How Libya Almost Became the Mediterranean’s Top Vacation Destination

It is not surprising that Sabratha, Leptis Magna and Ghadames are all inscribed on Unesco’s List of World Heritage in Danger. The two Roman sites were poorly protected even in 2004. The degree of looting and desecration that must have taken place since is not worth thinking about, although such concerns have rightly been made subordinate to the overwhelming human tragedy. . But one image of Leptis Magna stays with me and sums up Libya’s lost hope. He is a welcoming smiling shepherd who was resting on the arch of Septimius Severus, seemingly oblivious to the world.

When could Libya get back on travel routes?

Jonny Bealby, Founder of Adventure Travel Specialists Wild Frontiers, says:

My company Wild Frontiers became an expert in tourist extraction during the 2011 Arab Spring. In the space of five months, we had to evacuate groups from five countries: Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Mali and Libya. Unfortunately, Egypt is the only return country on our books.

People forget how recently Libya was a vacation option, and we took several trips to the country in the 2000s. It was a fantastic destination and I look back on those trips with incredible fondness.

It has some of the most extraordinary ancient Roman sites in the world, in the form of Leptis Magna and Sabratha, both located directly on the Mediterranean. Leptis Magna is breathtaking, a real city with a racecourse, a theater, baths and temples. Sabratha reminded me of Tire in Lebanon, where the colonnades extend down to the sea. Unfortunately, some of these colonnades would later be used to hang people.

Even more special, for me, was going down into the desert. You got these huge seas of sand, kinda like the empty part of Saudi Arabia, and we would travel in Land Cruisers, rent sandboards and surf the dunes, swim in lakes as hot as a bath, and then camped out under the stars. There was also prehistoric rock art to discover, with incongruous images of crocodiles, hippos and giraffes, all animals that roamed the area 20,000 years ago.

We were taking weeklong trips, between the Roman sites in the north and the desert in the south, while spending time in Tripoli as well. It was a great city, with lovely restaurants (but no alcohol), an atmospheric souk, and an amazing museum.

I would love to bring tourists back there because it is such a fascinating place, and we are keeping an eye on the security situation. Obtaining information on Libya is a struggle, however.

We’re currently focusing more on Syria, and trying to relaunch a tour in 2023, combining it with Lebanon and featuring Damascus, but probably not Aleppo. Maybe we’ll be looking at Libya for 2024.

About Wesley V. Finley

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