Inland Plain, Tripolitania, Libya with distant Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor
There are irregular tours to Libya which are usually combined with visits to heritage sites such as Cyrene (North East Libya) and Leptis Magna (North West Libya).
There are no birding guides known in Libya.
General: no local tour operator runs birding tours. However several local companies will tailor-make a tour to the areas you require. You may want to specify that you only want a car and a driver and hotel accommodation or you may decide you want them to arrange everything. Irrespective of your package, they will send you the all important letter of invitation (see visas and passes) and can arrange desert passes to allow you to travel in desert areas.
Flights: there are a large number of direct flights from major European and African cities including Johannesburg to Tripoli, the capital of Libya. International entry into Benghazi is much more restricted. The most useful routes to Benghazi are via Istanbul and Cairo. There are no flights from Benghazi to western Europe.
Two airlines – Libyan and Buraq have a reasonable network of internal flights. They are very cheap and mostly reliable. Unsurprisingly, the most popular route is from Tripoli to Benghazi. This costs 120 dinars (60 pounds) return. You can fly from both cities to Sebha which is the gateway to other parts of the Libyan desert.
Visas and passes: passports and visas are required and holders of passports that contain no Arabic must have their passport details transcribed into Arabic and inserted into their passports. It is generally not possible to travel independently in Libya though there are exceptions. Most travellers book a package with a tour company (see general logistics above). The tour company arranges a letter of invitation which allows you to visit your local Libyan embassy to apply for a visa.
If you have a friend or family in one of a small number of foreign embassies or affiliated organisations (e.g the British Council is affiliated to the British Embassy) you can obtain a visa in a different way and have more independent travel. A friend or family can sponsor your application through the Libyan Foreign Ministry’s protocol department. The Ministry will send your friend a serial number and a letter of invitation (the friend will send it on to you) which you show on arrival at Tripoli or Benghazi airport. You will be given a visa on arrival. You are free to book your own hotels and travel without using a tour company if you wish.
If you want to travel outside the northern coast you need a desert pass. If you are with a tour company this is done by them. If you travel independently it is usually possible to find a local guide who can obtain a desert pass, at low cost for the area you wish to travel, on the same day that you request it.
Vaccinations: your local doctor should obviously be consulted about health matters and the range of inoculations which is advised. No special injections are required.
Driving: Libya has a total road network of 83,200 km of which 47,590 km is paved. Roads in the coastal north are of a high quality. A few main roads in the southern desert areas are also surprisingly good. The road from Tripoli to Sebha via Houn is paved all the way. The road from Tripoli to Ghadames is also paved. Many tourists hire a driver directly or through a tour company before arrival. The cost of a saloon car rental is about 50 dinars a day without driver and 80-100 dinars with a driver.
Train: there are no trains in Libya. However a network is being built. The future network will run in a T-shape. There will be a route across the coast from near the Tunisian border through Tripoli to Benghazi via Sirt. From Sirt, trains will also run south to Sebha in the Sahara. Building of this route is now well underway in the Tripoli area. The original target date for completion was 2012.
Currency: The local unit of currency is the Libyan dinar. There are currently 1.95 dinars to the pound sterling. It is not a convertible currency and you must bring hard currency with you and exchange it within the country. There are relatively few official places where you can change money. One is at Tripoli airport and another at Benghazi airport. Unoffically most supermarkets in Tripoli will change money too. The exchange rates are very fair. The spread between buying and selling is fixed by government and is observed well.
If changing money at banks outside the airport, be aware that bank opening hours are normally 8am until 2pm Sunday to Thursday and 9am until 12am on Saturday. Banks are closed on Fridays.
You can withdraw Libyan dinars from your foreign bank accounts using ATM machines. However they only support Visa and not Mastercard. They are also very scarce. There are about 10 in Tripoli and 7 in Benghazi. There are none in the rest of the country. Visa cards themselves can only be used in 5 star hotels and a few satellite restaurants and shops.
Timing: in the north, the best times of year to visit Libya are from mid September until late April. This is when you can see the winter migrants and / or passage birds. There are very few summer breeders which go south for the winter. Those that do can be seen arriving or departing with the other passage birds. One exception is Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin Cercotrichas galactotes.
There is a dilemma for bird watchers who want to go south. The only comfortable time of year is from November until early March. You can see wintering birds then but you miss the passage. This is part of the reason that the passage is so under-reported in the oases’ towns.
Travel Guide and maps: the most common and probably most useful guide is Libya (Lonely Planet country guide) by Lonely Planet Publications; 2nd Revised edition (1 Aug 2007) ISBN-13: 978-1740594936.
It is not easy to find good maps of Libya. Many on sale in the country are poor quality. The best is called “Map of Libya: 1 300 000” It doesn’t appear to have an ISBN. It was printed by Vinos Print in 2007. It can be found for sale in the gift shops opposite the entrance to Leptis Magna and at Fergani’s bookshop in Tripoli.
Libya is one of the safest countries in Africa. The main danger is likely to be traffic accidents and drivers are particularly bad in Ramadan.
Very few people travel to the far south but if you travel below the 24 degree parallel in the Deep South you are required to have a police presence presumably because of the potential of banditry. However incidents are almost non-existent. The only places that this restriction could potentially affect bird watchers are Uweinat on the border with Sudan and the Tibesti mountains on the border with Chad. Here there is a second danger of land mines. However, as far as is known no bird watcher has ever made a trip to Tibesti! It is one of the great unknowns.
No special immunisations are necessary. Most years Libya is designated completely free from Malaria. In other years there is an extremely small risk at Ghat Oases in the far south west of the country.
It is worth consulting your national foreign office websites such as US Travel and UK FCO for the latest safety and travel information before travelling. It is vital that you do not underestimate the danger of being in the sun too long and it is worth using a sun-block and wearing a hat. You should also drink plenty of water, certainly a few litres a day. Safe bottled water is available in virtually every local shop in the country.