Syria is bordered by Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. Though the government is not among the world's most benevolent, the Syrian people are renowned for their friendliness and hospitality.

Syria is rich in historic ruins: walls, castles and fortresses stand in testament to the nation's past. Syria has squirmed under the thumb of empire builders from Rome, Persia, Egypt, Turkey and Babylon. All the conquerors left architectural tags on the country. The Roman city of Damascus is Syria's largest city and capital. Syria's main draw is outdoor activity, such as hiking between ancient crusader castles. In addition, Syria is one of the best places in the world to experience a Turkish bath.

Syria has a Mediterranean climate and weather with hot, dry summers and mild winters. Inland, the country gets progressively drier and more inhospitable. Not much rain falls anywhere, but what there is falls mainly on the coast. There are fertile plains in the northeast, with mountains leading to the desert region in the south.

Syria has two international airports, one in Damascus and the other in Aleppo, with regular connections to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Popular airlines include Syrian Arab Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Air France, Oman Air, Royal Jordanian Airlines, British Airways, and Saudi Arabian Airlines.

Syria also has a modern train system that is both inexpensive and punctual. The country's road network is excellent, and buses are frequent and cheap. There are a few car rental companies, but rates are approximately 50 percent higher than in the West and gas is expensive and hard to find. Vehicles are driven on the right. Communication in Syria is basic. Phones are available and some mobile phones are used, but it may be hard to send or receive a fax. Public Internet access is virtually unavailable.

Syria is a fairly inexpensive place to visit. All major credit cards are accepted in Syria. Traveler's checks and foreign currency are readily exchanged.

Islam is the predominant religion in Syria. The official language is Arabic, but English and French are widely spoken and understood. Hospitality is a cornerstone of Syrian life. It is commonplace for Syrian families, particularly desert dwellers, to welcome strangers into their home. Syrian culture is an interesting mix of traditional Arab culture and the numerous cultures of the invaders who have occupied Syria throughout the years.

Crime is not a serious concern for travelers in Syria. Nevertheless, travelers to Syria should take common sense security precautions, such as avoiding travel in deserted areas. Do not walk alone after dark. Because of anti-Western sentiment throughout the Middle East, citizens of Western countries should remain aware of surroundings. Foreigners should take normal precautions to protect their personal property from theft. In particular, valuables and currency should not be left unsecured in hotel rooms.



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