Libya Travel Guide

Libya Holidays - Tours and Adventure Travel Guide

PureTravel Says
"Libya is a country trying very hard to become a popular tourist destination. With plenty of excellent classical ruins, adventures into the Sahara and a hot climate, it has much going for it. It is using its oil millions to build a great infastructure and fantasic facilities and will catch up its neighbours in tourism revenues in the not too distant future."

Libya Holiday Highlights

Desert Tours - Take an organized trip into the Libyan Desert with a tour guide. These can be one-day or longer trips. Experience the harsh reality of this hostile empty environment. See mirages, visit oases and meet nomads. These trips are all taken in 4X4 vehicles. Experience local foods and ride a camel through the desert. Sand storms are a fairly common occurrence.

Camel Rides - Camels are available at many tourist sights for riding. Camel trains are an exciting way to experience life in the desert which the nomadic people still experience.

Archeological Sites - There are several sites of unique historical and archeological interest. Visit Leptis Magna and Sabratha to see these UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Leptis Magna - Leptis Magna is one of the best preserved Roman archeological sites in the world. It was the birthplace of Emperor Lucius Septimus Severus, who ruled from 193-211AD. He desired to turn Leptis Magna into a second Rome. He expanded the harbor; built the Forum where seventy-five of the fabulous Gorgon heads still remain; and built a basilica.

The piece de resistance was the Triumphal Arch that told of Septimus’s victories and achievements. It still sets the scene for all the other wonders that still remain at Leptis Magna. The detail and carving which still decorates the pillars and walls is quite amazing. There are fragments of inscriptions and measuring devices for cutting lengths of cloth.

The ‘Grim African’ is a bronze statue of Septimus Severan sited outside the museum. This is a modern reproduction of the original, more weathered one which is inside the museum, along with a host of artifacts from the ruins.

Leptis Magna is 125km east of Tripoli. It is open daily, but the museum is closed on Mondays.

Sabratha - Sabratha is an interesting city to visit with its colonial style ruins. It is much smaller than Leptis Magna, and everything was built on a smaller scale. An earthquake in 365 AD left the city in ruins, and the sandstone has weathered here more than the relics at Leptis Magna. However it is much quieter and less visited than its famous counterpart which makes it easy to walk around. The site is largely open for visitors to explore. There is an amazing amount of flooring left in tact, and marble facing on the walls. The theatre is fenced around.

The Mausoleum of Bel stands out on the north western sector of the site, and this predated even the Roman buildings here. It has actually been reconstructed, as the original was dismantled and used in the city walls. There is the main street, the Cardo Maximus, the Forum, civil basilica, the senate, various temples and the public baths. The seaward facing baths are in particularly good condition and have octagonal latrines still in evidence.

Although it is ruined and well weathered, it is worth taking a guided tour. Sabratha is 80km west of Tripoli. There are also some wonderful views of the sea and coastline from the city.

The Sahara - Beyond Ghadames, the Sahara Desert begins in earnest. There are huge sand dunes which drop away steeply and 4X4 transport is essential. The descents down the dunes can be quite frightening. Tours take visitors to see the ruined desert castle at Ras-al-Ghoul (Hill of Ghosts) which has wonderful views to Tunisia and Algeria.

Visitors can look for crystalline gypsum and barite, known as desert roses. Herbs grow in the most arid places and can be picked for tea-making.

Go in the late afternoon and the sunset is breathtaking as the desert sands turn from palest gold to the deepest red.

Libyan Desert Glass Expedition - Libyan Desert glass is a natural glass made of 98% pure silica. Its formation is a mystery, but it is likely to have been created from a meteor impacting on the silica. Visit the unique site where pieces of glass weighing as much as 16 pounds have been found.

These trips take several days and 4X4 vehicles take guests surfing through the desert sands. Experience the harsh desert and even see mirages in the heat. Visit oases, see dunes form strange shapes and maybe experience a sand storm.

Ghadames Oasis - Many Libyans have moved into the new town at Ghadames but still own land within the oasis. Some of the gardens remain tended and cared for, with citrus and pomegranate trees, vines and dates thriving here. Water was so precious that channels ran underground to avoid evaporation, and a controller sat in the main square and oversaw a fair and equitable supply of water to everyone. The niche where he sat in the shade can still be seen.

Women were confined to their homes in old Ghadames, and would use the flat roofs to move from house to house to visit family and friends. The Al-Qubba was a canopied area within the house where a bride would await her new husband, and a widow would receive visitors during her period of mourning.

The old city of Ghadames has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is well worth the effort of getting there. There is some accommodation for those who want to stay in the oasis, but pre-booking is advisable. Within the old town one of the old houses serves lunch, by prior arrangement, and there are some restaurants but it is an expensive place to visit.

Tripoli’s Old City - The Old City is Tripoli is a major tourist attraction. It is one of the classical sites of the Mediterranean area. The medieval medina covers most of the old city which was called Oea. Walking through the medina there are still traces of the old Roman architecture. The grandest relic is the Aurelian Arch, but there are also ancient pillars set into the corners of the medieval buildings.

The Aurelian Arch was built in 162-163AD and marked the intersection of the city’s main streets, the Cardo Maximus and the Decimus. In the garden surrounding the arch there are various pieces of architectural masonry, and some relief work on the arch can still be seen, nearly 2000 years later. The arch is floodlit at night and makes a wonderful backdrop to the buildings in the Square.

Around the medina there are arcaded streets and squares with cafes. The Grand Mosque off East Square now has Islamic crescents on the roof where crosses once marked this as the city’s cathedral.

Tripoli has a number of good museums including the Ethnographic museum, the Archeological Museum, the National Archives and the Islamic Museum. The most famous museum is the Jamahiriya Museum which houses one of the finest collections of classical art in the Mediterranean.

When to Go

The most popular months for tourists to visit Libya are in the spring and autumn.

Libya’s climate is mostly dry and desert-like. The northern regions do enjoy a more Mediterranean climate with mild winters, and hot dry summers. During the spring and autumn it suffers from the sirocco or ‘gibli’ winds. There are often dust storms and sand storms.

In the Libyan Desert rain may fall as little as every 5-10 years, and there are a few oases. The temperatures are also extreme with cold chilly nights, but daytime temperatures will soar to 57C (136F).

Top Tips

  • Alcohol consumption is illegal in Libya and it is enforced by law.
  • There is no train service in Libya, but transport between cities is easy by bus.
  • Visit the Sahara desert in the evening for the most amazing sunset colors.

General Information

Libya is a country on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. It borders the countries of Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia. It covers 1.8 million km2 (700,000 square miles) but ninety per cent of the country is desert. There are oases at Ghadames and Kufra. The capital is Tripoli, which was named after Tripolis, the three ancient cities of Oea, Libdah and Sabratha. The currency is the Libyan Dinar and the official language is Arabic.

Libya has large petroleum reserves which were discovered back in 1959. This turned Libya around from being one of the poorest nations I the world into an extremely wealthy one. At the same time, a massive aquifer was found underneath the country.

The climate in Libya is dry and desert-like. During the spring and autumn it suffers from the sirocco or ‘gibli’ winds. There are often dust storms and sand storms. The Libyan Desert is one of the most harsh and arid environments in the world. Rain may fall as little as every 5-10 years, and there are a few oases. The temperatures are also extreme, with cold chilly nights but daytime temperatures reaching up to 57C (136F).

Tourism is being encouraged in Libya, assisted by the multi-million dollar renovation of the airports. Currently around 140,000 people visit the country each year to see the culture and archeological treasures. The green Mountain Sustainable Development Area is bringing tourism to Cyrene, whilst also preserving the Greek ruins in the area. The archeological Roman remains at Leptis Magna and Sabratha are amazing in their age and detail. Trips into the Sahara are also popular for active adventure holidays.

Culture - Archeological evidence indicates that Neolithic people lived on Libya’s coastal plain as long ago as 8000 BC. It was later occupied by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals and Byzantines. The Greeks and Romans left a rich heritage of their life and culture in the magnificent ruins at Cyrene, Leptis Magna and Sabratha.

Traditionally Libyan Arabs lived in tents and had a nomadic lifestyle. Most Libyan Arabs associate themselves with a particular Berber tribe. More recently, families live in apartment blocks in the towns and cities, where there is plenty of work.

Freedom of speech, the press, association and religion are all restricted in Libya, under the ruling of Muammar al-Gaddafi. The predominant religion is Islam, and most Libyans belong to the Sunni Islamic group. Alcohol consumption is illegal and it is enforced by law.

In the cities, international cuisine is available, but in undeveloped areas food stores may be the only source of food. Common Libyan food includes couscous, bazin which is an unsweetened cakes and shurpa which is soup similar to minestrone. Lamb, chicken, vegetable stew, potatoes and macaroni are all common dishes. Tea is the chosen drink, rather than coffee.


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