Is it Safe to Travel to Lebanon?
“What!? Is it safe to travel to Lebanon?” is the most common question asked by people (mainly Americans) when they hear how much I love visiting this idyllic Mediterranean country, located in the midst of a ton of turmoil in the Middle East. So let’s address this first: Yes, it is safe. I will say it’s even safer than being in the United States. Well what about for Solo Female Travelers in Lebanon? Yes. And for American Travelers? Um, yes. So why the misconception that it’s a dangerous place?
- The location: Middle-East, Arab World. These words in itself translates to “danger” and “chaos” to many misinformed Americans. It’s not to say that parts of the region has not been a mess for the past century with endless wars and conflicts. But to characterize every inch of the WHOLE region as such, simply makes one ignorant.
- The close proximity to Syria and the recent Syrian War
- Over 1.5 Syrian refugees have gone to Lebanon and are living in Refugee Camps throughout the North and East of Lebanon. They have also taken in refugees from other neighboring areas such as Palestine and Iraq.
- Lebanon’s Civil War from 1975-1990
- The ongoing tension between Israeli-Lebanon, called the “South Lebanon Conflict”
- Which is mainly between Hezbollah (one of the many political parties in Lebanon) and the Israeli government
Let’s Shatter Some Misconceptions about Lebanon
Location, Location, Location! (The Middle-East)
Obviously, the geographic location can scare people. Lebanon is located just south and west of the much larger country of Syria. Its located north to Israel and the border is a no-go zone for the Lebanese people and for travelers (though you can get a special permit for specific areas like Saida). Any country in or near the Middle-East terrifies most Americans. Just as people were scared when I told them I was visiting Oman and where it was located in the Arabian Gulf (bordering Yemen, Saudi Arabia and UAE). Keep in mind folks, these countries have strict borders and tight security. Even if there is tension at the borders, these are not areas tourists would go to or be allowed anyways.
Just as the case of mass shootings in the US which is WAY less common across our border in the neighboring country of Canada.
The Syrian War & the 1.5 million+ Refugees Lebanon has Taken In
Many people see the close proximity of the two countries: Lebanon to Syria and associate Lebanon with the war. Remember, it was a Civil War happening within Syria. Yes, many refugees fled to Lebanon. Yes, there are still over 1 million refugees in camps and are not confined within. The refugee situation does not make Lebanon, or any other country that has kindly taken them in (Germany, Greece, Canada, just to name a few) a more dangerous place.
While thousands of refugees have returned back to Syria, many still remain in the various refugee camps located in the north and in Bekaa Valley. Keep in mind that though the current US administration and ignorant media paints a heinous picture of refugees as potential terrorist threats, the mass majority of refugees are simply families that were forced out of their home due to war. They live, breathe, care for their children, want them to have better futures and wish to eat day to day like everyone else. They are not a threat to you as a traveler nor to Lebanon.
Is Lebanon a Conservative Muslim Country rules by Sharia Law?
NO and NO. Though the collective sects of Muslims make up about 60% of the population, Christians make up 40%. Not every Middle-Eastern country is governed by Sharia Law nor are they all Muslims. There are a large population of Christians, Catholics and even Jews in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Tunisia. Though the Lebanese government has different seats reserved for different political-religious parties, Sharia Law is not a thing. Within each religious establishment, there may be rules for their believers to follow, but it’s not a country law. Though Lebanon is more liberal than most of the Arab world, they are still somewhat conservative compared to Europe and the US. It’s more so family values and expectations than laws.
There is NO War Going on Right Now
Another reason why Lebanon has had a bad rep is because of their 15 year civil war from 1975-1990. The most recent war was with Israel in 2006 which lasted a month. Therefore, there has not Been a War in Lebanon for 13 years. Especially in the past decade, the government has cracked down on security, military and laws to clean up the country. Though it’s still known for government corruption (as many countries in the world), it is a safe place to live and visit. Most Lebanese people that live and/or work abroad have left for economic opportunities though they always speak proudly of their home.
But the US Travel Advisory ranks Lebanon on a 3 out of 4 Danger Zone
The US Department of state advise you to “seriously reconsider” travel to Lebanon due to potential kidnapping, crime, terrorism and armed conflict. Honestly, I feel more safe in Lebanon than I do in the US. Gun shootings are virtually unheard of nor is rape and violent crimes. Even petty theft is less common than in Europe or South America. I have not heard of terrorist attacks or a kidnapping in years, and if it were to happen, it definitely was not towards a tourist. Their regional conflicts have nothing to do with tourists, even when it comes to Hezbollah. That’s why American travelers visiting Baalbek or other Hezbollah occupied areas does not put you in danger.
I have found that the US Travel advisory tends to stray more extreme than the European Travel advisory. It’s kind of like watching CNN versus BBC News. You want less biased international news? Watch the European news channel, considering their geography and education system has a way more balanced global view.
So Is Lebanon the Travel Destination for You?
Lebanon is not necessary a destination for everyone. It’s certainly a country better suited for the seasoned traveler. The reality is that Lebanon can be chaotic at times with the driving, traffic and pollution. But for those few flaws, it’s nothing compared to the richness that the country offers in terms of culture, amazing food, the best parties and genuine deep connections with new friends.
If Lebanon has been on your radar, I say go. Book your flight now and enjoy the adventure. Especially as a way to ease into the mysterious world of the Middle-East so many westerners know so little about. And even if you have traveled in the Middle-East, Lebanon is it’s own special gem. The perfect mixture of the Mediterranean vibes and the mystical charm of the ancient Arab World.
The Lebanese People are Hospitable, Inclusive People
The Lebanese people are friendly and incredibly hospitable people. Anytime you need help on the street, they are there to help. Friends of friends easily become your own good friend. And it’s not uncommon for strangers to invite you to their shop or home for a cup of tea or even a meal with no expectation but to learn about where you’ve come from and why you’ve visited. Most people that have been to Lebanon absolutely love it. But it takes a certain personality and interest to even be drawn to go in the first place.
Frankly, some of us want to selfishly keep it as our own secret paradise. But I also hope more people would visit to bridge a connection, to make peace mentally and spiritually with the Middle-East. This in hopes to shatter many of the misconceptions that come up of the Arab region that western media consistently portrays as a barbaric, incredibly dangerous area. There is no better place to get a glimpse into the Middle-East, it’s friendly people, the overwhelming hospitality and a glimpse of hope for a better, more educated future than in Lebanon.
You have a higher probability of getting murdered in the US than in Lebanon
Look, I don’t blame people for thinking it may not be a safe country to visit. But I also wish people, most especially Americans would actually take the time to learn about other countries outside of their bubble. What I stress over and over, which sheds perspective into most people’s eyes, is that “safety” is relative. What is considered safe to you? People hear about someone being pickpocketed in Rome. Or a bombing that happened in Paris years ago and attribute that whole region to being unsafe. But yet, fail to see how potentially dangerous their own environment is; it’s called “selection retention”.
In a perfect world, there would be 0 crimes anywhere. But since there are, let’s address the levels and variations of crimes instead of bunching them all into one. It is a fact that no where else in the world has as much gun shootings than in the United States, just in the past 20 years. Occurrences of gun shootings are not limited to particular ‘danger’ zones like you would have in Taliban occupied areas in Pakistan. Gun shootings in the US happens everywhere. You really can’t avoid the randomness of where and when it could happen.
Gun shootings lead to death. And hundreds of people in the US are getting murdered daily by this very weapon. By toddlers finding their parent’s guns to crazy entitled shooters who couldn’t get laid. Mass shootings occur on average once a week and these occurrences do not discriminate against wealthier or poorer neighborhoods. It happens in schools, churches, synagogues, markets, bars, shopping centers, concerts, so you get the gist. Some places may have higher occurrences of pickpocketing, a corrupt government or have tensions in neighboring countries. But your chances of getting murdered is substantially way less. So statistically, where is the safer place to be?
Solo Female Travel in Lebanon
I will be publishing a more extensive, informational post on Solo Female Travel in Lebanon but the answer is YES. I traveled both times to Lebanon on my own, took taxis and ubers late into the night, walked alone at night and felt very safe. I’ve met many other solo female travelers that have even stayed for months to years. Like anywhere else, safety does depend on the areas that you are in. For example, you wouldn’t be walking alone in a rural, conservative neighborhood at night, though you’ll likely still be fine. And one would know to dress more conservative in certain areas over the others. In the main touristic areas, you will be fine. Rape and assault are taken severely by law and it is a way rarer occurrence than in the US or Europe.
Catcalling is uncommon and if it happens, it’s rarely of any threat. Staring is very common, just ignore them as both women and men stare. Lebanese men are very charming and can be flirty, but they will rarely cross the line unless it’s mutual.
What Areas (They Say) to Avoid in Lebanon
Tripoli, in the very north of Lebanon is an area that most Lebanese people recommend avoiding. They may say “eh, there’s nothing to see there, I’d avoid it”. It’s close to the Syrian border in a much more conservative (and statistically less educated) Muslim area than the rest of Lebanon. Tripoli is known to have the most bustling Labyrinthine Souk and many who have been really enjoyed their time. Some delicious mom and pop bakeries, restaurants and Phoenician architectures to explore.
Baalbek was also known as Heliopolis during the Greek and Roman times. It is home to the Baalbek temple complex which includes two of the largest and grandest Roman temple ruins: the Temple of Bacchus and the Temple of Jupiter. Baalbek was inscribed in 1984 as an UNESCO World Heritage site.
The ruins of Balbeek has so much history and it is safe area to visit as a tourist and especially with a friend or a tour. Why do they not recommend you go? Because the area is occupied by Hezbollah, recognized as a terrorist organization by the West. Though if you ask the Lebanese, many of them will have a different opinion.
Avoid the Border areas of Syria and Israel. There will be strict security there. Though there are beautiful areas such as Saida in the South Governate, known to be incredibly picturesque with gorgeous olive groves and villages. Unfortunately due to it’s incredibly close proximity to the Israeli border, you will need a permit to visit.
Strong Military Presence in Lebanon
If you have not been to a country with a lot of military presence, you may be a bit shaken up the first day in Lebanon. Soldiers have large guns strapped across their chest stationed across the country and at various road checkpoints. Being in the region that they are in, they need tight security, but don’t let that scare you. In fact, it makes you a lot safer. Also, do not take photos of Military or Checkpoints. If you want to take a photo with a soldier, ask first. Military checkpoints are not scary at all nor will they ever hassle you. They’ll likely take one look into the car and let you pass.
The US also sends Marines for 6 month stints to train the Lebanese Navy. You will likely meet them more in Batroûn as the base is there. Though they are incredibly friendly people, their perspective on where to travel in Lebanon may differ than my opinion above.