Lebanon and Syria SAIGA Style

Start
Nov 4, 2023
Beirut
End
Nov 16, 2023
Beirut
Duration
13 days
Price
US$2290.00





TOUR OVERVIEW


This is your chance to see all that the Levant has to offer - from the street art and urbex of Beirut, to the picturesque alleyways of Damascus; the ancient Roman sites of Palmyra, Baalbek and the amphitheatre in Bosra, to the vineyards and microbreweries of Lebanon; the desctruction of Aleppo and Homs, to the Mediterranean coasts at Byblos and Latakia.

And not to mention, what must be one of the best cuisines in the world!

If you'd like to see some more of Beirut before delving into the rest of this tour, join us on our Paris of the East Day Tour .

View the full itinerary


If you'd like to join us for this tour, but don't have enough time to do the whole thing, check out our Lebanon SAIGA Style and Syria Autumn Tour .

If you like the look of this tour but the dates don't work for you, or you'd like to do part of the tour, please get in touch and let us know. All our tours are able to be split into smaller sections, we're always scheduling new tours and your dates might work for one of them, or we can always organise an independent tour.


INCLUSIONS:

Visa approval for Syria

Accommodation in twin share at roughly 3 star hotels/guesthouses, breakfast included

Transport, beginning and ending in Beirut

Entrance fees to all sites mentioned in the itinerary, except hammam

SAIGA guide and local guides


SINGLE SUPPLEMENT: $550




EXCLUSIONS:

Visa fee for Syria (paid at the border on arrival)

Departure tax for Syria (approx. $5, paid at the border)

Hammam (approx. $10 per person)

Meals other than breakfast

Transport to and from Beirut

Accommodation and any other services in Lebanon

Personal expenses such as souvenirs or any optional activities

Any COVID related expenses



TOUR HIGHLIGHTS


Take in the spectacular ancient site of Palmyra

Get a first hand view of how Syria is rebuilding after the civil war

Urban explaration at its best - the abandoned World Fair Site in Tripoli

Get a photo with Saddam Hussein at the Hall of Fame Museum


Itinerary
Day 1Sat Nov 4
Beirut, Damascus
  • Meet in Beirut at 8:00. Meeting point to be advised closer to the time.
  • Begin the drive to the Syrian border, which will take about two hours. We’ll stop on the way for a quick breakfast and to buy any Lebanese snacks you might want.
  • Cross the border, with a stop at Duty Free in No Man’s Land, for some of the cheapest alcohol you’ve ever experienced.
  • The whole border crossing will take around 1.5 hours.
  • After clearing Syrian Customs and Immigration, we’ll continue our drive to Damascus, another hour.
  • Arriving in the old town, you’ll immediately be intoxicated by the buzz of the old town as we walk towards our hotel. We’ll be staying in a beautifully renovated old Damascene house, complete with a tranquil courtyard surrounding a bubbling fountain, and the distinctive black and white stonework of this part of Syria.
  • In the afternoon we’ll explore Damascus’ old town, bazaar, shopping areas and bar/restaurant street. You might like to try some local ice-cream or have a shawarma, and shisha is available just about everywhere.
  • We’ll also visit Ananias Church, Damascus’ oldest church which happens to be underground, and Omayad Mosque, the main mosque in the centre of the city.
  • Free time in the evening to enjoy Damascus’ vibrant night-life.
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Day 2Sun Nov 5
Damascus
  • Leaving the centre of town, we’ll drive to the outskirts of the city and you’ll get your first glimpses of the destruction caused by the recent conflict, on our way to the October War Museum, dedicated to the war against Israel.
  • We’ll visit Kim Il Sung Park for some great photo opportunities. Syria and DPRK have had a long history of friendship and recently the Syrian Government decided to dedicate a park to the founding leader of DPRK, Kim Il Sung.
  • Returning to the centre of town we’ll visit the National Museum in the afternoon, followed by the Souk Al-Hamidiye and El-Azem Palace
  • One of the staples of any Middle Eastern destination, it’s time to experience a hammam. Anyone who doesn’t want to join in can either hang out with a shisha or a cup of tea inside the hammam’s “albrani”, translated into English as the “outside section”, which is the first room of the hammam.
  • It’s a very cool experience for anyone, but especially for females it’s a great way to see how Syrian women enjoy themselves free of headscarves and social pressures. There will be women of all ages, and they really make a day of it. Children, grandmothers and everyone in between take in snacks and drinks and stay there for hours smoking shishas, listening to music and relaxing.
  • If you prefer you can return to the hotel to enjoy the serene Damascene house, or have free time around the bazaar.
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Day 3Mon Nov 6
Damascus, Maaloula, Aleppo
  • Today we’ll leave Damascus to start exploring the rest of the country.
  • Our first stop today will be at Maaloula, a small Christian town that was almost completely decimated by ISIS in 2014.
  • We will visit a Greek Catholic church which was destroyed but has already largely been rebuilt.
  • This will be your first opportunity to properly explore the destruction that is now so commonplace in Syria, at the Safir Hotel. Until 2014 it was a 4 star hotel with plenty of international guests, but is now a shell filled with rubble. There are still “do not disturb” signs, menus, folders of guest information, time sheets, crockery and all sorts of other things amongst the debris.
  • We’ll walk through a canyon to the St Sergious and Bakhous Monastery where you’ll have the chance to meet nuns who were kidnapped and held hostage for several years.
  • Our next stop will be Homs, another of the worst affected places during the Syrian war. We’ll take a walk through one of the most destroyed parts of the city, where you can really get a close up look at the damage. A few families have already started moving back in, so kids will come up and want to speak to you.
  • We’ll make a quick stop at the St. Mary Church of the Holy Belt, the Seat of the Syriac Orthodox Church, where the Virgin Mary’s belt was kept until shortly before the war. Fortunately the belt was already removed before the church was looted and all the icons and artwork were burnt or stolen.
  • Visit the grave of Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit priest who established a community centre and farm in Homs where he worked with the homeless, disabled, sick and hungry, as well as for harmony between Christians and Muslims. Greatly respected by locals, he was then shot dead in the garden in 2014 by members of the Al-Nusra Front, and it is now a memorial to him and his work.
  • And finally, we’ll visit a popular local restaurant which was the local ISIS headquarters when they were in control.
  • Continue the drive to Aleppo with a couple of stops along the way, arriving in the early evening.
  • Free time for dinner and the rest of the evening, however if you want to join us, we can take you for the best falafel in Syria .
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Day 4Tue Nov 7
Aleppo
  • Aleppo was arguably one of the worst affected cities during the Syrian war. Here you’ll get the chance to see some of the terrible destruction as well as the opportunity to witness the early stages of rebuilding that Syrians are now doing as they slowly return to their homes.
  • Our first stop in the morning will be the famous Aleppo Castle. On the way in and out of the castle you’ll also be able to see the destroyed souk.
  • There will be time to explore the souk and do some shopping if you like, or if you prefer, you can just enjoy a shisha or a coffee.
  • We’ll then drive into the old town, one of the areas that was the worst affected by the war.
  • Visit a shop which will satisfy all your Syrian souvenir desires – flags, tshirts, keyrings and Assad branded everything.
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Day 5Wed Nov 8
Aleppo, Latakia
  • Leaving Aleppo, today we’ll drive to Latakia, stopping on the way for lunch.
  • Arriving in Latakia, in the afternoon, we’ll have a chance to enjoy the beach or swimming pools, before heading out to experience the nightlife of this holiday town.
  • We’ll take a walk through the centre of town, soaking in the atmosphere of this city, very different from any of the places you’ve been so far. We’ll stop at a family run sweet shop, and then after dinner we’ll take you to our favourite bar in town .
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Day 6Thu Nov 9
Latakia, Salah al-Din Citadel, Latakia
  • Although not one of the most famous, this might be our favourite Crusader castle. Built on top of a rocky peak in the middle of the forest high in the mountains behind Latakia, the castle itself was built by the Franks, but the spot had been a fortified stronghold for the Phoenecians, Alexander the Great and the Byzantines.
  • Rambling and overgrown, it feels like something out of a fairy tale, and we can climb all over the walls for amazing views out over the surrounding valleys. Probably our favourite part though is the massive hand-carved canyon that forms the eastern side of the fortress.
  • We won’t drive straight back to Latakia – we’ll take a little detour through some of the windy mountain roads to our favourite manakish shop in a tiny village. Run from the front of a local family’s home, this is really a unique food experience.
  • We’ll get back to Latakia in the afternoon with time to enjoy the beach again before heading out for another fun night. This time we’ll head to the area near Ugarit Port where there are loads of cheap, local restaurants with great views over the Mediterraean.
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Day 7Fri Nov 10
Latakia, Arwad, Krak Des Chaveliers, Valley of the Christians
  • Our first stop today will be at the port in Tartus where we will hop on a local ferry to visit the island of Arwad. Bustling and lively, the island feels a lot more backwards in many ways to the cities on the mainland, but has a really cool atmosphere.
  • With no cars, the island is made up of hundreds of tiny alleyways which we’ll wander around.
  • We can stop and speak to some boat builders, and if we’re lucky even see them at work, before stopping for a fresh seafood lunch near the port.
  • Returning to the mainland we’ll head to Krak de Chaveliers, the most famous of all the Crusader castles. It was first built by Kurds in the 11 th Century, and has changed hands many times, but most recently was damaged in the Syrian civil war. Recaptured by the Syrian government in 2014 it’s now safe and possible for us to visit the castle and the surrounding village of al-Husn, which is now mostly abandoned.
  • After visiting the castle, we’ll visit a nearby café that has a great view overlooking the castle, to sit down with a coffee or a beer or a shisha, and take in our surroundings.
  • We’ll spend the night in the Valley of the Christians, just below Krak Des Chaveliers.
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Day 8Sat Nov 11
Valley of the Christians, Palmyra, Damascus
  • Today we’ll visit Palmyra, probably Syria’s most famous site.
  • Once a lush city on the Silk Road, Palmyra was even briefly its own empire in the 3 rd Century, stretching from Turkey to Egypt. Although the old city was ruined, it was famously in spectacular condition and exceptionally well preserved. Sadly though in 2015 it fell under the control of ISIS, and a lot of the buildings were razed to the ground.
  • Until recently it wasn’t possible to visit the ancient site, however it is now possible, providing you have the correct permission.
  • We will also try and make a stop in the completely destroyed modern town of Palmyra, though this is difficult because of the presence of the Syrian Army and their allies. Even if we’re unable to stop though, we’ll drive though and you’ll be able to see what ISIS accomplished there.
  • Leaving Palmyra, we’ll drive back to Damascus, arriving in the evening.
  • Overnight in Damascus.
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Day 9Sun Nov 12
Damascus, Bosra, Beirut
  • In the morning we’ll head down to the south of the country to visit Bosra, which is still under the control of the Free Syrian Army – a very different experience to anywhere else we’ve been so far. Although they still don’t support the Assad Government, they have come to a mutual agreement that means that they’re not currently in direct combat with each other. Still though, you’ll notice the lack of Syrian flags and pictures of Assad.
  • Our first stop will be at the famous amphitheatre. Between its vast size and the fact that it’s still almost completely in-tact, it really is breath-taking.
  • We’ll sit down for a manakish or a falafel and have a chance to talk to a Free Syrian Army soldier, who will share his stories, and also a very different perspective on the situation in Syria than what you’ll already have heard.
  • Next we’ll take a walk through the old city and get a feel for this town, which has a totally different vibe to any other city in Syria. If we’re lucky, we might even meet some more people on our way who are happy to share their feelings and ideas on the situation with us.
  • Sadly this brings the end of our time in Syria and we will head back towards the Lebanese border. Including the border crossing and a few stops, we’ll arrive back in Beirut in the evening.
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Day 10Mon Nov 13
Beirut, Tripoli, World Fair Site, Byblos, Microbrewery
  • We will meet this morning at 9am to begin our exciting trip to some of Lebanon’s more interesting and unusual sites.
  • We’ll start off with a drive up the north coast of Lebanon. Our first stop is the Tripoli International Fair Site . In 1963, the famous brutalist architect Oscar Niemeyer was commission to design a complex for a World Expo. Unfortunately, construction was interrupted by the Lebanese Civil War and the project remaine d unfinished and since then it has been left to decay. The fair grounds present us with an awesome opportunity to explore some amazing, abandoned brutalist architecture. We’ll then head into the centre of Tripoli to take a walk around and get some lunch.
  • On the way back south, we’ll stop in at the famous ancient city of Byblos. Many believe Byblos is the oldest city in the entire world, with it first being inhabited between 8800 and 7000 BC! Over the course of its existence, Byblos has seen ma ny of the world’s empires come and go, including the Egyptian, Assyrian, Phoenician, Persian, Greek, Roman and Ottoman just to name a few.
  • One last stop, this time at a microbrewery! “A microbrewery in Lebanon?” you’re thinking… Opened in 2014, this local watering hole offers some unique drops made on site. Filled with young and hip Lebanese, we’ll stop by to have a drink. For those who didn’t get enough abandoned buildings in Tripoli, there is a never-finished aquarium right next door.
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Day 11Tue Nov 14
Hezbollah Museum, Al Khiam Prison
  • Today we’ll head in the opposite direction and drive south, first to the port city of Sidon, another town which claims to be the oldest in the world. Here we’ll stop to get permits to head to the south. This is the only way to get these permits, they don’t issue them in advance, but it in itself is a pretty unique and interesting experience!
  • We’ll then head to the famous Hezbollah Resistance Museum. This open-air museum was built on one of the sites of battles they fought against Israeli soldiers. This theme park/propaganda museum is surprisingly tasteful and shows both the lives of soldiers as well as the politics behind the deadly confrontations. It is due to Hezbollah that Israeli forces retreated from this part of southern Lebanon in 2000, after 22 years of occupation.
  • We’ll then use our permits to travel to the Al Khiam Prison , which was notoriously used by the Israeli occupation and their Lebanese allies to detain and t orture Lebanese resistance fights. Here we’ll see the methods used to torture and gain important information for the war. When the prison was liberated, the Lebanese allies of Israel who ran the prison fled to Israel. Parts of the prison were then bom bed to hide the evidence.
  • Finally we’ll take a drive along the wall that the Israelis have built to cut off parts of Lebanon and the border areas under the watch of UN peacekeepers. After a very full day of site-seeing, we’ll head back to Beirut with a stop in Sidon for dinner.
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Day 12Wed Nov 15
Baalbek and Rayak Winery
  • Baalbek is one of those must-see sites, the most famous in all of Leban on and considered one of the world’s most important historical sites. During the Greek and Roman Empires, the city was known as Heliopolis. Baalbek dates back to possibly as early as 9000 BC, when it was an important place of worship. In 1984 it was made a UNESCO World Heritage site and you can see why with its magnificent towering monuments and impressive structures. Baalbek stopped being a city in 748 when it was partly destroyed and ransacked by Marwan II of the Umayyad Caliphate.
  • We'll take the scenic route there, through the mountains east of Beirut, but on the way back we'll drive through the Beka Valley, stopping at our favourite winery on the way home.
  • Rayak Winery is in the town of Rayak, and is a really magical experience. Family run, it is definitely a passion project, and you won't find their wines sold anywhere other than at their own cellar door. For $5 per person we'll be given a "tasting" (though we can pour our own from the vats!), while the owner will proudly explain in as much detail as you like about all the processes involved. Then to top it off, we'll be given an arak display. And this is no joke - this is genuinely some of the best wine you'll ever have tasted.
  • We'll stop for dinner on the way through the Beka Valley and return to Beirut in the evening.
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Day 13Thu Nov 16
Jeita Grotto, Dictator Museum, Moussa Castle
  • Another one of the must-see sites in Lebanon is the Jeita Grotto. The grotto is the longest cave in the Middle East at over 9km long and is only a short drive from Beirut. There are actually two caves, but they are linked by smaller passages. One of the highlights is the impressive collection of stalactites and stalagmites, as well as the underground river.
  • It is believed the caves were infact inhabitated during prehistoric times but then weren’t discovered until 1836 by an American missionary.
  • The area itself has been appropriately kept natural with souvenir shops, train rides, ropeways, a small zoo, a sculpture park and all the other gimmicks you’d expect.
  • After the grotto you’re in for a real treat! The Hall of Fame Museum, the world’s first animated silicon museum. Some of your favourite world leaders are here and prime for a photo opportunity. American Presidents such as Bill Clinton and George Bush, dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Honsi Mubarak as well as other eminent individuals such as Einstein, Pope John Paul II and Arafat. There’s also a lot of Lebanese political leaders as well.
  • Heading to the southern side of Beirut again we'll drive into the mountains to one of the stranger sites in Lebanon, the Moussa Castle.

  • As a young man Moussa Al Maamari had a hard life, ridiculed by teachers and shunned by the girl he wanted to be with. Instead of despair he bought himself some land and made it his life-long ambition to build his own castle. Doing part time work elsewhere to fund his dream, he not only built a large castle but filled it with an eclectic collection of guns, jewellery and wax figures.

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