Destination: Libya?

in AppleOutsider edited January 2014
Having seen one total solar eclipse, in Zambia in 2001, I'm eager to chase after another opportunity, a total solar eclipse occurring in March of 2006.

The best places to view this eclipse will be in Libya. Totality will last over four minutes, and typical local weather conditions in the viewing area virtually guarantee clear, cloudless skies.

I'd thought that travel to Libya was restricted for US citizens, but that's no longer the case. Such travel, however, is not recommended, and requires special validation from the State Department to get an authorized visa. The US currently has no formal diplomatic ties will Libya, and the best a US citizen can do in case of trouble is contact the Belgian embassy, which represents US interests in Libya.

It sounds like that "special validation" would be hard to get. I don't fit into any of the categories for which that validation is currently granted -- the closest I think I could manage would be to somehow get press credentials for covering the eclipse as a news story. Maybe that's as simple as making an arrangement with a local newspaper to report the story for them, maybe not.

A lot could change between now and March 2006 -- the current direction of events look like US/Libyan relations will improve. But there certainly are no guarantees. The trouble is, as I learned trying to book travel for the 2001 eclipse, most of the organized eclipse tours get booked well in advance. When I decided to chase that eclipse, it was December of 2000, and all organized tours were booked solid already. I had to throw something together myself, and available flights were incredibly limited.

I want to plan much earlier this time, but I also don't want to throw money away on something I won't be allowed to do. The tour of Egypt that is part of the one travel package I've been looking at is really only about 5% of the motivation for me -- maybe not even that, as I've never cared much for the idea of pre-packaged tourism. Oooh! It's the Great Pyramid of Giza! Move along now... Back into the bus... Oooh! It's the Sphinx! Move along now...

In earlier correspondence with the tour operator, he mentioned the idea of viewing the eclipse from a cruise ship just off the Libyan coast, but not only do I imagine that that would increase the likelihood of cloud cover, and the totality of the eclipse will definitely be shorter, but also for some reason viewing an eclipse from a boat rather than from dry land doesn't appeal to me nearly as much. I want to see the effect of the eclipse on the landscape around me as it progresses.

I know that Americans travel to Cuba, which is restricted even more than Libya, by doing things like flying out of Canada. Is this kind of work-around illegal, or merely frowned upon? Frowning I can deal with. Does anyone know if I could more easily, but still legally, manage travel to Libya as an American citizen by going through another country?


  • Reply 1 of 16
    fellowshipfellowship Posts: 5,038member
    I think it is really cool that you have spent the time to plan for an event that interests you. Let us hope relations with Libya get better and better.

  • Reply 2 of 16
    bungebunge Posts: 7,329member
    Have you thought about Tunisia instead?
  • Reply 3 of 16
    mauritania is lovely in march.
  • Reply 4 of 16
    sorry mauritania is never lovely, i just like saying it, say it with me, maura tania. i always thoght groucho should be the president.

    on a serious note some university or astronomy society must be planning some sort of journey to view the eclipse.
  • Reply 5 of 16
    Isn't Bush supposed to travel to Libya sometime this year? If so, this could be the first step toward normal diplomatic ties.
  • Reply 6 of 16
    scottscott Posts: 7,431member
    Well no. Libya took the first step.
  • Reply 7 of 16
    shetlineshetline Posts: 4,695member

    Originally posted by bunge

    Have you thought about Tunisia instead?

    Here's a link to a map of the eclipse path:

    March 2006 Total Solar Eclipse Path

    Tunisia isn't on the path of totality at all. Seeing a partial solar eclipse is nothing, nothing like seeing a total solar eclipse. I wouldn't make very much effort at all to travel to see a mere partial eclipse. 90% total, 99% total, even 99.9% total... those are not the Real Experience by a long shot. Until every last bit of the Sun's disc is covered by the Moon, you don't see the beauty of the coronal display, you don't get the feeling of night invading day that complete totality brings.

    Niger is the next best place after Libya in terms of seeing the best view of this 2006 eclipse, but Niger is also a much less appealing destination from what I've read, even given the current lack of diplomatic ties with Libya.

    The path of totality crosses a lot of other countries, but the duration of the eclipse lessens the further you go farther from the point of greatest eclipse, plus the desert climate of Libya is one of the best features of that location for greatly reducing the odds of traveling half way around the world to merely watch clouds get dark.
  • Reply 8 of 16
    shetlineshetline Posts: 4,695member

    Originally posted by segovius

    But I really think it will be uneccessary - Libya needs tourist cash and I give it 6 months before it's ok. It's the Libyan embassy that will give visas when they get the green light and I think they vary from country to country. I can get an Iranian visa in Istanbul for example but not in the UK. Depends on the staff which depends on the culture which depends.....

    I've not done much travel outside the US... the only other countries I've been to are Canada, the UK, and Zambia (South Africa too, if you want to count sitting in an airport). I don't feel very savvy about the ins and outs of obtaining a visa from one country while in another country, neither of which is my own.

    On this particular trip I'd be planning, the only country I'd be in for any length of time before reaching Libya would be Egypt. I'm not sure that I'd want to depend on obtaining a Libyan visa while in Egypt, with six days to spare, while I'm busy doing other things like floating down the Nile.

    Besides, even if Libya will grant the visa, my passport would still be an American passport, and this bit from the US State Department doesn't sound too comforting in that regard, if current travel restrictions continue:



    PASSPORT VALIDATION: Without the requisite validation, use of a U.S. passport for travel to, in, or through Libya may constitute a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1544, and may be punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment.

  • Reply 9 of 16
    Libya: go go go. If you can. It's safe, everyone's hospitable and delighted to see you, and there's lots more than eclipses to do. I've never been, but a close friend of mine loves it and it's somewhere I want to go very badly.

    Go and see Leptus Magna: the world's best preserved Roman theatre and the longest, most complete avenue of columns, dug from the sand some after the Second World War after being buried for 1,500 years. Cool.

    Or head out into the Sahara to see the rock paintings in the Atlas Mountains. You can do tours with 4X4s and camels with nomadic folks; it's not hard to sort out although you'll have to fix it before you leave. I have the email address of a guy in Tripoli who organises this if you're interested and willing to flout your government's travel advice.

    I'm not sure about the "porous" borders though. I'm pretty sure that you can only leave Libya by the same way you came in, which makes it difficult to include the country in a tour of North Africa - but I'd definitely try and make sure I have all my entry and exit visas in order if I were doing that tour anyway. The last thing you want is to be prevented from leaving the next country and to be asked to accompany an immigration officer to the nearest police station the better to question your "status", which will be inconvenient at best and will probably cost you all your dollars if you're fortunate / not accused of being a spy.

    But Libya. Yes indeed. Scary prospect, apparently a great place to go an see.

    Might even join you there.
  • Reply 10 of 16
    shetlineshetline Posts: 4,695member
    I'm reviving this old thread from nearly a year ago for an update...

    Not too long after I started that thread, US/Libya relations improved enough that US citizens can get tourist visas to visit the country. Now there's no need for Americans such as myself to settle for viewing the eclipse from a boat out at sea, or from a tiny corner of northwestern Egypt which would be well off the eclipse centerline with a much briefer totality.

    We'll be in Libya itself, out in the middle of the Great Sand Sea, right on the eclipse centerline, with a full 4 minutes, 4 seconds of totality!

    On top of that, we'll get to see the Roman ruins at Leptis Magna and Sabratha.

    There just happened to be an article in the Boston Sunday Globe travel section this past Sunday called "When Romans Lived in Libya", which gives a good feel for what visiting these ruins might be like:



    (If you need to sign in, just use "[email protected]" and "appleinsider" for the username and password.)

    I found this quote from the article amusing:


    Libya has been open to Americans for more than a year, but if you are an average American tourist, the country probably occupies a spot on your to-see list somewhere between Cleveland and, say, North Korea.

    What was so amusing for me is that I found this article left by a coworker on my chair at work -- when I'd just come back from my first visit to Cleveland.

    I still have no plans, however, to work my way down the list to North Korea.

    For anyone else interested, here's a link to a page describing the tour I'll be on:

    2006 Desert Tour

    With a little under 8 months left to go, there are still a few places left in the tour group, but I imagine those slots will fill quickly as March 2006 approaches -- eclipse chasers can, and do, plan their trips well in advance and book early.

    I'd love it if I could convince a few AI-ers to join us. Now, it's not cheap: with air fare from Boston added in, my wife and I will be spending nearly $5000/person for the two weeks covered by Modules 1 (in Egypt) and 2 (in Libya) of the tour (we're skipping Module 3). But it sounds like it will be quite an adventure, and, despite the emotionally-driven fear some people might have for travel to Egypt and Libya, I'm figuring it's going to be quite safe.
  • Reply 11 of 16
    fellowshipfellowship Posts: 5,038member

    Originally posted by shetline

    Good for you shetline!! I hope you all have a wonderful time and please be sure to capture many beautiful photographs!

    The Boston Globe pics are very cool!

  • Reply 12 of 16
    midwintermidwinter Posts: 10,060member
    it just struck me as funny that you're going all that way just to watch a light go out for a bit and then come back on.
  • Reply 13 of 16
    I find it amazing that the US will renew relations with Libya but continues it's idiotic campaign against Cuba. Through most of the 1980's, Libya directly supported terrorist activities against the US. The most infamous being the bombing of the PanAM flight killing hundreds of people. What has Cuba done to deserve it's punishment??
  • Reply 14 of 16
    shetlineshetline Posts: 4,695member

    Originally posted by midwinter

    it just struck me as funny that you're going all that way just to watch a light go out for a bit and then come back on.

    Having once witnessed "a light go out for a bit and then come back on" in this particular awe-inspiring manner, I'm quite happy to chase half way around the world once more to do it again.

    The first time I did this, I was a bit late getting the idea into my head to actually go chase the June 2001 eclipse, so I ended up making what plans I could on my own, and didn't end up doing much beyond seeing the eclipse itself on that trip.

    This time, I'll be on an organized tour for two weeks, which will include sightseeing in both Egypt and Libya, with the eclipse as the grand finale. So, for those to whom the light show isn't quite enough, there's a lot more to do and see.

    As was the case when I went to Zambia in 2001, the great thing about Libya in 2006 is the very, very high probably of a cloudless sky. Some tours for this eclipse are for viewing the eclipse in Turkey -- easier to get to than Libya, better and more comfortable accomodations, but... a much higher chance of cloudy skies.

    There is a reasonably high chance of haze from blowing dust (40%?), but a little haze won't detract from the experience very much, especially compared to, say, a big fat cloud parked right in front of the sun for most or all of the crucial four minutes -- which would be totally depressing after having planned so long, traveled so far, and spent so much to drag our asses out into the middle of the Sahara for the show.
  • Reply 15 of 16
    midwintermidwinter Posts: 10,060member
    Virginia Woolf had a similar response to the 1927 eclipse:


    I had very strongly the feeling as the light went out of some vast obeisance; something kneeling down and suddenly raised up when the colours came. They came back astonishingly quickly and beautifully in the valley and over the hills - at first with a miraculous glittering and ethereality, later normally almost, but with a great sense of relief. It was like recovery ... We had seen the world dead.

    If I remember tomorrow, I'll grab the full description out of my copy of her diary.
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