So, you’ve made the decision to travel to Syria. Firstly, well done! Despite everything you’ve seen in the media and common misconceptions that apply to many destinations in the Middle East, you’ve decided that it’s actually a safe and extremely rewarding destination.
Secondly, you’ve decided to join SAIGA tours, another well done! Why wouldn’t you join the tour company whose guides have been taking people to Syria longer than most during the crisis, and been there more than almost any others, with arguably the most unique itineraries.
You’ve met your group in Beirut, Lebanon, where almost all tours of Syria start, and you’ve begun your drive to the border. You’ve excited, nervous and downright curious, as you have no idea what to expect. Well let us tell you!
Just before you get to the border between Lebanon and Syria is where you’ll encounter money changers. This is the easiest place to change money and where you’ll most likely get the best rate. There are always numerous money changers approaching travellers crossing the border so get your US Dollars or Euros ready and have an idea how much you want changed. The local money in Syria is called the Syrian Pound, and if you’re traveling with us we’ll be there to make sure you’re getting a good rate.
Now you’ve got your Syrian Pounds, it’s time to leave Lebanon. You’ll enter the first building on your right and get stamped out of Lebanon. It’s a relatively simple process that should only take a few minutes, unless it’s extremely busy, but even then it still runs quite smoothly.
Back to your vehicle, but keep your passport handy as you’re about to be checked by a border guard whether you’ve been stamped out. If you’ve got a passport full of stamps, remember where Lebanon stamped your passport to make it easy for the guard to find it.
Next, you’ll move on to customs where they’ll check your vehicle, maybe ask to open a few bags, but once again a relatively quick process.
Now you’ve finally left Lebanon and you’ll start the 15 minute drive through No Man’s Land to enter Syria.
Just before you get to Syrian immigration and customers, you’ll encounter a relatively modern looking shopping centre. Inside you’ll find toilets, a café and possibly the cheapest duty free in the world, where cartons of cigarettes are $5, 3L bottles of vodka are $12, large boxes of beer are cheaper than even the cheapest destinations in the world. Stock up, as it’s quite a saving on what’s on offer inside Syria. The best deals are on spirits and wine.
Immigration in Syria is a strange affair relatively speaking. You’ll need to collect the passports of everyone travelling in the group and present them to the immigration officers. You can stand over to the side and wait. You’ll then be given back your passports and instructed to head to the bank, directly opposite. Here you’ll pay your visa fee depending on which passport you’re using. After paying you’ll be given a receipt and your passports back, at which point you’ll then hand them back to the immigration officers. More likely than not they’ll tell you to wait outside (depending on the size of the group) as it can take up to 5 minutes per passport, and even one person by themselves will still take a minimum of 10-15 minutes. Eventually you’ll be called back to collect your passport/s and it’s time to leave.
Again, you’ll get back in the vehicle and get checked twice. The first time to check you’ve been stamped into Syria and then again for a customs check. A quick look at luggage and you’re off!
Driving to Damascus
It’s now only 30 minutes or so to Damascus. You’ll go through a few security checks on the way but as soon as they realise you’re tourists, you’ll be waved through pretty quickly.
You’ll get your first glimpses of Syrian society continuing their lives, new housing developments and industrial sites being built due to their proximity to the border. You’ll also see a lot of propaganda. You’ll be left in no doubt which country you’re in with plenty of pictures of the President of Syria, his father and brother, as well as martyrs who died during the Syrian crisis.
You’ve arrived in Damascus and your adventure of a lifetime is only just warming up. At the same time there is an immense sense of relief and relaxation in arriving in Damascus. The city isn’t in ruins, your hotel is surprisingly classy and the locals are already amazingly friendly.
If this sounds like the kind of thing you'd like to exerperience for yourself, join us on one of our Syria tours next year.