How to visit Baalbek Lebanon: a travel guide
Up untill the last moment I hesitated whether I should visit Baalbek in Lebanon. In 2015 my government discouraged travelling to Baalbek and the Bekaa valley, because of its proximity to Syria. I just saw in the news that in Anjar, only 20 kilometers north from Baalbek, the Lebanese army was fighting IS. Furthermore, the Bekaa valley is a stronghold for Hezbollah.
Obviously I was in doubt and maybe crazy for even considering to visit Baalbek in Lebanon. But the Bekaa valley is also one of the most beautiful parts of the country and Baalbek is one of the best Roman ruins in Lebanon.
I tried to call the Tourism Information board but got no response. Finally I decided to head to the bus station myself to see if I would be able to travel there and if there were more people planning to visit Baalbek in Lebanon.
The bus from Beirut to Baalbek in Lebanon
From the Cola intersection there were still frequent buses going to Baalbek so that was a good sign. However, I was the only tourist at the bus station and the bus drivers had found me before I could find them.
When I asked whether it was safe to visit Baalbek, our driver didn’t seem too concerned “Sure, why not? people go there every day”. It wasn’t clear who these people were, certainly no tourists, but I was happy with the answer.
Baalbek wasn’t so popular after all and it took a long time for the van to fill up. I was almost about to give up on my plan to visit Baalbek when at the last moment a big family showed up taking the last vacant seats.
Lebanon’s Bekaa valley
I was on my way and as soon as I entered the Bekaa valley I could see why this is considered to be one of the most beautiful parts of Lebanon. Small villages surrounded by vineyards and orchards with snow-capped mountains in the back. It is hard to believe that this seemingly peaceful place can get pretty violent at times.
Now everything was quiet. Although we passed several Syrian refugee tent camps that are a strong reminder of the political turmoil across the border. The fertile soil is apparently also good for growing hashish and opium poppies and the Bekaa valley has a long history of illicit drug trade as well.
As much as I loved to explore more of the Bekaa valley the main purpose of my day was to visit Baalbek. From Beirut to Baalbek it took about three hours to arrive in Baalbek town.
The Baalbek ruins in Lebanon
Because it was friday most shops in Baalbek town were closed and it was eerily quiet. I quickly made my way to the Baalbek ruins. A single man trying to sell his Hezbollah souvenirs approached me immediately. He had not seen any other tourists for the whole week and was hoping this was his lucky day.
The Baalbek temple was well worth the visit and much better than any of the ruins left in Rome itself. Where else can you wander around alone through a Roman temple complex so well-preserved that it is like travelling back in time.
The Greek and Romans called it the city of the sun (Heliopolis). The acropolis has several temples of which the iconic temple of Bacchus is one of the best.
Back from Baalbek to Beirut
Without hordes of tourists it was also a peaceful spot. After wandering around for several hours through temples and old stones it was time to head back.
I quickly found a bus back to Beirut. This time the van filled up pretty quickly and it seemed our driver was in a hurry. He was driving on full speed on a back road through the mountains. He made it to Beirut in almost two hours, but this was probably the most dangerous experience of the day.
How to get from Beirut to Baalbek in Lebanon
It takes between 2 – 3 hours to travel from Beirut to Baalbek in Lebanon. Mini vans leave when full from the Cola intersection or the Al Sayad roundabout in eastern Hamzieh in Beirut.
It can take some time for the vans to fill up, but it seems there is at least one leaving every hour.
To get back from Baalbek to Beirut you can head to the bus station or ask people where the minivans to Beirut depart from.
Is it safe to visit Baalbek in Lebanon?
Wen I was visiting Baalbek in Lebanon in 2015 it was a tense period with fights between the Lebanese army and IS going on near the border with Syria. As of 2020 things have become more calm and there should be no problem to visit the Roman ruins in Baalbek.
Even back in 2015 it was safe to visit Baalbek in Lebabon. Despite my worries about what I saw on the news, things were quiet in Baalbek and the parts of the Bekaa valley that I travelled through.
If I had one regret it was that I did not plan to spend more time in the Bekaa valley. It is clear that there is a lot of potential for tourism as you can see in this guide to the Bekaa valley by Jason Lemon. Besides the best Roman Ruins in Lebanon it also offers some of the best sceneries, mountain views and food.
Also check my post on Backpacking Lebanon: the different faces of the middle east to see all the other beautiful places that Lebanon has to offer.
Last updated: January 2020