Iraq- Syria

18 days,  April- May 07




Kind of travel: Alone in a 100% independent travel

When: 20th April- 08th May, 2007

How I moved: buses and minibus are the best bet. The service of some deluxe buses (Palmyra- Damasco) will surprise you. On the other hand trains seem don't like passengers apart from the Aleppo- Latakia leg.

Freezing or baking?: wonderful temperature in April- May when a sweater is enough, while in summer it's a furnace.

Where I slept: it's plenty of basic accommodations and cleanness isn't often included in the price. At least it comes less than 10$ for a double

What I liked: the country is safe, touts not existent and traveling is quite cheap. Visiting Quneitra and all its history turned out very interesting

What I disliked: the monotony of the landscape, all flat and dry (left out the mountain range along the coast) and the amazing dirtiness!! Arwad island wins the "dump of the year" syrian award :-)

How much daily: Syria is cheap!! I'd say that a low budget averages around 15$, "shrinkable" though

Dangers/ hassles: forget terrorism or any kind of anger against western, however Islam here is quite severe, so be cautious/ respectful in particular n anything involving women (i.e. pictures, wearing, comments...). Israel is a hot topic, skip it!

What to bring: sunglasses, a cap and "some trust in the people", useful when you'll get invited in their home


[In Iraq (Kurdistan) part of the travel]

The day after I entered Syria and I headed directly to the sandy Deir er Zur, a town in the middle of the Syrian desert. Here I stayed two days to visit the Dura Europos archaeological site on the Euphrates river bank.
A comfortable bus led me to the chaotic Aleppo, from where hitch hiking I reached the wonderful "Dead cities". The only one train I got in this travel took me from Aleppo to Latakia and then by bus I got to the old Tartus. Here I got invited in a private house by a bunch of just known funny students.
The island of Arward is a dump, while the castel "Krak of Chevaliers" turned out really worthwhile. From Tartus in 6h by minibus and bus I got to the magic archaeological site of Palmyra, where unfortunately I dedicated just half day, at least at the sunset.
The Syrian capital Damascus didn't charm me that much, apart of the unique Umayyad mosque. On the other hand a daytrip to Quneitra, a ghost town in the occupied Israelian territories, and all the related history, turned out very interesting (you need a special permit to visit it (see tips)).
The daytrip to the theatre of Bosra is definitely worthwhile, while the small town of Maaula perched on a rocky cliff, is OK while waiting for your flight back home.




Let's begin with the weak points: left out some areas (i.e., between Aleppo and Latakia), Syria won't definitely win the award for the variety and the beauty of the environment, and after a while you'll get a little fed up of dry flat lands. Moreover dirtiness cannot pass unnoticed, especially when it gets to the extent of throwing the rubbish bags in the sea as it happens in Arward. It's a pity because the respect for the own land it's not a matter of income and at the end it really impacts on the image if the country.
Then the strong points come: the middle eastern hospitality won't disappoint you, even those who have experience Iran. I got invited in private houses several times for dinner and I really enjoyed it.
Almost useless to be said, the fundamentalist Islamic stereotype of the country it's a laugh and, as for safety I felt at ease like a baby in the cradle.
Finally travelling around is cheap and there's no lack of highlights: Palmyra, The Crak des Chavaliers, the Unmayyad mosque… won't disappoint even the most I-don't-mind-the-tourist-stuffs-traveller.
In short Syria is a great place of an independent traveller, and I reccomend it!





I got the visa in advance (in Italy, 40 euro, 4 days): easy to have unless there's any evidence you have been in Israel. At the border they checked every single stamp of my 30 pages full passport. At the bus station you can be asked to register your presence, in particalr in Quamishle and Deir Er Zur

You need a permit. You have to get from the Ministry of Interior in Damascus (it's indicated in the Syria 2004 ed L. Planet) It is opened from Sunday to Thursday (8-14, it takes 20min (just with your passport and a photo) and above all it's for free!
You can get the permission for the same day or for the next one.
Then by minibus you reach Khan Arnabah (1h) and from here you need negotiate a taxi to go to Quneitra. At a check point before entering the town (where they'll check you permit) an escort'll join you (it's mandatory and for free). The whole trip from Damascus'll take 5 hours. At the end I wanted to tip the escort but he declined the money. If he hassles you saying you can't walk around be insistent, since it seems (and it has been also my experience) these escorts are very lazy and they do everything to shorten your trip as much as possible. As I know there's no time limit (by the day) in your permission


At the time of travelling (May07) 1 USD= 52 SYP. You can change both euro and dollar easily.



I had the usual vaccinations: ephatite A, B, typhus and tetanus but I took nothing against malaria. I hadn't any problem with the food or the drink, anyway I never drank tap water.



I used Lonely Planet edition Nov2004.



I tried my best to take the train from Deir Ez Zur to Aleppo; I asked for the schedule one day in advance, but when I got at the station, I realised they gave me the wrong one. It seems the trains pass through Deir Ez Zur just in the hearth of the night. I only succeded in getting the train from Aleppo to Latakia

In case you decide to visit Arward island be aware it's a dump, not saying the nice boat trip it isn't worthwhile though, especially if it's your only chance to enjoy the Syrian sea