Ski Lebanon Country Guide

A mosaic of many traditions, cultures and ethnicities with an east-meets-west aura, Lebanon is a destination that should be on every traveler's itinerary. Its robust diversity that has sometimes put it in trouble is the same one that makes it such a fascinating place to visit.

Sandwiched between the Lebanon mountain range and the Mediterranean, this little country boasts fantastic weather almost all year round. While the coast can be hot and humid during the summer, the mountains are always fresh and cool, anytime of the year.

The country has seen tourism boom again lately, despite the recent political challenges. Both Arabs from the Gulf and Westerners have come to experience the country, particularly high-end travelers who are fond of niche tourism. Those who have come have discovered beautiful weather, friendly people, genuine hospitality, a wealth of culture, sports activities, and a civilization that's at least 7000 years old.

Local time Top

Lebanon is in the same time zone as Cairo and Athens, at GMT +2. Daylight savings in summer puts Lebanon at GMT +3. Overall, this means there is only one hour difference with Paris, two hours with London and 1 with Dubai.

Government Top

Arguably the only real democracy in the Middle East, Lebanon is a republic with a parliament and a cabinet. The three key players that run the government are the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of the House, each from a different faith to ensure a balance in running the country. Lebanon has a fair constitutional system modeled years ago after the French one, where the president is elected every six years.

Passport and visas Top

All visitors must have passports that are valid for at least six months from the date of arrival. Arab Nationals from Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE do not need a visa, and can stay for up to three months in the country.

Arabs from some Arabic countries can get their visas at the airport if they show enough funds and a round-trip ticket, while others need to get them from their home countries.

Nationals of the EU, US, Canada, Commonwealth countries, Japan and Russia may get their visas at the airport, or may not even need a visa. As laws and visa regulations sometimes change, it is best to call the Lebanese embassy or consulate closest to you.

People who travel to Israel (ie have an Israeli stamp and/or visa on their passport) are denied entry into Lebanon.

Climate Top

The weather in Lebanon can be considered among the most agreeable in the world, with over 300 days of sun a year. July, August and September can see temperatures of up to 35 degrees on hot days, with the humidity making it feel somewhat hotter.

While Fall and Spring are always balmy, Winter is short and moderate on the coast yet relatively cold and snow-filled in the mountains, dipping to a couple of degrees below zero at its coldest. Skiers will find the snowy mountains much more comfortable than ski resorts in the west. 

Beirut sees around 1,000 mm of rain (or 40 inches) in the winter, a figure that goes much higher in the mountains. Dress warmly for the winter, which really starts in December.

Geography Top

Lebanon, or the ancient land of Phoenicia, lies on the edge of the Mediterranean between the plains of Syria and the Sea. Covering 10,452 km2 of land with a population that approaches 4 million, the country has five major coastal cities. On the midpoint of its coast lies Beirut, beckoning to Sidon and Tyre to its South and to Jounieh and Tripoli to its North.

The country itself is a crossroads of ancient civilizations lying between Asia, Africa and Europe. Its topography ranges from scenic beaches on the coast to high snow-capped mountains in the center with pine and cedar forests. Between its two famous mountain ranges that cross from north to south, namely the Lebanon Mountains and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, lies the fertile Bekaa Valley with a lake and historical attractions such as Anjar and Baalbek.

Transportation and driving Top

Private taxis are available for 7,000 LL for a short city ride, while longer rides must be negotiated. Service cabs, where different people can hop in and out during the same ride, cost 1,500 LL per person for short to medium destinations. Tip: If you jump into a service cab (Servees in Arabic) without calling out to the driver first and waiting for his approval, he will automatically assume regular taxi rates.

There are many car rental companies in the country, some that even offer a driver, keeping in mind that Westerners find driving in Lebanon chaotic: Traffic lights and road rules are not always respected.

There are bus services that are cheap yet quite slow. More reliable bus service runs to major cities like Tripoli and Saida.

Currency and banking Top

The Lebanese pound or Lira (LL) is pegged to the US dollar at about 1500 LL to a dollar. There are no restrictions to bring money into the country and take money out, although you may be asked about the money's origins when it comes to amounts over 10,000 Dollars.

Changing money is easy, and can be done at any Exchange Bureau or at any bank. Interestingly, the economy is pretty much based on the US dollar, and many purchases are made by dollar. You can pay by dollar in all shops, restaurants, hotels, ski resorts and more. Most modern establishments accept Visa and MasterCard as well, with limited acceptance of American Express cards.

Work week and holidays Top

While government offices are open from 8 am to 2 pm, banks do not have a fixed schedule. Most open by 8.30 am, yet close either at 1 pm and 2 pm, with only a couple that close at 3 pm. Most shops and businesses open from 9 am to 5 pm, although many shops stay open until 7 pm.

The working week in Beirut is Monday to Friday, with Saturday and Sunday off. This changes someone in Tripoli (Friday and Sunday off) and in Saida (Friday off). Both Christian and Muslim holidays are celebrated in the country officially.

Electric current Top

The country runs on 220 volts, although there are isolated pockets that still run on 110 volts. There are electricity cuts here and there due to an ailing electric grid and public sector, but all modern establishments, hotels and resorts have a backup generator.

Telecommunications Top

It is easy to call abroad from any land line, as well as from payphones which require calling cards. To call Lebanon from abroad dial the international prefix (e.g. 00 from Europe or 011 from North America) followed by the country code (961), then the city code or cell-phone code (e.g. 1 for Beirut or 3 for most cell phones), followed by the six digit number.

There are two cellular phone carriers in the country, MTC Touch and Alfa. To obtain a cell phone you can get a prepaid phone card (at least $60) which will expire after around a month if not recharged each month.

Internet Cafés are plentiful, many with broadband speeds that allow calls over Skype and other VoIP systems.

Postage is handled by Liban Post which has points of sale all over the country. It takes about 3-7 days to receive a letter from Lebanon in the west.

Religion Top

Both Islam (60%) and Christianity (40%) are the main religions. Lebanon's Christians are divided among many denominations, such as Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox and some Protestants. The country's Muslims are divided between Shia and Sunni. There are also 5% who espouse the Druze faith, an offshoot of Islam with more mystical beliefs such as reincarnation.

Food and drink Top

Lebanese food is considered one of the healthiest cuisines on the planet, rich in Mediterranean ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, olive oil, pulses and some meats. It is a refined cuisine flavored with herbs and a light, delicate balance of spices. Fresh fruit cocktails are also common, so are alcoholic beverages from local beers and wines to Arak, the traditional aniseed-flavored drink.

Language Top

The official languages are Arabic and French, with English rapidly gaining importance and almost surpassing French as the second language. Almost all people in the cities can communicate in at least one more language in addition to Arabic. Armenian is also heard in some neighborhoods as 5% of the population is of Armenian origin.