Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: When will it be safe to go back to the 'new' Libya
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Friday 21 December 2012
Q We were lucky enough to visit Libya for the total solar eclipse in 2006. We enjoyed the country, and meeting its people, and would like to return to experience the “new” Libya. When will it be safe and advisable to go back?
A Not for a few years yet. In many parts of the world, the bold tourist who returns to a country recovering from civil war is rewarded with insights and opportunities that later tourists do not enjoy. As a tourist, you also make a difference to the rebuilding of the country, contributing valuable foreign exchange and helping to create unemployment. I was lucky enough to travel to both El Salvador and Nicaragua in the early 1990s, and found them both safe and welcoming. But the conflict in Libya has been of a different character - with more intense fighting, more weaponry, and only a loose approximation to peace. I have taken advice from colleagues and contacts on the ground - and, with so many guns in the country, I would not be comfortable to visit at present - which is also the view of the Foreign Office. Just one passage from the current advice hints at the range of issues:
“There has been celebratory gunfire since the revolution and a number of fatalities as a result of rounds falling from the sky. This has reduced but in the event of celebratory gunfire you should stay indoors if possible. There are reports of large amounts of unexploded ordinance and landmines in and around the conflict zones. When driving, you should keep to the main roads.”
Even when the country is calmer, it will be some time before anything akin to normal tourism returns. The enterprises that previously ran inbound tourism tend to be associated with the Gaddafi regime, and have been displaced.
However, this is still an excellent time to visit North Africa. Libya's neighbour, Tunisia, was where the “Arab Spring” began two years ago. After a relatively brief and bloodless transfer of power, it was once again calm, and wide open for visitors. Indeed, many well-to-do Libyans moved their families to Tunisia to sit out the civil war. Because of the misconception among many travellers that Tunisia is dangerous, demand - and therefore prices - are lower than they should be, with fewer crowds than you might expect at the ruins of Carthage and in the marvellously revived Bardo Museum - home to some fabulous mosaics.
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