Lebanon Country GuideOnce known as the Switzerland of the Middle East, the small but fascinating 7000-year-old country of Lebanon is renewing its reputation. Its beautiful sights and mountain ranges, unspoiled by years of unrest, are again attracting growing numbers of visitors, with the 1,400,000 arrivals in 2007 (up from 740,000 in 2000) expected to be surpassed in the coming years. For very reasonable prices, you can enjoy its moderate climate and the welcome of its friendly people.
Lebanon is a compact country of 10,452 square kilometres, with Beirut as its capital (located at 33°54' north latitude and 35°36' east longitude). Established as a republic in 1943, its estimated population as of 2008 was just under 4 million people.
Over the centuries, located as it is at the juncture of three continents, Lebanon has been a crossroads of many civilizations. Traces of this past can still be found today in its countryside of rocks, cedar trees and incredible ruins.
Lebanon lies along the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. You can gaze down to its glittering waters from the slopes of the Lebanon Mountains, a rocky range that traverses the country along the coast. Another parallel range – the Anti-Lebanon Mountains – lies further to the east, separated by the high Bekka Valley plateau. In summer, the white limestone peaks shimmer in the light, while in winter they are covered in snow.
Local Time top
Lebanon local daylight savings time is GMT +03 hours in summer (approximately April to October); standard time is GMT +02 hours in winter. As elsewhere in the northern hemisphere, summer days are longer, lasting from 5 AM until 8 PM. Daylight hours in winter are from 6 AM to 5 PM.
Lebanon is a democratic republic, the constitution of which guarantees the separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers. The executive, or President, is elected every six years. A cabinet, at the head of which sits the Prime Minister, leads the parliamentary system of government.
Passport and Visas top
All visitors must be in possession of a passport valid for at least six months after the date of entry. Visas are required of all non-Lebanese travellers.
Nationals of Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Jordan are granted visas on arrival at the airport valid for three months.
Same for nationals of European Union, Commonwealth and Former Soviet Union countries, as well as China, Japan, South Korea, North America and many from the Caribbean and South America.
Nationals of non-GCC Arab countries (Algeria, Comoros Island, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen) are provided a visa at the airport only if they possess the following:
a roundtrip ticket,
a hotel reservation or residence address, and
US$2000 in cash or check form from a recognised bank.
All others must contact their Lebanese Embassy or Consulate for information about how/where to get a visa.
Tourism visas for one month are granted free of charge, renewable for up to three months.
Note: The Lebanese government refuses entry to holders of Israeli passports, holders of passports containing a visa for Israel, valid or expired, used or unused and passports with entry stamps to Israel.
Lebanon’s Mediterranean climate is characterized by mild, rainy winters and long sunny summers. Visitors can count on 300 rain-free days per year with a 100% chance of sun between June and October. Average annual rainfall is about 1,000 mm in Beirut, but it is much wetter in the mountains.
Winter cold and snow at higher elevations make warm clothes essential. While the lowest temperature on the coast during these months may be just 10ºC, it may be as low as -4ºC in the mountains.
Transportation and Driving top
Self-drive cars and cars with drivers can be hired from car rental companies. Taxis are also a reasonably priced choice (between 1,000 and 2,000 liras) for shorter trips.
Buses run between various destinations, but are neither prompt nor reliable. Mzaar can be reached from the Zouk Mosbeh bus stop about 12 kilometres north of Beirut. From there, a public bus travels up to the villages of Faraya or other Kfardebiane villages, from which a taxi can cover the rest of the distance.
Driving is definitely the most convenient way to get around the country. However with massive post-war reconstruction of the road network and roads saturated with cars (one for every three people), expect delays! Traffic jams are now the norm in and around Beirut. Beware of drivers who disregard signs and traffic lights! In the mountains, though, everything is different. Fewer cars, fresh air and wonderful scenery make for relaxing and fun motoring.
Lebanese Currency and Credit Cards top
The monetary unit of Lebanon is the lira. One US dollar is almost equal to 1,500 Lebanese liras (check current rates to make certain but the exchange rate has been stable for years). The whole economy was “dollarised” during the war, so most Lebanese calculate transactions in US dollars and most shops and restaurants, as well as all ski resorts, give and take US dollars as readily as they do Lebanese lira. Even the cellular phone system relies on dollars and cents when charging customers.
There are no controls on exchange transactions or the movement of currency. Any bank or exchange shop will exchange foreign currency, although there is no need to do so if you are carrying US dollars. ATMs tied into most international financial networks are plentiful.
Major establishments accept credit cards like American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa.
Adding small a small financial bonus for work well done is customary in Lebanon. In restaurants, it’s good practice to leave an additional 10% of the value of the bill. At hotels, think of thanking the concierge with an extra 5,000-10,000 Lebanese liras. Good guides deserve 15,000/30,000 liras from the whole group for a half/full day. For a taxi, you can also leave 5000 to 10000 liras depending on the trip length.
Working Hours top
- Government offices: 8 AM - 2 PM
- Banks: 8 AM - 3 PM
- Shops and other business: 9 AM - 5 PM or later for shopping malls
Electric Current top
The electrical current is predominantly 220 volts. Lebanese plugs also vary, divided between the UK-style three square pegs and mainland Europe’s two round pegs. It is wise to bring adaptors with you.
Dialling Details: When calling from outside the country, the country code for Lebanon is 961. From within the country, dial 00 before the country code for outgoing international calls.
Landlines: International direct dialling is possible through Lebanon’s own satellite stations.
Cellular/Mobile phones are readily available. A GSM 900 network is operated by both Alfa and MTC Touch. Visitors may buy a limited-validity GSM SIM card for their own unlocked cellular phone for about 100,000 Lebanese liras for the first month.
Internet access is principally provided by several IPSs through dial-up, wireless or ADSL. Internet cafes can be found in most major towns.
Fax: International dialling is possible. Most hotels will send faxes for a small fee.
Post: The newly privatized LibanPost has improved delivery services. Letters to Europe now take 2-4 days and to the USA between 4 and 7 days. Post offices are open Monday to Friday 8 AM – 5 PM and Saturday 8 AM – 1h30 PM. LibanPost has branches in several shopping malls which open daily from 10 AM till 10 PM.
Press: More than 30 daily newspapers published in Arabic, Armenian and French compete for readers. In addition, more than 100 publications appear on a weekly or monthly basis. The Daily Star and Beirut Times are the leading English dailies; the Monday Morning leads the pack of several English-language weeklies. The best-selling Arabic dailies are Al Anwar, Al Nahar, Al Liwaa, Al Safir, Al Akhbar, Al Balad and Al Dyar. For French, the most important dailies are L'Orient-Le Jour and Le Soir. Many major international newspapers and magazines are also available at bookshops.
Christianity and Islam, the two main religions, each account for about 40% of the population. Christians are divided into the Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Armenian and Protestant communities, while the Muslims are predominantly Shi'ite. The remaining 20% of the population is divided amongst other religions practice.
Given the large populations of Christians and Muslims, the holidays of both religions are celebrated. However, Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East to follow the Western-style Saturday-Sunday weekend, instead of the Friday-Saturday break common elsewhere in the region.
The consumption of alcohol is allowed. Beer, wine and other beverages are widely available in stores.
The Lebanese are able linguists. Although Arabic and French are the country’s official languages, English is also very widely spoken. In fact, the practice of all three languages is so common that Lebanese have a talent for mixing them all in one sentence: "Hi! Kifak? Ca va?" Armenian is also commonly heard.