great trips that take in Libya, including some fantastic overland adventures from Egypt to Morocco.
Click here for all the details.