Italian student Edoardo Arione got “a little scared” when he joined a rare tour group trip to Libya this month, but said he quickly enjoyed visiting desert towns and cities. Roman ruins in a land troubled by years of chaos.
Libya has seen little peace and few tourists since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar al-Gaddafi that sparked a decade of violent unrest as armed groups took control of the territory and battles raged in its cities.
“I feel like the country is amazing. The scenery is just beautiful and so different from place to place, ”said Farina Del Francia, 64, another of the tourists.
Libya has a rich heritage, including desert architecture to the south, some of the finest ancient remains in the Mediterranean region along its coastline.
The tour group visited the southern city of Ghadames and the Acacus Mountains, a site of ancient rock art. Half the group also visited the Roman city of Sebratha. A trip to Leptis Magna, Libya’s best-known Roman sites, could feature on a future visit, organizers said.
Despite a UN-backed peace plan and a ceasefire since last year between the main Eastern and Western factions, however, a larger-scale return of tourism seems unlikely.
Before Libya collapsed in 2011, tough visa regimes meant only up to 25,000 tourists visited per year. Since the revolution, hardly anyone has risked the trip.
Fighting between the myriad of armed forces erupts sporadically in various cities and the broader prospects for a political agreement to support stability remain very fragile.
An election scheduled for December is still the subject of contention, and any significant delay in the vote or dispute over its validity could plunge Libya back into a full-scale civil war.
For Arione and the other tourists in her party, however, the visit was a success.
“Tourists can come to Libya and stay comfortable and not be afraid,” said Arione, 25, who was one of 70 mostly French and Italian visitors on the tour.
Libya is home to five UNESCO World Heritage sites, but in 2016 it declared them to be in danger due to instability and conflict.
Tourism and Handicrafts Minister Abdulsalam Al-Lahi believes the decision was wrong, saying “archaeological sites or tourists are not at this level of threat.”
The travel agency that brought the tourists, Murcia, said it had been working to organize the trip since 2018. A sign of the difficulty of such visits to Libya, it had to postpone it due to the 2019 war.