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Essential Lebanon 2 - FAQ
With such a rich and varied itinerary and so many aspects to touring Lebanon, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about where to start preparing for your Essential Lebanon tour. We are here to help. Below, you'll find some useful information that you'll need as you get ready for your Lebanese adventure.
Lebanon is two hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) in winter (October to March) and three hours ahead in summer (April to September), when daylight savings time is observed. While we're traveling, Lebanon will be 7 hours ahead of EST (Eastern Standard Time), so when it's noon in Lebanon, it's 5am in New York and 2am in San Francisco.
There are many beautiful things to bring back with you from Lebanon, so make sure you have space left in your suitcase. You will not need any formal clothing on this tour although you'll feel better if you wear dressier clothes to some dinners at elegant restaurants that we'll be having, as most people dress up when they are visiting high-end restaurants and bars. Shorts and skirts are perfectly fine during warmer weather in Beirut and Christian-majority towns; in more traditional Muslim areas and when visiting mosques, the local custom is to cover your legs and shoulders, so having a light shawl or scarf with you will be useful. Consider sun protection such as sunscreen and a hat, and you'll need an unlocked cell phone if you'd like to use a Lebanese SIM card while traveling.
Visitors to Lebanon require a current passport, valid for at least 90 days from the date of entry and with a minimum of one blank visa page. All visitors to Lebanon need a visa, which can be obtained upon arrival at the Beirut International Airport, and is free of charge. Israeli citizens or travelers who have an Israeli visa or passport stamp will be refused entry; the current Israeli visa is a card separate from your passport, so if you have one then make sure to remove it from your passport before traveling to Lebanon. Before traveling abroad it's a good idea to make two photocopies of your passport, your driver's license and your credit cards. Leave one copy at home with a trusted person and another one in your suitcase.
|ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE INFORMATION |
This tour starts and ends in Beirut (airport code BEY), Lebanon. The tour starts at 7:00PM on Wednesday, October 2, 2019 in Beirut, and your flight should arrive no later than 4:00PM. You'll probably depart North America on Tuesday, October 1, 2019. We have arranged for individual airport transfers on arrival, and you will be met by a chauffeur on your arrival in Beirut. This tour ends after breakfast on Friday, October 11, 2019 in Beirut, and we have arranged for individual airport transfers to Beirut airport in accordance with your departing flight. If you need help with your flights to Lebanon, please feel free to give us a call.
To avoid jet lag (common when crossing more than five time zones) drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids and eat light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to natural sunlight, exercise and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep and so on) as soon as possible.
The Lebanon group is limited to the maximum of 16 women + the tour director. The minimum group size is 6 women + the tour director. In addition to a professional Sights and Soul Travels' tour director, the group will be accompanied by private guides and drivers throughout your stay in Lebanon.
Lebanon is a developed country with a high standard of health care; no vaccinations are required by law before you enter the country, but we recommend that you consult your physician in regard to medical advice before traveling. In Beirut and the surrounding areas, modern medical care and medication are widely available, and most doctors speak English or French. Modern facilities are not always available in outlying areas, but without road congestion, no location in the country is more than three hours from the capital. Make sure your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas, or consider travel insurance that covers medical costs - doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for services, and without such payment, they may deny service. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage and carry them in their original containers, with pharmacy labels, otherwise they might not make it through airport security. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.
While the water in the large cities of Lebanon has been chlorinated and is declared safe to drink, Lebanese tend to stick to bottled water; visitors may find that the chlorination tends to cause an upset stomach. Water outside of the cities in the more remote areas should be avoided. In these places, be sure to sterilize all water for drinking, brushing teeth and making ice, or purchase bottled water. During all days that we'll be touring by bus, we will provide 2 bottles of water per day per person.
Most establishments, especially those geared towards tourists, will have Western-style toilets; while squat toilets do exist, the sit-down style is predominant throughout the country. Toilet paper should not be flushed. Please keed in mind that some public toilets may require payment, so you should always have some coins in the local currency with you to pay for them.
The average Lebanese citizen is friendly and inviting, and tourists are made to feel welcome by locals who take great pride in their country. While small sections of Lebanon are definitely unsafe for travel due to ongoing conflicts between various groups as well as the Syrian refugee crisis, we will only be traveling in the tourist-heavy areas and our accommodations are in cosmopolitan Beirut, known more widely for the prevalence of nightclubs and yoga studios than major crimes or violence. Lebanon is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the Middle East, and with a population roughly split between Christians and Muslims, multiple religious groups coexist here peacefully. Crime rates are low, and while petty theft and pickpocketing are an issue just the same as they would be in any major Western city, this can be largely avoided by exercising the same judgment you would when traveling anywhere else - avoid badly lit, deserted places after dark, carry only small amounts of money, keep your valuables hidden and hold your camera close. PLEASE NOTE: The State Department may discourage travel to Lebanon, especially to areas in the south of the country, close to the Israeli border and in areas along the Syrian border. We will not travel in those areas. Please check the State Department web site for most recent updates: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/lebanon-travel-advisory.html. Should the travel warning for Lebanon be changed to red (Level 4 - do not travel), the tour will be cancelled and all payments made will be refunded in full.
Lebanon poses no particular risks for women travelers, as the country is fairly liberal and forward-thinking. Western-style clothes are common in Beirut, and you'll find typically revealing swimsuits throughout popular beaches; however, modest clothing is advisable in religious sites and more traditional Muslim areas.
During the Essential Lebanon tour, we will travel by a private bus, boat, and by foot. To be able to enjoy the tour and participate in scheduled activities, you need to be able to walk, at a leisurely pace, up to 4 miles throughout the day, including steps, and quite often on uneven surfaces and unpaved roads. You need to be able to stand unassisted for up to 30 minutes, you need to be able to climb stairs, get in and out of vehicles without assistance and manage your own luggage without assistance. This trip is not strenuous, but you should be of at least average fitness to enjoy all scheduled activities. Buildings and tourist sites are also often difficult to access for those with physical disabilities because of uneven ground and the lack of elevators and ramps.
Lebanon enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate with four seasons and an average of 300 sunny days a year. March in Lebanon is at the tail end of winter, with an average high of 69°F and lows around 53°F; while there may be some rain on the coast and snow in the mountains, the precipitation lessens towards the end of the month.
Internet and WiFi are popular and widely available throughout Lebanon, generally free in hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars. Complimentary Wi-Fi will be available at our hotel in Beirut. Mobile phone coverage is good throughout the country as well, and the best way to get online or access the local phone network is to buy a local SIM card and data package; otherwise you can check with your cell phone provider to see if you can purchase a data plan for use in Lebanon.
There are a number of languages spoken in Lebanon, and while Arabic is the official language, English and French are also widely used. The Lebanese dialect is a local variant of Levantine Arabic, not spoken in other Arabic speaking countries, and is used most often between locals in their daily life. Most Lebanese speak two or three languages, and many establishments, particularly those geared towards tourists, will provide signs and menus in both Arabic and English.
The official currency of Lebanon is the Lebanese pound or lira (LL / LBP), divided into denominations of LL1,000, LL5,000, LL10,000, LL20,000, LL50,000, LL100,000, and LL250 and LL500 coins. US dollars are widely accepted throughout the country, and establishments will often quote their prices in USD or convert and provide dollar prices for you upon request. ATMs are widely available; many higher-end restaurants and stores will accept major credit cards, but it's advisable to carry cash for smaller shops and areas outside Beirut.
All restaurants', guides' and drivers' gratuities are included in the tour's cost. When dining on your own, waiters are usually tipped around 10 - 15%, but some restaurants will already add a 15% service charge to your bill. Hotel porters are tipped around 750-1500 LBP per bag, and maids receive the same amount per night. It is customary to tip taxis about 10% of the fare.
Lebanon has a value-added tax (VAT) rate of 10% that applies to most good purchased within the country. To qualify for a VAT refund, you must spend about LL150,000 on qualifying purchases. Shops will provide a Tax Free Form to be reimbursed at the airport.
The Lebanese souks, or local markets, are often the best place to pick up souvenirs from your trip - make sure to brush up on your haggling skills, as you can find some significant bargains if you do some careful negotiation. A traditional Lebanese sword might not be high on your shopping list, but local artisans sell everything from handmade glassware to handwoven kaftans, and downtown Beirut offers designer brands and luxury boutiques to satisfy even the most devoted shopaholic. Locally made items are generally of higher quality and lower price than you would find outside the country, so your biggest dilemma might be how much you can squeeze into your suitcase for the flight home.
Lebanon is a multicultural society used to different customs and manners - while you can never be too polite, try not to stress too much about accidentally offending any locals. Basic courtesies are appreciated, such as a simple "Hi!" (yes, in English) upon entering a cafe or shop, or a grateful "Merci" (yes, in French) when receiving something. You will often hear the unique Lebanese mix of English, French, and Arabic in the greeting: “Hi! Keefik! Ca va?” meaning “Hi! (English) How are you (Arabic), How are you (French)?”
The nightlife in Beirut is world-class, and the nighttime crowd dresses the part; if you'd like to sample the scene, you'll want to dress well to impress your newfound friends. Smoking is very common in Beirut, both outdoors and in - most restaurants have special ventilated smoking areas, so you can ask for a non-smoking table if it's a smoking establishment.
Lebanese communication involves direct eye contact and physical contact, except when conversing with elders. Greetings reflect the mix of French and Arab cultures:
- For women greeting women, always use the right hand for a handshake. Three kisses alternating cheeks in the French style are common, but during a first meeting a simple verbal greeting is also fine.
- For women greeting men, in most areas a handshake is the norm when meeting in a formal setting or for the first time. Good friends will usually include the three kisses, but members of the Islamic faith will have more limited interactions between the opposite sex. If a person does not intend to shake hands, they will most likely fold their hand up and across their chest to let you know without intending offense.