Benghazi is the second largest city in Libya, with a population of 1.000.000.
The people of Benghazi are incredibly friendly. There is a natural curiosity about the locals, who tend to look after you and help you out. The name derives from the Ottoman Turkish word Marsa ibn Ghazi who was a Turkish soldier.
However, very few people speak any English and, because of the writing style, it is almost impossible to recognize any public signs. Most things can, however, be sorted out with a bit of pointing and hand waving.
The dress code is not as liberal as in Tripoli, and women should keep themselves covered - not because there would be trouble, but just out of respect. As a local explained, the locals know we are westerners and, no matter how much we would try to fit in, we will always be seen as westerners. Therefore, the locals do not expected us to thoroughly comply with their customs.
People appear to be volatile, and they like a good argument. There is a lot of shouting going on between locals, but this is not an indication of any trouble. It just sounds loud and harsh and, when translated, you find out it is generally nothing of any consequence.
If you travel on a tourist visa, you must get the hotel staff to have your passport stamped or visit the local police station to register where you are staying and get a stamp in your passport - otherwise, you will not find it easy to leave the country.
If you wish to drive out of the city and visit the ruins or other sites of interest, you can get a local guide, but you will need a permit from the local tourist office before you may leave the city.
Pay attention to the customs and traditions. What may mean a casual smile or wave to a Libyan woman, may be understood as harrasing by the locals. This subject is very sensitive therefore avoid eye contact when dealing with Libyan women as it is seen to be shameful. If you are a female however this is not a problem.
Libyan people love to celebrate their weddings by hanging up many lights around their houses. On the wedding night they also light many fireworks. Do not be afraid if you hear occasional racket.
The locals may try to 'show off their English language skills'. Many will attempt to help you or simply introduce themselves.
Libyans are known for their hospitality. Many will invite you to their homes, usually for lunch. Try not to act wary of what you are eating. Make sure you show you are grateful, Libyans LOVE being flattered and doing so you will ultimatley gain their respect and trust.
When meeting locals avoid sensitive or controversial topics. Talk about your job, family, and experience in their country. Encourage them to do the same.
If you stay near a mosque expect to hear the callings for prayer 5 times a day. Also to note one of these times is very early and may wake you up until you get used to it.
The airport operations are seemingly chaotic, with handwritten boarding passes and luggage tags and very little information available.
Delays are quite frequent and flights may be suspended, cancelled or delayed at any time.
The airport toilet facilities are awful, there are few, if any, public toilets, and most restaurants do not have them either, so you may have to wait until you get to the hotel or onto the aircraft.
Taxis in Libya are interesting. They are either minibuses that travel round a predefined route or black and white cars (dead pandas) with taxi signs. Stick with the cars... Taxi travel is very cheap, but the vehicles are generally in a bad state of repair. Try to sit in the back as the journeys can be somewhat exciting when in the passenger seat, when drivers tend to turn across traffic lanes. Judging by the number of dents on the sides of the cars, the drivers do not always make this maneuver successfully.
The taxi drivers are like most European taxi drivers. They enjoy sharing their opinions with you, even if you can't understand them - but, as with most of the people in Benghazi, they are friendly, and they do try to make you feel welcome.
Shops accept only local currency, which can be exchanged at the larger hotels in the mornings or after 3PM. Ask for Tibesti Hotel, a big hotel, with grass on the slopes around it. It has a bureau de change and two cashpoint machines, which accept Visa and Maestro/Cirrus.
Credit cards are not generally accepted.
For those who are looking for proper shopping go to Dubai Street, where most of the international brands, such as Benetton, Nike, Celio, Adidas, Puma, Max Mara, and many more, are available.
As there are very few tourists in Benghazi, there is very little to buy other than normal goods. So, it's easy to get a fridge, an aircon unit, a mobile phone, Mars bars, or Coke, but very little to buy as a souvenir. A sheesh? Pipe is a good bet - these are about 18 Libyan dinars, or USD15, for a 24-inch high pipe. For traditional souvenirs, the best place will be Sok el Jered.
Shopping Malls 1-benghazi mall
3-center point mall
Anything. There is nothing that isn't acceptable to the western palate. The food can be quite spicy, although not excessively so.
Traditional Libyan fare appears to be couscous, kebabs, spicey potatoes, salads, and nothing that you wouldn't find in London.
There are a number of good restaurants. Although very basic by western standards, they do produce good meals. Round the back of the Tibesti Hotel there are some good Turkish restaurants; most of their food is very edible, and the prices are very reasonable.
Generally, service is very slow, so leave a good amount of time to have a meal. There are kebab takeaways if you are in a hurry, but in a hotel you can wait 30 minutes to get a waiter to take your order or bring you a menu. To save time it is often easier to pay for your meal/drinks as they are served, before saving the half-hour wait to get a bill.
The food is generally served a little cooler than you expect (it is generally warm rather than hot), and the chips are worth avoiding as they tend to be rubbery.
Alcohol is not allowed in Libya. The best things to drink are:
Coffee, although they do seem to want to give you Nescafe, as they think it's pretty cool; but just about everywhere you can get cappuccino or Arabian coffee, which are pretty good.
The mango juice is good and very thick.
Coke, Lilt, and 7Up cans are popular, as well as the lemon and mint teas.
Alcohol-free beer is widely available (Becks), as is 'Spitz', which tastes like campari or cough mixture. If you really want alcohol, wine is available from butcher's shops, but it's expensive (whisky is about USD 100 per bottle). It is said that the penalty for being caught drunk or with alcohol is to be driven back to your hotel room by the police. While this sounds safer than riding the local taxis, such approach is not recommended.
A smoker's paradise. You can smoke anywhere you like. The "no smoking" signs in airports appear to be a guidance note rather than a command.
Hand-rolling tobacco is not available, but normal cigarettes are widely available and quite cheap, although slightly different than their western counterparts.
Duty free is somewhat limited, so it is best to buy on the way out rather than on the return journey; this obviously, does not apply to alcohol.
Most hotels are state-run, and the standards of maintenance are not always perfect. Air conditioners/TVs/toilet fixtures/lamps, etc. can often be easily fixed with a screwdriver.
Consider bringing your own towels. At busy times, a towel share system seems to be implemented, so you'd better bring your own and have the hotel staff wash them.
The rating system does not quite correspond to normally accepted guidelines.
The hotels are good, but service is slow, and the equipment in the room will not necessarily work.
However, unless you are fussy and demand western 5-star standards, they are very pleasant and friendly places to stay.
There are normally multiple TV channels once you have replaced the batteries in the remote control. They include English-spoken films subtitled in Arabic, BBC World, and football (soccer) channels.
Tel: 00218/619095160 Fax: 00218/619092114
Outgoing calls and texting work on most networks. However, it is worth buying a local sim card from one of the mobile phone shops. These are much cheaper (around 1/5th of the normal roaming charges), and they will accept incoming calls.
There is no GPRS. The 3G service has recently been started so you can send picture messaging.
Libya's phones are all unlocked, so the locals will not understand that the local sims will not work in all phones. Therefore, it is worth taking an unlocked phone or, when asking to buy a phone, hide yours, so they won't try to sell you a sim.
Phones start at 30 Libyan Dinars. Sim cards very from 3-10 Libyan Dollars. There are two types of sim cards : Libyana and Almadar. Both are about the same price and provide the same service.
To call with your sim card you must buy phone cards (available almost in any store). Make sure you buy the right one for your sim card (Libyana card for Libyana sim, Almadar card for Almadar sim). You can buy cards of 5, 10 Libyan dinars. Libyan to Libyan calls are quite cheap (ranging from 3-5 cents average). However if you wish to call internationally it may cost up to 60 Libyan cents a minute. When you finish the minutes you bought, go buy more!
There are internet cafes available. ADSL, WiMax & WI-FI internet are now available. Hotspot services will be soon available in shopping malls & airports.