Everything you need to know about travelling to Syria in 2024: Essential travel information (Q&A with our tour leaders and local guides)

Everything you need to know about travelling to Syria in 2024: Essential travel information (Q&A with our tour leaders and local guides)
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Syria welcomes you again!
For many years, Syria has been in the midst of a civil war, making headlines on a regular basis. However, the country is now slowly returning to a state of peace and tranquility, and some areas are once again open to tourists. In 2022, we resumed our travel programs in Syria and are excited to have the opportunity to showcase all that the country has to offer to visitors. In this article, we have gathered some of the most frequently asked questions about Syria and provided answers from our tour leaders and local guides, who have the best knowledge of traveling in Syria.

What to expect on a trip to Syria?
Syria is a fantastic country that has a lot to offer its visitors. Damascus is a legendary city with impressive examples of Islamic architecture, such as the Umayyad Mosque. The Roman remains in Bosra and Palmyra are some of the best preserved in the world. In places like Sednaya and Ezra, you can visit churches and monasteries from the earliest years of Christianity. In the village of Maalula, people still speak Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke. Most of our groups so far have had the opportunity to hear what a live Aramaic service sounds like.
The hospitality of the locals is second to none, and everyone is extremely friendly towards foreigners. There are still few tourists in Syria, and our groups generate genuine interest among the locals. These meetings and conversations with the locals leave the most vivid memories for our tourists. Of course, we can't miss the delicious food. As in most Arab countries, the local cuisine is tasty and diverse - salads, appetizers, various kebabs, and desserts. Even the most demanding visitors are satisfied and go home with suitcases full of goodies. 

- Nesi Zelenkova, Penguin Travel Tour Leader

The old town of Damascus 

Is it safe to travel in Syria?
The majority of the country is under government control and is safe to visit, including popular tourist attractions such as Palmyra, Bosra, Maalula, Sednaya, and Damascus. Our local partners continuously monitor the security situation in the areas we visit and promptly notify us of any changes. Over the past two years, we have conducted our program without encountering any issues. When traveling on intercity roads, tourists pass through numerous checkpoints, which enhances their sense of security. 

- Nesi Zelenkova, Penguin Travel Tour Leader

How to get to Syria?
Our tour starts and ends in Beirut, Lebanon. Unfortunately, there are still not many direct flights to Syria. However, Beirut is easily accessible from almost anywhere in the world. Turkish Airlines offers the most convenient flights via Istanbul for people traveling from Europe or Asia. From Beirut, the group travels together, crossing the Syrian border by land. In this way, we also get additional certainty that crossing the border will go smoothly, as there is already a local representative with the group. 

- Lyuben Sinadinski, Penguin Travel Tour Leader

An early morning in Aleppo 

How to get a visa?
At the moment, you need to be part of an organized tour to visit Syria, and independent travel is not allowed. As a tour operator, we will apply for visa pre-approval on your behalf. You will then receive the visa on arrival in Syria and pay for it in cash (it costs about 80-150 USD, depending on your nationality). In most cases, the procedure is quick and hassle-free.

- Lyuben Sinadinski, Penguin Travel Tour Leader

Is there a dress code in Syria?
Syria is a secular country, and there is no mandatory dress code for either women or men. However, as much of the population is quite conservative, it is advisable to dress conservatively to show respect for the local culture. For women, it is recommended to wear long pants and blouses that reach at least to the elbows. When visiting mosques, women must cover themselves with an abaya, which is usually provided at the entrance of the mosque. These are the only considerations that need to be observed.  

-Penguin Travel's Local Syrian Guide

 The ancient city of Palmyra

Are the tourist sites and cities in Syria destroyed?
Many people believe that Syria has been completely destroyed by the lengthy civil war. But what is the reality on the ground? There is no denying that the war has taken its toll on Syria, with some areas more affected than others. However, much of the country's cultural and historical heritage has been preserved, and efforts are underway to restore several monuments. In Damascus, especially the Old City, the atmosphere is vibrant and reminiscent of any other city. The Umayyad Mosque, a significant landmark, remains intact. In places like Aleppo and Palmyra, which suffered greatly during the war, the situation is a bit different. Sadly, much of Aleppo lies in ruins. However, during our last visit in the fall of 2023, we witnessed ongoing efforts to rebuild the city. One section of the market has been restored, allowing us to stroll around and purchase various desserts, spices, and the renowned Aleppo soap. The restoration of the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo is also underway, with the famous minaret already restored. Although access is currently limited, we hope the mosque will be open to visitors soon. Palmyra, another architectural treasure, endured severe damage during the war. Regrettably, the Temple of Bel was destroyed. However, many parts of the complex, including the theater, are still standing and visible, and you can enjoy the grandeur of this great ancient city. 

- Nesi Zelenkova, Penguin Travel Tour Leader

The ancient city of Palmyra

Other things to know about life and travel in Syria in 2024
One of the most serious consequences of the war in Syria is inflation, which has reached unprecedented levels in recent years. It's important to note that ATMs or international bank cards are not accepted in Syria. Therefore, when traveling in Syria, it's advisable to carry all the money you will need in cash - in EUR or USD, which you will be able to exchange into Syrian pounds on arrival. Another problem that locals have to deal with is frequent power outages. Some locals have solved this problem by using generators or batteries in their houses. Hotels and restaurants also have similar solutions. The interruptions usually last a few minutes, and as a tourist in Syria, you will quickly get used to them.

 - Penguin Travel's Local Syrian Guide

The Citadel of Aleppo

Is it ethical to visit Syria now and is it worth it?
Many travelers debate whether it is ethical and worthwhile to travel to Syria now. The Syrian civil war has been one of the most brutal conflicts in recent years, resulting in thousands of casualties and displacements and causing severe damage to the country's economy and infrastructure. When we plan a trip to Syria, we acknowledge the grim reality of the situation. While we don't ignore the situation, we choose to engage with the perspectives of the Syrian people we encounter rather than engage in political discussions. Despite the challenging circumstances, the Syrian people have always shown remarkable hospitality. They have expressed their joy at the return of tourists, as it symbolizes a return to some level of normalcy in the country. In this way, they can also showcase the side of Syria they are proud of and change any negative perceptions that some people might have had before visiting. We also strive to be ethical tourists by promoting small businesses in the country, being friendly with the locals, and avoiding discussing controversial political topics.

- Nesi Zelenkova, Penguin Travel Tour Leader

Learn more about our trips to Syria here.

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