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Lebanon

Getting around

There are no air services or trains operating within Lebanon, but the country is so small (you can drive from one end to the other in half a day) that you don't really need them. Additionally the bus, minibus and service taxi network is extensive, reasonably efficient and cheap.

Bus & tram

Bus

Buses travel between Beirut and all of Lebanon's major towns. There are three main bus pick-up and drop-off points in Beirut:

Charles Helou bus station Just east of downtown, for destinations north of Beirut (including Syria).

Cola transport hub In fact a bustling intersection. Generally serves the south, and the Bekaa Valley.

Dawra transport hub Lying east of Beirut and covering the same destinations as Charles Helou, it's usually a port of call in and out of the city.

Charles Helou is the only formal station and is divided into three signposted zones:

Zone A For buses to Syria.

Zone B For buses servicing Beirut (where the route starts or finishes at Charles Helou).

Zone C For express buses to Jounieh, Byblos and Tripoli.

Zones A and C have ticket offices where you can buy tickets for your journey. In the other stations (Cola and Dawra) ask any driver for your bus (if they don't find you first).

Some buses in Lebanon are poorly maintained and go too fast; accidents do happen. In general, however, they're reasonably safe, comfortable and reliable and are very cheap by Lebanese standards. The networks are extensive. There's just one class and bus passes are not available. A typical journey from Beirut to Tripoli (85km north of Beirut) costs LL2000, ie about LL24 a kilometre.

There's also a growing number of independently owned microbuses which cover the same routes but are slightly more expensive that the regular buses, but they're comfortable and frequent. Tickets are bought on the microbuses.

Bus

Some towns, including Beirut, have both government and privately owned buses that operate a hail and ride system. Fares are generally LL500 for all except the most distant destinations.

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Car & motorcycle

You should think carefully before deciding to drive in Lebanon.

Hire

Most of the big rental agencies are in Beirut. If you can afford one, a hired car is probably the best way to see some of Lebanon's most beautiful scenery. To reduce the cost, try and find a small group.

To hire a car in Lebanon, drivers must be over 21 years old (in some places, over 23), have been in possession of a licence for at least three years, have adequate insurance cover and own a credit card or have a large amount of cash (to cover the deposit). You can't take hired cars over the border to Syria.

Car hire starts at approximately US$25 to US$30 per day for a Renault Clio, rising to US$500 per day for a Porsche Boxer convertible. For car hire up to three days, there's a mileage limit of 150km per day; for three days or more it's usually unlimited. Drivers and guides both cost from US$20 per day extra (but note that you must pay for their accommodation, and food is expected).

In the low season and if hiring a car for five days or more, discounts of up to 40% are sometimes available. During the high season (15 June to 15 September, Christmas, Easter and the major Lebanese holidays) cars can be hard to come by; reserve at least two weeks in advance.

Car hire companies in Beirut, some of which have branches open 24 hours at the airport, include the following:

Avis (01-363 848; www.avis.com.lb; Kurban Tours, Phoenicia Intercontinental, Rue Fakhr ed-Dine, Minet el-Hosn, Beirut; 9am-6pm)

Budget Rent a Car (01-740 741; www.budget-rental.com; Dunes Shopping Center, Rue Verdun, Verdun, Beirut; 8am-6pm Mon-Sat)

City Car (01-803 308; www.citycar.com.lb; Al-Oraifi Bldg, Rue Kalaa, Ras Beirut; 8am-7pm Mon-Sat, 9am-noon Sun)

Europcar Ain al-Mreisse (01-363 636; www.lenacar.com; Nsouli Bldg, Rue Ain al-Mreisse, Ain al-Mreisse, Beirut; 9am-6pm Mon-Sat); airport branch (01-629 888; 24hr)

Insurance

Though prices may include insurance, you may still be liable for the first US$300 or more in case of damage; check. Though there's an option to pay for extra cover, even that probably won't save you much in the long run.

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Local transport

Taxi & service taxi

Taxis are usually elderly Mercedes with red licence plates and a taxi sign on the roof. For travellers considering day trips from Beirut, hiring them is not a bad option, as they are comfortable, solid in case of accidents and have seat belts, a rare thing in Lebanon.

Most routes around Lebanese towns and cities are covered by service taxis, or 'shared taxis'. You can hail them at any point on their route and also get out wherever you wish by saying 'anzil huun' (drop me off here). Be sure to ask 'servees?' before getting in as (if it's an empty car) the driver may try to charge you a private taxi fare.

The fixed fare for service taxis for routes around towns is generally LL1000, and to outlying parts LL2000. Outside towns, the fares range from LL2000 to LL8000, depending on the destination. Try to pay at the earliest opportunity during your trip and keep some LL1000 notes handy for this.

If you do want to engage the car as a private taxi, make sure the driver understands exactly where you want to go and negotiate the fare before you get in (fares are suggested in relevant sections). If you're planning several journeys, it may be cheaper to hire a car for a half or full day. You'll need to negotiate hard; expect to pay around US$50 for a whole day.

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Bicycle

Lebanon's steep terrain and the state of many urban roads demand a rugged, all-terrain-type bicycle. There are no designated bike lanes or routes and cars treat bicycles with contempt and derision. Beware of travelling in summer months, when heat exhaustion is a real danger. Other hazards and annoyances include the heavily congested roads and the pure anarchy on them.

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