Updated June, 2004
The Libyan visa is a hassle, have no doubt about it ! Tourists can only obtain one if in posession of an officially endorsed invitation letter, provided by travel agencies. At the moment only groups of four or above can obtain a visa (though noone actually cares how many you are at the border...). It can be particularly frustrating trying to explain to a Libyan embassy official demanding the other companions that the group is composed of all kinds of nationalities, applying for visa in different places... In full fairness, since mid 2003 the visa hassle seems to have subsided somewhat, in autumn 2003 our group ten composed of four different nationalities obtained our visas with surprising ease within a week at four different embassies. Visas can only be applied for at the (nearest) embassy in the country of residence. Early 2004 the US State Department has lifted the ban for US citizens to travel to (and spend money in) Libya.
Note: Libya is a "dry" country, no amount of alcoholic drinks may be imported.
Permits & Escort
Since mid 2003 the formerly easy-going attitude of the authorities changed dramatically for the worse, making a trip to Libya full of hassles. At present any group of foreigners (more than 2) must be accompanied at all times by a guide, a representative of the inviting travel agency, and an officer from the tourist police. Off piste travel is forbidden, and even with previously agreed itineraries (for which permits were issued) it's a constant argument with the guide and officer on where can one go and what can be seen. In light of this, one should consider carefully whether going to Libya is worth the hassle.
Note: the situation can change any time, regulations come, regulations go, without much logic.
In Libya the petrol engined model 62 Landcruisers are standard desert vehicles, though the model 80 is making inroads. In addition, the pickup version of the sturdy -75 is widely available. We take our vehicles from Alawy Tours in Sebha, they have both 62s and 80s, all outfitted with extra fuel tanks and built in air compressors - an unimaginable luxury compared to the -75s available in Egypt. The 3.9 petrol engine is thirsty, but with the maximum 800 kilometre range needed between fuel stops on our Libyan itinerary, it's not a problem (There is no way a petrol engine cruiser would make Uweinat on the 'other side'). With the availability of pickups, extra fuel is carried in 200l drums, together with the water cannisters. For comfort, we have three people to a car, plus the seat beside the driver in the pickup. Weight and volume still needs to be watched, as the -62 has a much smaller volume than the -75, and a portion of the back is taken up by an additional welded steel fuel tank.
With the more powerful petrol engine, built in compressor (making one more inclined to reduce tyre pressure further than if having to spend time reinflating) and the generally easier terrain, getting stuck is an almost unknown event.
Maps & navigation
Most of our trip follows pistes and tracks, even south of Kufra there are the tracks of the heavy trucks going south to Sudan. GPS is more for backup. The best available maps are the Russian Military 1:500,000 series, though their terrain information can be misleading (mostly sandy areas turn out to be much better than anticipated from the map).
There are many areas with leftover WWII mines in the north, but the area south of the Jalo - Jaghbub line is considered mine free. (There have been some reports of mines along the old Kufra - Abu Mungar track to the NE of Kufra, but when we intended to go in that general area to search for the SAAF Blenheims, the police at Kufra were unconcerned - however they did ask for a very detailed listing of the points we intend to visit south of Uweinat, and were quite relieved to know that we do not intend to go anywhere near the southern border.)
Further south, the whole of the Tibesti region is mine infested, making it one of the most dangerous areas for Saharan travel. At present we do not go anywhere near the Tibesti.
Continue to General Information for participants