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Gabraoun Lake, in the Awbari Sand Sea

Libya's not all date palms and deserts, but if shifting sands and camel trains are your thing, Libya's got desert for days, and a quick jaunt down into the Fezzan will take you boldly where nomad has gone before. And despite its scary reputation, most people have a grand old time.

For a country that's been all but swallowed by the Sahara, you'll be surprised to see how pleasantly Mediterranean it can be along its northern coast. Tripoli is as urbane as any place in Africa, while the Jebel Akhdar region to the east is reminiscent of verdant Crete.

From ancient Greek and Roman ruins to modern art and oil money, Libya's a world unto itself (though with the lifting in 1999 of UN sanctions, things are looking up, and out).

The Libyan people enjoy a well-earned reputation for kindness and hospitality toward visitors, and its streets and souqs are free of the hassles of touts and their hard sell. Even Colonel Mu'ammar Gaddafi has of late been keen to renew ties with the outside world and is styling himself as a unifier and pacifier.

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