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Lebanon
Travel Tips

 
Travel tips for Lebanon

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Note: Because of the outbreak of the war between Hisbollah and Israel it is at the moment not possible to visit Lebanon. I hope the war stops as quick as it started and in the meantime our thougts are at the Lebanese people - they have to suffer most.

Once you have chosen Lebanon as your next travel destination, you first challenge will be to convince your friends and your family, that the reputation of this country is worse than the reality. It is no wonder that Lebanon has such a bad reputation, because the only news you get from Lebanon are bad news, when Hezbollah sends a missile to Israel or when you hear about "terrorist organisations". Also the 16 year long civil war in the 70th and 80th is still in the minds of many people.

On this webpage I'll try to eliminate this information deficit about Lebanon.

   



        
   
  
Lebanon
facts
     [map] [flag

 


Official name:
Republic of Lebanon 

Form of government: parliamentary republic

Inhabitants: approx. 3,5 millions (Lebanese in foreign countries: 13-16 millions)

Area: 10 452 km˛.

Cities: Beirut (capital) ca. 1,5 million inhabitants, Trablus (Tripoli) 190.000 inh., Zahlé 55.000 inh., Saida (Sidon) 50.000 inh., Baalbek 20.000 inh., Es Sur (Tyrus) 18.000 inh.

Language: Arabic (official language), many people speak also French and especially young people speak also English.

Time difference to Europe: Central European Time (CET) +1h; West European Time +2h. The time difference is always the same, because also Lebanon has daylight saving time in summer.

Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50 Hz.; European socket system.

     

     

Why going to Lebanon?

If you are searching for an ideal country to get your first Middle East experience, Lebanon is your country. Because of the large Christian minority and the strong ties to Europe, Lebanon is a country of tolerance for other cultures. Women often don't cover their head and you will get everywhere alcohol (if you want). Lebanon is also (yet) not discovered by the tourism industry and every single tourist is very welcome in this country and will feel the hospitality of the inhabitants. 

If you are interested in ancient ruins you will have in Lebanon an ideal country. Everywhere in the country you will find ruins of roman temples and remains of Phoenician cities. Cities like Tripoli, Sidon and Tyre give you an insight in the traditional Arab life and have very old bazaars. After you trip into the history of Arab cities, you will find in Beirut a city of the future. The reconstruction of this city after the war is one of the most fascinating projects in the Middle East. Beirut is also known as the city of night life and many tourist from other Arab countries choose Beirut as their travel destination because of the openness of this city.

If you prefer to make your holidays in the nature, you will find in the Lebanon Mountains many possibilities for hiking tours and skiing. It is also possible to go swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, but most of the coat is very rocky and the few beaches are often crowded.

All in all I can say that everyone I know, came back from Lebanon with enthusiasm. 

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Geography and history

Lebanon is a very, very small country with a maximal north-south distance of approx. 200km and a east-west distance between 50 and 100km.

You can split the country in four different regions:

1) the steep and rocky coastline (only in the north and in the south, you have larger coastal plains).

2) the Lebanon Mountains with it's fantastic canyons and it's highest point of 3000m in the north of Lebanon.

3) the fertile Beqaa-Valley, between the two mountain ranges of the Lebanon Mountains and the Anti-Lebanon.

4) the meagre, up to 1500m high mountain range of Anti-Lebanon which forms also the border to Syria.

Because of the inaccessibility of the mountains, Lebanon was always a harbour for haunted minorities in the Orient (e.g. Christians, Druzes). When the French occupied Syria after the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire, they created Lebanon in order to establish a "Christian country" and draw the borders of Lebanon in that way, that the Christians form a majority of about 55%. The whole political system of Lebanon is based of the distribution of the ethnic groups. Because of a lower birth rate and a higher emigration rate of the Christians, the Muslims outnumbered the Christians in the 1970th. Now you saw the weakness of this political system. The Christians didn't want to loose their power and other ethnic groups like the Palestinians refugees (Lebanon had in this time about 3 million inhabitants and about 1 million Palestinians refugees)  had still no political rights. Because of these problems and other facts the gruesome civil war broke out in 1975.

In 1991 the Christians and Muslims made an agreement to stop the war ... the Lebanese had really enough of this war. They agreed that the distribution of Christians and Muslims in the parliament should be 50-50 and that the president should be (like before the war) a Christian. The prime minister must belong to the Sunni-Muslims and the president of the parliament must be a Shiia-Muslim. The problem with the Palestinian refugees is still unsolved, as Israel don't want to see them to return to their hometowns.

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Climate

Lebanon belongs to the Mediterranean climate zone which is characterised by hot and dry summers and mild and humid winters, with a lot of snow in the mountains. In summer you will need only clothes for hot and sunny weather, maybe only a pullover for the mountains. In the other seasons winter clothing is necessary, as it can be very cold in the mountains.

The ideal month for travelling to Lebanon are March and April, where you can go skiing in the mountains and in the afternoon you can enjoy a bath in the Mediterranean Sea.

In summer it can be very hot and sweltry at the coast, even many Lebanese try escape and move in summer to their houses in the mountains, where it is much cooler. Many towns at the coast are nearly uninhabited in summer time.

The winter at the coast is mostly quiet mild and it can rain a lot. In the mountains it is snowing and it happens often that roads are closed because of heavy snow storms. The nice thing of being in Lebanon at this time is, that the oranges get ripe - bon appetit!

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Climate of Beirut  by www.weatheronline.co.uk
        red line = avg. maximum temperature  
        blue line = avg. minimum temperature
        yellow numbers = avg. hours of sunshine per day
        blue numbers = days of precipitation

Security    (last update: 23.07.2006)

Note: Because of the outbreak of the war between Hisbollah and Israel it is at the moment not possible to visit Lebanon. I hope the war stops as quick as it started and in the meantime our thougts are at the Lebanese people - they have to suffer most.

Nearly nobody would believe it, but Lebanon is a secure country for travellers. In my many voyages to this country I never had any problem. The people are very helpfully and if you have any problem they will help you immediately.

One fact you cannot ignore. Lebanon is still officially in war with Israel (but there a no fights between the Lebanese and Israeli Army) and it is possible that Israel sends a missile to Lebanon during your stay. The targets of this attacks are only military facilities and power plants, thus locations where you'll never be.

There are also some regions where the Lebanese government has not very much authority. These regions are the southern suburbs of Beirut (around the Palestinian refugee camps), the northern Beqaa-Valley and the border to Israel. In fact, I don't think that anything will happen, if you enter this regions, but if something happens, the government could have problems to help you. 

It is also forbidden to photograph military facilities and checkpoints but if you have all these tips in mind, you can really enjoy your stay in this wonderful country.

As I said, I had never any problem in Lebanon and every Lebanese will help you, when you need help.

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Travelling and transportation

Because of the long Arab tradition of hospitality, Lebanon is an ideal country for individual tourists. It happens quiet often, that you get invited from a unknown men for dinner or for a coffee. The Lebanese are happy, that you visit their country and want to make your time as agreeable as possible.

The public transportation system in Lebanon is quiet bad. There are only a few long-range bus lines but a network of "Service Taxis" covers nearly the whole country. Service taxis are mostly private small busses which have sporadic time tables and it is often difficult to figure out, where the service taxis for a special destination stop. The best way is asking someone, where the service taxis stops and what the common price for a ride to your destination is.

It is also possible to rent a car, but I cannot recommend it. The traffic in Lebanon is not comparable to the traffic in Europe and there are many unwritten rules. It can be very stressful for you driving a car in Lebanon, and this is not the best start for relaxing holidays.

When I am in Lebanon I prefer to rent a car with a driver. There a many advances in this alternative. You don't have problems with navigation, intransparent traffic rules and you are absolute flexible. Renting a car with a driver costs approx. 70-100 Dollars a day ... but it always depends on the size and age of the vehicle. If you need help in finding a car with driver, you can write me an e-mail: stefan@eisenbach.at

When travelling in Lebanon, you will pass a lot of checkpoints. These checkpoints are installed by the Lebanese Army and by the Syrian secret service. Attention, the Syrian agents are in no uniform, so also stop if you only see men in leather jackets at the checkpoint! The checkpoints are there for your security, so don't be anxious. Most of the time they just let you go trough without any question. Sometimes they stop cars and ask some questions, but when they figure out that you are a tourist, they will let you trough immediately. The soldiers are always very friendly and you will have no problems with them. 

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Where you can sleep?

The only possibility to stay over night in Lebanon are hotels and they have the same prices like hotels in Europe. The only possibility in lowering the price is trying to get a special deal. So start already in Europe to write e-mails to Hotels to get a lower price.

Because of the absence of tourism, there are no private lodges in Lebanon. But I have the possibility to offer you to stay at the house of my family.

The house of my family is located near the city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon. There is one room for rent available in the house. You will have the possibility to have a close look to the typical life of the Lebanese from inside and you can safe money by eating at home (restaurants are very expensive). The guests payed in the past (depending on the length of the stay) between 20 and 30 Euro per person and night for bed, breakfast and dinner.

In the past, I stayed with my travel groups every night at my family and we made day tours to all the places of interest in Lebanon (again, Lebanon is a very small country). The advance is, you can stay every night at the same place and it is cheaper than a hotel.

If you are interested in staying at my family, write to stefan@eisenbach.at.

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How expensive is a Lebanon voyage?

Lebanon is not a very cheap travel destination. Compared to other countries in the region like Syria or Jordan, you have clearly higher prices. Hotels and restaurants are nearly as same expensive like in Europe or in the US. If you go to a restaurant, it is most of the time more than enough to order Mezzé (variations of appetizers). These appetizers taste often better than the main dishes and you will be satisfied by the quantity. The prices of Mezzé are usually between 5 and 7 Dollars.

If you want to eat just a snack for a Dollar, you will find a lot of little shops at the street, which sell Falafel, Kebab or Manoush.

The entrance fees for sights and museums are also the same as in Europe. Don't forget to ask for a student rebate (e.g. National Museum in Beirut).

At the end a short calculation of the basic costs of a Lebanon stay:

Flight from Europe €,$ 300-600 CSA, MALEV and TAROM offer quiet cheap flights from Europe to Lebanon with new planes.
Accommodation €,$ 50 / night usual hotel price
Car and driver €,$ 70 / day it is cheaper to go with service taxis
Entrance fees €,$ 70 to 100 for the main sights
Lunch €,$ 1-5 / day Falafel or something likewise
Dinner €,$ 7-10 pro Tag in restaurants

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Cash or cheques?

Nearly all shops, restaurants and hotels take Euros or Dollars without circumstances. For buying things in small shops or in the bazaar you have to use the Lebanese money. You can change your Euros or Dollars in one of the many exchange offices into Lebanese Livre. If you run out of cash, you will find in every big city ATM's (cash dispensers), where you can get money from your account in Europe. More fancy shops and restaurants take also credit cards. I have no experience in paying with traveller cheques, most of the time I take enough cash with me, because this is without doubt the easiest way.

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Eating and drinking in Lebanon

"In Lebanon you get the best food" ... how many times I heard this from other Arabs. The strong French influence improved the Lebanese kitchen and today the Lebanese kitchen is famous in the whole Arab world. The Lebanese food is still quiet fat and a gals of whiskey after the meal is always a good idea ;-) 

Appetizers:

Actually you could eat only appetizers in Lebanon. Lebanon is famous for its Mezzé, which is a variation of different appetizers. Usually Mezzé contains: vegetables, salad, bread, filled wine leaves, yoghurt paste, eggplant paste and Hummus (chickpea paste).

In summer it is very popular to serve salad. A very good salad is Tabouleh. Tabouleh contains a lot of parsley, tomatoes, herbs and buckwheat. The salad is marinated with lemon juice.

Main dishes:

Most of the main dishes contain meat, but you can find also enough vegetarian dishes. One of the most famous dishes is Kbbé which contains ground meat of beef and lamb, buckwheat and pignolias. Also very popular are hotpots with vegetables and meat which are served with Couscous. At the coast you can eat very good, grilled fish.

Desserts:lebanese coffee

This is the real speciality of the Lebanese. The Lebanese make their Baklava-like desserts not so sweet than the Turks. Most of the deserts a little "cakes" with a lot of nuts. It is not easy to pass by a Lebanese bakery.

Coffee:

When you are invited, the first thing you will get is cup of coffee. The Arab coffee is a very strong, sweet coffee without milk. Often you will find a spice (named cardamom) added, which gives the coffee a better flavour. It is quiet uncommon to serve tea in Lebanon.

Fruits and vegetables:

Don't drink the water from the pipes. Also the Lebanese buy bottled water for drinking and cooking. Because of this fact, please be careful in eating fruits and vegetables in unknown restaurants. But I know it is quiet impossible to avoid this products in Lebanon, because you often get vegetables as appetizers and fruits as desserts served. So please don't forget to bring medicine against diarrhoea!

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Links and recommendations

 

Official sites and travel warnings:

 

 - Lebanese Department of Tourism

 - CIA World Fact book Lebanon

 - Lebanese embassy in Washington D.C.

 - US embassy in Lebanon

 - Travel warnings for Lebanon of the U.S. Department of State

 

Travel logues and general information:

 

 - Travel report of three German women

 - Ayman Ghazis Lebanon webpage

 - Pictures and descriptions of places of interests

 - Interactive map of Lebanon with touristic information

 - Goethe Institute Beirut

 

News from Lebanon:

 

 - Daily Star - Lebanese newspaper in English

 - L'Orient le Jour - newspaper in French

 - Lebanese internet radios

 

Books and travel guides:

 

 - "Lonely Planet" travel guide Lebanon

 - "Clef pour le Liban" - nice photos from Lebanon, Garnet, ISBN 2842140419  (Link to Fnac)

 - "From Beirut to Jerusalem", the truth about the Lebanese war and the politics in the Middle East

 

Other interesting webpages:

 

 - 360° pictures and post cards

 - Lebanese desserts of the famous bakery Hallab in Tripoli

 - Very nice panoramic pictures from Lebanon

 

     

If you know more useful links, please send me an e-mail: stefan@eisenbach.at 

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Places of interests

 

Do not miss:

 - Baalbek (impressive ruins of the roman city of Heliopolis) [photo]
 - Tripoli (bazaar, castle) [photo]
 - Cedars near Bcharré [photo]
 - Beit-ed-Dine / Deir-el-Qamar (old palace / nice village) [photo]

 

Very nice:

 - Beirut (Al-Hamra, National Museum, Solidere, Beach Boulevard) [photo]
 - Hiking tour in the Qadisha valley (monastery, canyons)
[
photos]
 - Hiking tour near
Ehden (good view to the coast) [photo]
 - Monastery Deir Mar Antonios Qozhaya near Ehden
 - Coastal towns in northern Lebanon (Byblos, Jouneh and Batroun) [photo]

 - Coastal towns in the South (Saida and Tyre) [photo]
 - Cedar forest in the Chouf mountains

 

This a can also recommend:

 - Harissa (Statue of the holy Mary of Lebanon - good view to the coast)
 - Deir al Ahmar (nice basin in the Beqaa valley with a nice limestone spring)
[
photo]
 - Castle near Batroun from the crusaders
[
photo]
 - Faqra (skiing area, natural bridge, old roman temples)
[
photo]

 

Nice but not really necessary:

 - Beit-Meri (Nice village near Beirut – destroyed ottoman palace) [photo]
 - Aanjar (ruins of a Umayyad city) 
[
photo]

 - Zahle (nice city in the Beqaa valley with many restaurants)
 - Qadisha (small limestone cave near Becharré)
 - Jeita (big limestone cave with a sub terrestrial lake, very expensive, no photos)

 

If you are in this area:

 - Limestone source of Afqa [photo]
 - Nahr-el-Qalb (Egyptian inscriptions, nice view of Beirut)
[
photo]

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(c) stefan eisenbach | http://photos.eisenbach.at | stefan [at] eisenbach.at