August 4, 2008 · Print This Article
When is the best time to visit Syria?
- The best time to visit Syria is spring or autumn, as the temperature is in the mild mid 20s. Winter is too cold and Summer is probably too hot for all but the most hardy traveler, add to that frequent electricity and water shortages during the hot summer months.
Is it safe to travel to Syria? Is there terrorism? What about violence and crime?
- Unfortunately, this question is asked quite a lot, and it’s quite understandable given the biased and negative way Syria is portrayed in most western media. Whether by design or ignorance, this negative image is as far from reality as you can get. Anyone who has visited Syria can attest to the fact that Syria has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Robbery is a rarity, muggings are unheard of, and violent crime in general is very rare. In fact, the reality is that there has NEVER been a terrorist attack against tourists in Syria. No tourist has ever been kidnapped or killed, EVER. People can, and do, walk around at 3 am without fear. In all likelihood, Syria is probably a lot safer than where you live.
Is the food safe to eat? Is the tap water safe to drink?
- Generally speaking, if you’re on a short trip, try to avoid eating out and stick to canned food as much as possible. The only exception is if you’re invited to somebody’s house, the food then is safe as long as you don’t over eat, Syrian food is notoriously heavy on the digestion.
If your trip is more than a couple of days, canned food may not be an appealing option, in which case stick to eating at the best restaurants you can find. Those can usually be found at high end neighborhoods in big cities, or at 4-5 star hotels. As a general rule of thumb, if the place doesn’t look appealing then don’t eat there, and remember never ever buy any food or drink off a cart or a street vendor, no matter how appealing or exotic it looks.
As for tap water, yes it’s safe to drink, but I would recommend sticking to bottled water which is readily available and cheap. If you’re not used to Syrian tap water it might give you a stomach upset.
Ignore this advise at your own risk, at best you’ll get the runs, and at worse food poisoning or even hepatitis, oh and you’ll also ruin your whole trip.
What’s the dress code? What is considered acceptable attire? Are shorts acceptable?
- Depends on where you are in Syria. In more liberal cities, or those that are used to a large number of tourists, (Damascus, Aleppo, Lattakia, Tartus) you can pretty much wear what you want, including shorts and tank tops, but generally speaking, tourists are afforded a higher degree of acceptance when it comes to clothing. Obviously, when entering places of worship, you have to be modestly dressed, that would mean long trousers and avoiding tank tops or anything see through. Women may also be required to cover their hair at some mosques.
It might also be a good idea to avoid wearing shorts if you are entering a government building as you maybe turned away. Swimwear and bikinis are to be worn only in hotel swimming pools or beach resorts (not public beaches).
Is there a shortage of water or electricity or other essential items?
- There is no shortage of basic items, necessities or essentials. Super markets are abundant, and you can usually find whatever you want there.
During the hot summer months, the electricity maybe cut for a couple of hours a day, and the water supply will only be on at certain hours. However, this is dependent on which part of Syria you’re in, and in any case most hotels have backup generators and extra water tanks.
Is there readily available internet access? What about mobile phones and long distance calls?
- Internet access is readily available in most parts of Syria via prepaid internet cards, or at hotels and internet cafes. Long distance phone calls can be made from most hotels, as well as any branch of the post office. You can obtain a Syria prepaid mobile phone sim for around 60 U.S $, which allows you to make international calls too.
What’s the transportation like? Are there taxis or buses? Can I rent a car?
- Transportation isn’t an issue in Syria, you can get to wherever you want pretty easily and cheaply. Inside cities, there is an abundance of taxis which will take you just about anywhere (including other cities). There is no need to haggle as taxis are required to have their fare meter running, but just in case you get into a taxi which doesn’t, inter city fares range between 25 to 100 lira ( 0.5 to 2 U.S $). If however you wish to take a taxi to another city, or a destination outside town, then you’ll need to haggle. This shouldn’t be your first option though, as buses are plentiful and travel to all destinations in Syria for a fee of around 200 lira ( 4 U.S $).
You can rent a car at the airport or at high end hotels, but I would strongly advise against it. Driving in Syria is very difficult and sometimes chaotic, and most of the road signs are in Arabic only.
What currency should I bring with me? Can I use my Visa or MasterCard? are there ATMs?
- You should bring U.S dollars with you, and convert them to Syrian pounds in smallish sums as the need arises. One U.S dollar is around 46 Syrian Lira. Click here for updated exchange rates.
usually Foreign tourists are required to pay certain fees in U.S dollars (eg: at borders, airports, museums, entry fees to historic sites) and most hotels will require you to pay in U.S dollars too. For most day to day expenses and shopping however, you need to use Syrian Lira. Some shops and businesses might refuse to accept foreign currency outright, or may accept it at an unfavorable exchange rate and may not return your change!
High end shops, hotels and restaurants will accept Visa and MasterCard, but the majority do not, so it’s cash only for the most part. ATMs are available in all major cities, but you need to check with your bank first to see whether you will be able to make withdrawals.
Is accommodation hard to find? Is it expensive?
- Hotels are quite numerous in major cities, and you probably won’t have much trouble booking a room, but sometimes during high season rooms can become scarce so it’s better to book in advance.
Click here for a list of hotels in Syria.
4 and 5 star hotels are very expensive, and I believe they would be outside most people’s budgets unless you’re traveling in a tour group and getting discount rates. On the other end of the scale, 2 or 1 star hotels are really cheap ( around 15 U.S $ a night or less) but they leave much to be desired in terms of service and hygiene. Your best bet would be to try to book at a 3 star hotel, as they usually offer a good balance between reasonable prices and decent quality.
- Is it acceptable to drink alcohol? What about drug use?
- Drug use is strictly prohibited in Syria, and carries very stiff penalties for usage or possession, and no distinction is made between “hard” or “soft” drugs”. If you’re carrying pot, weed, hash or marijuana for medical use or otherwise, do not attempt to enter Syria.
Drinking Alcohol in public is unacceptable (and sometimes illegal) except in tourist resorts like Lattakia. In all other cities, you may drink alcohol at the resturants or bars that serve it, as well as in private in your hotel room. You may bring alcohol with you to Syria, but maybe required to pay duty tax.