camel prowling for riders at the Syria's number one ancient site,
Palmyra. The ancient Arab fort of Qala'at ibn Maan is visible in the
to see all Syria Pictures starting with
Damascus or select a particular area from links below.
Pictures: Damascus | Palmyra | Aleppo
Syria Travel Guide |
Syria Map | Mid East Map
Combine colourful, amiable (but don't criticise Islam or the government!)
locals, stunning architecture in ancient towns, remnants of great
civilisations scattered liberally around the arid countryside, five
thousand years at the cross-roads of history, great weather if you
choose the right time (see below), relatively few other tourists,
an astonishingly low-cost environment and this country is a winner
for lovers of exotic cultures.
Syria has acquired an unfortunate reputation for deadly skulduggery
through its meddling in the affairs of its tiny neighbour Lebanon
and its proximity to Iraq (which resulted in its use by Islamic jihad
warriors as a transit point on the road to Baghdad). However, while
there is a fundamentalist sector of the population they don't seem
in a hurry to cause trouble on their home ground, be it fear of their
strong-arm government, respect for their country or just a common
sense decision derived from their observation of the long term damage
wreaked upon their neighbours.
Basically Arabs are among the most hospitable people on earth, a habit
developed from their nomadic desert days, though Arab countries saturated
with foreign tourists - such as Morocco and Egypt - have sadly lost
much of this warm-hearted attitude through simple over-exposure.
The country fortunately is still unspoilt and offers endless simple
friendliness untainted by the desire to conclude the conversation
with the sale of a carpet or some appalling rose-scented perfume.
Pictures in Syria:
A couple of points when taking photos here...while locals are usually
very welcoming that doesn't necessarily extend to taking pictures
of women, though men seem to enjoy being snapped and won't demand
payment. But ask permission when getting photos of females.
Secondly, with the bright skies, bleached deserts and ancient sites,
such as the above, try to use the beach or snow setting on your digital
camera in order to avoid under-exposure. i.e. when your camera over-compensates
for the strong light conditions and your photos end up too dark.
Domestic flights from Damascus to Aleppo
work well and intercity buses do a good
job (and include luxury vehicles) so the main difficulty
for individual travellers is getting to sights outside major towns.
Hiring a car and driver for the day is
the easy option if the wallet is willing, though they won't necessarily
speak English or know much about the sights.
Self-drive car hire is possible though
expensive and vehicles may prove unreliable. In addition drivers will
need to be flexible and have nerves of steel to deal with poor road
conditions, dumb goats, lunatic donkeys, reckless children and drivers
with more faith in Allah than in red traffic signals. And most road
signs are in Arabic only...
Travel on local microbuses or hitching
will take considerable time but provide plenty of people interest
and may involve an dose of Syrian hospitality. Hitching is an acceptable
means of travel in Syria, though naturally safer done in pairs if
exist but currently the only really acceptable trip is the night train
Aleppo-Damascus. Generally trains are old and uncomfortable, run at
night or infrequently by day, are poorly organised and stations are
inconveniently located outside towns.
Overland passenger truck expeditions
through Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Egypt are run by several tour operators.
This kind of travel is by no means luxurious, sometimes uses tented
accommodation, takes a while - anywhere between a few weeks and six
months - and a helping hand may be required, so overlanding generally
appeals more to younger travellers. They are very good value, safe,
well organised and visit a lot of wonderful locations but depend greatly
on the mix of travellers onboard for the difference between a fine
trip and a sensational trip.
The most common problem here is 'Traveller's Tummy' which
may combine with heat to severely dehydrate the body.
Avoid raw vegetables, and don't clean your teeth in tap water.
If dehydrated drink a lot of water, preferably with 1 teaspoon of
salt and 6 teaspoons of sugar to a litre (2 quarts) of water. The
additions will help your body to absorb the fluid. Don't take salt
tablets, they can cause stomach irritation and vomiting.
In spite of some ridiculous government warnings
this is not a terrorist hell-hole.
Theft is extremely rare and mugging unknown, though travellers need
to keep an eye out for overcharging.
Rare Islamic hardliners prefer to export their trouble; still, you
should check with government travel advisories, though they tend towards
Syria serves superb Levantine food at a low
price, and though it leans towards meat and oily fried dishes
- which are delicious - there's something for everyone and vegetarians
will do fine. For example humus, babaghanouj, ful beans, falafel and
tabouleh originated in this part of the world, kebabs too, particularly
lamb and chicken. Seafood is fair.
Meze (mixed starters such as the dishes above) will be enough food
for many travellers.
Alcohol is freely available, with good
beer, potent arak (aniseed, like ouzo or pastis) and even decent Lebanese
Hospitality: the biggest problem may
be how to politely refuse more food if you have accepted an offer
to eat with locals. The general rule is that it's good manners to
eat everything offered but that could well be a gut-exploding experience,
so if necessary try everything and leave some food on the side of
A few key words in the local language, Arabic, will dramatically improve
your relations with locals. e.g. minfadlak (please), shukrun
(thank you), aiwa (yes), la (no), bikam
(how much?), numbers of course, inshallah! (God willing -
for when you make future arrangements), and hamdou lillah!
(Praise God - when you hear good news). And no, that doesn't mean
that you have to become a Muslim to say that stuff!
to go to Syria:
Best weather: March-May and Sept-November.
Worst: June-August (really excessive heat), December-Feb
(cold and wet) and Ramadan (Muslim fasting month, dates depend on full moon so may differ by one day depending on location. 9 July-7 August 2013. There's always a lively feast day, Idd al-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan.