Libya is a country in North Africa. In the north it has a Mediterranean Sea coast, with Egypt to the east and Tunisia to the west. It also has land borders with Algeria, Chad, Niger and Sudan. More than 90% of the country is desert or semidesert.
Archaeological evidence indicates that from as early as 8,000 BC, the coastal plain of Ancient Libya was inhabited by a Neolithic people, the Berbers, who were skilled in the domestication of cattle and the cultivation of crops. Later, the area known in modern times as Libya also was occupied by a series of other peoples, with the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Persian Empire, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Turks and Byzantines ruling all or part of the area.
From 1912 to 1927, the territory of Libya was known as Italian North Africa. From 1927 to 1934, the territory was split into two colonies, Italian Cyrenaica and Italian Tripolitania, run by Italian governors. During the Italian colonial period, between 20% and 50% of the Libyan population died in the struggle for independence, and some 150,000 Italians settled in Libya, constituting roughly one-fifth of the total population, but in the absence of the figures leading to these conclusions it is not clear whether the 'one-fifth' relates to the population before or after its reduction by 20% to 50%, a remarkably wide range.
In 1934, Italy adopted the name "Libya" (used by the Greeks for all of North Africa, except Egypt) as the official name of the colony (made up of the three provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan). King Idris I, Emir of Cyrenaica, led Libyan resistance to Italian occupation between the two world wars. Following Allied victories against the Italians and Germans, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were under British administration, from 1953 to 1951, while the French controlled Fezzan. In 1944, Idris returned from exile in Cairo but declined to resume permanent residence in Cyrenaica until the removal of some aspects of foreign control in 1947. Under the terms of the 1947 peace treaty with the Allies, Italy relinquished all claims to Libya.
In September 1, 1969, a small group of military officers led by then 27-year-old army officer Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi staged a coup d’état against King Idris. At the time, Idris was in Europe for medical treatment. His nephew, Crown Prince Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Sanussi, became King. It was clear that the revolutionary officers who had announced the deposition of King Idris did not want to appoint him over the instruments of state as King. Gaddafi was at the time only a captain and his co-conspirators were all junior officers. Nevertheless the small group seized Libyan military headquarters (due to the sympathies of the stationed men) and the radio broadcasting station with 48 rounds of revolver ammunition. Before the end of September 1, Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida had been formally deposed by the revolutionary army officers and put under house arrest. Meanwhile, revolutionary officers abolished the monarchy, and proclaimed the new Libyan Arab Republic. Gaddafi was, and is to this day, referred to as the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution" in government statements and the official press.
97% of the population is Sunni Muslim, whilst the rest include small minorities of Christian and Jewish people.
Within Libya as many as five different climatic zones have been recognized, but the dominant climatic influences are Mediterranean and Saharan. In most of the coastal lowland, the climate is Mediterranean, with warm summers and mild winters. Rainfall is scanty. The weather is cooler in the highlands, and frosts occur at maximum elevations. In the desert interior the climate has very hot summers and extreme diurnal temperature ranges.
Passports and visas are required for entry into Libya for all nationalities except nationals of Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. Those who have passports indicating travel to Israel will not be allowed to enter. It is now legal for Americans to travel to Libya; however, it is difficult for US citizens to obtain visas. The Libyan Embassy in Washington DC now accepts visa applications, but you will need a letter of invitation from a Libyan sponsor who applies for you in Libya. Tourist visas are often rejected at all embassies without being a part of a tour or applied for on behalf of a Libyan tour operator. Check with the Libyan Embassy in DC for more info you are American
Libyan immigration requirements frequently change without warning. According to the U.S. State Department, a requirement of a certified Arabic translation of the biological data page of your passport is mandatory for obtaining a visa and entering the country. Canadians are currently unable to obtain visas for entry into Libya.
According to the Libyan Embassy in Washington DC, USA, a traveler will need US$400 (as bare minimum) in a convertible currency, with the following exceptions:
Tripoli is served by most major European and Arab airlines and of course by Libyan Airlines which uses the airport as its main hub. Essentially one may expect daily flights to/from most major European international airports such as Heathrow, Paris CDG, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Rome and multiple weekly flights to/from Milan, Manchester, Vienna, Alexandria, etc.
New airline, Afriqiyah , like Libyan Airlines owned by the Government, provides daily services to many European (mainly Brussels, Paris CDG, Amsterdam Schipol and London Gatwick, according to their website) and African cities with Tripoli as a hub. It uses new Airbus 320 aircraft and seems to be expanding its 2007 route map rapidly.
Another new private Libyan airline, Buraq Air, provides domestic services as well as some flights to several international destinations including Istanbul, Ribat and Aleppo. Buraq Air has been cited several times as a great success story in Libya's effort to privatize its economy and break away from state-driven economic policies.
There are also some international routes between Libya's second city Benghazi to destinations such as Alexandria and Cairo (according to the LAA website London and Casablanca are planned from Benghazi). These tend to be more seasonal and one should check schedules ahead of time.
There are many direct flights from places such as Amsterdam to small oasis towns in the middle of the Sahara but these are operated by the oil companies for private purposes (i.e. to ferry the foreign oil workers directly to the oil fields).
Libya has no international train connections and no domestic train infrastructure.
One may travel to Libya overland. There are bus and "shared taxi" (accommodating 6 people in a station wagon) services from such places as Tunis, Alexandria, Cairo, Djerba, etc.
There are many online blogs showing people having done the trip in their own 4x4s or using their own dirt bikes, campervans, etc. There are very few borderposts open to travel into the country with a foreign car: Ras Jdayr (from Tunisia) and Bay of As Sallum (from Egypt). At the border, one has to buy a temporary licence including a number plate for Euro 300 (March 2008).
There are bus services to Tunisia and Egypt .
There are ferries connecting the Libyan city of Tripoli with Malta and Sfax, Tunisia.
Libyan Airlines has many domestic air routes and they are relatively inexpensive. The same goes for the new private Buraq airlines (see "Get in").
Libya has had no train system since 1965. There are various plans to rebuild some lines.
There are many weblogs showing people having done the trip in their own 4x4s or using their own dirt bikes, campervans, etc. It would seem that they encounter considerable hospitality once in the country. In fact it is not uncommon to see SUVs with Texas plates on them in Tripoli (most likely US oil workers of which approx 5-10,000 live in Libya). It is also not uncommon to see convoys of European campervans on Libya's highways. One German citizen recently back from a dirt bike tour of the desert explained how it was nearly impossible to get gas station attendants to accept payment for gas fill-ups since he was quite the novelty. In fact gasoline in Libya is typically cheaper than bottled water, currently 200 dirham, or about 15 cents, a liter.
Some self-drive car rental services are available in the large cities but the rates are typically high and the cars unreliable. This does appear to be changing as Avis and Europcar offer new cars now in their fleets. Around the major cities, driving can be an "education".
The recommended route of transport for tourists around major towns is taxis. There are also many shared taxis and buses (but they are amongst the worst drivers on the road, although I concede in two years of driving around Tripoli I have never seen a serious crash involving one of them!). The small black and white taxis (or death pandas) tend to be safer (more cautious drivers) but learn the term "Shweyah-Shweyah", Libyan for slow-down, and ask them to keep off Al-Sareyah (the motorway from Souq-Al-Thataltha to Janzour)! A taxi driver will routinely try it on with tourists. Will always try to charge 10 dinars (about $7) for a fare around town. Negotiate the price first: Around most of inner Tripoli, you should not pay more than 5 dinars (bonus points if you can get them down to the local fare of 3 dinars!). If you find a good taxi driver with a good car, it doesn't hurt to build up a relationship and get his mobile number. Taxis from the airport can be more expensive as the airport is a long way from town. Note that the Corinthia Hotel also runs a shuttle from the airport to the hotel.
There are many bus services between the major cities and it is certainly a cheap way to travel. The larger bus companies use modern air conditioned touring buses which are relatively comfortable. This is important on the longer journeys (such as Tripoli to Benghazi which takes about 14hours by bus). The buses make stops for meals and the very important tea (shahee) breaks along the way. A faster method is to take the "shared taxis" but some of the drivers tend to be more reckless in order to cut the travel time.
Arabic is the main language, though local languages, such as Berber and Touareg, are used in many small urban settings. However, the dialect of Arabic spoken in Libya, which is a variety of Bedouin Arabic, is almost incomprehensible to Arabic speakers from the Gulf. Nevertheless, all educated Libyans will have learnt standard Arabic in school, so they would be able to converse in that if required. English is somewhat widely understood in the major cities. Libya's Italian colonial past and, as of 1980s, access to Italian television, make that language relatively well understood. However, the use of Italian is nowhere near the use level of, for example, French, in Tunisia or Morocco. Many Italian terms name modern conveniences, such as "semaforo" (traffic light) and "benzina" (gasoline).
ATM Cards are widely used in Tripoli more other areas and most big name stores and some coffee lounges accept major cards.
The Libyan economy depends primarily upon revenues from the oil sector, which contribute about 95% of export earnings, about one-quarter of GDP, and 60% of public sector wages. Substantial revenues 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 flows down to the lower orders of society. Libyan officials in the past four years have made progress on economic reforms 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 as Libya announced that it would abandon programs to build weapons of mass destruction in December 2003. Almost all US unilateral sanctions against Libya were lifted in April 2004, helping Libya attract more foreign direct investment, mostly in the energy sector. Libya faces a long road ahead in liberalizing the socialist-oriented economy, but initial steps - including applying for WTO membership, reducing some subsidies, and announcing plans for privatization - are laying the groundwork for a transition to a more market-based economy.
As of November 2010, 1 USD = 1.22 LYD, 1 EUR = 1.71 LYD, and 1 GBP = 1.96 LYD.
In Tripoli, it is surprisingly hard to find a traditional Libyan restaurant. Most serve western-style cuisine, with a few Moroccan and Lebanese restaurants thrown in. This is a shame, because there are some wonderful Libyan dishes you should taste in case you are fortunate enough to be invited to a Libyan dinner party or wedding (be prepared to be overfed!). A favorite cafe for the local expatriate community is the fish restaurant in the suuq (market). For a few dollars, you can enjoy a great seafood couscous. A local specialty is the stuffed calamari.
Also recommend Al-Saraya: Food OK, but its attraction is its position, right in Green Square. Another good seafood restaurant is Al-Morgan, next to the Algiers Mosque, near 1st of September Street. Don't miss Al-Sakhra restaurant, located on Gargaresh Road; excellent food, live entertainment, and a rustic atmosphere. The flashy looking big fast-food outlets are a relatively recent arrival in Tripoli. These are not quite the multinationals but a close copy of them! They are springing up in the Gargaresh Road area -- a big shopping strip in the western suburbs of Tripoli.
Tea is the most common drink in Libya. Green tea and "red" tea are served almost everywhere from small cups, usually sweetened. Mint is sometimes mixed in with the tea, especially after meals.
Coffee is traditionally served Turkish style: strong, from small cups, no cream. Most coffee shops in the larger cities have espresso machines that will make espresso, cappuccino, and such. Quality varies, so ask locals for the best one around.
Alcohol is officially banned in Libya, though in reality, alcohol is readily available through a local black market (anything from whiskey to beer to wine). It should be noted that penalties for unlawful purchase can be quite stiff. Travelers should always exercise appropriate common sense with respect to local laws and, more importantly, local sensitivities and traditions.
Major cities have a range of accommodations available, from shabby hotels to four-star establishments. Prices vary accordingly.
In Tripoli, there are 4 international-standard hotels: the Radisson Blu , the Al Waddan and the Rixos Al Nasr are brand-new (opened in 2009/2010) and offer excellent accommodations and services, while the older Corinthia Hotel, is located adjacent to the old city (The Medina or "Al Souq Al Qadeem"). Other hotels are Bab-Al-Bahr, Al-Kabir, and El-Mahari. Several smaller hotels have opened around town, such as Zumit Hotel -- an old, beautifully-renovated hotel, next to the Old Roman Arch in Bab-Al-Bahr.
Manara Hotel, a tidy 4-star hotel in Jabal Akhdir, east of Benghazi, is next to the ancient Greek ruins of Appolonia Port.
While it seems to be diminishing with the arrival of more tourists every year, Libyans have a strong tradition of taking travelers into their own homes and lavishing hospitality on them. This is certainly true in smaller towns and villages. There are several good hotels in Tripoli (Dhahra area) near the church like Marhaba hotel.
Youth Hostels, associated with the IYH Federation (HI), are available. Please contact the Libyan Youth Hostel Association T.+218 21 4445171.
Learn more about Libya's UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Night driving in rural areas is not at all recommended, due to the high risk of accidents on and off road. Rural roads are usually not marked at all, which makes it hard to stay in lane.
In addition, many cars have non-standard headlights, making it very hard to see the road and oncoming traffic at the same time. Speeding is common (and the primary cause of death in Libya).
Camels cross at night on rural roads. Because of its height and mass, this animal can be very dangerous to passenger vehicles.
For an extra charge, some cars can now be rented or purchased with a "camel sensing" device. While not foolproof, this "camel radar" provides the warning that can make the difference.
It is difficult to navigate safely off road (especially in the dunes areas), due to the high horizon. The average speed for distances longer than 10 km is less than 15 km/h.
For safety purposes, do not under any circumstances speak out against the Libyan government. Speaking out against the government is technically a crime in Libya.
Not all bottled water is safe in Libya. Do inquire about the safest brands available. You can purchase foreign brands when necessary.
The United States reopened an embassy in Tripoli on May 31, 2006, and appointed a charge d'affaires, pending the appointment of an ambassador. Go to for contact information.
Libya's Bureau (embassy) in Washington, DC, can be contacted online, but as with most official things in Libya this is somewhat confusing.
The hyphen makes all the difference.