Tunisia Holidays – Tours & Adventure Travel Guide
“Even though Tunisia is North Africa’s smallest country, its rich history and diverse peoples pack a marvellous mix of cultures, cuisine and architecture within its modest borders. History buffs flock to its medieval walled cities and the once-great ruins of Carthage. Outdoor enthusiasts find the Aurès Mountains presiding over 1,400 kilometres of winding Mediterranean coastline. Tunisia offers a variety of challenges to the adventure traveller, the best known being desert safaris and treks, along with scuba diving among the coral beds of Tunisia’s clear coastal waters. If hot and dry isn’t your thing, trekking in Tunisia needn’t involve days in the desert – walking holidays are also available in the greener, mountainous northern part of the country."
Tunisia Holiday Highlights
Desert Trekking & Safari - For years now, organized treks across the Sahara have been available from tour operators. Travel by foot, by camel, or a combination can be arranged. We recommend the combination, both for a more authentic experience of the traditional lifestyle of nomadic North African tribes, and because full days of walking in the desert can be tiring.
Most treks begin or end in the busy oasis town of Douz, a great place for sightseeing and souvenir hunting. Trekkers often stay in tents of the traditional Bedouin style, enjoy bread freshly baked on the sand, and learn desert survival skills from their knowledgeable guides. If signing up for a multi-day camel trek, consider bringing along padded equestrian pants – otherwise, expect a sore bottom!
Culture & History - Over the last 3,000 years, Tunisia has seen the arrival and departure of Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Turks, Spanish and French. The wealth of cultural artifacts left by these visitors is housed in a number of impressive museums, most notably the Bardo Museum in suburban Tunis. The Bardo houses the world’s finest collection of Roman mosaics, as well as artifacts spanning the ages from prehistory to the present. The ruins of Carthage, of course, could not fit in any museum. A short drive from Tunis, Carthage makes for an excellent day trip before or after a desert expedition. Once the hub of a powerful trading empire, the remains of Carthage’s pillars, dwellings and temples remain imposing and beautiful.
Several tour operators organize cultural tours, which may include stops at Carthage, the medinas – walled cities – of medieval times, the holy city of Kairouan, Bulla Regia, an important Roman site, and other important Tunisian cultural sites. If you’re interested in experiencing more of Tunisia’s culture and traditions, it’s a great idea to plan your visit to line up with a festival. Towns and villages have their own local festivities throughout the year; the country’s oldest and best known festival, the International Festival of the Sahara, takes place every November in Douz and includes traditions such as music, dancing, poetry, camel fighting, and horse racing.
Wildlife & Ntaure - Tunisia is home to over 80 mammal species and 375 kinds of birds, which is quite impressive considering its small size. Its most famous residents include the addax, a critically endangered desert antelope, and the very rare Dama gazelle. By the standards of the region, Tunisia’s natural areas are very well managed, with a system of protected national parks. The lakes of the northeast, particularly Ichkeul Lake, are an important stopover for hundreds of thousands of migrating birds, and are of great interest for birders during migration season. A spring birdwatching holiday in Tunisia, travelling to wetlands, savannahs and deserts, is sure to add significantly to any birder’s life list.
Scuba Diving - Thanks to a vigorous national conservation program, Tunisia’s marine habitats are healthy and thriving. One popular diving destination is the area around the islands of Zembra and La Galite. La Galite, especially, is known for its seal and walrus colonies. Both islands are natural reserves, and permission must be obtained to dive in the vicinity. The most highly regarded Tunisian dive centers include the International Diving Center at Port El Kantaoui and the Tabarka Yachting Club.
Mountain Trekking - Due to the popularity of desert treks, walkers who visit the hilly northern regions of the country will find their treks almost tourist-free. The greener, Mediterranean climate of northern Tunisia offers a number of gorgeous nature parks, as well as small, surmountable mountains – the eastern fringes of the Atlas range which stretches across North Africa. Try a day trip, or set out for over a week and visit stretches of the Mediterranean coastline so rugged that they are accessible only by foot.
Bicycle Touring - The fun of seeing Tunisia by bicycle is all in which route you take. Skip the coastal highways and roll around some back roads for an exciting, first-rate cycling. Most of Tunisia is excellent for road tour bikes, as the road infrastructure is in good condition, but do be prepared for hills, especially in the north.
When To Go
Tunisia’s climate is typically Mediterranean – hot, dry summers and mild winters. Summer is the high season for tourism, so if you’re planning a diving holiday, expect crowded beaches. Desert treks are much too hot in the summer – late autumn is the best time to visit the Sahara. November is particularly good, as the end of the harvests spur a multitude of festivals including Douz’s International Festival of the Sahara.
- In most places, drinking the tap water is inadvisable. Bottled water is cheap and widely available.
- Don’t go near the desert without a good supply of water and light, protective clothing.
- Use a respected tour operator with a quality reputation.
- Because Tunisia is a Muslim country, alcohol availability is restricted to certain restaurants, resorts and shops.
- Theft of belongings is widely reported, but serious crime is not a major problem – take the same safety precautions you would on any holiday.
- Douz Desert Trek
- Atlas Mountains and Coast Trek
- Diving off of Zembra and La Galite Islands
- Djerba to Tunis Cycling Tour
- Carthage Ruins Exploration
Tunisia Holidays In Focus
Desert Trekking and Safari - Douz, the self-proclaimed gateway to the Sahara, has steadily gained popularity as a launching point for desert treks, and most tour operators are based here. Treks vary from a half-day excursion into the nearby dunes to a multi-day camping trip. If staying in the desert overnight, be sure to bring clothing appropriate for both hot, dry days and very cool nights – it is true that temperatures in the desert drop sharply after sunset.
Most desert treks come complete with camels – what better way to explore the land of the Bedouins? If your bottom objects to a bumpy camel ride, however, desert bikes and quads are also available for hire. Nights spent in traditional-style Bedouin tents under the clear desert sky only enhance your jaunt as a nomad. Longer trips include visits to oases and even the Grand Erg Oriental, a vast sea of flat, wind-blown sand where you’ll realize how truly vast and peaceful the Sahara can be.
Most short and medium length trips start and end in Douz; longer treks may follow routes from Douz to Ksar Ghilane, a speck of an oasis surrounded by sand.
Culture and History - Over the last 3,000 years, Tunisia has seen the arrival and departure of Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Turks, Spanish and French. The country’s most famous historic landmark is the ancient city of Carthage, a powerful trading centre which was the center of Punic culoture until it was razed by Rome in 146 BC. The Romans rebuilt the city and it was again an important hub until the Muslim conquest of 698 AD, when it was destroyed a second time. The weather-worn pillars, dwellings and temples overlooking the Gulf are an unforgettable day trip, easily accessible from Tunis.
The wealth of cultural artefacts left by Tunisia’s many occupiers is housed in a number of impressive museums, most notably the Bardo Museum in suburban Tunis. The Bardo houses the world’s finest collection of Roman mosaics, as well as artifacts spanning the ages from prehistory to the present. If you visit one museum in Tunisia, it should be the Bardo. Tunis is also home to several other museums worth visiting if you find yourself spending some extra time there.
If you visit Kairouan, a Sufi holy city outranked in importance only by Damascus and Cairo, be sure to explore the Raqqada Museum, housed in a former presidential palace nearby. The Raqqada is notable for the country's largest collection of Islamic art. Kairouan’s main attraction is the Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba, a striking mosque built using many columns taken from the ruins of Carthage. At one time, it was prohibited to count the mosque’s 414 columns on pain of blinding.
Organized cultural tours may include stops at Carthage, the medinas – walled cities – of medieval times, the holy city of Kairouan, Bulla Regia, an important Roman site, Matmata with its famous troglodyte houses, and other significant Tunisian cultural sites. If you’re interested in experiencing more of Tunisia’s culture and traditions, it’s a great idea to plan your visit to line up with a festival. Towns and villages have their own local festivities throughout the year; the country’s oldest and best known festival, the International Festival of the Sahara, takes place every November in Douz and includes traditions such as music, dancing, poetry, camel fighting, and horse racing.
Wildlife and Nature - Eco and wildlife tourism in Tunisia is just now gaining a foothold, and are mostly limited to birdwatching holidays. Avid birders will enjoy visiting the many lakes of the northeastern part of the country, an important stopover for migrating species in the spring and fall. The specialty of the Tunisian lakes is the endangered and brilliantly blue-billed White-Headed Duck. The Gulf of Gabes is another hotspot, where you can expect to see huge numbers of waders, grebes, terns and gulls. The best bet for viewing Tunisia’s large mammals, including the critically endangered addax and Dama gazelle, is Bouhedma National Park in the center of the country. Expect to see herds of Scimitar-horned Oryx along with the rarer species.
Scuba Diving - Tunisia is best known for its beaches, but beyond its shores you’ll find crystal clear waters and abundant marine life. Tunisia’s conservation initiatives have done a good job of protecting its coral beds and aquatic habitats, and several dive centres are internationally recognized and fully competent to lead your dive trip or get you started with lessons. The International Diving Center at Port El Kantaoui is highly recommended, and organizes trips to see the shrimp, crabs, and other sea life that flourishes off the coast of nearby Hergla. Around the Tabarka region, your best bet is the Tabarka Yachting Club and International Diving Center, affiliated with and recognized by the World Underwater Federation (CMAS). The rocky sea bed around Tabarka is rich in coral, which attracts a diversity of underwater life. The area around the islands of Zembra and La Galite are particularly attractive dive sites. Both islands are natural reserves, and official permission is needed to dive there. La Galite is home to seal and walrus colonies.
Mountain Trekking - The idea of a week in the Sahara doesn’t appeal to everyone, but those non-desert trekkers should consider a walking holiday in the northern, more mountainous part of Tunisia. The climate here is mild and Mediterranean, and trekkers can travel between mountain oases in a land still home to wild boar and jackals. The area is relatively unexplored by tourists, and it’s a surefire way to lose the crowds in the summer high season. A trek in this part of Tunisia travels through cool cork forests and picturesque agricultural areas, as well as more remote areas of mountain and coastline.
Boukornine Mountain, Ichkeul, and El Feidja National Parks are all attractive walking destinations. El Feidja is an especially good trek; as the most humid region of Tunisia, it supports oak forests and wildlife populations unusual for this part of the continent. It’s also especially well-preserved, and visitors can find tombstones, fortresses, and other remains of the vanished berber civilization which once called this place home.
Bicycle Touring - Thousands of miles of paved roads and low traffic makes Tunisia an excellent cycling destination. Locals are generally friendly and helpful. Smaller roads tend to be gravel tracks, but the abundance of paved routes make it easy to travel by road bike. Bikes can easily be taken on trains, making it possible to cycle through very different environments on one trip. Outside of the summer, weather conditions are ideal for bike travel. Challenges include the lack of road shoulders, serious hills in the northern third of the country, road signs in Arabic, and the penchant Tunisian boys seem to have for throwing rocks at foreign cyclists, particularly in the north.