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Syria

Arabic hospitality can be somewhat overwhelming for first-time visitors, and nowhere else in the Middle East will visitors receive such a genuine demonstration of Arabic hospitality, accompanied by a refreshingly sincere welcome, than in the Arab Republic of Syria. 'Ahlan wa sahlan' is a phrase that will be heard often throughout the country, meaning 'You are welcome', and will more than likely be accompanied by a traditional cup of Arabic coffee or a glass of tea, or an offer to share in the family meal.

Syria once included present day Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine within its borders, but today is enclosed by Turkey to the north, Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Jordan and Israel to the south, and Iraq to the east. Its central position on the caravan and trade route was largely responsible for its intermingling of beliefs and ideas, having survived a myriad invasions and occupations over the ages from the Persians and Greeks to the Romans, Crusaders and Arabs.

The Syria of today offers tourists as much a cultural experience as a sightseeing one, where ancient history provides a fascinating backdrop to everyday life on the streets. Part of the ancient caravan route, the 500-year old souqs (covered markets) present a riot of colour and turmoil to the business of buying and selling, where anything from handmade chunks of soap and carpets to sheep's tongues and underwear are sold from shops crammed into the narrow cobblestone alleyways. On the streets donkeys, 1960s American car-taxis, bicycles, minibuses and private jeeps vie for priority, whereas street vendors and shoe-shiners clog the sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to take on the traffic amid a cacophony of hooting and shouting.

One of the most interesting places for travellers is the capital city of Damascus, brimming with history as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Then there is Aleppo in the north with its citadel, elaborately decorated hammans (bath houses), ancient souq and the nearby ruins of St Simeon, considered to be one of the world's oldest remaining churches. In Syria's central region lie the ancient Greek ruins of Palmyra, located in the desert oasis that has long been a crucial stopover for caravans crossing the Syrian desert, while the friendly town of Hama is famous for its ancient, wooden water wheels and is in proximity to the impressive crusader castle of Krak de Chevaliers. Syria also boasts many resorts along the Mediterranean Coast.

Time spent in Syria will be as gratifying as it is interesting, and visitors will return home with a collection of stories to tell, a wealth of fond recollections and a camera full of photographs.

Climate

Syria's climate is largely affected by the desert, with hot, sunny summers (June to August) and cold winters (December to February). Winters are milder along the coast, but wet, and humidity is higher in summer. Snowfall is common in winter on the mountains. Summer temperatures can reach in excess of 95F (35C) during the day, but evenings are generally cool. Spring and autumn are the best times to travel with milder temperatures, averaging 72F (22C) during the day.

Money

The official currency is the Syrian pound (SYP), which is divided into 100 piastres. There are a few ATMs in the bigger towns, but not all cards are accepted. Credit cards are not widely used, but American Express and Diners Club are the most readily accepted. Travellers cheques are not accepted in most banks, and those that do require lengthy and complicated processes.

Passport Visa

Visitors should be aware that if their passport (or airline ticket) contains an Israeli stamp, or any evidence of an intended visit to Israel, entry to Syria will be refused even if in possession of a valid visa. Visas can only be issued on arrival to those travelling as part of an organised group or if there is no Syrian representation in their home country. Visas are not required for any traveller whose passport states that he or she was born in: Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates or Yemen. Passports with visas for Israel or airline tickets showing Israel as a destination will be refused entry. All travellers must hold return or onward tickets, all documents required for the next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Entry Requirements

  • US nationals require a passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.
  • UK nationals require a passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.
  • Canadians require a passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.
  • Australians require a passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.
  • South Africans require a passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.
  • Irish nationals require a passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.
  • New Zealand nationals require a passport and a visa for travel to Syria. Visitors must hold return/onward tickets, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds to cover their stay.

Health

Malaria is not a health risk in the urban areas of Syria but travellers to El Hassaka, in northern Syria, are recommended to take chloroquine between May and October. A yellow fever certificate is required by travellers arriving from an infected country in Africa or the Americas. It is recommended that travellers are vaccinated against polio. Although medical treatment is inexpensive, standards are variable. Doctors are generally well qualified and most medical personnel speak English or French. Basic medical care is available in major cities, but medical insurance is strongly advised.

Embassy Consulates

  • Embassy of Syria, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 232 6313.
  • Embassy of Syria, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7245 9012.
  • Embassy of Syria, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 569 5556.
  • Embassy of Syria, ACT, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6218 5200.
  • Embassy of Syria, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 4701.

Foreign Embassies

  • United States Embassy, Damascus: +963 (0)11 3391 4444.
  • British Embassy, Damascus: +963 (0)11 339 1513.
  • Canadian Embassy, Damascus (also provides assistance to Australians): +963 (0)11 611 6692.
  • South African Embassy, Damascus: +963 (0)11 6135 1520.
  • Honorary Consul of Ireland, Damascus: +963 (0)11 334 2144.