Libya is a country in North Africa. In the north it has a Mediterranean Sea coast, with Egypt to the east and Tunisia to the west. It also has land borders with Algeria, Chad, Niger, and Sudan. More than 90% of the country is desert or semidesert.
Tripoli - the capital
Shahhat— Ancient city of Cyrene, a World Heritage site, is nearby
Passports and visas are required for entry into Libya for all nationalities except nationals of Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. Those who have passports indicating travel to Israel will not be allowed to enter. It is now legal for Americans to travel to Libya; however, it is difficult for US citizens to obtain visas. The Libyan Embassy in Washington DC now accepts visa applications, but you will need a letter of invitation from a Libyan sponsor who applies for you in Libya. Tourist visas are often rejected at all embassies without being a part of a tour or applied for on behalf of a Libyan tour operator. Check with the Libyan Embassy in DC for more info you are American http://www.libyanbureaudc.org/
Libyan immigration requirements frequently change without warning. According to the U.S. State Department, a requirement of a certified Arabic translation of the biological data page of your passport is mandatory for obtaining a visa and entering the country. Canadians are currently unable to obtain visas for entry into Libya.
According to the Libyan Embassy in DC, a traveler will need $400US (as bare minimum) in a convertible currency, with the following exceptions:
Tourists arriving as a group, as part of a package organized by travel and tourist bureaus, agencies or companies, which cover their living expenses during their stay.
Those in possession of entry visas on official missions
Those in possession of student entry visas with expenses paid by the Libyan Government.
Those wishing to join a resident of Libya on condition that such a resident provides a grantee to cover the expenses of the guest stay and medical treatment and other requirement
Tripoli is served by most major European and Arab airlines and of course by Libyan Airlines which uses the airport as its main hub. Essentially one may expect daily flights to/from most major European international airports such as Heathrow, Paris CDG, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Rome and multiple weekly flights to/from Milan, Manchester, Vienna, Alexandria, etc.
A new private Libyan airline, Afriqiyah , provides daily services to many European (mainly Brussels, Paris CDG, Amsterdam Schipol and London Heathrow, according to their website) and African cities with Tripoli as a hub. It uses new Airbus 320 aircraft and seems to be expanding its 2007 route map rapidly.
Another new private Libyan airline, Buraq Air, provides domestic services as well as some flights to several international destinations including Istanbul, Ribat and Aleppo. Buraq Air has been cited several times as a great success story in Libya's effort to privatize its economy and break away from state-driven economic policies.
There are also some international routes between Libya's second city Benghazi to destinations such as Alexandria and Cairo (according to the LAA website London and Casablanca are planned from Benghazi). These tend to be more seasonal and one should check schedules ahead of time.
Of course there are many direct flights from places such as Amsterdam to small oasis towns in the middle of the Sahara but these are operated by the oil companies for private purposes (i.e. to ferry the foreign oil workers directly to the oil fields).
Libya has no international train connections and no significant domestic train infrastructure.
One may travel to Libya overland. There are bus and "shared taxi" (accommodating 6 people in a station wagon) services from such places as Tunis, Alexandria, Cairo, Djerba, etc.
There are many online blogs showing people having done the trip in their own 4x4s or using their own dirt bikes, campervans, etc. There are very few borderposts open to travel into the country with a foreign car: Ras Jdayr (from Tunesia) and Bay of As Sallum (from Egypt). At the border, one has to buy a temporary licence including a number plate for Euro 300 (March 2008).
Libya has had no train system since 1965. There are various plans to rebuild some lines.
There are many weblogs showing people having done the trip in their own 4x4s or using their own dirt bikes, campervans, etc. It would seem that they encounter considerable hospitality once in the country. In fact it is not uncommon to see SUVs with Texas plates on them in Tripoli (most likely US oil workers of which approx 5-10,000 live in Libya). It is also not uncommon to see convoys of European campervans on Libya's highways. One German citizen recently back from a dirt bike tour of the desert explained how it was nearly impossible to get gas station attendants to accept payment for gas fill-ups since he was quite the novelty. In fact gasoline in Libya is typically cheaper than bottled water, currently 150 dirham, or about 10 cents, a liter.
Some self-drive car rental services are available in the large cities but the rates are typically high and the cars unreliable. This does appear to be changing as Avis and Europcar offer new cars now in their fleets. Around the major cities, driving can be an "education".
The recommended route of transport for tourists around major towns is taxis. There are also many shared taxis and buses (but they are amongst the worst drivers on the road, although I concede in two years of driving around Tripoli I have never seen a serious crash involving one of them!). The small black and white taxis (or death pandas) tend to be safer (more cautious drivers) but learn the term "Shweyah-Shweyah", Libyan for slow-down, and ask them to keep off Al-Sareyah (the motorway from Souq-Al-Thataltha to Janzour)! A taxi driver will routinely try it on with tourists. Will always try to charge 10 dinars (about $7) for a fare around town. Negotiate the price first: Around most of inner Tripoli, you should not pay more than 5 dinars (bonus points if you can get them down to the local fare of 3 dinars!). If you find a good taxi driver with a good car, it doesn't hurt to build up a relationship and get his mobile number. Taxis from the airport can be more expensive as the airport is a long way from town. Note that the Corinthia Hotel also runs a shuttle from the airport to the hotel.
There are many bus services between the major cities and it is certainly a cheap way to travel. The larger bus companies use modern air conditioned touring buses which are relatively comfortable. This is important on the longer journeys (such as Tripoli to Benghazi which takes about 14hours by bus). The buses make stops for meals and the very important tea (shahee) breaks along the way. A faster method is to take the "shared taxis" but some of the drivers tend to be more reckless in order to cut the travel time.
In Tripoli, it is surprisingly hard to find a traditional Libyan restaurant. Most serve western-style cuisine, with a few Moroccan and Lebanese restaurants thrown in. This is a shame, because there are some wonderful Libyan dishes you should taste in case you are fortunate enough to be invited to a Libyan dinner party or wedding (be prepared to be overfed!). A favorite cafe for the local expatriate community is the fish restaurant in the suuq (market). For a few dollars, you can enjoy a great seafood couscous. A local specialty is the stuffed calamari. Another good seafood place is the Hofra Market. On the beach road to Mateiga Airport, only about five kilometers along the beach from Green Square, this fish market is grimy looking but don't be fooled: The fish are fresh, and there is a huge variety of it. You can buy your fish (or seafood) and take it to the adjacent café, where it will be cooked to your order and served with huge amounts of bread and salad. The tourist will pay more here than the locals (unless you are an experienced haggler!), but it is worth the $15 spent. Also recommend Al-Saraya: Food OK, but its attraction is its position, right in Green Square. Another good seafood restaurant is Al-Morgan, next to the Algiers Mosque, near 1st of September Street. Don't miss Al-Sakhra restaurant, located on Gargaresh Road; excellent food, live entertainment, and a rustic atmosphere. The flashy looking big fast-food outlets are a relatively recent arrival in Tripoli. These are not quite the multinationals but a close copy of them! They are springing up in the Gargaresh Road area -- a big shopping strip in the western suburbs of Tripoli.
Tea is the most common drink in Libya. Green tea and "red" tea are served almost everywhere from small cups, usually sweetened. Mint is sometimes mixed in with the tea, especially after meals.
Coffee is traditionally served Turkish style: strong, from small cups, no cream. Most coffee shops in the larger cities have espresso machines that will make espresso, cappuccino, and such. Quality varies, so ask locals for the best one around.
Alcohol is officially banned in Libya, though in reality, alcohol is readily available through a local black market (anything from whiskey to beer to wine). It should be noted that penalties for unlawful purchase can be quite stiff. Travelers should always exercise appropriate common sense with respect to local laws and, more importantly, local sensitivities and traditions.
Major cities have a range of accommodations available, from shabby hotels to four-star establishments. Prices vary accordingly.
In Tripoli, the largest (and only international) hotel is Corinthia Hotel, next to the old city (The Medina or "Al Souq Al Qadeem"). Other hotels are Bab-Al-Bahr, Al-Kabir, and El-Mahari. Several smaller hotels have opened around town, such as Zumit Hotel -- an old, beautifully-renovated hotel, next to the Old Roman Arch in Bab-Al-Bahr.
Manara Hotel, a tidy 4-star hotel in Jabal Akhdir, east of Benghazi, is next to the ancient Greek ruins of Appolonia Port.
While it seems to be diminishing with the arrival of more tourists every year, Libyans have a strong tradition of taking travelers into their own homes and lavishing hospitality on them. This is certainly true in smaller towns and villages. There are several good hotels in Tripoli (Dhahra area) near the church like Marhaba hotel.
Youth Hostels, associated with the IYH Federation (HI), are available. Please contact the Libyan Youth Hostel Association T.+218 21 4445171.
The Libyan economy depends primarily upon revenues from the oil sector, which contribute about 95% of export earnings, about one-quarter of GDP, and 60% of public sector wages. Substantial revenues from the energy sector, coupled with a small population, give Libya one of the highest per capita GDPs in Africa, but little of this income flows down to the lower orders of society. Libyan officials in the past four years have made progress on economic reforms as part of a broader campaign to reintegrate the country into the international fold. This effort picked up steam after UN sanctions were lifted in September 2003 and as Libya announced that it would abandon programs to build weapons of mass destruction in December 2003. Almost all US unilateral sanctions against Libya were lifted in April 2004, helping Libya attract more foreign direct investment, mostly in the energy sector. Libya faces a long road ahead in liberalizing the socialist-oriented economy, but initial steps - including applying for WTO membership, reducing some subsidies, and announcing plans for privatization - are laying the groundwork for a transition to a more market-based economy.
As of January 2010, 1 USD = 1.24 LYD, 1 EUR = 1.75 LYD, and 1 GBP = 2.02 LYD.
Arabic is the main language, though local languages, such as Berber and Touareg, are used in many small urban settings. English is somewhat widely understood in the major cities. Libya's Italian colonial past and, as of 1980s, access to Italian television, make that language relatively well understood. However, the use of Italian is nowhere near the use level of, for example, French, in Tunisia or Morocco. Many Italian terms name modern conveniences, such as "semaforo" (traffic light) and "benzina" (gasoline).
Not all bottled water is safe in Libya. Do inquire about the safest brands available. You can purchase foreign brands when necessary.
Night driving in rural areas is not at all recommended, due to the high risk of accidents on and off road. Rural roads are usually not marked at all, which makes it hard to stay in lane.
In addition, many cars have non-standard headlights, making it very hard to see the road and oncoming traffic at the same time. Speeding is common (and the primary cause of death in Libya).
Camels cross at night on rural roads. Because of its height and mass, this animal can be very dangerous to passenger vehicles.
For an extra charge, some cars can now be rented or purchased with a "camel sensing" device. While not foolproof, this "camel radar" provides the warning that can make the difference.
It is difficult to navigate safely off road (especially in the dunes areas), due to the high horizon. The average speed for distances longer than 10 km is less than 15 km/h.
97% of the population is Sunni Muslim.
Libya's Bureau (embassy) in Washington, DC, can be contacted online, but as with most official things in Libya this is somewhat confusing.
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|Electricity||127V/50Hz or 230V/50Hz|
|Government||Jamahiriya (a state of the masses) in theory, a military dictatorship in practice|
|Population||5,900,754, incl. 166,510 non-nationals (July 2006 est.)|
|Religion||Sunni Muslim 97%, Christian and other 3%|