A couple of questions about a potential trip to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel.
April 14, 2008 3:40 AM   Subscribe

A couple of questions about a potential trip to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel.

I'm planning a trip to Syria, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon next month. I am a very experienced traveler (male, 30. I'm Icelandic but when I travel everyone assumes I'm American). I've been to over 40 countries, mostly on backpacking trips and I've been to places many consider dangerous, such as Colombia, Guatemala and Cambodia.

- Are there any reasons I shouldn't go? I think I am aware of some of the dangers, and I will stay away from places such as south Lebanon / North Israel and the borders with Iraq. Any other spots to avoid?
- Are there any books I should read before going? I love to read about places I'm visiting, so any recommendations about travel books or fiction would be greatly appreciated.
- Are there any places (outside the obvious ones) I should see?
posted by einarorn to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Obviously you know not to get your passport stamped in Israel, right? And to plan your route so it doesn't seem obvious you've been there?
posted by wyzewoman at 4:12 AM on April 14, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, my plan was to finish in Israel to avoid those problems.
posted by einarorn at 5:05 AM on April 14, 2008

Don't rule out Northern Israel by virtue of the media alone. Do a little research. One of the amazing things about that part of the world is that what appears to be us to be an area overwhelmed with hostilities actually functions perfectly fine on a day-to-day basis. I'd be more concerned about East Jerusalem than the Golan Heights, but that's without doing any research - just an intuitive reaction. Both are treasure chests - it'd be a shame to miss 'em.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 6:21 AM on April 14, 2008

I recommend Charles Glass's Tribes With Flags: A Dangerous Passage Through the Chaos of the Middle East (1991). His family is from Lebanon and he knows the region well; I read it before my own trip to Syria and found it very enlightening. (Also, I hope you're planning to visit Aleppo—it's an amazing and ancient city—and Palmyra/Tudmor, and a trip to Simeon's Pillar, west of Aleppo, is worthwhile as well.)
posted by languagehat at 6:49 AM on April 14, 2008

I would agree with fingers_of_fire in that Northern Israel would be (relatively) safer than East Jerusalem, some parts of the West Bank and definitely all of Gaza. It is also a beautiful, historically rich part of the world that shouldn't be missed. That includes the Golan Heights.

For reading materials, the only book i would recommend is Thomas Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem which just got republished for the third time last year.

Oh yeah, if you get down to the south, you must check out Wadi Rum over the border in Jordan. Such an amazing place, the closest thing to a moonscape i have ever seen. Petra was ok, but Wadi Rum just blew my mind.

Mefimail me if you have any more questions about Israel and parts of Jordan
posted by chromatist at 7:07 AM on April 14, 2008

I've been to around 50 countries and have to say that Petra, in Jordan, was one of the few places I've been that lived up to (and exceeded) my expectations. I got the 3-day pass. Walked around in the morning and then climbed to the top of one of the lookout points each afternoon to eat lunch and watch the happenings below. Amazing. There's lots of tourists but if you're willing to walk a lot you an get away from them. I'll add here that I am also one of the crazy people who did 4 days in Angkor Wat.

Went to Wadi Rum for a night trip too. It was nice, but I really appreciated the combination of beautiful landscape and rock formations alongside carvings. Wadi Rum had beautiful landscape, but not the amazing carvings. I didn't think it was like a moonscape... more like parts of the American Southwest.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:53 AM on April 14, 2008

Depending on your order of visiting the countries, make sure you get some of your visas in advance.

It is not possible to get a visa for lebanon nor for syria on the road border crossings between these 2 countries, so you may want to get a multi-entry visa for syria, and a single-entry visa for lebanon in advance so that you can go syria-lebanon-syria-jordan-west bank-israel.

Note that if you have any vista stamps from israel, or even jordanese/egyptian stamps from border crossing points with israel in your passport, you will be refused entry to syria or lebanon.

Also if you go overland from jordan thro west bank to Israel, be aware that the crossing checkpoints have limited opening hours.

South Lebanon should be OK provided you stick to the tourist spots (Tyre/Sidon). Depending on your budget, you might want to negociate a taxi for the day in beirut to take you to the tourist sites and back again.
posted by nielm at 12:08 PM on April 14, 2008

Nthing others, don't rule out Northern Israel, I lived there for a few months a couple of years ago and it was safe, despite everything that is going on. Old Akko is an AMAZING place and about a 20 minute drive north from there, you hit Nahariya, which is an amazing coast town.

You seem like a seasoned traveler, so you must have your wits. There's a lot of starring that happens in the Middle East, people will constantly be starring at you --full out eye contact, it becomes a bit unnerving but it's just a cultural thing (so just stare back). I'd suggest researching specific places before you visit them. For example, Old Akko is a great place during the day but I definitely would not recommend a tourist to visit it at night. Nahariya on the other hand; spend as much time there as you want at night.

Have a great trip!
posted by 913 at 12:45 PM on April 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the help. I'll definitely look into the North-Israel situation once I'm there. And I wanted to see Tyre, but had ruled that out. Guess I'll look into that also.
posted by einarorn at 5:51 AM on April 15, 2008

Based on recent events in lebanon, I recommend that you register with your embassy on arrival so that should the situation deteriorate, they know that you are there if they start evacuations.

Also, consider getting a second passport if you are entering Israel after Syria -- apparantly, the Israeli crossing points can make your life difficuly (5 hour waits) if they see Syrian visa stamps...

For south lebanon, the getting a taxi for the day allows you to have some local knowledge of the situation -- if they refuse to take you, or charge extortionate rates, you know it is not a good idea to go!
posted by nielm at 1:00 AM on May 10, 2008

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