Syria offers fantastic value-for-money in the Middle East.
The cost of living is very low, you can wild camp just about anywhere and hardly a day will pass without someone offering you a cup of tea or a few extra vegetables to tuck into your panniers.
What little money you do need is easy to obtain. Cash machines are widespread throughout the country’s main towns and cities (aside from Palmyra). They are, however, frequently out of service for a couple hours at a time and you may go a few days without seeing an ATM as you cycle through rural areas. Take a small stash of hard currency as a backup. Dollars or Euros are the most common but British Pounds should also be accepted.
Changing foreign currency is best done on the black market. You’ll hear people in the street whispering “change money” as you go past but a better option is to ask a trusted local or at your hotel for the nearest exchange shop. The first time you change money on the black market can seem dodgy but the rates are just as good as the bank, the service is quicker and these back-alley shops are the only way for foreigners to change Syrian Pounds back into hard currency. Count your money before you leave. Banks only offer a one-way service, distributing Syrian Pounds but not dollars or euros for visitors.
Our average spend as a couple was just over 15 euros a day, taking budget hotels about two-thirds of the time and free camping or staying with local families the rest of the time. We mostly cooked for ourselves or ate cheap street food like falafels and fuul although we did splurge on the occasional nice meal out.
Alcohol was our main budget-killer. It’s not expensive relative to many other places in the world but a regular tipple adds up quickly and we often bought a few beers or bottle of wine for the evening. If we’d abstained from drinking entirely we’d likely have knocked a couple euros off our daily average but then we would have missed those wonderful Lebanese wines…
Some typical costs in late 2007:
Can of soda – 15 SP
Large bottle of water – 25 SP
Kilogram of bananas – 60 SP
Double room in budget hotel – 500-800 SP
Falafels – 15-20 SP
Bottle of Syrian wine – 150 SP
Can of beer – 50 SP
Hour of internet – 50-60 SP
Kebab meal for two – 250 SP
Outside of the souks, bargaining doesn’t come into the equation too much in Syria but watch the bill carefully. We came across a fair amount of creative accounting, some of it intentional in tourist hotspots and other times possibly unintentional in small shops where merchants add prices up in their head. It’s rare that things in a shop selling dry goods like pasta will be priced. You have to ask. Traders also love to quote you prices in dollars, trying to be helpful, but it’s never certain what exchange rate they’re using. In our experience, many seemed completely unaware the dollar had fallen quite a bit in the two years before we arrived. When grocery shopping, you’ll often be charged more if you buy just a half kilogram of something rather than a full kilogram so don’t assume you’re being ripped off if you ask the price and then find the cost has gone up for a smaller amount.
Entry prices to sites are ten times higher for tourists than locals, unless you have a student card. A typical museum or site will charge 150 SP at the gate for visitors.