Is it safe to travel to Beirut and Lebanon?
I remember when we told our friends and parents we were travelling to Beirut. Some or them were really excited for us, but most people were scared and told us to watch out as Lebanon is a very dangerous country.
But is it?
Not really. My husband and I never ever felt unsafe while visiting Lebanon. Ever. In fact, in Beirut, people were exceptionally welcoming and friendly. I felt at home and was sad we were leaving. It has now been officially put on the list of “places where Josh wants to teach as curated by Lieze (me)”. We literally want to live there. That’s how safe we felt.
Why do people think Lebanon is unsafe?
Lebanon and Beirut have been the scene of a horrific civil war during the 70s and up until 1990 bombs were going off constantly in this beautiful city. The war was international news and even became a part of American pop culture – Beirut was being seen as a dangerous place where bombings and terrorists were as common as dirt.
More recently, in 2006, Israel invaded the South of Lebanon. A war lasting a mere 34 days took place around the border. Even though the war was contained to the south and disbanded very quickly, it made a very bad impression on the world of Lebanon and Beirut.
There hasn’t been a war or a conflict in Lebanon since 2006. That is 12 years. Okay – yes, you are right. That is still less long than most other countries you would want to travel to, but let’s see it this way: Lebanon is stable (except for some border clashes in areas you wouldn’t want to travel to anyway). There is no fighting. There is no war.
Lebanon and Extremism
Lebanon lies in the Middle East. So it has to be a Muslim country, right?
Did you know that 40% of the population are Christians? There are churches everywhere – even next to or opposite mosques. All in all people in Lebanon – and especially in Beirut live side by side peacefully.
There are some regions where Muslims are more conservative, but this is mostly in smaller cities and the countryside. This is a phenomenon we also see in Europe: Irish people in the little villages are much more conservative Catholics than people in the Big city. It’s normal and it is something you will notice everywhere in the world.
This does not mean you are not safe though. You will just have to cover up a bit more as a woman (cover up knees and shoulders, no cleavage). I have no problem with this as the same is expected of me in Dubai, a country known around the world for being ‘modern’.
Soldiers and Checkpoints.
The first time I went through a checkpoint I almost shat my pants. I was quite scared. Seeing soldiers and the military so open on the streets still gives me the creeps.
Lebanon however invests a lot of money in the military and these checkpoints to keep people safe. Most checkpoints are put up on the edges of big cities or close to the border of Syria and Israel. We passed quite a few checkpoints going to Baalbek and Anjar (we had to follow the road to Damascus) and there is a checkpoint just before the airport.
In most cases the soldiers on the checkpoint will just wave you through. When we were on our way to the airport, one of the soldiers actually wanted to speak to the Uber driver (he said something like ‘ I am an uber, driving these people to the airport’. The soldier wanted to see our faces so we looked through the window like two idiots. The boy – he could not have been much older than 21, wished us a happy new year and a good flight.
Do not take pictures of or at checkpoints and do not film military personnel or installations. We had a lady on our bus who took a picture out of the window when we were queueing for a checkpoint. (There is a lot of queuing involved). The bus was directed to the side of the street and had to stop. A soldier ( he did not look happy ) came onto the bus, demanding the person who took a picture to come forward. Ultimately a very scared woman raised a shaking hand. She had to give up her phone for inspection. It took 15 minutes to delete the picture, interrogate the woman and clear the bus for departure. I was so glad that wasn’t me!
How to improve your own safety while travelling through Lebanon?
As said before: most places you would want to visit in Lebanon are safe. Tourism from outside North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula is slowly starting up again, and you feel the country is making a real effort to make tourists feel safe and happy. In fact, Lebanon is one of the favourite holiday destinations for people from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. See it is their version of Greece or Spain: beautiful beaches, nice weather, green mountains, and great food. This means that all in all, touristic spots, are incredibly safe to visit.
You can easily improve your safety in Lebanon by travelling by Uber or Careem. There have been some incidents where people were robbed by a Servis (shared taxi) driver or one of the passengers. As someone who is not familiar with Arabic or Beirut, taking a Servis might be quite daunting and scary, which is why we would 100% recommend to always book a taxi ride via Uber and Careem.
When booking tours or packages, always ask the driver or the person meeting you for his credentials if these are not shown on the bus or clothing. We had a little incident where we were waiting for our pick-up to go to Baalbek, and a scam taxi driver picked us up, acting as if he was our guide. He soon dropped us off by our Airbnb again when he discovered we were going to Baalbek and not Jeita (the grotto). I am sure we will write about this experience on a later time, or even upload a video about this really weird experience.
Is it safe to go to Baalbek and Anjar?
Baalbek and Anjar lie in a “do not travel” zone. Every year, thousands of tourists visit these sites through tour and travel agencies. This is by far the safest way to marvel at the ancient tamples of Baalbek and the Umayyad city of Anjar as Baalbek lies in Hezbollah territory and Anjar is a mere 500 m from the Syrian Border (they pointed out the spot on the mountain where Syria began. Crazy!). Travel guides can liaise with soldiers at checkpoints and know where to go and where not to.
For a tour to Baalbek, Anjar and Ksara you pay around $100 per person. I know this might sound quite hefty, but trust me: I am a very stingy traveller – but it was definitely worth it! Baalbek might be one of the most impressive sites I have ever visited. Anjar was beautiful and dramatic with the snow covered mountains in the distance. The only thing I rather disliked was the wine tasting. I love wine and I have grown up visiting chateaux, caves and auctions with my parents. I can honestly say that the wine in Ksara was “Chateau Migraine” as we like to call it in Belgium. I did buy a bottle of Muscadet, just because it was incredibly cheap and I love Muscat. I’ll let you know if it’s good.
But yes, it is incredibly safe to visit Baalbek and Anjar. I would always visit it with a tour – but it is incredibly safe.