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LIBYA TOURS: THE GOOD NEWS AND THE BAD NEWS
(AND HOW TO LESSEN THE LATTER)
by Ted Cookson
Published in February 2005
WHY VISIT LIBYA?
After being all-but-closed to international tourism for a number of years, Libya has now opened its doors again to American and other tourists. Since the limited number of hotel rooms is currently constricting tourist arrivals, now is a great time to visit Libya's amazing antiquities before mass tourism takes hold.
THE GOOD NEWS: LIBYA HAS FASCINATING ROMAN RUINS
Nearby Libya offers "world-class" (1) Roman-era ruins at Leptis Magna and Sabratha near Tripoli, the capital, and (2) Greek-era ruins at Cyrene near Benghazi, the second-largest city.
Tripoli itself contains an interesting archeological and historical museum, and there is an old-style market (souk) in the medina nearby.
Beyond that, Libya's desert oases boast a rich historical and archeological heritage.
That's the good news.
THE BAD NEWS: A LIBYA TOUR SEEMS EXPENSIVE
The bad news is that, at least at first glance, tour prices for Libya appear to be expensive. In part, this is because tour prices include so many items which would not be prepaid normally unless you were, say, going on safari.
This situation arises because no one (except perhaps a diplomat?) is able to obtain a tourist visa to visit Libya by walking into the Embassy of Libya in Cairo and simply applying for one. A visa for a non-diplomat is only issued to a person who has been "invited" by a tour operator in Libya. The activities of the tourist then become the legal responsibility of the tour operator while that tourist remains in Libya.
This being the case, tour operators require that tourists reserve and prepay a complete "land package" consisting of (a) round trip airport transfers, (b) a full tour program with a private vehicle and driver plus a guide who speaks the tourist's native language, (c) hotel accommodation, and (d) all meals. Once such a complete land package is prepaid, the tour operator in Libya then arranges to "invite" the tourist to Libya.
A few of the more savvy travel agencies shortcut the visa procedure by working with a tour operator in Tripoli who arranges for tourist visas to be made available upon arrival at Tripoli International Airport. Prior to departure a fax is provided to the client. This fax must be shown to the airline as evidence that a visa will be waiting for him/her upon arrival in Tripoli. Without such evidence of visa upon arrival, the client will be denied boarding by the airline in Cairo.
WAYS TO MINIMIZE THE PRICE OF A LIBYA TOUR
Tour pricing can be minimized by reducing the number of days spent in Libya. One can see plenty in only a two-day visit, for instance. The interesting national museum (with archeological, historical and cultural exhibits) and nearby market in Tripoli can be seen on the morning of the first day; and the Roman-era ruins at Sabratha, 60 minutes west of Tripoli, can be visited after lunch that same day. The second day should be devoted to the extensive Roman-era ruins at Leptis Magna, 90 minutes east of Tripoli. There are clean tourist restaurants conveniently situated near Sabratha and Leptis Magna where one can eat the lunch which will be included in your package.
Tour pricing can also be minimized by staying in lesser quality accommodations than you might normally prefer. A few of the 3-star hotels in Tripoli are as clean as the 4-star hotels. Because Tripoli's sole 5-star hotel is so very expensive, almost all travelers' options for accommodation will be limited to 3-star and 4-star hotels anyway.
Finding friends who would like to tour Libya with you will reduce pricing substantially. For example, two people traveling alone can expect to reduce their tour price by about USD 400 per person by finding just one other couple with whom to travel.
Egypt Air is probably the better of the two airlines flying to Libya; but Egypt Air flies between Cairo and Tripoli in both directions in the middle of the night, which is inconvenient. Also, Egypt Air's airfares are related to one's length of stay. So for a short stay Egypt Air is substantially more expensive than Libyan Arab Airlines, the other carrier. Egypt Air's round trip airfares vary from approx. EGP 2,065 for a stay with a minimum of six nights to approx. EGP 3,400 for a stay with a minimum of two nights or less. Libyan Arab Airlines, on the other hand, offers a round trip airfare of approx. EGP 1,900 no matter how long the stay. Ask your travel agent for more information about the various airfares available.
If you enjoy viewing antiquities, don't miss Libya! But, to help reduce the tour price, consider keeping your visit short, staying in a 3-star hotel, and traveling with a few friends. Also, if you plan to visit Tripoli, your choice of airlines will have an impact not only on your sleep, but also on your airfare.
ABOUT TED COOKSON: Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world! He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club). A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi. Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at: Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301. Fax 2359-1199. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site: www.eptours.com.
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