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Oil-rich Libya has had a tumultuous history as many have wrestled for control of this fascinating land. Tucked between Egypt and Tunisia while bordering the Mediterranean Sea, it has seen invasions by Turks, Vandals, Byzantines, Romans, Arabs and Italians, gaining independence in 1951.
These civilisations have left their mark, seen in the striking Roman and Greek ruins at Leptis Magna, Cyrene and Sabratha. Despite this, Libya remains quintessentially Arabic, as evident in the Medina (old city) of the capital Tripoli, the nomadic lifestyle of desert-dwelling Bedouin and Berber tribes, and the language and culture of the people.
Tripoli is the country's main port, a bustling city dominated by the Medina's walls and gates, as well as the large palace complex of the splendid Red Castle, Assaraya al-Hamra. Filled with orange groves and grapevines, this lush city of palms and olive trees is home to several mosques, museums and historical sites, as well as modern amenities. Benghazi is Libya's second largest city and has a more modern atmosphere, having been all but destroyed during World War II. Benghazi acts as a good base from which to explore the neighbouring Green Mountain area, as well as several Roman ruins along the coast.
Libya is largely an undiscovered tourist destination, due to a current high risk of terrorism and sanctions imposed on the country through its rocky political history. There was a rise in tourism and an increased interest in the country after the lifting of sanctions in 2003, with a number of resorts springing up along Libya's Mediterranean coast. But the country's descent into civil war in 2011 put an end to Libya's popularity as a travel destination. But there still remains oases to be discovered, ruins to explore and cities to enjoy.
The Libyan Desert is one of the harshest and most arid in the world, and decades can go by without rain in certain areas, but this harsh interior is tempered by the Mediterranean climate in the north. Summers are hot and dry, while winters are cooler with lower temperatures in the evening and rainfall is minimal. The desert is more extreme: hot in the day and cold at night. Spring and autumn experience the , a hot desert wind that can last up to four days, bringing temperatures in the coastal areas up to 122°F (50°C). June to October is the best time to travel to Libya, particularly to the coastal areas, as temperatures are in the more manageable region of 80°F (27°C).
The Libyan Dinar (LYD), divided into 1,000 dirhams.
The official language of Libya is Arabic (used for all official business), though some Italian and English is spoken, especially in the cities.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Round three-pin plugs are used. Power outages are common.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Libya. A visa is required.
UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Libya. A visa is required.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Libya. A visa is required.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Libya. A visa is required.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Libya. A visa is required.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Libya. A visa is required.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Libya. A visa is required.
Most foreign passengers require a visa to enter Libya. Tourist visas must be organised in advance, but can sometimes be issued on arrival; provided that travellers are holding a copy of a letter issued by the Libyan immigration authorities, confirming that a visa will be granted to them upon their arrival at the airport. This copy must be sent to the office of the transporting carrier in Libya at least 24 hours in advance. Visitors travelling to Libya for touristic purposes are also required to convert USD 1,000 (or equivalent) in freely convertible cash, or to debit the amount from a valid credit card upon their arrival at the airport. Failure to do so will result in the traveller being refused entry to Libya. Note that admission and transit will be refused to holders of (i) documents containing a valid or expired visa for Israel, or (ii) tickets showing an Israeli destination. All visitors must also hold proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in Libya, and a yellow fever vaccination certificate (if arriving within six days or leaving or transiting through an infected area). Please note that the volatile political situation in Libya means that visa/entry requirements often change abruptly, and as such, travellers should make sure they are in possession of up-to-date information BEFORE leaving home. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are no major health risks associated with travel to Libya. Visitors travelling from infected areas require a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Travellers are encouraged to get vaccinations for tetanus, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid. Healthcare facilities in Libya are basic and travellers are advised to have full travel insurance. In remote areas, there may be no health facilities at all and so travellers are advised to carry their own basic medications. Tap water in Libya is chlorinated, but it's advised that visitors drink only bottled or boiled water.
Tipping isn't common and may be offensive. However, tipping tour guides is appreciated.
Libya remains unstable and unpredictable in the wake of civil war, with various extremist groups and political factions warring for control. Ports and airports have been targeted by terrorist groups. Terrorism is a real threat and travellers should be particularly alert to kidnapping threats as foreigners have been previously targeted. The political instability has also led to an increase in crime levels, with safety in Libya far from certain and most government agencies advising against all travel to the country at this time.
Libya is an Islamic country and visitors should be respectful in terms of following Arabic customs, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking, smoking and chewing gum in public is forbidden.
Swimwear should be restricted to beaches and women should dress modestly, avoiding Arab gatherings where women are not permitted. Homosexuality is illegal and extramarital sexual relationships are forbidden. Libya is one of the strictest countries in terms of a ban on alcohol and drugs, and neither should be brought into the country, though smoking is very common.
Criticism of the Libyan Government, Islam and the country itself is not tolerated. Permission must always be sought prior to photographing people, and it is not recommended that a camera be used or carried near any official or military buildings.
Travellers may enter the country with 200 cigarettes or 250 cigars or 250g tobacco and 250ml of perfume. All alcohol and drugs are strictly prohibited, as well as almost all foodstuffs. There is also an extensive list of banned items, including any articles manufactured or produced in Israel, and it is best to consult a Libyan Embassy for more information before travel.
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