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Frequently asked questions about Syria

What is the best time to travel?

Our spring (April-June) is the best time to visit this part of the world. The temperatures are mild at this time of year and the rain has usually stopped. Furthermore, the flowers are all in bloom and the springs are full of water. September to November (autumn) is also a good time to visit. During our winter months it can be cold and rainy, especially in the mountainous regions where it also sometimes snows. If you go during the summer (June to August), make sure you have headscarves, sunglasses and a plentiful supply of water. You can expect extreme heat during this period, especially in Palmyra and the northeast of Syria.

What are the best festivals and when do they take place?

Friday is the day of rest when most shops, government buildings/services and banks are closed (NB: Jews do not work on Saturdays and Christians have a day off on Sundays). On Fridays you will see that many families go to the countryside to have a picnic or visit some of the places of interest, especially Syrian families. Syrian national holidays include: Christian New Year (1st January), Unity Day (22nd February), Eid al-Thawra (Revolution Day, 8th March), Yom al-Umal (Labour Day, 1st May), Eid ash-Shuhada (Martyrs Day, 6th May), Liberation Day (6th October), Tishreen (Day of the ‘Correction Movement’, 16th November) and Chirstmas (25th December).
Due to the fact that the Islamic calendar is based on the position of the moon, the festivals fall on different Gregorian dates every year. The festival of sacrifice is on 8th December in 2008. Ramadan can cause problems for tourists as many restaurants are closed and eating, drinking and smoking in public are

Can I pre-book transfers and extra nights?

Yes, you have the option to pre-book airport transfers (arrival only) and secondly the option to pre-book pre and post tour nights.These extra services should be added to your booking.

What about my passport?

You need a passport that is valid for at least 6 months from the date of your departure. You are responsible for having a valid passport and visa when you travel.

Do I need a visa?

UK/EU citizens currently need a visa for Syria, but these things can change so please click here and check out the current situation. You can also check on that website if a visa is required for any other nationality. Make sure you find out at least a month before departure if you need a visa so you do not run out of time.

If you need a visa, please contact the nearest embassy (unless you choose to use a visa service). Shoestring does not organise your visa. You are responsible for having a valid passport and visa when you travel. You can also obtain the visa through a specialised visa agency such as http://www.travcour.com/.

Do I need vaccinations or malaria tablets?

Please click here for questions regarding vaccinations or malaria tablets for this country and then contact your GP or a specialised health clinic and make an appointment to get your injections and pills. Please make sure that you arrange this at least six weeks before your departure to give you time to complete a full program. Two weeks may suffice for people who have already had a few vaccinations. You are responsible for having the right protection when going on tour.

What is the recommended currency for Syria?

The official currency is the Syrian pound (SYP), which is divided into 100 piastres. There are several ATMs in the bigger towns. Credit cards are not widely used, but American Express and Diners Club are the most readily accepted. Travellers cheques are not recommended due to the difficulty that you might experience in exchanging them.

What kind of clothing and other stuff is practical to take?

The Syrians are generally conservative as far as clothing is concerned, and are not used to the bizarre (in their eyes) way that tourists often dress. Women are better off wearing dresses or trousers that cover the knees at least. Also make sure that your shoulders are covered. Spaghetti-strap tops are definitely not appreciated by the locals. On Aqaba beach, one-piece bathing suits are more appropriate than bikinis; the locals are not used to ‘naked’ tourists. Local females wear a combination of western and eastern clothing. A skirt or a pair of jeans is commonplace. Men will usually encounter no problems if they wear shorts, although this can be viewed as eccentric. Long trousers are appreciated more by the locals. During the summer months, a good travel wardrobe would contain light, comfortable cotton clothes, closed shoes (maybe even sandals) sunglasses, sunhat or headscarf, swimwear and a jumper or thin coat for the evenings. During the winter, a raincoat can come in h

What kind of luggage should I take?

Please pack in a canvas bag or a backpack, not a hard suitcase which is inconvenient to transport. Also bring small daypack or a shoulder bag for your daily hand luggage. To keep your cash and documents safe, take a money belt to wear underneath your clothes.

What is the situation with electricity in Syria?

Please click here to check what voltage and plugs are in use in Syria. You could also consider taking a universal electric plug.

Which travel guides and maps?

If you want to take a travel guide or map, we suggest you click on Lonely Planet.

What is the accommodation like?

You will stay at mid-range hotels in double en-suite rooms with breakfast included.

How is accommodation arranged if I book alone?

If you book alone you will share your room with a fellow traveller unless you have booked a single room. Sometimes this means sharing your room with someone of the opposite sex.

Do they cater for vegetarians in Syria?

There is a range of vegetable dishes, the most notable of which are karnabit maqli (roast cauliflower with sesame sauce), badhinjan mahshi (stuffed aubergine in tomato sauce) and mnazalet banadora (stuffed tomatoes). It is also easy to find falafel and hummus.

What kind of transportation is used?

You will travel in comfortable air conditioned (mini) buses.

Is Syria dangerous?

In general, Syria is safe for tourists. Most locals are hospitable and friendly. Although theft is not a big problem, it is always sensible to take precautions. Do not wave banknotes around on the streets. It is useful to have two money belts, one containing money necessary for that particular day, and the other with all the rest of your money, which you wear under your clothes. Begging is not commonplace, although sometimes children may ask for sweets or small items like biros.

Police:
In Syria, the uniformed police are formed by members of the army, and the country is full of them. They guard public buildings and occasionally hold luggage checks en route or at bus stations. The civil police are armed and dressed in plain clothes. They maintain public order and safety. In the ambassadorial region in Damascus, where President Assad also lives, they are everywhere. The mukhabarat (secret police) is an extensive organisation and also has eyes and ears everywhere.

What local customs do I need to keep in mind?

Syrians use many gestures during their conversations which in many cases differ strongly from those that we use. Examples of this are that people say ‘no’ by raising their eyebrows and tilting their head back slightly, sometimes accompanied by a ‘tsk-tsk’ sound. You can say a polite ‘no, thank you’ by placing your right hand on your heart. If you do not want any more tea or coffee, lay your hand over your cup and say ‘shukran’ (thank you). If somebody does not understand something, he will shake his head (like our ‘no’). Men who ask for directions should not be surprised to be grabbed by the arm and led to the destination in this manner. It is normal for men to walk hand in hand with each other here, although think twice if you are female and a local man wishes to walk with you in such a way! In Syria, the left hand is used to clean one’s backside after visiting the toilet and is therefore seen as unclean. For

How are communications in Syria?

There is good mobile phone coverage in urban areas, and many networks have international roaming agreements. Internet access is limited, but is available in Damascus.

What is the time difference?

Please check the world clock in order to find out the exact time difference between Syria and your own country.

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