How to travel to Syria in 2022: Need to know
Do you want to travel to Syria with Against the Compass?
Join our expeditions in 2022:
July 1st to 8th (last spots)
September 1st to 8th
September 30th to October 7th (last spots)
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EXPEDITIONS Syria 2022
Syria had been in my plans for a very long time and, finally, they started to make it easier for travelers. Well, not that easy, but definitely easier.
Since 2018, I have visited Syria 3 times, visiting places like Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, Krak de Chevaliers, Hama, Busra and Palmyra.
Syria is pretty epic.
On the one hand, I got to visit ancient, marvelous sites that were a real blessing to my eyes.
And, on the other hand, it was a very enriching experience as well, since I met loads of Syrians who told me their side of the story, plus I was able to witness one of the worst humanitarian crises in the 21st century, visiting hair-raising places that require a lot of cold blood, if you don’t want to breakdown into tears, making you empathize with the many beautiful Syrians.
Long Live Syria.
This guide contains everything you need to know for traveling to Syria, including plenty of tips regarding visas, safety, transportation and much, much more!
COVID-19 Travel restrictions for Syria
Syria is fully open for travel now, and little restrictions apply.
Vaccinated travelers can just present their vaccination certificate upon arriving and exiting Syria.
Non-vaccinated travelers, however, must hold a negative PCR test, both for entering and leaving the country, which you can do at one of the Governmental clinics for $110.
Travel Insurance for Syria with COVID-19 coverage
IATI Insurance offers full COVID-19 coverage and has tons of plans at very competitive prices.
And not only this, but it’s one of the few insurance providers that gives coverage for traveling to Syria.
Moreover, readers of Against the Compass can get an exclusive 5% discount
Why should you visit Syria now?
Want to travel to Syria?
We have several trips scheduled until the end of 2022.
The first group trip is arranged for July 1st to 8th. Find out more:
EXPEDITIONS Syria July 2022
This is a very good question, one I have been asked a lot recently.
The truth is that reasons vary.
First of all, in the last couple of years, I have been traveling all across the Middle East, so visiting Syria, one of the most fascinating countries in the region, had been on my travel plans for a very long time.
Another even more important reason is that Syria is a great country, home to one of the oldest civilizations ever, so visiting Syria from a tourism perspective is a must-do.
However, most people asking that question tend to refer more to the ethical aspect of traveling to Syria, as this is a war zone from where many people have been forced to escape in order to save their lives.
Well, I want you to know that I fully understand why someone would not want to visit a post-war zone because, truth be told, destroyed buildings and misery are not pleasant things to see.
Nevertheless, the first thing you need to know is that I travel to learn and become wiser and, yes, I am interested in visiting a post-war zone, because this is living history and I wanted to see it with my own eyes, and not through a biased newspaper.
I also think that traveling to Syria with the sole objective of empathizing with the locals is a good thing and, as long as you are absolutely respectful about the crisis, there is nothing wrong with it.
But in the end, we should ask Syrians what they think about it and I can assure you that, since Syria used to be a major touristic destination, today Syrians are very happy to see that tourists are coming back because this is a real sign of recovery.
For more information, read the Responsible Tourism section of this article.
Read about my experience in Aleppo
Recommended books for traveling to Syria
Syria travel guide by Bradt
There are no updated guidebooks of Syria, but Bradt Guides has the only exclusive travel guide to Syria, updated as of 2010.
Still, it is a good source and a nice introduction to the country
CLICK HERE TO CHECK THE PRICES ON AMAZON
The Rise of the Islamic State by Patrick Cockburn
A must-read book. Written by one of the world’s top experts on the Middle Eastern conflict. In this book, Cockburn gives a very comprehensive explanation of the origin of DAESH, with many references to Syria.
A very useful book to understand the complexity and origin of the conflict.
CLICK HERE TO CHECK PRICES ON AMAZON
How to get a tourist visa for Syria
Last updated information 2022
Getting a Syrian visa nowadays is pretty straightforward but that’s something you can’t do alone because the Ministry of Tourism dictates that all travelers who want to get a Syrian tourist visa must book a tour with an operator.
For that, Against the Compass is a licensed and valid tour operator that can help you obtain a visa for Syria.
Join one of our groups, and you will automatically get your visa for traveling in Syria.
We have several scheduled groups until the end of this year.
1 – Group EXPEDITIONS (8 days, up to 13 people)
- July 1st – 8th – Last spots!
- September 1st – 8th
- September 30th – October 7th – Last spots!
- October 11th – 18th
LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR EXPEDITIONS
2 – SMALL GROUP trips (6 days, 3 to 5 people)
- June 25th to 30th
- July 26th to 31st
- August 25th to 30st (in Spanish)
- September 25th to 30th
- October 26th to 31st
- November 23rd to 28th
- December 23rd to 28th
LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR SMALL GROUP trips
How to get a Syrian visa directly from a tour operator, like Against the Compass
The first thing you must know is that travel agencies will not issue a tourist visa for Syria but a security clearance (a background check), which you need to show at the customs. Consider it as a Letter of Invitation.
This is what the security clearance looks like. Usually, it includes several random people:
With your security clearance in hand, you will be able to purchase a Syrian tourist visa at the border.
The problem, however, is that nowadays, travel agencies are not allowed to issue a security clearance unless you book a tour with them.
Want to travel to Syria?
We have several trips scheduled until the end of 2022. Find out more:
Syria Tours Against the Compass 2022
How much does the security clearance cost?
It’s always included in the total tour package, so it really depends on what tour you book.
How long does it take to get the security clearance?
2-3 weeks max.
How long is it valid for?
The security clearance has a 90-day validity, starting from the day you received it.
How much does the tourist visa for Syria cost?
Note that prices tend to fluctuate based on the exchange rate but, as an average:
- EU Passport holders: 72USD
- Australia and New Zealand: 130USD
- United Kingdom: 140USD
- USA: 140USD
- Canada: 90USD
Try to bring the exact amount for the visa. Otherwise, they will give you your change in Syrian Pounds, using the official bank rate.
You will also have to pay an exit fee of 2,000SYP.
Can Americans get a visa for Syria?
No, unfortunately, it’s not possible for US passport holders to travel to Syria.
Which Tour Operator I recommend for traveling to Syria?
I recommend Against the Compass, which only works with the best knowledgeable local guides.
As mentioned, we have several group trips a year and by the way, we also organize private tailored trips (from 2-day trips to Damascus to multi-day trips across Syria).
Learn more: Syria tours Against the Compass 2022
Travel Insurance for Syria
Like in Iran, because of all the sanctions, most travel insurance companies don’t provide cover for travel in Syria.
The one which does, however, is IATI Insurance.
They have loads of different plans for all types of travelers and the best of it is that the readers of this blog can get an exclusive 5% discount.
How to get to Syria
How to travel to Syria by land
1 – How to travel from Beirut (Lebanon) to Damascus
Traveling to Damascus from Beirut is the easiest way to travel to Syria.
Beirut is only 115km from Damascus and the journey takes 2 to 4 hours, including the customs process.
If you book a Syria tour with Against the Compass, we will take care of your transfer from and to Beirut, no problem.
In the unlikely case you were traveling to Syria independently, know that there is no bus service but locals travel in shared taxis.
They leave from Charles Hélou bus station, which is in a very central location, in Gemmazyeh.
Shared taxis from Beirut to Damascus run all day long and I went there at 3pm and waited for no more than 15 or 20 minutes.
The cost per person is 20USD (18 if it is a 7-seat car).
If you go by yourself, you will pay 100USD.
Beirut to Damascus border crossing: Very straightforward.
On the Lebanese side, they barely check your passport and, on the Syrian side, they take around 20 minutes, as long as there are no people, of course.
First, they check your security clearance, then you purchase your visa at the bank counter and give your receipt to the immigration officer.
You only get a stamp, not a visa sticker.
After getting your Syrian visa and resuming your journey, you will go through several checkpoints, but you shouldn’t experience any problem.
2 – How to travel from Tripoli to Tartus
You can also travel to Syria from the border north of Tripoli. Shared taxis to Tartus cost 18,000LBP (12USD) and they leave until 8pm from this station: 34.436691, 35.837163. It is only a 65km journey, so it should be fairly quick.
3 – How to travel from Amman (Jordan) to Syria
The border is finally open but the journey from Amman is longer (200km).
If you want to enter Syria from Amman, we can also arrange a pick up, no problem!
4 – How to travel from Turkey to Syria
Today, that border is not possible to cross legally.
How to travel to Syria by air
You can also fly in but the problem is that the international airport in Damascus doesn’t have many connections, so going from Beirut will always be easier.
In any case, check out Cham Wings Airlines and Syrian Air.
They have occasional flights from Dubai, Sharjah and Doha.
Is it safe to travel to Syria?
Is Syria safe?
Along with the visa, safety is the other big question mark for anyone traveling to Syria.
Look, the war is practically over in West Syria (the city of Idlib is the last actual war zone) and cities like Aleppo and Damascus are perfectly safe.
You see children roaming around and everything seems just fine now.
Moreover, the Old City of Damascus is full of military checkpoints where they check your bag and look at anyone who seems suspicious, so there is a high level of security and nothing has happened for a long time now.
Actually, I was in Damascus for Christmas and, for the first time since the beginning of the war, the streets of the Old City of Damascus (and Aleppo as well) were filled with Christmas lights and celebration.
The atmosphere was full of joy, happiness and both Muslims and Christians were celebrating such an event with very big enthusiasm (there is a huge Christian community in Damascus).
This can only mean that even the Syrians themselves believe the city is safe.
Long story short: I personally think that Syria is safe to visit but it will depend on where you go.
For a better understanding, read my analysis: Is Syria safe to visit?
Which parts of Syria are safe to travel?
Read my 100% safe travel itinerary for Syria.
Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, Latakia, Tartus, Krak De Chevaliers, and also Palmyra.
For Palmyra, however, you still need a special permit, which I can get for you as well.
Still, keep in mind that this is a post-war zone, which means that it is highly unstable and things could change overnight. In Against the Compass, we always have the latest security information based on the last updates from our local contacts in Syria.
The people – The Syrians
Want to travel to Syria?
We have several trips scheduled until the end of 2022.
The first group trip is arranged for July 1st to 8th. Find out more:
Syria Tours Against the Compass 2022
Language spoken in Syria
Levantine Arabic is the official language.
You should know that many English-speaking people left the country but you will always find someone who does. In any case, try to learn some Arabic before traveling to Syria.
Religion in Syria
Around 65% of the population are Sunni Muslims but, like in Lebanon, in Syria, there are many different religions, including a large Christian population. Bashar Al-Assad is Alawite, a Shia branch.
How do Syrians feel about tourism?
According to the UN, around 500,000 Syrians have been killed, nearly 5,000,000 escaped from the country and several more million who are still in the country need humanitarian assistance.
We are talking here about one of the worst humanitarian crises in the 21st century.
Like I said at the beginning, many people are skeptical about traveling to Syria, claiming or thinking that it may be disrespectful to all the people that have been affected somehow.
Well, what I think is that, before making any judgment, we should ask the actual Syrians living in Syria what do they think about it.
When visiting Syria, I have never talked to a single Syrian who was not happy at seeing a foreign tourist.
The ones who spoke English approached me, asking a lot of questions and showing their gratitude for visiting their country.
They don’t hesitate to talk to you about the crisis, the problems that it has caused, etc.
Hello, how are you?
Well, alive, thank God! – A random Syrian told me
However, I thought that wandering around Damascus as a tourist would be like being a celebrity. I mean, people were extremely nice and kind but it was not like when you travel in Pakistan, for example, where everybody stops you in the street to talk to you.
The main reason was that most people thought I was a journalist and the second was that Syrians have always had great international exposure, so seeing foreigners is something they are actually used to, with the only difference they haven’t seen many since 2010.
Long story short: Syrians are happy to see tourists.
Transportation: how to travel around Syria
Note: This info refers to 2018 when traveling in Syria independently was allowed.
You can travel around Syria by local buses and shared taxis.
I took the bus from Damascus to Aleppo, which takes more than 7 hours.
The reason is that the section of the road from Homs to Aleppo is not totally Government-controlled, so after Homs, they turn right and make a huge detour to get to Aleppo.
Update 2022: Today, the direct road from Damascus to Aleppo that goes through Idlib is finally under the control of the Government.
There is not much to say here, other than the roads of Syria are full of military checkpoints, which is what you may expect.
Your driver will keep your passport and he will handle everything for you, so don’t worry about that.
I also took the bus from Homs to Damascus and it was a very similar story.
From Aleppo to Homs I took a local shared taxi.
Seriously, buses run normally, smoothly and without any problem
In Damascus, this is the main bus station to go to Homs and Aleppo: 33.532449, 36.31875.
The station at Aleppo is quite far from the city center but you will see plenty of taxis just outside.
As per safety, the truth is that many people were being overprotective with me, always taking care that I was feeling safe and comfortable, so you should not worry about that. Most people taking the bus to Aleppo are from the army by the way.
What you need to know about money before traveling to Syria
Remember to get travel insurance for Syria
IATI Insurance is one of the very few that covers travel in Syria + it offers full covid-19 COVERAGE.
5% discount if purchasing via this link
In Syria, they use the Syrian Pound (SYP), a currency that has been fluctuating like crazy for the past 10 years.
Before the crisis, $1 equaled 50SYP.
In 2018, during my first visit, $1 equaled 490SYP.
Today, $1 is around 2,500SYP and what is even worse is that in the black market, you can exchange it for up to 3,800SYP.
As a consequence, Syria is suffering from massive inflation and the problem is that most salaries haven’t increased accordingly.
Exchanging money in Syria
You can exchange both Euros (€) and USD ($) but USD can be exchanged at a better rate. If you bring 100 USD notes, keep in mind that they only accept the new ones with the blue line.
If you have Syrian Pounds left when you leave, you can exchange them to Lebanese Pounds or USD in most exchange offices in Beirut, at the official bank rate, which means that it won’t be so good.
ATMs and credit cards in Syria
Because of the foreign sanctions, in Syria, you can neither pay by credit card nor using ATMs. You must bring all your money in cash.
Update 2022: Due to the current financial crisis, the same rule applies to Lebanon. If you are traveling to Syria from Lebanon, you must bring enough cash for visiting both countries.
How much does it cost to travel to Syria?
These are the prices of the most typical things:
- Lunch in a local restaurant: 10,000 to 20,000SYP
- Food in a nice restaurant with wine: 50,000 to 80,000SYP
- Breakfast (like hummus or ful): 3,000SYP
- National Museum: 2,500SYP
- Aleppo Citadel: 2,500YSP
- Bus from Damascus to Aleppo: 10,000 to 13,000SYP
- Budget Hotel in Damascus: $25 to $35 for a private room
- Mid-range hotel in Damascus: $40 to $80 for a private room
- Taxis within cities: 5,000 to 10,000SYP
- Local shared taxi Aleppo to Homs: 15,000 to 20,000SYP
Responsible tourism and ethics
Syria is a post-war zone, where millions of people have lost their houses and relatives, so please, be a sensitive tourist.
Don’t say war but crisis or situation instead
You will see that many Syrians themselves don’t really use the word war but they prefer to say other less harsh words.
Don’t take selfies with damaged buildings
Seriously, this is one of the most disrespectful things you could ever do and you would actually be an asshole if you did it.
Empathize with the locals
When you are in an area full of destroyed buildings be polite to the people, say hello, shake hands and just be nice with them.
Collaborate with the local economy
In Homs and Aleppo, you are likely to see small businesses open among all the ruins. Do buy things from them.
In Homs, I saw one small bakery shop in the practically destroyed souk; I couldn’t resist buying one kilo of sweets there, which I gave to a young boy that was looking for something among the trash.
Are the Syrian cities really destroyed?
This seems to bring a lot of confusion, so let me explain it to you:
Only the outskirts of Damascus are destroyed, as there was a bloody battle there. That area is off-limits to tourists.
The Old City and the new part of town remain intact.
A percentage of the Old City is destroyed, as well as some areas from outside the city.
Most of Aleppo isn’t damaged but some very important sites from the Old City, like the Great Mosque, are gone.
Nowadays, however, the city is being rebuilt and people are slowly coming back.
One of the most affected cities by the war.
Approximately 40% of the city is destroyed and that includes its bazaar, one of the liveliest and most important souqs in all the Middle East.
The Temple of Bell was destroyed by ISIS but Palmyra is a massive archaeological site and many of its wonders can still be seen.
Taking photos when you travel in Syria
You can take photos of everything except for one thing: military stuff.
Yes, it is very obvious but the problem is that there is military stuff everywhere, especially in Damascus.
In Damascus, it happened a few times that I took a picture of some cool building or whatever, from relatively far away, and didn’t realize there was a checkpoint right next to it.
Of course, the soldiers approached me but, after quickly checking my passport and my camera, very kindly, let me continue.
In Damascus Old City, there are checkpoints everywhere, so pay attention before taking any photos.
Don’t get off the beaten track in Syria, not yet
Don’t do it because you are going to ruin it for everybody.
Syria just started opening to tourism, so stick to the main touristic areas.
I am telling you this because there was a German guy who went to the outskirts of Damascus to take photos of some destroyed buildings and he was put in jail for a week. That was back in 2018, when independent travel in Syria was allowed.
Since then, booking a tour is required in order to get a visa for Syria so, even if you wanted to get off the beaten track, you would not be able to.
Accommodation: where to stay in Syria
Since the crisis, the Government of Syria has introduced a dual pricing policy in all hotels, in which foreigners pay more than the locals.
This has increased the rates substantially but you can still find many affordable options.
Where to stay in Damascus
Budget – Green Hotel – Single rooms cost 15USD and double 30USD. It was very clean, there was a heater, good Wi-Fi and the guy from the reception spoke English. It was here, just outside of the Old City: 33.510168. 36.298925.
Affordable Boutique Hotel – Beit al Mamlouka – A small hotel at the heart of the old city.
Top option – Beit al Wali – One of the best hotels in the city.
Luxury – Four Seasons – Crazy expensive, but the best hotel in Syria. Note that it’s not managed by Four Seasons anymore, even though they kept their name.
Where to stay in Aleppo
Mid-range – Aleppo Palace – Good, affordable option in Aleppo, with great views of the new part of town. It’s located right next to the I Love Aleppo sign.
In Aleppo, you can also find a Sheraton.
Where to stay in Homs
New Basman Hotel – One of the few options in Homs is this hotel that offers basic but comfortable rooms.
Where to stay in Al Mishtaya
Al Mishtaya is a Christian village near Krak de Chevaliers and the place where we stay when I bring groups into Syria.
They have a pretty good brand-new hotel named Vila Rosa Hotel.
Where to stay in Palmyra and Busra
Today, you can’t stay in any of them because there are no hotels.
The food and alcohol in Syria
In the last few years, I haven’t traveled to many countries that are famous for their food, but Syria definitely is.
Being an olive-oil rich Mediterranean country, the ingredients used in their cuisine are fresh and similar to the ones we used in Spain, Italy, France, and Greece.
The food is actually pretty much the same as in Lebanon, with their own regional variations, of course.
From the classic hummus to kibbeh (local steak tartar), different sorts of grilled meat or a typical dish of Aleppo consisting of meatballs in cherry sauce, the food in Syria is so varied.
For me, however, breakfast is the best part, as they always serve different variations of hummus and ful deep in super tasty olive oil and vegetables.
As per the alcohol, you should know that Syria has a large Christian population, so alcohol is easily available, especially in the Christian district of the Old City of Damascus, where there is a street filled with bars and many liquor shops.
You can actually buy a $1 beer and drink it in the street!
Internet and mobile
Do you use a VPN when you travel? Remember that, in this type of countries, some websites might be blocked and your online activity might be monitored by the Government. Therefore, in order to navigate safely, you should use a VPN.
Read: How to find (and why use) the best VPN for traveling
Wi-Fi – Internet works well across the country. The hotels I stayed at had a good connection and you can also connect in most relatively good cafés and restaurants.
Mobile – I bought Syriatel and, for 7,000SYP, they gave me 2GB and some calls but, of course, prices may change. They only asked for my passport. I recommend you go to the official store. There is one next to Merjeh Square, right here: 33.513185, 36.29777.
I hope this Syria travel blog will help you to plan your trip. I will try to keep it updated but, if you have more updates, please let us know in the comments section. Thanks 🙂