Travel to Lebanon could not be easier these days. A growing number of airlines service Beirut, which has frequent connections to Europe, Africa, Asia and the rest of the Middle East. The national carrier, Middle East Airlines, also flies to Australia and Canada. The US recently lifted its ban on travel to Lebanon, so direct flights from the US should begin in the near future.
Flights between Beirut and Tehran also resumed in 1999 after a 20-year absence caused by the Iranian revolution and the Lebanese civil war. Beirut airport is 5km (3mi) south of the city center. The departure tax on flights from Beirut is US$51.
Syria is the only country which currently has an open land border with Lebanon – the border with Israel is likely to stay closed for some time. Visa rules have changed slightly and these days you can get a visa when entering Lebanon from Syria, at the border. The compliment, though, is not returned and you can’t get a Syrian visa in Lebanon or at the Syrian/Lebanese border.
Buses run between Beirut and Damascus half-hourly from 5.30am-7pm and there are buses and service taxis from Beirut to Lattakia and Hama (as well as Aleppo and Homs). From Tripoli there are buses to Hama, Aleppo and Damascus (as well as Lattakia and Homs). If you’re planning to drive into Lebanon, be prepared to pay a hefty fee at the border – it’s refundable when you leave, but it can be very steep.
When to Go
For sun worshippers, the time to come to Lebanon is the summer season from June to mid-September. The weather is hot and dry, though very humid on the coast. To many people’s surprise, Lebanon is becoming increasingly popular as a winter sports destination. It has a number of ski resorts and the ski season runs from December to May. During May, the weather on the coast is warm enough for swimming and the country is carpeted with flowers.
If your luck is running, you can catch the end of the ski season, sunbathe on the beach and get fresh flowers in your room. Autumn is also scenic: by October the most oppressive heat is over and it’s a pleasant time to visit.
Most holidays are religious, and with so many different sects in Lebanon there are plenty of excuses to celebrate. The principal Islamic holidays are tied to the lunar hijra calendar which is about 11 days shorter than the Western calendar, meaning that Islamic holidays fall 11 days earlier each year.
Major events include Ras as-Sana (New Year’s Day), Achoura, a day of public mourning observed by Shiite Muslims which commemorates the assassination of the grandson of Mohammed, and Ramadan, a month of dawn to dusk fasting. The end of Ramadan is marked with Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Breaking the Fast.
Mar Maroun, the patron saint of the Maronites, is celebrated on 9 February, and Christian Easter celebrations take place twice, once according to the Western calendar, and again according to the Eastern Christian churches. Secular holidays include Independence Day (22 November) and Qana Day (18 April), an official day of mourning for the massacre at Qana in 1996 in which 107 Lebanese civilians were killed by Israeli shells at a UN camp. More happily, there’s a world-renowned four day arts festival in Baalbek each July.
Beirut International Airport
Beirut Int’l Airport, which has been enlarged and completely remodeled, is the home base for the national carrier, Middle East Airlines.
The airport also receives flights from more than 31 international European and Asian airlines. The BIA will have an annual capacity of six million passengers by the start of the 21st century.
Beirut’s Port, the largest in the eastern Mediterranean, is equipped to handle tens of freight and passenger vessels. Further updating of its busy facilities will be made as part of Lebanon’s general reconstruction plan.
Most travelers arrive at Beirut airport but one can also approach Lebanon by ferry from Cyprus or by road from Damascus.
Once in Lebanon, a good road system allows the visitor to see for himself almost all parts of this compact yet extremely varied country.
Automobile rental companies provide self-driven cars or cars with a driver.
Lebanese taxis are comfortable and reasonably priced; however to avoid misunderstandings, it is best to agree on the price before setting off.
Even cheaper is the “service-taxi” which allows one to share the cost of a trip with other passengers. Fares for short hops are only at LL 1000, while long trips to other regions range from LL 5000 to LL 15,000 depending on the distance. Make sure you always hail the “service-taxi” with a red-plate number. Bus service is also available to certain destinations.
International calls can be made from domestic telephones via Lebanon’s own earth satellite station. Private international lines and cellular phone service are widely used. Telex and FAX services are available as well.
To dial into Lebanon, the access code is 961. The area code when dialing a mobile is 3 when dialing from outside Lebanon and 03 when dialing from within the Lebanese territory. This rule also applies to other regional codes which are: North (06), Jounieh and its surrounding areas including Byblos (09), South (07), Mount Lebanon (04), South Mount Lebanon (05), Beqaa (08).