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Facts at a Glance
 Full country name: Syrian Arab Republic

Area: 185,180 sq km (72,150 sq mi)

Population: 17 million

Capital city: Damascus (pop 6 million)

People: Arabs (90%), Kurds, Armenians, Circassians, Turks

Language: Arabic, Kurdish, Armenian, Turkish, English

Religion: 74% Sunni Muslim, 16% other Muslim, 10% Christian

Government: Military republic

President: Bashar al-Assad


Occupying an area slightly larger than North Dakota and twice the size of Portugal, Syria is bordered in the south-west by Lebanon, in the south by Jordan, in the east by Iraq and in the north by Turkey. The country has four geographical regions: a fertile 180km (112mi) long coastal strip; the Jebel an-Nusariyah and Jebel Lubnan ash-Sharquiyyeh mountain ranges which form a 2000m (6560ft) high border with Lebanon; the cultivated steppes inland from the mountain range; and the stony Syrian desert of the south-east.

There's not much left of Syria's once-abundant mountain forests. The few remaining verdant bits are mostly yew, lime and fir trees, while elsewhere agriculture dominates. There's also very little to see in the way of animal life. Officially, wolves, hyenas, foxes, badgers, wild boar, jackals, deer, bears, squirrels and polecats roam the country, but you're unlikely to see anything more exciting than donkeys, goats and camels.

Syria has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters, although inland it gets progressively drier and more inhospitable. On the coast, average daily temperatures range from 29°C (84°F) in summer (July) to 10°C (50°F) in winter (January). In the steppes area, where most of the cities are, expect temperatures of around 35°C (95°F) in summer and 12°C (54°F) in winter, while the desert can clock up temperatures of 46°C (115°F). Not much rain falls anywhere, but what there is falls mainly on the coast.

Economic Profile
 GDP: US$41.7 billion

GDP per head: US$2500

Annual growth: 2%

Inflation: 15-20%

Major industries: Oil, agriculture, textiles

Major trading partners: Ukraine, EU, Turkey, Lebanon, Japan

Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: All foreigners need a visa, available at consulates or in some cases on arrival. If there is evidence of a visit to Israel in your passport, you won't be allowed in. Tourist visas are valid for 15 days and must be used within one month of being issued. Extensions are available.

Health risks: Consider vaccinations for polio, tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A and B.

Time: GMT/UTC plus 2 hours

Electricity: 220V, 50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

Money & Costs
 Currency:Syrian pound (£S)
Relative Costs:

  • Budget: US$1-5
  • Mid-range: US$5-10
  • Top-end: $10 and upwards

  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$4-20
  • Mid-range: US$20-70
  • Top-end: US$70 and upwards
  • Syria is still a pretty cheap place to visit, but it's definitely getting more expensive. It is possible (but you'd have to be pretty desperate) to get by on US$15-20 a day, if you're prepared to sleep in fleabags and live on felafel and juice. If you'd prefer to stay in a room with its own bathroom and eat in restaurants once a day, you'll need to budget about US$30-40 a day.

    Cash is king in Syria, but travellers' cheques, of course, are safer. There's no commission for changing cash, but you'll pay per transaction for cheques. You're unlikely to get a cash advance on your credit card, but plastic is increasingly accepted by bigger hotels and stores, and for buying air tickets or renting cars.

    Tipping is the oil that keeps the Middle East running smoothly. Waiters in better restaurants expect a tip, and if you don't give one they'll probably short change you anyway. People who open doors for you and people who carry your luggage will also expect a tip, but it's up to you to decide if it's worth it. Bargaining is integral when buying souvenirs - you won't have to try very hard to get the asking price halved.

    When to Go

    Spring (April to June) is the best time to visit, as temperatures are mild and the winter rains have cleared the haze that clogs up the views during the rest of the year. Autumn (September to November) is the next-best choice. If you go in summer (June to August), don't be caught without a hat, sunscreen and water bottle, especially if you're going to Palmyra or the north-east. Winter can be downright unpleasant on the coast and in the mountains, when temperatures drop and the rains begin.

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