Travel to Lebanon: Highlights, Tips, Cultural Nuances & Must Do’s

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Mediteranean Lebanon

With one month in Lebanon, you can cover a lot of ground.  However I can’t say that I really traveled the country thoroughly and I certainly didn’t get to all of the traditional tourist sites.  Instead I was too busy sinking into the culture of Lebanon.  Thanks to my GeoVisions cultural exchange program who placed me with my local host family, I was able to dig deep into the web of Lebanese history, culture, and make genuine friends.

The People:

kids drawings

It was because of my host family that I was able to meet the wonderfully generous people I did.  People who took me everywhere allowing me to enter into their lives with ease an open arms.  So what if I didn’t go to Jeita Grotto, Baalbek Ruins, or the famous Cedars.  I spent my time with people, not places.

Instead I sat at family dinner tables, shared wine and shwarma with my family, shared stories, learned about our varied lives, and became attached.  I became attached to the country as well as the people who were in my life there.  A month felt like 6 months based on the relationships I was able to build.

My host family, the Costa’s, were so generous I felt guilty at times.  Mickey, the youngest child would shower me with attention and beautiful works of art I would hand above my little bed.  He always made sure that I wasn’t far from a blanket to stay warm.  I felt as if I adopted Maria (14 yrs old) as my own niece wishing I could take her with me to see the world.  And Mira, my host mom was like no other person I had ever met in all of my travels; generous, emotional, loving, and a little bit of crazy…which is why I loved her.  After all, we all have a little crazy in us.  My family introduced me to all of their friends and extended family and proceeded to ‘assign’ these various people to take care of me and show me Lebanon.  To Walid, Tony, Andre, and Mark – Thanks – I couldn’t have asked for better tour leaders!

My friend and GeoVisions manager, Yola, was also a constant in my month in Lebanon.  She took time out of her weekends to drive me to various sites including Our Lady of Lebanon to seem some of the most spectacular views Lebanon had to offer.  She also ensured that I gained plenty of weight by never letting me go hungry. The Lebanese Food is worth the trip alone!

Places to See:

However if you are going to Lebanon the more traditional way to see sites rather than cultural immersion then I can recommend some of the places I ventured out to as a tourist:

Tripoli  – see the souks and the corniche and make sure you sample the sweets.
Saida – Don’t miss these refurbished souks
Jounieh – where you catch the gondola to Our Lady of Lebanon
Beirut  – Make sure you do the city walking tour – Walk Beirut.  Wander the other neighborhoods on your own, and see Pigeon Rock along the corniche.
Anjar – Step back in town to the ancient Umayyad ruins in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley
Zahle  – a town in the Bekaa Valley with it’s own Virgin Mary monument and stunning views of the valley.
Batroun – a seaside town with an authentic souk and delicious lemonade

our lady of lebanon

Things I didn’t get to do, but I wanted to:

It’s always good when you leave a few things to come back for – here are a couple of my picks for my next trip to Lebanon.

  • The Shatila refugee camp is a long-term refugee camp for Palestinian refugees, set up by UNRWA in 1949. The camp is located within the Lebanese capital Beirut. As of December 2003, it housed 12,235 registered refugees. It is most widely known as the site of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in September 1982, but also played a significant role in the 1982 Lebanon war and the 1985 to 1987 war of the camps.  You can actually stay in the camp at the CYC Guesthouse which  is located inside the refugee camp, and is run by Children and Youth Center (CYC). The Guesthouse offers accommodation to visitors and volunteers, all year-round, providing the opportunity to learn about life in Shatila camp, firsthand. Short stays are charged at $10 per night.
  • Hike the Lebanon Mountain Trail – The (LMT) is the first long-distance hiking trail in Lebanon. It extends from Al- Qbaiyat in the north of Lebanon to Marjaayoun in the south, a 275 miles path that transects more than 75 towns and villages at altitude ranging from about 1,800-6,000 feet above sea level.  The LMT showcases the natural beauty and cultural wealth of Lebanon’s mountains and demonstrates the determination of the people of Lebanon to conserve this unique heritage.  The trail brings communities closer together and expands economic opportunities in rural areas through environmentally- and socially-responsible tourism.

Listen to More Information:

If you are heading to Lebanon, then take a moment to listen to my interview on the Amateur Traveler Podcast about what to expect with your travels in Lebanon.

Amateur Traveler Episode 273 – Travel to Lebanon

Some Inspiration:

I took hundreds of photos in Lebanon.  Here are some of my favorites.

My ‘Best of Lebanon’ Photography

Lebanon isn’t for everyone…but it was definitely a place for me.  Full of life, love, and heartache.

Sherry Ott
Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of Briefcasetobackpack.com, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice.

Additionally, she runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at Ottsworld.com.com.
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