People often have many reservations about traveling to Syria. They wonder: is Syria safe now? It might sound strange to some people, but this Middle-Eastern country is ready to receive foreign tourists once again.
Syria re-opened at the beginning of October 2021 for tourists once again after been closed for 18 months, due to COVID. The process to get a Syrian tourist visa takes around 15 days and you are still required to have a local guide.
A fantastic country with one of the richest histories in the world. I was one of the very first tourists to visit in 2017. Here’s your complete guide to how you can travel to Syria as a tourist.
- Syria Tourism
- Travel to Syria from Lebanon and Jordan
- Can You Fly to Syria? Latakia Airport & More
- Getting Around Syria
- Where to Stay in Damascus, Syria
- Is Damascus Safe?
- Tourists Sites Destroyed Because of Syrian Civil War
- Syria’s Economic Collapse in 2020
- Final Thoughts on Tourism in Syria
Syria is one of the most historical destinations in the world and one of the most popular travel destinations in the Middle East, with 8.5 million foreign tourists visiting Syria back in 2010, just one year before the civil war broke out in March 2011.
In comparison, 6.6 million tourists visited the Philippines in 2017.
Since late 2018, western tourists can once again cross the border to Syria from Lebanon or Jordan to discover one of the friendliest and most beautiful places in the Middle East.
Yes, I know this is very hard to believe. But you should go and see for yourself.
The Syria tourist visa is now straightforward to obtain, but you are required to have book a tour through an official Syrian Travel Agency, and you are required to have a guide with you all the time.
When I visited Damascus in October 2017 and again got the visa in April 2018. The visa process was a pain. It usually took 10-12 weeks, but a lot of things have changed since then.
Since November 2018, most people can get a visa in less than a week and often in less than 72 hours.
And you don’t even need to visit a Syrian Embassy; you just need to send a copy of your passport to a Government Licensed travel Agency, and they will take care of the rest.
The visa process still takes a bit longer for citizens from the USA, Philippines, India, Thailand, Afghanistan, and some African countries.
After a few western tourists didn’t follow the rules over the last few years, so now everyone is required to book a tour to Syria.
Any Syrian tour agency giving a tourist visa without a tour guide now will be closed down.
Every tourist has to get through security clearance to be able to get a tourist visa, which takes 2-5 days.
The easiest way to get a visa is to go to a Travel Agency that is licensed by the local government in Syria to handle and to get your Visa Application Approved.
The Current price charged is $270 – $550 by the travel agency, be aware that you also will have to pay a visa fee at the border and that the visa fee is different from nationality to nationality.
Most Europeans pay $300, the British pay $500, and Americans pay $550.
You can enter Syria at any official border and at Damascus airport when the papers are ready.
Currently, there are only three land borders that are open for foreigners: the border close to Damascus and one close to Krak des Chevaliers with Tripoli in Lebanon.
The land border with Jordan is also open for foreigners.
There are currently NO open borders between Iraq and Syria, and the occupied Kurdish parts are also not accessible for foreigners.
An Israel stamp in your passport or proof of visit to Israel will get you denied entry to Syria.
Despite different rumours online on various travel forums and Facebook groups, you are NOT able to buy the visa at the border unless your Security Permission is approved and you are registered in the system of the Immigration Department.
This Is what the local Travel Agency will arrange for you and take care of.
Visa Fee for international tourists at the border to Syria:
- USA $150
- Australians and New Zealand is $130
- European passport holders pay $72
- South American countries $20-$40
- China $20
- Hong Kong $75
- Japan $30
- Thailand $35
- Canada $90
- Malaysia Free
The border crossing and immigration are very smooth and easy when your papers are ready, and it takes no longer to cross than other borders in the Middle East. The border is open 24/7.
Depending on the number of people in the queue, but it shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes of processing.
The immigration counter furthest to the right is the one for foreigners.
You will have to pay the visa fee in the window to the backside of the big immigration room.
You also has to pay 2500 Syrian pounds for exit tax you will have to pay when departing Syria.
A person you can contact are: (You don’t need to contact both, it’s two different travel agencies) Tell them Christian from Norway sent you:)
Ayoub from Marrota Travel; [email protected] +963954840021 WhatsApp.
Sawsan Joumaa +963933753839 WhatsApp.
I do not recommend people to use Basel / The Travel King to arrange their trip to Syria.
There have been many reports of him scamming people.
When your application is approved, will you have three months to enter the country.
The visa is just a small stamp in your passport and is valid for 10/15days.
Just be aware that a Syrian stamp in your passport will make you no eligible for the American Visa waiver program for five years, and you might get questioned in some countries when entering; I’ve personally been questioned by the Immigration in both Dubai and Oman because of the Syrian visa in my passport.
Travel to Syria from Lebanon and Jordan
Depending on your budget, so are the different options available on travel from Syria.
Driving Through Syria From Lebanon
A private taxi from Beirut airport to Damascus costs $100.
A shared taxi from Beirut to Damascus costs $20-$35, be sure to agree on the price before leaving!
There are different shared Taxi Services in Beirut that you can use, VIP Taxi, Allo Taxi (which has an online booking). They offer pick-up service all over Beirut; get your hotel to call them if you are staying in Beirut before going to Syria.
There’s currently NO bus service between the two countries. But for the cheapest shared taxis, head to Charles Helou bus station (It’s the big one under the overpass road in Beirut).
Shared taxis from there to Damascus are cheaper than VIP Taxi and Allo Taxi but not as comfortable as the two.
A local shared taxi costs %20 and leaves Charles Helou bus station whenever it’s full, shouldn’t take more than 30min.
If you want to save money, can you take a local bus from Beirut to Majdal Anjar, the last town before Syria, It should cost you $1-$2. There are also some old Roman Ruins in Majdal Anjar.
A shared taxi from Majdal Anjar to Damascus should cost you less than $10.
The drive from Beirut to Damascus is 116KM/72Miles, and takes 2hour to 4hours, heavily depending on the notorious traffic jams when leaving Beirut.
If going from Tripoli in northern Lebanon to Tartous, will it take you 2-3 hours. $10 for a shared taxi.
The tour company you arrange your tour with can also arrange a private driver to pick you up in Beirut or Tripoli.
Jordan To Syria overland
The Jaber Border Crossing between Jordan and Syria is open from 7 am to 15.00 every day.
And it can get very crowded, especially on Mondays and Sundays.
From Amman, there is a daily bus from Abdali Terminal with Jett Bus to Damascus.
From Amman to the border is only 1hour and 15min. And from the border to Damascus is around 2 hours.
Be aware that your Syrian tour guide will have to pick you up at the Syrian side of the border once you are through immigration and have entered the country and be with you until you leave the country again.
Can You Fly to Syria? Latakia Airport & More
The connection to Damascus International Airport (DAM) is currently not very good from outside the Middle East, but it’s improving.
Just be aware the Israeli Airforce is occasionally bombing Damascus airport; the last time it happened was the 15 September 2018, so the airport sometimes has to shut down for a short time.
Flights to Syria
Currently, these are the flights to Damascus International Airport that are operating:
Cham Wings Airlines flies from Damascus to Amman (Jordan), Sharjah (UEA), Moscow (Russia), Kuwait, Muscat(Oman), Erbil (Iraq Kurdistan), Yerevan (Armenia), Beirut (Lebanon), Baghdad, Basra, Najaf (Iraq), Khartoum (Sudan) and Tehran (Iran).
Syrian Air: flies from Damascus too: Dubai (UEA), Kuwait, Doha (Qatar), Cairo, Algiers (Algeria), and more destinations getting added.
UPDATE December 2020. There are now 3 international airports working in the country
Aleppo international airport reopened 21 December 2020 with weekly flights to Beirut, Ebril, and Cairo.
Latakia International Airport has also reopened with flights to Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Damascus, Dubai–International, Kuwait, Sharjah.
Getting Around Syria
Since you are required to have a local tour guide to travel around the Syrian government-controlled parts of the country.
So are transportation included in the tour package you will have to book before you are allowed to visit.
In some parts of Syria, you will have to get a permit which takes +/- 5 days; Maaloula is one of the places that require a permit.
Same with the Roman ruins at Palmyra and far eastern Syria.
But things change fast in Syria. Places can be open one day, then closed the next day, depending on the security situation.
And, of course, are the front line around Idlib off-limit, it’s also there still ongoing cleaning operation from the Syrian Army against ISIS around Swedia and the desert close to Palmyra.
There are still a lot of military checkpoints around Syria, so it will take time to travel around.
Money in Syria
There are currently NO ATM/Cash Machines in Syria working with foreign bank cards; this is because of Americans and European sanctions against Syria.
So you will have to bring hard cash with you when you visit Syria. Everything in the country will you have to pay in cash. Euro and USD is the currency to take. I exchanged all my Euro for Syrian Pounds at the hotels I stayed at.
Most ATMs/cash machines in Beirut and Lebanon has a USD withdrawal option.
Just be aware that exchange shops cant exchange back USD / EURO for your Syrian Pounds, So be sure not to exchange too much the days before leaving.
All hotels accept payments in USD/EURO.
The exchange rate changes almost daily, but around 450 Syrian Pounds for $1 And 550 Syrian Pound for Euro was about “normal” when I visited in 2017, now in 2020, the Syrian pound has collapsed, and $1 is around 3400 Syrian Pounds.
Prices have increased quite a lot since my visit to Syria in October 2017 to now in late 2018. The price for most of the hotels has increased by almost 30% in one year.
ETC. The hotel I stayed in 2017 charged $75 a night with breakfast; now it’s $135 for the same.
Getting Online In Syria
Most hotels and higher-end restaurants and coffee shops/bars have free WIFI, while the connection is not super fast, so have the speed and stability increased a lot over the last year.
If you want to buy a local Simcard will you have to visit a proper MTN or Syriatel office (the small shops on almost every corner cannot sell you), ask your hotel where the closest one is located.
Bring your passport.
The price is $8 for a local sim card with 5 GB data of data. All the small local phone shops can recharge.
Where to Stay in Damascus, Syria
Like I mentioned back in my post in 2017, so where most of the hotels were already up and running back then.
Now a year later, even are more hotels are up and running, you will be surprised by how many foreign tourists you will see in Syria and 2020. It’s actually not rare that the most popular hotels get fully booked these days.
The is hotels for every budget in every city.
Damascus: You want to stay around Bab Toma, the old part of Damascus.
If you are staying in other parts of the town, a taxi will cost you $1-$2 around the city, no meters, agree on the price before going.
Beit Al Wali is the best hotel in the old city of Damascus; It is a beautiful five* hotel in a traditional building in Bab Toma, the old part of Damascus.
I’ve stayed here four times here myself during April – October, the best season for Syria. This is the hotel every foreign that was visiting Syria during the middle of the war was staying in; it was not rare to see famous western journalists here.
The price is $125-145 a night, with a great breakfast buffet. I can not recommend this hotel well enough.
This is one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in anywhere in the world, and I stayed here the first time when the war was less than 3KM away. The staff here is fantastic.
The bar street is less than 5min walk away. You will be surprised that the nightlife in Damascus is as good as anywhere in Europe, and this bar street did never shut down during the war, even when rockets were falling down less than 1km away!
Hotel Al Majed is a cheaper option right outside Bab Toma. A popular budget option. $$33 for a double room.
A bit outdated. But a great choice, there are more hotels on the same street with similar prices.
You can try the spots below in Aleppo.
Park Hotel: located in the middle of the city center on Baghdad Station Street, a bit run down but a good option.
I’ve stayed here in October 2017 and again in late 2018. Around $70 a night,
Other travels are recommending: Riga Hotel for $100 a night.
Junada Hotel, one of the biggest hostels in Syria. I stayed here in October 2017. Private beach, numerous restaurants. $145 a night.
Travelers are reporting that Hotel Cleopatra on Althoura street is an excellent option for $20 a night.
Is Damascus Safe?
One of the most frequently asked questions is “Is Syria safe to visit?”. Many people wonder is it safe to travel to Syria because the war has now been raging for more than nine years.
Most parts of Syria today are completely safe to visit, especially the capital Damascus, and Aleppo is just as safe as big European cities.
Don’t believe me? Go on traveling forums and Facebook groups and read the daily reports from other western travelers visiting Syria these days.
But there are a few things you should absolutely not do while traveling in Syria now. But you should always check the latest travel advice and the current security situation in Syria before you decide to travel.
Do NOT TAKE Photos of any Military bases, checkpoints, Soldiers, etc. this includes Russian, Iranians, and Hezbollah.
While the situation is improving daily, so are soldiers very suspicious of foreign spies even now in 2020.
I know of a few examples of a foreign tourist being stupid and taking photos of checkpoints and army stuff, this resulting in getting all their photos deleted and getting questioned for hours.
Tourists Sites Destroyed Because of Syrian Civil War
With a war that now has lasted more than nine years around the country, is there no surprise that some of the architectural masterpieces that once stood around Syria is destroyed or heavily damaged, but far from everything is destroyed.
And even somethings are completely unharmed, but you do have sited like the Roman ruins of Palmyra that was almost entirely destroyed by ISIS, same is it with Aleppo’s Great Umayyad Mosque, and the historic souq (Reconstructing heavily going on), the dead cities in Idlib are also long gone.
Krak des Chevaliers, one of the most famous castles in the world, got minor damage; reconstruction is going on and should be finished by late 2019.
The Christian temples in Saidnaya were looted and damaged by terrorists, but rebuilding is already completed.
The waterwheels in Hama is also still standing unharmed.
The historical part of Bab Touma. Damascus was hit by rockets and mortars, but every site have been prepared; the National Museum of Syria once again opened for the public again in late October.
Bosra Roman Ruins in Southern Syria is entirely unharmed and is now possible to visit.
If you have any questions about visiting this amazing country, feel free to comment, and I will try to answer as well as I can.
Syria’s Economic Collapse in 2020
The Syrian pound has fallen, since the beginning of April 2020, to a level not seen in its history before, so that the Syrian market is affected in one way or another by these consecutive setbacks of its currency, which led to a new rise in prices, and the deterioration of the already tense living situation.
Causes of decline:
The drop in oil prices on the international market, which has negatively affected countries supporting the system due to their heavy dependence on oil trade in their economies.
As a result, Iran’s cash assistance to Syria decreased.
The Syrian Central Bank is free from foreign exchange and gold, as the presence of foreign currency reserves and gold are the main pillars upon which national currencies are based.
The central bank has become empty of foreign exchange reserves due to the stoppage of the revenues of land, sea, and air transit transport and the stopping of the export movement, the largest contributor to foreign currency revenues.
US and European sanctions imposed on key figures over the local government.
- The exchange rate is now 2,700 liras per dollar
- The exchange rate was 1050 liras in March
- The income of the Syrian citizen became $ 20 a month.
Final Thoughts on Tourism in Syria
Hopefully, this post has answered all of your questions on traveling in Syria and gotten rid of some of your reservations about visiting.
Now that you know it is safe to travel to Syria, you can have a perfectly pleasant time in the country.
Be sure to spend a night at one of the Syrian hotels recommended above. Fly safe and have a great journey.