I arrived at the Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon at around noon, much to the surprise yet warm welcome from the border services officer. It’s not too common these days for Lebanon to be hosting visitors so it was a refreshing sight for them to see me amidst the tens of thousands of locals passing through the airport every day. The questions from the border officer were pretty straightforward: where was I coming from, which place was I staying, and how long was I planning to stay. Some quick answers to their questions and I was through. They stamped a visa on my passport at no cost but note that visa requirements can vary depending on where you are from. You might also be in big trouble if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. More on this later.
I took the Air Arabia airlines from Abu Dhabi, UAE, which is one of the leading low-cost carriers in the Middle East and North Africa. It was pretty comfortable and I had no issues on board. Other airline options include Middle Eastern airlines, which is the national airline of Lebanon.
One major issue that most travellers have to deal with is transportation from the airport to their place of stay. This issue is even worse in the Middle East as public transport options at the airport range from limited to zero. There are minibuses that pick people up from close to the airport in Beirut but it requires some walking from the terminal. If you are light on luggage, the minibus is a good option, especially if you are up for the adventure. As for taxis, these are not metered in Lebanon so you have to be a really smart negotiator with the taxi drivers. In most cases, you are unlikely to strike a good deal and safety maybe an issue as well. I planned for my ride from the airport ahead of time by pre-arranging for a pick up with my hostel, Hostel Beirut. This cost me $25 USD for a 10km drive which was quite expensive but still, recommended, especially if you are coming to Lebanon for the first time as you can have can peace of mind knowing you will get to your place safely without getting lost. A pre-arranged ride to my hostel also allowed me to avoid paying higher prices for a local SIM card purchased from the airport which you would need to check for navigation on the streets and call for any ride-hailing services. Speaking of ride hailing, this is actually the most recommended option for Beirut airport travels. I took the Uber from downtown Beirut to the airport for my departure flight so stay tuned for more info on this.
I was able to connect to the airport Wi-Fi and contact my pick-up driver, Carl, via WhatsApp. As I stepped out of the exit doors of the airport terminal (see image below), I couldn’t keep my excitement for my first glimpse of Beirut.
I must say I was quite surprised by the weather that greeted me. It was just past noon and it was somewhat sunny but the streets were slick with rain (see image below), something I didn’t expect at all in a Middle Eastern country.
I learned right away that there is more to the Middle Eastern weather than what people usually talk about. As I stood outside waiting for my ride, some people walked up to me asking if I needed a taxi. These guys claimed they could connect me with local taxis but I would recommend not to look too far into this. My wait wasn’t that long anyways, around 5 minutes and my guy sent me a text, “I see you”. I looked up and I could see him too, a lanky Lebanese guy with an Afro walking towards me. “Marhaba! Sorry I am a little late. I should have timed my drive better”. I had learned my Lebanese greetings ahead of time so I said “Marhaba” back to him. “Let’s go, shall we? Yalla!”, he said. Yalla means let’s go so he basically said the same thing twice. That’s how much people love using this word here. I hopped on his Kia Cerato and was now ready to see my first sights of Beirut streets. Yalla!
- Check before you arrive whether you need a visa or not. Hopefully no Israeli stamp in your passport.
- Air Arabia and Middle Eastern Airlines are good airline choices to get to Lebanon
- Arrange for an airport pickup with your place of stay
- Make sure you keep the WhatsApp phone number of your pick-up driver in case they are late to get to the airport.
- Get excited to explore Lebanon.