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Lebanon

Getting there & away

You can travel to Lebanon by air, by land from Syria and, from May to October, by boat from Limassol in Cyprus.

Travel documents

Passport

Make sure you carry your passport at all times. Many Lebanese checkpoints require them.

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Sea

There is no regular public sea transportation from Lebanon. Boats connect Beirut to other countries but the majority are middle-market cruise ships operating during summer months only (mid-March to end of October). You may be able to get a passage with them. For more information and schedules contact Aeolus Travel (564 666; www.aeoloslb.com; Rue Pasteur, Rmeil; 8am-5pm Mon-Fri, 8.30am-1pm Sat). It's located opposite the Subaru car showroom.

The company works with Louis Cruise Lines, Salamis Lines, Silver Sea and Aida Cruises, which generally follow the route: Beirut-Limassol (Cyprus) -Greek Islands-Limassol-Beirut. It takes between nine and 12 hours from Beirut to Limassol and prices (usually for two-person packages) include a three-star cabin and full board. Discounts of between 10% and 50% are available either for advance or last-minute bookings. In the peak season (July to August) prices are highest. At present there are no boats to Italy, Egypt or Turkey (go first to Cyprus and change).

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Land

Border crossings

The only way into Lebanon by land is through Syria; the border with Israel is closed and will be for the foreseeable future. You can't get a visa for Syria in Lebanon, but you can at the border crossings. There is no departure tax when leaving by land.

Syria

There are four places in Lebanon where you can cross the border with Syria: at Masnaa (for Damascus), Abboudiye (for Aleppo), Al-Qaa (at the northern end of the Bekaa Valley) and Aarida (on the coastal road from Tripoli to Lattakia) which are open all year. Visas can be obtained at these Lebanese/Syrian border crossings.

Crossing the borders is pretty quick and painless; you'll need to fill out an entry and exit form for each country (taking about 10 minutes), hand over your yellow entry card (which you received on entering the country) and provide details of your accommodation in either country. Ensure you have a reservation at a hotel with the name and number at hand; they may well check. Otherwise you may be charged business visa rates.

If coming from Syria to Lebanon you deal with Lebanese border immigration (08-620 016/620 017; 1-month tourist/2-day business visa free, 15-day/1-month business visa LL25, 000/50, 000; 24hr). Note that payment can only be made in Lebanese pounds, and that immigration allows tourists to spend a maximum of four days in Syria on a single-entry visa (as opposed to multiple entry).

Crossing from Lebanon to Syria, Syrian border immigration (011-391 4029/391 4208; 24hr) issues a two-week tourist visa (but up to one month is permitted) for citizens of Australia and New Zealand (US$30), Ireland (US$50), France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands (US$52); Germany (US$28); and the US (US$16).

To/from Turkey

The Turkish embassy in Beirut will only issue visas to Lebanese nationals. However, Western nationals wanting to travel from Lebanon to Turkey will have no trouble obtaining a Turkish visa at the Syrian-Turkish border (or at Turkey's international airports). Depending on your nationality, they cost US$20 to US$45.

Bus & service taxi

Buses to Syria from Beirut leave from the Charles Helou bus station. Beirut Pullman Terminal office(573 322; 24hr) sells tickets. The buses aren't luxurious, but they're clean and have allocated (numbered) seats. Reservations are not necessary in winter, but in summer they're wise; book at least one day in advance.

For Syria, buses go to Damascus (LL7500, three to four hours, every hour from 6am to 8pm daily), Aleppo (Halab; LL11, 000, 6½ hours, every 30 minutes from 7am to 1.30am) and Lattakia (LL9000, four hours, three times a day at 10.30am, 2.30pm and 5.30pm). These services run every day of the week. For Turkey, buses travel to İstanbul (LL26, 000, 36 hours, 10.30pm daily), and for Egypt, to Cairo (LL60, 000, 24 hours, 3am Friday and Sunday). All buses go via Damascus and involve a change of bus in each country (on to local services).

A service taxi from Charles Helou will cost you US$10 to Damascus (2¼ hours) and US$12 to Aleppo (five hours). Don't worry about finding a seat in one of these - the Syrian drivers are famous for pouncing on potential customers the minute they enter the bus station! Service taxis also go to Amman in Jordan (US$25, five hours, 10 daily).

Tripoli (in northern Lebanon) also has an international bus service. Kotob(06-444 986) buses leave for Aleppo in Syria (LL7500, almost five hours, every hour from 9am to 1pm) and to Lattakia (LL7500, two hours, 3pm). They go to Damascus (LL10, 000, three hours) via Beirut on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Daily Transtour (06-445 514; Rue Mohammed Karameh, Tripoli) buses leave for Aleppo (LL8000, five hours, every 30 minutes) from 8.30am to 11pm via Homs (LL5000, 2½ hours). There are two Transtour services daily to Damascus (LL8000, 4½ hours), leaving at 5am and 3pm.

Kotob also go to Amman in Jordan (LL37, 500, five to seven hours). Transtour runs one daily bus at 11pm to İstanbul in Turkey (LL75, 000, 32 hours) as well as Sunday services (at 9am and 11pm) to about 10 other destinations in Turkey and Eastern Europe (ask at the office), a daily bus at 5am to Amman (LL38, 000, eight hours) and a bus every Sunday at 5am to Cairo, Egypt (LL98, 000, 32 to 36 hours).

Service taxis from Tripoli to Syria travel to Homs (LL7500), to Hama (LL9000) and to Aleppo (LL15, 000). They leave when full from Saahat et-Tall. Service taxis from Tripoli don't go to Damascus.

Car & motorcycle

If you're bringing your car into Lebanon, you must have an International Driving Permit and a carnet de passage . Note also that a steep charge (payable in cash) is levied for foreign-registered vehicles at the border (refundable on departure). There are petrol stations on both sides of the border (fill up in Syria by preference; it's cheaper) as well as quite good garages that can provide spares and repairs. At the time of writing, diesel vehicles were banned from entering Lebanon; check for the latest information with your embassy before setting off.

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Entering the destination

Entering Lebanon

Entering the country at the airport or border crossings is neither complicated nor bureaucratic. All that's required is a valid passport and a visa. You can't enter Lebanon if there is evidence in your passport of a visit to Israel.

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Air

Beirut International Airport (BEY; 01-628 000; www.beirutairport.gov.lb) is Lebanon's only airport. The national carrier, Middle East Airlines (MEA; in Beirut 01-622 225; www.mea.com.lb), has an extensive network including flying from Beirut to and from Australia, Europe and the Middle East. The airline has a pretty good safety record.

Several airlines have their offices in the Gefinor Center in Ras Beirut including MEA.

The following international airlines service Beirut:

Air France (airline code AF; in Beirut 01-200 700; www.airfrance.com) Hub: Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris.

British Airways (airline code BA; in Beirut 01-747 777; www.britishairways.com) Hub: Heathrow Airport, London.

Cyprus Airways (airline code CY; in Beirut 01-200 886; www.cyprusairways.com) Hub: Larnaca Airport, Larnaca.

EgyptAir (airline code MS; in Beirut 01-980 165; www.egyptair.com.eg) Hub: Cairo International Airport, Cairo.

Emirates (airline code EK; in Beirut 01-739 042; www.emirates.com) Hub: Dubai Airport, Dubai.

Gulf Air (airline code GF; in Beirut 01-323 332; www.gulfairco.com) Hub: Bahrain Airport, Bahrain.

Lufthansa (airline code LH; in Beirut 01-347 006; www.lufthansa.com) Hub: Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt.

Malaysia Airlines (airline code MH; in Beirut 01-741 344; www.mas.com.my) Hub: Sepang International, Kuala Lumpur.

Middle East Airlines (airline code ME; in Beirut 01-737 000; www.mea.com.lb) Hub: Beirut International Airport, Beirut.

Royal Jordanian Airline (airline code RJ; in Beirut 01-379 990; www.rja.com.jo) Hub: Queen Alia Airport, Amman.

Syrian Arab Airlines (airline code RB; in Beirut 01-375 632; www.syrian-airlines.com) Hub: Damascus Airport, Damascus.

Turkish Airlines (airline code TK; in Beirut 01-741 391; www.turkishairlines.com) Hub: Ataturk Airport, İstanbul.

Airline tickets bought in Lebanon are expensive. Examples of return flights (not including tax) to neighbouring countries: Amman (US$210), Cairo (US$246), İstanbul (US$185) and Larnaca in Cyprus (US$95). MEA does not fly currently to Baghdad (Iraq), Damascus (Syria), Tehran (Iran) and Tripoli (Libya).

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