2012 Trekking in Lebanon

Places Lebanon. Various cities and mountain regions
Time & length February 2012, 4 weeks
Partners Markus Jamritsch
Together with my friend Markus I hiked all along the Lebanese mountains in the winter time. Here I want to share some impressions we got concerning nature, culture, politics, religion and the people we met down there in the small and rarely visited country of Lebanon.

The structure of this travel report is different from my other ones as it is in two parts. First I want to answer a few “frequently asked questions” about my time in Lebanon, while further down you can find the actual itinerary. Also, I want to point out that this report is solely based on my personal experiences and therefore doesn’t claim objectivity.

Choice of country and preparations

In November 2011 I began thinking about what to do in my February semester break. I wanted to keep the expenses as low as possible and was searching for a place which is not too cold in the winter time, which does not see many tourists and which I was not already familiar with. First I took a closer look at the Sinai Peninsula but it looked quite hard to get maps for this area, also it’s not easy to find water in this dry land and I didn’t have much time for planning. Together with my friend Markus I decided to hike through Lebanon: flights to Beirut are cheap, the climate is okay in winter and the development workers had recently established a trail in the mountains which was still in its early stages. So we ordered maps and booked flights.
There wasn’t much preparation at all. I gave Markus some gear advice, he hadn’t been on a big hike before. To get some updates concerning the political situation I read about Lebanon on the website of the German Federal Foreign Office – it didn’t say anything very disturbing.


Life in Lebanon is not cheap; the expenses for housing and food are like ours, but transportation is much cheaper. We travelled on a low budget so we didn’t make use of any hostels or fancy restaurants. A friend of Markus is living in Beirut so we stayed at his place during our time in the capital. Apart from that we slept in the tent or followed invitations to monasteries or of local people who invited us to their house. I will write more about that later.
Since I know that many people are very curious about it: each of us paid 236 Euro for the flights (Vienna – Beirut and back, both via Istanbul), for the maps we paid 90 Euro and in Lebanon we spend another 175 Euro each. That means about 475 Euro per person for a four weeks trip in the Middle East – not bad, right?

The trail

Well, there is no trail. Almost nothing is marked. What they call “Lebanon Mountain Trail” (LMT) is a random linkage of many paths, forest roads and gravel roads leading through this country from north to south. The maps are okay, generously spoken. Many paths are not shown on the maps; navigation can be very difficult and time-consuming, especially in winter when the snow covers the trails. And since most of the locals have never heard about a “Lebanon Mountain Trail” you can’t ask for the “right way”, all you can do is ask for the next village or sight. Typically they would advise you to take the way that they would take – most of the time this has not much to do with what the map shows. In fact we haven’t meet a single hiker on our journey and neither did we meet any locals who were familiar with this trail.

If you want to hike the LMT you have to have very good map reading skills; off-trail hiking experience helps as well. Also you have to be spontaneous and flexible enough for short-dated route changes.


You can find some beautiful spots in Lebanon. This country offers great mountains which appear even more impressive during the winter time when fully covered in snow. Also there are rugged “Wadis”, waterfalls and mountain streams.
Two things are negative: nothing is really wild in Lebanon: there are small villages in all the valleys and you can find human tracks everywhere. Of course we knew this before, but sometimes it was annoying to never really be alone.
What’s very annoying in Lebanon is garbage: some people seem to throw away their stuff wherever they are, you can actually see dumpsites right at the roads. Also rivers and smaller streams always contain trash; it’s a serious issue in this country. The people who are responsible for the LMT need to find a way to get rid of this problem if they really want this hike to become more popular.


We expected snow in the higher altitudes but we didn’t know that it’s going to be that much. In the first 12 days we faced rain every now and then, just above 1200 meters it snowed. Then the amount of precipitation increased. Because of some incidents with the military (read more about that later) I phoned the embassy in Beirut, they told me that Lebanon had much more snow than usual this winter. So after hiking for two weeks it rained, snowed and hailed on us for four days without stopping. We mostly spent this time in monasteries. In fact it snowed down to 700 meters above sea level, which made trekking impossible since the trail ran between 1200 and 1800 meters most of the time. So I can’t really recommend hiking in Lebanon in the winter. In April or May it surely gets better, but what can I say – our semester break was in February.

Transport and traffic

As mentioned before the flights to Beirut can be quite cheap. To get around in the city most people use taxis, there is no public transportation and just very few walk as we usually did. As known from many eastern cities there are no traffic rules in Beirut. Well, officially they might exist but nobody cares: people consistently ignore the traffic lights. Also you can hear horns all the time: mostly it’s a taxi driver who wants you to make use of his service, sometimes it’s an ordinary car driver saying: “hey, jump out of the way, I’m coming!”

There are busses running from Beirut to Tripoli, Byblos and Saida all the time and from there you can take a mini bus to many other smaller cities. But in order to get into smaller villages you still have to hitchhike or pay for a taxi. The mini busses are very cheap, we paid between one and two Euro for a two hours’ drive. Taxis are more expensive but the prices are still okay compared to Europe. You can also take a “Service”: that means you pay less and the driver can pick up more people on the way.

Political situation and incidents

Lebanon was at war until 2006 and this you can feel everywhere in the country. Many houses have bullet holes; the military is all over the place; people are often talking about Hezbollah and the ongoing conflicts in bordering countries. When we were there everything was peaceful: the people were tired of being at war.

But police and the military can be very skeptical sometimes. One time six policemen came to our host family in a little village in the mountains at night and brought us to the station 20 kilometers away – the family we were staying with couldn’t do anything against it. Another time we were woken up by a dozen rifles looking into our tent at night, this time it was the military that caught us – they thought we were Syrian spies. We had to pack everything very fast while the soldiers started to pull out the stakes of my tent.
Then the Hezbollah came one time, at least I think it was the Hezbollah. They just took pictures of our passports and didn’t say anything.

All these incidents were quite similar: first they were sceptical because nobody there could imagine that somebody would hike through the backcountry and sleep outside in the winter time voluntarily. And in fact this is not easy to explain since most of the people in the smaller mountain villages can’t speak a word of English. So first they assumed we were from Israel or Syria in order to check out the military bases located in the Lebanese mountains. So they checked all our gear and went through our camera’s pictures. Fortunately we didn’t have a GPS device, that’s what they were asking about all the time.
But once we started joking around a little bit and declared how much we loved Lebanon they quickly became very friendly. At the end they always took pictures of us exotics with their cell phones and sent them to their buddies. Well, I was asking all the time but they didn’t allow us to make pictures of them – unfair!

So I actually never felt a real threat down there. Even when we had armed visitors I wasn’t frightened because it obviously was just a precaution: nobody wanted to harm anybody. Sometimes they were nervous and shouted “Yalla, Yalla!” but that didn’t bother me. At the end it always ended with the words “Welcome to Lebanon.”

Religion, Politics and Hezbollah

Most of the people in Lebanon are Muslims and Christians, the rest are Druze and other minorities. In fact they get along with each other very well: nobody said bad things about the others. Well, the Christians have some reservations about the Muslims, but generally spoken they live together in harmony. Of course I was always asking questions about things like this because I’m interested.

Concerning the conflict with Israel they all gave me the same answer: nobody hates Israel or the Jews, but they hate injustice. They told me a lot about how much Lebanon suffered from Israel; how badly the Israelis treat the Palestine’s and so on. There are Palestine refuges in Lebanon even thou the Palestine’s are actually not welcome there. And when talking about how Israel dominated the Middle East the Hezbollah comes into play. The Hezbollah is an organization of Lebanese Shiites, led by clerics whose goal it is to defend their country against Israel. Of course not everybody there likes what the Hezbollah does and how they act but most of the Lebanese claim them to be necessary in order to keep the country free. “What else can we do if Israel tries to overrun us again?” they ask.

Now the Bekaa Valley and a few more small areas are under the control of the Hezbollah. We visited the so called “Hezbollah Museum” – a place where you can’t learn anything, it’s just about propaganda. They still keep all their weapons although many people are asking to lay them down. I guess that won’t happen unless Israel does the same.


I have seen quite a few places over the last years but the hospitality in Lebanon was exceptional and maybe the most memorable thing on this entire journey. Especially the northern part which mostly is home to poor Muslim families really blew my mind.
If you just walk along the road people stop and ask if you need any help. Everybody stared at us (“Why are they walking?”) and often we got invited to stay for the night, for food or at least for a “chai”. And you can’t say no – even if you do it doesn’t change anything because they would still give you what they think you need. When we were guest at Monzir’s place (read more about that later) he was asking us if we needed a ride to our destination in the south of the country after he understood that this was where we wanted to go. So he wanted to drive us there, isn’t that funny?
Then they served several big dishes although we knew it was poor family: the five children were living together in one room with their parents.

I have no idea how many cigarettes the Lebanese offered to me over the weeks; the number must be three-digit – it’s a miracle that I’m still a non-smoker. One time I was asking a woman for the way while I was standing in the rain. Minutes later we found us sitting in her living room drinking hot tea and waiting for her to serve dinner while her husband prepared the room that we would sleep in later. I was actually just asking for the way but that’s how people treat you down there, it’s just incredible.

Things are a little bit different in the Christian villages. People are friendly there as well but a little more impersonal. It’s more Western there: they help you if you need anything but they don’t hug you just for being their guest.


On the 2nd of February we landed in Beirut and got picked up from the airport by Markus’s friend Philip who was working in Lebanon’s capital at that time. The next day we spent a few hours in the city and walked around a little bit. On the one hand Beirut is quite modern and Western, on the other hand you can see the signs of war everywhere. To be honest I didn’t like this place too much: it’s full of cars and has very few green or quiet spots. Also I missed the oriental flair which we felt later in other cities of Lebanon.

In the early morning of February 4 we took a bus from the station “Charles Helou” to Tripoli, there we caught a mini bus to Qbaiyat which is where the LMT starts. Actually we expected a sign or something at the trailhead but there was nothing. So we started our way hiking uphill and pitched our tent in the meadows on a little hill. After watching the sun go down we had dinner at the campfire and finally went to sleep.

The next morning we started hiking at 8 and went further uphill. Soon we stepped into snow which made progress much harder but we were fresh and motivated. In the afternoon we crossed a big plateau where a lot of families were playing in the snow: driving up to the white mountain regions seemed to be a popular weekend trip for the people who live down at the coast. Most men brought their guns and tried hunting for birds, some of them even had machine guns which I found very irritating. So we hurried a bit and left these people behind by following our way uphill. When the sun was almost down we started pitching the tent in the snow when a hunter came and started talking to us in Arabic. Of course we didn’t understand a single word, even his wild gesticulations were hard to interpret. Then a younger man who spoke English a bit came to us and translated: he said that a murderer had been hiding here in these mountains for more than three years now, also a Hezbollah camp was very close – he said it was absolutely necessary to leave this place before night. Well, I don’t believe in invisible murderers and had little fear of the Hezbollah but following these guys to their village sounded interesting.

So Monzir, the man who couldn’t speak English, took us to his house and introduced us to his family. With the five kids they shared just one room, it actually was a garage modified into a big living room with a wood stove in the middle. His wife served a huge dinner and even though we didn’t really understand each other there was a lot of laughing and story-telling going on that night. Monzir loved us from the very first moment, he gave his best to make us stay with him and his family for longer and once he understood that it was our goal to reach South Lebanon in the next weeks he wanted to drive us down there – the idea of hiking voluntarily appeared to be absolutely absurd in his mind. Later other guest joined the “conversation”, then we got tired and went to bed in a room next to Monzir’s place, he booked it for us right away. In the morning he drove us to the next hiking section and we had to promise to come back before we left Lebanon.

Close to Qemmamine we followed a road uphill and reached another plateau covered in snow. The weather became much worse now. After a night in our tent pitched on one of the countless terraces in these mountain areas we continued hiking over a pass without any trail – maybe we just didn’t see it due to snow. A few hours later we balanced along an aqueduct which was kind of scary because of the steep hillside to the right.
In the late afternoon we found ourselves in high altitude again and the sky turned dark followed by storm and heavy rain. The next kilometers would have led us even higher and alongside a slope – too dangerous in this weather and without any sight it would have been very hard to fight through the snow. We decided to go down for now and take the way through the valley.

Standing on the street in the rain I asked a young woman for the way. Instead of giving us directions she talked us into coming inside for a hot tea. Her name was Fida and her English was okay, so conversations were well possible. When we met her she was just 23 years old and mother of four kids, she got forced to marriage when she was 15. After having tea she announced dinner time and wanted us to stay for the night, of course we agreed and enjoyed the conversation with her. Surprisingly she didn’t wear a scarf at home, but this was just one of the things which made her appear a little bit “European”. We were asking a lot of questions and a few hours later she said that she had never had such a good conversation before – I was shocked.

At night the police stepped into our room and woke us up. Some of the neighbors had probably called them, now they came there for a “routine check” and took the two of us including all our gear to their station 20 kilometers away – Fida and her husband couldn’t do anything but promised us that everything would be fine and that we would be back there in just a few hours.
To make a long story short: the police were very sceptical first and strictly inspected every piece of gear. Later they became more relaxed and joked around with us. For me it was both exiting and annoying – at the end they drove us back to Fida’s house and we fell into a good sleep. Then we continued our way south through the rain.

The weather didn’t change. After we passed the city of Ehden we came to a big monastery and asked for a place to sleep. First the monk showed us some ledges in the rocks which he thought could give a nice shelter, then he took us to a grotto where they “healed” people with mental handicaps in former times. Not my cup of tea, I thougt… we gave thanks politely and wanted to search for a place to camp somewhere when another monk came by who showed us one of the many free rooms for the pilgrims. How different that was to what we experienced in the poor Muslim villages in the north! But at the end we were very happy and thankful for the room they gave us.
On the next day we followed the famous Quadisha Valley and visited a few smaller monasteries. Later in Bcharre somebody saw us walking through the rain and offered us his restaurant as a place to stay for the night. The restaurant was closed in winter so we were his only guests. Why not…

The next section would have led us above 1600 meters – an impossible mission without snow shoes in this much snow. After some contemplation we decided to take the bus back to Beirut for now and spend two nights in the city. From there we took another bus to Aquora and continued our hike. That night we slept above the village of Lassa and took a lot of pictures in the evening before we noticed a small military station down in the valley. Soon a few men in non-uniformed clothes and long beards came and proved our passports, cameras and other things. They didn’t tell us who they were, my guess was that they were somehow related to the Hezbollah but I’m not quite sure. There wasn’t a problem anyway, they left 15 minutes later.
Later at night we got woken up by a bunch of rifles showing up in our tent and we heard soldiers giving orders to each other. Quickly I jumped out of the tent curious of what was going on there: the military came with three off-road vehicles, they wanted us to pack all our stuff immediately and follow them down to their base. We had had this procedure before and it annoyed me so I started debating. But the soldiers were already taking out the stakes of my tent and I hate if strangers grab my gear unsolicited! “Calm down” I said and quickly packed everything.
Two hours later we were done. It was just another fragment of this post-war period in Lebanon: nobody wanted to harm us, they just wanted to make sure we weren’t spies or something… Well, hiking in Lebanon requires a bit more than the usual hiking routine.
Then we climbed up higher and stepped into deep snow again. After we lost the way a bit we finally found an acceptable camp spot above a small city where the cheapest room the night was 50 Dollars.

The next couple of nights we slept in a monastery again. This time it was a protectory: more than 35 orphans lived there together with two teachers and a nun, her name was Sister Natalie. Also two young ladies were working there for one year, they did all the cooking, cleaning and other stuff. One was from Ethiopia, the other one from the Philippines. I was asking the nun why they bring workers from other continents here, her answer: the people there are so poor, we need to support them. Later I was asking the two girls how much money they make here – between 150 and 200 US-Dollars per month, most of it they send home to their families. I guess Lebanese people would not work that hard 16 hours a day, 7 days a week an entire year long for that small amount of money.

Staying inside a monastery while it’s storming and snowing outside is just a nice thing. The next two days we stayed with some cool monks in a Maronite one and spend some time asking questions about religion and faith. Although my worldview is quite naturalistic I’m interested in all that and I never get bored from listening to people’s experiences and beliefs.
This monastery was maintained by a Muslim, the monk told us, proud of his tolerance. I didn’t ask for the salary…

On February 19 we had 25 centimeters of fresh snow in an altitude of 1050 meters and it snowed down to 700 meters above sea level. We were in Falougha and the next sections would have led us to altitudes between 1200 and 1800 meters. When we were packing our stuff in the morning the monk asked us if we wanted to go to Beirut together with his friar who was going anyway. We thought about it but actually the right decision was quite obvious: it wouldn’t have made sense to continue. So we drove back to Beirut and spent the rest of our time in Lebanon visiting some interesting places we hadn’t seen before.
Just before that, Philip, Markus’s friend, had had an accident and now hewas in a hospital in Germany, so we had his flat to ourselves. Nevertheless we spent a lot of time one floor down with some couchsurfers hosted by two American ladies. These two Americans were studying at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and had plenty of couchsurfers all the time. So we ended up doing a few trips with Atalwin, a Dutch guy who had this groovy combination of both pragmatism and spirituality that I couldn’t really get into my head, but he was a fun guy to hang out with anyway.

One of the highlights of our time as “tourists” was the visit of the so called “Hezbollah Museum”. This place is not a museum at all, you can’t learn anything there – it’s made for propaganda reasons. A few years ago the Hezbollah was fighting there, it was one of their base camps during the defense against Israel. Now you can read a lot of uncritical and undifferentiated statements about the glory of Hezbollah and many allegations against Israel. I also have my issues concerning the state of Israel but this propaganda place was a touch too much. Nevertheless we spent an interesting day down there in the South of Lebanon and had the opportunity to talk about war and peace with some members of the Hezbollah.

At the end of our journey we made good on our promise and visited Monzir and his family again. When we reached his village everybody already knew that we were coming, so quickly a lot of people were standing around us. These people are definitely not used to tourists.
Three minutes later Monzir came with his entire family in the car. They were all dressed nicely and had a superior look on their faces when they said hello to the other villagers. We got hugs and a big dinner later. At night we went to the one and only club room in this area, there we drank tea and played billiards.

Monzir didn’t allow us to go back to Beirut in the next day, we had to stay for at least one more night: his plan was to take us on a hunt with him. So we went hunting. Both Markus and me are conchies and not used to guns but actually it was fun. What really disturbed me was the obligatory camouflage clothing; in fact I hate this pseudo-military look. Monzir came up with some heavy old rifles for both of us. Well, what could we do…
Later we had one more feast and chilled in the club at the billiard table. Monzir tried to talk us into staying in Lebanon, later he wanted to come with us to Europe. This guy is a bit crazy indeed but we were so lucky to meet him! You can imagine that saying goodbye wasn’t easy for all of us. And we promised to come back sometime.

Well, Lebanon is an amazing country. For its location in the Middle East the capital Beirut is quite Western, but life in the mountain regions is mostly traditional and interesting to experience for us as tourists. Hospitality is huge there, especially in the Muslim parts. Lebanon is not a big country but after four weeks we didn’t have the feeling to have spent too much time there at all. The trekking opportunities are limited; I wouldn’t come back there in order to keep hiking. But one day I need to visit some friends again down there and I can just advise everyone to take a closer look at this country which has to offer so much more than bad news in our newspapers.