It might sound strange, but Syria ready to receive foreign tourist once again.
Syria 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 so did 6.6 million tourist visit Philippines 2017)
Now in late 2018, do western tourists once agian crossing the border to Syria from Lebanon to discover one of the friendliest places and most beautiful places in the Middle East. Yes, I know this is very hard to believe.
The visa is now really easy to obtain now, a tour a guide is NOT required, but most of the agencies will not help you with the visa without booking a tour with them.
When I visited Syria in October 2017, and agian got the visa in April 2018 was the visa process is a pain and usually took 10-12 weeks, but a lot of things have changed since then. Now in November 2018, most people can get the 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 Americans and British passport holders, but not even close to the 10-12 weeks that it used to take.
Getting The Syrian Visa:
The visa policy that travel guide´s in Syria is telling you to get a prebooked tour etc, and you are required to have a guide all the time is a lie! But it makes things a lot easier to get the visa.
If you email an embassy will they tell you the Security clearance will cost you 60USD, but it can take weeks if not months to get approved, you might never get an answer, So if you got the time is this the cheapest way IF you get the answer. The travel agencies can get the visa approved in 24 – 72hours, so it´s up to you what you want to do.
The easiest way to get a visa is to Travel Agency that is licenced by the local government in Syria, to handle and to get your Visa Application Approved.
The Current price charged is 270 – 550 USD 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 for nationality to nationality. Most Europeans pay 300 Usd, British Pay 500 USD, and Americans have to pay 550 USD. The Application fee is a fee charged by the travel agency and not the Syrian Gouverment.
You can enter Syria at any official border and at Damascus airport when the papers are ready.
Currently is the only two land board that is open for foreigners the one close to Damascus and one close to Latakia with Tripoli in Lebanon. The land border with Jordan is right now only open for locals, but also that will change very soon.
There are currently NO open borders with Turkey, of course, not Israel, Iraq, the borders between Syria and the occupied Kurdish parts are also not accessible. An Israel stamp in your passport or proof of visit to Israel will get your denied entry to Syria.
Despite different rumours online on various travel forums and Facebook groups are you 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 off.
Visa Fee at the border:
As a Norwegian do I pay 72 USD at the border.
Americans 160 USD.
British 140 USD.
Australians and New Zealand is 130 USD.
European passport holders pay 50 – 100USD.
The border crossing and immigration are very smooth and easy when your papers are ready. Depending on the number of people in the que, 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.
It also has to pay 2500 Syrian pounds for exit tax you will have to pay when departing Syria.
The Two People You Contact are: (You don´t need to contact both, it´s two different travel agencies) Tell them Christian from Norway sent you:)
Travel King (Basel)+963 936 194 494 WhatsApp
Sawsan Joumaa +963933753839 WhatsApp.
You will have to transfer money with Western Union to pay for your visa application.
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 American Visa waiver program for 5years, 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.
Getting To Syria From Lebanon:
Depending on your budget so are the different options available.
A private taxi from Beirut airport to Damascus cost 100USD. A shared taxi from Beirut to Damascus costs 20 – 35 USD, be sure to agree on the price before leaving!
The are different shared Taxi Services in Beirut that you can use, VIP Taxi, Allo Taxi (has an online booking) The 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 taxi´s 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 20USD 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, should cost you 1-2 USD. There also some old Roman Ruins in Majdal Anjar. A shared taxi from Majdal Anjar to Damascus should cost you less than 10usd.
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. 10USD for a shared taxi.
Flying To Syria:
The connection to Damascus International Airport (DAM) is not very good from outside the Middle East, but it’s improving. Just be aware the Israeli Airforce is occasionally bombing Damascus airport, last time it happened was the 15 September 2018, so the airport sometimes has to shut down for a short time.
Currently so is this the flights that are operating to and from Damascus International Aiport:
Cham Wings Airlines flies from Damascus too, Amman (Jordan), Sharjah (UEA), Moscow (Russia), Kuwait, Muscat(Oman) Ebril (Iraq Kurdistan), Yerevan (Armenia), Beirut (Lebanon), Baghdad, Basra, Najaf (Iraq), Khartoum (Sudan) and Tehran (Iran).
Aleppo international airport is set to reopen very soon, don’t be surprised if there are international flights to Aleppo within a month.
Getting Around Syria:
You are required to have a guide to travel around the Syrian government-controlled parts of Syria.
Palmyra is still closed and the same is the eastern part of Syria with Deir-az-Zur. Parts of Southern Syria with Bosra are also currently off limit. Having a guide is required recommended for security purposes and often necessary to get the needed permits for some parts of the country. To get a permit takes +/- 5 days, Maaloula is one of the places that require a permit.
But things change fast in Syria. Places can be open one day, then closed the next day. And of course are the front line around Idlib off limit, it´s also there still ongoing operation from the Syrian Army against ISIS around Swedia and the desert close to Palmyra.
The are still a lot of military checkpoints around Syria, and if taking a local bus, will the bus driver have to keep your passport for the checkpoints.
You are free to take a local bus between Damascus – Aleppo (6-7hours), Homs, Latakia.
If you want to visit some sites outside cities, like the famous Crusader Castle of Krak De Chevaliers Castel will a private driver be required, both Basil and Sawsan can arrange English speaking drivers for you.
The 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, everything in the country will you have to pay by cash. Euro and USD is the currency to bring. I exchanged all my Euro for Syrian Pounds at the hotels I stayed.
Most ATM´S/cash machines in Beirut and Lebanon has a USD withdraw 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 USD, And 550 Syrian Pound for Euro is about “normal”.
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 almost 30% in one year. ETC. the hotel I stayed in 2017 charged 75USD a night with breakfast, now its 135USD for the same.
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 8USD for a local sim card with 5GB data of data. All the small local phone shops can recharge.
Where To Stay:
Like I mentioned back in my post in 2017 so where most of the hotels already up and running back then. Now a year later even are more hotel´s are up and running, you will be surprised by how many foreign tourists you will see in Syria ano 2018. Note that a marriage certificate is required in every hotel if you are travelling with a Syrian friend of the opposite gender and you want to stay in one room.
It´s actually not rare that the most popular hotels get´s fully booked these days.
The is hotels for every budget in every city.
Damascus: You want to stay around Bab Toma, the historical part of Damascus.
If you are staying in other parts of the town will a taxi cost you 1 – 2 USD around the city, no meters, agree on the price before going.
Beit Al Wali is the best hotel in the old city of Damascus, is a beautiful five* hotel in a traditional building in Bab Toma, the historical part of Damascus.
I’ve stayed here 4times here myself. This is the hotel every foreign that was visiting Syria during the middle of the war was staying, it was not rare to see famous western journalists here.
the price is 125/145 USD a night with a great breakfast buffet. I can not recommend this hotel good 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 less than 3KM away. The staff here is amazing.
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 where falling down less than 1km away!
Hotel Al Majed.
A cheaper option right outside Bab Toma. A popular budget option. 33USD for a double room. Abit outdated. But a great choice, there are more hotels on the same street with similar price.
Park Hotel: located in the middle of the city centre on Baghdad Station Street, a bit run down but a good option.
I’ve stayed here in October 2017 and agian in late 2018. Around 70USD a night,
Other travels are recommending: Riga Hotel for a 100USD a night.
Junada Hotel, one of the biggest hostels in Syria. I stayed here in October 2017. Private beach, numerous restaurants. 145 USD a night.
Travellers are reporting that Hotel Cleopatra on Althoura street is a great option for 20USD a night.
The biggest concern for most travellers is the safety of travelling to Syria. The war has now been ranging for more than 7 and a half year. Most parts of Syria is now completely safe to visit, especially the capital Damascus is just as safe as big European cities. Don´t believe me? Go on travelling forums and facebook groups and read the daily reports from other western travellers visiting Syria these days. But there are a few things you should absolutely not do while travelling in Syria.
Do NOT TAKE Photos of any Military bases, checkpoints, Soldiers etc. this includes Russian and Hezbollah.
While the situation is improving daily, so are soldiers very suspicious of foreign spies. I know of a few examples of 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.
How much of the Tourist sites are destroyed:
With a war that now has lasted more than 7 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 is completely unharmed, but you do have sited like the Roman ruins of Palmyra that was almost completely 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 reconstruction is already finished.
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 agian opened for public agian in late October.
Bosra Roman Ruins in Southern Syria is completely unharmed but is currently off limit. Palmyra is also by the beginning of November 2018 closed for visitors.
If you have any questions about visiting Syria, feel free to comment and I will try to answer as good as I can.