Update summer 2017: The update is that there is no update. Safety in both Beirut and Lebanon remains stable.
Today, many people are continuously asking me:
Is it safe to travel to Lebanon? Is Beirut safe?
That’s because, unfortunately, many travelers believe that safety in both Beirut and Lebanon is an issue.
But guess what. Lebanon, including Beirut, is one of the safest countries in the Middle East. The only reason why it’s not considered as such is because of the media and the wrong Government travel advice and warning.
Is it safe to travel to Lebanon?
What are you going to find in this article?
- Is it safe to travel to Beirut? And how safe is Lebanon? Find your answers here
- Non-safe areas you should not visit
- Travel advice and tips on how to visit the sensitive areas of Hezbollah
- The isolated case of Tripoli
- Bonus: Lebanon and Beirut safety tips
Are Beirut and Lebanon safe?
Contrary to what people say, in Lebanon and Beirut, there is no war
For some reason, people in the West tend to relate Lebanon with war. And I wonder: ”Why?”. Whereas it’s true that the country suffered 25 years of Civil War, this ended in 1991. It was more than 25 years ago! Furthermore, the Lebanese-Israeli war took place in 2006, but it lasted for one month only. For the past 10 years, the country has been able to enjoy peace!
Read: Beirut Travel Guide
In Lebanon, there’s no place for extremism. Did you know that more than 40% of the population are Christians?
Lebanon is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, and today, several different religious groups coexist pacifically. Did you know that more than 40% of the population are Christians? No? Did you know that Sunni Muslims (the branch of Islam that ISIS draws its followers) only represent 25% of the population?
In this country, there’s no place for extremism. Have you ever heard of any Lebanese who has radicalized and joined ISIS? Normally, they come from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan or even Turkey. Lebanon is so culturally cluttered, that the chances of a person to radicalize are low.
The most liberal country in the Middle East
On the other hand, although religion plays an important role in most of the families, from a religious point of view, Lebanon is the most liberal country in the entire Middle East. It counts with the largest number of atheists (especially among young people), beer is available everywhere and drinking alcohol in the street is allowed (a quite common). Surprised?
It shares a border with Syria. OK, so what?
Lebanon shares border with Syria. Yes, so what? They are two different countries. The border between them is highly guarded and controlled. The chances of the Syrian conflict moving into Lebanon are non-existent.
The investment in military security is huge
We can’t forget that Lebanon is located in a highly turbulent region. The military presence aims at preventing any sort of potential conflict. Soldiers and checkpoints are found in absolutely every corner of the country. The Lebanese people love the army. They are accepted in the society because it makes them feel safer.
Crime rate and kidnappings are non-existent
Like in most of the Arab countries, the crime rate is practically zero. No robberies, no violence. In Lebanon, you can walk around without a worry anywhere at any time, even women.
NON-GO zones in Lebanon
I just told you the reasons why Lebanon and Beirut are safe places to travel to. Does it mean that you could wander freely across the whole country? No, absolutely not.
Whereas it’s true that 95% of the country is safe, the remaining 5% could not be. Why? Because the few radicals who live in the country are found in those areas. These areas are not only dangerous for the simple fact that you may meet some extremists, but, since the area is so close to Syria, it also suffers from a spillover coming from the Syrian conflict. What are these non-go zones? Basically, the north-eastern portion highlighted in red. Don’t even get close to this area. The rest of the country is safe.
Safety in Lebanon & Beirut: Visiting the sensitive areas of Hezbollah
There are a bunch of areas which, even though they are not classified as dangerous, they are considered sensitive. Why? Because they are controlled by Hezbollah. What does ”sensitive area” mean? Hezbollah areas have always been the target of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State. In fact, the last suicide bombings occurred in Lebanon (don’t worry, there is one attack per year) happened in Hezbollah areas. They are partially restricted and any sort of journalism is not allowed.
To understand it better I recommend you to read: The day I was accused of being an Islamic State spy
Which Hezbollah areas are sensitive?
- Shia Muslim neighborhoods of Beirut, for example, Bourj el-Barajneh
- Some refugee camps, for example, Ain al-Hilweh in Saida
- Hezbollah territories located in the south of Lebanon, close to the border with Israel
Things to keep in mind when visiting a Hezbollah area
Don’t even think of taking pictures or let anyone see you with a camera
Some locals may be hostile and you might be kicked out for no reason. If you have the chance to go with a Lebanese, then do it
Foreigners will always be treated as suspicious. You’ll pass through several checkpoints where you’ll be checked and interrogated over and over
In these areas, there are no tourists. Many of the residents can’t even understand why would someone come to their area for tourism purposes. Repeatedly, you’ll be asked by the locals: ”What are you doing here”?. Simply, answer: ”Nothing, I am just a tourist and I am walking all around the city”.
Today, Hezbollah areas are relatively safe. I say relatively because there’s one suicide bombing per year, approximately. To be safer, stay away from crowds.
Before heading to any of those areas, check the current situation with a local Lebanese. The areas close to the Israeli border require a special permit. To get it, go to any police station in either Saida or Beirut. You get it instantly. Keep in mind that this permit gives you access to the area, but it doesn’t allow you to take any pictures or do anything silly.
Important to mention: These areas have no appeal for tourists. The only reason why you would want to go there is because you have a tremendous curiosity and need to know what the hell is going on in there. I visited everything. In the border with Israel, I was detained by the authorities. In the Shia neighborhood of Bourj el-Barajneh, some locals kicked me out, pacifically, but for no reason. However, I didn’t experience any issue when I visited the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila. If you are as freaky and curious as I am, the experience is definitely worth it.
Read: Visiting Bourj el-Barajneh by Offbeat Travelling
The isolated case of Tripoli
The U.S. travel advice says that Tripoli is not safe. Tripoli is a city located in the north of Lebanon and the second most important one. Why do governments consider it dangerous? Since the Civil War times, there have been one-off clashes between Sunni and Alawi Muslims who reside in the neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, respectively. Throughout the years, these clashes have killed several people.
This is a one-off conflict happening in a specific area, far away from the city center. It’s a fight between two small districts and doesn’t go beyond. The rest of the city is totally cool and safe. I spent four days in Tripoli, and to be honest, it was one of the highlights of my trip. I also have to admit that, since I’m an extremely curious human being, I also went to Jabal Mohsen. And what can I say? Life there was merely normal. Again, clashes and bombings happen once a year, not more.
Bonus: Beirut and Lebanon safety tips
Buy travel insurance. No matter where you travel, you should always have insurance. For Lebanon, I recommend World Nomads. However, if you have security concerns, you should buy First Allied, which specializes in war zones. World Nomads (and most insurances) doesn’t cover accidents related to terrorism but First Allied does.
Stay connected with your mom. Probably, your mom won’t be very happy about your trip to Lebanon. If you don’t want to keep her worried, I recommend you buy Tellink, which is an international SIM Card that can be used worldwide, hence you’ll be able to contact home at any time.
Use Couchsurfing. In Beirut, Couchsurfing is a big deal. Every Tuesday, there is a Couchsurfing event where you can meet some friendly locals who like to organize weekend trips for foreigners.
Watch out your stuff. Even though both Lebanon and Beirut are safe from a crime perspective, in these type of countries, losing your passport and wallet might be an issue. Pacsafe has a wide range of anti-theft bags, backpacks, and accessories.
A reminder. As I mentioned previously, don’t go to the north east of the country and stay safe in Hezbollah areas
Is Lebanon safe? The answer is yes, but you need to keep in mind that this country has gone through several conflicts and is located in the heart of the most turbulent region in the world. Travel safe and cautious. If you have any question, leave a comment below. I’ll be happy to answer. Cheers.
More articles about Lebanon:
I also recommend reading: Is it safe to travel to Iraq?