When you want to explore Lebanon, it seems like a good idea to rent a car in Lebanon. You get to explore the country, go on a Lebanon road trip and stay overnight in remote places. However, the world is filled with warnings against driving in Lebanon as a foreigner and to rent a car in Beirut. Was I foolish for my plan to hire a car or did I have a fantastic time road trippin’ Lebanon? Read my first-hand experiences with renting a car in Lebanon and practical tips for your car hire and navigating the roads of Lebanon.
Rent a car in Lebanon: is it fantastic or foolish driving in Lebanon?
Help Beirut and the people of Lebanon after the harbor explosion of August 4, 2020
Why I decided to rent a car in Lebanon
When I first researched my 10-day trip to Lebanon, the main consensus in guidebooks and different online resources was to base yourself in Beirut and take day trips from there. Either with a tour or local transport. However, when I researched more, I found further remote places I also wanted to visit and maybe stay overnight. It seemed logical and economical to rent a car in Lebanon and make a circular road trip around the country.
After I reserved my car rental from Lebanon airport, I found all these remarks about how terrible driving in Lebanon is and what a horrible experience it would be. I debated a while if I should stick with my plan, here are my pro’s and cons for renting a car in Lebanon:
Pro’s for renting a car in Lebanon
- Independent transport, it is always nice to have your own wheels to go wherever you want to go, whenever you wish to go.
- Staying overnight at remote places, I found a couple of places I wanted to stay overnight and they all seem to have hotels located a bit outside the main center of town. Staying overnight allows you to experience a new place better than catching the last bus back to Beirut each day.
- Visiting several remote places on one day. I found several small sights I wanted to visit that do not have bus service or it will take all day to get there. It seems I could make a quick stop when I would have a rental car in Lebanon.
- No lugging around any luggage. Especially when backpacking, you need to pack up all your stuff, get it in a bus and walk around town with it. Having your own car, allows you to just stuff your bag in the trunk and go on your merry way.
- Saving time by planning a circular itinerary, instead of backtracking to Beirut each day.
Why you shouldn’t rent a car in Lebanon
- Renting a car for one person is obviously more expensive than bus tickets.
- Driving in Lebanon. It is crazy and not for everyone. The internet is full of horror stories, but I’ll share mine shortly below.
- Parking in Lebanon. A nightmare. Don’t attempt it in Beirut for example.
- You can’t go wine tasting when you still have to drive.
As you can see, the list of cons is significantly shorter than the one with the pros. Also for blogging purposes, I decided to go with a car rental to have a good story to share. I also took a day trip by public transport so I could really compare the two from first-hand experiences. Yup, that’s how far I go to bring you these stories on my blog!
About me and my driving skills (if any)
I traveled solo around Lebanon. This means I had to do the driving and navigating myself. I traveled in early April, so things might be different in July or August when there are more people traveling to Lebanon in a rental car. I’ve had my driver’s license for 17 years now but I don’t drive on a regular base. I did rent cars abroad, like Spain and Italy but never before in the Middle East.
In this “Driving in Lebanon” guide, I share my personal experiences and recommendations for renting a car in Lebanon. Besides useful tips and links, this post also contains affiliate links to companies and services I’ve used. I was not sponsored because I paid for everything myself. I have gathered all the information and links for your convenience. If you decide to purchase something via one of my links, I will earn a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you but helps me provide these free guides to you.
Renting a car in Lebanon
Lebanon is a small country, measuring roughly 10,000 square kilometers. From north to south it measures 180 km (112 miles) and from the sea to the border with Syria, it is between 10 and 26 km wide (6-16 miles). So when you’re renting a car in Lebanon, the longest you’ll drive will only be a couple of hours.
All the major international car rental companies are represented in Lebanon and your rental car can be booked online in advance. I always recommend booking your rental car as far in advance as possible, to get the best price.
Car Rental Beirut Lebanon
For my own trip to Lebanon, I debated if I should rent a car in Beirut or go by bus to Tripoli and rent the car from there to go to more remote areas.
As I was comparing prices, I soon found out the best car rental prices can be secured when you rent your car from Beirut. And it seems logical as Beirut is the main hub where people start their Lebanon trip and it has high availability, hence better pricing.
There are several options to rent a car in Beirut
- Hotel drop-off. This is more expensive and depending on where your hotel is located, you need to navigate the Beirut traffic, which I do not advice.
- Pick up at a location in the city. Depending on the car rental company in Beirut you go with, you need to get to the car rental location. They are usually conveniently located near major traffic junctions, so you can easily get out of the city from there. You can take a taxi or shared service taxi to the car rental place. Find the best deals in Beirut here.
- Car Rental at Beirut Airport. Easy if you wish to get a car the minute you land in Lebanon or wish to use their 24/7 service. Find your Beirut car rental here.
Car Rental Lebanon Airport
After staying for 3 nights in Beirut, I decided to head back to Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport to pick up my car rental. The reasons for this were:
- I wanted to start my Lebanon Road Trip on a Sunday. The car rental companies at the airport were my only option on Sunday.
- I didn’t want to drive in downtown Beirut. From the airport, I could turn on the Beirut Coastal Highway and drive north. Although this road crossed Beirut from south to north, I didn’t have to navigate the small and narrow streets of Beirut.
- The price options and car options were very elaborate at Beirut Airport. I’m confident, I got the best deal by picking it up and dropping it off at the airport of Lebanon.
Avis Lebanon Airport
In the end, I rented my car for 8 days with Avis Lebanon. I didn’t check all the different car rental companies in Lebanon, but I used a car rental comparison website. For my dates and the type of car I wanted, Avis had the best conditions (unlimited miles, 24/7 pick-up and road assistance and the best price.)
On Sunday morning, I arranged for a taxi with Allo Taxi back to the airport. In the main arrivals hall, I found all the desks from the car rental companies. There weren’t any other customers, so the whole car rental pick up went smooth and quick.
The man from Avis walked me through all the terms and conditions and made some copies. I paid a $500 deposit on my credit card for damage collision. But I had also booked online an extra insurance which basically covers all. I paid €74 for this, so in the case of an accident or scratch, the extra insurance would cover it and I would get my full deposit back.
The man at the desk did ask me if I wanted extra insurance, which I declined because I already got it. I didn’t need it, but in case I would, I’d be happy to not pay the first $500 myself.
At the airport, I went downstairs where I found my Kia Picanto waiting for me in the parking lot. I checked the car for damage, signed off the sheet and was handed over the keys and the responsibility for the car! My road trip to Lebanon was about to start!!
International Driving License Lebanon
I debated first if I would need an international driving license for Lebanon. I didn’t request any and just showed my Dutch drivers license. The car rental company in Beirut didn’t ask for it and I’ve checked their terms and conditions, and it said it was not needed. Always make sure you know the rules for your car rental in Lebanon and anywhere else.
I always handle a “better safe than sorry” strategy, so if your whole trip depends on renting a car, I’d request an international driving license, just to be sure. (For example when you’re under 21 or have a whole family depending on you to drive them around).
Should you consider to rent a car in Lebanon?
Do you consider to rent a car for your travel in Lebanon? Now, you probably want to know what driving in Lebanon was like? Was it a fantastic road trip? Or was I foolish for wanting to drive in Lebanon?
In short: it was great!
The long story does have some anecdotes, warning, precautions and tips to help you navigate the Lebanon traffic. Here it goes!
My experiences driving in Lebanon
I was absolutely bricking it when I picked up my rental car. Could I pull this off? Would I get into an accident or at least scratch the car parking or driving around the country? Would I get hopelessly lost, cause a major traffic jam or wreck the car?
Before I picked up my rental car I was talking with another traveler. I said that I hadn’t seen any major car accidents in Lebanon yet. So when million of people drive around Lebanon, why couldn’t I do it??
Half a day later, I got in a major traffic jam from Sidon to Beirut, because of several multi-vehicle car crashes. I was less confident then.
But I drove out of the Beirut airport parking lot in my rental car, thinking all that. Each day, when I parked the car for the day, I was relieved: I made it through another day without issues and I was safe. When I handed in the car on my final day, I was super proud of myself: I did it!
And it was actually not that bad as everyone makes it out to be!
Yes, Lebanon traffic is crazy!!
No offence, but people in Lebanon can’t drive. Or at least follow common road etiquette to make driving in Lebanon an easy task.
However, it wasn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be. I’ll list some tips below to make things easier on yourself and then I’ll use some situations to describe what driving in Lebanon is like.
Tips to safely navigate traffic in Lebanon
- Drive in the early morning or later in the day. I usually set out before noon and I found out that traffic is not that bad. Or the crazy drivers are not out there yet. Also 2 hours before sunset was ok too. I once drove in the middle of the day and it was considerable more hectic and crazy.
- Don’t drive at night. Cars don’t have headlights or taillights or they don’t use them. Roads don’t have illuminated signs or lights at all.
- Know where you’re going. Have your navigation ready and study the route beforehand. I purchased a Lebanese sim with enough data to guide me through my road trip. I brought my own iPhone car holder to make navigating the roads easier.
- Plan where to park before you set out.
- Choose hotels that have parking to avoid going around the block 100 times to find a spot to safely park your car. I booked all my hotels via booking.com
- Go with the flow. It is safer to drive a little bit faster if the rest of the traffic does so, instead of forcefully maintaining a certain (lower) speed, causing other cars to overtake you and cause dangerous situations.
- Eyes on the road. Always and Ever. I noticed during the trip I got a bit more relaxed and also distracted. It was in those situations I attempted to drink some water while driving or eat a snack. Unexpected things always happen during those situations.
- Don’t drive in Beirut. Forget about it. The city is congested and crazy. I drove the highway through Beirut on a Sunday morning, which was the quietest time I could have picked and it was quite hectic.
Now, was it all peaches and cream? Were all those warning for nothing? Where do all the warnings against renting a car in Lebanon come from?
What is driving in Lebanon like?
Of course, tour guides and taxi drivers want to protect their own business, so of course, a local might recommend you to hire a driver for the day so you don’t have to drive. But with 120 to 150 $ per day, this can be a costly affair.
Here are some of my experiences with driving in Lebanon, to illustrate what it is like. I tried to give you a fun insight into what I think Lebanese drivers think and do (and the reasoning behind it).
What you can experience driving in Lebanon:
- The standard rules DO NOT apply in Lebanon
- Random speed bumps are everywhere
- Driving 30 km/h (18 mph) on the highway is perfectly normal when talking on the phone or opening a new pack of cigarettes
- Headlights are optional (having them and using them)
- Giving direction is optional when switching lanes or taking a turn
- You can park anywhere
- Double parking is no problem
- Triple parking will result in a few honks
- Quadruple parking will make people get out of the car and yell at you
- Lines on the road are for decoration only
- Driving in 2 lanes is mandatory when talking on the phone, opening a new pack of cigarettes or driving 30 km/h (18 mph) on the freeway
- U-turns are always allowed
- The speed limit is more like a guideline
- Overtaking on the right is mandatory
- Traffic lights are rare and their purpose is mainly to decorate the street with nice colors
- Roundabouts are for going straight and to practice your zigzag skills
- Driving in the opposite direction is the most direct route to where you want to go
- Reverse on an exit is not uncommon
- Reverse on the freeway when you’ve missed your exit is also not uncommon
- There is no such thing as your side or my side of the road. There are potholes that dictate where to drive
- Warning lights are used instead of headlights in bad weather
- Military checkpoints are everywhere, just slow down, turn down the music and make a friendly gesture with your head
- Some cars have flashy red and blue lights. To my knowledge they are not with the police, they just like to stand out
- The police often direct traffic at busy intersections in cities
- Overtaking in bends on windy mountain roads is common practice
Pay extra attention in the following situations:
I found the traffic and the driving skills of people particular bad in the following situations:
- Driving in the mountains. I usually had the road to myself but locals drive with 90 km/h (56 mph) on curvy mountain roads, not paying attention to oncoming traffic (aka YOU!)
- People drive terribly when looking for a parking space. They slow down to nearly 10 km/h (6 mph) while swaying to the left to avoid double-parked cars or potholes
- Drivers who want to go to a store. Many roads in Lebanon are straight with shops on either side of the street. Every 100 or so meters there is a cross-section, but Lebanese drivers find it easier to use a cross-section near the shop and then drive in the opposite direction for 90 meters instead of going around
- Driving in the right lane. Minibusses stop out of nowhere on the right, people double or triple park in the right lane, potholes are severe on the right. It was safer to stay on the left and have people overtake you on the right.
- Traffic jams. Whether for checkpoints or accidents, people like to cut the line, even for 10 meters, driving over a parking lot to cut 3 cars. It is not uncommon to have traffic swell up to 8 lanes because they all drive around each other, trying to cut ahead.
My Lebanon Road Trip
I hear you think after reading the above list: OMG!! But to be honest, driving in Lebanon wasn’t all that bad. I was very happy I rented a car to discover Lebanon. As it allowed me to follow my own pace, see remote areas and enjoy the scenery. I had quite some fun observing the crazy driving of all the people.
I’ll later share my full road trip itinerary, but in short, I left Beirut airport in my rental car and headed to Jeita Grotto. It was super easy to park the car there.
In the afternoon, I drove to Byblos where I had a hotel with parking space.
After Byblos, I visited Batroun and 2 remote roman ruins on my way to Tripoli. I selected a free car park in Batroun before I left and the hotel owner in Tripoli helped me park the car (for free, I was very lucky to find a space right in front of the hotel).
After that, I headed for the mountains and went to Bcharré. I was very happy to navigate the Qadisha Valley with my own car, as it would have been impossible to visit the Cedars of God, Horsh Ehden Cedar Park, the Qadisha Valley and Tannourine National Park with public transport or taxis.
I went to Zahlé afterward and visited Baalbek and Anjar and a winery. The only downside to driving yourself: you can’t drink the lovely wine. My final stop was in the Chouf area where I visited several access points of the Shouf Cedar Reserve, also quite impractical without your own car.
The hotels where I’ve stayed that had free parking:
What does it cost to rent a car in Lebanon?
I booked my car hire 5 months in advance and traveled in the off-season. I rented my car from Avis as they offered the most value for money after comparing a few options and companies.
In total, I paid 140€ for the 8-day car rental. This included the Collision Damage Waiver, Third-Party Liability, Theft Protection, Roadside Assistance, taxes, surcharges, unlimited free kilometers/miles.
This was for the smallest car. I got a Kia Picanto which has quite a strong engine (1.4L) for such a small car. It could hold my one suitcase and I picked up a few hitchhikers. I wouldn’t recommend this car for more than 2 adults.
I purchased extra full cover insurance for €87.
All in all, the car rental for Lebanon totaled: €227
I drove 681 km (423 miles) and paid 57.000 LL for gas (roughly 33€ or 37$). Luckily, I didn’t make a single scratch on the car. I only left a nice thick layer of dirt on it.
In the end, this comes down to €32,50 ($36) per day for a car for 8 days, including petrol.
Day Trips from Beirut vs Renting a Car
Over the whole of my trip, I took one day trip from Beirut to Tyre (Sour) and Sidon (Saida). I left at 8 am with a taxi to the Cola intersection and took the local buses to Saida and Sour. Once in Sour, I either walked or took a taxi to the different ruins and sights I wanted to see.
Once in Saida, I wanted to visit the remote Temple of Eshmun which turned out to be quite a hassle. It took forever to find a taxi that would go there and once I returned, the driver wanted more money than we agreed.
I got back to Beirut around 6.30 pm and I thought it was a very long day trip. Especially the waiting for the mini-buses to fill up took forever.
Of course, it was considerably cheaper than a group tour or private driver, but with all the buses and taxis and waiting, it wasn’t that cheap.
I paid 31.000 LL in transport costs for this day trip (€18 or $20).
Although I paid more on average with my rental car, the above day trip is straightforward and quite easy. I’m pretty sure I would have paid more to visit the Qadisha Valley with public transport or the Bekaa Valley and wouldn’t be able to see as much as I did now.
With my rented car, I also visited Jeita Grotto, Byblos, Batroun and some Roman Ruins further inland, before going to Tripoli. Driving myself, made it much easier to visit remote places and only stay half an hour before continuing. I didn’t have to wait and because distances are that small, it didn’t cost that much in petrol.
In the end, I think day trips with public transport are super easy and fun, but also more exhausting and limiting than renting a car in Lebanon. If you travel with a bigger group, renting a car and self-driving will be more economical and allows for more freedom.
Final thoughts about renting a car in Lebanon
Looking back on my trip, I am very happy with my planned road trip around Lebanon and the execution of it. I saw a lot of the country, and not just the highlights but also more remote and smaller sights.
Of course, my feelings would have been completely different if I would have gotten into an accident, bumped the car into a wall or drove off a cliff. I encountered quite some bad weather in the mountains, like thick fog with 0.0 visibility and snow. I wasn’t digging the driving that much at that moment.
Having said that, I don’t think driving in Lebanon is as bad as people make it out to be. If you wonder if you should rent a car for your trip to Lebanon, I’d say it is definitely a good option.
Yes, it is very different from driving at home, but it is not impossible. Just make sure to be cautious (but you’ve read my warnings and tips, so I got you covered) and be very alert.
I don’t consider myself a very skilled or experienced driver, although this road trip in Lebanon did give me an ego boost. But I managed just fine without too many frightening situations.
Are you going to Lebanon? Do you consider renting a car in Lebanon? I hope I showed you more into details what it is like. Have you done a road trip from Beirut? Let me know in the comment section below.