Syria is a country filled with history, culture, and natural beauty. Situated in the Middle East, it has a rich past, full of ancient cities and cultural centers waiting to be explored.
While traveling to Syria might seem strange or even crazy to some people (That was the case for me, too, before I did my research and learned more), the country has emerged as a prominent travel destination in the past few years.
I had the privilege of spending 6 days in this wonderful country, and I can surely say that traveling to Syria was a life-changing experience.
If you want more to be persuaded, you can read my guide with 25+ compelling reasons to Visit Syria in 2024.
A Little Bit Of History
Syria has a long and varied history that goes back thousands of years. Since the ancient times, it has been home to many different civilizations like the Phoenicians, Assyrians, and Romans. It has served as a crucial center for both Christianity and Islam (Impressive, isn’t it?).
Over the centuries, Syria has been ruled by different empires, such as the Byzantines and Ottomans. The modern Syrian state gained its independence in 1946.
Historic fun fact: In 1958, Syria and Egypt came together to form a union called the United Arab Republic (UAR). Egypt’s President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had a vision of uniting Arab countries to stand against foreign influences. The union was announced from the balcony of a historic hotel in Aleppo (More to that in the next article). However, it didn’t last long, mainly because of differences in culture, politics, and money. The union ended in 1961. Even though it was brief, it showed how tough it can be for Arab countries to unite, while also highlighting their desire to work together.
Most probably, however, you might have heard of Syria because of its more recent and- let’s be honest-troubled history.
What’s The Situation In Syria Right Now?
The Syrian crisis is a very complex topic which involves multiple different sides and will need much more than one paragraph to be covered. So, to save time and energy, I will not dive deeply into that.
There are many great sources to get information from, and I would surely recommend to do so before traveling to Syria, because it is a very interesting part of human history.
Basically, to give some context, the Syrian Government has regained control of most of the country, while the conflict has entered a period of stalemate. We could start speaking about the end of it, as many consider the Government the winner.
Is It Possible To Travel To Syria?
In the last few years, Syria has opened its borders to foreign visitors. In fact, in 2023, more than 1 million foreign visitors and 1.2 million Syrians from abroad chose the Middle Eastern country for their vacation. This was also the first year the country welcomed American tourists.
Americans had been banned from traveling to Syria for the past years years, but that’s no more the case. US citizens can now visit the country as tourists. However, as we will discuss later, the visa fees for them are a bit higher than for travelers from the rest of the world. There should be no other problem for Americans traveling to Syria, though.
Is It Safe To Travel To Syria In 2023?
This is one of the most common questions I got asked from everyone who knew about me traveling to Syria. The answer is rather complicated.
While the Syrian Government has gained back control of the majority of the country, there are still a few places occupied by rebel groups. However, the only places you are allowed to visit when traveling to Syria as a tourist are the ones that belong to the Government. These places have been out of the conflict for quite some time and are safe to visit.
During the entire time I was exploring Syria, I felt as safe as everywhere else I’ve been. For me, it was no different from any other Middle Eastern country.
One of the first things that has to come to your mind when planning a trip is insurance.
Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance is one of the best options available out there. With a maximum coverage of 365 days, they are a great option whether you are a Nomad or not! They offer very low rates, but excellent coverage and immediate support (in a few minutes!). The best part? Nomad Insurance can be purchased even if you have left your home country already.
Lastly, they also cover extreme sports, something that can come in very handy if you are an adventurous soul.
*please note that Nomad Insurance does not cover travel to Syria. However, they are an excellent option for the rest of your trips.
As long as you are with your guide and listen to what they advise you, you‘ll be alright. You will pass many checkpoints and see a lot of soldiers around, but they are there to protect you. You’ll always be greeted with a smile and a warm “Welcome.”
There have been a few moments of tension in recent years. However, the Government always canceled visa approvals whenever they thought the country was unsafe for visitors.
Obviously, I cannot guarantee anyone’s safety when traveling to Syria, and you always travel at your own risk. However, I can say that there was no place in the country where I felt insecure, even a tiny bit.
Is It Ethical To Travel To Syria?
Now, let’s get to the tough part. There has been a long-lasting debate on whether traveling to Syria (or any other country that has suffered in the past few years) is ethical. Even for a long time after deciding to plan this trip, I had only one question in my mind: “Am I doing the right thing?”.
Many people asked me if I had thought this through, and many others condemned this trip and deemed it wrong or irresponsible before it started.
After spending a few days in this fantastic country and having the chance to speak with a few people, I think I have my answer.
The truth is that Syrian people want tourists to come to their country. There are a few reasons for that.
First, it is proof that life is slowly getting back to normal after many years of suffering, and the once-thriving tourism sector is starting to step on its feet again. Syrians are proud people. They feel very happy that someone trusts them by visiting their country after all that has happened.
They are more than willing to reflect this trust back to you. They will tell you stories of their past, happy or sad, but always with a smile on their face. There were many days in my trip that felt like I was receiving love from everywhere. There is no other way of explaining this feeling, just love.
Secondly and most importantly, Syria has been hit hard by the consequences of the war. Western sanctions have put a heavy toll on Syrian people, who see their buying power reduced with each passing day.
Syria cannot export its goods and bring foreign cash into the country, which results in a recycling economy with massive inflation. To Syrian people, money brought from outsiders like tourists can be lifesaving, as tourists might be their only source of income for their businesses.
Obviously, what is considered right and wrong is subjective. After my experience in Syria, I no longer have an internal debate on whether going through with this trip was ethical or not. I witnessed people striving to rebuild their lives and make their stories heard.
Regardless of my personal opinion on the war and the situation around it, I believe that the benefits of tourism for the people far outweigh the morally grey areas of the trip. Boycotting tourism and not traveling to Syria for “ethical reasons” is going to hurt the locals more than the ones it was intended for. That sounds a bit unethical, too, isn’t it?
How To Travel To Syria In 2023
The first thing you should know about traveling to Syria is that since 2018, you must organize your trip with a local tour operator.
We chose to do our trip with Golden Team Syria. They have one of the most reputable travel agencies in the country. They took care of everything for us before we arrived. They were excellent professionals and tried their best to fulfill every request that we had.
A driver and guide were solely dedicated to our trip, and they eventually became our friends. Sally and Abo Azad, if you are reading this, thank you for making this trip unforgettable.
I will definitely choose Golden Team again next time I will be traveling to Syria, and I would highly recommend them. You can find more information on their website. Just tell them the places you would like to visit and the days you have available, and they will try to make the best program possible.
Do I Need A Visa To Travel To Syria?
Most nationalities do need a visa to travel to Syria. The tour operator of your choice will again take care of the procedure for you. The cost of the visa varies depending on your country of origin.
The Greek visa cost was 60 euros, which we paid upon arrival at the border. The cost of the visa for Americans in 2023 is 160$. The procedure is pretty straightforward, and it won’t take a lot of time before you get your passport stamped.
What Else Do I Need Before Traveling To Syria?
In order to visit Syria, you will also need to get a security clearance. It is a document certifying that you are a tourist and will make your life much easier at checkpoints, etc.
It is mandatory to have it, but the travel agency will take care of it for you. Its cost is most of the times included in the tour package offered to you by your operator. They will just need a copy of your passport and information on what you do for a living. This document will also make your visa procedure a lot easier.
You will get all the paperwork at the border upon arrival. The security clearance will be held by your guides at all times. They will show it to the authorities when necessary, so there is no need to worry about it
Can I Travel To Syria Alone?
Information available online has been conflicting about this one. While, as a general rule, traveling to Syria with a tour operator is mandatory, there have been people online saying that you can obtain a visa to travel alone from the embassy that covers your country. There have been people that have managed to travel to Syria independently.
This way, however, it appears to be harder to get a Syrian Visa. If you need more information about this, contact the Syrian embassy in your country.
In my experience, traveling to Syria without a tour operator will make it a lot harder for you because of the lack of English-speaking people at the checkpoints and the paperwork you have to prepare and show. A tour operator will make this process a lot easier.
How To Enter Syria
Most European countries have yet to resume direct commercial flights to Damascus. However, we were surprised to find out that on the same day we were arriving, there was indeed a direct flight from Athens. It was a very interesting (and a bit shocking, but in a good way) think to see before boarding on our own flight to Beirut.
The most common way people visit Syria is through Beirut, Lebanon. Once your flight arrives in Beirut, you’ll be greeted by a driver (arranged by the local tour operator of your choice) who will take you to the Lebanon-Syria border. The trip to the border lasted around one hour and a half, but it can take longer depending on the traffic.
Then, you will pass through customs on both the Lebanese and Syrian sides. This process is easy, and straightforward. You do not have to do anything, your driver will do the talking and take care of the procedure.
Once you pay the visa fee on the Syrian side and your passport gets stamped, another driver will be waiting for you to take you to Damascus. It took around 45 minutes to arrive to the capital city of Syria. Again, this whole procedure can take some time, depending on how many people are waiting to enter Syria and the traffic on the road.
Keep in mind as a general rule that this journey can last between 2.5 to 4 hours.
What is The Currency In Syria?
The currency used in Syria is called the Syrian pound (SYP). It has a rich history dating back to the early 20th century when it was first introduced as the national currency.
All transactions inside the country have to be in the local currency. Generally you cannot use USD or Euros when traveling to Syria, but there are some exceptions.
The exchange rate can change very fast, even in a few days. When we traveled in August 2023, the rate was 1 USD= 15.000 Syrian pounds.
Is Syria Expensive?
Syria is actually a very affordable country to visit. It is for sure the cheapest country I have been to so far. A full traditional meal for 3-4 people at a middle-to-high-end restaurant will set you back around 15-20$ in total. A sandwich will cost around 1-2$, and a soda 1$ tops.
Small souvenirs like keychains etc., cost around 0.5$ per piece. As you can see, traveling to Syria on a budget can be very easy. However, there are more expensive and high-end options if you are a person who likes luxury and more expensive options.
Is Syrian Food Good?
I am not kidding when I say that Syrian food is the best one I’ve ever had while traveling. Syrian cuisine is similar to the Lebanese one. It is a flavorful blend of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences, reflecting its rich history.
There is a great variety of traditional dishes that you just have to try! Popular dishes include shawarma, falafel, and kibbeh, while mezzes like hummus and tabbouleh are common starters. Syrian meals are best enjoyed with Arabic coffee or mint tea. It features fresh ingredients like olive oil, herbs, and spices, often combined with bulgur, rice, and grilled meats such as lamb and chicken.
From street food to middle-to-high end restaurant food, everything was always fresh and delicious. This is among the things that I miss the most when thinking about traveling to Syria.
What About Water In Syria?
I was very surprised (and I believe that you will be too) to find out that tap water in Syria is drinkable. Water comes from natural springs and is completely fine to drink. I would never expect that before traveling to Syria.
In fact, someone there told us that it is kind of illegal to bottle water and sell it. I am not sure if that is completely true, but that’s what we were told by locals.
Tips That Might Come In Handy When Traveling To Syria
Before I conclude this article, I would like to give some tips that will possibly make it easier for you to organize your trip to Syria. Some of those things I wish I would have known before traveling to Syria. I hope they can be helpful for others too.
1. Do Your Research
I would advise you to do an extensive search on the places you’d like to visit. Learn about their history, from ancient times to the present. Don’t hesitate to read about the toll the war had on them. It is a way of appreciating more the luck you have by being able to visit them.
Look around to find the right travel agency (Golden Team is still my suggestion), read reviews, and do not be afraid to ask people before you choose the best fit for you. Making the right decision will help you feel more comfortable and sure about traveling to Syria.
2. Always Listen To Your Guides
Guides in Syria are all licensed, well-educated, and know better when it comes to your safety. You should always be respectful to them and accept when they say that something is not possible.
Do not challenge them, and always remember they are doing their jobs. They just want to help you make the most out of your trip.
3. Get Travel Insurance.
This should go without saying in any trip in general. Most travel insurance companies, for obvious reasons, do not cover traveling to Syria. We used IATI insurance for our trip. We didn’t need to use their services, but they seemed reputable, and their fare was budget-friendly.
Another useful thing would be to always have a first aid kit with the necessary medicine with you. There is no guarantee that you’ll be able to find what you need in Syria.
4. Bring Enough Cash With You
Due to the sanctions, Syria’s banking system is not connected to the rest of the world. Syria is a cash-driven society. Keep in mind, as I stated above, that the only acceptable currency is the Syrian pound.
You should easily find places to exchange USD for Syrian pounds. Our driver told us that we would find a better rate in Lebanon but always get advise from your agency. USD generally has a much, much better rate than Euros in Syria, so if you are from Europe, exchange to USD before arriving in Lebanon.
Because there is no way to get money from abroad, have more cash in case of an emergency. There is no need to exchange all of them for Syrian pounds at one time, so keep a few extra bucks with you.
5. Always Be Aware Of Where You Are
You are traveling to Syria, a country still trying to recover from many years of war. Electricity is not always guaranteed. Your hotel will most probably have a generator on when power cuts occur (multiple times a day), but only the essential devices will be connected to it.
We could not get a SIM card because the power went down, and the system could not process our order. Those things can happen when you travel to such places, so be prepared and don’t get mad when such difficulties do occur.
6. Get A SIM Card
Internet in Syria is very slow and is not always guaranteed to work when power cuts happen. That’s why a SIM card with data can be lifesaving when traveling to Syria. We didn’t manage to get one for the reasons stated above, but I would surely recommend you try to get one.
Ask your guide about the best provider available. Cost shouldn’t be a problem, as the internet in Syria is very affordable.
7. Bring A Power Bank With You
As I said before, generators give electricity to only the necessary devices during power cuts. This does not always include plugs. That’s why having a power bank when traveling to Syria is a must.
My power bank had a capacity of 20,000 maH, which proved to be more than enough for a 6-day trip to the country. I don’t know what I would have done without it.
8. Engage With The Locals, But Respect Their Boundaries.
Syrians are very hospitable people who are eager to welcome you and tell you their stories. We had many people approaching us to engage in conversations. We started a few conversations, too. Some of the stories were sad, scary, and very emotional. It would be best if you always went with the flow.
See what someone is willing to share with you, as they may have a traumatized past. Do not put pressure, and always be respectful. Ask only for what you feel is appropriate, and I guarantee you will get to know many amazing and inspiring people.
9. Don’t Take Photos Of Checkpoints.
This is also something that you have to keep in mind before traveling to Syria. Generally, when traveling to Syria, you can take photos of everything except military buildings and checkpoints.
You should always respect this rule. You do not want to get yourself in unnecessary trouble. Of course, you can ask your guide if you are not sure about one place.
10. Spend Money, Really
This one might sound strange, but hear me out. The Syrian economy is a recycling one due to the sanctions. This means that foreign cash is very much needed; people need it.
Syrians are very proud. It is very possible that they will not accept money from you because they don’t want to be pitted. Unless you buy something from the business, they most likely won’t take any money. That’s why I would advise you to buy as many things as possible from multiple different stores, restaurants, or street food stands.
Syria is very cheap, and there are many cool things to take back home after traveling to Syria. That’s the best way to help Syrians, spending money on small and medium-scaled, local businesses.
Like every other Middle Eastern country, the tipping culture in Syria is deeply rooted. You should always tip when in cafes or restaurants. The tip does not have to be big, and will always be appreciated. Again, you will be helping workers and their families.
12. Don’t Bargain
Unlike other Middle Eastern countries, Syrians do not over-inflate their prices to foreigners. That’s why there will be no need to bargain when traveling to Syria. Prices will, most of the time, be honest and affordable. That’s cool, isn’t it?
13. Don’t Be Afraid, Enjoy
You most probably made a leap of faith when deciding to plan your trip to Syria. Try to overcome the feeling of fear that you might have before starting your trip. The country is beautiful, the people amazing, and the food is like nothing else.
You will have a fantastic time when traveling to Syria, but you must always have an open mind. It’s a trip of a lifetime, so make sure to enjoy it. You’ll come back with amazing stories to tell, that’s the only thing for sure!
Traveling to Syria right now might sound tricky, but that is not necessarily the case. While the scars of the war can still be present, the country is trying to rebuild itself and leave the past behind. That’s the feeling I got after spending 6 days in this wonderful country.
Tourism can massively help the locals’ quality of life. Those people deserve to see their life coming back to normal; they need to feel trusted and get hope for a better future. Visiting them, helping their businesses, and letting them share their stories with you can be a massive step on this direction.