Libya Off The Beaten Path Tips by TheWanderingCamel Top 5 Page for this destination
Libya Off The Beaten Path: 33 reviews and 75 photos
After days in the desert, all we had seen of Libya's wildlfe was a lizard on a rock, a few birds and myriad footprints in the sand around the lakes of the Ubari Sand Sea and our campsite in the desert. Our Tuareg guide pointed out jerboa and gerbil prints, as well as fennec, desert hare, centipede, millipede, scorpion, snake, skink and lizard tracks but that was it. The advent of a "ghibli" - the sand-laden wind of a Saharan Spring - meant our last day was spent in a thick, dust haze as we drove back to Sebha. Visibility was drastically reduced, which meant we couldn't head back into the dunes as we had planned. Driving was slow but we still had some time up our sleeve. Our driver knew how to fill some of it. He took us to a small zoo.
I was a little wary - having worked in a zoo for several years, I have no problems with them in principle, but they must be well-run and the animals well-cared for and I was a bit afraid that this might not be the case. This place was fine. The animals had really good-sized enclosures that were clean, well-kept and well-provided with shade. The dry food was well-stored, fresh and abundant and there was fresh browse available as well. One of the foxes disappeared down a hole in the ground - obviously they were able to dig as they would in the wild. The sheep had rock piles to climb. All good signs.
What did we see? Rock hyrax; Rupell's sand fox; jackals; camels; gazelle; ostrich (yes, they do occur in Libya) and the critically endangered al wadan - Barbary sheep. Added to the birds - brown crows, moula-moula (white-headed wheatear), doves, birds of prey and a vagrant stork - we'd seen quite a lot of Libya's rapidly declining fauna.
The zoo is located in the Wahat Fezzan campsite, a few kilometres outside Sebha past the airport. The campsite itself is very pleasant, with various sized (and no doubt, priced) thatched huts, very clean ablution blocks, gardens, teahouse and swimming pool.
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I could live here
Whoever the Roman gentleman was who built Villa Sileen, he - and his family - knew all about gracious living. It's hard to imagine a more idyllic spot., right by the sea about 25 km from Leptis Magna. This was a very rich man's house - relatively modest in size but adorned with exquisite frescoes ( delicately painted white herons on warm red walls in one room, sweet little cherubs in another) and gorgeous mosaics of gods, animals, the circus, dwarfs and crocodiles hunting each other. There's a bathhouse complete with hot and cold pool, more frescoes - and quite sophisticated plumbing for a shower. Mosaic pavements in a multitude of geometric designs form terraces - all with lovely sea views - and more mosaics - wonderfully lively animals - are to be found all through the garden.
All this beauty lay hidden for centuries under the dry, clean sand of the dunes - a wonderful preservative. When it was finally discovered in the latter half of the last century, the Libyan Department of Antiquities took enornous care over its preservation. For many years access was extremely restricted and even today, although the villa is now open to visitors, getting there is not easy. If you plan to make a private visit, your tickets, and a guide, must be collected from the ticket office in Leptis Magna ( and the guide returned there after your visit). Then you have a 25km journey back to the villa down a completely isolated road - public transport is not an option here.
Photography is allowed now - the usual camera charge of 5LD applies.
Believe me - Villa Sileen is worth all the effort it takes to get there. The chances of you being there on your own are excellent and the peace and beauty of the place will bowl you over.
Nalut is well worth some time spent exploring. As well as the fascinating structure of the qasr (fortified granary) you'll find many almost intact houses in the tumble of the village that surrounds it on the hillside below. Olive presses , still with the residue of old pressings in them, that were in use until quite recent times tell of a productive process that is centuries old. One mosque is still in occasional use but there's also a wonderful ancient mosque with incredibly organic pillars and form - and marvellous views over the coastal plain below. An inscription dates the mosque to 1312, making it the oldest in Nalut.
There's a caretaker at Nalut who will open the qasr for you and point you in the direction of the mosque and the oil presses. The views are stunning and need no pointing out!
The inscription carved into the hillside across from the old town celebrates the Socialist Revolution 36 years ago that brought Ghaddafi to power and set Libya on its "Third Way".
The new town has no great attractions though you can find somewhere reasonable to eat here. All were closed for the Eid when we drove through - we ended up sharing the Eid ram being barbecued ( incinerated) by the staff of a restaurant out of town that my driver knew - it was closed for the day but we were made welcome.
The road to Ghadames forks off from Nalut.
Jouneen, near Ghadames, is just a small village, the old centre now deserted as the people have left their traditional houses for more modern comforts. It's considerably more ruinous that Ghadames, though there is now quite a bit of restoration going on and, no doubt one day it will be possible to walk the old streets again. The village well is the thing to see here - a very typical oasis well with its long arm made from two split palm tree trunks. It's not in use these days - though restoration has begun. Meanwhile, modern pumps bring up the artesian water that is used to irrigate the gardens of Jouneen - not as picturesque perhaps, but certainly more efficient.
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