10 things I wish I knew before going to Syria
The cradle of civilizations, rich in historical monuments and once popular among tourists, Syria is now experiencing not the best times in its history.
Do you know where is Syria? Syria on the map is not so difficult to find. The country, Syria on the map is located on the Mediterranean coast and borders Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey and covers 185 thousand square kilometers.
On the territory of Syria, such as ancient Assyria, Babylon, Akkad, and others were created. Syria has always been a dream for foreign conquerors, and the city of Damascus has been subject to many empires, ranging from Ancient Egypt and Rome to the Ottoman Empire.
In recent years, Syria has been the epicenter of a Syria civil war that has caused serious damage to cultural and historical monuments and split society into several fronts. Now, military bases of other states are located on a certain territory of the country, and the war. However, it is over, continues to leave a bitter mark on the lives of Syria people, taking with it the lives of military and civilians every day.
Nevertheless, it is a beautiful country that must be visited. This article will tell you about 10 facts that you need to know before going to Syria.
1. Syria has everything a tourist needs
The rich diversity of Syria's geography includes sandy deserts, mountains, blue beaches of the Mediterranean Sea, and historical monuments of ancient civilizations.
You can choose Latakia and Tartus for a beach holiday, where tourists can enjoy the Mediterranean Sea waters in silence, take a tan, and relax from all the problems.
For fans of extreme sports, Syria will also seem like a paradise. The fact is that the climate of Syria is harsh and ambiguous. It is not so easy to withstand the Middle East's heat in the middle of the Desert. And the mountains and rocks scattered across the country literally beckon with their inaccessibility. Here you will not only see the locals on camels, but you will also be able to use the services of the "desert ship" because sometimes the camel is the only available vehicle among the harsh sands.
As we have already said, Syria is the cradle of civilizations. Many major cities in Syria have a history dating back more than one thousand years: Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Latakia… The list can go on for a long time, but it is better to see once than read a hundred times.
Because of the Arab conquests, the country's current Syria population, descendants of the ancient Sumerians and Assyrians, identify themselves as Arabs. However, even externally, you will distinguish in the facial features of the local Syria population characteristic signs that tell you that the Syrians are the descendants of those very ancient peoples.
Syria people themselves call their country "the beating heart of the Arab world", and not by accident! Euphrates valleys, deserts, beaches, gardens and forests, streets, and a mix of architectural styles: it is unlikely that in this geography and the whole world, you will find something similar, colorful.
2. Legislation and security in Syria
The main rule in Syria for tourists is not to pay in foreign currency: dollars, euros, etc. For this, a foreign citizen faces a real term – up to two years in prison. When you arrive in the country, try to exchange currency at state-owned banks or currency exchange offices. And in any case, do not trust local speculators who can offer you exchange at a more favorable rate.
Due to the country's difficult economic situation after the Syria war, the number of thefts in Syria has increased. Tourists are not advised to leave valuables in hotels or cars. Despite this, Syria people are very kind because they also love and appreciate guests very much as in the whole East. However, once again, being careful will not prevent anyone.
Before traveling to this country, it is also recommended to read the Syria news and consult with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
3. Syrian Insurance
When crossing the border, Syria's customs officers will not require insurance, but it will not be superfluous to have it with you.
Due to the rather complex financial system and banking mechanisms, problems may arise with recognizing insurance policies. However, despite the bureaucracy and complexity, it is the right decision to take insurance in your own country. You can get it at the border as for car insurance: the Syrian country charges a tax on entering the country on a personal vehicle.
4. Where can I travel?
There are a lot of military zones in Syria where civilians are not allowed to enter. The rest of this country is free to move around without obstacles. However, due to the military regime, you may be stopped and asked for your documents. Therefore, when traveling in Syria, you must have an identity card, a passport with a valid visa, and a stamp of entry into the country.
Travel to the Golan Heights is also excluded if you do not have a special pass.
Every tourist visiting Syria for 15 days or more must apply to the migration service office and obtain a special permit.
As for bank cards, you can pay with them in Syria hotels and restaurants of high quality and service. In most cases, when you present the card, you will be looked at without approval and simply put before the lack of this service. Therefore, Syria is a country where you must have cash with you.
5. Respect the Syrian religion
Despite all the multiculturalism and tolerance, Syrians are very religious and respect and honor Islam's norms. Tourists are not recommended to wear short clothes, and this applies not only to women. Being a non-believer, you can visit religious sites. Still, it is necessary to observe the basic Muslim principles: take off your shoes at the mosque entrance, and women cover their heads with a headscarf. If you are in Syria during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, it is highly recommended not to eat and drink in public places and not to arrange noisy parties. It should be noted that 99% of restaurants and catering establishments are closed from sunrise to sunset, so if you are in Syria during Ramadan, but do not observe the fast, stock up on food.
6. Vaccinations and tests
Unlike some countries, Syria does not require vaccinations against diseases because the country is quite good with hygiene due to religion's requirement. However, if you are visiting Syria for a long time, you must take an HIV test, which can be taken at a public hospital.
For tourists with poorer health, Syria is suitable in a more temperate period of the year because the Syrian dry climate and heat are not suitable for people with cardiovascular problems.
7. Personal hygiene and medical services
If you bought vegetables and fruits at the market, do not eat them unwashed. Most markets are located in the middle of a street or square, so dust, dirt, and bacteria can get on the fruit and harm your health. It is also not recommended to buy food on the street. If you feel bad, then in Syria, especially in Damascus, the capital of Syria, you can find a pharmacy or a medical center on almost every street.
Even if you do not have insurance, the doctor's appointment for foreign citizens is free, but do not expect high-quality service. Admission to a private hospital will cost you a little more. However, it is the best option if you have an illness. Due to the long stay in the country of England and France, local specialists perfectly understand English and French, so you can easily explain to the doctor where and what you have pain.
8. How to get to Syria?
Are you wondering how to get to Syria? Well, there are two international airports in Syria - in Damascus and Aleppo.
Aleppo International Airport, which was severely damaged during the Syria war, in 2020 resumed its work in the same mode and accepted flights from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Turkey, as well as a number of European countries such as Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
As for the international airport in Damascus, it accepts flights from more than 25 countries. Unfortunately, due to the war and the coronavirus pandemic, some flights were canceled. However, the official authorities announced the immediate expansion of geography and the resumption of air traffic.
You can also go to Syria by road from Turkey, Jordan, or Lebanon.
However, the most unusual way is to go to Syria by ferry from Greece. For lovers of the exotic, this trip will definitely be remembered!
9. Sights of Syria
Syria is very rich in historical monuments of ancient times, which are perfectly preserved today. The capital of Syria – Damascus- attracts various museums, mosques, monasteries, and markets. The same words can be applied to Aleppo – one of the oldest cities in Syria, the Middle East and the whole world. Churches, markets, and mosques are located here, which are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
However, the most famous tourist destination in Syria is the city of Palmyra. The Desert is located in the middle of the city. The city was built in 1500 BC as a defensive fortress against Aramaic raids in the classical Roman style. Gradually developing and being completed, Palmyra turned into a city-state. Once in the city, you will lose the power of speech from the wonderful openwork colonnades, the ruins of the walls of the reign of Justinian, the valley of tombs, theaters, and temples. During the Syria war, part of the city was blown up by terrorists, but after returning to the Syrian government's control, Palmyra continues to live a quiet life. Archaeological excavations in the city continue to this day.
Speaking of famous cities in Syria, we could not fail to mention the ancient city of Bosra, built almost entirely of black basalt.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site includes the ancient city of Bosra, almost entirely built of black basalt and where there are ruins of Roman, Byzantine and Muslim monuments. Bosra is also home to one of the world's best-preserved Roman theatres.
10. The site of the first murder in human history
According to legend, Syria is the very place where Cain killed his Abel. A place called Maqam Aarbain, near Damascus, the capital of Syria is considered the site of the first murder in the history of mankind. The ancient settlement is known for its citadel, Zakaria Mosque, the famous Saladin's mausoleum and the grave of John the Baptist.
Now, after the war, everything is more or less calm in Syria, so do not be afraid that the same thing will happen to you.
Have a nice trip!
Murad was born in Baku on November 7, 1993. He graduated from Baku State University. Since 2013, he has been working in the field of journalism. At different times he was a correspondent, and editor in the leading news agencies in Azerbaijan also worked for 4 years on television. He likes to play intellectual games and dreams of visiting all major megacities of the world.