It’s true that Libya is not in the best shape right now, politically speaking. You can visit safe areas on an organized tour (independent travelers will be refused entry at the border) — or, if you prefer, wait until the turmoil dies down. If you don’t want to risk it, we understand. In which case, click through to experience — at least on your computer screen — the Byzantine ruins, desert oases, unspoiled beaches, and cosmopolitan cities. It’s hard to believe that much-maligned Libya has so much going for it.
1. Ramble Through Ruins
With its history of conquest and colonization by Phoenicians, Greeks, Arabs, Moroccans, Egyptians, Spanish and Italians, Libya has fabulous ruins that rival some of Rome’s most famous. Leptis Magna, near Tripoli, contains the Severan Arch, marble and granite Hadrianic Baths and an amphitheatre.
2. Visit Byzantine Bygones
One of the less-visited sites in Libya is Qasr Libya, which translates to “Castle Libya.” Its colorful Byzantine mosaics are vibrant reminders of this fascinating culture from centuries ago. Visitors are often surprised by the variety of images and messages, ranging from the serious to those touched with unexpected humor.
3. Scour the Sites of Sabratha
Founded by Phoenicians as a trading post around 500 BC, the Romans later improved the harbor and the city prospered on the trade route. Today you’ll see remains of a three-story amphitheatre with an adjacent residential area, a forum, temples and fountains, four Christian churches and catacombs.
4. Tour the Desert – Fast or Slow
Libya encompasses 679,362 square miles, making it slightly larger than Alaska. Yet its population is just 6.42 million. Approximately 90 percent of the country is desert, which tourists can explore by camel or 4WD drive vehicles. Both are offered by local tour operators.
5. Get the Lowdown on High Caves
Although most of the country is desert, Libya’s landscape does include lush, green hills and rocks for hiking and climbing, such as the Jebel al-Akhdar, or Green Mountains. The air is cooler in the mountains, making it easier to explore the old churches, olive groves and prehistoric caves. Near the town of Marsa Sousa, in the Jebel al-Akhdar, is Haua Fteah, a large, shallow cave that is believed to date back 100,000 years.
6. Sunbathe on Bountiful — and Empty — Beaches
Over 1,200 miles of beaches line the northern Libyan coast. These are visitors’ paradises, not only because of their beauty but because of their serenity. When the city-dwelling Libyans want to get away, they much prefer going to the countryside than to the beach. So visitors in the know can have the beaches to themselves.
7. Admire the Murals in Tripoli
Murals adorning the walls of the city may be art or graffiti depending on the eye of the beholder. Many tell of oppression under Ghaddafi and the revolution that caused his demise. Others show the rebels in fighting gear or proclaim Libya’s freedom, whether for a specific group – such as women – or for the country as a whole.
8. Be Mesmerized in the Medina
If the heady mixture of tantalizing aromas doesn’t grab you first, the colors and variety of goods for sale in the souks of the Tripoli medina definitely will. Its no-hassle atmosphere is a refreshing change from the typical souk, though you can still bargain for a deal in some stalls. Find everything from gold jewelry to spices, and enjoy the cafes as you go.
9. Go for Something Fishy
The Tripoli Fish Market is a sight to see, whether you’re in the mood for a fishy dish or just want to experience the ambiance. Local chefs will happily cook the fish you pick to your liking, and with its location on the water, fish doesn’t get any fresher.
10. Enjoy the Public Baths – From a Distance
Just north of the village of Shahat is the ancient city of Cyrene. It was built by the Greeks and Romans, destroyed by two earthquakes and rebuilt, and much of it has been excavated. No, you can’t actually take a public bath, but just touring the site and thinking about the ritual will make you appreciate how far we’ve evolved.