How to Travel to Libya in 2022

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Travel to Libya

This is the most complete and updated Libya travel guide available on the internet.

Libya is a surprising country indeed.

Home to Leptis Magna and Sabratha, Libya is home to outstanding, world-class Roman ruins, sitting on the shores of the Libyan coast.

From 1911 to 1951, the country was an Italian colony, the heritage of which is still very visible, not only in the architecture that dominates the center of Tripoli, but also in the somehow sophisticated way Libyans drink their cappuccino.

Except for a tiny part of the – today unaccessible – eastern coast, Libya is an utterly massive, barely populated desert, filled with ancient Berber, caravan towns like Gadhames, located more than 600km from Tripoli.

Today, however, Libya has become a failed state struggling to put an end to an armed conflict that has been ongoing since 2011, preventing travelers from venturing into the most off the beaten track country in the whole Mediterranean.

However, with proper planning and research, anyone can travel to Libya safely.

This Libya travel guide shows you how.

Libya Travel Guide pinterest

COVID-19 Travel restrictions for Libya

Travelers wishing to visit Libya must be in possession of their vaccine certificate, or a negative PCR. That’s the official information but nobody checks it upon arrival in Libya, not even the airline (I flew with Libyan Wings from Tunis).

Travel Insurance for Libya with COVID-19 coverage

IATI Insurance is one of the few providers that offers full Coronavirus coverage, not only when it comes to treatment, but also cancellations costs in case you tested positive before departure. 

And not only this, but it’s one of the few insurance providers that gives coverage for traveling to Mauritania.

Readers of Against the Compass can get an exclusive 5% discount.

Libya today: what is it like to travel to Libya?

In 2011, following the Arab Springs of neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, a set of peaceful protests against an absolute Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, escalated into a bloody armed conflict between the rebels and Gaddafi’s local forces.

One year later, Gaddafi was defeated, captured and killed, putting an end to more than 40 years of dictatorship.

For the first time ever, Libyans were able to foresee a bright, beautiful future but unfortunately, the same people that wanted to overthrow Gaddafi, claiming for democracy, began to fight each other over power and wealth, dividing the country into different regions controlled by different militias.

A second civil war began, and on and off conflicts continued non-stop until the country officially split into two main regions, ruled by two different, independent Governments: West Libya, with Tripoli as the capital, and East Libya, Benghazi as the main city.

However, in October 2020, exhausted from a pointless civil war, both Governments signed a permanent ceasefire and promised to hold elections, but they have been continuously postponed ever since.

Today, the peace agreement is still valid, but that doesn’t avoid the occasional clashes between the two Governments, and their permanent disagreements over power, like happened in May 2022.

Your Libya visa will only be valid for traveling in the Western part of Libya because the Eastern Government doesn’t recognize it. 

Why travel to Libya

Is it safe to travel to Libya?

By far, safety is the number 1 concern for people wanting to travel to Libya, which is kind of understandable, since the media has been showing nothing but years and years of conflict.

As previously mentioned, a peace agreement was signed between both West and East Governments back in 2020 and, except for a few occasional clashes between the Government forces – where civilians are not targeted – traveling to the West part Libya is mostly safe nowadays.

All Libyans will tell you that today, traveling to Libya is completely safe and as long as the money coming from oil – Libya is an oil-rich country – keeps flowing through both East and West, it will remain so, or that’s what many locals Libyans believe.

My personal experience in visiting Libya

From Afghanistan to Syria and Iraq, one can really feel that you are in a conflict or post-war country but for some reason, not in Libya.

On the one hand, you barely see any military presence there, at least in the areas where you are allowed to travel, and that includes the capital too.

On the other hand, while destruction is what prevales in most Syrian cities’ skylines, Tripoli is pretty untouched, so were all the places we visited, except for the main avenue in Misrata, the city that suffered the most.

We saw a few buildings with bullet holes and stuff but not even 1% of what you see in Mosul or Aleppo.

Again, I just saw one tiny part of the country, and I know that in Benghazi for example, there was a fierce battle but, from a traveling standpoint, most places in West Libya are intact, and the atmosphere seems surprisingly relaxed.

is it safe to travel to Libya

How to get a visa for Libya

Libya is one of the most difficult countries to travel to.

First of all, you must know that nowadays, tourist visas are not being issued, but you can only travel to Libya on a business visa.

No worries, it’s easier than it sounds.

Step 1 – Getting your Letter of Invitation

In order to get your visa for Libya, the first thing you need to do in getting a Letter of Invitation from an authorized Libyan-based company.

Basically, this company will sort of fake your purpose of visiting Libya, typically claiming:

  • You are an oil or gas consultant
  • You work in the tourism industry and want to come to Libya to have meetings with a local travel company, looking for potential tourist opportunities for when tourism comes back – if it ever does.

As a traveler, I prefer number two, because it looks less dodgy.

Text box gray. Note: Libyan authorities are not stupid. There are tens of tourists traveling to Libya every week with this kind of business visa, groups of Westerners with shorts and big DLSR cameras who definitely don’t look like oil consultants so, why do they allow in? The thing is that they know that tourism brings money but at the same time, Libya has no Government, meaning that there isn’t any legislative and executive power to implement such a regulation: introducing tourist visas – so meanwhile, they know this is the only way to get tourists in.

How to get your LOI

In order to get your Libyan LOI, all you need is paying a deposit and sending a copy of your passport, it’s that simple.

How long do I have to wait to get the LOI?

  • EU passports: Usually, you can get it in only one week.
  • British and Canadian passports: You’ll have to wait a bit more, up to 1 month, but you might be able to get it earlier.
  • American passports: It’s a gamble. Sometimes they get it in two months, sometimes it never arrives.

How long is the LOI valid for?

There’s no official date but rumours say it has a 1-month validity.

Step 2 – Getting your actual visa at the embassy

Once your LOI is approved, next step would be visiting the Libyan embassy in your home country or country of residence.

The LOI will come with a 6-digit number, and it’s recommended to call them in advance, telling them about your upcoming visit and respective number.

I got my visa at the Libyan embassy in Madrid. They told me to physically go there any day, from Monday to Wednesday, from 10am to 1pm, and these were their requirements:

  • Passport with more than 6 months validity
  • 2 passport photos
  • Letter of Invitation
  • Letter from the company you work for, stating the business reason you want to travel to Libya

Once they checked that all my documents were correct, they told me to deposit the amount of 60€ in their bank account – which I did at the nearest bank – and come back with the receipt.

When I gave them the receipt, they told me to come back after two hours to collect my visa, that’s it.

That’s for the embassy in Madrid, what about the rest of embassies?

Requirements are pretty much the same across most embassies but, while some of them require the applicant to be physically there, others allow you to mail them all docs.

Moreover, like in Madrid, some embassies issue your visa within 2 hours, while others might take a few days.

The best way to find out is by calling to your nearest embassy.

What if there’s no embassy in your home country?

Then, you can apply from en embassy of your choice, but you need to tell your local sponsor in advance.

How long is the visa valid for?

The visa is valid for 1 month, from the moment you collect it and it can’t be extended.

This means that, if you travel to Libya after 29 days of getting your visa, you can only stay in Libya for 1 day.

Visa for Libya

Travel insurance for Libya

Travel insurance for Libya is a real must, especially in times of pandemic, and I strongly recommend IATI Insurance because:

  • They have many different plans, for all budgets.
  • Covers both short-term trips and 1-year long trips.
  • It covers a wide range of COVID-related stuff.
  • It covers senior citizens too
  • Readers of this blog can get a 5% exclusive discount

Traveling to Libya as an independent traveler: is it allowed?

Not really.

Actually, independent travel has never been totally allowed in Libya, even during Gaddafi’s rule, and the reason is that, in their eyes, foreigners could always be potential spies.

Today, in order to get the above business visa, you’ll have to book a tour with them, so there isn’t a way around, plus here are a few things to keep in mind:

You local guide must pick you up from immigration

Nowadays, upon arrival at the International Airport of Tripoli, even before getting your entry stamp, the authorities will put you aside, waiting for your sponsor, a representative from the company who issued your LOI – the local guide, in my case. 

This person will have to go through a few formalities and only then, you’ll be able to enter Libya.

You will be accompanied by a local authority

During my trip to Libya, I had always to be accompanied by an authority who claimed to be part of the tourist police.

Along with my local guide and driver, this person sticked with us the whole time, eating with us and even staying in our hotels outside of Tripoli.

While spending the whole trip with an authority might seem quite annoying – you actually have to pay for his meals and hotels – but that’s included in the total tour package – the truth is that he was a pretty nice guy who basically became one more of us. He was unarmed, joked all the time and always tried to be helpful.

Text box, gray. Some travelers who travel to Libya as gas consultants (fake purpose, of course) claim that they were never accompanied by the mentioned authority, but only the local guide.

Your itinerary can’t be flexible

It can’t be changed. Your itinerary will be shared with the security department before your arrival, and making changes won’t be allowed.

Can you walk around Tripoli on your own

Officially you can’t but in practice, many travelers do it, but this is something you must discuss with your local guide.

how to travel to Libya

Tours for Libya

Against the Compass is organizing an expedition to Libya in December.

More information coming soon.

Best time to visit Libya

Best time to travel to Libya: November to March

The weather becomes pleasant during those months but note that temperature can drop to 0ºC in December-January, so do bring warm clothing for the freezing nights, especially in the desert areas.

Worst time to travel to Libya: June to September

In summer, Libya is too hot to enjoy.

I personally came during the last week of May and days were already utterly hot, making sightseeing very difficult. Evenings however, were good.

Best time to visit Libya

How to get to Libya

Getting to Libya by air

Mitiga International Airport is the main airport in Libya, located 11km from the center of Tripoli.

This airport used to have plenty of connections but nowadays, you can only travel from two cities:

– Tunis

– Istanbul

I strongly recommend coming from Tunis, since flights are way cheaper.

Today, the only foreign airline that flies to Tripoli is Tunis Air but the problem is that it doesn’t fly there every day, only 2-3 times a week, so depending on your travel dates, it could be inconvenient.

Alternatively, Libyan Wings flies from Tunis to Tripoli every day but the problem is that you can’t book tickets online, but someone has to go to an actual Libyan Wings office and pay in cash. This is something you’ll need to arrange with your local guide or sponsor.

How to travel to Libya by land

Getting to Libya by land:

Libya shares a border with 5 countries.

Traveling to Libya from Tunisia

Travel reports suggest the border is open, and there are actually direct buses from Tunis to Tripoli but, besides the nearly 800km distance, border formalities will take a lot of time if you go on a bus packed with people.

Alternatively, you could head slowly to the border (the one by the coast) and cross on foot. However, if you opt for this choice, your local guide will have to pick you up from there, increasing the overall cost of your trip.

Traveling to Libya from Egypt

This border used to be open open during Gadafi time but not anymore, since the Eastern part of Libya is controlled by a different faction that won’t recognize your business visa.

Traveling to Libya from Algeria, Niger, Chad and Sudan

Those borders are super closed.

how to get to libya

Top experiences in Libya

Libya has actually a lot of touristic potential, no wonder why during Gaddafi times, many tour groups used to come here.

Visiting first-league Roman ruins

Leptis Magna and Sabratha are exceptional Roman sites, nothing to envy Palmyra in Syria, or Baalbek in Lebanon, and the best thing about them is that they are built by the sea.

Libya travel tips

Admiring the Italian Heritage in Tripoli

Like in Eritrea, Italians also left their footprint in Libya, leaving behind a very strong coffee culture and the most beautiful buildings in the country.

Italian café Tripoli

Experiencing the Libyan desert

Whether you are driving from town to town, or just having tea with the Touaregs, few countries in the world have such a vast, empty desert.

Libya desert Gadhames

Visiting the ancient caravan city of Ghadames

Ghadames is an ancient desert town and oasis, home to an entangled and massive old city composed of hundreds of pathways, which also turns out to be a UNESCO Heritage site.

Trip to Libya

Learning about the current crisis in Misrata

Misrata was one of the most affected cities during the Libyan Civil war, the legacy of which is still very visible. Today, the city features a brand-new museum about the crisis.

Free Libya

Budget and money

In Libya, they use the Libyan Dinar (LYD) and approximately:

1 USD = 5 LYD

Obviously, the currency in Libya is not very stable, so do check the exact exchange rate before departure.

Can you use credit or debit cards in Libya?

No, you can’t, so do bring all your money in cash.

However, you won’t need much money because you are likely to travel to Libya on a tour, where pretty much everything is included.

In 6 days, I spent the equivalent of 30€, just for a few night meals which weren’t included in Tripoli.

Where can I exchange?

I believe your local guide will help you with that but the main area for exchanging is in a specific place in the old city of Tripoli.

How much does it cost to travel to Libya?

As mentioned, the only way to travel to Libya is by purchasing a tour, which tends to include all expenses but in any case, here’s a summary of the most typical costs:

  • Visa: 60€ (in Madrid embassy, at least)
  • Round trip flight Tunis Tripoli with Libyan Wings: 250€
  • Meal in a local restaurant: around 25-40 LYD
  • Meal in a fancy restaurant: from 50-90LYD
  • Espresso or cappuccino in a local coffee shop: 2 LYD
  • Espresso or cappuccino in a fancy café: 5 LYD
Money in Libya

Getting around Libya

It doesn’t really make sense to add a getting around section since you’ll be traveling from city to city by car, with your local guide but still, here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • Gas is extremely cheap, the second cheapest in the world after Venezuela
  • Despite having some of the most massive oil reserves, there’s oil shortage, and many gas stations are virtually empty. On our way to Ghadames, we had to travel with three large cans filled with gas, since finding gas can be a gamble.
  • The driving is bad, Libyans don’t really like to follow traffic rules, but that didn’t surprise me
  • The coastal road is sort of busy but the roads leading inland are absolutely empty, only desert, and barely any car.
How to travel to Libya by road

Libya: the country, people and culture

Along with Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia and Algeria, Libya is one of the 5 countries that compose the Maghreb region.

It is the 4th largest country in Africa, and the 16th in the world, but its land is only inhabited by 6 million people, making it one of the least density populated countries in the world.

People

Unlike in other African countries, Libya is a pretty homogenous society.

Arabs: Most Libyans can be classified as Arabs. However, while the western part of Libya has more similarities to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, the eastern part has more resemblance to Egypt. In fact, this cultural difference is what has left the country divided, and dictates the international agenda too, since both Governments are supported by their respective foreign counterpart. 

people in Libya

Berbers: Apparently, 5% of the total Libyan population are Berbers, the indigenous ethnic group in north African before the Arabs came. They have their own language and folklore, and usually, they have a darker skin. I found Berbers from Libya to have a stronger identity than Berbers in Tunisia or Morrocco, since Berber flags were seen everywhere. However, they have absolute no problem in saying they are Libyans. On the way to Ghadames, you’ll see lots of Berber towns.

Berbers in Libya

Language

In Libya, they speak Arabic and, like its people, while the dialect spoken in West Libya is similar to Tunisia’s, in East Libya is similar to Egypt’s.

Do people speak English in Libya?

Not much but again, you are likely to be with a local guide the whole time, so communication shouldn’t be much of an issue.

Religion

Libyans are Sunni Muslims, but in Tripoli, you can find some churches that are frequented by their small Christian community.

Like Bashar al Assad in Syria, Muammar Gadaffi was a secular dictator who always condemned fundamentalist and religious extremists but unlike in Syria, where there’s a very significant secular society, I found the people in Libya to be extremely religious and traditional.

The few women you see in the street always wear hijab and to my surprise, many of them wore the niqab, something rare to see in North Africa.

Libya travel blog

Libyan cuisine

I can’t tell what’s food like in East Libya l but in West Libya, food is similar to other countries in Maghreb.

Cous-cous is their insignia meal and what I like about it is that it’s quite juicy, usually tomato-based, like in Tunisia, while in Morocco I always found it to be drier. Grilled meat with white rice is always available in most restaurants and thanks to the Italian influence, pasta too.

In Tripoli, you can actually find many Italian restaurants, a very popular chain being Caffe di Roma, where you have a wide variety of pastas and pizzas to choose from. It’s not the best pasta ever but after a few days of just eating cous-cous, it wasn’t bad at all.

Another dish I tried was usban, a Libyan sausage filled with rice and meat, too heavy for my taste, but sort of tasty.

Alcohol in Libya

Since Gadaffi came into power in 1969, Libya has been a dry country.

Being such a secular ruler, I wondered why did he ban alcohol. Some Libyans believe he banned it so people would not get drunk and start talking about politics, saying bad things about the Government. That’s hard to believe, since not even Kim Jong Un does it.

Coffee in Libya

I am a big coffee drinker, especially in the morning, so whenever I visit a predominantly tea country, I always struggle, and I thought Libya would be one of those but I was wrong.

Coffee culture in Libya is a big deal and, due to the Italian influence, they prepare it in a pretty sophisticated way, with so much love, and always with the right amount of foam.

What was even more surprising, however, is that you can also have really good coffee in more rural towns, like Ghadames for example, and even in random villages find along the road.

Libyan food

Where to stay in Libya

There aren’t many hotels in Libya, but there are enough to accommodate the few tourists, business people and diplomats that visit the country.

Where to stay in Tripoli

Mid-range – Hotel Victoria – This is the preferred hotel for travelers, featuring a rooftop with excellent views to the city.

5 stars – Sheraton Hotel – Better than Victoria, of course.

Top-end – Corinthia Hotel Tripoli – The best hotel in town

Where to stay outside of Tripoli

In Gadhames: we stayed at Ghadamis Hotel, a massive hotel with traditional architecture which opened 1 or 2 years before the beginning of the war but, since it’s government-owned, it has remained open. We stayed there for two nights, and we were literally alone.

where to stay in Libya

Solo female travel in Libya

Independent travel is not allowed in Libya, solo female will always go with the local guide and the tourist police, making things much easier for them.

My local guide said he has had many female clients – some of them came alone, while others with a partner or friend – and he said all of them had a great time.

Have you been to Libya (as a solo female) and want to write a guest post for Against the Compass to tell us about the experience?

Then, kindly shoot me an email at joan@againstthecompass.com

Internet & connectivity

As expected, Wi-Fi isn’t particularly reliable in Libya, but you can easily get a local SIM card at the airport.

I personally bought a SIM card packed with 20GB of data for just 39LYD (around 8 USD), which was more than enough for just 6 days.

More Information for traveling to Libya

More travel guides to neighboring countries:

Libya Travel Guide pinterest



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