Full country name
Socialist People's Libyan
1.75 million sq km.
Arab (92%), Berbers (5%), plus Tuareg, Toubou, Black Africans and some
Europeans - mostly Italians.
Arabic, English, Italian.
Jamahiriya, or 'state of the masses', theoretically governed by the
Head of State
de facto head of state Colonel Mu'ammar Abu Minyar Gaddafi.
GDP per capita
petroleum, food processing, textiles, handicrafts, cement
Major Trading Partners
Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Turkey, Tunisia
Increasingly popular among tourists, desert safaris are the big guns in most
tour providers' arsenals.
One of the most popular destinations is the Idehan
Ubari, with its towering sand dunes and desert lakes.
Further south, the
prehistoric rock art of the Jebal Acacus is also a major drawcard.
Libya's coastline is dappled with excellent beaches, some of which are
all-natural and unadorned, while others have been thoroughly resortified.
ones closest to central Tripoli are usually somewhat messy, though the water's
clean enough and they are convenient. For a more natural setting, try hitting
the sands around Benghazi in Cyrenaica.
A nascent diving industry has begun
making bubbles in Libya, with the submerged ruins near Leptis Magna and
Apollonia as their most exciting offerings, and there are a few water sports
available at the beaches just south of Tripoli.
Libya has a population of over five million, around half of whom are under the
age of 15. Most Libyans are Arabs (and nearly all think of themselves as such),
although ethnically there is quite a mixture of races, including Turks, Berbers,
and sub-Saharan Africans. In the south, especially around Ghat, there are large
Tuareg communities, most of whom now live in towns and settlements rather than
pursuing a life of desert nomadism. Away from the more cosmopolitan coastal
cities, tribalism remains strong, especially affecting family relationships,
matrimony and social structures.
Modern Libyans adhere to the traditions of Muslim society, which revolve around
family life. Most visitors' overall impressions of Libya are of modest material
comforts but with none of the flashy wealth of some oil-rich nations. As a
result, there is none of the general hassle toward tourists that you find in
other North African countries, such as locals begging for baksheesh or hustling
you to buy something. In fact, an offer of payment for a small (or even large)
kindness would probably cause offence to a Libyan.
Arabic is the official language of Libya, though English is often spoken by
businesspeople in the main centres and some older Libyans speak Italian. Some
Berber groups still speak their own language, and Tuaregs in the south speak
Tifinagh as well as Arabic. However, all road, shop and other public signs are
in Arabic, so it's extremely useful if not requisite to know at least a few
words. In religion, Libyans are Sunni Muslims almost across the board; they are,
in general, conservative without being fundamentalist in their outlook.
There has recently been something of a revival of the arts in Libya, especially
in the field of painting, and private galleries are springing up to provide a
showcase for new talent. Conversely, for many years there have been no public
theatres and only a few cinemas showing foreign films. The tradition of folk
culture is still alive and well, with troupes performing music and dance at
frequent festivals, both in Libya and abroad. The lion's share of Libyan TV is
devoted to showcasing various styles of traditional Libyan music. Traditional
Tuareg music and dance are popular in Ghadhames and the south.
The Islamic (or Hjira) calendar is a full 11 days shorter than the Gregorian
(western) calendar, so public holidays and festivals fall 11 days earlier each
In March in 2003 and February for the next few years, Ras as-Sana is the
Islamic celebration of the new year. Also known as Eid al-Adha or the Great
Feast, Tabaski commemorates the moment when Abraham was about to sacrifice his
son in obedience to God's command, only to have God jump in at the last minute
and substitute a ram instead. It's held each year in January.
Eid al-Moulid, in
May for the next few years, celebrates the prophet Mohammed's birthday, while
Ramadan is celebrated during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (in
December in 2003-5), commemorating the month when the Quran was revealed to
Mohammed. Out of deference, Muslims take neither food nor water until after
sunset each day. The end of Ramadan, called Eid al-Fitr, comes around a month
later. The fasting breaks amid much celebration.
The main secular holiday in Libya is Revolution Day, which is marked with a week
of public parades, rallies and events in September. Folk troupes, horsemen,
musicians and various military groups are bussed into Tripoli for the occasion,
and Gaddafi usually gives a pep talk in Green Square. Slightly lower in key is
the date-harvest festival held in various parts of the country during October.
February/March - Ras as-Sana, Tabaski
2 March - Declaration of the People's Authority Day
May - Eid al-Moulid
11 June - Evacuation Day
1 September - Revolution Day
26 October - Day of Mourning
December - Eid al-Fitr
Libyan Arab Airlines has flights between all major Libyan towns. There are two
flights daily between Tripoli and Benghazi and there are twice-weekly flights
(Wednesday and Saturday) from Tripoli to Sebha, from where you can make a
connection to Ghat or Ghadames. Flights from Benghazi to Sebha and Kufra are
also available. All internal flights are prone to unexpected delays and
There's also been no railroad in operation since
1965, and all the systems of yesteryear have since been dismantled. (Libya
recently announced plans to construct a rail network with the assistance of
China. It's projected that over 3000km (1900mi) of rail tracks will link the
country's major urban centres.)
Libya’s road system is sometimes excellent, smooth and fast, and other times it
is rough, slow and downright dicey. Although air-con buses and yellow-and-white
shared taxis (called roumees or aujra) cover most of the country, because of the
restrictions on individual travel you’re more likely to spend most of your time
aboard 4WD vehicles. This obviously depends on which Libyan travel company you
choose to travel with.
In the middle of Mediterranean North Africa, Libya is surrounded by Chad and
Niger to the south, Egypt and the Sudan to the east and Algeria and Tunisia to
the west. A bit smaller than the US state of Alaska and more than three times
the size of France, the country clocks in as the fourth largest country in
Africa. Within its boundaries, Libya is divided into three main regions:
Tripolitania covers the north-western corner of the country, the Fezzan
everything south of Tripolitania, and Cyrenaica the entire eastern half. Each of
these divisions is further subdivided by several large municipalities.
Only a narrow coastal strip receives enough rainfall to be suitable for
agriculture, and it's here that you'll find the capital city, Tripoli, as well
as 90% of the population. North-eastern Libya, the Jebel Akhdar area (also known
as the Green Mountains), is the most verdant and arguably the most beautiful
part of the country. Its interior, on the other hand, is largely uninhabited
desert peppered with small oasis communities. In the extreme south are the
Tibesti and Tassili mountains of the central Sahara, while the Calanscio Sand
Sea, a vast area of shifting sand dunes, lies in the east near the Egyptian
border. The Murzuk and Ubari sand seas lie in the west.
There are no permanent rivers in Libya, only wadis (watercourses), which catch
the infrequent runoff from rainfall. The discovery of vast fossil aquifers in
the south and south-east has prompted the building of a huge pipeline to bring
water to the coastal areas for use in agriculture and industry. The Great
Man-Made River project is among the largest, most expensive engineering schemes
Inland, the only vegetation is largely confined to the oases, where the date
palm reigns supreme, along with figs and oleander. Outside the oases, the acacia
tree can sometimes be found providing the only shade in the middle of a
wilderness. On the coast, the usual array of Mediterranean flora thrives,
including large areas of olive and citrus cultivation.
A wonderful variety of bird life can be seen all over Libya, as it lies on the
migratory route of many species. In the desert regions, the camel is the most
common animal that visitors will come across, but there are still a few herds of
gazelle in remote areas, and the nocturnal fennec (a small, big-eared fox) can
be seen from time to time. Lizards, snakes (some of which are poisonous) and
scorpions are also quite common.
Libya's climate is influenced by the massive expanse of desert to the south and
by the Mediterranean Sea to the north. The coastal regions enjoy moderate
temperatures, averaging 30°C (86°F) in summer and 8°C (46°F) in winter in
Tripoli. Some 380mm (15in) of rain falls mainly in winter. Semi-arid conditions
predominate in the central plains, while the southern deserts are subject to
frequent periods of drought. A hot, dry, sand-laden wind called the ghibli
occasionally blows into the usually humid coastal towns in spring and fall.