Libya Basic Facts
Libya is a large desert country and perhaps best known for its former dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Libya's history is there for all to see with splendid Roman ruins dotting its warm Mediterranean coast, and ancient rock art on display in the Sahara desert. Libyans staged a revolution in 2011 and the country is currently still sorting itself out politically. Tourism has been very badly affected by the political upheavals, and the gorgeous Roman ruins, seaside towns and desert oases have been left for Libyans to enjoy on their own.
Once peace is restored, there's no doubt that people will be lining up to enjoy a Libyan vacation along with a good dose of Libyan hospitality. Keep up to date here...
Location: Libya lies in North Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Egypt and Tunisia.
Area: Libya covers 1,759,540 sq km, which is slightly larger than Alaska and slightly smaller than Sudan, see map.
Capital City: Tripoli is Libya's capital and largest city.
Population: Around 5.6 million people call Libya home.
Religion: Sunni Muslim (official) 97%, other 3%.
Language: Arabic is the official language of Libya. Italian and English are all widely understood in the major cities. Other languages commonly spoken include various Berber dialects: Nafusi, Ghadamis, Suknah, Awjilah, Tamasheq.
Climate: 90% of Libya is made up of the Sahara Desert, so in general it's safe to say it is dry, and gets extremely hot during the summer months (June - September).
The rains fall mainly along the coast from March through April, but less than 2 percent of the national territory receives enough rainfall for settled agriculture. It stays relatively cool along the coast during the winter months (December - February).
Best Time to Visit: Wait for the political situation to calm down and the official Travel Warnings to be lifted before planning a trip to Libya.
Otherwise, the best time to visit is when it's not too hot, from November to March.
Currency: The Libyan Dinar - LYD (click here for current exchange rates)
Libya's Major Attractions
Libya is home to some of the most pristine and impressive Roman ruins on earth. The Sahara desert is also spectacular, with incredible dunes, oases towns, and magical lakes. Under Qadhafi's rule, tourists were strictly allowed to travel with official tours only. This rule is likely to change, but anyone planning to explore the Sahara, should do so with an official tour operator who knows the terrain well, just to be safe.
- Leptis Magna - Excavated in the 1920's this World Heritage site is a magnificently preserved Roman city dating back to the 10 Century BC. You can clearly make out public monuments, a harbor, market-place, storehouses, shops and residential districts. The ruins cover a very large area and if you enjoy archaeology you'll probably want to spend at least half a day here (bring water!).
- Cyrene - Originally founded by the Greeks in 630 BC, Cyrene later became an important Roman city and now a wonderful archaeological site for visitors to enjoy. Ancient Greek temples and statues are very well preserved and offer a unique glimpse into ancient Greece in Africa.
- Ghadames - a real Saharan jewel of an ancient city. White-washed walls and covered streets keep things nice and cool as you explore the rooftops and alleys in this architecturally, fascinating town. Most of the residents have left the old town, but return during the hot summer months to their original homes. Make sure to get a guide, unless you enjoy getting lost. A festival in September is worth planning a trip around.
- Tripoli - a modern capital city, Tripoli is the gateway to explore Libya and the arrival point for most visitors. It has a very busy port and is the headquarters for most international businesses operating out of Libya. The old medina and the excellent Jamahiriya Musuem are highlights for visitors. More about Tripoli...
- Benghazi - Unfortunately now known for the killing of the US Ambassador in September 2012, but this is Libya's second city and more "laid back" than Tripoli. Lots of decent shops, bazaars and cafe's make it a pleasant place to spend a few days and stroll around. The beaches are good nearby and the city is architecturally pleasing as well.
- Gharyan and Nalut - If you are interested in examples of traditional Berber homes (similar to those in Southern Tunisia), then both Nalut and Gharyan are good places to visit. Nalut offers traditional Berber Ksar with lots of Ghurfas (granaries) and interesting nooks and crannies to explore, all built on an escarpment with great views. Gharyan offers a good example of Troglodyte dwellings, basically stone caves, carved out of the mountains, now uninhabited.
Libya Travel Information
Getting to Libya -- Most people arrive by air, and land at the International Airport in Tripoli. Two Libyan airlines operate international and domestic services: Air Afriqiyah offers scheduled flights that include London, Rome, Istanbul, Cairo and Tunis. Libyan Airlines, the national carrier, has been in flux since the revolution and is expected to merge with Air Afriqiyah in 2013. Other airlines flying to Libya include: Austrian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, British Airways and EgyptAir.
You can also get to Libya by land from Tunisia. There's a good road and lots of transport options from southern Tunisia to Tripoli. Make sure you have right visas before you attempt to cross the border.
Where to Stay in Libya -- as the economy recovers from the political upheavals, hotel beds in Tripoli can get scarce. As most visitors are on an organized tour, the hotels will be booked and selected by the tour operator, but it's always nice to read reviews, and TripAdvisor is the best place to read what other people have to say. Other hotel listings for Libya include: Libya Hotels, Libya Hotels selected by a tour company.
Getting Around Libya -- the best way to get around the cities and towns once in Libya, is by taxi. Most people come to Libya on tours, so they have pre-arranged their transport to and from the various sights. If you are planning to go deep into the desert, it's best to hire a 4x4 vehicle with a driver that is familiar with the area. There are domestic flights to get you from Tripoli to Benghazi several times a day on Air Afriqiyah.
Recommended Tour Operators for trips to Libya
Libya Travel and Tours offer private tours that can be customized according to time, interests and budget. Given the uncertain political climate, the best tour on offer currently is their 10 day tour that sticks to the coast and visits the major Roman ruins, as well as Tripoli and Benghazi.
Embassies/Visa Information -- Everyone needs a visa to get to Libya, contact your local Libyan embassy for more information.
The Libyan economy depends primarily upon revenue from hydrocarbons, which contribute about 95% of export earnings, 65% of GDP, and 80% of government revenue. Substantial revenue 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 flowed to the lower orders of society. Libya in the past five years made progress on economic reform 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 after Libya announced in December 2003 that it would abandon programs to build weapons of mass destruction. The process of lifting US unilateral sanctions began in the spring of 2004; all sanctions were removed by June 2006, helping Libya attract greater foreign direct investment, especially in the energy sector. Libyan oil and gas licensing rounds drew high international interest, but new rounds are unlikely until Libya establishes a more permanent government. The National Oil Corporation (NOC) set a goal of nearly doubling oil production to 3 million bbl/day by 2012, but the goal is unlikely to be met by the target date. Libya faces a long road ahead in liberalizing its primarily socialist economy, but the revolution probably increases the opportunity for entrepreneurial activity and the evolution of a more market-based economy. The service and construction sectors, which account for roughly 20% of GDP, expanded over the past five years and could become a larger share of GDP after political volatility subsides. Climatic conditions and poor soils severely limit agricultural output, and Libya imports about 75% of its food. Libya's primary agricultural water source remains the Great Manmade River Project, but significant resources will be needed in desalinization to meet growing water demands.
Brief Political History
The Italians supplanted the Ottoman Turks in the area around Tripoli in 1911 and did not relinquish their hold until 1943 when defeated in World War II. Libya then passed to UN administration and achieved independence in 1951. Following a 1969 military coup, Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gadaffi began to espouse his own political system, the Third Universal Theory. The system was a combination of socialism and Islam derived in part from tribal practices and was supposed to be implemented by the Libyan people themselves in a unique form of "direct democracy." Gaddafi used oil funds during the 1970s and 1980s to promote his ideology outside Libya, supporting subversives and terrorists abroad to hasten the end of Marxism and capitalism. In addition, beginning in 1973, he engaged in military operations in northern Chad's Aozou Strip - to gain access to minerals and to use as a base of influence in Chadian politics - but was forced to retreat in 1987. UN sanctions in 1992 isolated Gaddafi politically following the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. During the 1990s, Gaddafi began to rebuild his relationships with Europe. UN sanctions were suspended in April 1999 and finally lifted in September 2003 after Libya accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing. In December 2003, Libya announced that it had agreed to reveal and end its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and to renounce terrorism. Gaddafi subsequently made significant strides in normalizing relations with Western nations. The US rescinded Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism in June 2006. In August 2008, the US and Libya signed a bilateral comprehensive claims settlement agreement to compensate claimants in both countries who allege injury or death at the hands of the other country, including the Lockerbie bombing, the LaBelle disco bombing, and the UTA 772 bombing. In October 2008, the US Government received $1.5 billion pursuant to the agreement to distribute to US national claimants, and as a result effectively normalized its bilateral relationship with Libya. The two countries then exchanged ambassadors for the first time since 1973 in January 2009. Libya in May 2010 was elected to its first three-year seat on the UN Human Rights Council, prompting protests from international non-governmental organizations and human rights campaigners. Unrest that began in several Near Eastern and North African countries in late December 2010 spread to several Libyan cities in early 2011. In March 2011, a Transitional National Council (TNC) was formed in Benghazi with the stated aim of overthrowing the Gaddafi regime and guiding the country to democracy. In response to Gaddafi's harsh military crackdown on protesters, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1973, which demanded an immediate ceasefire and authorized the international community to establish a no-fly zone over Libya. After several months of see-saw fighting, anti-Gaddafi forces in August 2011 captured the capital, Tripoli. In mid-September, the UN General Assembly voted to recognize the TNC as the legitimate interim governing body of Libya. The TNC on 23 October officially declared the country liberated following the defeat of the last remaining pro-Gaddafi stronghold and Gaddafi's death, and plans to transition toward elections, the formation of a constitution, and a new government.