Tunisia travel guide: 10 things to know before your trip - Globe Guide

Tunisia travel guide: 10 things to know before your trip

Whether you’re visiting for the golden beaches, storied history or off-grid escapes, the best places to visit in Tunisia should be explored with an open mind and sense of adventure.

Travel in Tunisia isn’t always easy when you don’t speak the language or are missing the creature comforts of home (why are all mattresses so firm here?!), but those minor hiccups are easy to forget when gazing at the impressive centuries-old fortifications and panoramic vistas you’ll find all around this North African country.

Exploring the Great Mosque in Kairouan

From top tips for exploring to what to pack, here’s a Tunisia travel guide of all the random things that are helpful to know before your trip.

Ghar El Mleh, Tunisia
Ghar El Mleh

Tunisia works as both an independent or guided trip–depending where you go

I went travelling in Tunisia with a group of friends, and since my flight got in earlier I spent two days as a solo, (pregnant!) female traveller.

Like literally everywhere else on earth I probably wouldn’t suggest wandering around alone here at night, but I felt 100 per cent safe during my time alone in Tunis. I stayed at a nicer resort in Gammarth, walked along the Mediterranean Sea and booked this group day trip to explore Sidi Bou Said and Carthage.

Exploring Carthage in Tunis

All of those areas felt very safe with other tourists around, and the locals are wonderful about not aggressively hassling you to buy things (ahem Egypt and Morocco). In retrospect, I could have just gotten a cab to see Sidi Bou Said and Carthage on my own and it would have been fine.

Based on what I’ve heard, travellers can expect a similar experience in the touristy beach areas of Hammamet and Souss.

The Antonine Baths in Carthage, Tunis
The Antonine Baths in Carthage, Tunis

Once my friends arrived, we linked up with Tunisia Ecotourism to show us around the country on a week-long road trip from north to south.

The company is based up north in Bizerte, and focuses on fostering sustainable and responsible travel. Their customizable, multi-day tours focus on super local experiences away from the main tourist areas to see the real side of Tunisia, and the founders personally spearhead environmental projects like educating hotels about how to compost food waste.

Aymen and Ali from Tunisia Ecotourism
Aymen and Ali from Tunisia Ecotourism

The Tunisia Ecotourism team arranged accommodations in home stays for us for a more local experience, walked us through the maze of medinas and even brought us into homes for traditional meals cooked by mom!

Visiting Kairouan with our guide Mohammed

The reason I’d suggest having a guide and driver like we did is because once you leave Tunis, there can be a bit of a language barrier and getting around on the roads is a bit more difficult.

Many of the signs at important archeological sites are also not in English, so you wouldn’t learn much about them without a guide.

Learning about Ichkeul National Park

If you’re heading to the Sahara you’ll also need a driver for safety reasons, as tour operators have 4X4 vehicles that can handle the rough conditions (though our crew still ended up having to push the van through sand!).

Many areas don’t have cell reception, so they check in with local authorities along the way for good reason: a week before our trip a foreign tour group got stranded by a flash flood, and when they didn’t show up for their checkpoint as planned emergency services were able to head out right away to help them before the situation deteriorated.

Language in Tunisia

Speaking of a potential language barrier, the official language in Tunisia is Arabic. Most Tunisians speak a dialect of Tunisian Arabic which has hints of French.

Tour guides and staff working in major hotels tend to be fluent in English and French and potentially a few other languages, but once you leave main cities like Tunis expect it to be more difficult to communicate if you only speak English.

There’s oh so much history in Tunisia

If you’re a history buff, visiting Tunisia will be your jam and the best part is you’ll probably enjoy the landmarks mostly to yourself since the country is far less touristy than its European counterparts.

In fact, there are so many archeological sites that the government hasn’t even bothered unearthing them all due to the expense of excavation and preservation.

Dougga, Tunisia
Dougga, Tunisia

There are eight UNESCO sites in Tunisia including the medina in Tunis, the impressive ruins of Dougga and the ancient city of Kairouan. Turns out Kairouan is considered the world’s holiest city in Islam after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem–who knew?!

The medina in Tunis
Carthage in Tunis

Tunisia is a conservative country–mostly

Tunisia is one of the region’s more progressive countries, and while you won’t see all women completely cloaked female travellers should definitely respect the local culture and cover up a bit.

The entire time I was there I didn’t see a single bare shoulder or short skirt, so it’s definitely best practice to dress a bit more conservatively with longer pants or skirts and shirts with a high neckline that covers the upper arms.

A woman walking through the medina in Kairouan
A woman walking through the medina in Kairouan

There are a couple of exceptions: swimsuits are A-OK especially at touristy resorts, and if you visit a hammam you’d better bet they’ll make you strip all the way down.

My girlfriends and I learned this shortly after having our bathing suit tops tugged off during a steam room experience that left nothing to the imagination, and were then ordered to get completely naked during the massage portion–yes, no privacy towels allowed!

If you’re visiting sacred landmarks like the Great Mosque of Kairouan, men are required to wear long pants and women should do the same while covering their head with a scarf.

No worries if you don’t have those items handy, as robes and scarves can be borrowed at the front entrance.

The Grand Mosque of Kairouan, Tunisia
The Grand Mosque of Kairouan

How to pronounce ‘Tunisia’

What’s the correct way to pronounce the country’s name? Well, depends who you ask.

Tunisians actually say ‘Tunis’ (too-nis)—just like the capital– though I also heard many locals refer to it as ‘two-niece-ee-ah’ which is more common among native English speakers. Too-knee-zha also works too. Frankly no one seemed to care how it was said, so you do you, boo.

Dougga, Tunisia

Weather in Tunisia

Yes, this is Africa, but the weather isn’t always as warm as you might think.

It typically only gets hot enough to sunbathe on the beautiful beaches from about June to September, so if you’re travelling to Tunisia with the goal of getting a golden glow then plan accordingly.

A beach in Tunis
A beach in Tunis

We went in spring (late April) and were downright freezing a few times on overcast days when the wind picked up, so be sure to pack lots of layers if you’re visiting in shoulder season.

Had to borrow a scarf in Dougga as it was so chilly!

Food in Tunisia

Our group wasn’t always the easiest to serve when it came to meal times, with restrictions like a couple of vegans, limited sugar and carb requirements, and all of the random things you’re apparently not allowed to eat when you’re pregnant (fish and soft cheese, really?!).

Fortunately there were always plenty of options to satisfy everyone, and I was especially pleased to find that while some of the traditional dishes are spicy there were still lots of alternatives to suit my plain palate.

Spices at the medina in Tunis
Spices at the medina in Tunis

Expect to find lots of lamb, fish (especially tuna), barbecue chicken and legumes for protein, fresh-out-of-the oven bread served with local olive oil, eggs, veggies, pasta and dips like shukshuka.

The fresh pressed strawberry juice found everywhere we went was a hit, especially considering that would cost like $20 a glass to make back in North America.

Fresh pressed strawberry juice in Tunisia
Fresh pressed strawberry juice

Oh, and there’s absolutely no shortage of tea to mark pretty much every meal or occasion throughout the day: be sure to try the sweet tea with mint and nuts which is absolutely delicious!

Drinking in Tunisia

Alcohol is allowed in Tunisia: there’s a local beer called Celtia, boukha (a fig liqueur) and some winemaking. However, there are a few–somewhat loose–restrictions about when and where you can actually enjoy a drink.

Your best bet for getting a glass of wine or cocktail is at a hotel or resort, where prices are slightly lower than in North America but higher than Europe.

Booze is harder to procure out in public as it’s usually sold out of a storage room during certain hours in supermarkets, and Tunisians are not permitted to buy it on Fridays or during Ramadan. You also won’t see people drinking out on the streets, as it’s consumed inside of homes, restaurants or hotels only.

Accommodations in Tunisia

Ever wanted to feel like royalty? Then book in at a local inn or homestay for what’s sure to feel like a rather regal experience thanks to the opulent furnishings.

No joke, we ended up nicknaming one of my rooms ‘the Beyonce suite’ because it was so extra.

My ‘Beyonce’ suite at Dar Zaghouan Ecolodge

Most of the options outside of the main tourist areas are family-run hotels called ‘dars’ which are similar to riads, with an open courtyard lush with plants and bright decorative tiles surrounded by private rooms.

Many feature over the top canopy beds and seating areas, and are set up well for families with multiple beds or adjoining rooms.

Now for a couple of downsides: it seemed like every single bed I slept in (from resorts to hotels to homestays) had an incredibly firm mattress and thin pillows, so it must be a Tunisian thing. Second, it often took 5-10 minutes of running the water before the shower would heat up (if it did at all), so a bit cringe-inducing for someone like me who’s very cognizant of water usage and conservation.

Hotel Ibn Zeidoun in Testour
Hotel Ibn Zeidoun in Testour

In Tunis and Souss you’ll find more of the major hotel chains, luxury beach resorts and five star properties that are popular with sun-seekers who are interested in more of a relaxing vacation than an immersive experience.

A resort in Gammarth

What Tunisia actually looks like

When I originally imagined Tunisia, thoughts of vast red deserts, camels, palm trees and chaotic medinas came to mind.

Well, there’s definitely some of that to be found, but what surprised us all were the rolling hills and farmlands in the north, groves of olive trees, white sand beaches edging the coastline and vibrant turquoise hue of the Gulf of Tunis.

Dougga, Tunisia
Ichkeul National Park in Tunisia
Ichkeul National Park

Sidi Bou Said in Tunis is an absolute dream, and its whitewashed facades accented with blue shutters draped with fuchsia bougainvillea vines are like a scene right out of Greece.

Sidi Bou Said in Tunis
Sidi Bou Said in Tunis

Sidi Bou Said in Tunis

No matter where you travel in Tunisia, it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience.

Globe Guide explored Tunisia as a guest of Tunisia Ecotourism. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles



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