First step to plan any trip is to define what makes you click on travel; culture, heritage, meeting locals, adventure, nature, wild life..? Second step is to understand what the country has to offer. Then you will be defining the appropriate time with respect to both; country specific seasonality and your schedule. First step is for you to figure out, the rest with regards to Tunisia will be included in this guide.
Tunisian Culture and heritage are quite strong, people will not let go of their traditions which is something that touched me deeply as a nostalgic person. They didn’t just preserve the roman mosaics and ancient stones you know…The tunisian architecture marks how ancient the land is through Berber, Roman, Punic and Islamic influences. The interiors are of Andalusian style, you should at least visit one of the sites during your trip, even if it’s not your thing.
Beside that, Tunisia is beautiful, in a heavenly manner… There are pine-covered mountains, red and yellow deserts, deep blue beaches and vast green fields well seasoned under the sun. You can plan to get a taste of everything in your trip.
In the south between the island of Djerba and the Algerian borders you’ll find cartoonish Ksars where many movies were filmed, safari trails, massive canyons and wild camels on the road. You may need a guide, however most of it is accessible to individuals.
What else? The locals are fun to approach, Language might be a barrier though. The smell of fresh baked bread is to die for, along with a variety of street food items.
Land: I am not sure how easy it is to plan your access from the borders as both Lybia and Algeria are stricken by terrorism. Yet people seem to cross frequently from the Algerian side and specially easier from the north.
Air: There is a number of international airports that you can pick from, depending on what fits your trip plan. Mainly Tunis-Carthage (main), Djerba (the heavenly island) and Tozeur (desert oasis) among others (Enfidha-Sousse, Gabes-Matmata, Monastir-Habib Bourguiba, Sfax).
Sea: Ships often sail from southern France/Italy ports to Tunisia but it seems way more expensive than today’s flight fares.
Check this guide to see if you need to issue a visa in advance. Generally if you are not an Eu/US or a British citizen you’d need to inquire with the Tunisian consulate in your area at least 6 weeks ahead of your trip to Tunisia.
When to go
Tunisia is an all year destination, but when planning your trip bear in mind that the desert is intolerable in Summer. Though it’s the high season as most Europeans will go for the beaches as the temperatures is around 30 degrees. Spring and Autumn are ideal if you are looking for good prices and less crowd. The weather may not be stable though. Winter, my choice, is a good time for Sahara and mingling with locals but the night is cold, windy. There are chances it’ll rain around the coast but if you are lucky it’ll be sunny and cool.
Where to Go
Tunis – Carthage – Sidi-Bousaid
The capital, the roman city and the small town covered in blue make a trip complete on their own. “El Khadra” is all about el Medina and strenuous traffic, it’s also well-connected with a good tram and train (TGM) network to the suburbs; La Goulette (Awesome fish and bars), Carthage (Punic/Roman) heritage and Sidi Bou-said (best views) as well as La Marsa. The roman/punic heritage is carefully preserved. So start with Bardo Museum as a key to the city’s culture and history. I recommend that you deepen your knowledge in the Tunisian street food culture and local wine…In the summer, Bizerte and Tabraka are good options for good weather and beaches.
1.5 hours away from Tunis by train. The Medina is small and a walking distance to the fishing port, beaches and train stations. It has few museums and cheap seafood (compared to Tunis and la Goulette) to your taste. Check Hamamet (top ranked beach destination), Monastir and Mahdia similar in style to Sousse.
Sfax – Kerkenneh
A large industrial zone surrounds Sfax. This piece of information is a turn off yet when you get there in the beautiful city centre near the port and walk around the Medina with its famous Kasbah, you’ll fall in love with Sfax. It’s connected to Tunis by Train (3 hours) and the single “autoroute” (highway) in the country. You need to try food the Sfaxian way, specifically fish and food in the Golla “Jars”. There is also an option to visit the island of Kerkenneh. It makes sense to go there in Summer as it’s mostly closed in Winter, but it’s a nice ferry ride specially around sunset.
The land of Makroudh (honey based sweets) and tapestry. A great place to visit if you are into islamic culture. Kairouan hosts hundreds of minarets as the holy city of the arabic “maghreb” or west. For non believers the great mosque is an islamic architecture jewels, you can do it on foot in one day. Extremely hot in summer though…
This is a day trip from Sfax, Sousse or Kairouan. There are 2 places to see; the amphitheatre that is remarkable and almost intact. The second place is the Museum filled with mosaics. There are other sites like Dougga and Sbeitla for ruin lovers.
The southern nomadic island unique with its tradition and diversity. The locals are proud to the extent you’ll find several tradition museums in the small towns around the island. They are also proud of hosting a small jewish community around “El Ghriba” synagogue. The island is well-known for ancient fishing techniques and pottery as well a variety of Djerbi dishes. Scenery is wonderful all year round as tourists come directly in Summar to Djerba and centre themselves around Houmt Souk.
Tozeur – chott El Jerid – Chebika – Tamerza – Mides
The gorgeous desert, salt lakes, canyons, mountains and valleys close to the Algerian borders and not recommended by the authorities for the same reason. However if you want a Safari in the middle of those sand and salt pools and get your path interrupted by wild camels then this is your destination. Don’t miss the culinary culture of the nomads…
Tataouine – Chenini – Ksar
Still in the desert, a bit higher from sea level so windy and cold at night. The Ksars are unique granaries in terms of architecture. There are several; ruled Soultane, Hedada, The area, generally speaking is one of the star wars favourite filming locations. There are several sites, so a car will be useful and cheap if you drive on your own. Don’t miss Chenini, it’s breathtaking.
Can be booked solely in Tunisia, yet the website of the SNFCT provides useful information regarding Schedule and fares, only issue is that the english site is under construction.
Minibuses that run from everywhere, there are a number of color codes indicating their distance range. It’s cheap and efficient. The only draw back is that it’s not schedule based, but the trip will start after filling the vehicle.
Like trains, they run regularly across most destinations. You can check the schedule here. I don’t really recommend it because it runs over less frequencies than louage and more expensive. So it offers ZERO advantage…
I strongly recommend Camel car, they offer great vehicles and the pricing model is superb with full insurance they are cheaper than international agencies. The only issue is that they copy your credit card, nothing wrong will happen as they are reputable but I recommend you use something with low limit just in case. The draw back of driving long distances is that Tunisian roads are bi-directional with two lanes only and it passes by several villages and towns so you have to stop. It becomes frustrating with trucks as it becomes slower and slower. You average speed will be around 60 km/hour.
Tip: it makes sense to fly to remote places like Tozeur and Djerba specially if you are in the capital. Flights are relatively cheap as well.
Average daily rate for medium level accommodation (airbnb, homestays and family business hotels) is 34 TND (Tunisian dinar) which is basically 12 euros/day in shoulder season. There is less and there is way more depending on your standard.
It cost us 20 TND/day for a variety of coffee, groceries, street food and restaurant meals. A bottle of beer costs 3 TND from the super market and 5 in bars, water is 0.5 TND and local coffee will not exceed 1 TND.
It depends on the distance but Trams and TGM trains cost few dinars per day. Trains will start from 10 TND/person up till 60. One litre of premium fuel costs less than 2 TND.
Historical sites do not exceed 10 TND per person in addition to 1 TND photography fees. Safaris and private tours however may vary. Unless you want a 4X4 to camp in the desert, renting a car will save you around 200 TND.
I am not big on shopping but I bought some liquor, souvenirs and some things I forgot at home such as my camera charger…etc. But I didn’t exceed 300 TND.
Note to the Ladies: The night scene is dominated by men. That doesn’t mean you cannot move freely, but you need to be cautious. The Cafes open are mostly serving beers and are not female friendly.
Coming up next
Top Tunisian dishes and drinks
Reviews for selected spots in Tunisia
You may want to check Srilanka’s Mini guide