Travel & Tourism
Tunisia is a gem among gems in North Africa. The country enjoys temperate Mediterranean weather, a bounty of amazing Roman ruins, miles of spotless beaches, and abundant wildlife; you won’t get bored during a visit here. The Romans, Turks, Arabs, and French have all left their mark on Tunisia through the ages, and you will be fascinated by the rich and diverse culture that exists and thrives today. Tunisia’s long Mediterranean coastline is home to several world class cities, including Tunis (the capital and largest city), Sfax, and Sousse. Tunisia is considered one of the premier destinations of North Africa; make sure to book plenty of time to explore this gorgeous country.
What to Do in Tunisia
1. Carthage: Follow in the footsteps of Hannibal, and explore an ancient city destroyed and rebuilt by the Romans. The excavated site is large, but a light rail runs right through the middle of the city, which makes getting about easier. Make sure you check out the National Museum, as well as the amphitheater and the Antonine baths. We recommend setting aside a whole day to explore Carthage.
2. Bardo Museum: Located just outside of Tunis, the Bardo Museum is considered by many to be the equivalent of the Louvre for mosaics. The building itself is a 13th-century palace, and the Roman mosaics and other Tunisian artifacts it houses are outstanding. The museum is organized according to era, including the prehistoric, Roman, Christian, and Islamic eras, and is easy to navigate. It takes a few hours to see in its entirety, so give yourself a break from the heat and view some of the most beautiful mosaics, artifacts, and architecture of Tunisia.
3. Sahara Desert: You would be neglectful if you did not visit the Sahara, as it covers much of Tunisia. Travel down to the desert town of Douz, where you can organize a tour of the desert by camel or four-by-four. Of course, you wouldn’t come all this way and miss out on a visit to Luke Skywalker’s hometown, Matmâta: the Berber town, made up of dugout caverns, is where parts of the Star Wars films were shot and is now a popular tourist destination. You can even stay at the hotel that was used as the set for Luke’s home, the Hotel Sidi Driss.
4. Djerba: Djerba, an island on the eastern coast of Tunisia, is the largest island in North Africa. Its interior is full of small desert areas, and among the island’s many sites are Roman ruins, an ancient synagogue, craftsmen working in silver and clay, and beautiful fruit orchards. And you can always enjoy a day at the beach, which spills out into the Mediterranean Sea. Get your tanning lotion ready.
5. Lake Ichkeul: Great for bird watching and getting some exercise, Lake Ichkeul was declared a World Heritage Site in 1980. Every year hundreds of thousands of migrating birds stop at the freshwater lake to nest. Unfortunately, owing to dam construction, the water levels have dropped significantly, and the number of winged visitors to the lake has decreased. The lake and surrounding national park are excellent for hiking and photography, though. Among the bird species are magnificent geese, storks, and pink flamingoes.
6. Hammamet: Hammamet is the ultimate coastal location for relaxing: on the Cap Bon Peninsula, 40 miles south of Tunis, the beaches of Hammamet are always busy, and the village abounds in splendid architecture and comfortable hotels. We recommend hiring a tour guide to show you around Hammamet; then again, you may just want to stay in the water and go snorkeling or windsurfing.
7. Sidi Bou Said: There is a special atmosphere in this small Tunisian town. Sidi Bou Said is a village of blue and white buildings, overlooking the Bay of Tunis. It is a fine place to spend an afternoon drinking mint tea and admiring the views. We recommend taking some time to explore the town, buy some souvenirs from local craftsmen, and get lunch from one of the town’s many small cafés. Sidi Bou Said is a rare place for tourists and locals alike to take a breather from the daily grind.
8. Korba Lagoon: Located near beautiful buildings and Roman ruins, the Korba Lagoon is frequented by many different species of birds during their migratory travels every year. The lagoon happens to be next to beaches as well; it’s worth a visit.
9. Amphitheater of El-Jem: El-Jem is home to a massive Roman amphitheater rising up from the low-lying landscape of the city. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1979, the amphitheater is the largest of its kind in North Africa, a place where gladiatorial fights and chariot races once were held.
10. Dougga: These are definitely the best-preserved Roman ruins in the country, and it is worth your money to hire a guide to show you around the site. Be sure to check out the massive theater built into the hillside, as well as the beautiful Temple of Saturn. If you are around in July or August, come for the Dougga Festival, where you can watch performances in the theater.
When to Go
While the summer is an ideal time to visit Tunisia, considering the weather, expect to be surrounded by tourists. We recommend visiting the country in the spring (March to May), when the weather is still pleasant and there are fewer tourists. Also, if you are hoping to see the Sahara, the spring is a good time to go, as it’s not too hot (for a desert).
There are a number of festivals worth attending. The International Festival of the Sahara takes place every November and December in Douz. It’s Tunisia’s oldest festival, and you can join thousands to watch camel and horse races, hear traditional music, and see displays of desert life.
In July, the International Festival of Carthage features a multitude of film, music, dance, and drama performances by Tunisian and other regional artists. The event is recognized as being one of the most respected and oldest festivals in the region.
Getting In and Around
Visas: Be sure your passport is valid for six months past your last day in Tunisia. If you are planning on staying in Tunisia for less than three months, then you do not need to apply for a visa ahead of time. Just make sure you have two blank pages in your passport, as you will receive a stamped visa once you arrive in the country.
Transportation: Getting to/from Tunisia: If you fly into Tunisia, you will likely land at Tunis-Carthage International Airport, located in Tunis. From the airport, you can grab a taxi or a bus to the city center. Some flights may also land at Monastir-Habib Bourguiba International Airport, located on the northeastern coast of the country.
Ferries operate between France and Italy and Tunisia. The trip is popular, so make sure you purchase your tickets well in advance.
Within Tunisia: Getting around Tunisia is generally not difficult, as there are plenty of well-maintained travel options. For those with money to spend, a number of daily domestic flights are available. Additionally, many popular tourist locations are serviced by train routes. Long-distance buses travel between all cities and are generally comfortable and affordable. Finally, you can take a louage, a shared taxi that travels between towns. Louages are cheap and, unlike other shared taxis, not too crowded.
Within cities, buses are generally reliable. We recommend taking taxis, however, as they are the most efficient and the safest form of transportation.
Mobile Phones: A SIM card–enabled phone is definitely the best way to go in terms of mobile phone use in Tunisia. You can buy the phones inexpensively, and top-up cards are sold all over the country.
Safety and Security
Concerned about your safety as you plan travel to Tunisia? We at Africa.com, together with our friends, family and colleagues, travel extensively throughout the continent. Here are the resources we consult when thinking of our safety in Tunisia:
• UK Government Tunisia Travel Advice Guidance
Africa.com comment: Very timely and frequently updated. Perspective assumes that you ARE going to travel to Tunisia, and seeks to give you good guidance so that you understand the risks and are well informed.
• U.S. State Department Travel Advisory on Tunisia
Africa.com comment: Can sometimes be considered as overly conservative and discourage travel altogether to destinations that many reasonable people find acceptably secure. On the other hand, they have the resources of the CIA to inform them, so they know things that the rest of us don’t know. See what they have to say about Tunisia.
1. The capital and largest city in the country, Tunis, is also the capital of the Tunis Governorate, one of Tunisia’s 24 provinces.
2. The currency of Tunisia is the Tunisian dinar. There are 1,000 millimes in every dinar.
3. Numerous newspapers are published in Tunisia, including La Presse, Al-Horria, Nouvelles de Tunisie, Assabah, and Le Quotidien.
4. Arabic is the official language of Tunisia. French is spoken widely, as are English and German.
5. Smoking in public is prohibited in Tunisia. Within private institutions, spaces may be allocated for smoking.