Although Lebanon was effectively the first real stop on this trip, it was added as a bit of an afterthought. My main flight was to Amman, Jordan, with a goal of being somewhere unique and memorable over my birthday. Where, exactly? The list that checks those boxes has gotten smaller over time, and this year in particular I wanted it to be somewhere special. After considering a few options, I decided on visiting the Kurdistan region of Iraq. And, well, that’s how Lebanon entered the picture for this trip: direct flights from Beirut to Erbil. Erbil, Iraq doesn’t exactly have a ton of air traffic, so I wanted my route to be reliable. And that’s actually how these trips get patched together sometimes. You might start with a location that’s a bit more remote and work your way backwards, finding that you can add a few more stops along the way.
With the impeccable timing I’ve grown accustomed to over the years, I was informed shortly after arrival in Beirut that there was civil unrest taking place and mass anti-government protests. They weren’t violent… at the moment. I can’t say I was surprised to hear this news. It did make for some great conversation to talk politics in hushed tones with drivers and hotel staff. I think other business and leisure travelers may have been a bit more skittish regarding the situation there at the time, because things were very underbooked. This was a bonus for me, because I was pretty much winging it for my time in Lebanon, and for many places this is exactly the way to go. Give yourself enough time to secure a driver or guide to take you around and figure it out from there. My hotel was absolutely 5-star, right on the water. Just beautiful. Beirut is a lovely town in the evening, perfect for a waterfront stroll. Lebanese food was some of the best I’ve had in the region.
The next day included a day tour across Lebanon to several historic sites, the highlight most likely being Baalbek. The tour did bring us much closer to the Syrian border and the enormous impact of that civil war was glaringly apparent in the sprawling refugee camps surrounding the towns as we got closer to the border. It was stunning and horrible both in the size and the seeming semi-permanence of these camps. In the town where the Baalbek ruins were located, Hezbollah militia members appeared to run local affairs from what I gathered as an outsider. (I’m sure this is vastly more nuanced & complicated) There was lots of Hezbollah swag on offer at every turn in this area. As for the ruins, the reason for the tour, they were honestly nothing short of amazing. I didn’t visit Lebanon with an expectation of seeing incredible Roman ruins, but here they were. The largest Roman temple in the world is in Lebanon: The Temple of Jupiter, located in the Baalbek complex. There were multiple impressive Roman ruins, which was an unexpected surprise, having arrived in Lebanon without any preconceived expectations. I also toured a winery which, while not really my thing, was also very nice.
Lebanon is a small country, and I understand why the Lebanese diaspora is so massive. The country is lovely, but it’s wedged in a geopolitically difficult region and it’s just not that large of a place. It seems to me that Lebanon probably has some ultra-luxury vacation offerings, given it’s location. Outside of something like a resort stay or a group trip with friends, I’m not exactly sure what would draw me back. I did enjoy the short visit though.