It’s a good time to visit Lebanon. The country is on the rise economically and politically. Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of your time in the Middle Eastern country.
There is little cultural or religious diversity
When you begin your trip in a tourist-friendly city like Beirut, there are less religious and cultural centers, or museums and monuments, per se. It’s also an area that’s much more close-knit. “I am not sure if the Christian community has suffered more [with] change in Lebanon. I can say, however, that they haven’t recovered from the Syrians,” said Richard Federer, CEO of Hotel Central in Beirut. “From what I understand, the Muslim majority has a higher standard of living. This has changed their dynamic for some time.” The same was true in Syria, before the civil war.
One of the country’s most famous historical sites, the Baalbek Monastery, has reduced its number of foreign visitors and monks in recent years, as unemployment and social divisions appear to be rising. And now Hezbollah, which once dominated politics, is less influential, leaving President Michel Aoun and other Christians with more power.
Currency is strong, but trips to the desert and beaches can be expensive
Around the world, there is significant fluctuation in value of currencies. That’s especially true in Lebanon. Right now, $5,000 would get you less than $550 — and you’d also get 5,000 LBP. It’s a far cry from the then-local rate of around $300 per LBP. The weakness of the dollar is causing a tourist boom, leading to rising demand for accommodation and rentals.
The country offers beaches and sand but frequent bombings make travel hard
At the same time, security has risen sharply over the past year or so. There have been around 100 bomb attacks since last summer, killing between 50 and 80 civilians and combatants, most of whom were also civilians. These incidents make it hard for travelers to visit, even those with an open mind. Tourists are advised to carry their weapons with them when traveling in Lebanon, according to the UN’s Lebanon mission.
Americans are banned from entering
“America is what stopped me before,” said Zachary Weinstein, CEO of Easily Tours in Ramallah, Israel. (Weinstein was 15 when he fled the Israeli conscripts of his native West Bank to emigrate to Lebanon.) “Coming from Washington, D.C., which is considered by many to be the capital of the evil empire, coming here was only after personally considering not coming.” Weinstein’s parents left Israel before it became a state in 1948, but he had family there who stayed. “Our parents actually had a friend who crossed and came with them [to Lebanon],” Weinstein said. “The house where they raised their four kids was in Lebanon at the time.” As part of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, two-thirds of the country was evacuated — of which about half were Jewish. “They couldn’t have done that in Israel,” he said. “The entire population of West Jerusalem was under threat of all-out occupation by the Israelis.”
Israelis are permitted to travel to Lebanon and other countries on a tourist visa. But with no diplomatic ties, nationals from the U.S. and other Western countries are banned from entering. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter traveled to Lebanon last month and met with President Aoun in an apparent effort to help peace efforts.
Many roads in the countryside are not designed for cars, and you may need to go by donkey or horse
A traveler’s map showing the parts of Lebanon with the easiest access to cities, along with areas you might want to avoid, is available online at qamkin.com/map.
The Impromptu Tiki Bar of Beirut
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