Are you planning a trip to Libya? Libya Wire is pleased to offer concierge services in Benghazi and Tripoli. The package includes:
1) Pre-arrival briefing and visa support (Washington DC based)
2) Private pickup from airport and local transport
3) Meeting set-up and interpreter
Securing a Visa
Gone are the early days when foreigners could enter the country overland without visas or, in some cases, without passports. Checkpoints are common throughout the country so attempting to enter Libya without a valid visa is not advisable, and you should always keep your passport on you when out and about.
While tourist visas are not being granted outside of organized tour groups, the visa situation for business and NGO related travel has eased considerably, based on personal experience and conversations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The visa process must be initiated by a Libyan company, NGO or other entity through the Immigration Office in Tripoli, and approval speed depends almost entirely on the ability of your personal connections to push things along. There are reports of individuals obtaining visas in a more straightforward manner from the Libyan Embassy in Washington, DC. Still others have been told that everyone needs prior approval from Tripoli.
Once the visa approval arrives, the process gets a bit more complex. The issuing embassy usually prefers to have the approval paperwork faxed directly to it from the Immigration Office in Tripoli, although they will sometimes accept a forwarded email of the scanned approval document. With an approval at your local embassy, the visa stamp can be put in your passport on the same day. Visa costs for Americans run to $150—a fee waiver is a possibility if traveling with an NGO or aid organization.
One account of a journalist recently entering Libya overland from Tunisia without a visa is here.
Money, Mobile Phone Service and Hotels
With the exception of major tourist hotels and their adjoining restaurants, Libya is an all-cash society. Few ATMs are available so be prepared to bring in enough dollars to cover expenses and to covert to Libyan Dinars on arrival (current rate is about 1.3 dinars to the dollar). Larger hotels and restaurants will accept dollars and euro. Hotels, particularly the five stars that cater to international business clientele, are quite expensive; expect to pay upwards of $300 per night in Tripoli and $150 in Benghazi.
The Corinthia in downtown Tripoli is the hotel to book if you‘re looking to rub elbows with NTC ministers, security contractors, and oilmen flicking their iPads. The first floor coffee shop is a hub of activity and there are regular government press conferences, NGO meetings and industry-specific events.
A more restful option is the El Khan Hotel on Arabaa Arsat Street in the old city. The tastefully decorated rooms in this restored Arab riad are clean and quiet, and even more so since many restaurants and shops in the old city remain shuttered.
Despite reports to the contrary, the al-Madar al-Jadid and Libyana cell networks are operating well, and purchasing a new sim card on arrival or at major hotels is easily done. A new line on al-Madar al-Jadid costs about $9. Local calls go through fine, although there can be spotty connectivity with international circuits and between Tripoli and Benghazi.
Occasional bouts of (hopefully) celebratory gunfire and the presence of heavily armed thuwaar [revolutionaries] on street corners is a constant reminder of the months past yet the security situation in Tripoli and Benghazi is largely stable. A foreign traveler or small group will attract little attention but there remain armed militias guarding major facilities and in some cases settling scores with supporters of the Gaddafi regime. A heavily armed populace means there is increased potential for small altercations to escalate.
As a foreign traveler, the quickest way to attract unwanted attention is to take photographs in the wrong place and wrong time. Taking pictures of anything remotely military or governmental in nature – particularly around airports – could lead to arrest and/or confiscation of your camera equipment or mobile phone. It is especially tempting to photograph the varied and creative revolutionary graffiti covering the country, but when in doubt, ask someone carrying a gun first.
Landmines and unexploded ordinance are another major danger. Avoiding open areas and sticking to major roads and thoroughfares cuts the risks considerably. There are some reports of kidnappings and carjackings, so exercise caution when traveling through less densely populated areas.
Traveling to Libya: By Air
Several airlines have resumed service to Tripoli airport (TIP). These include Alitalia (5 flights weekly from Rome), Egyptair (daily flights) as well as Turkish Airlines, Royal Jordanian and Royal Air Maroc. BMI is set to resume direct flights beginning in early December. Note that TunisAir suspended service to TIP as of 26 November and is currently flying into Mitiga (MJI), a newer airport used primarily for domestic flights. Royal Jordanian and Egyptair have resumed direct flights to Benghazi. Air Malta runs four flights weekly on Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, but to Tripoli only. It may be another four to five months before Benghazi service resumes.
For internal travel there are multiple flights between Tripoli (TIP and MJI) and Benghazi on Afriqiya, Libya and Buraq Airlines. Schedules remain chaotic and delays of several hours are not uncommon, particularly departing Benghazi and arriving MJI.
Turkish airlines will resume daily service to Misrata in early January 2012.
Sirte Airport is only being used by helicopters.
For those traveling with NGOs, the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) is also an option. It currently runs flights from Malta to Tripoli and Benghazi. The schedule and route map are here, and to get the most current information or inquire about booking flights, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most airlines flying into Tripoli and Benghazi run air-cargo services.
Traveling to Libya: By Sea
A commercial shipping service has recently started between Malta and Tripoli. It‘s operated by Mediterranean Maritime Services Ltd, and can carry passengers, cargo and vehicles.
Traveling to and through Libya: Overland
The road condition between Misrata and Benghazi is reportedly good. Near Sirte, the road is damaged but acts only as a temporary impediment to motorway traffic.
UNHCR recently moved 11 trucks from Tunisia to Benghazi without incident. No escort was needed.
The World Food Programme continues to offer overland transport from Egypt and Tunisia into and within Libya.