I didn’t know many people who have visited Lebanon, yet alone solo female travelers. But this Mediterranean country has been on my mind for a long time, a missing puzzle in my Middle Eastern jigsaw.
Now, that Syria is off limits and I lost my chance to go there because of my unjustifiable fears I felt that Lebanon might be in a way what Syria could have been: hospitable people, incredible views and monuments and the most delicious food.
Couple of times before I was this close to booking a ticket and visiting Beirut but in the end I always chickened out. Last year solo trip to Iran gave me much needed confidence and I didn’t miss the next chance – as soon as I found a good offer on flights to Beirut I booked them right away. So what that I had to wait another 9 months for the trip itself.
Table of contents
Recent events in Lebanon
In the meantime the situation in Lebanon has changed, or at least that’s what we’ve heard in the media. Literally few days after I booked my flights to Beirut was shook by the garbage crisis that led to the revolution (that eventually didn’t change much but banned local people from the areas around the government buildings in downtown Beirut).
A day before the tragic Paris attacks ISIS hit Beirut too, just the media didn’t cover it as widely as they gave all the attention to Paris.
On top of that there was the ongoing refugee crisis where media reports focused mostly on Europe but every now and then we could hear that still the majority of people from Syria fled to Lebanon. In a country of 4.5 million inhabitants there are around 1.5 million refugees! This didn’t sound like the best place to travel to, did it?
My concerns before trip to Lebanon
I’m a planner. For most of the time when I go somewhere I try to at least book accommodation so I can be calm I have a place to sleep every night. Yet for some reason I postponed all the preparations for my trip to Lebanon till the last moment.
Even if I didn’t dare to say it out loud I was a little bit scared, all the bad news in the media made me feel uncertain about my trip. When I was telling people around that I’m going to Middle East again the majority just asked “is Lebanon safe?” and instead of being supporting they questioned my recent travel choice. Even my boss didn’t really want to give me days off for this trip and when he finally did he said, rather seriously, that if someone kidnaps me he will kick my ass. That was actually the nicest thing I’ve heard that day. But all these concerns made me even more worried, I only put on the brave face.
A week and a half before the trip I had really bad feelings and a mini panic attack. I even googled “is Lebanon safe” only to see the warning at the website of Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (as well as similar institution of other countries). All of them said “don’t go”.
I shared my concerns on my Facebook page and I was flooded with supporting messages. Finally I felt that someone is on my side and don’t think I’m crazy or stupid to travel to Lebanon! Some of you even offered to connect me with their friends there or asked around about safety in Lebanon.
That was the kick I really needed! On the next day I woke up knowing I will go to Lebanon, no matter what other say. It’s been my dream for way too long to lose it in such a silly way! And as it turned out it was the best decision ever!
Arriving to Lebanon
My flight landed in Beirut at 3am, a horrendous time to think properly. Yet I needed to stay focused so when asked by the border officer if I visited Israel I’d answer correctly. This is the question you can be sure of when entering Lebanon and so I kept repeating myself that no, I haven’t been to Israel.
The border officer, a guy more or less in my age, started flipping through my passport, asking about all my stamps and my solo travels. He couldn’t understand why I’m travelling on my own and asked few times an uncomfortable question if I need a friend in Lebanon. After realizing a second meaning of it and my firm “no” as an answer he finished with my visa procedure really quickly and eventually didn’t even asked me about Israel.
It was probably my weirdest border crossing but in the end I made it and I was ready to enjoy my one week in Lebanon!
As there was no point in going to the unknown city in the middle of the night I found a rather comfortable bench and napped till 8 in the morning. A short taxi ride later I was already at the entrance to my hostel in one of the coolest areas of Beirut – Gemmayzeh. The city seemed to be still recovering from the Saturday night fever and it was just so calm and quiet, it wasn’t Beirut I was about to experience in the next week!
After resting for a while I was ready to start discovering the city. I’m not going to lie, there was a voice in my head constantly asking is Lebanon safe and telling me to be super cautious. But as it quickly turned out there was nothing to worry about. At first sight Beirut was just a normal city, a hectic capital and a busy Middle East metropolis. The biggest danger was heavy traffic and unpredictable drivers!
Safety in downtown Beirut
Since my first day in Lebanon was 1st of May I stumbled across two political demonstrations in the downtown area. Normally I’d stay to look at the scene, after all it could have told me so much about the place I’m visiting. But a responsible part in me won and very sadly I turned around and walk away. I felt like so many people is keeping fingers crossed for me during this trip I promised myself I will stay away from any potential problems.
The downtown of Beirut has an interesting security solutions anyway. Everywhere around you can see police or army, patrolling the streets. While a lot of people might have problem with that I actually feel much safer then and so they didn’t bother me at all.
The very central area, with government buildings, is closed and barricaded anyway and if you want to get inside you need to enter at one of few checkpoints. After garbage crisis that led to protests in September 2015 this part of central Beirut is closed to many of the Lebanese people, the policeman who guards the checkpoint decides who can get in.
I also learnt the hard way that it is not allowed to take pictures of just about everything in downtown Beirut. While the closed area around the clock tower and the parliament building were ok (even if you were under the constant surveillance of military people) outside of this small quarter things got more complicated.
It happened to me few times in the places where I had thought I’m fine to take pictures that the military guys stopped me and said it is forbidden. I was always willing to cooperate, showing them the picture I took (of the buildings around) and it was always fine, I wasn’t asked to delete the picture even once. Eventually one of them explained me that it is forbidden to take pictures of any military objects and people, and with all those checkpoints around it wasn’t an easy task!
Safe (and not so much) areas of Beirut
The website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it is strongly advised against visiting southern suburbs of Beirut, that’s also where the cruel attack in November 2015 happened. Even if I didn’t plan to go anywhere near southern parts of the city this got me slightly worried. After all it is still one city and the airport is located somewhere there too.
But again, there was nothing to worry about. When you visit Beirut there will be no need to go to the southern suburbs. Even when you stay in the central areas there will be plenty to see and do, and most of all these will be safe parts of Beirut. I spent the majority of my time in Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhael, Achrafieh, Hamra and Downtown and it was all more than fine!
There wasn’t even one situation where I’d be in some kind of danger or when I felt unsafe (well, except of crossing the street of course ;)). The same goes for the epic nightlife in Beirut – most of the events happen in Gemmayzeh or Mar Mikhael, most of the bars and pubs are located there and you will be more than fine joining the evening crowds!
Safety in Lebanon outside of Beirut
My initial plan was to be based in Beirut and go to couple of day trips around: to Byblos, Tyre, Saidon or Baalbek. I was supposed to go with Viator Tours as these were the best deals I found online.
Unfortunately I had to change my plans, due to the health issues I’ve been dealing with I only went to Byblos, on my own. And it was really fine, local people were the nicest, taking care of me along the way so I would find my way around, go where I need to etc. And Byblos was pretty amazing!
Again, the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that it’s strongly advised against going close to the Syrian border, that includes cities of Baalbek and Tripoli. But then someone wise said that if tour companies go to potentially dangerous places (and they do run tours to Baalbek on daily basis) it can’t be that bad. After all safety of the customers is the most important for them.
I met numerous people in Lebanon, also girls travelling solo, who went to all the places I had in my plans. And they all said it was really fine, they felt safe for all the time. I only once heard of someone who knows someone who heard gun shots when visiting spectacular ruins of Baalbek. But the sound was coming from far away and no one around seemed to be bothered with that.
Solo female travel in Lebanon
And how is it to do a so called solo female travel in Lebanon?
Again, there was nothing extraordinary and besides the usual common sense and more modest clothing in certain areas it is like in every other place. I’ve visited more demanding/annoying destinations for solo travelers (Iran or Morocco, just to name few) and Lebanon was just normal. There’s really nothing to worry about! But remember, it’s Middle East, things can change very quickly!
Is Lebanon safe?
Even if I was really freaking out before my trip now my answer to the question “is Lebanon safe?” would be yes. Yes, but… It is a normal country where people, despite all the problems, somehow live and enjoy their lives (the nightlife scene and the number of cafes, galleries and people at the seaside just proves it) but with the current political situation and the global war against ISIS things might change very quickly.
If you plan a trip to Lebanon research the current situation there and if you can – get in touch with local people who live there, they will be your best source of information! And when you finally visit Lebanon I bet you will love it! After all it’s a wonderful country of hospitable people, the best food and incredible monuments that is worth all the effort!
Note: I visited Lebanon in May 2016 and all the opinions are based on this trip.
Did safety reasons stop you from travelling? Have you been to Middle East? Would you like to visit Lebanon?
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