The desert nation of Libya is Africa's fourth-largest country. With a history that dates back to the Bronze Age, its location on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea has made it a center of trade for many of the world's most influential civilizations. In the past, visitors flocked to this oil-rich country to gaze in wonder at magnificent Roman and Greek ruins, and to venture into one of the most starkly beautiful regions of the Sahara Desert.
However, Libya has been blighted by military coups and civil war in recent years and parts of the country still remain outside government control. As a result, the US Department of State warns against all travel to the country, citing conflict between armed militias, active terrorist groups, and a high crime rate as reasons why Libya can no longer be considered safe. In particular, Western tourists are often arbitrarily detained or kidnapped for ransom.
Therefore, this guide is intended for hypothetical purposes until the political situation in Libya improves.
Libya is located in North Africa on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, in between Egypt to the east and Algeria and Tunisia to the west. The country also shares land borders with Niger, Chad, and Sudan.
In addition to being the fourth-largest country in Africa, Libya is also the 16th-largest country in the world. With a total area of 679,362 square miles, it is slightly larger than Alaska and almost 2.5 times the size of Texas.
The capital of Libya is Tripoli, located on the coast near the border with Tunisia. Roughly a sixth of the country's population live in the capital.
According to July 2018 estimates by the CIA World Factbook, Libya is home to just over 6.7 million people. Berber and Arab are the dominant ethnic groups, accounting for 97 percent of the population.
Libya's official language is Arabic, although Italian and English are both widely understood in the larger cities. Many Libyan nationals also speak Berber, either as their mother tongue or as a second language.
The overwhelming majority (roughly 96 percent) of Libyans are Sunni Muslims. Christians account for 2.7 percent of the population.
Libya's currency is the Libyan dinar. For accurate exchange rates, use this online converter.
The Sahara Desert covers around 90 percent of Libya. Consequently, most of the country has an arid desert climate, with hot days, cold nights, and almost no precipitation. The narrow coastal strip in the far north of the country has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild winters. Light rains are not uncommon in this part of Libya in fall and winter (September to February).
When to Go
Currently, there is no safe time to travel to Libya. However, if the current political situation improves, the best time to travel in terms of weather is in spring and fall, when daytime temperatures are slightly cooler than they are in summer but nights are not yet too cold (this is especially relevant if you plan on traveling into the desert interior). Whenever you go, plan on packing plenty of layers in addition to conservative clothes and head coverings for women.
Excavated in the 1920s, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a magnificently preserved Roman city dating back to the 10th century BC. You can get a glimpse of the public monuments, a harbor, a marketplace, and the residential districts that made up the ancient city.
Originally founded by the Greeks in 630 BC, Cyrene later became an important Roman city and is now a wonderful archaeological site for visitors to enjoy. Ancient Greek temples and statues are very well preserved and offer a unique insight into Ancient Greece in Africa.
This ancient city is a real Saharan jewel, defined by its white-washed walls and covered streets that work to keep walkers comfortably cool. Most of the residents have left the old town but return during the hot summer months to their original homes.
The capital of Libya is a modern city 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 medina (old city) and the excellent Jamahiriya Museum are highlights for visitors.
Traditional Berber homes can be found all over the towns of Nalut and Gharyan. Nalut has many traditional Berber fortresses, all built on an escarpment that offers great views. Gharyan's amazing troglodyte dwellings were carved out of the mountains and are now uninhabited.
Libya's main airport is Tripoli International Airport (TIP), located approximately 20 miles south of the city center. Before it closed temporarily during the Libyan Civil War in 2011, the airport was served by most major Arab and European airlines. Since re-opening, nine airlines are offering regional and international flights to and from Tripoli International Airport, the primary ones being Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah Airways. However, flights are unreliable and may be canceled without warning.
Most nationalities require a visa to enter Libya. Anyone who has visited or transited through Libya will no longer be eligible for an ESTA for the United States. Additionally, Israeli citizens or anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport will be denied entry into Libya.
The CDC recommends that all visitors to Libya make sure that their routine vaccinations (including measles) are up to date before traveling. In addition, hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations are recommended for most travelers, while hepatitis B and rabies may be appropriate depending on your intended destination and activities. Note that anyone traveling from a yellow fever endemic country will need to provide proof of yellow fever vaccination before being allowed into Libya. Malaria is not a risk in North Africa.
This article was updated and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald on October 31 2019.