Difference between revisions of "Lebanon"
Revision as of 10:25, 28 April 2013
The Republic of Lebanon (Arabic: لبنان Lubnān) is a small country (10,452 sq km or 4076 sq mi in area with 3.7 million inhabitants) within the Middle East region with its capital being Beirut. It has a long coastline on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and shares a long land border with its much larger neighbour Syria to the north and the east, a much shorter (and currently "hot") border with Israel to the south.
Lebanon is a country with a long and rich history. Roman ruins are scattered about the country and are easily accessible. Byblos, Beirut, and Sidon are among the oldest continuously populated cities in the world. There are Roman baths in Beirut, as well as the Cardio Maximus - to name a few. Byblos is also rich in Roman ruins and for a small fee you can view them (they are located near the bazaar). There are a lot of ancient mosques, synagogues, and churches in Lebanon. Also be sure to visit the Place des Martyrs (Martyrs' Square) in Beirut, a statue erected in memory of the Lebanese nationalists who were hanged by the Ottomans for revolting during World War 1 (the statue is now riddled with bullet holes from the civil war, but is still beautiful).
The people of Lebanon comprise a wide variety of ethnic groups and religions, with the majority split between Christian (Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek-Catholic Melkites, Armenians, Protestant, Coptic Christians) and Muslim (Shi'a, Sunni, Alawites) and Druzes. Other smaller groups include a large number (over 250,000) of Palestinian refugees in the country. The population increases dramatically in the Summer months (June to September), due to the large influx of tourists, many of whom are returning members of the Lebanese diaspora and Lebanese citizens working abroad. There are also significant numbers of Gulf and Levantine Arabs.
People are very easy-going and welcoming. You should not be scared of talking to people on the streets and asking information, since most of them will do their best to help you. However, it recommended that you avoid making ANY comment on politics and religion.
Lebanon is populated by a very open and highly educated people, although this tends to be true more in Beirut, Mount Lebanon and some of the larger cities. Attitudes and behaviours tend to be more conservative in the Bekaa Valley and rural north and south.
Lebanon had once been called (the self-proclaimed) Switzerland and Paris of the East. The recent wars have diminished this status, but the Lebanese have learned to adapt. Their pursuit of happiness and fun overshadows their financial capabilities and political problems, which has to led to many problems over the years, including political problems, tensions among religious groups, and infrastructure problems.
Lebanon has a temperate Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters.
Summer is usually the most popular time for people to visit, as there is virtually no rain between June and August, and the temperatures ranges between about 20-30°C (68-86°F). However, there can be occasional heat waves with the temperature rising, and generally, it can be very, very humid along the coast line during the summer months. It is somewhat dryer and somewhat cooler in the mountains, and many Lebanese tend to visit and vacation in the mountains during the summer if they wish to escape the heat and humidity of the coastline.
Autumn and spring are also good times to visit, with a bit more rain, but without the tourist crowds attracted in summer, and also with considerable less humidity.
Snow falls for a large part of winter in the mountain regions that form a large portion of the country, and there are numerous ski resorts. However, the coast is still relatively mild, with maximums rarely falling below 13°C (55°F), although it can fall much lower than that and has on many occasions.
Lebanon is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and observes daylight savings from end-March to end-October.
Lebanon has a number of both Christian and Islamic holidays. Holidays that are observed by the Lebanese Government are indicated in bold letters.
All in all, Beirut, Lebanon's capitol city, is a vibrant metropolis with enough diversions that any city lover would look for, ranking it among the Middle East's top tourist destinations. Being perched on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, Beirut has a climate that is perfect for year round visits, as it experiences all 4 seasons. Beirut has something to offer most tastes, from roadside a la Parisienne coffee shops to rooftop open air cafes, as well as a variety of shopping venues.
Lebanon can be divided into five regions:
Many cities in Lebanon have English names which are significantly different from their Arabic names; the Roman versions of the Arabic names are given in parentheses below.
Citizens of: Egypt – Sudan – Tunisia – Morocco - Algeria – Libya – Yemen – Somalia – Djibouti – Mauritania – Comers Island - Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast get a free one month tourist visa provided they have a two way travel ticket, a hotel reservation/place of residence and US$2,000 (The cash conditions can be exempted if you get the visa from the Lebanese embassy beforehand).
Citizens of Thailand (and several other countries not otherwise listed in this section) cannot get a visa directly at the airport or at a Lebanese embassy. Instead, a visa needs to be arranged by a Lebanese sponsor in Lebanon through the General Security head office in Beirut. This is a convoluted process that can take months, so start early. Visas issued this way are valid for 1 month but can be extended till 3 months at General Security once in Lebanon.
Three-month visas are free for nationals from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Jordan. Other nationals can obtain a 15-day visa for LL25,000 (US$17), or a three-month visa for LL50,000 (US$35). These visas are single-entry; nationals of many countries can also obtain multiple-entry visas ($75 valid for six months). The 48 hour free of charge transit visas (valid for three calendar days) are still issued, but only if you enter by land and leave via the airport or vice-versa.
Visas can be obtained at Lebanese embassies and consulates in other countries, or upon arrival at Beirut airport and other points of entry for some nationalities.
A free one month valid visa, automatically renewed once (therefore, for a maximum stay of 2 months), is granted to the citizens of these countries who are coming for tourism: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados,Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bhutan, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Macau, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkmenistan, United Kingdom, USA, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Venezuela. The easiest way to renew this tourist visa after these 2 months is to leave the country and come back the day after. Due to the Syrian question, the only way to currently do this is to fly to Cyprus or Turkey which are the cheapest destinations.
After these 2 months, if you don't leave the country (or get a work permit), you will have to regulariser your situation with Sureté Générale's offices in Beirut. (This is a special building - don't go to the main office on Damas St - ask the guards for the precise address.) There, to be allowed to leave the country, you'll have to pay a 50,000 LBP (30$) fee, which will grant you 7 days to leave the country. [Information dated of May 2012]
Beirut International Airport (BEY), is located 5 km (3 mi) south of the city centre) - Middle East Airlines  services daily to Abidjan, Abu Dhabi, Accra, Amman, Athens, Cairo, Cologne, Copenhagen, Dammam, Doha, Dubai, Frankfurt, Geneva, Istanbul-Ataturk, Jeddah, Kano, Kuwait, Lagos, Larnaca, London-Heathrow, Milan-Malpensa, Nice, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Riyadh and Rome-Fiumicino, Warsaw-Okęcie.
In addition the Airport is served by foreign airlines
For flights from the United Kingdom try Turkish Airlines , Cyprus Airways  or Czech Airlines . These three airlines are often cheaper even than MEA or BMI direct from Heathrow. Czech airlines are consistently the cheapest bet from Manchester.
Direct flights from the U.S were again permitted by the U.S Government effective June 9, 2007; however, at present no airline offers direct service to the Americas from Beirut.
As of February 2013, Lebanon essentially became a fly-in, fly-out territory for tourists, with the ongoing civil war enveloping Syria and ferries from Turkey and Cyprus showing no sign of resumption.
In the peaceful times, buses would leave Damascus every hour and typically cost 400 or 500 SYP. The trip is normally 4-5 hours, depending on traffic at the border. Note that when leaving Syria, you must pay an exit fee of 550 SYP and must acquire a Lebanese visa on the other side of the border (48 hrs Transit Visa is free, 15 day Transit Visa is LL25,000 (US$17), single-entry 30 day Tourist Visa is LL50,000 (US$34), payable in Lebanese Pounds only. Money changers can exchange currency, typically with a $1 exchange fee).
There are no such services available, but there are many companies that offer visits to Lebanon on a cruise.
Lebanon is a small country and it is possible to drive from north to south in under 3 hours. The main means of transport are service taxis, bus and car.
The majority of travellers use service taxis to get from place to place. "Service" taxis often operate like buses on set routes between towns and cities, though they can be hired to visit other places with some negotiation. Each taxi carries between 4 (inside metropolitan areas) to 6 (longer distances) passengers, who share the fare between them. The Fare is 1750 LL (Lebanese lira) although since most don't have change it is expected to pay 2000 which is about $1.33 for short distances of a couple of km, and increases depending on both distance to be traveled, traffic on that specific road and of course, like everything in Lebanon, persuasion/negotiation skills. A private Taxi ride, without having to share with other passengers is similar to a "Service" Taxi, in that the same pre-negotiation is required to determine the fare, and as a rule of thumb, costs the same as a fully loaded "Service" Taxi (the fare * number of passengers).
Taxis and "service" taxis are basically the same, and the mode of operation depends on the availability of passengers and their demands.
The majority of "service" taxis in Lebanon are 1975 Mercedes cars that roam the streets searching for passengers using their car-horns.
Newer car models working as mainly "service" taxis are appearing on the Lebanese streets with nevertheless the same price tag as their elder sisters.
All types of public transportation vehicles in Lebanon (taxis, buses, mini-vans and even trucks) can be recognized by their Red-colored licence plate.
City link bus routes are available and cheap. Most buses for north Lebanon depart from the Charles Helou Station (east of downtown), while most buses to regions south or southeast of Beirut (including Damascus and Baalbek) depart from the Cola "Station" (which is really an intersection adjacent to the Cola bridge\overpass).
There are no trains in Lebanon.
Car rental is relatively expensive in Lebanon compared to elsewhere in the region. Reasonable, if not exactly cheap rates can, however, be found with perseverance and negotiation and - once you have your rental - fuel is easy to get. Be warned, however, that fuel is not cheap, with fuel prices being among the most affected by inflation.
Lebanon's roads are generally in quite poor condition and Lebanese drivers are not known for their caution. Exercise extreme caution when driving in Lebanon. Note that even in central Beirut, even in areas undamaged by the Israeli assault, there can be massive potholes on busy multi-lane roads.
Driving in Lebanon should be considered an extreme activity for Western drivers accustomed to safe driving. Street names are virtually non-existent. Mountain driving is particularly hazardous, often involving 1-car roads in 2 way streets. Traffic, especially in major cities like Beirut and Tripoli, and on the highway from Beirut to Kaslik, can be extremely crowded and time-consuming, turning a normally 20 minute trip into over an hour during peak times.
The official language of Lebanon is Standard Arabic and the native language Lebanese Arabic, which is similar to (but not indistinguishable from) the Arabic of Syria, Jordan and Palestine.
Almost all Lebanese speak Standard Arabic, while many people also speak English and/or French. While English is the first foreign language of most younger people, older people usually speak French as their first foreign language. Street and place signs are in both Arabic (first) and French (second), because of Lebanon's period as a French mandated territory after the First World War. Generally, signs and outdoors are written in at least two languages, Standard Arabic and English and/or French.
See also: Lebanese Arabic phrasebook
Lebanon is a country rich in natural scenery from beautiful beaches to mountains and valleys. Lebanese people take pride that Lebanon is one of the few countries that gives you the opportunity to go skiing in the morning and going to the beach in the afternoon. Keep in mind that this is only actually possible for a few days in the year, usually in the few days when winter shifts to spring and/or summer shifts to autumn
Beirut Downtown Visitors from all around get astonished by the beautiful downtown. At Place de l'Etoile, tourists can enjoy a delightful meal or a cup of coffee at the outdoor cafes. In addition to those, the capital provides other restaurants and hangouts that people of all ages can enjoy. There are many also many nightclubs, bars, cafes, and restaurants, catering to a diverse amount of styles and budgets.
Baalbeck Roman Temples in the city of Baalbeck are among the largest and most beautiful Roman ruins.
Al Bass Archaeological Site, Tyre, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the largest and best preserved Roman archeological sites in the world. The site is made up of a huge Necropolis, a massive monumental arch leading to a Roman Road, alongside which there is an excellent example of an acqueduct as well as the largest and best preserved Roman Hippodrome found to date.
Jeita Grotto Jeita Grotto is nominated to be one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Jeita Grotto is the jewel of tourism in Lebanon offering to its visitors 2 fabulous grottoes. It is a source of attraction for whole the families wishing to discover a mysterious world in the heart of the earth. The “Touristic Site of Jeita” gathers all elements of nature such as stone, water, trees, flowers, air and animals in a venturous environment and with a touch of Lebanese cultural heritage. It is one of the most impressive and interesting natural sites in the world.
Beiteddin One of the most authentic Arabic architectural jewels is the palace of Beiteddine. This historic monument comprises two large courtyards: the “midane”, a vast rectangular place for visitors, and a smaller one for the royal private apartments, with a magnificent fountain in its centre.
Qadisha Valley (Holy Valley) Located in north Lebanon, the “Holy Valley” spreads from Bcharreh to the coast. Classified under UNESCO's world heritage, it is full of countless caves, chapels, and monasteries.
Byblos also known in Arabic as "Jbeil", is an ancient Phoenician city that had been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its touristic attractions include a medieval castle and a Roman amphitheater, as well as many seaside cafes and restaurants serving fresh seafood.
Anjar is a city in the Beqaa Valley with many local restaurants where you can enjoy the unique Lebanese cuisine. The city is home to the unique ruins of an 8th century Omayyad city.
The Lebanese people have had to adapt to the political turmoil. Lebanon is easily the party capital of the Middle East. Beirut features many different and distinct nightlife neighborhoods, such as Gemmayze district, mostly full of bars and restaurants, or the Monot Street which features nightclubs and bars. Lebanon is also known for it's open-air nightclubs such as Sky Bar, White, and Iris. Greater Beirut is a sleepless city, as the great majority of it open 24 hours a day.
Lebanese nightclubs are widely diverse, as one can find both the "oriental" and "occidental" style, and in some cases, a mix of both.
Lebanon also has a huge beach party scene having exquisite beaches and beach resorts such as Oceana, Laguava or Edde Sands and Janna Sur Mer. However, these places are not cheap, and can be very expensive, especially for the budget traveler.
Lebanon has six ski resorts with groomed slopes, catering to skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Beyond the ski-able domains await you kilometers of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails waiting to be explored; Lebanon has something for everyone. Each of the ski resorts has a different flavor.
Lebanon is one of the oldest sites of wine production in the world and today enjoys a burgeoning industry producing award-winning wines for export throughout the world, mainly in the UK, Europe and the United States. Wine Tasting is an absolute must with any visit to Lebanon. Below are some wine producers in Lebanon for you to keep an eye out for: - - * Chateau Musar  - * Chateau Ksara  - * Chateau Kefraya  - * Domaine Wardy  - * Vin Héritage  - * Chateau Fakra  - * Chateau Nakad  - * Massaya  - * Domaine des Tourelles  - * Clos Saint Thomas  - * Cave Kouroum  - * Clos de Cana  - * Nabise Mont Liban  - * Enotica - * Chateau Khoury  - * Couvent St. Sauveur
The Lebanese currency is the Lebanese pound, abbreviated "LBP" or "Lebanese Lira" abbreviated "LL", which is the most common abbreviation. Its value is kept stable relative to the US dollar, with a value of about LL1,500 to US$1. Either Lebanese pounds or US dollars are accepted almost everywhere, and it is common to pay in dollars but receive change in pounds (in which case, make sure you don't get short-changed).
Bills used are LL1000, LL5000, LL10,000, LL20,000, LL50,000 and LL100,000. p.s: you may find two forms of LL1000 and they are both accepted.
Bills not used are LL1, LL5, LL10, LL25, LL50, LL100, LL250, LL500.
There are LL25, LL50, LL100, LL250 and LL500 coins. LL25, LL50 and LL100 coins are virtually never used.
Correct as of November 2009:
You may transfer money from/to Lebanon through Western Union. For more information about locations offering Money transfers you may contact BOB Finance - Bank of Beirut Group on the number 1262 from inside Lebanon or +961-5-955262 from outside with 24/7 Customer Service Support
Lebanon fosters exquisite cuisine ranging from a mezza of vegetarian dishes such as tabouleh, fattoush, and warak anab to delicious dips like hommos and moutabal.
Must haves include Lebanese barbeque such as shish tawouk (barbequed chicken) - usually consumed with garlic, lahm mishwe (barbequed meat), and kafta (barbequed seasoned minced meat).
A full meal at an Arabic restaurant can cost as little as 15 us dollars (22500 LL) depending on where you go, though more expensive options can also be found.
Lebanese "fast food" is also available as sandwiches offered in roadside shops, such as shawarma sandwiches (known in other countries as doner - or gyros in Greece). Shawarma, as opposed to doner is seasoned with tarator sauce based on sesame oil, vegetables and is rolled in lebanese thin bread. One popular place to eat Lebanese "fast food" is at BarBar Restaurant in Hamra . Various barbequed meat sandwiches are also available, and even things such as lamb or chicken spleen, brains, lamb bone marrow or lamb testicles can be served as sandwiches.
Breakfast usually consists of manaeesh which looks like a folded pizza, most common toppings are zaatar (a mixture of thyme, olive oil sesame seeds), jebneh (cheese) and lahm bi ajin (minced meat). Some new trendy places such as "zaatar w zeit" and "Leil nhar" experiment with new toppings, such as "halloum and bacon". Both places stay open 24 hours a day and partygoers often go there for a bite at 4 in the morning.
Another traditional breakfast food is knefeh, a special kind of breaded cheese that is served with a simple syrup in a sesame seed bread. It is also served as dessert.
Lebanon is also very famous for its Arabic sweets which can be found at leading restaurants. The city of Tripoli, however, is THE city for Lebanese sweets. Many critics refer to it as the "Sweet Capital" of Lebanon, the Hallab Sweets Palace (Abdul Rahman Hallab - Kaser El Helou 1881) is the place to visit when making a trip to Tripoli.
If taking a trip to the Bekaa, the restuarants known as the El-Wadi restuarants in Zahle serve exquisite Lebanese food. In Beirut, Abd el-Wahab in the "Monot" area also serves excellent Lebanese food in a traditional setting.
International food chains such as KFC, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Burger King or Domino's pizza and many other are widely spread and easily found across the country. French Patisseries, Chinese, Italian, American and Japanese cuisine are also widely spread and are found in virtually all of the country's malls. Foreign restaurants are concentrated mostly in Beirut, although they can be found in some of the other larger cities like Tripoli and in some of the more tourist friendly smaller cities like Byblos.
Cafes also exist virtually everywhere and as with foreign restaurants, foreign chains like Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Costa, etc, are also concentrated more in Beirut.
Restaurant are very generous in supplying free extras. You get salted nuts, fresh pistachios, olives, carrots etc with your drink, and if you eat them all they are replaced even if you do not order more drinks. There is plenty of bread, often with delicious spreads. At the end of the meal many places give you a great selection of fresh fruits and cakes.
Lebanon's wines have an international reputation. Grapes have been grown since antiquity, and the vineyards, largely in the Bekaa Valley, produce the base wine for distillation into the national spirit Arak, which, like Ouzo, is flavoured with aniseed and becomes cloudy when diluted with water. Arak is the traditional accompniment to Meze.
But the grapes have also historically been used to make wine. This used to be predominantly white and sweet, but the soliders and administrators that came to administer the French mandate after World War One created a demand for red wine, and large acreages were planted especially with the Cinsault grape. Over the last 20 years these have been supplemented with the most popular international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Wineries often offer wine tasting and are very welcoming. The highly individual, old fashioned, Chateau Musar, is based at Ghazir, 15 miles north of Beirut, and trucks in the grapes from Bekaa. In Bekaa itself, wineries include the large Kefraya, Ksara, the oldest winery of all, Massaya, a fashionable new producer in Tanail, and Nakad in Jdeita, which like Musar has stuck with an idiosyncratic old fashioned approach. Kefraya, in the West Bekaa region, also has a nice restaurant attached and the region itself is beautiful to pass through.
Lebanon is full of hotels, with a range in price and quality, from $10/night to many hundreds of dollars per night, and the quality ranges just as much. Many international chains, such as Intercontinental, Holiday Inn, and Crowne Plaza, can be found here, as well as local boutique and "mom-and-pop" style hotels, as well as low quality budget hotels.
The best way to save money if you are staying for a long visit is furnished apartments or all-suite hotels, as they come with cleaning and other services.
A handful of private schools, such as the Lycée Français (several branches over the country), the Collège Protestant Français  ,Collège Saint Joseph Antoura ,Lycée Abdel Kader, college notre dame de jamhour and college elysee amongst others follow the official French curriculum. The official French Baccalaureate exams can be taken in Lebanon.
Some schools(such as "ACS")teach English as a first language and follow the english curriculum.
Beirut is also home to one of the most prestigious schools in the region, the International College(IC) which teaches both french and english as first languages among many others.Furthermore, IC offers a variety of baccalaureate programs such as the French,Lebanese,High School, and International Baccalaureat(IB).
The American University of Beirut - AUB  is considered the best English university in Middle East. The teaching language there is English. Other anglophone private universities are: Antonine University - UPA  | Notre Dame University - NDU  | Lebanese American University - LAU ...
Some private universities have French as the main teaching language. Université St.Joseph - USJ  is one of these, it is an old and respected institution in Lebanon, and probably offers the best price/quality ratio among private universities in the country. It is the private university which has enrolled most of the Lebanon students as well as foreign students from other countries in Middle East, Africa and Europe. Other francophone private universities are USEK and Balamand.
The Lebanese University is the state owned / public university and is the largest learning institution in the country. It offers virtually free tertiary education.
MTC Touch  Mobile phone operator offers a GSM card for $15 including a $10 credit (The START plan). Internet access starts at $10 for up to 100 MByte in a month.
The vast majority of Lebanese are friendly, and most tourists experience no problems. Nevertheless tensions with neighboring Israel can erupt (but are usually confined to South Lebanon) and therefore travellers should follow the independent press while in the country.
Currently the Syrian border too is somewhat unstable, with Syrian troops reportedly crossing the border. There has been shelling and border crossings at Wadi Khaled, Al Qaa and Aarsal which travellers should probably avoid.
Like in any country, it is preferable to be accompanied when visiting certain locations. In general, the Israeli borders and any Palestinian refugee camps should be avoided.
Visitors should always register with their respective embassies once they enter Lebanon and keep up-to-date regarding any travel warnings regarding Lebanon. Car accidents are also a big problem in major cities like Beirut. Be very careful how you drive. Motorcycles will sometimes swerve in front of you, but laws don't apply on motorcycles. Useful phone numbers:
As a key destination for health tourism in the region, Lebanon has a professional and private healthcare system. Located mainly in Beirut , key hospitals include:
It is extremely important that you get travel insurance prior to your departure to Lebanon. Hospitals in the country can be very expensive and, with the lack of insurance, cash payments may be expected beforehand.
Lebanon is a country of many different religious sects and it is wise to respect the religious differences of the Lebanese population. It is recommended to wear modest clothing when visiting religious sites (Churches, mosques, etc) and when visiting rural towns and villages.
Even in Beirut, some areas are more conservative than others; visitors should bear that in mind when exploring the city.
Overall, however, clothing considered 'western' is generally acceptable, so to hedge your bets, keep your dress modest. Bear in mind, however, that as open and western as Beirut is, this is not Europe; "topless" at any beach, whether private or public, is not recommended at all.
In Tripoli, especially in the old city, it is recommended that women dress conservatively. The same applies on most traditional "souks" in the country. In general, Lebanese are accustomed to different lifestyles and some do not take offense easily, especially with matters related to dress. The Lebanese are people accustomed to diversity and are therefore quicker to accept different lifestyles, though not all Lebanese are so open-minded.
Because of political tensions and the conflict with Israel and tension with Syria, tourists should definitely avoid discussing politics, especially regarding these two countries.