Once considered the Paris of the East, Lebanon fell off the tourist map when it disintegrated into civil war in 1975. The word is slowly getting out that travel to Lebanon is now not only possible but surprisingly free of hassles. Lebanon packs a lot into its modest borders: ancient cities, Roman ruins, luxurious ski resorts, bucolic charm and Islamic architecture are just the start. Culturally, too, Lebanon is crammed full of complexity, with the kind of full-on religious and social diversity that has monoculturalists in other countries claiming it can only lead to social breakdown - sadly, in this instance, Lebanon did not prove them wrong.

The handful of foreign visitors now finding their way to Lebanon are mostly well-heeled package tourists. Independent travellers are a bit of a rarity, but are made to feel welcome. The Lebanese are genuinely hospitable towards strangers and are not shy of inviting travellers into their homes. If you're interested in the history of the region and want to see how Lebanon is striving to rebuild itself, now's the perfect time to visit.


Lebanon is located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded by Syria to the north and west, and bordered by Israel to the south. It's one of the world's smallest countries, measuring roughly 180km (110mi) from north to south and 50km (30mi) from east to west. Despite its modest size, it has a number of completely different geographical regions. There's a very narrow, broken, coastal strip which contains all the major cities. Inland, the Mount Lebanon range rises steeply to a dramatic set of peaks and ridges - the highest, Qornet as-Sawda, is over 3000m (9840ft). Further inland, the range drops steeply to the 150km (92mi) long Bekaa Valley, which runs parallel to the coast at an elevation of 1000m (3280ft). The Bekaa is a major wine producing region and, until recently, a major producer of cannabis. The Anti-Lebanon range rises in a sheer arid massif to the east of the Bekaa Valley, forming a natural border with Syria.

The most famous flora in Lebanon - the cedar tree - is now found on only a few mountaintop sites, notably at Bcharré and near Barouk in the Chouf Mountains. These lonely groves are all that remain of Lebanon's great cedar forests which, in biblical times, covered much of the country. That said, Lebanon is still the most densely wooded of all the Middle Eastern countries: many varieties of pine flourish on the mountains and much of the coastal land is cultivated with fruit trees.

Lebanon's mountain areas are home to birds of prey, and the nature reserve near Ehden has golden and imperial eagles, buzzards, red kites, Bonelli's eagles, Sardinian warblers and Scop's owls. Marine birds, both resident and migratory, can be spotted in the Palm Islands Park off the coast of Tripoli. Green turtles and Mediterranean monk seals inhabit the waters surrounding the park. As for wild land mammals in Lebanon, there's nothing more exciting than the odd hedgehog.

Lebanon's ecology has been under a lot of pressure due to the civil war and increasing industrialisation. During the war, pollutants and rubbish were dumped in the sea and rivers, and unplanned buildings sprang up everywhere. Lack of government control meant that unlawful quarrying and logging went unchecked in many mountain areas. Various conservation organisations are attempting to rectify the damage and protect the natural environment with legislation and reserved areas.

With such a diverse topography, it isn't surprising that the weather varies considerably from region to region. Broadly speaking, Lebanon has three different climate zones - the coastal strip, the mountains and the Bekaa Valley. The coastal strip has cool, rainy winters and hot, sometimes stifling, Mediterranean summers. The mountains have a typical alpine climate. Many people head to the hills to escape the oppressive summers of Beirut and come back again in winter for the snow. The Bekaa Valley has hot, dry summers and cold, dry winters with snow, frost and fierce winds.

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.

Facts for the Traveller

Visas: All nationalities, except Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nationals, need a visa to enter Lebanon. Australian, Canadian, most EU, New Zealand and US passport holders can obtain a visa on arrival.
Health risks: Vaccinations recommended for polio, tetanus and typhoid
Time: GMT/UTC plus 2 hours
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric

Money & Costs

Currency: Lebanese Pound (lira) (LL)
Relative costs:


  • Budget meal: US$4-8
  • Mid-range restaurant: US$10-15
  • Top-end restaurant: US$30-40


  • Budget room: US$10-20
  • Mid-range hotel: US$20-40
  • Top-end hotel: US$100 and upwards

Lebanon is quite expensive by Mediterranean and Middle East standards, and the main expense is accommodation. It is possible though, with careful spending, to live on US$25 to US$30 per day by nosing out cheap rooms and eating street stall food. A more comfortable travelling budget, taking into account the high cost of hotels, is around US$50 to US$80 a day. Room rates are cheaper outside Beirut, but the cost of meals is pretty standardised throughout Lebanon: if you can live on felafel and shwarma, food need only set you back a few dollars a day. Public transport, including long-distance buses, will rarely cost more than US$5.

Most banks will only change US dollars and UK pounds in cash or travellers' cheques, while moneychangers, found throughout Lebanon, will deal in almost any convertible currency. They also offer better rates than the banks. Check the rates in a newspaper and shop around for the best deal. International credit cards are accepted in larger businesses and, increasingly, in restaurants and shops.

Tipping is usually expected as a reward for services. Because of the devaluation of the Lebanese currency, salaries and wages are much lower than they used to be, so tips are an essential means of supplementing incomes. Most restaurants and nightspots include a 16% service charge in the bill, but it is customary to leave an extra tip of 5% to 10% of the total. With the exception of a few set prices, everything can be bargained down in Lebanon, from taxi fares to hotel charges. Most hotels will give you a discount if you stay for more than 3 days.