A door, long closed, opens again.
In February, the State Department lifted its restrictions on travel to Libya, which had effectively banned Americans from entering the country for the past 22 years. Since then, dozens of travelers have been calling the country's UN mission in New York to find out how to see Libya's untouched Roman ruins, Italian colonial architecture, and ancient Tuareg settlements.
Booking a trip to Libya takes more than a few clicks on Orbitz. The visa process is arduous and involves hiring a Libyan company, such as Arkno or Alawy Tours, having it send a "letter of invitation" to the nearest Libyan Embassy—for Americans, that's in Ottawa—and, finally, getting your passport translated into Arabic. It's simpler to go with an American (or European) outfitter, which will take care of those details. Either way, you must be part of a group tour—no trekking the Sahara on your own—with a guide and, possibly, an armed government "minder."
Traveling to Libya poses a moral dilemma, however. Does tourism reward a government still considered a state sponsor of terrorism?Bert Ammerman's brother Tom was killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, for which Libya recently accepted the blame. He believes Americans should wait until Muammar al-Qaddafi dies or is removed from power before spending money in his country. On the other hand, Nadia Le Bon, director of special programs at Mountain Travel Sobek, notes: "The sharing and meeting of cultures is always positive."
If you're interested in visiting Libya, the following companies are taking bookings: Adventure Center (800/228-8747; www.adventurecenter.com; from $1,210 per person for eight days), Mountain Travel Sobek (888/687-6235; www.mountaintravelsobek.com; from $2,890 for 13 days), Travcoa (800/992-2003; www.travcoa.com; from $6,995 for 13 days), and Exodus Travels (44-208/675-5550; www.exodus.co.uk; from $1,119 for 8 days).