Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp

traveling in Syria

In December 2018, I decided to travel to Syria. 

The country had been in my plans for a very long time and, finally, they started to make it easier for travelers in 2018. 

I spent 1 week there traveling independently and visited Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo. 

It was an amazing experience.

On the one hand, very enriching, as I met loads of Syrians who told me their side of the story, plus I got to visit ancient, marvelous sites that were a real blessing to my eyes. 

But, on the other hand, here I witnessed one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the 21st century and visited hair-raising places that may require a lot of cold blood, if you don’t want to breakdown in tears, and will make you be sensitive and empathize with the many beautiful Syrians. 

Long Live Syria. 

This guide contains everything you need to know for traveling to Syria independently, including plenty of tips regarding visas, safety, transportation and much, much more!

If you want to keep track of all my current travels and photos, don’t forget to follow @againstthecompass on Instagram

 

Travel in Syria

 

How to travel to Syria in 2019 – Everything you must know

Here you will find

Why travel to Syria
How to get a visa
Travel Insurance for Syria
How to get to Syria
Is Syria safe?
The people
How to move around 
Money in Syria
Responsible tourism and ethics
Taking photos
Don’t get off the beaten track
Where to stay
The food
Internet and mobile

Do you know what a VPN is? A Virtual Private Network allows you to access blocked sites when you travel, as well as it lets you access content only available in your home country (like Netflix), plus it prevents hackers from stealing your personal data. Learn here why you should always use a VPN when you travel 

 

Why should you visit Syria now?

This is a very good question, one I have been asked a lot recently.

The truth is that reasons vary.

First of all, in the last couple of years, I have been traveling all across the Middle East, so visiting Syria, one of the most fascinating countries in the region, had been in my travel plans for a very long time.

I actually attempted to travel there from Beirut back in 2016, but the Syrian embassy said they were not issuing visas at that time.

Another even more important reason is that Syria is a great country, home to one of the oldest civilizations ever, so visiting Syria from a tourism perspective is a must-do.

The beautiful Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, one of the oldest and largest mosques in the world

However, most people asking that question tend to refer more to the ethical aspect of traveling to Syria, as this is a war zone from where many people have been forced to escape in order to save their lives.

Well, I want you to know that I fully understand why someone would not want to visit a post-war zone because, truth be told, destroyed buildings and misery are not pleasant things to see.

Nevertheless, the first thing you need to know is that I travel to learn and become wiser and, yes, I am interested in visiting a post-war zone, because this is living history and I wanted to see it with my own eyes, and not through a biased newspaper.

I also think that traveling to Syria with the sole objective of empathizing with the locals is a good thing and, as long as you are absolutely respectful about the crisis, there is nothing wrong with it.

But in the end, we should ask Syrians what they think about it and I can assure you that, since Syria used to be a major touristic destination, today Syrians are very happy to see that tourists are coming back because this is a real sign of recovery.

For more information, read the Responsible Tourism section of this article.

There are no updated guidebooks of Syria, but Bradt Guides has the only exclusive travel guide to Syria, updated as of 2010. Still, it is a good source and a nice introduction to the country. CLICK HERE TO CHECK THE PRICES ON AMAZON

can you travel to Syria
The views from the citadel in Aleppo… No words needed – Is it safe to travel to Syria

 

Tourist visa for Syria

Updated May 2019

(If you have any more information, kindly let us know in the comments section)

Getting a Syrian visa nowadays is a confusing process.

Here’s the thing:

Prior to November 2018 (and from the beginning of 2018), you could get a Syrian visa by paying 300-400USD to a tour operator and then you could travel around the country independently. 

However, in November 2018, an independent German backpacker got into some sensitive areas where tourists were not supposed to go and he was arrested for a week.

Since then, the Ministry of Tourism has dictated that all travelers who want to get a Syrian tourist visa must book a full tour with a valid tour operator. This is true.

Nevertheless, this new rule is sort of contradictory because, on the other hand, once you are in Syria, you can move around independently and, if an agency is telling you otherwise, like you will get arrested if you go to Aleppo by yourself and stuff like that, they are lying, really.

Foreigners don’t need to be with a guardian when they travel in Syria, absolutely not. How did I manage to travel in Syria independently then? Keep reading until the end of this section. 

How to get a Syrian visa via a tour operator

The first thing you need to know is that travel agencies don’t issue tourist visas for Syria but a security clearance (a background check), which you need to show at the customs. Actually, you don’t even need to show it because you will appear in their database.

By the way, this is how the security clearance looks like. Usually, it includes several random people:

tourist visa for Syria

Cost: Cost varies depending on the agency you get it from. I have a Spanish passport and paid 325USD (with Basil from the Travel King). I heard that some agencies may charge up to 400-500USD. If you have a British or American passport, expect to pay a few more hundred. 

How to pay for your visa: Note that the Syrian banking system is blocked so, in most cases, you will need to send the money via Western Union unless the agency has a foreign bank account. 

Time: Again, it depends on the agency. In my case, I got my security clearance in less than 24 hours, while other agencies may take up to 1 week. By the way, for American and British citizens, the process can take up to 1 or 2 months, even more. 

Validity: It has a 90-day validity, starting from the day you received it.

Once you have your security clearance, you can buy your visa at the border.

EU Passport holders: 72USD
Australia and New Zealand: 130USD
United Kingdom: 140USD
USA: 160USD

The tourist visa for Syria is valid for 10 days. According to the migration officer, you can extend it at the Immigration Office in Damascus, but who knows whether this is true or not.

You will also have to pay an exit fee of 2,500SYP, which is around 5USD.

visa for Syria
My visa for Syria and my Lebanese stamps

List of valid Syrian tour operators

There are quite a few valid tours operators who can help you with the Syrian visa. I have compiled the following list based on my personal experience and what some travelers told me. 

I decided to delete de full tour operator list until I talk to each one of them

If you want to already know some options, please check the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum. 

How to avoid booking a full tour (it may come with some risk though):
There is a way of traveling around Syria independently and that is by booking a 1-day tour to Damascus from Beirut. As I told you at the beginning, you can travel around Syria independently and the proof is that in most cases, agencies allow you to travel to Damascus by yourself. Usually, in those countries where a guardian/guide is required, he would pick you up at the border/airport, so how is it possible that you can go all the way to Damascus without a guide? Seriously, during my trip, I passed through dozens of different checkpoints and never encountered a single problem so, what you can do is, once you finish your 1-day tour, you can pretend you are leaving the country but you just stay.
What are the risks involved?
Well, you need to make sure that the agency doesn’t find out because who knows what they can do about it. Moreover, if you got into trouble, the agency would have to take responsibility for you. 

I traveled in Syria independently and didn’t book a tour. How did I do it?

Good question. 

The fact is that I got my security clearance (with Basil from the Travel King) in October 2018 for 325USD but, for personal reasons, I had to postpone my trip until December/January. 

In mid-December, I contacted Basil to let him know that I would travel to Syria soon, most likely during the first week of January. However, he told me that the rules had changed since we last talked (because of that German backpacker), so now I needed to book a tour with him. 

I told him that that was not our initial agreement and, if that was the case, I would like a full refund.

He said that he would not give me a refund, claimed that I would get arrested if I went there on my own and, after a long discussion, he threatened to cancel my visa if I didn’t book a tour.

He was an asshole, really, but do you know what I did?

I didn’t believe him for a second but I said that OK, that I would book a 1-week tour, but I needed 10 days to collect all the money.

He believed me and, while he was waiting for the money, I booked a flight straight to Beirut, crossed the Syrian border and, as I expected, I managed to travel around Syria without any problem, including going to Aleppo and Homs by public transportation and Couchsurfing. 

Once I left Syria, I sent him a message and he hates me for that now. 

How to get a visa for Syria via an embassy

Pros of applying via embassy – It should be much cheaper, as you don’t have to pay for the security clearance. 

Cons of applying via embassy – As far as we know, the process is much slower. For example, the embassy in Madrid claims that it takes around 40 days. 

However, most embassies will require a Letter of Invitation (LOI), which you can only get through a tour operator, which they will only give you if you book a tour with them.

Each Syrian embassy, nevertheless, is a completely different world, so I suggest you contact your nearest and see what they say. 

I personally called the Embassy in Madrid and they said you first need to send an email to [email protected], telling them about your intentions in Syria, so they will tell you what information they need from you, which includes a damn LOI. 

After this, they will send all your information to Syria in order to get a security clearance and, if accepted, you will be able to apply for your visa, which costs 60€.

Rumors – We heard that both the embassy in Beirut and I don’t know which consulate/embassy in Brazil don’t require the LOI. But again, these are just rumors. Let us know if you know anything else about it. 

In any case, embassy rules change every single day, so just contact your nearest embassy and see what they say about it.

Read: How to travel to Saudi Arabia (Visa + Tips)

Visit Syria
The Old City of Damascus – The columns belong to an old Roman Jupiter temple – Is Syria safe?

 

Travel Insurance for Syria

Like in Iran, because of all the sanctions, most travel insurance companies don’t provide cover for travel in Syria and that includes World Nomads and First Allied.

The one which does, however, is IATI Insurance.

They have loads of different plans for all types of travelers and the best of it is that the readers of this blog can get an exclusive 5% discount.

BUY IT THROUGH THIS LINK TO GET YOUR 5% DISCOUNT!

 

How to get to Syria

How to travel to Syria by land

Beirut to Damascus – Traveling from Beirut to Damascus is the easiest way to travel to Syria. Beirut is only 115km from Damascus and the journey takes only 2 hours, including the customs process.

Currently, there is no bus service but locals travel in shared taxis.

They leave from Charles Hélou bus station, which is in a very central location, in Gemmazyeh. Shared taxis from Beirut to Damascus run all day long and I went there at 3pm and waited for no more than 15 or 20 minutes.

The cost per person is 20USD (18 if it is a 7-seat car).

Beirut to Damascus
Charles Hélou station – Beirut to Damascus

Alternatively, you can also book a trip with a private company like Allo Taxi, which has a similar price but I am not sure if they help you to find other passengers. If you go by yourself, you will pay 100USD.

Apparently, there is also a shared taxi service from Beirut airport to Damascus but it can cost up to 35USD per person.

Beirut to Damascus border crossing: Very straightforward.

On the Lebanese side, they barely check your passport and, on the Syrian side, they take around 20 minutes, as long as there are no people, of course.

Beirut to Damascus by car
On our way from Beirut to Damascus

First, they check your security clearance, then you purchase your visa at the bank counter and give your receipt to the immigration officer.

You only get a stamp, not a visa sticker.

After getting your Syrian visa and resuming your journey, you will go through several checkpoints, but you shouldn’t experience any problem. In fact, some soldiers were joking with me about football when they saw my Spanish passport.

Read: A travel guide to Beirut

Tripoli to Tartus – You can also travel to Syria from the border north of Tripoli. Shared taxis to Tartus cost 18,000LBP (12USD) and they leave until 8pm from this station: 34.436691, 35.837163. It is only a 65km journey, so it should be fairly quick.

From Jordan to Syria – The border is finally open but the journey from Amman is longer (200km). I have heard that there are also shared taxis but, unfortunately, I don’t know any more details, so it would be great if you could update me with that!

Turkey to Syria – Today, that border is not possible to cross legally. 

How to travel to Syria by air

You can also fly in but the problem is that the international airport in Damascus doesn’t have many connections, so going from Beirut will always be easier.

In any case, check out Cham Wings Airlines and Syrian Air. They have occasional flights from Dubai, Sharjah and Doha.

Read: Lebanon – A 2-week itinerary

travel to Damascus Syria
Somewhere in Damascus – Can you travel to Syria?

 

Is it safe to travel to Syria?

Is Syria safe?

Along with the visa, safety is the other big question mark for anyone traveling to Syria.

Look, the war is practically over (the city of Idlib is the last actual war zone) and cities like Aleppo and Damascus are perfectly safe.

You see children roaming around and everything seems just fine now.

Moreover, the Old City of Damascus is full of military checkpoints where they check your bag and look at anyone who seems suspicious, so there is a high level of security and nothing has happened for a long time now. 

is it safe to go to Syria
Celebrating Christmas in Damascus – How to travel to Syria

Actually, I was in Damascus for Christmas and, for the first time since the beginning of the war, the streets of the Old City of Damascus (and Aleppo as well) were filled with Christmas lights and celebration.

The atmosphere was full of joy, happiness and both Muslims and Christians were celebrating such an event with very big enthusiasm (there is a huge Christian community in Damascus).

This can only mean that even the Syrians themselves believe the city is safe.

Long story short: I personally think that Syria is safe to visit but it will depend on where you go. 

Read: Is it safe to travel to Iraq

Which parts of  Syria are safe to travel?

Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, Latakia, Tartus and the Krak De Chevaliers Castle. 

For Palmyra, apparently, you still need a special permit. If you go on a tour, it should be easy to get one but I am not sure how independent travelers could get one. I think you would have to contact a travel agency. 

You can travel to other areas, like the region south of Damascus and I am sure some places in between but that is all I know for now.

Still, keep in mind that this is a post-war zone, which means that it is highly unstable and things could change overnight. Against the Compass doesn’t take any responsibility for whatever may happen to you during your visit to Syria. 

is it safe to visit Syria
Long Live Aleppo – Is it possible to travel to Syria?

 

The people – The Syrians

Language – Levantine Arabic is the official language. 

You should know that many English-speaking people left the country but you will always find someone who does. In any case, try to learn some Arabic before traveling to Syria. 

Religion – Around 65% of the population are Sunni Muslims but, like its neighbor Lebanon, in Syria, there are many different religions, including a large Christian population. Bashar Al-Assad is Alawite, a Shia branch. 

Read: Visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq

is Syria a safe place to visit
Friendly Syrians, always – Visit Syria tourism

How do Syrians feel about tourism?

According to the UN, around 500,000 Syrians have been killed, nearly 5,000,000 escaped from the country and several more million who are still in the country need humanitarian assistance. 

We are talking here about one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the 21st century. 

Like I said at the beginning, many people are skeptical about traveling to Syria, claiming or thinking that it may be disrespectful to all the people that have been affected somehow. 

Well, what I think is that, before making any judgment, we should ask the actual Syrians living in Syria what they think about it. 

Throughout my 1-week journey, I did not talk to a single Syrian who was not happy at seeing a Spanish tourist interested in traveling to Syria.

The ones who spoke English approached me, asking me a lot of questions and showing their gratitude for visiting their country. 

They don’t hesitate to talk to you about the crisis, the problems that it has caused, etc. 

Hello, how are you?

Well, alive, thank God! – A random Syrian told me

However, I thought that wandering around Damascus as a tourist would be like being a celebrity. I mean, people were extremely nice and kind but it was not like when you travel in Pakistan, for example, where everybody stops you in the street to talk to you. 

The main reason was that most people thought I was a journalist and the second was that Syrians have always had great international exposure, so seeing foreigners is something they are actually used to, with the only difference they haven’t seen many since 2010. 

Long story short: Syrians are happy to see tourists. 

is it safe to visit Syria now
More friendly Syrians – How to visit Syria

 

How to travel around Syria

You can travel around Syria by local buses and shared taxis.

I took the bus from Damascus to Aleppo, which takes more than 7 hours. The reason is that the section of the road from Homs to Aleppo is not totally Government-controlled, so after Homs, they turn right and make a huge detour to get to Aleppo.

There is not much to say here, other than the roads of Syria are full of military checkpoints, which is what you may expect. 

Your driver will keep your passport and he will handle everything for you, so don’t worry about that. 

I also took the bus from Homs to Damascus and it was a very similar story. From Aleppo to Homs I took a local shared taxi.

Seriously, buses run normally, smoothly and without any problem

In Damascus, this is the main bus station to go to Homs and Aleppo: 33.532449, 36.31875.

The station at Aleppo is quite far from the city center but you will see plenty of taxis just outside.

As per safety, the truth is that many people were being overprotective with me, always taking care that I was feeling safe and comfortable, so you should not worry about that. Most people taking the bus to Aleppo are from the army by the way.

Bashar Al-Assad face is everywhere – Travel guide Syria

 

What you need to know about money before traveling to Syria

In Syria, they use the Syrian Pound (SYP), a currency that has been fluctuating like crazy for the past 10 years.

Actually, they say that it devaluates daily, sometimes several times a day, but during my stay, I was always able to exchange at the exact same rate, which was 1USD = 490SYP.

I exchanged once at the hotel and then with random people from different shops. All of them offered me the same rate.

If you check the currency value evolution, you will see that, for the last couple of months, it has always been between 450-550, approximately.

money in Syria
The new Syrian bill with Bashar Al-Assad’s face on it. This is around 4USD and it is their highest bill

There are also official exchange offices that should give you a similar value, but I preferred to exchange with random people, as an excuse to have a small chat.

By the way, bring € or USD. If you don’t have any, do know that in Lebanon you can withdraw USD from most ATMs. 

If you have Syrian Pounds left when you leave, you can exchange them to Lebanese Pounds or USD in most exchange offices in Beirut. Outside of Lebanon, I doubt you can. 

ATMs and Credit Cards – Because of the sanctions, everything is blocked in Syria, so you must bring enough cash for your whole stay.

How much does it cost to travel to Syria?

These are the prices of the most typical things. I won’t write the € or $ conversion this time because of the continuous devaluation but keep in mind that 1USD is around 500SYP.

  • Lunch in a local restaurant: 2,500-4,000SYP
  • Food in a nice restaurant with wine: 7,500-9,000SYP
  • Breakfast (like hummus or ful): 500-800SYP
  • National Museum: 500SYP
  • Aleppo Citadel: 500YSP
  • Bus from Damascus to Aleppo: 4,000-5,000SYP
  • Budget Hotel in Damascus: 10,000-15,000SYP for a private room
  • Mid-range hotel in Damascus: 20,000-40,000SYP for a private room
  • Taxis within cities: 500-700SYP
  • Local shared taxi Aleppo to Homs: 7,000SYP
Is Syria safe to travel
The Citadel of Aleppo – Traveling to Syria

 

Responsible tourism and ethics

Syria is a post-war zone, where millions of people have lost their houses and relatives, so please, be a sensitive tourist. 

Don’t say war but crisis or situation instead – You will see that many Syrians themselves don’t really use the word war but they prefer to say other less harsh words.

Don’t say anything bad about Al-Assad – You will be surprised to know that most people are heavy supporters of the Al-Assad regime, so don’t give your political opinion because you may offend someone. I guess that the Syrians who are against him aren’t there anymore. 

is it safe to travel to Syria right now
Syrians hanging out in a destroyed building in Homs

Don’t take selfies with damaged buildings – Seriously, this is one of the most disrespectful things you could ever do and you would actually be an asshole if you did it. 

Empathize with the locals – When you are in an area full of destroyed buildings be polite to the people, say hello, shake hands and just be nice with them.

Collaborate with the local economy – In Homs and Aleppo, you are likely to see small businesses open among all the ruins. Do buy things from them. In Homs, I saw one small bakery shop in the practically destroyed souq; I couldn’t resist buying one kilo of sweets there, which I gave to a young boy that was looking for something among the trash.

Read: A travel guide to Iraqi Kurdistan

how safe is Syria
The streets of Homs, which is around 40% destroyed – Is it safe to visit Syria now

 

Are the cities really destroyed?

This seems to bring a lot of confusion, so let me explain it to you:

Damascus – Only the outskirts of Damascus are destroyed, as there was a bloody battle there. That area is off limits to tourists. The Old City, downtown and, basically, all the center of Damascus remains intact. 

Aleppo – A percentage of the Old City is destroyed, as well as some areas from outside the city. Most of Aleppo isn’t damaged but some very important sites from the Old City, like the Great Mosque, are gone.

Homs – One of the most affected cities by the war. Approximately 40% of the city is destroyed and that includes its bazaar, one of the liveliest and most important souqs in the Middle East. 

Palmyra – I haven’t been there but, as far as I know, ISIS destroyed a large part of it. 

can you still travel to Syria
the Old City of Aleppo – Is Syria a safe place to visit?

 

Taking photos when you travel in Syria

You can take photos of everything except for one thing: military stuff.

Yes, it is very obvious but the problem is that there is military stuff everywhere, especially in Damascus. 

In Damascus, it happened a few times that I took a picture of some cool building or whatever, from relatively far away, and didn’t realize there was a checkpoint right next to it.

Of course, the soldiers approached me but, after quickly checking my passport and my camera, they very kindly let me continue.

Seriously, in Damascus Old City, there are checkpoints everywhere, so pay attention before taking any photos.

I was also approached by soldiers from time to time when I was taking photos of non-military stuff but that was because they still need to get used to tourists roaming around. 

Remember everything is still very recent and, in their eyes, everybody could be suspicious. 

Visit Syria tourism
A soldier in Aleppo’s citadel

 

Don’t get off the beaten track in Syria, not yet

Seriously, don’t.

Don’t do it because you are going to ruin it for everybody.

Syria just started opening to tourism, so stick to the main touristic areas, which includes the centers of Damascus, Aleppo, etc.

I am telling you this because there was a German guy who went to the outskirts of Damascus to take photos of some destroyed buildings and he was put in jail for a week.

Dude, the country is still not ready for seeing Westerners hanging out in sensitive areas.

Since then, travel agencies require travelers to book a full tour, claiming that, after that incident, there is a new regulation saying that tourists need to be all the time with a guide, but it is bullshit, really.

They tell you this to save their ass because that man Basel got into trouble when that German guy was arrested. And by the way, instead of helping him, he didn’t want to have anything to do with it. 

We shouldn’t blame that German guy. He committed a mistake and he already paid for it, but that should serve as a lesson for future travelers.

how to visit Syria
Damascus bazaar is really good to visit

 

Where to stay in Syria

Since the crisis, the Government of Syria has introduced a dual pricing policy in all hotels, in which foreigners pay several times the local price. 

This has increased the rates substantially but you can still find many affordable options. 

Also, you should know that good hotels tend to be full. I arrived in Damascus without a booking and many hotels I walked by had no rooms left but, luckily, there are hotels everywhere. 

By the way, you can also try to Couchsurf. I actually Couchsurfed in Aleppo. 

Where to stay in Damascus

Budget – Green Hotel – Single rooms cost 15USD and double 30USD. It was very clean, there was a heater, good Wi-Fi and the guy from the reception spoke English. It was here, just outside of the Old City: 33.510168. 36.298925. You can contact my friend Mohammed (he is the only receptionist that speaks good English): +963993829946. Alternatively, you can contact the hotel directly but they may not speak English: +963112258895. 

hotels in Damascus
Green Hotel in Damascus. I paid 15USD for this room. It was simple but clean and everything you need!

Mid-range – Hotel Al Majed – This hotel asks around 40USD for a single room. Location: 33517188, 36.296579

Top-end – Beit al Wali – One of the best hotels in the city.

Where to stay in Aleppo

Mid-range – Palace Hotel Like, I said, I Couchsurfed in Aleppo but I entered this hotel to ask for the price. They ask 69USD for a room. This is the location: 36.207146, 37.14857. It is next to the I Love Aleppo square and it looked a great place to stay. I don’t know any other budget options. 

Where to stay in Homs

Mid-range – New Basman Hotel – This is the cheapest hotel I found in Homs. I paid around 40USD for a huge room, which included a basic dinner and a good breakfast. It was pretty good. This is the location: 34.72133, 36.711241. For a reservation, you can contact them at +963991305972. 

 

The food and alcohol in Syria

In the last few years, I haven’t traveled to many countries that are famous for their food, but Syria definitely is. 

Being an olive-oil rich Mediterranean country, the ingredients used in their cuisine are fresh and similar to the ones we used in Spain, but also Italy, France, and Greece. 

The food is actually pretty much the same as in Lebanon, with their own regional variations, of course. 

From the classic hummus to kibbeh (local steak tartar), different sorts of grilled meat or a typical dish of Aleppo consisting of meatballs in cherry sauce, the food in Syria is so varied. 

For me, however, breakfast is the best part, as they always serve different variations of hummus and ful deep in super tasty olive oil and vegetables. 

As per the alcohol, you should know that Syria has a large Christian population, so alcohol is easily available, especially in the Christian district of the Old City of Damascus, where there is a street filled with bars and many liquor shops. 

You can actually buy a $1 beer and drink it in the street!

food in Syria
Hummus for breakfast 😀

 

Internet and mobile

Wi-Fi – Internet works well across the country. The hotels I stayed at had a good connection and you can also connect in most relatively good cafés and restaurants.

Mobile – I bought Syriatel and, for 2,500SYP, they gave me 2GB and some calls but, of course, prices may change. They only asked for my passport. I recommend you go to the official store. There is one next to Merjeh Square, right here: 33.513185, 36.29777.

I hope this travel guide to Syria will help you to plan your trip. I will try to keep it updated but, if you have more updates, please let us know in the comments section. Thanks 🙂

 

traveling to Syria

 

DOWNLOAD MY LATEST EBOOK

All the tips and tricks I have been using during all my years of travels

 

HOW TO PLAN YOUR TRIP TO AN

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK COUNTRY

77 comments

  1. Hi, before the war Syria was known as not being particularly female travelers friendly, do you think that has changed? Would you recommend going there as a solo female traveler? Thanks love your blog!

    1. Hello Iris. When it comes to the local culture and openmindedness, I tried to compare it with other Middle Eastern countries and, to be very honest, I didn’t see much difference versus Palestine and Jordan, 2 countries where females can now travel easily.

      In Damascus, you see loads of women without hijab and there is actually a large Christian population and, in their district, you find very openminded people, like in any European capital.

      But in any case, I would like to get in touch with a girl who has been there recently, to see what kind of advice she could give and what she thinks about it 🙂

      1. Thank you for your quick reply! 🙂 We are trying to see if we can go in a few weeks, but we might not get the visa in time… Although I might come back, because your article made me put Damascus high on my bucketlist! 🙂

    2. Yes i am syrian i live in syria we are not like other middle eastren countries so for sure you can come and you are always welcome

  2. Having been to Syria twice before the war I fully support your reasons for going. It’s people definitely deserve the income that tourism can offer.
    I know you caution about the security situation but I think it’s especially important to do so about Aleppo. Areas held by extremists border on the city and there have been mortar attacks and some kind of chemical weapon attack on the outskirts. The situation in Idlib will almost certainly only be solved militarily though I guess in this case the govt will keep tourists well away. I agree with you about the rest of the country but it’s important to appreciate the situation around Aleppo. Thanks again for another great article. Unfortunately I won’t have a chance to go back there until next year but will definitely go.

  3. Fantastic information, muchas gracias Joan! I visited Syria with a group from Ireland last June 2018, I fell in love with the country, it’s people and culture. I hope to return in May this year, thank you again for this updated information.

      1. Hola again Joan! We spent 3 days in Damascus, visited the Old City, Ummayyad Mosque, the Souk etc, the Palestinian camp, which was pretty much destroyed, then onto Ma’aloula and up to Aleppo. Hoping to visit Tartous/Latakia and Palmyra on the upcoming trip. Thanks again for your excellent report!

  4. Hi Joan,
    I’d like to ask you, how about the relations between Syria and Israel? You write about crossing the borders between Lebanon and Syria, and Jordan and Syria. But how about Israel and Syria? I guess that the border between Israel and Syria is also closed, but anyway, do you know more about it? And how the Syrians think about Israel and the Jews? I know that Israel makes some air raids against the Iranian bases there (at least it is what the news say). Does it have an effect to the opinion of the local Syrians about Israel?

    1. Hi Krasen! The border between Israel and Syria is definitely closed and it will be for a long time. I don’t know if it used to be open during the pre-war but I seriously doubt it. I didn’t talk to any Syrian (in Syria) about Israel but I did talk to Syrians living in other parts of the world and their opinion towards Israel / Jews is the same as Lebanese, Jordanians and, basically, any other Arab.

    2. Hey we hate isreal and isrealies and we love jews and any israrli stamp on your passport will perminatly ban you from syria (thats the law)
      From syria

      1. Hi!
        We will travel to Syria in this summer.
        In the visa application form we need a reference and we have to show our invitation letter. How does it work actually? Is it just formality? Maybe, can you help us?

        1. An LOI can only be issued by a valid tour operator and it is a big responsibility. Then, a friend could also invite you but it is a long process that requires great paperwork, and shouldn’t be asked to random Syrian people on the internet.

  5. Hey Joan, you have put a great guide to Syria, thanks man! It is so insightful and useful

    I visited Damascus many years ago, around 2005, and I absolutely loved it and now that the country is finally starting to bring back tourism again, I can’t wait to go.

    The visa process seems the only barrier though, as I contacted the embassy in my home country and they said that I need an LOI, which means that I will have to get in touch with an agency, which I don’t really want to because I want to travel there on my own.

    And by the way, thanks for double-confirming all the information regarding Basel Travel King.

    I know 2 people who traveled with him in November and December and both them agreed that he is a scam. He also charged them 100USD a day for a guide who didn’t know absolutely anything about history, which means that you pay all this money for only having a guardian which you don’t really need to. One of them went to Aleppo and instead of staying in a hotel, he stayed at a Basel’s friend but he charged him the price of an expensive hotel.

    Anyways, I will try to see if is there anyone who can get me the LOI without booking an expensive tour and I will let you know

    1. Yes, the visa thing is a pain in the ass and it seems that you can’t get it without paying a lot of money first, which sucks a lot… Hopefully, things will soon get easier
      PS: Thanks for sharing additional information about Basel. He sucks, really. 😀

  6. Great article!
    I am going in October but I am booking with a local travel agent so I can move fast (I hate buses) and see Palmyra. Maybe even continue to Jordan to see more of Crusader’s castles and Petra.
    Not sure why are you so surprised by the support to Al Assad. I mean the guy saved them from islamists and religious state. In any case, hope the peace is upon all of Syria soon!

    1. Yes, that is what some of them said, that they defeated the Islamists but Al Assad was not only fighting Islamists but many other groups and those rebels had hundreds of thousands of supporters.
      However, I believe that most of those supporters are either dead, left the country or they just will never talk about it
      I also do wish the peace comes soon.

  7. Hi Joan!
    Syria is a place I want to visit before it becomes too popular. My question is, you entered though Lebanon, but where did you exit? I would fly to Beruit and spend a few days there before crossing the border. They say a Lebanon visa is free on arrival but that is only 1 entry. Did you pay for a multi entry visa and re-enter Lebanon or depart Syria though a different country?
    It sounds like its best to contact that lady and just do a 1 day tour to get your security clearance. What exactly is that anyway? Just to make sure you are not wanted by interpol!! or is it just a routine procedure?
    Thanks for any help.
    Tony.

    1. Hi Tony, I entered and exited through Lebanon. Visa in available on arrival, so when you re-enter, you just get a new visa.
      The security clearance is just a background check and a requirement to obtain your Syrian visa.

  8. Hello,
    I visited Syria in December as an independent traveller and I used a tour company to secure the visa but they didn’t require me to take a tour. I visited Damascus, Hama, Homs and Aleppo with no issues – I tried to visit Palmyra but apparently the security clearance that you may apply for in Damascus takes 5 days to clear and must take a tour as there’s still an active minefield. So unfortunately it may be hard to visit Palmyra for a while.
    Josh

      1. Hello,
        The water wheels are still standing and are lovely! I took my bus to Aleppo from Hama. Was a strange experience because in Hama because I hitchhiked from Krak des Chavalier to Hama at night and was then invited out to dinner almost as soon as I arrived with the Syrian tourist minister and some of his friends, I assume the hotel manager informed the minister I was staying town. I used some local tour company called Damascus Tours.

        1. that sounds like a great adventure, thank you for sharing-
          Do you have perhaps the contact of this tour company?
          I tried to look for it on Google but I don’t see any company with a website named Damascus tours… I would really like to contact them and see if it could be a good alternative, so readers can know. thank you!

  9. Hi Joan, I too tried to look for this travel company but couldn’t find it.
    Even if its possible to get the security clearance without a tour, it will still cost $325, yes? And the actual visa at the border.
    I saw the man you stayed with in Aleppo on couch surfing. Did he show you around the city, is the fighting completely finished there? I only ask you because on a Syrian government it mentioned military action in the Aleppo district. That may cover a large area though.

    1. Yes, the security clearance costs 325USD and the Syrian visa at the border around 70USD, for European passports at least, except for British, who pay more. If you only pay for these 2 things, consider yourself lucky.

      Yes, my CS host showed me around and as far as I know, the fighting in Aleppo is over.

      1. Although fighting in the city itself has ended, there are jihadi forces relatively nearby. Fighting in the region could occur at any time and the city could get targeted. Anyone visiting should keep up to date constantly on the situation

  10. Great article …
    I am Syrian … i read your article out of curiosity to see how is the general impression about my city …. you did great especially about the prices ….. Thanks for that

  11. Joan, your article is wonderful!

    Please, do share more of the things you discussed with locals during your stay. It is so hard to find any current info without a political bias. And I would really like to hear more Syrian people’s voices.

    You mention they have a good WiFi connectivity in Damascus. Do you think they have any independent blogers that might be of interest?

    Thank you again!

  12. Hi Joan,
    Thanks for the very precise description and advices.
    I am planning to go there in May, however, I am wondering if they put a stamp on your passport because I have another flight to the US shortly after.
    Thanks

  13. Hola Juan me ha encantado tu post muy bien detallado y la verdd dan muchas ganas de viajar.
    Tbn soy espanol residente del Paris.
    La cosa es que la semana que viene viajo a Turquia y de paso me encantaria pasar por Siria.
    Efectivamente las fronteras estan cerradas a turistas por lo que la sola alternativa es ir a Libano.
    Hoy estuve en la embajada Siria en Paris pero hacer el visado toma alrededor de un mes por lo que ya es practicamente imposible obtenerla aqui.
    Me parece que el tema de agencias es my caro, asi que me gustaria saber cual es para ti la forma mas barata y rapida de obtener el visado a para poder entrar a Siria ya que mi tiempo es bastante limitado y esperar mas de 3 dias para un visado seguramente anularia una posible visita siria.

    Muchas gracias por tu post!!!

      1. Osea q tienes q pagar como minimo el security clearance de 325 USD + 100 USD del tour de un dia?
        Joder si es asi creo q optare para hacer siria en otro viaje haciendome el visado en la embajada donde me cuesta solo 25 eur…

          1. En mi más humilde experiencia, jamás me fiaría de una página de información burocrática procedente de un país de Oriente Medio. Es más, estoy segurísimo de que estos precios son falsos y de todas formas, aquí también tendrías que añadirle el coste del security clearance, a parte de la carta de invitación que lo más probable es que te vayan a pedir

  14. I can say that you have the courage to visit Syria while it is not safe as it used to be many years ago.
    It is a very good article filled with important inforamtion.

  15. Hi Joan, I sent a whatapp message to the lady you talked about who could maybe help with getting the secuity clearance-Sawswan. I asked her if if she could help with getting the clearance if I booked a tour with her around Damascus and maybe Palmeyria. I mentioned that I had got her number from you and that you had travelled to Damascus in few months ago.
    It looks like she got my message but no reply.
    Is there any other way to contact her , has she got a travel company or tour guide company? If I draw a blank with her is there another reputable guide or company I could try?

  16. Thank you very much for the beautiful blog. As a Syrian who hasn’t been back in Syria in two years (living in Lebanon) this fills me with a sense of nostalgia. Thank you for visiting Syria and I hope you had fun!

    We Syrians have always been happy to find tourists visiting our humble country, and I myself have always dreamed about helping tourists discover Syria (given the fact that I am one of the rare Syrians who actually speak English properly), but alas the war took away the tourists from me and I had to leave Syria to study abroad in them American University of Beirut.

    A couple of my European friends here in Lebanon tried visiting Syria over the last couple of months and couldn’t enter; they went to the embassy and were told that they didn’t need a visa and should go to the border directly, only for the border to tell them to head back to the embassy and get a visa. I am happy that things are becoming more organized now as evidenced by the fact that you could enter the country without any complications.
    I hope you didn’t get ripped off though! We’ve always had a thing for ripping off foreigners back in the day, but perhaps now that tourists are so few and we’re so glad to have them back our great merchants aren’t too keen on ripping them off.

    I do hope to one day return to Syria and meet the nice folk like yourself who have come to visit our country from overseas. Thank you again for writing this blog. I will forward it to all of my foreign friends here in Lebanon who have expressed their desire to visit Syria. I probably won’t be able to go with them (since I would need to get permission from the army to be able to leave the country again and it’s a hassle) but I am sure that the information you provided would very much help them get the visa and find local accommodations .

    Thank you, Joan, and thank you to everyone who is standing by Syria and the Syrian people through these troubled times.

    1. Hey there, thank you so much for your kind-hearted words, really.

      I loved Syria and trust me when I say that nobody tried to ever rip me off. Everybody was always so kind and trying to be overprotective with me, and I am sure that anyone should have a very similar experience.

      Hope you can travel to your beautiful country and the situation will normalize even more in the upcoming months and years.

      Kind Regards

  17. Hi Joan,
    Saludos de Portugal!
    Thanks for sharing your experience. I will be in Lebanon during May (9 to 17), and really wanted to take this opportunity to visit Damascus. I contacted this travel agent you mentioned, and she asks me for 500$ for a day trip, which is simply insane. I really wanted to do it independently, and, of course, much cheaply. I’ve contacted the Syrian embassy in Paris, but they’re not very responsive. Any recommendations?

    Thank you for your time and good travelsl
    Rodrigo

    1. Hi Rodrigo,
      It is quite a standard price. I didn’t go on a tour and only the security clearance cost me $325, (and other agencies charge more), so, unfortunately, there is not much you can do, because now there is no way to get a visa without booking first a tour.

  18. It is a reasonable price especially since it includes a visa to transfer to and from Beirut and a guide to the Damascus tour

  19. Hi nice blog i live in syria and i am syrian i am 14 years old i read the article to see what people think of us with the lies shown in the media so thanks for the great article i hope when you visit us again you would go to my dad’s restaurant it is called kaza miza and it was awarded the best restaurant in syria by the syrian tourisim minestry in 2016
    Again thanks for the article

  20. Hi Joan,
    First of all, great article, thanx a lot!
    I have been trying to go to Syria for a while, and I am thinking about going this coming Oct/Nov. 2019. I am also an independent traveler and hardly any time I take a tour, so far only have taken two; Tibet and DPRK. I want to visit on my own. Heard rumors about a German fella that got in trouble and now the government has implemented a “tour only” for all travelers into Syria, but I believe it is more like a rumor created by the tour agencies and operators.
    In any case, I hold a U.S. passport and one from the Republic of Georgia, unfortunately neither place has a diplomatic office from Syria. Saw your post about a week ago and wrote to the Embassy of Syria in Madrid, but have not yet received a response. If you don’t mind me asking, when you applied for your visa you had to go in person to the embassy in Madrid and then they sent your passport plus the visa by mail, correct? How long was the process? Also, I see your comments and you talk about a “clearance letter” worth about US $450.00 plus a fee of US $70.00 when you enter Syria, at the border?
    My plans are using my Georgian passport, obvious reason, and try and go get the visa either in Madrid or Brussels. I don’t count with a lot of time.
    Do you mind explaining a bit the process?
    Thank you very much!
    George G.

    1. Hi George, things have changed a bit recently and you won’t be able to get a visa without booking a tour. Even most embassies will require you to get an LOI from a valid tour operator, which you will only get if you book a tour. This is kind of contradictory because then you can move around Syria independently.

      1. Hi again, Joan,
        So, basically I can book a tour for let’s say, a day, then I can move independently? That sounds feasible. I know you went in independent, but does anybody here knows of a reliable and easy local tour operator then?
        Thank you Joan and all participants!
        George

  21. Very interesting post, thanks for the info! I’m an independent journalist and visited Afghanistan a few months back which was impressive, and now Syria has become a big wish to visit! Those visa regulations suck though… Hopefully come across some local reliable tour operator somewhere. Given your contacts, do you perhaps know if there are different regulations for journalists, holding international press card?

    Great site by the way, all the destinations of my interest, will be following!!

    1. Hi Thijs, I don’t really know about journalism visas but Syria has been receiving loads of journalists for the past 8 or 9 years, so as long as you are not from the USA or the UK, I assume it should be feasible? But I don’t know about the process. I think you should contact the embassy!

  22. I tried with the Syrian embassy in Brussels as its the nearest one to me. I emailed them but they never even replied. I think the tour agents are the only way. Just choose carefully!

  23. Hi Joan,
    First of all, thank you for the great guide. I was so excited after reading your text, but then I looked at some comments and got pretty confused.
    So, to be clear: you have to get security clearance and visa to cross the border. You can ask for visa in local embassy, is that right? And after incident with German tourist, visas are now available only if you have booked tour? And tour operator is responsible for visa and security clearance, you don’t need to go to embassy?
    And there is currently no way for getting the clearance and visa without having to book the trip with travel agency?
    Once again, thank you for this brilliant site!

    1. Hi Monika, yes, I know that this is confusing because everybody is getting different information/interpretation plus rules change every day. I wrote this post 2 months ago and the visa part already seems sort of outdated. Tomorrow will update it.

      However, you got it 100% right. In summary, you can’t get a visa without booking a tour and, if you contact directly the agency, you don’t need to go to the embassy but I think that going through the embassy is cheaper (but slower) because you don’t have to pay the 300-400USD for the security clearance.

      On the other hand, some rumors say that a few embassies like the one in Beirut and don’t know which Consulate/Embassy in Brazil don’t require the LOI but again, these are just rumors.

      1. Joan, thank you for quick reply. I contacted Syrian embassy in Poland and they informed me that currently tourist visas are not issued at all. They told me to contact them again in two months. Wish me luck for the next time =)

  24. Hello everybody. I have just updated the visa section of the article.
    To be honest, the situation hasn’t changed much, meaning that getting the Syrian visa is still a pain, but based on new experiences from some travelers, I have re-written it and the process seems less confusing now.
    Please, remember that travel reports are more than welcome 🙂

    1. Hi Joan
      There are a number of signs that a campaign against the rebels in Idlib is starting, which could explain the clamping down on visas and having to go on a tour. The govt isn’t going to want to have tourists going anywhere near fighting or undercover journalists using tourist visas. If so , Aleppo will be much more risky and there would be the risk of suicide bombings or attacks elsewhere. Personally I’d advise people to hold off on booking tours until the picture is clearer – when major fighting starts, which is only a question of when, not if, tours might just get cancelled anyway.

  25. Amazing Article! I want to visit Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo from Jordan do any of you guys now any buses that go from amman to damascus? If so plz let me know 🙂 also I want to apply for a Syrian visa so do you guys know any cheap government secure agencies that issue them? Once again thank you!

    1. Hi there is a company called jett which has buses from amman to damascus and if you are jordinian i dont think you need a visa

      1. Thanks for the advice but I checked the Jett website but it seems that there is no bus that goes from Amman to Damascus if you do find it send me a screenshot somehow 🙂

    1. Lori I wasn’t asking for your opinion on Assad so plz stop btw the only way Syria will be stable is if Assad is in power and everyone knows that, btw going on topic if there aren’t any buses how or where would you find taxis in Amman going to Damascus

    2. Lori I wasn’t asking for your opinion on Assad so plz stop btw the only way Syria will be stable is if Assad is in power and everyone knows that, btw going on topic if there aren’t any buses how or where would you find taxis in Amman going to Damascus and is it possible just to rent a car by yourself and travel throughout Syria?

  26. Hello
    I am making wild plans to travel from Amman to Kurdistan to enter Turkey from Syria,
    Aim is to cycle home from Jordan back to Europe.
    I know there were many conflicts there between the Kurds and IS, but i want to hear if anyone knows anything about this region/ traveling all trough Syria nowadays.

    Someone can link me to someone or something?

    Thanks,

    Richard

    1. All I can tell you is that you can’t travel around most Syria and the border with Turkey is closed. It is not the right time to cross Syria on a bicycle

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *