Tourism in Libya…when?

Tourism in Libya

Will tourism come back to Libya?

I was reading an article recently about Western tourists going back to countries torn apart by war recently. A very small, niche set of tours for hardy tourists. Countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Libya. Back in 2006, I made a brief visit to Libya. Tourism was slowly opening up for what was a politically pariah state for The West, under its leadership by the dictator, Col Gaddafi. It was a slowly blossoming industry, so I joined a tour group for a few days. According to Wikipedia, from 149,000 visitors in 2004, up to 180,000 in 2007. To put that in context, the Tower of London gets about 3 million visitors a year. The Colosseum in Rome, 4 million. The ruins of Pompeii, 2.5 million. And Pompeii is a comparison for what Libya has to offer.

The ruins of the Roman city, Leptis Magna – only partially excavated – could rival Pompeii. A large, evocative set of Roman streets, with the magnificent Arch of Septimus Severus, largely empty of visitors, unlike the more famous site in southern Italy. Given where it is though, Leptis Magna will never have 2.5 million visitors a year but those numbers were growing for the UNESCO Heritage site until the Civil War of 2011 and the social and political insecurity in the country since then. Most Governments strongly advise against all travel to the country still, in 2024. UK Foreign Office advice has been so since 2014.

Libya has, in its Roman ruins of Leptis Magna and Sabratha, plus Cyrene in the East of the country, the potential to be a tourism goldmine (that is for cultural tourists rather than those who travel halfway around the world to sit by a hotel swimming pool). Libya will never be an 18-30 holiday destination, despite the many classical ruins dedicated to Bacchus, the ancient Greco-Roman god of wine and festivity. With the large site of Leptis Magna, excavated only partially so far, by mainly Italian and English archaeologists, and a vast, mostly deserted site, set by the Mediterranean Sea it rivals Pompeii as an insight into Roman times. I always said I would go back, kicking myself now that I didn’t before the Civil War. Let’s hope that things will change in Libya and it will open up again as a country to visit, as stability returns for its people. But from a selfish perspective, it was the lack of visitors to Leptis Magna that helped make it special. No hordes of tourists, it felt like you had the place to yourself…

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