Lebanon is a beautiful and exiting place to visit but it is rather unique and the traveller needs to know certain things so as to get by. If you are going to Lebanon for the first time it is a very good idea to read this brief guide. 


Lebanon is an occupied country.

Throughout  the country Syrian intelligence agents scour the land, listening to what you have to say. These secret agents are divided into three main types:
1)    This top secret agent that can be identified by his sandals, off white shirt, and rather obvious carbine version of the AK47 hanging from his shoulder. These agents are usually found on Syrian checkpoints.
2)    This top secret agent that can be identified by his rather ugly Hawaiian shirt of a sort of green, grey, black, and brown pattern. Look out for the standard issue tight jeans with a bulge in the back covered by the shirt. These agents usually go around in pairs and can often be seen holding hands.
3)    This top secret agent is the clever type for he drives a taxi. This a good place for people to relax and chat to each other and accidentally say something against Syria or its leadership. If you are in a taxi the best thing to do is not to talk to the driver, if he tries to engage you in a conversation 'No speaky Beiruty' is a good thing to say.
The extreme south and south-east of Lebanon is now under United Nations control but was under Israeli control and was the scene of artillery fire, bombings, fire-fights and flyovers. The UN Security Zone, as it's called, was a 1.5km (0.9mi) wide area along the Lebanon-Israel border and was closed to all visitors. Israeli troops occupied this area, from where they often launched attacks on nearby Lebanese villages where Lebanese resistance fighters were perceived to be operating; the Lebanese resistance replied with attacks of their own - and so it went on. Israeli forces had closed crossings in other Lebanese sectors to prevent entry to the occupied south. Some of the towns affected included Haris, Kafra, Yater and the outskirts of al-Manourieh. The hills of western Bekaa and the vicinity of the historic port city of Tyre have also witnessed attacks. Though the Isrealis are no longer there, travellers to this region and its outskirts are advised to be aware of current political and military developments, and be prepared to change travel plans at a moment's notice. Stay well clear of Palestinian camps.

Check points are discussed in the 'Getting Around' section below.


Despite its modest size, Lebanon has a number of completely different geographical regions. There's a very narrow, broken, coastal strip which contains all the major cities. Inland, the Mount Lebanon range rises steeply to a dramatic set of peaks and ridges - the highest, Qornet as-Sawda, is over 3000m (9840ft). Further inland, the range drops steeply to the 150km (92mi) long Bekaa Valley, which runs parallel to the coast at an elevation of 1000m (3280ft). The Bekaa is a major wine producing region and, until recently, a major producer of cannabis. The Anti-Lebanon range rises in a sheer arid massif to the east of the Bekaa Valley, forming a natural border with Syria.

The most famous flora in Lebanon, the cedar tree, is now found on only a few mountaintop sites, notably at Bcharré and near Barouk in the Chouf Mountains. These lonely groves are all that remain of Lebanon's great cedar forests which, in biblical times, covered much of the country. That said, Lebanon is still the most densely wooded of all the Middle Eastern countries: many varieties of pine flourish on the mountains and much of the coastal land is cultivated with fruit trees.

Lebanon's mountain areas are home to birds of prey, and the nature reserve near Ehden has golden and imperial eagles, buzzards, red kites, Bonelli's eagles, Sardinian warblers and Scop's owls. Marine birds, both resident and migratory, can be spotted in the Palm Islands Park off the coast of Tripoli. Green turtles and Mediterranean monk seals inhabit the waters surrounding the park. As for wild land animals look out for wild dogs and the odd snake.

With such a diverse topography, it isn't surprising that the weather varies considerably from region to region. Broadly speaking, Lebanon has three different climate zones - the coastal strip, the mountains and the Bekaa Valley. The coastal strip has cool, rainy winters and hot, sometimes stifling, Mediterranean summers. The mountains have a typical alpine climate. Many people head to the hills to escape the oppressive summers of Beirut and come back again in winter for the snow. The Bekaa Valley has hot, dry summers and cold winters with snow, frost and fierce winds.


Lebanon has fabulous trekking opportunities in its mountains and gorges. It's usually a relatively short distance between villages, so planning overnight stops is not a problem if that's the kind of hiking which appeals to you.

Hunting is popular but do not go on your own, make sure there is someone Lebanese with you.

There are 6 main ski resorts in Lebanon, offering varying degrees of difficulty. Equipment hire is available at all resorts, and the cost is reasonable.

If you like sun worship Lebanon is great. Of the sandy beaches, the best can be found in the far south of the country. There are good beaches in Beirut, around Byblos, Chekka, and Tripoli. Sticking to swimming pools however is the best idea. The rocky bathing sites make good snorkelling spots; water-skiing, jet-skiing, windsurfing and sailing are all readily available.

Getting There

Travel to Lebanon could not be easier these days. A growing number of airlines service Beirut, which has frequent connections to Europe, Africa, Asia and the rest of the Middle East. The national carrier, Middle East Airlines, also flies to Australia and Canada. The US recently lifted its ban on travel to Lebanon.

Visas: All nationalities, except Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nationals, need a visa to enter Lebanon. Australian, Canadian, most EU, New Zealand and US passport holders can obtain a visa on arrival but get one before departing to Lebanon if you can, this will save you some time and hassle in the airport.

Health risks: Israeli bombing runs, and Syrian agents. Vaccinations are recommended for polio, tetanus and typhoid
Time: GMT/UTC plus 2 hours
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric

Getting Around

Always carry some kind of identification on you.

Car rentals are fairly expensive in Lebanon and the country is notorious for the hair-raising style of its drivers. You need an international driving licence. Road rules are non-existent and there are no speed limits. Driving resembles scenes out of Mad Max so do not attempt to drive in Lebanon unless you are used to insane behavior. Visitors from the following countries, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Scandanavia, Canada, and the US should think twice before driving.  In theory everybody has agreed to drive on the right, but people frequently drive on the wrong side of the road and one way streets are often regarded as a suggestion rather than a rule, always assume that you never have right of way. Do not take your eyes off the road for an instant. Do not insult other drivers, you will regret it, if you live. On the plus side, fuel is cheap and easy to get.

You will generally encounter three types of check point:
1)    Lebanese Army. These check points tend to be decorated with red and white paint and are manned by Lebanese Army soldiers. Lebanese soldiers are always very tidy, clean, and well dressed and wear camouflage uniforms (standard US type). They are very polite and helpful.
2)    Lebanese 'ISF' or 'Darak'. These are basically Lebanese police and are also generally polite and helpful. They wear a blue/grey camouflage uniform.
3)    Syrian check points. These may be manned by either Syrian troops, or Syrian intelligence agents, or both. These are easy to spot because the check points tend to have a portrait of Assad hanging very near by and those manning it are mostly untidy and badly dressed. They are neither polite nor helpful. If uniforms are worn they will mostly be of a green nature although 'Tiger Stripe' of a strange colour combination can also be found. The Syrian beret cap badge is a rather sad looking eagle.

Slow down on all check points, turn down the music and smile. At night also turn on the car's interior light when you reach a check point.
At Syrian check points do not smile.

It is possible to hire private drivers with their car during your stay. This is generally a good idea and cheaper than car rental but not as much fun.

Many people use 'service taxis' to get around, a huge number of which run like buses on set routes. They carry around 5 passengers, each of whom chip in for a fifth of the fare but you can have the car to yourself  by paying the full amount if it is empty and you tell the driver when you get in. There are also many 'pirate taxis' cruising for fares. These are more expensive than 'service taxis', but look exactly the same, so it's best to ask before you get in.
Buses travel between Beirut and other major towns, not recomended.

Do not cross the border into Syria, its a real drag and there really isn't much to see.

Money & Costs

Lebanon is quite expensive by Mediterranean and Middle East standards, and the main expense is accommodation. A minimum travelling budget, taking into account the high cost of hotels, is around US$80 to US$100 a day. Room rates are cheaper outside Beirut, but the cost of meals is pretty standardised throughout Lebanon with Lebanese food being by far the best and the cheapest.

Budget meal: US$4-8
Mid-range restaurant: US$10-20
Top-end restaurant: US$30-50

Most banks will only change US dollars and UK pounds in cash or travellers' cheques, while moneychangers, found throughout Lebanon, will deal in almost any convertible currency. They also offer better rates than the banks. Check the rates in a newspaper and shop around for the best deal. International credit cards are accepted in most places but make sure first.

Tipping is usually expected as a reward for services. Most restaurants and nightspots include a 16% service charge in the bill, but it is customary to leave an extra tip of 5% to 10% of the total. With the exception of a few set prices, everything can be bargained down in Lebanon, from taxi fares to hotel charges. Most hotels will give you a discount if you stay for more than 3 days.

When to Go

For sun worshippers, the time to come to Lebanon is the summer season from June to end of September. The weather is hot and dry, though very humid on the coast. Lebanon is becoming increasingly popular as a winter sports destination. It has a number of ski resorts and the ski season runs from December to May. During May, the weather on the coast is warm enough for swimming and the country is carpeted with flowers. If your luck is running, you can catch the end of the ski season, sunbathe on the beach and get fresh flowers in your room. Autumn is also scenic: by October the most oppressive heat is over and it's a pleasant time to visit.

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