Let’s be honest, Lebanon is definitely not yet a well-known backpacking destination, but I reckon it soon will be, because this place is pumping!
Yes now enjoying my third trip to this gorgeous country, Lebanon is a destination I expected nothing from, but one which instantly grabbed me – a total surprise I can tell you!
Because sometimes that’s the beauty isn’t it – those countries we know little about or have few expectations of, often turn out to be the real gems!
That’s not to say knowing nothing about them isn’t a little daunting though.
I knew hardly anything about Lebanon before I came, or hardly anyone who’d been here, but as a solo female traveller I bit the bullet, jumped on a plane here from Amman in Jordan and haven’t regretted it since!
So, if you’re thinking of doing the same – which you should – here are 25 super useful things to know before backpacking Lebanon…
- Solo Female Travel in the Middle East – What to Expect!
- 11 Life Lessons I Learnt Living in Lebanon
- 23 Amazing Things to Do in the Middle East
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#1 The Currency Is…
The Lebanese Pound (LLE) is the official currency here, but it’s used pretty much interchangeably with the USD.
If you bring USD cash, there will be no need to change it and you can spend it freely across the country, especially in Beirut.
Update: Please note that since Oct 2019, the formerly stable exchange rate between the USD and LLE has fluctuated greatly. I would check the current situation before travelling now, so you know what to expect.
LEARN MORE: How to See the Best of Lebanon in 48 Hours!
#2 ATM’s are Plentiful
But if you fail to have any cash on you – like I did when I arrived in Lebanon – fear not, because there’s tons of ATM’s everywhere here, especially in the cities.
Mastercard and Visa are both widely accepted and usually you can choose whether the machine dispenses LLE or USD.
Update: However, since late 2019 banks in Lebanon have been imposing restrictions on withdrawal amounts at ATMs, as well as through other means, due to the serious economic issues the country is facing. Likely that bringing cash is now advisable to travellers.
#3 You’ll Fly into Lebanon
But hold on, maybe we need to rewind a bit!
Let’s get back to arriving into Lebanon, which you’re going to do via the international airport in Beirut.
That’s because this is the only international airport currently functioning in the country and with the Israeli land borders closed and the Syria crisis going on in the north, there’s no safe terrain crossings into Lebanon, meaning fly in you must.
The cheapest flights to Beirut can be bought using budget airlines such as #1 Pegasus, which connect through Istanbul, #2 Aegean, which connect through Athens and #3 Cyprus Airways who connect through Larnaca.
The national Lebanese carrier is MEA and they generally offer the best prices from other Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan.
But just to make sure I grab the best deal, I always consult Skyscanner.
Also worth knowing is that Beirut airport has free wifi for 30 minutes.
Queues at the airport can be bad however, so do allow plenty of time in advance of your departing flight when you leave Lebanon.
#4 Visas are Free
But when you do arrive at immigration, having had to pay for a flight, you’ll at least be happy to know that Lebanon tourist visas are free for many different nationalities.
Normally a FREE 30 day visa stamp is given on entry and this can then be extended for up to 90 days FREE at a General Security office in Beirut.
#5 Don’t Have an Israeli Stamp
But beware, if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport you won’t me be allowed into Lebanon.
READ MORE: 10 Epic Things to Do in Lebanon
#6 Allow 1-2 Weeks Minimum
And once you’re in Lebanon you want to try and allow at least 1-2 weeks to see this diverse country.
Trust me, everyone who comes here loves it and only leaves wishing they’d had more time!
For a full Lebanon itinerary outline, check out this post.
5 PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR LEBANON
#1 Lebanon Bradt Guide – An excellent resource when it comes to finding out the history of what you’re seeing in this country without the need for a guide, the Lebanon Bradt Guide is a must.
#2 Head Lamp – Great for taking into Roman Ruins, Jeita Grotto or just dealing with the powercuts you may experience here. I love my Black Diamond Storm, which has served me super well in Lebanon.
#3 Sun Hat – Trips to the beach, the mountains, the monasteries and the ruins will mean many hours in the hot sun of Lebanon. Do yourself a favour and bring a wide-brimmed hat to protect you. I love this Hello Sunshine design.
#4 Long Thin Trousers – While Lebanon isn’t a super conservative country overall, you’re unlikely to feel comfortable in some areas walking around in anything too short. As such a pair of long, thin cotton or linen trousers provides the perfect attire for this hot country.
#5 Travel Insurance – A good idea whenever you travel in the Middle East, I love travel insurance from World Nomads and have used them throughout my time in Lebanon and beyond.
#7 Stay 2-3 Days in Beirut
The beginning of any Lebanon itinerary should be the capital Beirut.
For a start, this is where you’ll fly into, but second to that, this is also a happening, vibrant city worth plenty of time in its own right.
Known as the Paris of the Middle East, Beirut has a ton of museums, galleries, cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, ruins and coastline to explore.
Allow yourself a minimum of 2 days to get a flavour for this surprising city.
Learn more about the best things to do in Beirut on a budget here.
#8 Pack for diversity
Lebanon is an incredibly diverse country in terms of its climate and cultures.
And with 4 seasons to boot, packing for this tiny country can prove something of a nightmare, especially if you want to travel light.
To learn how to do it and how to do it right, here’s my complete Lebanon packing list with the full the lowdown, so you don’t have to worry about a thing.
#9 It’s Easy to Day Trip from Beirut
To make things easy, you could do what I did in Lebanon and base yourself in Mar Mikhael at Hostel Beirut for the duration of your whole stay – simply day tripping around the country from there.
INTERNET ACCESS IN LEBANON
While this country doesn’t have a fibre network yet, internet is generally a good speed everywhere and basically every café, hostel and bar has it for use for free!
#10 Lebanon is a Small Country
And that’s because Lebanon is an incredibly small country, which means staying in Beirut and simply day tripping around to the various places you want to visit is totally do-able and very easy, especially if you’re on a tight time frame.
DISCOVER MORE: The Aakkar : Lebanon’s Lost Land
#11 Tripoli is Very Different to Beirut
In particular, one place you should visit outside of Beirut is Tripoli.
Lebanon’s second city is totally different in vibe to Beirut.
More raw and more traditional, it provides the perfect contrast to the capital.
#12 The Best Free Beach is in Tyre
Another top spot to hit up is the southern city of Tyre, which again provides a great contrast to Beirut.
With a UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town, a delightful port area, bustling souk and huge amount of Roman ruins, there’s plenty to do here.
Plus it has the best free public beach in the whole country – in my opinion!
And, just so you don’t get confused, it’s worth pointing out that Tyre is also known as Sour.
GETTING A SIM CARD IN LEBANON
There’s 2 telecommunication companies in Lebanon, both essentially owned by the government, so it doesn’t really matter which one you opt for.
I personally think Touch is a great option for those backpacking Lebanon, because they offer a 10 day tourist SIM package, which gives you 3GB of data for $3 USD!
#13 There’s Green Valleys and Great Hiking
But it’s not just cities you can explore in Lebanon, because the countryside here is equally as lovely let me tell you.
Yes Lebanon is as full of green valleys and mountains as it is city and coastline, so heading out to explore the gorgeous scenery, rural villages and hidden monasteries of this country’s landscape is a must.
Hiking is popular here too and when you see the views, you’ll understand why!
I always recommend Trekking Lebanon who are a great company I enjoyed hiking in Lebanon with.
Learn more about my experience here.
#14 You Can Ski and Swim in One Day
So with both mountains and coast so close together, it may surprise you to learn that Lebanon is a country in which you can ski in the snow and swim in the sea in the same day.
Uh-huh, that’s the same day.
Told you this place was amazing!
#15 Public Transport is Limited
The only thing to bear in mind if you do travel around the country however, is that public transport is pretty bad in Lebanon!
While buses do ply the main coastal road both north and south from Beirut, outside of this, your options are very limited and sometimes taking a tour is the only option.
When it comes to tours, I always recommend Explore Lebanon.
You can learn more about my experience with this great company here.
For buses within Beirut, check out this helpful map, which details the public transport routes that ply the capital city.
VEGETARIANS IN LEBANON
It goes without saying that Lebanon is an extremely vegetarian (and even vegan) friendly country!
So don’t let food hold you back from backpacking this awesome destination.
#16 It’s a Crowded Country
It’s also worth knowing that Lebanon is an extremely densely populated country and, as such, traffic (especially in the Beirut area) can be hellish!
Do consider this when planning your journey time.
#17 The People are Super Friendly
But while Lebanon is a crowded country, it’s people are also some of the friendliest on earth.
Highly sociable, highly hospitable and welcoming beyond belief, there’s no question you’ll meet some great local people during your time here.
#18 English, French and Arabic are Widely Spoken
And it’s especially easy to meet and befriend local people when backpacking Lebanon because most of them speak 1, if not 2, if not 3 languages.
While Arabic is the official language in Lebanon, French and English are also widely spoken.
TAXIS IN LEBANON
Good to know that alternative taxi apps such as Uber operate in this country – a dream for saving some money when you backpack Lebanon.
But, be especially careful when getting taxis from the airport to central Beirut as they are notorious for ripping travellers off.
#19 It’s Safe
So yes, you don’t need to worry, Lebanon is a totally safe country to travel.
Solo female travellers need have nothing to fear – here’s my post about solo female travel in Lebanon.
Update: Nation-wide protests have been taking place in Lebanon since Oct 19. These are aimed at the government / official parties and have involved teargas, water cannons and some violence. In my personal opinion however, tourists have very little to worry about beyond roadblocks and transport disruption as long as they avoid demonstration areas.
#20 The Food is Amazing!
Do I need to go into this more?
How much time do we have?
Ok, not enough.
So let’s just say the food here is FREAKING AMAZING!
Like the best ever.
In. the. whole. world.
#21 It’s Expensive
Sadly, unlike the food however, the prices when backpacking Lebanon are not amazing.
If you thought this country was going to be cheap, then think again.
Your budget here needs to be similar to that of a Western European country.
Why? Who knows!
But adjust accordingly and go with the flow.
#22 Euro Plugs Are Used
And like the prices, the plugs in Lebanon are also European.
So bring your 2-pin adapters here folks if you’re not already equipped.
You can buy a cheap European adapter here.
#23 The Weekend is Sat & Sun
Euro-style, the weekend in Lebanon also falls on a Saturday and Sunday.
Not a Friday and Saturday as you may expect from other Middles Eastern countries you’ve backpacked in.
#24 Don’t Drink Tap Water
probs def going to get sick if you do!
Not a great idea when backpacking Lebanon!
#25 Local Craft Beer and Wine is Great
Instead, drink the excellent local wine and craft beer.
My favourite is 961 Lebanese Pale Ale, which is zatar-flavoured… oh yeah!
Also make sure you take a day trip to the Wineries of the Bekaa Valley as part of your time backpacking Lebanon.
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Have you been backpacking Lebanon yet?
What are your top tips?