Libya - Land of Shifting Sands

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Day 1: Arrive In Tripoli

You will be met on arrival at Tripoli airport and transferred to our hotel. The remainder of the day is free to explore on your own before meeting with the group for dinner and our orientation meeting. Overnight in Tripoli.

 

Day 2: Tripoli, Interactive Libya Museum and Sabratha

For thousands of years Tripoli was considered one of the most important commercial centers in the region because it is set in one of North Africa's best harbors. Tripoli was founded in approximately 500 BC by the Phoenicians, but since then, the Romans, Turks, Italians, Spanish and Arabs all have left their mark on the city. Today, it is the capital of Libya and is also a modern, cosmopolitan city known as "The White Bride of the Mediterranean".

This morning we go to Tripoli's interactive Libya Museum where touch-screen technology offers an excellent overview of Libya, past and present.

We will continue to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the ancient city of Sabratha, which was built in 600 BC and was a center of trade for the Romans. One of Sabratha's most impressive ruins is the theater; thought to have been constructed around 190 AD, it was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 365 AD. It was then reconstructed in the 1920's and houses a magnificent stage with floral carvings, marble slabs and various carved figures, including Hercules, Mercury, The Three Graces, and Nine Muses. We also see the Seaward Baths and their beautiful mosaics and the Temple of Isis. We visit the Mausoleum of Bes, which has been reconstructed and is thought to be Punic in origin.

Other sites that we visit in Sabratha include the Antonine Temple, the Judicial Basilica, the Forum, the Capitoleum, the Temple of Liber Pater, the Temple of Serapis and the Temple of Hercules. Overnight in Tripoli.

 

Day 3: Ghadames, Berber Granaries of Qasr Al-Haj and Nalut

Our travel today takes us west and south from Tripoli through the Jebel Nafusa (Western Mountains). In this Berber region, the spectacular landscape varies from rocky outcrops to agricultural land.

We stop at the ancient Berber grarary of Qasr Al-Haj, one of the best examples of ancient Berber architecture. We explore the ruins of the surrounding village before going inside the Qasr. The enclosure has 114 rooms, some of which are still in use today to store crops.

We continue on to Nalut for lunch. After lunch, we explore the Qasr of Nalut, another excellent example of a Berber Granary but very different in shape. This Qasr is no longer in use, but we can still explore the interior and see the Arabic inscriptions that cover the walls of the entrance tunnel and affords excellent views overlooking the coastal plain.

We then continue on to Ghadames, one of the most important caravan stops of the Sahara. Watch for free-ranging camels along the road! Overnight in Ghadames.

 

Day 4: Ghadames & Saharan Sunset

The oasis city of Ghadames is known as "The Jewel of the Sahara" and the ancient city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We go on a walking tour of one of the best preserved and largest of Libya's old cities.

Entering from the main gate of Bab al-Burr, we wander into the heart of the old city, passing through Jarasan Square, Tingazin Square, Intelewan Square and Ghazar Square before arriving into the main square. We visit the Atik Mosque, the oldest in Ghadames built in 666 AD. We have lunch in a traditional Ghadames home in the old city, before continuing our exploration to Ain al-Faras (Well of the Mare or House Fountain).

We also spend some time in the museum that houses artifacts from the Roman period and items from Ghadames past.

Late afternoon, we board 4x4 vehicles to travel out to Ras al-Ghoul (Mountain of Ghosts). There is an ancient fort here that is said to be haunted by the ghosts of Islamic soldiers who died here during a siege of the fort in 668 AD. From Ras al-Ghoul we can see Algeria and Tunisia. We take a camel ride out into the sand dunes to see the legendary sunsets in this area.

Before we return to Ghadames, we are treated to a cultural show of singing and dancing in the desert. Travel back to Ghadames for a wonderful Libyan meal. Overnight in Ghadames.

 

Day 5: Ghadames to Sabha

We have a full day's drive south through the incredible scenery of the Sahara, the land of the Tuareg people. We will stop for lunch at Ash-Shwareef or Al Quaryat before arriving into Sabha, the largest town in the area and the beginning point of our desert adventure. Overnight in Sabha.

 

Day 6: Desert Camping Adventure, Adhan Murzak Sand Sea

Today we have our first taste of the Libyan Sahara as we drive to Idhan Murzak Sand Sea. We will arrive late afternoon, in time to set up our campsite before dark, which comes early in this area. Overnight camping in the Adhan Mrzak Sand Sea.

A note on Desert Camping: (Days 6-7)

We will be camping in the desert for the next two nights. This type of camping experience is known as "wild camping", which means that there are no facilities. (i.e. toilet tent and no shower).

We will provide bottled water for drinking, tooth brushing and face-washing. All camping equipment (tents, cooking equipment and a sleeping bag and mat are provided, you will want to bring a sleeping sheet). Travelers will need to help erect their tents. This is not a mosquito area; therefore, mosquito nets are not required. This is real desert camping and literally smack dab in the "middle of nowhere", the best way to experience the true Sahara!

 

Day 7: Wadi Methkandoush

The otherworldly landscape of the Libyan Sahara provides a perfect gallery for viewing one of the finest collections of pre-historic rock carvings in the world.

Wadi Methkandoush lies along the southern side of the Msak Settafet. It has one of the richest concentrations of pre-historic rock carvings in the world. Most of the carvings in the soft sandstone date back at least 12,000 years, making this one of the oldest rock art sites in Libya.

We spend today exploring this open-air gallery of petroglyphs by foot and vehicle. The area has hundreds of carvings of elephants, hippos, giraffe, cattle and birds and the rock art in this area is thought to have begun around 10,000 BC. We have plenty of time to see this truly amazing and ancient art form. We camp overnight tonight in the Bourgosh Sand Dunes.

 

Day 8: Ancient Garama and Germa

We begin our explorations today in the ancient city of the Garamantians, built around the 1st century AD. Ancient Garama is one of the most important archaeological sites in all of Libya. The Garamantian Civilization from 900 BC to 500 AD was the dominant culture of the region and Ancient Garama was the capital.

We visit the initial settlement of Zinchecra, up in the hills, which became one of the area's main burial sites. Below the hills was the newer city called Old Garama, which was much larger and an active, dynamic city.

We continue on to Germa to see the town and visit its museum. Overnight in Germa in huts.

 

Day 9: Ubari Lakes, Return to Tripoli

We head off this morning to the Ubari Lakes, located in the Ubari Sand Sea. Libyans claim this region to be the most charming area in the world and time spent at the lakes is a highlight of any Sahara experience. The lakes themselves are surrounded by sand dunes, reed and palm trees, making the settings wonderful places to swim and relax. The lakes also have a very high salt content, almost as high as the Dead Sea!

We first visit Gebraoun Lake, the largest of the lakes. After a short time to explore, we go to the ruins of the old town of Gebraoun for a quick look, before continuing on to the most picturesque of the lakes, Umm Al-Maa.

Umm Al-Maa translates to "Mother of Water" and we have a picnic lunch here and more time to swim and relax. Later in the afternoon, we fly back to Tripoli to arrive for a late dinner. Overnight in Tripoli.

 

Day 10: Tripoli Old Town Sights and National Museum

This morning, we visit the National (Jamahiriya) Museum, arguably one of the best museums in Africa and not to be missed. The museum has 47 galleries on five levels and holds one of the best collections of classical art and is a wonderful review of Libyan history as well. Following the museum, we take a walking tour of the old city (medina). We see a number of Souqs, including the Souq al-Mushir, the Souq al-Ghizdir, the Souq al-Turk and the Souq al-Rabaa. We see the Ottoman Clock Tower, which was built in the 19th century and was once part of the gates to the old city. We visit the Arch of Marcus Aurelius, built in 163 AD and the largest mosque in the medina, the Ahmed Pasha Karamanli.

We also see the Gurgi Mosque and the Othman Pasha Mosque. We pay a visit to Sharia Al-Rashid, one of the most colorful markets in Tripoli, where, if you can carry it, it is probably for sale! Overnight in Tripoli.

 

Day 11: Tripoli to Benghazi and Tolmeita

A morning flight takes us from Tripoli to Benghazi. Upon arrival we travel to Tolmeita (Ptolemais) which was founded in the 3rd century BC and was originally a trading center. During the 3rd century AD, it was the capital of the region. Tolmeita is an excellent place to observe the transition of the area from Greek to Roman rule. We see the Byzantine Church, Villa of the Four Seasons (the mosaic from the villa is now in the museum), the Odeon Theatre and the Villa of the Columns. We also see the Western Basilica, the palace, theatre and underground cisterns that are the largest in Northern Africa. We also pay a visit to the museum before we continue to the Cyrene region for four nights. Overnight in Al-Bayda.

 

Day 12: Apollonia & Ras al-Hillal

This morning, we tour Apollonia "the city of churches". Established in the 7th century BC, Apollonia was the port of Cyrene and remained so for more than a millennium. Its importance was such that it remained autonomous of Cyrene during the Roman period and even surpassed it as the major city of the region in the 6th century AD. We see the five Byzantine churches, the Roman and Byzantine baths, the Byzantine Duke's Palace (one of the largest in the area), and the remains of the Greek theater.

We then drive east along the coast, making our first stop at Kaf Hawafte, the largest cave in North Africa. We stop for a climb to the entrance and a quick look before continuing on to Ras al-Hillal, in the Jebel Akhdar Mountains.

We have a picnic lunch at Latrun, the site of an ancient Greek cemetery and ruins of a church. The scenery in this area is stunning with the mountains over-looking the Bay of Ras al-Hillal. This afternoon, there is time to explore the beach and town of Ras al-Hillal. Overnight in Al-Bayda.

 

Day 13: The Ancient Greek City of Cyrene

We set off this morning to spend the whole day exploring the most important ancient Greek city in North Africa, Cyrene. The city was founded in the 7th century BC by immigrants from the island of Thera in the Aegean Sea. In 332 BC, it was taken over by Greek General Ptolemy I and his dynasty. In 96 BC the Romans took over Cyrenaica and it became a Roman province 18 years later. Cyrenaica's turbulent existence continued: in 115 AD there was a Jewish revolt that destroyed most of the city. After rebuilding by Emperor Hadrian, Cyrene prospered until the earthquake of 365 AD and yet again, the city was rebuilt.

Today, Cyrene is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ancient city remains are on a number of levels and we begin with one of the highlights, the Temple of Zeus, which is currently being restored. We wander in the Sanctuary of Apollo, which holds the Temple of Apollo, the Sacred Fountain, and the Fountain of Apollo.

In the Agora, we see the Capitoleum, the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore where there are statues representing the goddesses of fertility, the Tomb of Battus and the Naval Monument. During our exploration of Cyrene we also take in the Acropolis, the Forum, the House of Jason Magus, The Nine Muses and the Necropolis. After a full day, we return to Al-Bayda for dinner. Overnight in Al-Bayda.

 

Day 14: Tobruk and World War II History

We learn about Libya's more recent history today as we travel to Tobruk, the site of important World War II battles. One of the finest seaports on the coast as well as a trade and transportation center, Tobruk was considered a very important strategic military location which was captured by the Italians in 1911.

During World War II, it was captured by the Australians (The Rats of Tobruk) and then was besieged and bombed by the Germans under Erwin Rommel, until relieved by the British in December. It fell to the Germans in June 1942, but was recaptured by the British in November in an offensive launched from Al 'Alamayn.

We visit the World War II cemeteries including The Knightsbridge, Commonwealth, French cemeteries and the German memorial. We see the location of the Australian Fig Tree Hospital and a square in town that holds Rommel's Operations Room, a small tank, cannon and anti-ship gun. Overnight in Al-Bayda.

 

Day 15: To Benghazi via Slonta & Qasr Libya

Enroute back to Benghazi we first visit Slonta, site of a mysterious pre-Islamic funerary temple with carvings of strange animal and human-like figures. There is nothing known about the cult or their origins.

We also visit the museum and site of the fort and church in Qasr Libya.

We continue to Qasr, Libya where the site of a 6th century AD Byzantine fort and church is located which houses one of the best collections of mosaics in Libya. A floor of 50 mosaic panels was discovered by Libyan dam workers in 1957. The museum now houses the collection, which includes depictions of the River Gods Geon, Physon, Euphrates and Tigres, as well as the nymph Kastelia of Delphi. Panel # 48 depicts the Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. One of the panels notes, by Byzantine inscription, that the tiles were laid in 339 AD.

On arrival back in Benghazi, we take a walking tour of the second largest city in Libya, starting in Freedom Square in the old city. In the square we see the Great Mosque and the Old Town Hall. Other sights included the Osman Mosque and the Souq al-Jreed. We also have the opportunity to visit a local artist who makes masks from palm trees. Overnight in Benghazi.

 

Day 16: Fly to Tripoli

We fly from Benghazi to Tripoli this morning. After lunch with the group, there is time to explore Tripoli on your own before meeting up with the group for dinner. Overnight in Tripoli.

 

Day 17: Ancient Roman City of Leptis Magna

One of the most extensive and best-preserved Roman cities in the world, Leptis Magna was probably founded in the 6th century BC by the Phoenicians. The city achieved greatness under Roman rule, especially under the control of Septimus Severus (193-211 AD), who was born there.

After the assassination of Alexander Severus in 235 AD, the city faltered, despite a period of rebuilding between 284 and 305 AD and again under Constantine in 306 to 337 AD.

In the 5th century AD, Emperor Justinian reclaimed the city for Byzantium after it was conquered by The Vandals. After being conquered once again, this time by the Arabs in the 7th century, the city never recovered its former magnificence. Recent restoration at the sites allows us to see what a fantastic city Leptis Magna was at the height of its glory.

We spend the day exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site, seeing the Severan Arch, the Hadrianic Baths (the frigidarium, tepidarium and the calidarium), the Temple of Nymphs, the Forum, the Basilica, the Hunting Baths, the Amphitheater, the Circus and the Market.

On the way back to Tripoli, we visit Villa Sileen. Villa Sileen was a private home that is also being restored; it gives us a good insight into how the upper class lived. There are many beautiful mosaics and frescoes throughout the building. After a day of Roman Cities we will have our farewell dinner. Overnight in Tripoli.

 

Day 18: Depart Tripoli

Transfer to Tripoli Airport for your departure flight.

Travelers information for Libya
Tourism is just in the infancy stages in Libya, therefore this adventure is for travelers who enjoy the unexpected and are flexible. Things will not always run as planned and the trip may need to be adjusted due to unforeseen circumstances, i.e., a sand dune now covers the road! Away from the major centers, roads can be bumpy, and drives can be long. Due to the many wonderful historical sights, this itinerary is very active (full of sightseeing and adventures) therefore there is not a lot of "down-time". This trip is offered to true adventurers who want to explore all that Libya has to offer.

Please note that a visa for travel to Libya will not be issued by the Libyan Government for anyone traveling on an Israeli passport or who has an Israeli stamp in his or her passport.

 
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