Libya's attractions are clear in the minds of most travelers, but so is its unrest and inconsistencies right now, which makes it a big gamble for anyone but adventurers with a big bank accounts.
Authorities in Libya are looking to reignite tourism following nearly two years of civil unrest.
The North African country, which is still off-limits to British travellers according to the Foreign Office, is among the more unusual destinations being showcased at the 2012 World Travel Market, a holiday trade show which opened at ExCeL London this morning.
The efforts have been fairly well received. In a survey of 1,300 tourism chiefs attending the conference, more than half believed Libya had the potential to become a popular tourist spot, with just one in 10 dismissing the idea entirely.
“Libya could be one of tourism’s most exciting destinations in the future,” said WTM director Simon Press. “Many destinations such as Vietnam and Croatia have repositioned from conflict zones to tourism hotspots, and there is no reason why, over time, Libya cannot do the same.”
The country is renowned for its ancient ruins, with those at Leptis Magna – one of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites found in the country – perhaps the best known. The former Roman city lies around 80 miles east of the modern day capital, Tripoli, and dates back to around 1100 BC. Other ruins can be found at Cyrene, close to the present day settlement of Shahhat, Apollonia, 12 miles to the southwest, and Sabratha, in the northwest corner of the country.
Tripoli, Libya’s capital, is known for its walled medina and relaxing old-world ambience, and is home to a number of grand mosques, statues and fountains.
Active travellers would be attracted to the Acacus Mountains, close to the Algerian border, known for their dunes, deep ravines and cave paintings, while the oasis towns of Ghadames and Ubari were common stops on tours of the country prior to last year’s Civil War.
Libya’s presence at the World Travel Market comes despite the fact that the Foreign Office currently advises against all but essential travel to the settlements of Zuwara, Az Zawiya, Tripoli, al Khums, Zlitan and Misrata, and the coastal towns from Ras Lanuf to the Egyptian Border, with the exception of Benghazi. It advises against all travel to all other areas of Libya, including Benghazi.
The warnings mean that travellers will struggle to find travel insurance if they do decide to visit the country. However, British Airways has already resumed flights to Tripoli.
Several operators, including Exodus, Intrepid, Abercrombie and Kent and Responsible Travel, have previously offered trips to Libya, usually including a sightseeing tour of Tripoli and a visit to Leptis Magna.
A spokesman for Intrepid said it was hopeful of restarting tours of the country if the Foreign Office relaxed its advice.
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Photo credit: Leptis Magna temple remains in northern Libya. Ben Sutherland / Flickr.com