A few years ago Libya was tightly screwed down by a list of entry requirements long enough to deflect even the most determined recreational traveler. These days access to Libya is simply a matter of obtaining a visa. The fact that these visas applications are routinely rejected for little or no reason, and that the Washington Embassy does not accept applications at all, implies that although technically tourism is encouraged in Libya, in fact this is not the case at all.
Tourism in Libya is at the invitation of the authorities only. This tends to take the form of an approved tour company upon whose request only will visas be granted. Thereafter your trip will be carefully monitored and your itinerary governed on your behalf. The ostensible reason for this is to protect the archeological heritage of the country from light fingered tourists, but in effect it is to limit any untoward access to the heart of a nation the powers that be wish to keep unsullied by any foreign imprint.
Travel To & Within Libya
Why Travel To Libya
Libya lies in a region of almost infinite history, with strategic occupations going back as far as the Phoenicians and the hegemony of Carthage. This was followed in sequence by the occupation of ancient Greeks, Romans and Arabs. The Ottoman expansion of the mid-16th century ushered the region into the modern age, and after a relatively brief occupation by the Italians in the colonial period, Libya achieved independence. However this was shortly followed by a military coup led by 27 year old army officer Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi. It is this regime that has since tended to define Libya as almost the private fiefdom of a socially isolated and deeply eccentric demagogue, who remains, despite this, a powerful force on the landscape of the Maghreb, and on Africa as a whole.
As a consequence of all this Libya is heir to some of the most prized monuments of classical history, and it is this above all else that makes the rigors of getting into Libya worthwhile. There is no better introduction to this than the capital of Tripoli itself. With its mix of cultural influences displayed under a regime of cleanliness and order it is possible to explore the city with little if any of high pressure of other, more established southern Mediterranean destinations. Other sites include Leptis Magna, one of the most superbly preserved example of a Roman city anywhere in the classical world, Sabratha, situated in the northwest corner of the country, and the inland city of Cyrene.
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For an entirely different perspective on Libyan history a visit to the town of Ghadames on the western border with Algeria offers a glimpse of as quintessential an oasis town as the region has to offer. And although freedom of movement is not encouraged, it is possible to access the south of the country and the deep desert hinterland. The Jebel Nafusa is a regions of rugged and arid mountains in the west, characterized by hillside villages and tiny oasis, while the sand seas of the Idehan Ubari and Idehan Murzuq, if you can get there, offer the essence of Saharan landscapes in a region of relative political stability.
When To Visit Libya
The summer months in Libya, as with anywhere in the Sahara region, introduce an entirely new dimension to heat. While the December to February period is popular along the coast, do not even contemplate an expedition into the desert during this time.
The period between October and November is usually regarded as the best time, when clear skies, moderate temperatures and what verdure you are ever likely to see in the country is visible.
Libya is not an established tourist destination so peak periods are not really an issue.
Libya may have allowed itself a certain degree of liberalization since the lifting of international sanctions in 2003, but it is still a nation that inspires the jitters in the west, and most government travel warnings will still stress a general risk of terrorism. This emphasis is probably more theoretical than actual, for in fact Libya is effectively governed, well policed and largely peaceful.
It is definitely advisable to avoid any suggestion of politics, any interest in political gatherings or government or military installations.
Street or violent crime in Libya, even in the urban centers, is not an appreciable problem, although sensible precautions are always advisable.