Djerba was a curious start of a road trip around Tunisia, it turned out it is a rich little island with a lot of tradition, it was also pretty raw. And it was puzzling how intact it remained despite the flood of tourists who come in the summer to relax.
While planning the itinerary the goal was to minimize driving time and win a day. The trip theoretically would take 7 hours on GPS which meant 12 in reality. That’s mainly because of the lack of real highways, most of the roads connecting the cities are bidirectional roads with only two lanes with no separators, means you are subject to rush hours, dangers like people or animals crossing the street or other drivers trying to pass the traffic ahead, the roads are not straight either, there are many curves except on Douz-Tozeur road which also meant we had to avoid night driving.
Anyhow, we decided to book a local flight, it was not fun to drive in the capital and my rental car (check my recommendation here) was waiting for in Djerba’s airport. The rental cost, fuel, a lost day and my spinal health seemed more expensive than a “less than one hour” flight. And actually it was cheaper if I we were two…You could also directly fly to Djerba from Europe. Look for great offers in those sites: Flyin ,Expedia,Trip
Tip: Use these sites for information on best deals and timings but book directly from the airline official site as it gives you more flexibility and you don’t pay a commission.
The car matters because Djerba is small, you can tour it in a day but it has many points of interest, it offers you a lot more in terms of what you see and when to stop. I am a car rental addict, I used to reject the responsibility but a few years back by pure luck in Jordan I got hooked.
In case you’d like to do it differently, there are points of access to the island one through the ferry from Jorf that drops you in Ajim which is around 20 kms from houmt souq in the north which is where I recommend you to stay. And looking at the map that gives you an idea on the size of the island.
The other access point is through the historical “Chaussee romaine” that extends along 12 kilometers between El Kantara and the road to Zarzis. Djerba is a special island as the water is shallow all around it, so the Romans strategically placed an amount of stones to form a pathway linking the island to the mainland built mainly for commercial purposes. The road lasted from the 2nd century till today. So you should at least pass by there once, it feels like you have become part of the story.
Now I’ve mentioned that it’s recommended to stay in Houmt Souq, cause this is where you can easily find accommodation, restaurants and above all it has the souk (market) for local crafts, food, also the traditional fish market. There is also a huge tradition museum that is very informative and explains a lot of what you see, architectures, beaches, port and a roman castle.
It’s also easy to stay in a hyped tourist area on the eastern part of the Island because this is where you’ll find the beaches. . I personally stayed in a traditional Djerbi house owned by a french guy who’s married and settled in Tunisia, it’s called Dar Sema and all rooms were equipped with a kitchenette not to mentioned the quality of the furniture, bedding and service. You can find similar experiences in Booking and Expedia.
Cultural experiences (Live the Djerbi tradition):
There’s a lovely feeling of diversity cause despite the strict tradition and raw nature of the place, people accept differences. In terms of religion, there are plenty of mosques built in a simple and attractive architectural style. There is a couple of churches for foreigners that are only open during service as well as a major Jewish community, the largest one of the most vibrant in North Africa.
El Ghriba synagogue hosts hundreds of pilgrims gather for the Lag B’Omer festival in spring time, and they are not the only one to celebrate…
The evidence of diversity is how well people from different cultures and background feel living there, despite the attack on the synagogue 10 years ago (the locals refused to talk about it) but they all live in Harmony now. And I quote uncle Mohamed (the palm leaves weaver): ” Alla created us with a beautiful diversity, how do we expect people to think the same way of everything?”
Like I mentioned Djerba sticks to its traditions to a great extent, everything from crafts to food to outfits is explained. Here are the key museums:
Musee de Guellela in Guellela
Musee du patrimoine traditionel Djerbien in Houmt Souq
Local crafts workshop in Houmt Souq
Biological diversity is also a thing, you’ll find goats, sheep, olive trees wherever you go, you’ll enjoy the diversity of sea life, there is also a zoo that unfortunately was closed during my stay but it’s also an interesting natural reserve on the island.
Fact: the island was not all olive and palm trees, there were apple orchards but somehow the locals lost interest in apples and preserved vegetation to different crops. This you learn at the entrance of the castle of Djerba, it has a great view in addition to some Roman and Islamic relics as the island had a key role strategically and economically in the old days.
Ultimately it doesn’t have to be all running around, checking out museums, religious and historical relics. The best you can do is to relax by the sea at sunset or sunrise with or without your favorite drink.
A foodie’s heaven
Another tradition you gotta observe; the fish auction. All fishermen gather in “souq el hout” (fish market) and offer lines of their fresh catch: what typically happens is that they thread a variety of fish on a thin rope and everyone offers their bid and so on…
I’ve asked for a few fish only as we wouldn’t be able to eat a full line or store it and they were very generous to give me exactly what I wanted at an excellent rate. Outside the market there are restaurants that would cook your fish and prepare the classical fish sides, like the “harissa” “eggs with peppers salad” and so on…I recommend Chez Hanini.
Then you need to try the original Djerbi specialties like the Djerbi Rice (the spices and different aromas make it heavenly) or Couscous, the Ojja with Merguez (eggs with merguez sliced and dipped in a red sauce)…
You can eat the “Rouz Jerbi” in el Medina restaurant, it had the most enticing flavors, you can also check le Berbere for a fast meal. Do not miss out on breakfast at cafe Ben Yedder in the heart of Houmt Souq medina and right in front of the covered market entrance. The location is optimum for relaxing, contemplating, people watching and writing diaries while sipping your coffee and nibbling on your breakfast pastry.
There is a place for men only in the park right off of el medina, where we used to sit in the afternoon for some tea and more people watching, mostly elder men activities this time and jobless guys. We were three girls but they were enjoying our co-existence in a friendly manner. One of the waiters though cheated on us as the tea was so cheap but his colleague apologized on his behalf and served us for free the day after, so in case you go one cup of green Tunisian tea there costs 0.5 TND.
Shopping and Local crafts
We regretted not buying local crafts from the market there, we thought everything would be available in Tunis Medina which was true to an extent but they didn’t have same quality or variety in terms of traditional clothes, Pottery, palm leave crafts or leather. Mostly traditional clothes and pottery…There are few spice specialties also like dried fish that you reduce into powder while making soup as well dried red chilis.
There is a space that used to be the “Medina hotel” where traders used to stay during their commercial travels that is now a local crafts and artisans workshop.