Lebanon tours, (small group)

“Teach a man to fish,” the old saying goes, “and he’ll fish for a lifetime.” In Lebanon, another version might go: “Teach a woman to fish, and she’ll inspire dozens of others to do the same.” Fishing in Lebanon is largely an artisanal business, dominated by men, but increasing numbers of women are taking it up. One, Solange Sfeir, inherited her passion from a seafaring family, and saw such interest from her online videos that she has started her own fishing club to pass on knowledge to other women and children.

But while they’re becoming more diverse, Lebanese fishing communities up and down the country’s 225km coast are in trouble. Racked by destructive patterns of overfishing and illegal coastal development, and invasive species crippling marine environments, they must also cope with a shrinking market. After years of financial crisis, and a pandemic that stifled tourism, many of the country’s seafood restaurants have been forced to close their doors.

“I would say that’s one of the things we do best there, is supporting local restaurants,” says Valentina Chironna, Product Manager for our partner Explore Worldwide, of their small group holiday in Lebanon. “We bring a lot of money to families and individuals, and our tour leaders make really good recommendations on where to spend your money so that it makes a difference.”

Reaching Byblos, for instance, on the coast just north of Beirut, your tour leader will be able to recommend nice places to eat around the busy harbour and seaside area. Menus promise fresh squid, sea bream, even bluefin tuna on a good day. As elsewhere in Lebanon though, small-scale fishing businesses are really struggling here, with the cost of equipment, bait and boat repairs rocketing while restaurants close.

Fish stocks are suffering too – many people living in poverty are taking up fishing to feed themselves, but the high price of equipment means they are using unsustainable methods such as cages, and they’re not throwing young fish back. Rampant illegal construction projects along the coast, discouraging fish populations, also take a toll. So while you’re enjoying your evening meals, you’re helping to sustain a traditional industry that badly needs support.

What do Lebanon tours involve?

Departing on a regular basis between March and December (avoiding winter which is cool and wet), Lebanon small group holidays typically range from eight to ten days. You can see a lot in that time – Lebanon is a compact country, just 88km at its widest, and most of the main destinations such as Beirut, Tyre, Byblos and Sidon are strung along the coast.

You’ll be accompanied throughout by a local tour leader, someone adept at parcelling up Lebanon’s fascinating history and culture into informative, entertaining nuggets. With most of your sightseeing done on foot at a relaxed pace, there will be plenty of time for those nuggets to be handed out and expanded upon.

Oh, and you’ll eat well. Extremely well. Many a traveller has flung themselves into the mezze course with gleeful abandon, only to regret it afterwards when the main course arrives and they realise they haven’t left any room. “Cuisine-wise in Lebanon you have Moroccan elements and some heavily Middle Eastern food,” says Valentina. “It’s similar to that of Palestine and Jordan. Lebanon is where the Middle East meets Europe, at the far east of the Mediterranean Sea, so it’s a very interesting country culturally.”

You’ll stay in small guest houses, often family-run. Some tours, especially those involving hiking in remote areas, will also stay in auberges, which are traditional Lebanese homes converted into tourist accommodation. You might even stay in a monastery – expect peace and quiet, but not the most lavish of breakfasts. Everywhere you go you’ll be perfectly comfortable, but sporadic power cuts are not unknown in Lebanon, so bringing along a small torch is recommended. The monks will probably have a few candles knocking about too.
To describe it as a ‘cultural melting pot’ would be a terrible cliché, but that’s exactly what Beirut is

Where do trips go?

Lebanon’s profile resembles a foot raised on tiptoes. Many tours taking a broadly circular route - into Beirut, south along the coast to Sidon and Tyre, inland for a while to the Kadisha Valley, to Byblos in the north and then back down the coast to finish back in the capital.

Itineraries vary depending on the trip you opt for, but all will usually begin and end in Beirut. Known as ‘the Paris of the Middle East’ during its heyday, the city remains a heady brew of the historic and the cosmopolitan. To describe it as a ‘cultural melting pot’ would be a terrible cliché, but that’s exactly what Beirut is, bearing Greek, Arab, Roman, Ottoman and French influences.

The city is religiously diverse too, with Christians and Muslims begin to mingle again after years of separation following the civil war. Traces of that conflict, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, can still be observed in the concrete of some buildings, pockmarked by bullet holes. “Beirut will always be one of the main cultural highlights,” says Valentina. “I would describe it as a very ‘visual’ city, like a European capital in many ways architecturally but then you also have the Islamic influence. There’s a lot of interesting street art too, you can do tours. It feels very vibrant despite all it’s been through.”

Once you leave Beirut behind you’ll wander the atmospheric old souk of Sidon with its winding maze-like alleys and handsome stone archways. The UNESCO-listed Roman temples of Baalbek are two of the best-preserved outside of Italy, while coastal Byblos holds Roman, Crusader and Phoenician ruins. The Phoenician alphabet, on which all Western alphabets are based, was spread by merchants from Byblos along their trading routes.

Other highlights include the Horsh Ehden Nature Reserve, and the Kadisha Valley, both flush with ancient cedars and perfect for some light trekking. Walking in Lebanon is best led by local guides though, as sadly there is still some unexploded ordnance left over from the civil war that needs to be avoided.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Lebanon or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Why go on a Lebanon small group tour?

Superb guides

Lebanon’s history and culture are as rich as a slow-cooked yekhneh (stew), and a good tour leader can explain them in depth, and entertainingly. As Kevin Brodsky found, when he joined a Lebanon small group trip in 2023: “Talking to our guide Tony and our driver Mitri was at least as enjoyable to me as visiting the various sites. Tony is extremely knowledgeable thanks to his archaeology background and more than happy to discuss and explain any topic. Both him and Mitri are extraordinarily kind and friendly, and it is probably them I will miss the most.”

Well-organised itineraries

Its reputation overshadowed by years of civil war, political strife and financial crisis, Lebanon is still quite an ‘off the beaten track’ destination that means the best way to get around with confidence is a fully escorted small group tour. A well-structured route ensures you can visit the key locations in a short space of time, but without rushing around.

And, while immensely welcoming and perfectly safe visitors, Lebanon is also a country where the official travel guidance is regularly updated and can be confusing at times. So it helps to know that you have a tour operator with excellent ‘on the ground’ knowledge, and always a Plan B should the route need to be changed at short notice.
It’s probably the most sustainable meal you’ll ever eat, and what’s more, it will be delicious.

Responsible travel

Lebanon’s turbulent recent history means that it doesn’t see anywhere near as many visitors as it deserves. A responsible small group holiday here will take you to independent, locally run hotels and restaurants which means that more of your money stays in the local economy, so that your stay has a positive impact.

Midway through Explore’s small group holiday in Lebanon comes a perfect example of this, as you stop at a local organic restaurant for lunch. In the fertile Bekaa Valley – once a breadbasket for the Roman Empire – the landscapes suffer from overgrazing, deforestation and soil erosion. With little shade available, shepherds and their flocks are exposed to the hot sun while the pastures they depend on dry up. Vital reforestation projects, and efforts to manage the land better, are underway.

The villagers of Ammiq in the Bekaa Valley use low-intensity, environmentally friendly methods of farming, their organic produce heaping up in the kitchen of the restaurant Tawlet Ammiq. Traditional, sustainable recipes are championed here; the restaurant employs many local women, and profits are invested in conservation initiatives that support the nearby Ammiq Wetlands, and the Al-Shouf Cedar Society. It’s probably the most sustainable meal you’ll ever eat, and what’s more, it will be delicious.

If Beirut is a visual city, then our small group holidays in Lebanon appeal to all the senses. The feel of running your hands over ancient Roman ruins; the scent of cedars in the forests; the taste of fresh fish platters, wine from the vineyards, and heavy plates of mezze; the sounds of fishermen – and women – at work in the harbours of Byblos and Tyre. Lebanon is a country that many people are unfamiliar with, which makes travelling here feel all the more exhilarating.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Explore] [Intro: Explore] [Where do trips go?: Explore] [Well-organised itineraries: Explore] [Responsible travel: Explore]