Only a few years ago, Libya was a tourism dead zone. The country's links to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing led to over a decade of U.N. sanctions, making it almost impossible for foreigners to travel there. But the sanctions were lifted back in 2003, and now visitors are allowed back in to rediscover some of Libya's historical gems.
One of the most precious is Ghadames, an old oasis town 380 miles (611 km) south of Tripoli. Until the 19th century, it was one of the principal trading posts of the Sahara, selling everything from ivory to incense to ostrich eggs. Beginning in the '70s, the locals largely abandoned the old town in favor of a new city with wide roads and air-conditioning; they only began returning a decade ago, after investment from the U.N. Development Programme helped to restore some of Ghadames' former charms.
Today, it is possible to spend hours exploring the town's labyrinthine covered streets, venturing into dark alleys that end in ancient studded doors or wandering along sandy pathways that lead to pristine mosques. Tour guides can also take you into some of the houses, whose interiors are painted with intricate red patterns and hung with colorful mirrored cloth. Here visitors are often invited to enjoy a hearty meal of camel stew.
There's little of the hustle and bustle that Ghadames saw in its heyday, although there are a few stalls where hagglers can pick up handicrafts made by the local Tuareg tribe and in contrast to many other North African medinas, there's no pressure to buy. Ghadames is a town attuned to the desert, and this relaxed atmosphere is one of the real joys of going there. As the renovations continue, tour buses will follow. But, for now, this is one of the few places where you can still intentionally get lost alone.