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August 25, 2004 -- After the US lifted its 23-year-old travel ban to Libya this past February, a handful of cruise lines sprinted from the starting gate and hustled to add the history-rich North African country to Mediterranean itineraries, the first ones visiting this fall. There's no doubt, Libya is back on the tourist map.

From Greek and Roman ruins, to historic mosques, souqs (covered markets) and camel trains, this country, tucked between Tunisia and Egypt, is a place to write home about, especially if you've tired of the overtrodden tourist traps found in the likes of Italy, Greece and France. Because it's been off limits for so long, Libya is fresh and unspoiled by rampant tourism. It's exotic in the true sense of the word.

The country claims more than 1,200 miles of coastline along the Mediterranean Sea, and most of its historic treasures are concentrated near the shore. This makes touring convenient for cruise passengers with limited time.

Here are four of the first lines to have worked Libya into their Mediterranean offerings:

  • For just about the most in-depth look at Libya you can find, Travel Dynamics' 34-passenger Callisto, a comfortable yacht with dark paneling and marble bathrooms, is doing two 10-night cruises this fall between Crete and Tripoli that call on six Libyan ports, including Derna, Benghazi, Surt, Misratah, Khoms and Tripoli for two days. Archaeologist Donald White, who has done excavations in Libya, Egypt and Italy, lectures on both sailings and leads tours of archaeological sites, including Sabratha and Leptis Magna, regarded as one of the Mediterranean's most impressive Roman ruins. From $6,995 per person; Oct 9 and 19th sailings. Travel Dynamics, specializing in educational small-ship packages can be reached online at www.traveldynamicsinternational.com or by telephone at 800/257-5767.
  • For a similar onboard vibe, Clipper Cruise Lines' (800/325-0010; www.clippercruise.com) larger 122-passenger Clipper Adventurer offers a 12-night cruise between Lisbon, Portugal, and Valetta, Malta. The route includes three days in Tripoli, for tours of the city and archaeological sites of Sabratha and Leptis Magna. To make sure you don't miss anything, historians, archaeologists, and diplomats lecture aboard. Other ports on the itinerary include Tangier, Tunis, Valetta (Malta), Sicily and Sorrento. From $4,380 per person, including all shore excursions; April 9 and May 15, 2005, sailings.
  • To see Libya and her exotic neighbors in the lap of luxury, the super deluxe all-suite 296-passenger Silver Wind, a sea of rich Italian design and top-notch service, is offering a 15-night itinerary next spring from Civitavecchia/Rome to Istanbul. Calls include Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya, as well as Lipari (Italy), Valletta, Alexandria (Egypt), Tartous (Syria), Rhodes, Kusadasi, and Beirut. Enjoy 240-square-foot suites, most with balconies, and all with yummy Bulgari bath amenities. From $8,067 per person, including all spirits, drinks and tips; May 11, 2005 sailing. (Silversea Cruises: tel. 877/215-9986; www.silversea.com).
  • If a quick brag-to-the-neighbors-taste of Libya is all you need, than the similarly luxurious quarters of the 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager fits the bill. The posh ship does a 7-night itinerary from Piraeus/Athens to Monte Carlo, spending one day in Tripoli, plus stops in Valletta, and Sorrento, Civitavecchia/Rome and Livorno/Florence. This enticing set of ports makes it nearly impossible not to break down and tack on a few days before or after your cruise in Monte Carlo or Athens -- you'd be crazy not to. On route to Libya, enjoy the sights from your balcony (all staterooms have them; the Adventurer and Callisto have none). Better yet, this one-year-old ship has nothing smaller than spacious 306-square-foot suites with CD/DVD players and Internet connections. From $3,746 per person, including wine with dinner and tips; Oct 30, 2005, sailing. (Radisson Seven Seas: tel. 800/285-1835; www.rssc.com)