Syria Travel Guide
Note: ALL travel to Syria is STRONGLY discouraged and nationals of all other states are strongly recommended to lead IMMEDIATELY
There is currently an ongoing terrible civil war between the government and rebel forces with major bombing campaigns, massive civil deaths and reported use of chemical weapons. The UN put the estimated death toll around 400,000 in 2016.
Also called ‘the cradle of civilization’, Syria has yet to fall victim to mass tourism and preserves plenty of relics documenting the rise and fall of different civilizations. Visitors will be rewarded with Mediterranean beaches, golden deserts, palm tree oases and a friendly and hospitable people offering endless cups of mint tea. Too bad it has a habit of peeving off certain countries by clandestinely backing certain groups involved in certain terrorsit activities.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Shopping in Damascus, tasty falafels, cheap beer, archaeological treasures, not too many tourists, sweet pastries, hospitable locals, year-round mild climate, Bedouin tents, mint tea, fine beaches, massages in public baths and gardens and orchards along the Euphrates River.
What’s Not: Expensive and slow visas, inconsiderate drivers, pesky street kids, men staring at unaccompanied women, men trying to chat up the former, local cigarettes going out when not puffing away, double pricing at tourist sites, the hot season and Middle East politics.
When to Go
The climate is Mediterranean with rainy winters and dry and hot summer.
The best times to go are March to May and September to November.
Near the coast, summers are warm and dry and winters are mild and wet.
In the plateau region, the weather is hotter and drier than the coast, while winters can be freezing.
In the desert, temperatures can be as hot as hell and rain is extremely rare.
Getting There & Away
The main airport is in Damascus and ferries from Mediterranean ports or trains from Turkey offer more leisurely means of arrival. A slow but punctual railway network serves many destinations, while domestic flights are also affordable. Buses are cheap and comfortable, but accidents occur frequently. Taxis are widely available but drivers are reluctant to switch on the meter.
Health & Safety
Note: ALL travel to Syria is STRONGLY discouraged and nationals of all other states are strongly recommended to lead IMMEDIATELY due to the ongoing civil war.
Syria is a safe country for travelers and crime is considered dishonorable with harsh penalties. Keep your political thoughts to yourself. ‘Traveler’s tummy’ is the most common health worry and may combine with the heat to cause severe dehydration. Tap water is usually okay to drink, but steer clear of raw vegetables.
Food & Hospitality
Welcoming and catering to strangers is a matter of honor in Syria, with never-ending offers of tiny cups of mint tea or strong coffee. Food is a blend of Mediterranean and Arab flavors with lots of meat, while falafel (chick pea patties) are a favorite with vegetarians. Hotels range from cheap and basic to five-star, and the latter are often fully booked during one of the frequent exhibitions.
One week is the least you can get away with to enjoy some of the highlights.
- Two or three days to see the capital and do some shopping.
- Two or three days in Aleppo, a trading center since Roman times, featuring covered souqs, citadels and museums.
- One or two days to visit Crac des Chevaliers, the archetypal crusader castle.
- One or two days to take in Palmyra, magnificent Roman ruins in the desert.
- Four or five days on the Mediterranean beaches.
- Two or three days Bosra, Syria’s first Islamic city with lots of ancient minarets.
- Two or three days in Deir ez Zor on the Euphrates River, chilling out on its lush banks.
Damascus: is a real gem, packed with dazzling Islamic architecture, a low-hassle souq, first-rate museums and fine eateries.
Bosra: boasts some of Islam’s oldest minarets and a superb Roman theater embedded in an Arab fortress.
Aleppo: claims to be the world’s oldest inhabited city with some fine World Heritage buildings.
Palmyra: is home to stunning Roman ruins in desert surroundings, watched over by an Arab fortress.
Hama: is mainly known for its immense ancient waterwheels and is an excellent base for travel to other interesting sights.
Crac des Chevaliers: is the world’s most famous crusader castle and a former stronghold of the Hospitallers during the days of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Biking: is excellent around Palmyra, the Dead Cities and Crac des Chevaliers, but look out for poor road surfaces and reckless drivers.
Trekking: is also great at the places mentioned above.
Camel riding: in Palmyra will have you on a desert ship in the blink of an eye.
Beach life: in Shaati al Azraq to fulfill your bathing needs, while Lattakia is an unusually tolerant and laid-back town.
Massages: in one of the well-preserved hammams, or public baths, will pummel you into oblivion.
Festivals & Events
Muslim festivals are timed according to local sightings of various phases of the moon and the dates given below are guidelines.
April: Spring Flower Festival in Hama is backed by the sound of colossal, gushing waterwheels.
April/May: Palmyra Festival with folk music, dancing and camel racing.
September/October: Ramadan is one of the most important annual events in terms of endurance and religious observation, and many businesses are closed during the day.
October: Eid al-Fitr breaks the fast of Ramadan and Damascus becomes an extravagant gala during this feast.