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Is Syria Safe to Visit in 2023? | Safety Concerns

Is Syria Safe to Visit in 2023? | Safety Concerns

Before the devastating civil war in 2011, Syria was among the most popular tourist destinations in the Middle East. Over 8.5 million tourists visited Syria annually to explore historical sites, archeological sites, the coastline, and more.

Unfortunately, war has left the country in ruins and poses safety concerns for travelers. If you’re planning to visit this Middle Eastern country, you may wonder, “Is Syria safe to visit now?”

While some areas are still in conflict and unsafe for tourists, regions under the control of the Syrian government are relatively safe.

But we don’t think the risk is worth it to most people. For the more adventerous traveler, we suggest doing a lot of research to make sure you hedge your downside risk. And this guide is a good place to start.

Is Syria Safe to Visit?

Old town Damascus pictured with street vendors selling food to people walking along the stone streets for a piece on is Syria safe to visit

Street Scene, Old Town, Souk, Damascus, Syria, December 22, 2021/Torsten Pursche/Shutterstock

No, Syria is not an entirely safe place to visit. Some regions in this country are dangerous due to civil unrest, air strikes, terrorism, and kidnapping. However, if you’re courageous enough, you can visit some government-controlled regions, such as Damascus and Aleppo.

The US government discourages citizens from traveling to Syria. The country has faced severe warfare that has ruined its economy and left over 350,200 people dead.

War zones such as Daraa, Idlib, Rojava, and Raqa are some risky regions you should not visit. These places experience military conflicts, terrorism, arbitrary detention, kidnapping, and criminality.

Issues such as pickpocketing, natural disasters, mugging, and scams are minimal. You’re less likely to find crowds on the streets, even in government-controlled regions. Like any other street, keep your belongings safe and avoid crowded areas.

Find a trustworthy local guide or a reputable tour company to help you travel around the country. With the reopening of airports in October 2021, tourists can visit Syria to explore ghost towns and ruined historical sites.

You only need to understand the requirements of visiting this country, such as a visa and a local guide. You may also want to know the local laws to avoid falling on the wrong side of the law.

Crime in Syria

While the capital city of Syria, Damascus, is relatively safe to visit, always be cautious when walking around the city. You’re never sure whether the rebels might attack the city or not.

Other safer regions you can visit in Syria include:

  • Aleppo: A destroyed city
  • Homs: A ghost town
  • Krak de Chevaliers: A well-preserved medieval castle
  • Maaloula: A historic Christian town
  • Hama: A city near the Orontes River
  • Sednaya: A Christian town
  • Arwad: An inhabited island
  • Tartus and Latakia: The main coastal cities
  • AlMishtaya and Marmarita: Christian villages

The high level of conflict in other Syrian regions is a serious safety concern for travelers. If you travel to these risky regions, you face the risk of kidnapping, injury, unjust arrest, or death.

Protests and demonstrations are common and are likely to spur violence. If you encounter a group of protestors, keep a distance or return to your hotel. Terrorist groups are rampant and might bomb even the safest regions in Syria.

The best way to avoid incidents of bombings and assassinations is to keep off crowded cities. You might want to know the risk of kidnapping before you go to Syria. This is especially true considering over 100,000 people who’ve gone missing in Syria, including foreigners.

To avoid the risk of kidnapping, always hire a reputable taxi driver or tour company to help you explore the country. You may also work with a trustworthy local contact to help you know the safest ways to stay in Syria.

The Syrian government may also detain you if you cross the border without a valid entry visa. You must obtain your visa from the Syrian government in advance. Your guide will also help you with security clearance because you’ll need paperwork in many areas.

If you want to avoid instances of violence in Syria, avoid venturing into sensitive areas. Please stay in your hotel if you have nothing to do in the streets. It’s also advisable to use travel insurance, especially one that covers Syria.

Other safety concerns you may want to be aware of include the following:

  • Pickpockets. Keep your valuables in the car or tightly by your side when on the streets. When walking out, carry what you may need.
  • Carjacking. Drive with your guide and avoid the highly sensitive regions.
  • Violent robberies. Avoid traveling alone at night or off the beaten paths. Also, keep your car windows up and doors locked.
  • Transport and taxis risk. Be careful when driving. Some drivers in Syria are reckless and tend to ignore traffic signs. You’ll also have to deal with near-constant congestion and poor-quality roads.
  • Natural disasters. Syria is always susceptible to flooding.
  • Scams. Agree on the amount you’ll pay with your taxi driver. Ensure to double-check the change.

Avoiding Bad Regions

Al-Rakka pictured from the POV of a walker with shelled-out buildings and burned trucks lining the street

Al-Rakka / Syria – December 18 2017: Streets of former ISIS capital/Tomas Davidov/Shutterstock

Generally, avoid the central and southern sections of Syria. These regions experience sporadic airstrikes and occasional armed violence between the regime forces and the opposition.

Stay away from the following places:

  • Idlib. This is a city that Al Nusra (also known as Al Qaeda) and Turkish dominate. It’s home to rebel forces, including jihadist and terrorist groups. The road to Aleppo is near Idlib, but it’s always safe since the government controls it. However, your safety as you enter the city of Idlib is not guaranteed.
  • Raqa. This former ISIS capital is a province any traveler should avoid. While the Syrian government controls part of Raqa, the Kurdish forces control the rest. It’s believed that ISIS sleeper cells are still common in this province, making it a dangerous place in Syria.
  • Rojava. This region gained an official name, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. It’s still experiencing conflicts and attacks from rebel groups. For example, the recent attack on al-Sina Prison in February 2022 by ISIS makes this region off-limits to tourists.
  • Daraa Al-Balad. This city is the birthplace of the civil uprising in Syria, and today, it’s one of the most dangerous places. It experiences frequent armed violence between the Syrian government and the rebels.
  • Palmyra. Despite its beauty and archeological sites, Palmyra isn’t safe. ISIS sleeper cells are near this place and tend to attack vehicles along the road to Palmyra. An army member must escort you to this region, but that won’t guarantee your safety.
  • Bosra. While this southern city is considered peaceful, it’s under the control of the Free Syrian Army. This army used to fight the government during the civil war, but today both parties are at peace.  

Local Laws

Reading and understanding local laws is paramount before visiting Syria. These laws will help you explore the country peacefully and enjoy your stay. Here are the local laws to consider:

  • Always carry your ID. This is always a requirement by the law.
  • Don’t use, carry, or sell drugs. Syria considers drug trafficking/use a serious offense. Punishment for a drug offense in this country is a death sentence.
  • Be careful taking videos or photos. Whether you’re a local or tourist, it’s illegal to take videos or pictures of government and military infrastructure.
  • Remain modest. It’s illegal to engage in same-sex relations in Syria.

Safety for Female Travelers

Traveling to Syria as a woman can be more challenging and risky. As a female traveler, avoid exploring this country alone. While Damascus is a safe city for both genders, you might face harassment and verbal abuse in some neighborhoods.

The good thing is that Syria is a culturally and religiously diverse country. With reasonable caution, you can explore Damascus and other safe regions.

You’re also likely to bump into some liberal women visiting bars or out at night. Of course, common sense must prevail if you want to explore Syria as a female traveler. Be sure you’re in a group or with your certified guide.

If you want to visit bars at night, consult your local contact about the safest bars for girls. Hire a taxi to drop you there and ensure you’re in a group. Avoid getting drunk or engaging with strangers.

If possible, find a safe place within the bar and take your drinks together with your girls. Watch how you dress in Syria. This country requires women to dress modestly, especially in the most conservative regions.

Wear loose-fitting clothes to cover your knees and shoulders when exploring the country. However, if you’re in Damascus, you will likely meet local women not following this custom. If you’re strolling down the streets in Damascus, you can dress up as you please.

Safety for LGBTQ+ Travelers

While it’s illegal to engage in same-sex relations in Syria, there are few cases of homosexual arrests. Those caught get imprisoned and discriminated against for being queer.

Fortunately, no rule hinders same-sex partners from sharing a hotel room. LGBTQ+ travelers can stay safe in Syria by avoiding being affectionate in public.

Food Safety in Syria

Syria has a variety of healthy and fresh dishes to cater to all travelers. Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or meat consumer, you will find delicious Syrian cuisine in most restaurants.

You can try popular dishes such as shawarma, fattoush, baklava, tabbouleh, falafel, and hummus as a vegetarian. Other typical foods include labneh, cheese, eggs, pitas, kibbeh, kabobs, kanafeh, svecha, and olives.

While Muslims in Syria fast during Ramadan, most of them don’t. So you don’t have to worry about strict fasting rules or missing food in restaurants. Most restaurants in this country keep their doors open during Ramadan to serve the sizable secular population.

Safe Accommodations in Syria

Since 2021, most hotels in Syria have been reopening to accommodate travelers from around the world. Whether you want to stay in Damascus, Aleppo, Maaloula, Homs, Sednaya, or Latakia, you’ll find plenty of safe hotels to book.

Below are the hotels you can book:

Things to Consider

The following tips will help you visit Syria safely and enjoy your stay:

  • Find a guide who’s aware of the latest security updates. Doing so enables you to avoid traveling to risky areas. Your guide should also know all the requirements needed when visiting different regions within the country.
  • Avoid talking about politics. In Syria, locals and foreigners cannot discuss politics or say anything wrong about the government. Most locals will tell you that walls in the country have ears, and you risk your safety discussing politics.
  • Take a flight to Damascus. Fly to Damascus if you don’t want to experience travel hiccups. Crossing the border may result in delays due to various checks and clearances.
  • Travel during the summer months. Winter months in Syria are windy and cold. With unreliable electricity in some regions, you might spend cold nights in darkness.
  • Bring a friend along. Spending time alone in a foreign land can be boring. There are long hours in the car and strange places to explore. A friend can keep you company and make you feel a bit safe.
  • Communicate with your family or friends back home. Syria is a war zone, and rebels might attack your region anytime. Plan how you’ll communicate with family or friends so they can learn about your safety.
  • Learn some Arabic. Arabic is the official Syrian language and the most widely used within the country. Learning Arabic words might help you in hotels, price negotiations, or seeking help.
  • Watch for weather changes. Syria is prone to flooding, so get back to your hotel if there are signs of a downpour.
  • Avoid telling dirty jokes. Most Syrians don’t appreciate such humor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Panoramic day view of the Umayyad Mosque with partly cloudy skies pictured for a piece on is Syria safe

Mohammad Alzain/Shutterstock

Are Syrian people friendly?

Despite the prolonged civil war, Syrians are friendly to visitors. While they blame the USA for the war in their country, they don’t bear any grudges against the US citizens visiting the country. Syrians are known to place a lot of importance on self-discipline and respect.

Do they speak English in Syria?

While Arabic is the widely spoken language in the country, most educated Syrians can speak English and French. Syrians learn English in elementary school and French in seventh grade. That’s why educated Syrians can hold conversations in English easily.

What is considered rude in Syria?

It’s rude to spit in front of someone or on their face. You should also avoid saying anything insulting to a Syrian who’s friendly and hospitable to you. Also, crossing your legs when seated across a Syrian older than you is a sign of disrespect.

What do Syrians do for fun?

Syrians love football (soccer) and follow European and Arab matches on television. Other common sources of entertainment in the cities include weightlifting, karate, and judo.

How do people in Syria dress?

Syrians wear a blend of Arab and Western clothing. Traditionally, men wear kaftans (long gowns) while women wear long robes. Women’s robes should only expose their hands and feet.

So, Is Syria Safe to Visit?

Syria is not an entirely safe country to visit due to the ongoing civil war in some regions. However, tourists can visit government-controlled areas such as Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, and Maaloula. When visiting this country, it’s always advisable to prioritize your safety first. Happy travels!