Up untill the last moment we hesitated whether we should go to Baalbek to see the best Roman ruins in Lebanon. The travel advisories discouraged travelling to the Bekaa valley, because of its support to Hezbollah and proximity to Syria. We just saw in the news that in Anjar, only 20 kilometers north from Baalbek, the Lebanese army was fighting IS.
Obviously we were in doubt and maybe crazy for even considering this trip. But Baalbek in the Bekaa valley is also one of the most beautiful parts of the country with one of the best Roman ruins in Lebanon.
We tried to call the Tourism Information board but got no response. Finally we decided to head to the bus station ourselves to see if we would be able to travel to Baalbek.
The bus to Baalbek in Lebanon
From the Cola intersection there were still frequent buses going to Baalbek. At the station the bus drivers had found us before we could find them. We saw this as a good sign.
When we asked whether it was safe, 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 we were happy with the answer.
Baalbek wasn’t so popular after all and it took a long time for the van to fill up. We were almost about to give up on our plan when at the last moment a big family showed up taking the last vacant seats.
Lebanon’s Bekaa valley
We were on our way and as soon as we 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 Beqaa valley has a long history of illicit drug trade.
The best Roman ruins in Lebanon
Because it was friday most shops were closed and it was eerily quiet. We quickly made our way to the ruins. A single man trying to sell his Hezbollah souvenirs approached us immediately. He had not seen any other tourists for the whole week.
The ruins were well worth the visit and much better than any Roman ruins left in Rome itself. Where else can you wander around alone through ruins 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 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.
We quickly found a bus 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
It takes between 2 – 3 hours to travel from Beirut to Baalbek in the Bekaa valley. 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 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 there in 2015 it was a tense period with fights between the Lebanese army and IS going on near the border with Syria. As of 2019 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. Despite our worries about what we saw on the news, things were quiet in Baalbek and the parts of the Bekaa valley that we travelled through.
If we had one regret it was that we 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.
Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.