Tunisia Travel Guide
Tunisia attracts many tourists every year, drawn by the miles of white sandy beaches, French influenced cuisine and some extraordinary Roman ruins as well as some manic erratic driving.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Miles of white-sand beaches, French influenced cuisine, relaxed Tunis with its Arabic/French feel and superb leather shoes, stunning Roman ruins, Star Wars-themed trips, bustling markets, water sports and unique desert safaris.
What’s Not: Angry souvenir sellers, too much sun, hotels that aren’t like the photos, local men hassling female tourists, taxi drivers and over chlorinated water, putrid hotel food.
When to Go
Tunisia has a typically Mediterranean climate, with warm weather year-round. The months either side of the hottest season (June to August) are a popular time to visit.
The summers here are hot and dry, with temperatures in Tunis frequently above 85°F. If you’re liable to get drained and irritable with the heat, then consider traveling at a slightly cooler time. Although don’t expect too much cool weather this close to the Sahara.
The winter period from December to February is mild, and can be wet in Tunis. As you travel south in the country, the weather gets even hotter and drier.
Getting There & Away
Tunisia has good transport links, and with eight airports (five of which have international connections), you shouldn’t have any problems getting here, especially if you’re coming from Europe. There are seven major ports, so you can get here by sea from Marseilles, Sicily, Genoa and other places. There are road links to Algeria and Libya, but few tourists arrive this way. Tunisia has an extensive road network, but if you are going to drive in the Sahara, you should take an experienced guide, a suitable vehicle and by law, you have to inform the National Guard. The train service here is pretty efficient and a pleasant way to travel.
Health & Safety
Think Africa (but not far from Europe) and you’ll get a good idea of the health and safety risks of travel in Tunisia. Most health rules here are pretty much common sense; the sun can be very hot so cover up and drink lots, and stick to bottled water. Tap water is safe to drink, but it can taste rather like drinking from a swimming pool, such is the chlorine level. If you’re on a package holiday, you can make your own decisions about the hotel food, but some of it you wouldn’t inflict on sewer rats. Tunisia is one of the safest countries in Africa, but that still doesn’t mean you should explore quiet streets late at night, after a few drinks, alone. Although alcohol is drunk in many tourist areas, be mindful that this is a Muslim country and drunken behavior won’t endear you to many people. At some of the beach resorts, the trinket sellers can sometimes be a little aggressive with their sales techniques; just keep calm and find a nicer seller.
Food & Hospitality
Tunisia has a full range of accommodation options, and with package tourism ever-increasing, this also means some of the classic ‘not what it looked like in the brochure’ scenarios. However, there are also plenty of good places and Tunisian hoteliers tend to be pretty good at languages, especially if you speak English, French, German or Arabic. Food is a strong plus in Tunisia, and with a blend of French influences and traditional North African favors, you’ll have no trouble finding good places to eat. Fragrant spices, olive oil, couscous, saffron and more combine to produce some mouth-watering dishes. Nevertheless, some of the touristiest places serve up tasteless concoctions that are apparently designed for the foreign palate … stick to small local restaurants if you want to avoid being served tasteless mush.
Ten days to two weeks is a good length of time to visit Tunisia, giving you time to enjoy some of the country’s main attractions as well as to relax on the beach.
Two to three days to explore the capital, Tunis.
One day to turn the clock back a couple of millennia at Carthage.
Four to five days to relax on one of Tunisia’s beaches.
Visit the Roman ruins at Dougga
Two to three days to visit the desert near Tozeur, where parts of Star Wars and The English Patient were filmed. Don’t forget to pack your lightsaber.
Beaches: with 810 miles of coast, white-sand beaches and warm seas, you should be able to find a nice spot without having to get up at 06:00. Hamamet, Tabarka, Djerba and Sousse are all popular.
Tunis: Tunis has a relaxed feel and an interesting old town with a distinct French influence. For a capital city, it’s pretty small and easy to get about.
Carthage: depending on where you stand at ancient archaeological sites, you’ll either be fascinated or hot and bored. Carthage was a thriving city - the third-largest in the Roman Empire - until it was destroyed by the Arabs in AD 692. ‘People’s front of Judea! We’re the Judean people’s front’, this famous scene from the Life of Brian was filmed in Carthage.
Dougga: the best Roman ruins in the country, and even if ruins aren’t usually your thing, you’re sure to be impressed. Well, probably, if you’re not too hot and fed up with trinket sellers.
Kerbouane: the extraordinary remains of Kerbouane are a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can learn about the ancient Punic civilization, or just pay a quick photo-taking visit.
Desert trekking: perhaps surprisingly, milling around the desert is a popular activity here. Plenty of tours are available to see the Star Wars locations, but wearing a Darth Vader suit might be a little uncomfortable in the heat.
Hot springs: maybe not the obvious choice after a hot day, but the hot spring spas in the north of the country have been popular since Roman times.
Water sports: clear water, sea life and lots of beaches; for some people, this means scuba diving, snorkeling and sailing, while for others, it means swimming and sunbathing. Either way, everyone’s happy.
Exploring ruins and history: Tunisia is one of those places where the history and archaeological sites are of genuine interest, especially if combined with relaxation and having fun.
Festivals & Events
Aside from plenty of religious festivals, Tunisia has a decent mix of music and cultural events that will keep you interested.
June: every year in the Sfax region, there is a music festival with a mix of Arabic pop and classical music. It’s a very popular local festival and good fun, although lets just say that Arabic pop certainly isn’t everyone’s music of choice.
June: if you don’t like jazz, then stay well clear of Tabarka in June, when the city is packed with jazz fans and concerts are held across the city.
August: the International Festival of Bizerta, held in Bizerta, is not very international at all, but it is a decent arts festival with music and dance.
November: the town of Douz has another inspired festival name with its International Festival of the Sahara, but despite its clearly un-international nature, it is a fun festival celebrating the traditions of the Saharan people.