Mount Lebanon Ecotourism

Mount Lebanon is the nation’s most diverse region comprising of high mountain ranges and valley shafts also enriched by a number of caves and deep grottos. There are two significant nature reserves in Mount Lebanon, one of which is the renown Shouf Cedar forest, the largest protected area in Lebanon. Mountain climbing, hiking, paragliding are among the many activities available to the visitor.

Afqa

(Source of the Adonis River and Temple of Venus – 71km from Beirut)

Afqa is the sacred source of the Adonis River (modern Nahr Ibrahim), where the waters emerge from a huge grotto in a cliff 200 meters high. It is here that the myth of Venus and Adonis was born. The story goes that while out hunting, Adonis was killed by a wild boar. Venus (the Phoenician goddess Astarte), who was his lover, tried to save him but she was too late. And so it is the blood of Adonis that each spring turns the torrential river to red.

Getting There …
Travel north from Beirut along the coastal highway towards Byblos (Jbeil) passing through Jounieh, Tabarja, and El Aaqaybe. Exit on the Qartaba off-ramp, just a few kilometers away from El Aaqaybe, heading uphill towards Qartaba. Afqa is reached via Qartaba turning right at the town of Majdal. The final half-meter of road is a little rough.

Bantael

Bentael is the first protected area which was developed by a non-government organization in 1981. The land in Bentael is a public land reserved for the protection of plants and animals typical of the habitat at 300m up to 850m elevation.

Bentael means the daughter of God in the old Syriac language. The ecosystem is predominated by pine trees. There are few other plant types but the habitat is also rich in birds and animals. The existence of this protected area in the early eighties has helped the emergence of many other areas in the different part of the country.

Getting There …
Bentael is easily reached from Byblos. Take the old road from Byblos going north, then turn right heading east where indicated by a road sign. On the way you will pass through Edde before you reach Bentael.

Faqra

On the outskirts of Faqra lies one of Lebanon’s natural wonders, Jisr El Hajar, or the Natural Bridge carved over the centuries by wind and water. This 34 meter bridge is so perfect that it hard to believe that it is natural. Faqra has wide open terrain suitable for hiking and camping.

Getting There …
From Beirut – direction north – driving through the Nahr el Kalb tunnel (18km from Beirut), turn right at the Ajaltoun off ramp heading uphill towards Faraya. The Faqra bridge is easily reached from there.

Jaj

Several thousand years ago, when much of Mount Lebanon was covered by cedar trees, the groves of Jaj were one of the first forests to be chopped down. The profitable cedar wood was exported to Egypt and later to Jerusalem.

Splendid survivors of this forest are still scattered on the peaks above the town of Jaj. They are easy to spot. Rounded in shape and very dark green in color, the trees are not readily confused with the much smaller pines at lower elevations. For the best view go to the top of the town and look up.

Trails exist up to these cedars, which grow out of what looks like bare rock in-groups of two or three. It is advisable, however, to find a local guides for the excursion. Also worth a visit is the beautiful stone Church of Mar Abda, located at the upper reaches of the town.

Getting There …
Take the old road from Byblos going north, then turn right heading east towards Bentael. From there continue passing through Habil, Lehfed before you reach Jaj.

Jeita

(400m – 20km from Beirut) – Caverns Sculpted By Water and Time

Few grottos in the world match the astounding wealth of Jeita. Over time, the action of water has created cathedral-like vaults beneath the wooded hills of Mount Lebanon. Geologically, the caves provide a tunnel for the underground river, which is the principal source of the Nahr el-Kalb (Dog River).

The caverns are on two levels. The lower galleries, discovered in 1836 and opened to the public in 1958, are visited by boat. The 600m trip on a subterranean lake is surrealistic, starting with the roar of the waterfall at the entrance giving way to profound silence as one slides deeper into the cave. An effective new lighting system illuminates the caverns allowing the visitor to glimpse the uppermost roofs.

The upper galleries, opened in January 1969, can be seen on foot through a 120 meter-long concrete tunnel. This section shows what the entire cave system was like before geological conditions displaced the subterranean river to its present level, and is a delight to see. Perhaps the most dramatic sight is the yawning canyons and sink holes, some seen at a drop of over a hundred meters.

In summer you can visit both the upper and lower galleries while enjoying the refreshingly cool temperature inside the caves. The lower section is sometimes closed in winter when the water-level is high, but the extensive upper galleries are open all year.

Getting There …
From Beirut – direction north – driving through the Nahr el Kalb tunnel (18km from Beirut), turn right at the Ajaltoun off ramp heading uphill. Jeita is only 5km away.

Nahr Ibrahim

30km ahead of Tabarja, you’ll meet with a historical bridge built by the Arabs. The stream that runs below it springs straight down from the mountain and flows in “Nahr-lbrahim” (the river of love and faithfulness).

The valley of the Ibrahim River, the ancient Adonis, is famed for both its historical and religious significance. A wild and beautiful area, in pagan times a pilgrimage road ran along its north side to Afqa, scene of the tragic love story of Venus (Astarte) and Adonis.

An Ottoman bridge built in 1806 can be seen on the left of the road, shortly after you turn off from the main highway. Upstream are a number of riverside caf├ęs that make a pleasant and cooling stop in summer. Further on, where the valley forks, the east structures of a Roman Aqueduct are visible. Some of the retaining walls of the aqueduct can be seen on the opposite cliff, while the General Directorate of Antiquities has repaired the single remaining arch. Continuing along the same road, you come to Mashnaqa, the Roman temple of Yanuh, Aqoura and Afqa.

In mythological terms, Nahr-Ibrahim is known as the river of the god Adonis, (the god of fertility). Adonis was said to be gravely injured as a result of his falling prey to a wild hog and when his beloved, the goddess Astrate, ran to save his life, his blood mixed with the waters of the river and brought about his fatal death.

Broken-Hearted, Astrate fell down to her knees by the riverside where she died imprinting, thus, her love story with Adonis forever on the sand. As such “Nahr-Ibrahim” gained a third appellation, the River of Immortal Love.

Getting There …
Nahr Ibrahim valley is reached via Machnaqa or Qartaba.

Shouf Cedars

The Shouf Cedars is the Middle East’s largest nature reserve. The cedars, which range from tiny shoots that cover much of the forest floor, to 2,000-year-old trees with six-meter girths, are protected by the Shouf Cedar Society, a local non-governmental organization that manages the reserve.

Oak, pine and juniper are some of the 16 types of trees that also grow in the 550 square-kilometer reserve. Squirrels, wild boars, porcupines, wolves and gazelles can be found in the reserve. The reserve is accessible from Barouk, Maaser al-Chouf and Ain Zhalta.

The reserve makes up 5 percent of the entire territory of the country and 70 percent of Lebanon’s green area, making it the largest nature reserve in the Middle East. The reserve, formed in 1994, is one of three protected areas in Lebanon to benefit from the United Nations’ Protected Areas Project.

It is the first protected area in the Middle East to include government and municipal land. in 1996, the reserve succeeded in persuading the UN to fund it as a project within the Ministry of the Environment. A year Later, visitors started to arrive.

More than 25,000 people visit the reserve each year between April and November. The number of visitors expected by 2002 is 100,000 visitors.

Visitors to the forests cannot picnic inside the reserve. Local communities adjacent to the reserve are encouraged to participate in eco-friendly additional income ventures.

Their produce of jams, honey and embroidered goods are sold at the visitors’ center in the busy summer retreat of Barouk, near the Barouk Palace Hotel. Maps and brochures about the reserve are also on sale at the center.

Some products are priced higher than average market price because we encourage organic produce and because we buy from many sources and can’t buy at wholesale prices.

Getting There …
Head south from Beirut towards Damour passing through it and exiting the highway 2km away, heading east towards Beiteddine. From there, drive through Moukhtara, then Maaser el Shouf before you begin to ascend towards the forest.